Spies in Salisbury, Murderers in Moscow, And a London Full of Liars: The Poisoning of Sergei Skripal And its Impact on International Relations
By Injae Lee
Salisbury is not the kind of place one would expect to become the epicenter of a new Cold War. A quiet but bustling city/village in the southwestern English countryside, it is known for its towering cathedral and busy markets—not the kind of town the next 007 movie would be set in. But, on March 4, 2018, when spy-turned-defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found near death by police on a bench near the city square, Salisbury—and Russia’s already-fraught tensions with the free world—were thrown into turmoil. Nothing was more surprising than the United Kingdom’s robust response. After all, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s mandate to rule had been crippled by the stunning snap election results last June. So, when May accused Russia of the act and set forth a list of demands—and punishments—on the floor of Parliament, the world was shocked. More eye-opening still was that the West, long victims of Putin’s bullying and manipulation, took a firm, unified response to the Skripal case. With dozens of Russian diplomats from Seattle to Madrid packing their bags and going home, the Kremlin’s response has been one of anger and ballast, but also undeniably of surprise. Whatever his goal may have been, Putin’s future ones will certainly be impeded by a unified West, and it will do him well to take this as a lesson moving into his third term in office.
To better understand this diplomatic énigme, one must first look at the man who is at the center of it. Sergei Skripal was a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence, the GRU. Well respected and successful, most were surprised when Skripal was arrested in 2004 by the FSB, Russia’s security agency. The FSB alleged that in 1995, Skripal had exchanged classified Russian information to Britain’s MI6 agency in exchange for payment. After pleading guilty and confessing, Skripal was sentenced to thirteen years in prison, pardoned in 2010 by President Dmitry Medvedev, and then released as part of a spy exchange with the United States. He and his wife moved to Britain and kept a low profile, living in Salisbury. Nothing worth noting happened until last month, when Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who visiting from Moscow, were found poisoned. Now, they remain hospitalized in critical condition, while their case has sparked the current diplomatic conundrum.
Britain responded with defiance. For the past few years, from the invasions of Crimea and Georgia to Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. and French elections, Putin had bullied and challenged the United States and its allies across the world. Emboldened by the West’s weak response, Putin continued to undermine the liberal world order, culminating in the poisoning of Mr. Skripal a month ago. Then, the unexpected happened: Mr. Putin finally met resistance, and from an unlikely source too. For much of her term so far in 10 Downing, Theresa May had been seen as a weak Prime Minister, particularly after her devastating losses in the snap election last June. Leading a divided party and consumed by Brexit, May’s strong response in the House of Commons surprised observers across the globe. When Russia failed to meet Britain’s demand to provide an explanation to the poisoning, May went even further, expelling 23 Russian diplomats from London and vowing to crack down on Russian spies and assets in the U.K. A furious Kremlin quickly responded in kind, expelling an equal amount of diplomats, but the motion had been set in place. Soon, over 100 Russian diplomats had been expelled from all over the world, from France to Australia, who each accused many of the expelled of being spies in disguise. Perhaps the most head-turning response to Russia’s aggression, however, came from the United States. President Donald Trump, accused of collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, shockingly ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and closed the consulate in Seattle. While Moscow has quickly reacted in kind to these expulsions across the globe, just recently announcing the removal of a further 50 British diplomats, it is clear that Russia has finally crossed the line. With the Kremlin reeling from the devastation of its foreign intelligence network, and the heightened tensions with a re-invigorated West, the Skripal episode has turned into an unlikely victory for the West. But the fact of the matter is, it isn’t over yet. The solidarity and unity of the free world is an impressive feat, particularly in the midst of Brexit. But as the countries of the Western world return to their disputes and squabbles, and as Britain continues to struggle with a post-Brexit world, it remains to be seen whether London and her allies will sustain the initiative, or whether Russia will seize it once again.
Perhaps the most poignant way to end this article is with an update on the Skripals themselves. Sergei and his daughter Yulia remain hospitalized, and while Yulia has fully recovered, Mr. Skripal remains in critical condition. If he does survive, there is a good chance he will be an invalid for life. The tragedy of the Skripals is a lesson—and a mirror—of the fraught world of diplomacy and espionage, and it shows the price one may pay for choosing to engage in such a game.
