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The Government Shutdown Deal

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On the evening of October 16th, the Senate passed another proposal to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government with an 81 to 18 vote, after the House was unable to move forward with a resolution the day before. Later that night, the House approved the Senate’s proposal with a 285 to 144 vote just hours before we would reach the debt ceiling on October 17th. Thus, the Republicans in the House conceded, ending the sixteen-day long government shutdown with a bill that was signed into law at 12:30am by President Obama. The deal allowed an extension of governmental borrowing power until January 15th and raised the debt ceiling until February 7th of next year.

This decision is a prime example of how legislators intentionally put themselves in dire situations by creating major deadlines. Although they seem highly irrational, these actions actually reflect a lot about strategies used in American politics. Congressmen create deadlines as a way of punishing each other for their inability to compromise. They hope that during these times of despair, the opposing political party will give in to their demands. Yet, this is exactly what has not happened and probably what will never happen. Within just a year, our government has been dangerously close to the edge of the fiscal cliff, squeezed by sequester, and shut down and reopened. But instead of coming together to compromise, legislators keep pushing key issues further and further back. By not reaching an agreement, they punish everyone, forcing the US back into the cycle of stalemate.

The October 17th deadline was very crucial to Congress because the Treasury would run out of ways to meet its obligations without borrowing more money. Soon after, the government runs the risk of defaulting on the national debt because of its inability to delay payments. For this reason, negotiations over the debt ceiling are generally interconnected with budget deals.

Concessions from both parties are usually necessary to get both types of bills debated and passed through the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate. When the government was first shut down, a Continuing Resolution could not be passed because House refused to even begin debating a bill passed by the Senate unless a majority of the majority would support it. A majority of the majority in the House meant reaching a consensus with some hardline conservatives in the Tea Party, a practically impossible feat. Luckily, on the 16th, the House passed a bill with only a minority of Republican votes and a majority of Democratic ones after Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell were able to construct a deal hours before we hit the debt ceiling.

The shutdown and congressional stalemate caused congressional approval ratings to plummet, especially those of the Republicans, as voter discontent threatens the representatives’ next term. It also cost our government billions of dollars and damaged our credibility. As for the hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers that were sent on an unpaid, forced vacation from their jobs, they were expected to be back to work on Thursday. Many Republican leaders, like Senator Ted Cruz from Texas who led the push for greater Democratic concessions, were disappointed with the deal, while others like House Speaker John Boehner felt that passing the bill was the only viable solution. Republicans had lost the shutdown battle, but at a large cost for everyone.

It is easy to blame Republican partisanship for the government shutdown, but that does not account for the lack of compromise on the administration’s side either. Many people predicted that the Democrats would be more compromising, but Obama refused to be persuaded. For example, Democrats during Ronald Reagan’s term cut military spending and Republicans lessened the scope of Medicaid during Bill Clinton’s term. In this case, Republicans initially demanded that the Democrats defund the Affordable Care Act and change regulation standards on carbon emissions of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the end, the only concession made by the Democrats was an amendment stating that the incomes of people receiving subsidized health insurance must be checked more thoroughly. Therefore, both Republicans and Democrats are partially at fault for the government shutdown.

Fortunately, legislators of the two parties were able to come together on October 16th to avert another major crisis, whose repercussions would be disastrous for our economy and all of the nations that are economically tied to us. In addition to the new budget and debt ceiling, both parties have also set a goal of creating a budget plan for the next ten years by December 13th. Hopefully this will actually get done so, at least for the next ten years, the government will run smoothly.

Filed under Domestic
Oct 20, 2013

Greek Grievances

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Greece”s Parliament Building in Athens has been the site of both political and economic turmoil.
Source: CIA World Factbook

Americans had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Our economy, arguably, isn’t terrible, and we have a democracy. Greece, on the other hand, cannot say the same. Entering a sixth year of recession with an unemployment rate of 25%, things do not look so good. Its high unemployment rate endangers social unity, because people who are out of jobs begin to lose faith in their political parties. Therefore, the party in power stays in power, and is able to manipulate the government as they please without any form of cohesive opposition.

Powerful party leaders appear to be doing what’s best for Greece, especially economically. As a result, most of the common people are deceived. They fail to realize that their representatives’ means of seeming like a just leader does not reflect the people’s best interest at all. In truth, those in power often abuse their rights of decision-making. For example, on November 1st, Greece”s ruling parties decided that financial aid was so crucial that they removed seven representatives from their government positions after those representatives failed to back an austerity law. Decisions that appear to benefit the general public in reality only bolster individual authority. At the same time, while Greeks endure endless austerity along with an ever-shrinking GDP, there are indicators that suggest that the well-connected government executives were circumventing theses fiscal burdens. Dominant beneficiaries force the masses to do the heavy economic lifting. A corrupt group governs the citizens, not the citizens themselves.

