Protectionism in the Modern Era

There is, and always has been, a consensus among economists that free trade is the best policy, and for much of the latter half of the 20th century, the American public has agreed. The post-Great Depression world had supposedly learned from its mistakes through the misguided policies of the 1930s. Protectionism, even if intended to shield a country from the economic plights of others, had in reality plunged the globe into deeper poverty. Of course, pockets of protectionism have existed throughout the years, but the idea was never mainstream. That is, not until the 2016 presidential race, when candidates from both the left and right had begun preaching limits to international trade and were met with intense passion from the public. If the economic profession agrees that protectionism does not and has never worked, why have the public decided to back protectionism once again?

The economists' perspective

Principally, protectionism is the belief that a country as a whole is harmed by international trade and is helped by barriers to trade. Accordingly, every economy possesses four important components when analyzing the merits of free trade. First, a country will have a relatively abundant amount of resources with which they are more naturally endowed, relative to any trade partner, like capital, high-skilled labor, low-skilled labor, land, etc. Conversely, a country will also have a relatively non-abundant amount of resources, which are not necessarily plenty in that country. Here, think of high-skilled labor in poorer countries, where there is less access to quality education. Third, countries will have industries in which they have comparative advantage in production against a trade partner, meaning it is easier for them to produce a certain good. For example, according to Frank Wolak, the US has a comparative advantage in sustainable technologies. And fourth, countries will non-comparative advantage industries in which it is more difficult for them to produce a different good.

When cross-examining resources and industries, economists agree that most resource owners and most industries end up more prosperous after free trade. Trade barriers, i.e. quotas and tariffs, cause a deadweight loss, a cost to society created by market inefficiency, borne by everyone in the economy. Protectionism is supported by those who lose from trade only in the short run, namely both relatively abundant and relatively non-abundant resource owners in non-comparative advantage industries. Breaking this down even further, relatively non-abundant resource owners are generally not wealthy enough as a group to lobby for trade protection laws. An example in the U.S. is low-skilled labor, such as factory workers. This sector of the economy found its protectionist voice in the 2016 presidential candidates rather than in representatives in Congress. Hence, the protectionism lobby lies primarily with the relatively abundant resource owners in non-comparative advantage industries. The decline of the manufacturing industry which led to the shut down factory buildings, a permanent loss for capital owners, is an example of the latter kind of resource owners. Generally speaking, factory owners will tend to be rich individuals or companies with much bigger wallets to spend on lobbying than factory workers.

Protectionism: a history, 1922-present

Congress under Republican control in the 1920s passed several protectionist laws aimed at defending American farmers. These farmers had seen a boom during World War I in exports to Europe but were experiencing a loss as Europeans recovered after the war. One of the laws, the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act of 1922, raised tariffs to higher than pre-1913 levels, when a Democrat controlled Congress attempted to reverse the protectionist policies in place.

The rest of the decade proved more prosperous for the agriculture sector than expected, leading to gross overproduction and falling prices. The stock market crash of 1929 spread fears among policymakers and public alike that if America were to not protect its own economic interests, it would sink further into recession. Global trade fell 60% from 1929 to 1932, and the infamous Smoot-Tawley Tariff Act in 1930 was passed. Originally designed to provide further relief for farmers, the act resulted in tariffs on twenty thousand other imports. Economists of the time petitioned the president to veto the bill, saying, “Countries cannot permanently buy from us unless they are permitted to sell to us. And the more we restrict the importation of goods from them by means of even higher tariffs the more we reduce the possibility of our exporting to them.”

Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives in 1930 after protectionism had failed to fulfill its promises, and in 1932, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was elected president. Together, the Democratic party implemented policies that lowered tariff rates to historic lows. They would stay at those lows for many decades, through World War II, much of the Cold War, and presidential administrations of both parties.

Ronald Reagan’s administration saw a modestly burgeoning belief in protectionism propped up by increasing imports from Asia, and hundreds of bills protecting American industries in electronics, appliances, textiles, clothing, toys, and automobiles were introduced to protect American job loss. In particular, automakers and auto-workers worked together to seek trade protectionism from Japanese car imports. Reagan favored voluntary quota restrictions, but this unexpectedly led Japanese carmakers to export large luxury cars to capture the higher end of the market. This led to those same manufacturers to move their factories to the U.S., legally dodging quotas and permanently crowding the car market for American manufacturers.

The end of the 1980s and 1990s saw a rise in free trade agreements, such as the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1987 and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. These agreements were championed by Democrats attempting to capture moderate voters and Republicans dedicated to reducing barriers to commerce. Consequently, free trade had become an essential feature of 20th century American politics.

Protectionism: 21st Century

One great issue of the protectionist debate of 2016 is the abundance of misleading rhetoric that exists in evaluations of globalization and international trade. For example, Thom Hartmann in the Huffington Post concluded that “globalization is the villain here, and one that needs to be taken in hand and brought under control quickly if we don’t want to see virtually the nations of the world end up subservient to corporate control.” He floated numbers around on manufacturing, highlighting that in the 1950s, manufacturing accounted for 28% of GDP and has declined to a measly 10% in 2010. He argued a viewpoint that less manufacturing meant there was also less wealth creation. Hartmann is not technically wrong. However, his argument would have been more legitimate had he not used the definition of wealth derived from Adam Smith’s the Wealth of Nations and ignored the rest of Smith’s writing on international trade: it was positive sum and importing goods was always beneficial to the importing and exporting countries. Hartmann chose his evidence selectively and blatantly ignored evidence in the same text of the opposing view to mislead his readers. And because the Wealth of Nations may not be a mainstream read for Huffington Post’s audience, readers will proceed to take the article at face value and absorb his bias unwittingly.

A study by the Pew Research Center in 2012 began its report with, “Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.” That study also showed that 85% of middle-class adults said it was more difficult to maintain their standard of living today than a decade ago, and 39% people blamed foreign competition. But from what information did this 39% found their distaste?

Misinformation has generated misunderstanding for the average American about who they are competing against. Economists agree that it is not trade and foreign competition but technology that has taken much of the jobs from American workers. Productivity in the 21st century has skyrocketed to new levels: self-checkout kiosks have replaced cashiers, automated machinery can now do the work of dozens of factory workers, and the Internet has made entire industries, like travel agencies and bookmakers, obsolete in less than two decades. Former CEO of McDonald’s USA Ed Rensi admitted to Fox Business Network, “If you look at the robotic devices that are coming into the restaurant industry, it's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who's inefficient (and) making $15 an hour bagging french fries." But workers in America are not the only ones losing out to robots. In May, Foxconn Technology, a supplier for Apple and Samsung, replaced around 60,000 workers with robots in one factory in China alone. In the end, Rosenthal highlights that “many economists are skeptical that politicians, regardless of party affiliation, can accelerate what's already going on through changes to tariffs, trade pacts and such,” reiterating that protectionism is not the answer to the job loss the world’s low-skilled labor is experiencing. Trade barriers will have little to say about technological leaps forward but will also still hurt companies and countries that rely on cheaper labor to operate and survive.