By: Mason Krohn
After Rex Tillerson’s tweet-based firing in early March, Exxon Mobil’s command over international affairs seemed fleeting, especially for a company that once had its press releases copied verbatim in White House statements. Yet, the oil giant’s long-lasting sway over global conflict has proved itself unrelenting even in the face of Mr. Tillerson’s departure. Most notably, due to Exxon Mobil’s discovery of oil in the Caribbean sea, a century-long debacle over the true border between Venezuela and Guyana has reignited.
Dating back to 1831, Britain initiated the cartographic dispute by hiring Robert Schomburgk to survey their colonial territory in Guyana and set a westward border on their claim. Extending far into Venezuelan land, Britain approved the Schomburgk Line, gaining an additional 33,000 square miles for the colony. Rightfully upset with the expansion, Venezuela called on the United States to invoke the Monroe Doctrine and protect the independent Latin American nation from foreign influence. In 1895, US Secretary of State, Richard Olney demanded that Britain submit the dispute to international arbitration, receiving backing from President Grover Cleveland while rumors of war upon Britain circulated in US press coverage. To Venezuela’s dismay, even after Britain agreed to arbitration, the boundary committee ruled in favor of British Guyana, enforcing Schomburgk’s demarcation, despite Venezuela’s hopes that Britain colonial expansion would be curbed at the Essequibo River.
Unsurprisingly, the feud did not end at the turn of the 20th century. In 1941, one of the lawyers representing Venezuela in the late 1800s tribunal case, Severo Mallet-Prevost, published a memorandum that denounced the arbitrators’ decision as the result of a political deal between Great Britain and Russia. Citing Mallet-Prevost’s worries over corruption in the ruling, Venezuela declared the arbitral award “null and void”. To this day, Venezuela recognizes the termination of its eastern border at the Essequibo River, encapsulating two-thirds of Guyana’s territory in a disputed area.
Tensions subsided for the latter half of the century, but Exxon Mobil disrupted the order in South America by announcing the discovery of rich reserves directly off the coast of Guyana’s disputed land. Known as the Stabroek Block, an estimated 3.2 billion barrels of recoverable oil lie within the depths of Guyanese waters. Exxon has reported that its drilling will begin as early as 2020. Accordingly, after Exxon’s first discovery in 2015, officials in Caracas and Georgetown have been fighting for the profit from the reserves. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro labeled the Guyanese president a “hostage” to Exxon and cut off all rice purchases from Guyana. Meanwhile, Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge asked Google to remove all Spanish street names in Essequibo from its maps. Further provoking its neighbor, Venezuela has moved a significant troop presence eastward, garnering complaints from Guyanese business that are losing foreign investors because of Venezuela’s threats.
Seeking resolution, the United Nations proposed handing the decision to the International Court Of Justice. Guyana welcomed the plan, but Venezuelan officials rejected the ICJ, leaving them with few opportunities to assert their claim over Essequibo. Due to their limited approach diplomatically, Venezuela may turn to military force in order to retake their former territory. This February, Brazilian president Michel Temer approved a trip by his Defense Minister and Institutional Security Cabinet Chief to Guyana and Suriname for the stated purpose of approving border security. Brazilian paper O Antagonista challenged this profession, declaring in an unconfirmed report that the actual intention behind the trip was to share Brazilian intelligence about Venezuela’s consideration of an incursion into Guyana. The seizure would be unchallenging given Venezuela’s superior forces, and it offers two benefits to the struggling country. First, the incursion would delay a final decision by the ICJ, which would set the border in stone. Second, Maduro could use the occupation of Guyana as leverage with the United States while negotiating an amnesty plan for himself and members of his party. With tremendous food insecurity and hyperinflation, Venezuela also has a lot to lose if the international community has reason to employ heavier sanctions and take military action in defense of Guyana. As of now, invasion stands as a rumor, but the Venezuelan autocracy has repeatedly shocked the world with unpredictable measures, so there is no telling whether or not Guyana is safe in the near future.