Police brutality intended to cover up the actual lack of freedom exemplifies press censorship. In an effort to hide repeated oppression, the police restricts the media, usually with further oppression. Aspiring journalists find this tight cycle hard to break. Even foreign sources have difficulty finding their way in communicating to the Greek population. The popular London newspaper, The Guardian, was met with threats after publishing allegations of police mistreatment and torture of anti-fascist protesters. Instead of undertaking investigation to make sure this was not happening, threatening to sue the newspaper makes the police seem even more suspicious, and proves that the government has become increasingly authoritarian.

Without outside news sources, the people in Greece would not have any reliable forms of media, as there is virtually no freedom of press anymore. Greek media is owned by magnates or financed by banks, allowing politicians, businessmen, and journalists rule the country. They essentially have the power to manipulate media and change laws to justify illegal actions. Members of Golden Dawn, an increasingly popular Neo-Nazi and anti-immigrant party, corrupt the official police force and the judiciary. The party runs the slogan “Get the stench out of Greece”, referring to unwanted immigrants. Even more worrying is the fact that, ever since Golden Dawn won eighteen seats in parliament back in June, violence against immigrants and leftists has increased. Police even participate in it occasionally.

All of this suppression cannot be the fault of Greece’s government alone. Other countries in the Eurozone are also partially responsible for the lack of democracy. Fiscal tightening has imposed a great deal of austerity onto Greece, which already has a hard time simultaneously trying claw itself out of debt and making reforms. Heavy austerity distracts leaders from what is really important: their people. It’s kind of funny how the European Union was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for their democracy and human rights, considering all they have done is foster corruption. A more suitable candidate for that prize would have been the US!

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Filed under Economy, International
Nov 26, 2012

Continued Turmoil in Pakistan

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With all of the media and talk about the election here at home, sometimes it’s easy to only worry about the United States. However, after the final foreign policy presidential debate on October 22, 2012, issues that come with other countries are brought to the public’s attention. One of these key countries is Pakistan. Pakistan is important to note because the US has many major supply lines going through it into Afghanistan. If we want to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, Pakistan must also be kept in the back of our minds.

Recently, a fourteen year-old girl named Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban. She supported education rights for women and, ever since 2009, kept detailed notes as to the Taliban’s progress by her town. The Taliban did not like this, so they shot her. Another instance of Taliban aggression was on October 15th. A local police chief and five other policemen were killed by over one hundred Taliban members, who ended up marching off with the police chief’s head. This isn’t the French Revolution!

Even though these attacks have angered many civilians and even the ruling government, the anger has not been enough to provoke anything other than talk.  Pakistan’s army chief even stated that he wants to fight the terrorism, but just saying that won’t do anything. Whether any course of action is strong enough to counter the Taliban is a whole other question. Taking action becomes even harder, as Pakistan experiences alternating periods of civilian and military rule. The military has an extremely strong presence in their political system, so any changes made by the ruling party will probably have to be informally approved by the Twisting the knife, Zuckerberg stated user investing in Zynga casino games has fallen 20% while investing in non-Zynga casino games had risen 40%. military as well. This also shows division and instability within the country.

On the bright side, relations with India seem to be improving. The two countries have been in dispute over the Kashmir region, an area of land between the two countries, which has created many tensions. This is especially significant because the countries both possess nuclear weapons. Trade across the border has actually picked up recently. The real estate market in the region is growing as well, showing a positive and optimistic sign for future relations. What will become of these new trade ties? Only time can tell.

As Election Day nears, it is important to be aware of each candidate’s foreign policy. Even slight variations of what a candidate plans to do can have an enormous impact on the lives of not only Americans, but also the lives of those who it may concern in other countries. Issues like those in Pakistan are not easy to resolve, but with teamwork, dedication, and cooperation, the next four years could be great, no matter who wins the election.

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Filed under International
Oct 26, 2012

Nigerian Energy Reforms

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Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, yet fraud and corruption tarnish its fuel and energy systems, creating necessity for change. When running for president a year ago, Goodluck Jonathan promised to mainly focus on electricity reforms. Even though the promised reforms are clearly essential and must be strictly enforced, many have gotten rich by circumventing the reforms to make money privately or by stealing the funds put aside for building power plants. Millions of Nigerians continue to endure the decade-old problem of a shaky infrastructure and concerns of security.