Globalization, admittedly, has relocated certain jobs abroad, but not at the extent in which Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump suggested in their presidential campaigns. Major emerging markets now produce historically U.S.-dominated goods and did take incomes out of the pockets of some middle class Americans. The result included jobs shifting towards industries that were growing more slowly than others creating the infamous income and employment inequality Sanders preached. There were more opportunities for high-skilled workers and fewer for low-skilled workers leading to the stagnation in middle-class income.

The key here that economists cannot stress enough are side payments, a kind of reimbursement the government can provide to workers and capital owners in industries (the non-comparative advantage industries mentioned earlier) that lose in trade. One type of government program that rarely sees media spotlight are education programs, which allow low-skilled laborers to have the ability to transform themselves into high-skilled laborers, keeping them competitive in the high-skilled labor market of a developed economy. Another program that exists but also has little media pizzazz is the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program in which the government provides a tax credit if an individual’s income falls below a certain level. But the individual must continue working to be eligible for the program. This allows employment to stay afloat but also prevents individuals from resorting to social welfare and keeps the overall market wage low.

Despite these promising programs, the media and politicians are always in need of a political soundbite. Education programs and tax credits do not strike as much of an emotional chord as protectionism does with the middle class. The word “protect” makes them feel less forgotten but that is still not the reality of the policy. It will not protect them from their perceived slump as they believe but will doubtlessly inflict damage on the rest of the domestic and international economy in ways they could never have predicted.

- Kathy Dimaya

Child Labor Still Exists, If You Forgot

 Photo: Kathy Dimaya

Photo: Kathy Dimaya

For many Americans, the concept of child labor feels distant, a rarity reserved for the impoverished abroad. Seldom does one see a child work in this country, thanks to prohibitive laws and higher quality of living, although it does exist in pockets.

On an extended trip home to the Philippines, a different reality set in. Outside a church near Malacanan Palace, the Philippine equivalent of the White House, I met a seven-year-old boy washing a car with his mother while his younger siblings watched and his father offered parking to those who drove by. The mother admitted that she, her husband, and their seven children live on the streets.

The boy, who I will refer to as Michael, flashed me a glowing smile, despite the heat and his evident fatigue. In a day, he and his mother will usually only wash two cars using public utility water nearby. He receives P50 for his day’s work, only a little over $1. Thankfully Michael does attend school in the afternoon, but only on days he can earn his baon, or pocket money. His mother says on those days they cannot afford for him to eat with the other students at school.

All the while, Michael’s little sister hovers around wondering what the fuss is about. Although she spends the day watching her mother and brother wash cars, she giddily hops around like any other toddler.

The height of Philippine power sits not 5km away, and yet children slave alongside their families for a chance at living. Michael's situation seems brighter than those who live in rural areas, where "child workers are exposed to extreme weather conditions, long working hours, and harsh environments while using substandard tools and equipment. In plantations, trucks would pick children from their homes and bring them to makeshift tents that are located in nearby provinces to stay and work there from two weeks to one month without their parents." 2.1 million child laborers work in the Philippines alone, many as young as five years old.

That being said, the Philippines is a trail blazer of institutional reform of child labor. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, "The Philippines is the only country in Asia and the Pacific Region, which received an assessment of ‘significant advancement’ for making several tangible efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor." Pres. Benigno S. Aquino III has been integral in reducing exploitive child labor, specifically the “Convergence Program Against Child Labor, 2013-206,” a program that assists local governments in creating child-labor free communities.

Unfortunately, I interviewed another child, whom I will call John, to different results. John accompanies his young mother, who appears barely older than twenty, around my house's subdivision, collecting garbage in a rusty metal cart. He lives in a small shack in the back of the neighborhood, with his parents and siblings, its size no bigger than the average college dorm room. I asked him the same questions I had asked Michael, but John could barely give a response. His voice was quiet and shy and visibly startled by the experience. He had likely never spoken with a woman with an American accent before or even spoken to the residents of that neighborhood. I wanted to speak with him further but I decided against it for fear of scaring him. 

Not only does labor inhibit children from seeking an education that could improve their future, it robs them of confidence, innocence, and excitement. With the childhoods they deserve, Michael and John could shine even brighter. In the first world, it is easy to take for granted the education we receive and wealth we possess. However, our brothers and sisters in not only the Philippines, but in the rest of Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe suffer heavily only to experience a fraction of the luxuries readily available to us in the States.

-Kathy Dimaya

No Right Answer

 Photo: The Guardian

Photo: The Guardian

The media coverage behind March 24th Germanwings Airbus A320 plane crash has spotlighted the mainstream media’s problematic perspective on a social issue that merits discussion outside major tragedies: mental illness.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz allegedly flew Germanwings Flight 9525 into the French Alps, killing 150 people in total. According to leaked audio from the flight’s black box, Capt. Patrick Sondenheimer screamed, "For God's sake, open the door!"; Lubitz used the anti-terror lock on the cockpit door to intentionally prevent the captain from reentering. In addition, investigators found Lubitz’s ripped up medical leave notes from the day of the plane crash and antidepressants, and Le Parisien reported Lubitz received injections of antipsychotic medication in 2010, confirming Lubitz suffered from a mental illness and his intention to keep it hidden.

Unfortunately, the Germanwings crash this past week sheds light on the media’s harsh portrayal of mental illness. Headlines included inflammatory language as “killer co-pilot”, “co-pilot had dreams about plane crashing”, and “Killer co-pilot was an ‘insecure control freak’”, and featured lines like “The fiancée of unhinged pilot Andreas Lubitz says she could be carrying the killer’s child…” Nothing can diminish the lives that were lost in the crash, and Lubitz’s actions inevitably lead to the deaths of many innocent people. Yet to put complete blame on Lubitz due to his mental illness only demonizes others who suffer from the same reality. Mental illness is no more the sufferer’s fault than other physical ailments, and Lubitz, as a sufferer, should be treated with at least some dignity.

French and German investigators’ first line of inquiry delves into the apparent depression Lubitz hid from his employers. Those with mental illness hide their condition from others due to external judgment, personal embarrassment, and/or fear of losing employment, all of which could have played out in Lubitz’s concealment. An official with Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, said that the exam only tests physical health. The same official also said that if Lubitz were depressed, he would have had to self-report his illness, which seems difficult to imagine when so much is at stake.

Social and scientific advances in recent years paved changes in regulations to allow those who suffer from mild depression to stay on the job while on antidepressants in the hope that pilots would come forward and seek treatment. However, in light of the recent tragedy, a balance must exist between the disclosure of possible health-related liabilities and the right of privacy, especially when prospects of employment are at risk. Implementing mandatory disclosure of mental illness is a heavy intrusion on personal privacy, but self-reporting relies on pilots to ignore the possibility of unemployment and to concede personal weakness.

Pilots’ health issues are a personal matter, but so are the hundreds of lives pilots are accountable for. Passengers place immense trust in airlines and in pilots to provide the safest flight possible. Aside from enforcement, the only solutions seem to be incentive-based. Airlines and employers in general should encourage pilots to seek treatment and assure them that all options must be exhausted before termination can be considered. In this classic safety vs. privacy issue, there are no perfect solutions. We can only ask for sympathy from the press, compassion from employers, and strength from mental illness sufferers.