Sadly, no matter the outcome of the Essequibo conflict, neither country has much to gain for its impoverished populace. A startling 35% of Guyanese citizens live below the poverty line, so receiving under $50 a barrel for the hundreds of thousands that could be extracted daily should paint a bright future for the nation of just 737,718 citizens. However, without a significant amount of engineers or developed industry, Guyana cannot capitalize on its own reserves. Likely, all of the refining will take place offshore while the oil is immediately sent to foreign markets. Consequently, the only way oil can improve Guyana is if its elected officials direct the tax revenue towards efforts that assist the people. Looking at past precedent, the Guyanese should not have faith in their government. After the discovery of diamonds and gold, Australian and Canadian firms boosted export earnings and contributed taxes to the nation, but small local-based firms smuggled the minerals abroad, evading taxation. Making matters worse, Guyanese politicians squandered the finite tax dollars on subsidies for state-owned sugar producers. Natural resources minister, Raphael Trotman, hopes to correct Guyana’s prior mistakes by signing on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and monitoring mineral revenues to prevent theft. However, his maneuver cannot account for a history of corruption nor the inefficiencies in Guyana’s polarized political atmosphere. The two major parties are divided along racial lines: the predominantly Afro-Guyanese People’s National Congress (PNCR) and the primarily Indo-Guyanese People’s Progressive Party. The PNCR, which has historically rigged elections, is in a standoff with the opposition over the appointment of a new head of the electoral commission. But, without resolution, the constitution enables presidential appointment, advancing even more corruption in favor of the PNCR. Coincidentally, the elections will coincide with Exxon’s planned initiation of extraction, so only ballots can tame the corruption of oil.
Venezuelans, the victims of repression and starvation, will not witness relief from seizure of the Essequibo. Venezuela already has the most proven crude oil reserves in the world (over 300 billion barrels), but as Chavez once did, Maduro has not invested in the necessary infrastructure to boost production. In fact, in 2016, Caracas imported 50,000 barrels of light crude oil just to prepare heavy crude oil for export. Moreover, Venezuela's aged tankers are prohibited from leaving ports by international maritime law, and because of a history of poor payments, the global marketplace is weary of selling modern tankers to the autocracy. The country will more than likely default on its $50 billion debt to China even with current reserves. Hence, the Essequibo venture has no payoff for everyday Venezuelan citizens who have been denied a voice and nutrition by their government.
No matter where Guyana’s border stands, at the end of the day, Venezuela is on the verge of collapse and Guyana’s economy is spiraling downward. As Exxon fuels the ever-growing threat that climate change poses to the world, only corporate America succeeds, albeit the emptied reserves at the mouth of the Essequibo River. Little did Robert Schomburgk know in 1831 that his fabricated demarcation would pit two Caribbean nations against each other while an oil giant would scour the resources of Guyana.
By: Caroline Sha
On March 18, the Red Square in Moscow was packed as Vladimir Putin walked onto stage. The results for the 2018 presidential election had just come out and unsurprisingly, Putin had clinched the win by a landslide. After a brief speech, he chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” with his supporters before walking off. This is the fourth time Putin has been elected president. This term, he won with 76.7% of the vote, an increase from the 65% he earned in the 2012 election. His closest contender, Pavel Grundinin of the Communist Party, earned only 11.8%, making this election an easy win.
However, many are unhappy with the validity of the election. Critics are especially concerned with the various instances of voting fraud that seem to have occured. Cameras posted in Russian voting stations recorded people stuffing ballot boxes while election officials have reported being assaulted by voters. Moreover, many polling places reported exactly 85%, 90% and 95% turnout and 1.5 million votes seem to have appeared overnight. But most importantly, the main criticism of the 2018 election was the fact that Putin was guaranteed to win even without voting fraud. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe stated about the election, “Choice without real competition, as we have seen here, is not real choice.” There are no presidential debates that Putin participates in, making it hard to compare him with the the other candidates who do not have documentaries put out in their favor. In addition, the most viable candidate against Putin, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the election on charges of fraud, an act he considers political retribution. The remaining seven candidates really had no chance to win, as they were already unpopular or affected by external factors. Take for example Pavel Grundinin, whose communist views could have enticed a good amount of Russians to vote for him, if not for the accusations of undeclared Swiss bank accounts published by sources associated with the Kremlin. Despite Grundinin’s protests that these are completely false, the Russia Central Election Committee required a warning about his secret accounts to be published on ballots. This most likely turned off communist-leaning voters, his base of supporters, and destroyed his chances of gaining anything close to a majority. Furthermore, opposition leaders have also stated that most of the contenders not only were fighting a hopeless fight but also were in fact planted by the Kremlin to give a semblance of democracy to the election. Kseniya Sobchak, a liberal celebrity who ran for the presidency, was accused by Navanly of being paid to run by the Russian government. Though she has confronted controversial topics in the past, her family ties to Putin have left people questioning if she is running against Putin or as his successor.