In an effort to ensure that the government gets profit from electricity production, Goodluck Jonathan imposed a new tariff system. The system was set in June, and it increased electricity prices for the next two years. Although the increase will be gradual and the poorest families are to receive new electricity subsidies for at least the two year time span, there was a chance that the tariffs would trigger enormous protests. Citizens will pay high prices for a limited number of light hours due to new electricity tariffs. With an unreliable electricity supply and continually growing prices, protests become more and more likely, but the last thing Nigeria needs is protest against the recently disrupted political system.

Bartholomew Nnaji, the former high-profile, technocratic finance minister, resigned from office due to conflicting interests with the government. As a result, the previously improving electricity supply in homes and offices has returned to old order over the past few weeks. Many large cities receive eight hours or less of power supply, and parts of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, has been cut off completely of electricity. The issue continues due partly to the fact that risky new systems provide political uncertainty. Investors who were once comfortable with government financing became troubled after this because they felt like he was the only politician with expertise in public sector bidding. A lack of investment will be detrimental to the government’s power sector, as it now requires around ten billion dollars a year of investment for at least a decade.

Nigeria’s government needs the revenue to build on electricity production, but it appears to prefer oil exportation over development at home. However, state’s revenues from power supply cannot be boosted by reforms if corruption profits the wrong people. Reports show that, over the past two years, almost seven billion dollars have been lost in the oil sector with fraud. Recent robberies of tanker ships could very likely be the work of a specific group of criminals, who has been more willing to use violence when in trading stolen oil. On the Niger Delta, hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day are stolen from pipelines running through the swamps and illegally sold for profit.

The new finance minister, Okonjo-Iweala, hopes to stop this mismanagement and use funding where it is needed. She faces the challenge of cleaning up embedded corruption, but has trouble taking action because of her lack of support. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala needs patronage from wealthy figures like military officers or previous party leaders who wield a lot of political power. The many institutional changes that the ambitious leader wants to make have to be supported by multiple ministries, which take matters out of her control. Difficulty in exterminating fraud in Nigeria’s fuel and energy sectors will make Mr. Jonathan’s electricity reforms seem harsher than they should be, and could create many more problems to come. Good luck, Jonathan.

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Filed under International
Sep 17, 2012

South Korea’s Iron Lady

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South Korea’s Park Geun-hye has become a celebrity. The sixty year old leader of the Saenuri Party is campaigning to become the country’s first female leader. Although her victory is not guaranteed, Ms. Park enjoys favorable odds. She is the daughter of a well-known military dictator, Park Chung-hee, and has been preparing for this election practically her whole life. After her mother was assassinated in 1974, Ms. Park took on the responsibilities of the First Lady, helping her father and learning from him.

Even though the experience sometimes limits her own ability to incorporate newer ways of thinking into her policies, Ms. Park has set herself apart from her father and his autocratic rule. Furthermore, Ms. Park clearly differentiates herself from South Korea’s current president, Lee Myung-bak, whose government was tainted with bribery and foreign policy scandals. By being an independent political figure, her dream of becoming a female president in a male dominated political system shifts closer to reality.

Amongst a few, Ms. Park earned the nickname “Iron Lady” from her assiduous campaigning. Once, she shook hands with eager supporters until her wrist had to be wrapped in a bandage. Not only has she become a respectable and noteworthy politician, but voters sympathize with her. Ms. Park’s parents were assassinated just five years apart from each other, and, having never been married, she seems to have given up her personal life in order to be completely devoted to her country.

On the other hand, she is also sympathetic towards voters. Ms. Park’s goal is to show voters how much she cares about them and paint an image of a softer candidate, especially on issues like the Korean Conflict. Young, unemployed Korean put their faith in her, as her main concerns are the people’s problems. All of these positive qualities make her seem almost like a deity to her supporters.

The Saenuri Party leader, Park Geun-hye, is off to a great start. But this does not mean that she lacks competition. While things are going smoothly for her so far, a lot could happen from now until the election on December 19th.

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Filed under International
Jul 14, 2012

Ukraine’s Isolation

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If you’re a football fan, this article may be the one for you, as the Euro 2012 Football Championships are happening in the European Union! However, EU leaders are boycotting these games held by Ukraine and Poland. Several others also plan to stay away from the upcoming summit in Yalta (a city in Ukraine) later this month. These decisions were all made in an effort to bring attention and aid to the unjust treatment of the Ukrainian opposition’s leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms. Tymoshenko was put into jail by Ukraine’s current president, Viktor Yanukovych. Even though he easily won the elections in February 2010, Yanukovych has chosen to imprison her for longer, despite warnings from the EU. Furthermore, it was unnecessary because his opponent had already lost her popularity in the “orange revolution” of 2004, where she proved to be inconsistent and hold debatable opinions. Originally, an agreement was made for opening markets from the EU to Ukrainian exports, but this was further postponed since Mr. Yanukovych remains adamant about his governing style, and keeping Ms. Tymoshenko behind bars. It validates the argument that the president cares more about his own power than bringing economic benefits to the country.