- Kathy Dimaya

Think About the Children, Anti-Vaxxers

 Photo: Goerie

Photo: Goerie

The measles outbreak in Disneyland this year progressed at a startlingly rapid pace. January 7th: the public was warned of a Disneyland visitor who could be linked to seven confirmed cases of measles in California and Utah. January 8: Utah officials disclosed that both cases in their state were not vaccinated. February 3: Los Angeles County confirms 17 of the 21 measles cases are linked to the outbreak triggered at Disneyland.

This outbreak has vaccination as well as anti-vaccination proponents up in arms. Vaccination is a personal decision made by a parent for their child, but unvaccinated children risk transmitting contagious diseases at school, while playing with friends, or in public places; all unknowingly. Should it be mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children in the interest of the public health of the community? Or is it a matter of personal belief

Jennifer Hibben-White, a mother of a 15-day old boy in Toronto, Canada, wrote an emotional post on Facebook after she had been informed her son had been exposed to measles during a routine check-up. She wrote, “You know what vaccines protect your children from? Pain. Suffering. Irreparable harm. Death.” Most striking of all, Hibben-White continued, “I do know one thing: If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you,” highlighting that the effect of not vaccinating is beyond the decision of the parent.

An article in the Chicago Tribune reports that a 90% vaccination rate at schools is important to maintain “herd immunity – a critical level of protection that prevents an epidemic from taking hold and spreading rapidly.” However, a cause for public concern is the increasing amount of parents who claim vaccination exemptions on philosophical and religious grounds. In Illinois, the numbers surged from 8,248 in 2009-2010 to 12,527 in 2013-2014.

In some cases, there are children who are too weak to receive injections, and thus must rely on the community to be healthy. A mother whose young child was diagnosed with leukemia wrote on Voices for Vaccines “It is more than enough to ask a young child to fight leukemia – but to ask him to fight a vaccine-preventable disease on top of it? It is unconscionable.” Anti-vaxxers, as anti-vaccination proponents are colloquially known, should take into consideration the lives of others when deciding against vaccinating a preventable disease.

On the anti-vaxxer side, Dr. Russell L. Blaylock wrote in 2008 on the danger of excessive vaccination during brain development causing autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative diseases. He deplored society for allowing “proponents of vaccination safety [to] just say they are safe, without any supporting evidence what-so-ever, and it is to be accepted without question.” However, the anti-vaxxers’ evidence between autism and vaccination seems to rely more on anecdotal evidence from parents that anything else. Studies do document the presence of some heavy metals in vaccinations that are known to cause autism. But correlation does not imply causation.

Furthermore, the father of the anti-vaccination movement, Andrew Wakefield, himself fabricated a research paper detailing the link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism and bowel disease. He was stripped of his medical license when the research paper was found fraudulent and no other medical researcher could replicate Wakefield’s findings.

Unfortunately, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers’ arguments both have merit. Risks are either community exposure to disease or lifelong neurological disorders. To advocate for more conclusive scientific evidence would be counterproductive; hundreds of studies exist, the problem lies not in the evidence, but the interpretation of the evidence.

These studies on the supposed correlation between vaccines and autism ignore a simple fact about vaccination: that no medical procedure, no matter how advanced or rigorously tested, is completely safe or benign. After all, in the case of vaccinations, these procedures literally inject dead pathogens – those that carry measles, polio, etc. – into a living host. To say that such a practice is totally without risk is ignorant. But for millions of Americans, many of whom no longer suffer from the diseases that were once the scourge of mankind, the risk, which is minor at best, is worth it.

Ultimately, given the outbreak of measles at Disneyland and the wellbeing of the public, the safest bet would be on vaccinating your children. The anti-vaccination evidence is too circumstantial to condemn other families and other children to exposure to deadly diseases.

- Kathy Dimaya


David and Goliath in the South China Sea

 Photo: Forbes Magazine

Photo: Forbes Magazine

The Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the South China Sea – the respective Japanese and Chinese names for the islands – are jagged and inhospitable rocks, unsustainable for human existence. Its last inhabitants fled to Japan after World War II, and the rocks have since been forgotten in every realm but politics. Tensions arose in September 2012 when Tokyo officially purchased the islands from their private Japanese owner. The Chinese government responded by a drastically increasing the number of surveillance vessels in the islands’ territorial waters, sparking outrage from the Japanese government and demonstrating how far China was willing to go to claim the islands as their own.

The controversy, however, does not end there. China claims that there are even more islands that fall under their jurisdiction. The Spratly Islands, an archipelago of reefs, islets, atolls, and cays, and the Paracel Islands are approximately an astounding 1,000 miles and 1,500 miles away from mainland China, respectively. Yet Beijing asserts these islands too are Chinese. China’s claims of ownership over faraway islands and waters have gained the country notoriety over the last few years, with outlandishly claiming territory as far as 2,000 miles away, including land and water considered to be part of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan.

Japanese nationalists have likened the conflict to the Falklands War, in which Argentine forces invaded the Falklands/Malvinas Islands in 1982; a territory then considered a remote colony of the United Kingdom. Argentina, which had long claimed the islands were rightfully theirs, was attempting to divert attention from human rights abuses and economic issues at home, and, conversely, in the U.K., Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s approval rating was tanking. Both the British and Argentine governments were in much need of a distraction to take the public’s mind off of more grave matters.

Is China in an analogous situation?

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rise to power coincided with Tokyo’s purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which incited mass anti-Japanese riots in China. As his first political challenge, along with his newfound leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, Mr. Xi had no choice but to take a stern stance against the Japanese, escalating the conflict. This antagonistic approach, including the dispatch of surveillance and fishery ships, and, most especially, the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone, can be likened to the actions taken by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher so many years ago: it is the kind of political decision a leader makes when backed into a corner. The people were screaming for someone’s head, and naturally, Mr. Xi ensured it was not his.

Making matters worse is China skyrocketing military spending – which has risen to $130 billion a year in 2012 from $30 billion a decade earlier – fueling an unspoken arms race in the East. In doing so, China threatens the safety of neighboring countries, especially Japan. However, Japan is not backing down: despite denying the existence of a navy, the Japanese have commissioned at least 3 aircraft carriers, exactly for what purpose remains unclear.

Akin to a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, the Chinese and its adversaries are toe-to-toe on the seas, cannons perpetually at the ready. The conquest is not only of territory and influence, but also of control over economic borders. In the age of imperialism, those extensions of economic power were colonies. For this era, the United Nations calls them exclusive economic zones: states in possession of special rights on exploration and use of resources, specifically marine resources in this case. China’s claim on uninhabited land far from the mainland coast is not a straightforward attempt at “land-grabbing.” No, owning the small islands scattered around the Pacific does nothing to increase territorial power but rather, supports the acquisition of a larger, more influential exclusive economic zone.

China is overstepping its boundaries once again, claiming land that is not theirs to claim waters they should not control. But as the largest economic, political, and military power of the region, countries like Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia remain weak against their common foe. Unless David finds his special slingshot, Goliath stands to win this round.