With all that in mind, it is safe to say that Putin’s main goal was not securing the majority of the vote, as that was already guaranteed. Rather, he wanted a large voter turnout so he could show the world that the people of Russia truly wanted him in power. Though he did not reach his goal of 70% this time, 67% of the country came out to vote. Nevertheless, nothing is simple in Russian politics, and it seems like Russia used some unsavory tactics to persuade and sometimes coerce people into voting. In many parts of Russia, officials used raffles and contests to entice people to come to the polls and celebrities appeared in videos endorsing Putin. These gimmicks are not too bad but less savory are the mass reports of forced voting. Many people stated that they, their bosses or educators ordered them to go to voting stations and take pictures as proof once they cast their ballot.
Amidst all these controversies, how did the rest of the world react to the Russian election? Donald Trump, against the notes of his advisors, congratulated Putin by phone call and talked to him about issues such as North Korea but not the Skripal poisoning case. Countries like China and Iran have also followed suit and responded positively towards the election. Germany answered less warmly, with a representative for Angela Merkel stating that “We have differences of opinion with Russia and we very clearly criticise Russia's policies on some issues - Ukraine, Syria," The spokesman did say that Merkel would be also congratulating the president, however, and wished to still have relations with the Russia. In contrast, Poland recoiled at the results and its deputy foreign prime minister demanded Germany halt the building of a pipeline due to supply oil to Russia.
But what’s done is done now, so what’s next for Russia? First and foremost, this is legally Putin’s last term as president. He could possibly pull a Xi Jinping but if somehow Putin is unable to retain power at the helm of the Kremlin or behind the scenes, a power struggle will surely happen in Russia. And in the political landscape in Russia, if a ultra-nationalist or young liberal comes out at top is anyone’s guess. As for what happens during this next term, Putin has secured his place in the minds of the Russian people by portraying himself as the man to bring Russia back to its former glory and it's unlikely that he is willing to give up that legacy. Whatever he does, one can be sure that it will do something along the lines of cementing his place in history as the leader who saved Russia. But, bigger picture aside, one of Putin’s most pressing issues will be the poisoning of a former Russian spy. Theresa May has publicly accused Putin of the crime, but he has denied it vehemently. This will probably be the tune for the rest of his time in power, whether that be until the end of the term he just won or until his death; no matter what, he’ll never admit wrongdoing to other countries. And with Putin’s new nuclear weapons and continued aggression adding to that, don’t expect any defrosting of tensions soon.
By: Erin Flaherty
In the past month, a handful of states have announced new mandates on natural gas plants. This has sparked controversy, as many have different opinions surrounding the productivity of natural gas. Some argue that mandates are jumping into renewable energy too quickly, saying that natural gas is the “”bridge fuel” that will help the energy transition, replacing coal while buying time for renewable energy to scale up”. Others argue that a “bridge fuel” is unnecessary, and that leaping from coal use to renewable energy is ideal for most states.
One state where the “bridge fuel” mentality is being seen is in Massachusetts. The state has a mandate to get 40% of its energy usage to clean energy by 2030. However instead of pulling projected plants out of Massachusetts, NRG Energy, a gas plant producer, is instead using this mandate as a way to justify more natural gas energy. Their spokesman David Gaiser said that “Unlike a nuclear plant or even a coal plant, if more renewables are integrated, [a gas plant] can be ramped up or down to accommodate them,” Construction of this gas plant has already begun.
In Arizona, however, using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” is not on the minds of regulators. These regulators have dismissed upcoming plans for gas plants and instead ordered the use of renewable energy. They also have put in place a 9 month moratorium on certain gas plants that are over 150 megawatts. This means that for 9 months, there will be a temporary ban on plants that have the power to produce over 150 megawatts of energy. Many of the state’s biggest plants are well over this limit, like the state’s second biggest natural gas plant, Gila River Generating Station, that has a capacity of 1,250 megawatts.
