Civil Rights Curbed for National Security

President Obama’s declaration of an end of the war in Iraq marks a significant new step in relations between the United States and Iraq. It is not the withdrawal in and of itself which will be deemed a success in the long run, but how the two nations proceed forward during Iraq’s newfound autonomy.

Opponents claim that withdrawal from Iraq opens an opportunity for Iran to impose itself on the affairs of Iraq, and that Iraq could fall into civil war without U.S. troop presence.

However, this decision was ultimately made with the cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq. Iraqis had been calling for U.S. withdrawal for a long time, including Iraqi members of parliament that are firmly anti-Iranian. An open and independent Iraqi government in the end was supportive of U.S. withdrawal.

Although Iran has influence in the country, the U.S. does as well. Iraq is increasingly shutting down Iranian militia groups near the Iranian border and has claimed that any attack on U.S. troops would be considered an attack on Iraq as well.

They have further become one of the world’s largest purchasers of U.S. military equipment. This indicates a partnership between the two countries which does not necessitate U.S. troops occupying the country.

Iraqis never believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would deter Iran. Keeping a residual force may have actually had the opposite effect of promoting increased recruitment to Iranian extremist groups.

The overall security of the country has also improved dramatically, with attacks decreasing more and more as responsibility is increasingly given instead to the Iraqi military and police forces for its protection.

The basis of many extremist groups to attack U.S. and Iraqi troops has become less and less relevant as U.S. troops have left Iraqi cities over the years and now are preparing to leave entirely. Forcing Iraqis to let foreign troops stay would have had long-term repercussions in the encouragement of extremist groups and the worsening of relations between the two countries.

Although insurgents will continue rebelling and the government still needs to stabilize the political system, these problems would continue regardless of U.S. troop presence. Active relations outside of occupation are necessary for Iraq to handle these long-term problems.

The Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), passed in 2008 under President George W. Bush, sets the basis for international relations with Iraq, tying the countries together through both trade and security. The SFA provides initiatives for counterterrorism and defense.

The withdrawal will therefore strengthen ties with the Iraqi military and will not terminate cooperation between the two countries. The withdrawal instead is a step towards assimilating Iraq into the global market.

Moving forward, the end of the Iraq war should be seen as a beginning to strengthened relations. Many Iraqis know nothing of Americans outside of the context of the war. Seeing the war come to an end, they will be able to focus instead on strengthening relations rather than disseminating divisive sentiments with regards to the occupation.

This is an honorable end to the war which can increase cooperation going into the future.

Iraq Withdraw

President Obama’s declaration of an end of the war in Iraq marks a significant new step in relations between the United States and Iraq. It is not the withdrawal in and of itself which will be deemed a success in the long run, but how the two nations proceed forward during Iraq’s newfound autonomy.

Opponents claim that withdrawal from Iraq opens an opportunity for Iran to impose itself on the affairs of Iraq, and that Iraq could fall into civil war without U.S. troop presence.

However, this decision was ultimately made with the cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq. Iraqis had been calling for U.S. withdrawal for a long time, including Iraqi members of parliament that are firmly anti-Iranian. An open and independent Iraqi government in the end was supportive of U.S. withdrawal.

Although Iran has influence in the country, the U.S. does as well. Iraq is increasingly shutting down Iranian militia groups near the Iranian border and has claimed that any attack on U.S. troops would be considered an attack on Iraq as well. They have further become one of the world’s largest purchasers of U.S. military equipment. This indicates a partnership between the two countries which does not necessitate U.S. troops occupying the country.

Iraqis never believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would deter Iran. Keeping a residual force may have actually had the opposite effect of promoting increased recruitment to Iranian extremist groups.

The overall security of the country has also improved dramatically, with attacks decreasing more and more as responsibility is increasingly given instead to the Iraqi military and police forces for its protection. The basis of many extremist groups to attack U.S. and Iraqi troops has become less and less relevant as U.S. troops have left Iraqi cities over the years and now are preparing to leave entirely. Forcing Iraqis to let foreign troops stay would have had long-term repercussions in the encouragement of extremist groups and the worsening of relations between the two countries.