- Kathy Dimaya

What’s Up with North Korea?

 Photo: The Atlantic

Photo: The Atlantic

In the era of information and growing interconnectedness, few countries have been left as opaque and unpenetrated by the forces of globalization as North Korea. While the country’s government was long ago exposed as a cruel, ruthless dictatorship masquerading as an ideal state, North Korea and its struggles seem to have faded from the public conscience. Instead, the world has been preoccupied with fears of Ebola, ongoing conflict in Syria, and the upcoming American midterm congressional elections. Since North Korea slipped from our the public radar, what exactly has been happening in the world’s most secretive country?

#1: Kim Jong Un is having health problems.

The Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, returned from his 6-week absence from the public eye on October 13 of this year when the North Korean state media released photos of him appearing in two public events using a cane, evidence that his immense weight gain is leading to serious health problems. According to Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul, "We expected to see him at the Supreme People's Assembly, because he had attended that session every time. So we are speculating that he might have problems in his health." 

#2: Kim Jong Un’s power may be slipping through his fingers.

Rumors regarding the health of Kim Jong Un have led to questions about his ability to continue governing North Korea. Originating with the high profile execution of Jang Song Thaek, his uncle, and all his relatives, questions about Kim’s dwindling power have been circulating heavily through the media. This month, the Washington Times reported that six officials have been executed, including General Ri Pyong Chol, Air Force chief Ri Yong Gil, and Chang Ung (who had connections to Kim's uncle). None of them have not been seen for some time. 

Speculation about Kim Jon Un’s weight and the status of his relatives are the least troubling of the rumors being spread about North Korea. Some believe that the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), the government body that implements the decisions of the Supreme Leader, has actually seized control of the country and has decided to keep Kim Jong Un in power as their puppet. Some experts cite evidence of an attempted coup and secret plots against the leadership as proof that the North Korean government is becoming destabilized. While the dissolution of such a government would free millions from the cruel tyranny of Pyongyang, the chaos would most likely bring about a civil war, a renewed conflict with South Korea and the United States, or worse.

#3: The North Koreans may have experienced a nuclear technological breakthrough.

Here, the key words are "may have." According to General Curtis Scaparrotti, who commands U.S. forces in South Korea, the DPRK is now able to build a nuclear warhead small enough to sit atop a ballistic missile. But information about North Korea, especially pertaining to their exact nuclear capability, has been dubious at best. It is highly unlikely that North Korea has created or obtained weapons that could to reach American soil, as they have yet to successfully test such a device, and Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby once asserted that "we don't have a smoking gun piece of evidence" to indicate success in North Korea's development of a long-range missile. 

However, considering the technology for the enrichment of uranium is nearly 60 years old, the ability to create weapons for a country already in possession of centrifuges should come sooner than expected. Even this small breakthrough for the North Korean missile program should be a concern for not just those nations in its immediate vicinity, but for countries around the world. One of the most politically backward countries of the modern world may have the ability to annihilate cities and entire regions in conjunction with a hatred of the West so indoctrinated in society that it rivals that of radical jihadism.

This means we must watch North Korea vigilantly. Long has North Korea and the threat that it poses resided on the backburner, brushed off as impotent and deemed unlikely to be worth the concern. North Korea's rise as a true threat may not occur for another year or ten years. Still, the threat is manifesting at a steady, ominous rate. We cannot rely on their nuclear incompetence as a buffer for our fears. Perhaps Kim Jong Un was the lesser of two evils, and whoever may or may not be truly running the show in Pyongyang will be capricious, fickle, and more difficult to deal with – a rather grim thought considering the already destitute state of affairs in North Korea.

- Kathy Dimaya

Beijing's Power Play

 Photo: NBC News

Photo: NBC News

“Democracy!” the students cry, all they want is democracy. The noblest of overtures, revolutions, and rebellions have turned the world over in pursuit of democracy. But can Hong Kong -- a single city in the most economically and politically powerful communist country in the world -- successfully break free of Beijing’s influence?

Hong Kong is not just another city in China. Since the British handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has operated on a completely different wavelength from the rest of the country; and perhaps its clearest delineation is its “one country, two systems” government that grants the city a legal and financial system that is separate from the rest of China. Citizens enjoy civil liberties such as an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the right to protest, luxuries mainlanders cannot claim for their own. In addition, Hongkongers also enjoy a free market economy, in which their low taxation, nearly entirely free port trade, and established financial market make it one of the world’s leading financial centers.

But despite Hong Kong’s seemingly independent system, Hong Kong still must abide by a number of Chinese laws. Hong Kong’s Basic Law (which acts as the city’s constitution) outlines Beijing’s exact authority over Hong Kong, but in practice, Beijing controls Hong Kong through the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s city council), which votes for their Chief Executive and is replete with Beijing loyalists. The treaty that China signed with the United Kingdom to acquire Hong Kong in 1984 stated that by the year 2017, the city would have free and fair elections.

Therein lies the key issue in this year’s student protests. In September, Beijing announced electoral reforms in which the Chief Executive would no longer be elected in the fully democratic manner promised in the treaty with the UK -- instead, the reforms would give Beijing the power to choose which candidates could run for Chief Executive have to be approved by pro-China nominating committee. Students and protesters quickly responded to the announcement by peacefully sitting-in in Hong Kong’s financial district, called Central, in a movement that has become known as Occupy Central.

Initially, the demonstrations remained nonviolent, however, escalating violence between the police and protesters eventually drew more people into the streets, exacerbating the conflict and resulting in a tense, public standoff between the two sides. Despite repeated talks with senior Hong Kong government officials, the impasse has remained unbroken, and Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s second highest ranking government official, recently stated that talks would not continue.

Perhaps we should note that the contention in Hong Kong belongs to the lack of compromise between the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing factions. To those not only protesting Beijing’s actions but aiming to create a full-fledged democracy in Hong Kong -- democracies do not spring up and succeed with a push of a button. The world’s greatest proponent of democracy, the United States, fought a costly war and lost many lives before the fledgling country could even call itself a democracy -- and even then, it only became a democracy for wealthy, white male landowners. That is not to say conflict is the answer, but rather, persistence, and determination.

To the pro-Beijing supporters, Hong Kong is not truly part of China anymore. Beijing’s overreach of power is conspicuous, and the world knows to look past the excuses that Beijing has laid forth to explain their actions, and instead see China’s power play. Hong Kong no longer plays a pivotal part in China's economic development, and especially over the last 20 years, the importance of this port city has dwindled. China's only motivation in its attempt to control Hong Kong is purely political, or arguably even imperial.

China's blatant power grab fools nobody. The political encroachment into Hong Kong is an attempt to seize power by reneging on promises made to the people of Hong Kong in order to quell any spread of democracy in China. But Beijing has made one miscalculation: the people are angry. And as centuries of revolutionary history suggests, angry people usually get their way.

- Kathy Dimaya

The Bigger, Better Enemy

 Photo: Iran Review

Photo: Iran Review

The last words of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines were not their own. Men who devoted their lives to humanitarian efforts and to helping others died in the way that they least deserved.