These new changes in the future of energy use in Arizona came as a surprise to many. Many officials from Arizona Public Service argue that natural gas and renewable energy should both be used, since Arizona has high demands for air-conditioning, consuming a profusion of the state’s available energy. Andrew Tobin, one of the regulators against the creation of new natural gas plants mandates, called what the state is demanding for new energy production erratic, saying that he is ” nervous that we will end up building a lot of capital plant that doesn’t stand the test of time.”
As states have been releasing these new mandates, many companies have been pulling their projected plans for new plants out of these states. Michigan released a mandate that calls for 15% of the state’s energy used for utilities to transition to renewable energy by 2021. Since this plan was released, CMS Energy (a natural gas company) has canceled their proposed expansion plans for plants outside of Detroit.
These 3 states have certainly set forward huge mandates for the future of their energy, but by far the state that is taking the most action towards lessening their use of natural gas and coal energy is California. In the future, the amount of natural gas resources in California will be rapidly declining. Robert B. Weisenmiller, the chairman of the California Energy Commission, even said that “at some point soon, we’ll be permitting the last gas plant in California”.
California's mandate states that 50% of all the state’s used energy must come from clean and renewable energy sources by 2030. California is already at the 30% mark of their goal. This mandate may seem impossible, but for California, it is quite possible, since wind and solar power are becoming increasingly popular in the state due to their affordability. The prices of both energies have gone down in the past years, and the amount of natural gas being used has fallen with it. Natural gas and coal usage for energy fell by 7.7% from 2016 to 2017, according to the Department of Energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted in their Energy Outlook released in 2015 that by 2050, we will have increased our usage of natural gas by almost 1%. However, they are now seeing a large unexpected decline in the supply of natural gas. If states continue to release mandates at the rate that they are now and truly implement policies to achieve them, we could be looking a significant decrease instead.
A decrease in natural gas production would have huge impacts, both economically and environmentally. Mark Jacobson, a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, outlined in a recent study how the transition from natural gas to renewable energies would benefit the economy. In an interview with CNN, he said that when accounting for the jobs lost and created overall, 22 million more jobs would be created globally by this transition, and argued that “one does not need to believe in climate change to want to transition energy”, since the economic benefit would be so impactful.
The transition from natural gas energy to renewable energy could substantially lessen the issue of global warming that we are facing. Natural gas plants emit a high of 2 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. In comparison, wind turbines emit a high of 0.02 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. The implementation of renewable energy sources would have a large impact on our issue of global warming, if implemented on a large scale.
By: Camille Shen
In decades past, American high schools have celebrated March 14 as Pi Day, a day to laud and examine the irregularities and intricacies of the mathematical constant pi. But this year, on March 14, 2018, the festivities were forgotten as thousands of students flooded onto football fields, tracks, bleachers, parking lots, and even the front of the Capitol building to demand stricter gun control. Like the endless digits of pi, this walkout seemed to be the first step in a seemingly never-ending campaign to reduce gun violence. But the unique circumstances of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre and its victims may, for the first time, bring the end of the senseless killing into sight.
America is certainly no stranger to mass shootings. Data from the Gun Violence Archive reveals there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – nine out of every ten days on average. But these are just statistics; while shootings in the past have shaken the country enough to incite feeble requests for increased gun control and abundant offerings of “thoughts and prayers”, the nation ultimately moves on. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Sutherland Springs. Orlando. Las Vegas. And now, Parkland. Each time, no profound change was ever made to prevent the same tragedy from occurring again– until February 14, 2018. Where adults have failed to protect their children in the past, children are now striving to protect children. Enough is enough, they cry. But what made the Parkland shooting the point of “enough”? Why not after the countless mass shooting that came before? Why this one?
To understand a movement, start with its heart, its voice: in this case, the teenagers. The mobilization to end gun violence has been led nearly exclusively by a group of 17 year olds, including three MSD student activists, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg, among others. These teens, along with thousands of others across the nation, have been born into the era of mass shootings; with massacres headlining the news seemingly every week, they are no longer fazed by such instances of senseless violence. However, they are also just old enough to make a change and perhaps even more importantly, possess the power to do so with social media at their fingertips. During the shooting, students posted on Snapchat and Twitter horrifying videos of children huddled beneath desks as shots and screams rang through the halls. Now, they post angry and impassioned calls to action, organize protests like the walkout and March For Our Lives, and engage in Twitter debates all through a few taps on the screens of their phones. Where Sandy Hook children were too young to stage protests and Columbine victims grew up in an age without extensive technology, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are in a position to create a massive effect: enacting legislation, electing gun reformers into office, and above all, saving lives.