Although insurgents will continue rebelling and the government still needs to stabilize the political system, these problems would continue regardless of U.S. troop presence. Active relations outside of occupation are necessary for Iraq to handle these long-term problems.

The Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), passed in 2008 under President George W. Bush, sets the basis for international relations with Iraq, tying the countries together through both trade and security. The SFA provides initiatives for counterterrorism and defense. The withdrawal will therefore strengthen ties with the Iraqi military and will not terminate cooperation between the two countries. The withdrawal instead is a step towards assimilating Iraq into the global market.

Moving forward, the end of the Iraq war should be seen as a beginning to strengthened relations. Many Iraqis know nothing of Americans outside of the context of the war. Seeing the war come to an end, they will be able to focus instead on strengthening relations rather than disseminating divisive sentiments with regards to the occupation. This is an honorable end to the war which can increase cooperation going into the future.

Southwestern Football Program Will Boost Pirate Pride vs. Problems Overshadow Benefits

Pride
All it takes is a 20-minute drive down I-35 to arrive at one of the most iconic football grounds in the state of Texas, Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. There play the Longhorns: padded behemoths whose performance week in and week out has a palpable effect on the student body and an extensive alumni network.

The Longhorns rally both the student body and the alumni, as well as countless other interested parties, not around the football program itself but the university as a whole. Recently, Southwestern began the long and arduous process of creating its own rally point, the Pirates football team, a move that in the long run will have similar positive effects.

Although the university already has a strong, respectable athletic program that provides the student athletes themselves with an opportunity to grow on and off the field, it has failed to rally the general student body around it.

Football has the potential to be the center around which alumni and students gather, not just to cheer on the football team but to celebrate their pride in the university. It will foster a more unified and larger alumni network more eager to support and donate to the school because they maintain their feeling of connection to it. Football could also help increase publicity and name recognition for the university.

Even so, at a time when the university has decided to cut library costs and cannot keep professors’ salaries in line with inflation, some argue that a football team may seem imprudent.

While the positive effects may not be felt immediately and the university may lose money in the short term, as long as the program is well run over time, revenue will begin to catch up with and eventually exceed expenses. In 15 or 20 years from now, when the program has had time to establish itself, alums will be able to return and take pride in what Southwestern accomplished, knowing that they were there at the beginning.

Opponents of the move also express concerns about the effect that the presence of football players themselves will have on the university. At a small school, the effect of 100 new people on the composition of the student body will not be as diluted as at other schools, so this is a serious consideration. This where the university must remember that it has a responsibility to admit student-athletes that are likely to be productive members of our community, as they have been doing up to this point.

Currently, the GPA of student-athletes is comparable to those of non-athletes at Southwestern. The university is aware that it must not be so consumed by success on the football field as to compromise its admission standards and has promised to maintain admissions quality.

As long as the program is developed in a responsible and prudent manner, the football program will have a profoundly positive effect on all alumni, present and future.

Undercuts

The recent decision by the Board of Trustees to add both football and women’s lacrosse as varsity sports has created considerable controversy in the student populace. Notably, students and faculty were left in the dark until the final decision was suddenly sprung upon them. If these new changes will make the school so much better off, students and faculty should have been consulted in the process.

Similar discussions occurred at Berry College of northwest Georgia, where a similar football installment plan has recently been approved.

A small student protest took place, and it seemed most students against the plan didn’t have a problem so much with football as with installing football on their college campus. They held serious doubts about the ability for the football team to actually generate revenue, andwhether their own campus culture would be negatively impacted.

Berry College resembles Southwestern in its small enrollment size, liberal arts focus, and its status as a Division III school.

At Southwestern, the reaction may very well resemble that of Berry’s, as many small colleges have been making changes in the past few years. Financial concerns present great importance, and the concern that the initial gift money provided by the recent agreement doesn’tcover the full $10-11 million in total costs presents a problem.