Last October, Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison. Later, she was pictured with bruises on her body, which she claimed casino en ligne francais bonus sans depot were from prison guards. Now, she is on a hunger strike. While Yanukovych wanted to keep his competitor out of the media by putting her away in jail, his plan backfired because voters have not forgotten about her. Instead, they rather respect and sympathize with her for her strong character. More than ever, leaders of the EU similarly feel that Viktor Yanukovych has gone way too far, as the regime has become autocratic and corrupted. Ukraine developed an insufficient democracy as well as a weakened justice system under his rule.

One thing to look out for is the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Ms. Tymoshenko is presently forming an alliance with another major opposing party, designed for the two to run as a unified group. These elections in October will play a key factor in what the EU will do next; Yanukovych will either embrace the loss of a few seats in Parliament, or continue to cause further isolation from the EU. Hopefully there will be no more unjust treatment in Ukraine, and the Euro 2012 Football Championships can continue!

Filed under International
May 6, 2012

Guest Opinion: Immigration and the Election

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This year’s Republican candidates were an interesting bunch. Being fearless, careless, and sometimes thoughtless, only Mitt Romney seems to be holding onto his relevance so far in the primaries. But the other candidates have no need to worry since they have still made an impact on the lives of many people… by offending them. Their policies on illegal immigration have caused many immigrants to move to Mexico, regardless of their legality. Additionally, even when uneasy feelings appear in many Hispanics, the Republicans merely dismiss them because they are too focused on their own campaigns. This was an ignorant decision, as a politician may easily lose votes for being unaware of the public’s outlook.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center*, for the first time in twenty years, Mexican immigration into the U.S. has stopped increasing. This means that while people are still coming into the country, more are now leaving. Around 1.4m Mexicans immigrated to the United States between 2005 and 2010. However, the same number or greater left during those years as well. The news caused considerable concern lately, especially since it was found during the week when the Supreme Court received arguments concerning Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants in 2010.

However, the Republican Candidates are not completely to blame. Many Hispanics feel offense to the fact that an Arizona State Law as well as a Federal Law instructs authorities along the Arizona border to be on special lookout for illegal immigrants. Sometimes, since a lot of immigrants lose or have never obtained their formal documents, they are mistaken for illegals. These mistakes often end in victims who are unreasonably harassed, deported, and separated from loved ones. High unemployment rates do not make life in America very attractive either, which is why it is not too much of a surprise that immigrants want to return to their homeland.

On the other hand, Obama has gained some support. He disagrees with targeting random suspects to make sure a citizen is legal, and proposes that the borders should have uniform enforcement throughout, which turn out to be very popular. Ridiculously enough, Republicans use the growing uneasiness as a way to undermine other candidates of the party instead of facing their problems and finding a solution. While previous GOP candidates threaten to deport all illegal immigrants, Obama gives the impression of a friendly ally. With such abundant reactions, the issue of immigration has been, and will ever more be, a prevalent issue in the 2012 elections.

*http://www.pewhispanic.org/

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Filed under Domestic
May 3, 2012

A Bump in the Road

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The Eurozone has hit another bump in the road. Actually, more like a pothole. As most people already know, the debt crisis of the EU has driven through many problems and is running low on gas. The only fuel left lies in a few countries holding onto their triple-A economic ratings. Sadly, a tow truck may soon be needed to bail out the Netherlands, as yet another country risks losing their high rating.

How was this pothole formed? Well, the main cause is that the government of the Netherlands is falling apart. Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), is infamous for hiding in fear of assassination and strongly opposes immigration. Even though he is disagreeable, Wilders can make a great impact on the government. After he withdrew from budget talks last week, many other Dutch political parties had to be compromised in order to keep the government running. He already propped up a minority government, and is forcing an election to be held on September 12th against the current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte.

Due to all of the fluctuations from the ruling parties, austerity measures are being sidelined. A new budget was created three days after the PVV’s resignation, which includes a set of regulations requiring a budget deficit lower than three percent of the GDP, as required to be part of the Eurozone. This difficult task was rushed to meet the EU deadline of April 30th. Since austerity has become trivial in the Netherlands and new regulations are complicated to agree upon, the weakening economy has allowed debt-yields to rise, thus creating the pothole.