These teenagers benefit from two different kinds of invincibility: one typical of the coming-of-age spirit and the other from being victims of tragedy. After the shooting, students went to Twitter to unleash a storm of burns, drags, and roasts against the NRA and Republican figures such as Dana Loesch, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Sarah Chadwick, a junior from Stoneman, tweeted on February 23, “We should change the names of AR-15s to “Marco Rubio” because they are so easy to buy.” But unlike Rubio’s agenda, the teen victims have been met with an outpouring of support. As such, it makes it nearly impossible for the NRA or Republicans to hurl the same attacks back at them without committing political suicide. The Republican lawmaker aide who called the survivors “crisis actors” was terminated within hours of the claim, his Twitter account deleted altogether shortly afterward.
Unfortunately, this relentless support for gun control measures seems to be unique to Parkland, a predominantly white and affluent suburban area. Where African American activists against gun violence in urban communities have been met with little funds or assistance in the past, despite having the highest gun violence rates in the country and fighting for change for decades, Parkland received an astonishing national response in a mere amount of days. But these students realize their power in white privilege. During the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., a heavy emphasis was put on young activists of color to speak out about the daily violence occurring in their communities. In doing so, Americans were given a taste of the bloodshed that runs rampant not just in the mass shootings on the front page of the news, but on the streets of cities like Chicago, south Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and countless others.
Since the days after February 14 and the walkout a month later, many have responded to the call for gun control. A dozen companies have cut ties with the NRA, Dick’s Sporting Goods has stopped selling assault weapons, and Florida, historically pro-gun, passed a bill to ban bump stocks, raise the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, and allow police deputies to confiscate weapons from the mentally ill. But even with these changes, it is not enough for the students of Stoneman Douglas. "Gov. Scott is trying to look like he's taking a step in the opposite of the direction of the NRA, but... it's a baby step,” Cameron Kasky, a junior, says. But there isn’t much else that can be done– in the status quo, the only way for teens to make change happen is if the adults choose to enact it. As such, students like Kasky are seeking to increase voter registration and participation among their peers once they reach the age of 18. By doing so, they hope a teen political movement may emerge in the coming years to manifest change when adults cannot be counted on to do so. Because even if the walkout, March For Our Lives, and countless other protests don’t gain government attention and gun reform won’t be passed in Congress this year, or even the next year– these politically active teens will become the future generation molding the political landscape. And maybe then will massacres like Stoneman Douglas not be forgotten, but prevented; maybe then we will be able to once again celebrate February 14 as Valentine’s Day and March 14 as Pi Day in our schools without tragedy and fear in the back of our minds– but it starts with the students.
By: Emily Wang
In March of last year, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into “Marines United,” a private Facebook group which shares explicit photos of women in service.
This social media group, which was comprised of 30,000 active duty and retired male Marines, Navy corpsmen and British Royal Marines, began its targeting of female soldiers in 2015; its revolting actions were finally uncovered when a retired Marine Corps sergeant, Thomas Brennan, immediately contacted the Marine Corps headquarters after discovering the Facebook page. The posts not only revealed pictures of servicewomen in various stages of undress, but also contained derogatory language and slurs towards these female victims, with comments like “take her out back and pound her out.”
Days after Brennan reported his findings to headquarters, members of the Facebook group who found out that they had been exposed quickly moved their photos to other websites -- Dropbox, Google Drive, and Anon-IB -- in an attempt to scavenge and preserve the nudes.
Unfortunately, this incident is not the first of its kind. In 2012, an Army sergeant at West Point was discovered secretly videotaping women in bathroom and shower areas. Although he pleaded guilty and received a sentencing of 33 months in jail, his actions reveal that this intentional violation of basic human rights to privacy is not limited to just the Marine Corps, but extends to all military service branches.
These actions, though disturbing, are just a branch stemming from the tree of rape culture rooted in military history. Having commenced as institutions for boys only, these service academies began admitting females only a few decades ago, with the United States Military Academy at West Point admitting its first class of female trainees in July of 1976. As such, many men are predisposed to viewing women in an “us versus them” lenses, with some even being told to stay away from female soldiers -- “don’t talk to them, don’t sit near them in the mess, don’t breathe near them” -- in fear of getting into trouble.