In war – which is, presumably, what one could call the United States’ latest conflict in the Middle East – perhaps this kind of brutality is unremarkable. Hundreds die in war and many die in heroic and brutal ways, but those hundreds of deaths have not amassed as much media attention as these three have. My heart goes out to the families of those who have died for their country, no matter their beliefs, religion, or background. However, the assassinations of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines signal a sinister new chapter in terrorism. We once thought of al-Qaeda as the pinnacle of evil. The terrorist attacks of September 11th still bring fear and sadness to our hearts, even more than a decade onwards. But a new bad guy is in town, and he is worse than our last opponent.

 The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (a.k.a. ISIL) is a Sunni jihadist group dedicated to creating a caliphate (an Islamic state governed by a Muslim ruler) in the Iraq-Syria region (also referred to as the Levant). A fairly new addition to the world’s roster of terrorist organizations, ISIL was once known by a different name: “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” However, over time, ISIL’s fanaticism and violence so astonished the members of al-Qaeda that, in February, the group denounced the Islamic State for their unruliness and disobedience. Such is ISIL, a group that has set out to accomplish what al-Qaeda never could.

 Unlike al-Qaeda, which preached waging a war of attrition against the western world, ISIL has gone forward and carved out their own nation dominated by a perverse ideology. Though ISIL’s gains can be measured by the fear it has struck in the hearts of people around the world and the land it has conquered, a better criteria of ISIL’s success is the composition of the coalition of friends and foes that have united to stand against them: ISIL has proved there was an entity more evil to the U.S. and Iran than each other.

 However, perhaps ISIL’s crowning achievement is not the violence that it has perpetuated, but the fear that it has created. The executioner of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and David Haines was a man with a British accent, stoking fears of homegrown terrorism like never before. A new breed of jihadists is forming. Indeed, hopeful, younger, more zealous terrorists are answering ISIL’s call and feeding the monster. Gone are the days that jihadists were born and bred to hate Western culture in the developing world – they are now born in any nation, on any socioeconomic level, and as any ethnicity. The disenfranchisement of so many should be a warning sign to the West that ISIL’s reach – and ambitions – reach far beyond the Levant.

- Kathy Dimaya

Reading Rec: China’s Crackdown on Corruption

China’s finally going after one of the richest families in the country and investigating the source of their wealth. Does this mean that corruption is finally diminishing? Absolutely not. Several members of the Zhou family have been detained by authorities and whereabouts unknown. It is going to be interesting to follow where the investigation will lead.

Read more here.

Shout Out to NYU Model UN

I spent last Thursday through Sunday staffing for NYUMUNCV, a fun, fast-paced, stressful college Model UN conference. As veteran Model UN-ers know, the most difficult part of Model UN isn’t the months of prior research or speaking intelligently in front of a room of strangers on the spot. The hardest part is explaining to those people what exactly “Model UN” is.

Despite this, I am going to attempt to explain it.

NYUMUNC is a 13-way crisis with 13 committees of delegates who come from the best universities across the country to compete. NYU is special in our conference, because it is the only conference in the country that can handle the capacity of 13 committees operating all at once. The nature of the conference is that the actions of one committee directly affect the other 12. For example, if the Peru committee declares a civil war, the Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia committees will most likely be affected by a large influx of refugees, and those committees will have to deal with their own problems as well as this new issue.

This weekend has been unexpectedly wonderful. Preparations began in September, and months and months of meetings and research seemed boring and unfruitful. But all that time paid off. The Secretariat, the Crisis Directors, the Chairs, and the staff were all remarkably well prepared. We knew the topic front to back and we were looking forward to whatever insane requests the delegates would throw at us.

All of this is a love letter to Model UN. I’ve been involved with this great institution since my sophomore year of high school, and admittedly, it catapulted my interest into my majors: economics and politics. Not only is it the best forum to meet people from all over the world interested in global politics and issues, my best memories, my best friends, and my highest achievements can all be attributed to Model UN.

Over the last few years, I have learned more about international economics, humanitarian issues, disarmament disputes, global relations, and the spirit of human competition than I could have ever learned in a classroom. I’ve discovered passions for new topics, and I’ve improved my networking and public speaking skills far better than in my mandatory Speech class in high school.

I hope that over the next few years at NYU I will continue to adore Model UN and thrive in it. I see seniors bid farewell to Model UN with tears just shy from falling, and I can already feel myself missing this immensely after I graduate. But fingers crossed, I won’t just be modeling UN anymore, I’ll be doing it for real.

Commending the Searchers of the Washington Mudslide and MH370

I would like to take a moment to commend human willpower and compassion.

The last few weeks have been marred by several tragedies, notably the mudslide in Washington State and the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. In the midst of these horrific events, humans cannot help but cling onto the slightest sliver of hope.

Rescue efforts for both misfortunes have been valiant and kind. Australia’s prime minister promises that he will not end the search for the plane or possible survivors until answers have been found. Mudslide searchers are still trekking difficult terrain to find the thirty remaining missing people.

As a politics and economics major, the world seems to be a distrustful and hopeless place, with corruption evident in every level of the public and private sectors. However, despite my self-proclaimed cynicism, I still believe in true human benevolence, as exhibited by the persistent searchers of the mudslide and plane disappearance.

The key is employing a Rousseauian view of ourselves, rather than simply believing we are all inherently “tainted.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed we are all good at heart, but the functions of society force us to be deceitful, dishonest, and sly. When temptations such as greed, power, success, and money are eliminated from the equation, humans really are good. The people searching for survivors have been persistent, even though most of them are not even directly affected by the tragedies. Every country involved in the MH370 search has contributed effort and aid although many of them are not involved at all.

Taking away our temptations, we are all good. As idealistic as it sounds, if we all resisted our temptations, there would be few problems, if any. Save for a few war fanatics or mentally unstable people in our society, I suspect many of you would like a world with little conflict. This is a message I hope resounds well, from now, when you want to copy answers from someone else’s test until later in the future, when you may have a risky opportunity to rob hundreds of people of their life savings. Remember, you are intrinsically better than that.

Yes, I Am Talking About the Oscars Over Ukraine

It seemed largely appropriate to talk about the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but given the recent nature of the events, it was not appropriate to ponder on unfinished circumstances. Perhaps as more unfolds in the next few days, commentary on the situation will be more fitting.

Onto the Oscars. Like millions of others around the world, I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday night (as I am, admittedly, a film enthusiast). A night of glitz and glamour, it is a far cry from the world of military invasions and political upheaval. For a night, it was chance to forget about real life worries, maybe. But still, I felt a disturbing undertone to the event, which can be summed up in Ellen DeGeneres’s most risqué joke of the evening: “Possibility number one: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility number two: You’re all racists.”