So far, the damage is already surfacing. Yields on Dutch debt have recently gone up drastically, meaning that people will get more money back for their investments. Money returned from these yields includes the return rates on stocks or fixed income. This may seem like a good deal at first, but after a closer look, it is evident that a high-yield bond only appeals to investors while trying to hide greater risks for default in the long run. It signifies more instability for an already wavering economy, which is precarious in a situation like the EU.

More problems for the EU remain in the road ahead as well. Anti-EU support has increased over time, which makes it harder for the countries to stay cohesive. With election season in France and other countries of the Eurozone, leaders and voters care mostly about new economic policies that could possibly come with a change in government. It is even probable that citizens could vote to tear apart the countries of the determined Eurozone. All of the effort put into saving the group may be useless, but for now, all we can do is buckle up for a bumpy ride.

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Filed under Economy, International
May 1, 2012

Leaving Afghanistan

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American troops are trying to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Not only do a majority of people in the US want to pull out regardless of how prepared they are, but Afghanistan seems ready for us to leave as well since NATO has caused more trouble than previously anticipated. For example, in January, American soldiers were recorded urinating on the Taliban fighters they had killed. Then, pictures emerged of Americans burning copies of the Koran in a garbage pit. Not only was all this embarrassing and avoidable, it has also caused protests all over Afghanistan, where many were killed or injured. On March 11th, an American army staff sergeant killed seventeen innocent civilians after suffering from severe mental problems. It is no surprise that more and more people in both countries are becoming critical about US involvement in Afghanistan; NATO could only apologize for the trouble we have caused.

As a result, the general agreement is to finish our responsibilities quickly and leave. In an effort to swiftly eradicate the Taliban, night raids led by US officials were established. These night raids consisted of troops breaking into homes in search for insurgents and were very unpopular among most Afghan citizens because the troops did not need search warrants to forcibly search through personal property. But the US insists on continuing them, claiming that they are the only way to find out enough information in order to capture Taliban commanders. Since the US usually gets what they want, the American-led raids continued.

Recently however, control over special operations missions, including night raids, was given to Afghan forces to expedite the transition of military charge over to the government. Even though Hamid Karzai’s political popularity has fallen since these night raids, the president has no other choice but to conform because Afghan troops still need American aid most of the time. One good thing that has come out of this transfer of authority is that the US no longer needs to worry about handling captured Taliban members. Instead of directly dealing with these prisoners, the US must teach forces in Afghanistan to respect human rights because evidence revealed that some of the detainees were often tortured while under Afghan custody. By doing this, American troops can take a break, Afghan security forces will improve, and the transfer of Afghanistan’s military power may run more smoothly in the future.

Although US aid in Afghanistan has led to a variety of unnecessary troubles, we have still done a fair job in helping Afghan forces get back on their feet. Some of our actions may be controversial, but hopefully, after teaching Afghan troops to become independent and establishing a secure foundation for the future, the United States can safely pull out of Afghanistan.

 

Filed under International
Apr 15, 2012

Hungary’s Democratic Thirst

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With protests escalating and a lack of foreign aid, Hungary’s government seems to be losing its friends. The Hungarians face EU sanctions dealing with everything from their central bank to their media. This week the European Commission threatened to hold back 495 million euros of regional aid because leaders in Hungary are not doing enough to cut down on their deficit. Even though Hungary kept their deficit under 3% of their GDP as the EU requires, the commission seems convinced that the actions taken by Hungary’s government were only temporary. In actuality, the EU and IMF just need an excuse to hold back the money because they are worried about Hungary’s central bank becoming progressively independent. However, their worries are not unjustified because if the central bank gets to be too powerful, it can turn from a management and supervisory power into a political power.

Another problem is that allies to the current ruling party, Fidesz, have taken over basically every branch of their government, including an overwhelming two-thirds majority in Parliament. People bringing new ideas or criticisms to the media have been automatically rejected, causing the people of Hungary, the EU, and also the US to question their democracy. The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, only makes this worse by blaming other countries for their economic difficulties and ignoring the real issue. He also defends their new constitution, passed easily through Parliament, which has been heavily criticized for its strict media and judicial control. Protesters claim that even the judiciary has been morphed in favor of the Fidesz party.

A day after the new constitution took effect on January 1st, 2012, a massive group of Hungarians protested it outside of Budapest. This is hard for the government to ignore because it is the first time that differing political parties have come together to criticize and work together to fight for their disappearing democracy.  So before the Hungarian government gets too excited about their new constitution, they may want to consider the tens of thousands of people who disagree before they lose all their friends.

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Filed under Economy, International
Feb 24, 2012

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