Money will be coming in slowly, and debts will continue to pile up as the university takes on this additional challenge. If this risk doesn’t pay off, it would mean a much deeper hole,and wasted time and energy creating facilities that wouldn’t necessarily be utilized to their full potential.

Deemed as one of the less controversial matters in this discussion, women’s lacrosse has simply been eclipsed in the concern over reinstating the football team. This lack of controversy is simply not true. The story told has seemed to suppose that moving women’s lacrosse from a clubsport to a varsity sport would act as a sort of “upgrade” or “progression”; clearly a substantial assumption.

Currently, The University of Dallas is the only other varsity women’s lacrosse team in Texas. If the current club sport were to become a varsity sport, this would equal increased transportation costs of time and money for the team. A women’s lacrosse student’s ability to engage in diverse and stimulating activitiesduring their time would be ever more restrained. Not to mention that the team wasn’t contacteduntil the final decision to begin with, possibly because Title IX laws all but forced women’slacrosse’s inclusion in the process.

Besides the crucial overlooked issue concerning women’s lacrosse, claims of increasedenrollment seem to add appeal to this plan of action. A predicted 120 students would help achieve the enrollment goal of 1,500, but it fails to take into account the numbers of students who would have specifically chosen the university for other reasons.

The decision wouldn’t so much depend on students who specifically didn’t want a football team, so much as the other activities and opportunities that are promoted in the space of football.

Focusing on special weekends also seems inviting, but student-run organizations and activities make events like Homecoming an already inviting opportunity for alumni. In this way,student leadership and teamwork works to present different unique opportunities for the day orweekend, as opposed to a singular event that would drive the show.

A better plan would be to consider the debts currently owed, and how to close the gap. Qualitative improvements in student recruitment would work wonders, such as the improvementof student involvement in visit day programs.Academic quality must also be maintained, as must the inviting campus culture and gender balance.

Another balance may also be interrupted with the new plan, as seen in a potentialincrease of the new football students going into certain departments and programs such asbusiness. This would create another type of balance problem, which must be acknowledged.Gender balance, especially on our campus, remains an important issue to be dealt with.Throwing the women’s lacrosse team under the bus just doesn’t seem like the way to do it.

New Tabacco Labels Clear Air: Lawsuit Threatens to Undermine Progress

The year 2009 saw the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a law that required that by 2012 cigarette labels have one of several large antismoking graphics. These new warning labels, which depict things such as smoke coming out of a tracheotomy hole in someone’s neck and a woman sobbing, are set to
replace the old plain text warnings, which have remained largely unchanged since 1985.
However, in mid-August, five of the nation’s largest tobacco companies filed suit against the FDA to prevent them from moving forward with these new requirements, saying that they deny the companies there first amendment right to freedom of speech.

Courtesy Google Images.

The United States was the first country to implement warning labels on cigarette packs back in 1966, a major milestone in raising awareness about the hazards of smoking tobacco. But since then very little has changed, and today our country has one of the smallest and least noticeable warnings of any country in the world. While countries from Thailand to Turkey have required that anywhere from thirty to ninety percent of the packaging be given over to warnings featuring bold text and color pictures, the U.S. requires only a small text warning printed on the side of the package, about as noticeable as the ingredient list on most processed food.

The five companies suing the FDA say that they should not be forced to advertise against there own product; that these labels cross the line between factual warnings and antismoking advocacy.

In a sense they are correct. Junk food manufacturers are not required to print images of bulging stomachs and globs of fat. But what the companies do not mention in their suit is the fact that the only reason they are allowed to sell something that they know is both addictive and dangerous at all is because of the combination of a very powerful lobby and the loose health standards of the past.

Additionally, the images the FDA chose are not particularly shocking or sensational. The cadaver certainly catches they eye, but the other eight pictures, which include a baby looking at smoke and a man wearing an “I Quit” shirt, are quite mild.