In fact, a Rand Corporation study estimated that over 20,000 service members had been sexually assaulted in 2013 -- but beyond mere statistics, the more disconcerting issue lies with the response of the military. Instead of punishing sexual predators, the military often discharged victims who filed complaints regarding sexual harassment, finding it easier to side with the perpetrator than to aid the victim to recovery.
This incident of photo-sharing could hurt recruitment of women into service academies and blacken the name of anyone associated with the American military if this situation is not handled properly. As of now, the military is taking steps to punish the offenders in an attempt to change the misogynistic culture of the military. Since May of last year, 30 Marines were identified by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for online misconduct that were not labelled as felony crimes. Even more, five Marines have been punished in connection with the investigations, receiving nonjudicial punishment for their actions. Is this enough? Will it be effective in changing military culture? Voice your thoughts on this.
In addition, Representative Martha McSally introduced a bill in May to prevent these actions from happening again. Passing through the House on a vote of 418-0, this bill would prohibit non-consensual distribution of intimate images in the military in the aftermath of the Marine Corps’s nude-photo-sharing scandal. By amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to punish violators by court martial, Congress hopes to send a message about the importance of immediately reforming the culture of sexual violence that pervades the military.
Military leaders have also voiced their concerns. James Mattis, a former general and the Secretary of Defense, states, “We will not excuse or tolerate such behaviour if we are to uphold our values and maintain our ability to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.” Even more, Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, states that "for anyone to target one of our Marines, online or otherwise, in an inappropriate manner, is distasteful and shows an absence of respect."
In order for this “respect” to be reestablished, or in some cases, built, the military must no longer cover up acts of indecency and must collectively regulate and punish those who deliberately choose to infringe upon the rights of others. Females who serve work equally as hard and sacrifice their lives for the same objective as their male colleagues: to protect the freedom of the country. They cannot be treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, members of the military must work to combat the invisible enemy of sexual discrimination and erase the normalized culture of female degradation within service.
By Erin Flaherty
On February 14th, 2018, at approximately 2:21 pm, Nicolas Cruz entered Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He proceeded to use his AR-15 style rifle to kill 17 students and staff, along with injuring more than 15 other students. The shooting has resulted in intense political discussion on gun violence around the country and even globally. But how has the town of Parkland been reacting to such tragedy? How have the survivors and family members of those lost been recovering?
Anthony Borges, a 15 year old student at Stoneman Douglas High School, is one of the many heroes that rose during the shooting. He was shot 5 times by the shooter while locking the door to his classroom, securing the lives of his 20 classmates. Like many other students who were injured, Anthony has started some of the many surgeries on his long road to recovery. When speaking on Anthony’s invitation to an FC Barcelona game in Spain, his father said that “when you see your child is happy, nothing else matters. The cost or effort involved is insignificant next to seeing your son happy.”
Many students from Stoneman Douglas High School have become powerful voices all over the news, most notably Emma González. An 18 year old survivor from Parkland, Emma has spoke at many events, including the CNN Town Hall and the March for Our Lives. Her powerful speech at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. consisted of minutes of her silently standing on the stage, after which she then said “In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 more were injured, and everyone — absolutely everyone in the Douglas community — was forever altered,”.
Another survivor whose voice has been quite impactful is David Hogg, a 17 year old student at Parkland. During the shooting, Hogg was taking videos of what was going on around him and interviewing his classmates. "I want to show these people exactly what's going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education," , Hogg said to CNN. Since the shooting, Hogg has been all over the media, taking interviews with many sources like CNN and Fox. At the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., Hogg said in his speech that “to those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready”.
Hogg has been criticized by many for being “anti-gun” due to his criticism of the NRA. On Fox, David said that “We’re calling out the NRA a lot and 99.9 percent of the people that are in the NRA are responsible, safe gun owners and I respect them for that. Joining an organization that wants to support safe gun ownership is excellent.” He has stated to several sources that he is for the 2nd Amendment and does not believe in taking that right away, saying that "We have a right to live just as we have a right to bear arms". He simply believes that we should all advocate for “trying to save kids’ lives, what can be more nonpartisan than that?”
Having the students rise up ”is kind of a wake-up call for people, because it’s the kids saying ‘enough is enough’”, said the daughter of David Sanders, a teacher who had been killed in the Columbine shooting in April of 1999. She thinks that the students speaking up is more powerful than any adult could be, saying that “These kids are going to change the world”.