Running along with the theme of equal human rights from last week, racism is still prevalent, in movies as well as society in general. It usually does not come in explicit form, but rather hidden and impossibly untraceable and unverifiable. Look through the history of filmmaking, and there are few movies that simply showcase the talents of people of color. Instead, they are confined to roles in stories about “rising above the white man,” as showcased in 12 Years a SlaveThe Help, Remember the Titans, and Amistad. To remedy this, there must be a larger influx of scripts that allow for a more diverse range of characters to exist, but that argument leans more to my film beliefs than my political ones. I understand in certain instances that the casting of a particular race is unavoidable, such as in a biopic. But there is a shadow that casts over the movie industry, one caused by uncertainty whether an actor is chosen, or not chosen, based on their talent or on the color of their skin. No one can ever definitively prove that a Caucasian actress was hired over an Asian, African-American, or Latina actress just because she was white.

Relating this to the realm of current events, issues such as affirmative action and hate crimes exist because no matter how much we have progressed, there is more to learn and farther domains to reach. It exemplifies that universal rights to all is still a foreign concept to many of us. In a way, affirmative action is a noble effort to promote justice and equality. But it propagates the very concept it tries to eliminate: making decisions based on race. And the most controversial downside to affirmative action may be the inadvertent possibility that a higher qualified candidate was not selected because they were not a person of color, basically reverse discrimination. This issue is the quintessential double-edged sword, and the only solution is for equal opportunity to be a universal understanding, but that solution is idealistic at best.

Considering the Civil Rights Movement and the end of Apartheid have only occurred within the last fifty years, should I be content with the amount of progress so far?

No. I am not content. Not until everyone and anyone is allowed to freely be. The argument that we should be content is a weak one. We should do better. We can do better.

We Were Progressing, Weren’t We?

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was not just about the athletes, or the medals, or even our obsession with whether curling was a sport or not. Russia’s massively controversial anti-gay laws were much of the focal point as well, with protests and detainments left, right, and center. The high profile event has brought the issue of equality and LGBTQ rights back to the forefront, especially now that Arizona legislature has passed a bill that could allow business owners to refuse service to gay customers on the basis of respecting religious beliefs.

But we were seemingly going in the right direction. Much of the country cheered the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 in June 2013. As more and more professional athletes, celebrities, and public figures came out of the closet, slowly but surely, Americans were becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, there is a key word in that statement: Americans. Americans as a whole have become less condemning, but in other parts of the world, the same cannot be said. Many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia still enforce laws that criminalize homosexuality and restrict freedom of expression. Most of this information could be new to you, because coverage on gay rights in foreign countries is minimal and overlooked.

Unfortunately, that is the nature of current events and news coverage. The most recent events are put on the headlines, and old news becomes irrelevant and forgotten. Only because of the Olympics has Russia’s restriction of freedom of expression, enacted in June 2013, reached newsworthy status once again. But few of us still remember that India recriminalized homosexuality in December 2013. And even less heard in February 2014, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni promised his party he would sign into law a bill that harshly reprimands homosexual acts, with punishments including life imprisonment. All of these human rights violations have been easily pushed aside to make room for the newest spicy gossip.

There are many arguments against LGBTQ rights, most of which I will never understand because of their vague and unsubstantiated nature. The most prevalent and noteworthy argument is the question of tradition, culture, and religion. This reasoning is thrown around as the go-to excuse; obviously, you cannot openly disrespect another’s beliefs. However, the fundamental problem with this argument is that a country cannot enforce a specific set of rules based on beliefs that others do not believe in. And this is where the assertion of separation of church and state comes to play. The 21st century is no longer an era of witch-hunts and persecution. We have evolved to learn better, and our governmental institutions are supposed to protect our freedom, not restrict or diminish it. Specifically, the belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman may be one person’s ideology, but it may not be mine or yours or anybody else’s. Therefore, it cannot be enacted as a law meant to be obeyed by all citizens.

A very controversial comparison has been made between the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBTQ movement on social media. Evidently, there are major differences between the two social movements, but no one can deny there are striking similarities. Perhaps to be more diplomatic, I will say that the times are different and because of that, we may never be able to compare the two directly. Mid-19th century, the means to send a message were sit-ins and riots. In this generation, we have social media and the Internet to propagate and gather ideas.

In any case, human rights should be universal, whether it pertains to the past, present, or future. It never matters whether we think we are “ready” or not. All humans should, idealistically, have access to the same rights, resources, and opportunities. In the words of the Founding Fathers, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Powerful Pair: the Clintons and Gates

This past Thursday, I had the honor of watching Hillary Clinton, her daughter, Chelsea, and Melinda Gates speak at NYU about women’s progress. The event focused on the importance of research and data on the status of women and girls around the world. A joint venture between the Clinton Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, the No Ceilings Initiative shines light on the gathering of statistics to support women. Without statistics and data, how are we to know how well our world has evolved?

I am obliged to begin by expressing my utmost respect and reverence for these three remarkable women. As a driven, no-nonsense girl with aspirations in politics and public affairs, I look up to Hillary, Melinda, and Chelsea. They are exactly what I hope and dream to be. Hillary Clinton, former First Lady and Secretary of State and rumored Presidential hopeful in 2016, has carved a praiseworthy path for herself, pushing boundaries and setting the bar higher for not only women in government, but everybody in the field. Her work in politics as well as in her non-profit organization has made a remarkable impact on the world, proving solidly that women have the power to soar above the restrictions placed by society. Furthermore, Melinda Gates, wife of millionaire Bill Gates, has come a long way from graduating with a computer science and economics degree from Duke University. Forbes has listed her in the Top 10 Most Powerful Women in 2011 through 2013, climbing higher and higher every year. As she said at the event, she held her ground in a male-dominated profession, forever believing that talent and ability were what determined one’s position in life, not their sex. Lastly, Chelsea Clinton, daughter of two of the most influential politicians in the United States. Emerging from the shadow of her famous parents, she has made a name for herself in her own right, graduating with honors from Stanford University, earning degrees from University College, Oxford and Columbia University, and participating heavily in Clinton Foundation work.

The event is also special to me, because the three lovely ladies answered a question I submitted. I asked, “As an engineering-hopeful, my sister was discouraged in pursuing a male-dominated field. How can we diminish discouragement of females in masculine professions?” They answered the question more thoroughly and thoughtfully than I could ever imagine. Chelsea Clinton began by detailing how the US has lost ground in the fight for equality in all professions, noting that in 1987, women comprised 33% of all computer science graduates, but in 2001, they only comprised about 20% and in 2011, only 16%. Continuing upon the data-rich theme, Melinda Gates quoted a statistic that girls lose interest in science and math fields around middle school age. She urged that middle school girls are not as aggressive as the boys, and so lose faith in themselves much faster. Hillary agreed and added that girls seem to acquire the “perfectionist problem.” It is during middle school that girls develop a mentality that they need to have every answer right, or they should just give up.

Out of the many lessons learned from the experience, I feel most empowered knowing that if I strive and work hard enough, it could be me one day on a stage at a university giving an inspirational panel discussion to wide-eyed, hopeful students. It seems rather self-indulgent or naïve to suggest, but every goal starts off with believing you can do it, as the Clintons and Gates mentioned in the discussion. The battle is lost before it begins when you choose to lose hope, and they emphasized that it is a choice. Women can either choose to submit, or they can choose to become equal or rise above their male counterparts.