For comparison, see Brazil’s current round of cigarette labels, which show such lovely pictures as the back of a mans head split open with blood pouring out or a dead newborn surrounded by cigarette butts and ashes. These are images designed to so revolt people that they will quit smoking just to avoid seeing the packaging. The FDA’s labels are just trying to get across what plain text cannot: the effects of smoking beyond cancerous
lungs and yellowed teeth.

Of course, even if you support the motivation for the labels you would be justified in wondering just how much of a difference something like a picture of some lungs would make in the consumption of such an addictive substance.

According to the CDC, it is quite a big difference. In their study “Young adults’ perceptions of cigarette warning
labels in the United States and Canada,” they exposed smokers and nonsmokers from the U.S. to Canadian warnings labels, which the FDA’s planned labels are based off of, and then asked them about their reactions. A majority of the participants knew of the U.S. labels but said that they ignored them. In contrast, the majority of participants said that the Canadian warnings were more noticeable and more informative. The overall takeaway from the study was that a strong visual combined with a simple factual statement was the best kind warning for getting people to take it seriously.

The United States’ tobacco policy has stagnated for a quarter century while the rest of the world continued to improve the warnings about smoking’s dangers. If it survives this lawsuit, the 2009 law will be the first step in bringing our country up to modern standards.

Spotify

Spotify is the newest trend for streaming music. Image Curtesy Google Images.

Established in 2008, but only recently available to U.S. customers, Spotify is one of
the newest online music streaming services. It’s compatible with a good deal of the current
electronic market, including most mobile phone services, PC and Mac. Spotify has some
extremely intriguing features such as a searchable music catalogue of 15 million songs, a playlist
maker that allows you to share your favorite songs with your friends and even do collaborative
editing of which songs are in the list, and compatibility with last.fm, where you can upload your
favorite songs and last.fm makes recommendations as to what other artists you might like.

Spotify also includes a radio service that plays random songs in a selected genre
or musical era. This feature is similar to Pandora but unfortunately less customizable than
Pandora because of Spotify’s inability to rate songs. However, Spotify’s radio service includes
biographical information of the artists being played and allows users to skip as many songs as
they so choose.

There are three types of subscriptions: Open, Unlimited, and Premium. Open does not
have monthly fees and has a limited amount of music listening time per month (about 20 hours).
Open also has advertisements that interrupt your music.

Unlimited and Premium are $4.99 and $9.99 per month, respectively, and each allow
users an unlimited amount of listening time per month. Premium users gain access to their
premium services, which include Offline mode, mobile device support, enhanced sound quality,
and exclusive content. All these features would seem to mark Spotify as a major player in the
online music player scene, provided you are willing to shell out $9.95 a month.

 

Both parties continue to punt on budget deficit

Last week, Obama presented a $3.7 trillion budget. While this is enormous, it actually is a cut (for following years) – $33 billion cut in 2012 and about a trillion dollars over the next decade. Roughly two-thirds of the reduced cost over the next decade comes from spending cuts and freezes – such as the five-year freeze on discretionary spending.

However, despite these cuts, our debt is projected to rise by over $7 trillion in the next decade, and the deficit is projected to never fall below $600 billion. Deficits this year are expected to hit $1.6 trillion.

Snake-like Deficit. Courtesy of Google Images.

According to Obama, the savings would bring the share of discretionary spending to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was president. However, discretionary spending is only a small portion of what the government spends. If one excludes military spending (as Obama is doing) discretionary spending accounts for less than 20 percent of the budget.

The vast majority of spending can be attributed to non-discretionary things, such as defense spending (the military), entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) and the interest the government pays on our debt.

The 2011 budget includes $740 billion for Defense, $740 billion for Social Security, $500 billion for Medicare and $250 billion in interest on our national debt. These four items alone account for over $2.2 trillion of the budget – almost two thirds of it.

If this budget were deficit neutral, that is to say, the government didn’t have to borrow any money, these four items would take up all of it, leaving out things such as spending on education, infrastructure and many other things.