Other powerful voices that have been circulating the news are those of the family members who lost their children in the shooting. Andrew Pollack lost his daughter, Meadow Pollack, in the shooting. Meadow had just got accepted to Lynn University. “We’re here because my daughter has no voice — she was murdered last week, and she was taken from us, shot nine times,” Andrew said at a meeting with Trump.
During the same meeting, Trump pitched the idea of arming teachers and school faculty with weapons. In response to that, Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6 year old son Dylan at the Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012, said that “Rather than arm them with a firearm, I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place”. In a survey done by The Washington Post, around 42% of those surveyed think that the shooting would have been prevented if teachers were armed, but 58% think that stricter gun control laws would have prevented the shooting.
Districts around the country have announced new policies to prevent such devastating shootings. The Irondequoit Police Department in New York has announced that they will be assigning 1 police officer to stay on school grounds in 15 schools around the area. As officer Bradley Lape from Irondequoit hit on, this would allow officers to familiarize themselves with the building and the students.
But what changes have happened within Parkland? The board members of the Broward County district in Parkland passed a 24-point resolution, calling on congress to ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks, and create larger gun-free perimeters around schools. Robert Runcie, the Superintendent of the district, has called for a 10 week investigation of the shooter’s academic and social history. This would included interviewing the staff that had worked with him and analyzing any social or emotional help he received.
Runcie also sent a notice out to the parents of the Broward County School District that covered their new ID and clear backpack policy. Students of Stoneman Douglas High School will be provided clear backpacks and IDs to carry at all times. Many students have mixed feelings about these new implementations. Kyra Parrow, who is a current senior at Stoneman Douglas High School, tweeted her opinion on it, saying that it was “making my school seem like jail now because legislators don’t have common sense gun reform on their agendas.”
There are hundreds of different stories that have rose from Parkland from students and families who are all facing different traumas. But one thing remains true through all of them: In the face of terror, the families and survivors of the Parkland shooting have came together to make their voices heard. They’ve shown their strength to the rest of the country, inspiring many others to stand up for what they believe will help our country avoid such tragedies.
By: Namita Kalghatgi
Despite spending thousands of dollars of fees, facing piles of paperwork, and waiting years on end, families across the United States are yet to be matched with children they long to adopt.
The number of children from outside the U.S. adopted by Americans continued its consistent decline in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Department of State. Americans adopted around 5,370 children from other countries in 2016– 77% fewer than the peak in 2004. In comparison, Americans adopted about 53,500 U.S.-born children through public agencies in fiscal 2015, the most recent year for which data from the Health and Human Services Department are available.
Overseas adoptions by Americans have dipped to the lowest level in 35 years, as data has recently shown. The State Department reported that it issued 5,372 visas to children who were adopted abroad or were coming to the United States to be adopted by American parents in 2016, down from 5,648 in 2015 — and a fraction of the 22,884 overseas adoptions in 2004, when adoption rates peaked.
The latest figure is the lowest since 1981, when there were 4,868 overseas adoptions. Reasons for the decline are varied. Some countries are promoting domestic adoptions over foreign ones; several have suspended the process because of corruption. Still others have imposed stringent restrictions after cases of child transfers and abandonment.
As the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen and the stigma attached to single motherhood has faded, the number of babies placed for adoption has declined. In 1971, 90,000 children were given to be adopted in the United States. By 1975 the number had fallen 50%, mainly because of the legalisation of abortion in 1973. In 2014, only 18,000 infants under the age of two were placed for adoption.
Meanwhile, adopting from abroad has also become harder. According to the State Department, almost 23,000 children were adopted from abroad in 2004; last year, only 5,400 were. Unicef, Save the Children and other international charities consider such adoptions a last resort. Relatives and those who live close to the child are preferred. Russia has closed all international adoptions to American citizens as a response to Western sanctions, and corruption or child-trafficking scandals have ended adoptions from several countries, such as Guatemala. The federal government has also become more hostile. Thus, many children are left in underequipped and understaffed institutions, with uncertainty as to when they can leave for a loving home.
In the words of Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of the charity Adoption UK,“Adoption can offer the best chance to permanently break a cycle of neglect and abuse and give a child a second chance at fulfilling their potential with the support of a loving family.”