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.
By Cathy Chen
On October 16th, 2013 the results of an election were as predicted: the Democratic Party won New Jersey’s Senate election for the 14th time in a row, continuing a trend started in 1972. New Jersey’s new senator, though, is far from standard. Cory Booker, the former Mayor of Newark, has captured the attention of the United States with his novel approaches to policy.
Booker has used media and creativity to highlight problems: he gone on a ten day hunger strike to improve security in dangerous housing complexes and lived on a food stamp budget to raise awareness for food insecurity. He has been labeled a “celebrity” by both detractors and supporters. Critics such as former candidate Lonegan criticized Booker for being a “tweeter” rather than a leader while supporters applaud the 1.4 million followers that Cory Booker has.
In Newark, Booker used his celebrity status to benefit the area. With a dearth of government support, Cory Booker successfully asked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to provide $100 million to the schools of Newark, increasing funding for Newark’s public school system. He has joined Newark police on 4 am raids and, during his tenure as mayor, crime in Newark decreased by 33%.
The subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary “Street Fight”, Booker had his first campaign for mayor of Newark in 2002 and faced a strongly-backed incumbent who used personal attacks and connections to thwart Booker’s first run for Mayor of Newark. Five years later, Booker was in office and the incumbent convicted of fraud and sent to prison.
As mayor, Cory Booker increased investments into Newark infrastructure. In 2013 alone, he brought $1 billion in developmental projects and millions more dollars in aid from various philanthropic sources. Bringing prosperity to poor areas, saving a neighbor from a burning building, and shoveling snow during Hurricane Sandy, Booker has highlighted the advantages of his unconventional approach.
But in addition to these tangible results, hopefully Cory Booker’s rise in political prominence will help solve the problem of political apathy.
A 2011 Newsweek study asked 1,000 US citizens to take the American Citizenship Test. The results were highlighted the depressing state of voter ignorance – 73% did not know the justification for the United States fighting the Cold War, 29% could not name America’s vice president, 44% could not define the Bill of Rights.
In addition, we have one of the lowest voter turnout rates among comparable democracies, with the nation’s youth 20% less likely to vote than older citizens.
Clearly, we have a problem. Without an informed citizenry, the entire concept of democracy fails to work well – if people do not know the facts, they have a hard time making a good decision or properly representing their views.
So how does Cory Booker come back into all of this?
With 1.4 million followers on twitter (5 times the population of Newark), Cory Booker is already in communication with a large group of interested civilians. With his connections to famous pop culture icons, he has access to a large group of people many of whom are largely disconnected from the political process. With an unconventional approach to politics, Cory Booker can capture the interest of a currently apathetic population, bringing subjects of policy and politics back into the interest of the United States.
Right now, we are in dire need of someone who can revitalize the process of politics and make people care about policy issues, someone who can make people (especially young people) feel connected to the political issues discussed in the nation’s capital. Someone like Cory Booker can help the voting public of the United States want to know more about the issues of their world.
Cory Booker is a Democrat who supports abortion rights, tax incentives to increase hiring, marriage equality, small businesses, and pro-bono legal help for ex-convicts. He has received corporate campaign donations and personally disliked (but tolerated) gays until college. He supports medical marijuana and school voucher proposals. He is unmarried and a vegetarian.
By Cathy Chen
Rights and freedoms are arbitrary, but immensely important, issues nearly impossible to quantify. However, with its meticulous methodology, the FreedomHouse Foundation annually compiles a report on human rights throughout the world, ranking each country on a scale of 1 to 7 for civil liberties and political rights. A ranking of “1” signifies a “free” nation while a score of “7” denotes rampant oppression and an essentially complete lack of freedom. Of the 208 nations analyzed, a mere nine nations received a “7” in both civil liberties and political freedom – earning their spot on the selective “Worst of the Worst” list created by FreedomHouse. Many of these nations – Syria, North Korea, Somalia – have distinctively tense relations with the United States, yet not all of them experience disapproval from the American government. Saudi Arabia, with its distinction of being on that selective list, has maintained cordial relations with the United States and received the perks of a tight relationship with United States policymakers.
The State Department of the United States government astutely notes that “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States”, praising the “longstanding security relationship” between the two nations. James B. Smith, American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, highlighted the shared “charitable impulse to aid the less fortunate” pointing out that “our relationship is more than just trade, it is a partnership” in his March 2013 article. The 74 billion dollars in trade between the two nations, including the tens of billions of dollars in arms deals, are a fantastic example of globalization, an epitome of cooperation between two nations thousands of miles away. The flow of capital between the nations help both the United States and Saudi Arabia. While the United States adamantly condemns the human rights abuses in China and Egypt (both failing to make FreedomHouse’s “Worst of the Worst” list), its comments regarding Saudi Arabia are deeply hidden on the State Department webpage: the “US bilateral relations fact sheet” holds no mention at all of human rights. A page last updated in December 1992 observes that “Saudi Arabia has been cited by several international human rights monitoring groups for its alleged failure to respect a number of basic rights.”