Republicans and Tea Party members alike are quite displeased with this large budget. They propose further cuts to discretionary spending.

“This is a punt,” Republican and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said. “You cannot borrow, tax and spend your way to fiscal responsibility, but that’s exactly what the president is trying to do.”

However, they too are being hesitant in addressing entitlement and defense spending. Republicans’ proposal currently cuts an additional $60 billion or so from Obama’s budget for this fiscal year.

If we take a look at the numbers, it seems as if members of both parties are “punting” – avoiding the inevitable change that needs to be made to our entitlements as Americans live longer and grow older.

In December, a bi-partisan commission recommended large spending cuts and tax raises to bring our bloated budget under control. However, as of now, it seems as if neither party has the stomach to do what is necessary. Republicans refuse to raise taxes (as we saw when they forced the continuation of tax cuts, costing the government around a trillion dollars over the next decade) and Democrats refuse to cut enough.

It seems as if all we can do now is hope that Obama and the Republicans manage to force enough compromise in the right direction from each other to fix the government, rather than allowing the Republicans to lower taxes, the Democrats to spend more, and the nation to go broke.

Modern pony cars drive off in style, price

With summer approaching at a brisk pace (less than a month away, thank God), some of us will be looking for a car to enjoy during the summer, and perhaps after that as well (others of us who aren’t so fortunate may be stuck without a car, or even worse, with our parent’s minivan). With Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge each having recently released or redesigned their signature pony cars (the Camaro, the Mustang, and the Challenger, respectively), those whose tastes run into the classic American Muscle car realm have plenty of reasons to be drooling at the mouth now. However, they have a tough call to make – which pony car is king?

The Ford Mustang is the only car which has been in continuous production since inception out of this group of pony cars – and is the reason for the name “pony” car. With the 2011 version of the Mustang set to come out this summer, Ford Motor Co. is ahead of its competitors. The 2011 Mustang GT features a 5.0 liter V8 engine which pumps out a massive 412 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. When coupled with the fact that the Mustang is the lightest car in the group, that is enough to give it the fastest 0-60 time, making it in a brisk 4.6 seconds. Pulling a bit over .9 g on the skidpad, it is also the most maneuverable of the lot, and also gets the best gas mileage of the group, with EPA estimating 17 city / 26 highway mpg. Be ready to shell out about $33,000 for this car.

The Dodge Challenger, while having been out of the running the longest (since 1983), came back in 2008 with a bang. The Challenger features the most retro, hearken to the olden-days look out of the three pony cars. However, it suffers in performance. Even though 2010 Challenger SRT8 it features a 6.1 liter HEMI V8 which produces an impressive 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, it is the heaviest car of the group, and this shows in its performance. The Challenger takes 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, pulls a bit less than .9 g on the skidpad, and has an EPA estimated mpg of 14 city / 22 highway. This pony car will cost you over $40,000 after the gas guzzler tax.

The Chevy Camaro is the newest returnee to the group, having just come back in 2009 with the 2010 version, and it shows. The Camaro SS features the most aggressive styling of the group, and with a 6.2 liter V8 that throws 426 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, it rips from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds, and pulls right around .9 g on the skidpad. EPA estimates a 16 city / 25 highway mpg, and the SS will set you back around $32,000.

If you look at just the statistics, the Mustang is a clear winner, but by slim margins, as all these cars have very similar performance. However, pony cars aren’t all about quick quarter miles and crazy burnouts – they’re also about looking awesome, and this can be a deciding factor. In my opinion, the award for best looks goes to the Camaro SS, hands down, but many retro fans are willing to throw down the extra moolah for the looks of the Challenger SRT8 as well. Whichever one may be your favorite, any of these cars are sure to give you a thrilling ride.

You can also get any of the three with a cheaper, less powerful V6 in it (although a V6 can still pack some punch), if you’re on a tighter budget.  Courtesy of Google Images.

You can also get any of the three with a cheaper, less powerful V6 in it (although a V6 can still pack some punch), if you’re on a tighter budget. Courtesy of Google Images.