No Hope, At Least for Now

As a Filipino, discussing Haiyan (or Yolanda in the Philippine naming system) and the destruction it brought to the Philippines brings a tear to my eye. The death toll is rising every day. Infrastructure is ruined. Looting and crime has become rampant and commonplace. Rebuilding will take years, maybe even decades. Thousands of families are forever broken. And however much the aid is appreciated, the help is still insufficient to alleviate this grave disaster.

The Philippines suffers catastrophic disasters as frequently as it is cold in New York City. Although not on the same magnitude, the Philippines constantly experiences a slew of different but still devastating natural disasters. Tsunamis, typhoons, tropical storms, floods, landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, wildfires, all in seven thousand islands of almost 100 million people. Every time, they hit hard, and every time, there are hundreds of thousands of affected citizens.

Typhoons are not the singular cause of the widespread destruction. Most carnage relates back to unstable infrastructure, and especially in the Philippines, logging has catalyzed the number of fatal landslides. From an outsider’s point of view, it easy to simply say that logging must be prevented or infrastructure should be improved, but in a country with so little wealth and unfortunately, so much political corruption, there is little hope in the people for change. Many activists have tried to instigate change in the country, but with the top officials catering their own needs instead of the peoples’, creating policy that would positively affect the whole country is a dream very far off from reality.

Environmental policy has not been met with great optimism, in the Philippines as well as around the world. The world today focuses on short term gains, because losses seem too far into the future to think about. The logging, for instance, brings short term economic benefit to a handful of citizens, most of whom do not suffer the consequences of the weak soil and catastrophic rains causing landslides that displace hundreds of thousands of people. But to corporations and corrupt officials, the fatalities are not accounted for in their finance books.  They do not see it as a direct consequence, but rather collateral damage. Something that simply occurs but is not necessarily their fault.

That is the plight of today’s society. It takes a huge disaster like Haiyan to prove that those actions have grave effects. And I fear that after this disaster is a relic of the past, the benevolence and understanding in this moment will just disappear, that people will forget that the typhoon did not cause buildings to collapse or landslides to fall, but the recklessness of businesses and corrupt politicians wanting to make quick cash.

The NSA Game is Now Harder to Play

This week, we asked our bloggers to respond to the National Security Agency’s decision to bug German Chacellor Angela Merkel’s phone from 2002 to 2013. Check in every day this week to read a different side of the story, as told by our JPIA writers.

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Here’s what Kathy had to say:

Edward Snowden is wreaking havoc on international relations yet again. This episode of drama features the revelation that the National Security Agency was wire tapping Angela Merkel’s calls from 2002 up until a few months ago, translating to over a decade of breached privacy. The discovery is not only portraying the United States in an even more negative light, it is adversely impacting Obama’s perception in the eyes of the public. The same public that the NSA was chastised for looking into. But the question on everybody’s mind is: did President Obama know about the surveillance of Angela Merkel? Despite reliable reports, the NSA denies claims that Obama was briefed on the wire tapping in 2010.

And so, the American public is posed with two distinct and curious situations. If the answer to the above question is yes, why did he let the surveillance continue? Germany is an ally, and as far as the public is concerned, it is definitely not a terrorist threat to the United States. Is it necessary to surveil every country in the world, friend and foe alike? Does surveillance make the U.S. government an international busybody or a defender of American national security? On the other hand, if the answer is no, why did he not know about it? The leader of the free world needs to know when that freedom is being violated. Obama was elected as the representative to the Executive Branch, the branch of government responsible for deciding how and what kinds of political action should take place. In my opinion, he should have known. It is a tall order to demand that a single man know everything that goes on in such a vast and extensive government, but it is his job. We elected him to that position to supervise the proceedings of government (or at least the electoral college voted him to do so.)

The implications of the surveillance are severe for the United States. Already, the international community is doubting us, and it is probably only the beginning of a series of more serious surveillance tactics conducted by the NSA. We have been snubbed by many diplomats and national leaders since Snowden opened Pandora’s Box containing free information, spying, and secrets. In the eyes of an American, these tactics may be justified. America is a country built on protecting and priding in itself. However, the same cannot be said for countries in other parts of the world where privacy may be held in higher regard than national security.

Obviously, the NSA has gone too far. Not for true moral’s sake, but simply because the international community is, excuse my French, pissed. But I believe that every country knows why the U.S. is doing what it is doing. If every country had the same capabilities as the U.S., they would probably do the same. But in a world of uneven resources and means, the U.S. appears like the overreaching big brother, the man with all the power doing whatever he wants just because he can. And that is what is making the world angry. Not that the U.S. is trying to defend itself, because every country has that same inclination, but because the U.S. has the money and they are using it to a resentful degree. Basically, the world is jealous.

And unfortunately, a line cannot and will not be drawn. No matter how much the U.S. promises to other countries that the spying will stop, it simply will not. Spying is secretive, and so the U.S. will just continue doing everything, you guessed it, in secret. The covert intelligence game is hard to play. Usually the game is played cunningly in the shadows, and the fact that Snowden has brought it into the limelight has only made the game all the more difficult to play.

Bond vs. Snowden

Every little kid wishes he could be James Bond. Smart, tech-savvy, wins all the ladies, jet sets around the world on dangerous, world-saving missions. Recently, former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Devine, visited one of my classes. According to him, a CIA spy’s real life is not far off. He also joked about the glamorization of the stacks of paperwork operatives have to complete afterward.

Devine’s visit re-sparked my interest in covert intelligence. Up until the fiasco of Edward Snowden this past summer, my knowledge of spying extended as far as Covert Affairs, the Bourne movies, and Mission Impossible. Obviously, there are many questions surrounding the practice. Is it ethical? Is it not endangering and trivializing the lives of operatives? And most recently, what is the difference between spying on another country and spying on your own citizens?

During his visit, Mr. Devine discussed the protocol and organization of the CIA, the progression of his career, and even shared some anecdotes about his time working for the Agency. The entire class was mesmerized by the exceptionally accomplished man sitting in front of us musing about the cover of his new book, called Good Hunting, named after the good luck phrase operatives would often say to each other before missions. However, the class did notice the turn of his countenance when a certain question was brought up by yours truly. With a CIA director sitting in front of me, I could not resist asking him the question that everyone had on their mind: what effect has Edward Snowden had on the covert operations and intelligence-gathering and can the damage be reversed?

After asking that question, I desperately hoped I had not touched a nerve. After all, it is one of the most contentious topics right now. But also, I had no idea how he would respond. Would he answer my question semantically, carefully avoiding a controversial response? Or would he answer genuinely, based on his actual opinion? Thankfully, he was not offended, and gladly for me, he answered candidly. Devine believed that Snowden should be tried as a criminal, because he divulged information he was not allowed to divulge and the damage he has inflicted to the international community is extensive. He concedes that Snowden acted on ideology, a strong motivator for many whistleblowers, but with such an impractical perspective, nothing positive could have come out of his actions. I was content with the answer, not because it was well-versed or because I actually agreed with his opinion, but because he did not hesitate to express his personal opinion, not the opinion of the government he once worked for.