This attitude does not reflect international responses to Saudi abuses. Phillip Luther of Amnesty International declares that “this cat and mouse game authorities in Saudi Arabia are playing is, simply, outrageous”, regarding the arrest and beating of peaceful protesters in Saudi Arabia. The Human Rights Watch reveals that all Saudi women require permission from male guardians to travel, work, or study, that women still are disenfranchised, and that Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world to still prohibit women from driving. Saudi Arabia executes civilians accused of witchcraft and sorcery, and utilizes amputation of limbs as punishment for theft. It has truly earned its spot on FreedomHouse’s exclusive list.
Does it matter, when America allies itself with such a government? If the Americans receive ample oil, thriving trade, and security cooperation, does it matter if civilians half a world away suffer? Does morality even have a place in political exchanges between entire nations?
Political commentator Karl Lindemann observes that “the Saudi government, along with its Gulfi counterparts, is one of the most hated regimes in the Arab world … arguably the most brutal of Arab dictatorships, much more so than Assad’s ever was [and] the most staunchly pro-West”. Fareed Zakaria elucidates that the people “look at American policy in the region as cynically geared to America’s oil interests, supporting thugs and tyrants without any hesitation”. Maybe that’s why Saudi money “has flowed into Al-Qaeda’s coffers”, why 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th came from Saudi Arabia. When civilians suffer from constant suppression, when they see their friends and neighbors disappear to the human rights abuses of a government, they inevitably turn against that government and its supporters. America is only hurting herself by aiding a government that abuses the rights that the United States then espouses to the world. Rather than concentrating solely on combatting existing terrorists with any allies available, she must figure out where that terrorism stems from, that oppression leads to desperation and anger that all comes out in the end. Most importantly, the United States and its government must carefully consider how morality weighs against other interests.
By Cathy Chen
North Korea urges foreigners to evacuate South Korea. Religiously motivated terrorists plant a bomb at the Boston Marathon. North Korea declares plans to launch missiles. A Missouri dissident sends mail laced with ricin to political figures. North Korea announces the trial of an American citizen.
These days, threats from North Korea seem to just fill the spaces between other pieces of noteworthy news, an ubiquitous menace constantly casting its shadow over the developing world, monopolizing the media in between various crises and events. In the past few months, North Korea has tested nuclear bombs, announced that it possesses missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland, and released a fiery video depicting the immolation of American political landmarks. These seem to portent impending doom, or at least a critical transnational incident. They fill mainstream media and other news feeds with intimidating possibilities of critical escalation.
But is this really anything new? In 1994, North Korea asserted its intention to turn Seoul, the capital of South Korea, into a “sea of fire.” In 2002, it again expressed its power in a bellicose announcement that it would “mercilessly wipe out” the United States and other aggressors. Today, six year later, the United States and Seoul remain in their respective locations, and North Korean threats have become an almost common occurrence.
A comprehensive timeline produced by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars reveals that North Korea has been engaging in this kind of threatening activity since 1968, when it seized the USS Pueblo, which remains in the possession of North Korea today. This kind of activity is known as brinksmanship. Throughout modern history, North Korea has been known to repeatedly utilize alarming rhetoric and extreme actions to gain the attention of prominent international figures and various forms of aid. It engages in risky behavior that pushes the United States and the rest of the international community “to the brink” and is placated by promises of food aid, relaxed sanctions, or the opportunity to negotiate with influential people.
One of the most significant and well-known instance of brinksmanship mirrored this combination of public antagonism for private concessions. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in the midst of the cold war, when the Soviet Union deployed ships with offensive ballistic missiles to Cuba. The United States declared a “quarantine” of Cuba, blockading the country from incoming Soviet ships. As the Soviet ships traveled closer and closer to their intended destination, the world waited apprehensively. Ultimately, 13 days of international tension ended with the Soviets publicly removing their missiles for the United States’ promise to never invade Cuba. Then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk declared that “we were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked.”
So this usage of brinksmanship is nothing completely novel, for North Korea or for the world. What is new, however, is the leader of North Korea. Kim Jong-Un, with less than two years of experience as “Supreme Leader” of North Korea, is responsible for all the calculations, manipulations, and actions behind North Korea’s policy of brinksmanship. Though he undoubtedly received years of grooming before becoming “Supreme Leader”, the recent combination of nuclear threats, border-closing, and the trial of an American man could signify an unsteady escalation of threats. With a new and possibly inexperienced leader venturing in the risky business of brinksmanship, North Korea could quickly lose control of the situation, leading America and its allies into a dire calamity.
Given North Korea’s past actions and current path, it is up to the United States to decide its own course of action: take decisive action or wait and see if North Korea, too, will blink.