But as I said, I do agree with Devine. As a fairly idealistic person myself, I sympathized with Snowden at first. He thought he was incredibly noble in revealing the NSA’s surveillance techniques. However the blowout that succeeded changed my opinion entirely. The damage exacted on secret intelligence for not only the United States but for every country is immeasurable. As a result, every country is paranoid about other countries’ information gathering practices and every country has a new perspective about the United States. Numerous diplomatic meetings have been cancelled because of the incident, and in the future, I can definitely understand why leaders will no longer cooperate with Americans.

The topic is controversial for a reason. There are many who applaud Snowden for what he did, and maybe they choose to ignore the effects his whistleblowing will have with foreign relations. In the end, no matter what anyone believes, Snowden has no doubt changed American foreign policy and foreign countries’ foreign policy to the U.S.

Discussion: NYC Mayoral Elections

This week, we asked our bloggers to respond to the following question about our city’s upcoming mayoral elections. Check back in this week to read their answers, given in the following posts!

As you all know the New York City mayoral elections are coming up on November 5th, between current Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (D) and Joe Lhota, former deputy mayor under Rudolph Guilian (R).

You may also know that NYC has an extremely low voter turnout, and NY State was ranked the lowest in voter turnout in the country in 2010.

This report, prepared for the NYC Campaign Board in conjunction with NYU Wagner, interestingly enough, depicts interesting findings and attempts to identify and understand the factors that make this so.

Here’s a cool graphic that represents the percentages of voters in various parts of the city in the 2009 mayoral election.

Another issue on the voting front came to light this summer when the Supreme Court ruled that the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which stipulated that several specific states required federal approval before they changed their voting laws, was no longer relevant. Immediately upon this 5-4 decision, Texas passed a voter identification law that was previously blocked, and made redistricting plans. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg dissented from the bench and explained that “the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from ‘first-generation barriers to ballot access’ to ‘second-generation barriers’ like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority”. She maintained that this provision was “effective in thwarting such efforts.”

It is interesting that while politicians in some parts of the country are working to effectively disband the minority vote for their advantage, others are attempting to rein it in. This takes us back to the mayoral elections, in which De Blasio’s campaign has capitalized on factors such as his biracial family, and the fact that his son attends public high school. Check out this article.

What issues does this candidate speak to that are garnering this specific vote, as well as the votes of many other demographics? Can some of the low voter turnout be attributed to the presumption of the outcome, as NYC is the bluest city in one of the bluest states? How do we get our demographic, the young voter age 18-29 to get more politically active, and what would this look like on our campus? Do you agree that with the Supreme Court ruling that this provision has lost its relevance, or do you maintain that it’s still a necessity? Do you believe in the power of the vote in our current system?

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Here’s what Kathy had to say:

The political atmosphere in New York City is a complete turnaround to that of Houston, my hometown. However, the perception of elections are exactly the same anywhere in the country: if you live in a historically Republican or Democratic area, voting for the other party would not matter at all. In Texas, the feeling of being lost in a sea of opposing voters in not unfamiliar. As one of the most Republican states in the union, Democratic voters feel as if their vote does not count, and to a large extent, it does not. What are the chances that the lone ranger will prevail against the large opposition? Aside from recent events, such as the short-lived success of Democratic Senator Wendy Davis’ filibuster against the abortion bill in Texas, there has been slow progress in proving the assumption wrong.

Right now, there is very little power in voting. Even the presidential election, which operates under a guise of democracy, is decided by the electoral college, not popular vote. The majority of states have utterly predictable voting results in national elections. New York has voted Democrat in the last four elections, as well as much of New England and the West Coast. In addition, the Midwest, from Texas up to Montana and Idaho, have voted Republican in those same elections.

On the other hand, political practices such as gerrymandering has been met with contentious debate, districting areas that would allow a certain candidate or party to win. For a country that prides itself in a fair, equally-representative government, it is a wonder how an institution like gerrymandering is considered legal.

It is no doubt due to this kind of data that half of all legally-capable American citizens decide not vote. Of course, low voter turnout can be a result of many things, such as limited access to voter stations and prior personal engagements, but this explanation seems much more plausible. Furthermore, the 18-29 age demographic is almost always ranked the lowest in voter turnout.

Amidst the current government shutdown, young adults are not feeling the effects at all. College students are still going to classes, doing homework, and having fun, and we have lived the last 12 days oblivious to the national consequences of the closure of the US government. Young voters are only provoked by issues that specifically pertain to them. Discussions about Medicare, mortgages, and immigration are not exactly the problems that the average young voter faces today. It will be difficult to get the young interested in politics if the agenda does not include issues that they are concerned with.

In the 2013 New York City mayoral elections, Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio is doing a great job targeting his policies at usually disenfranchised minorities, such as Hispanics, African Americans, and women. In some respects, the amount of minority support he has garnished is astounding. For the last twenty years, New York City has thrived under a mostly Republican agenda. Crime has significantly diminished, and the perception of a dangerous and unsafe New York has long been shattered. Nonetheless, minorities during those administrations have not experienced the benefits of New York’s so-called progress. De Blasio’s attack on the controversial stop-and-frisk program of Bloomberg’s age has definitely gathered a lot of support. Knowing the program has affected mostly African American and Latino voters, de Blasio has guaranteed for himself a large voter turnout in those communities. But like all politics, de Blasio is employing a sneaky tactic. He composes an enticing policy agenda, gathers the minority vote, wins the election, and as most politicians do when they win, de Blasio will probably not implement the policies he promised.

Meet Kathy

My name is Leanna Kathleena (yes, that is my entire first name) or Kathy for short. I am 17 years old, a freshman at CAS studying Economics and either International Relations or Politics. The study of intergovernmental relations and politics has proven itself to be my natural calling. Having lived in a variety of cultural environments—from bustling Manila, to chic Los Angeles, ever-changing Singapore, rural England, and most recently, suburban Houston—I have grown up with a full perspective of the world. Little fun fact about me: I have traveled to approximately 50 cities in 17 countries, an achievement that I am proudly honored to have accomplished at such a young age. Apart from my international affairs and politics related interests, I am a huge fan of classic music, movies, and literature. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Janis Joplin are among my favorite musicians; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather, and Lawrence of Arabia are some favorite movies, and Catcher in the RyeCatch-221984, and A Tale of Two Cities, my favorite literature. Additionally, an enormous part of my life has been Model United Nations. Having been a delegate for the past three years, MUN has taught me so much more about the world than I could have dreamed. I learned about economics, politics, humanitarian efforts, disarmament, world health, and war to a degree that makes me certain a career in international relations would be the perfect path to take. Especially considering the forum of debate, MUN is a manner in which informed, interested young international relations enthusiasts are able to voice their opinions, receive feedback, and respond to criticism.

Through my column on this blog I hope to share my own opinion about the world, no matter how insignificant the voice of a young college student may  be in the realm of global politics. I tend to gravitate towards more socioeconomic issues, particularly those that affect the lower class and underprivileged. In terms of a regional preference, I have been strongly influenced by my own travels, which were mostly in Europe and Southeast Asia. I look forward to reading your responses, especially your criticisms and concerns about anything I write!