Curriculum changes shake up schedules

The curriculum changes emphasize quality over quantity.  Courtesy of Google Image.

The curriculum changes emphasize quality over quantity. Courtesy of Google Image.

The new schedule changes that have been put into place have made us all a bit uneasy. Those who have had their schedule mapped out since the day the y stepped onto Southwestern’s campus have had a wrench thrown in their plan and those who still have no idea what they want to do (like me) find their choice and number of classes being limited to a worrisome amount as well. Though this change seems a bit odd and bothersome, it does have some promising aspects and we will have to wait and see the real test of its effectiveness next semester.

Political Science professor, Eric Selbin, stated that he is all in all in support of the new changes, which he said were implemented due to the fact that many SU alums claimed that they believed the old curriculum stretched their range of knowledge, yet did not give them the depth they needed in each particular course. Though Selbin does understand the frustration that is felt by many students, especially those who will be juniors and seniors, dealing with the change.

“There will always be an awkward transition period,” Selbin said. But he added that the system was implemented with good intentions and that the Southwestern staff will have a duty to pay attention to the comments of students as the new program is put into effect next semester.

Though, like Selbin, first-year Lauren Jenzen wished there would have been a more gradual progression to the new changes and is uneasy about the limited amount of classes that we will be able to take each semester.

“It’s going to be hard to take classes outside of your major, especially if you are a double major,” Jenzen said. This does seem to be true and a little bit disappointing for those who want to dabble in a lot of things before they commit. However, Jenzen does appreciate the fact that the new program tightens up requirements. “The new curriculum will make it easier to graduate in four years, which is helpful to all students.”

While some students are looking at the effects of this change on a wider basis, others are celebrating, or lamenting due to the fact that they already suffered through the course, the facts that no longer will the College Writing, religion or math credits be requirements on a basic level.

First-year Fox Buchele said, “I really likes the lack of religion credit because it was holding Southwestern down by continuing to link the school with its religious origins.”

Whether you are pleased or pissed off about the new changes, the real test will come with its effectiveness during the 2010-2011 school year when our semesters will be seen as a test run for what Southwestern could permanently become. The overall attitude I encountered while writing this article was one of optimism and appreciation for the new changes, and hopes that it will not become too much of a bother later down the road.

The administration changed the schools requirements due to feedback from previous Pirates and have implemented them with the hope of creating an easier more structured path to graduation, so as for now we must bravely step into next semester and have faith that everything will work out.

Summer Reading: Science Fiction

Put a science fiction book on your summer reading list. Courtesy of Google Images.

Put a science fiction book on your summer reading list. Courtesy of Google Images.

With the summer vacation approaching fast, many of us are starting to look forward to lovely relaxing time that summer is – no homework, no having to wake up early to make it to that 8 a.m. class – in other words, pure bliss. And although many of us will be picking up summer jobs or internships during the summer before coming back to SU (or heading into the real world or to grad school), we will all have free time to spend as we please.

My personal recommendation is to find a good science fiction book and read it from cover to cover. Why? Reading has so many good things to offer us. It can give us new things to think about, open up new worlds for us to explore, and best of all, give us a thrilling mental ride that (in my opinion) can easily surpass other media such as film. Novels can give us a much more elaborate and fascinating plot than movies.

Why sci-fi, specifically? Science fiction is a great genre because it combines the best of several worlds – it has the wondrous, fantastical fictional and novel elements of a fantasy novel while usually keeping the story credible within the bounds of our universe (often set in the future). It is also captivating and mentally stimulating like many historical fiction novels. That being said, sci-fi is also a vastly diverse field of literature – titles which you will recognize and quite possibly have read include Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Ender’s Game. Although you may not have enjoyed these books specifically, chances are you can find a sci-fi book to fit you (as there are roughly a dozen sub-genres of sci-fi as listed by Wikipedia, ranging from military to cyberpunk to space westerns).

My favorite sub-genre of sci-fi is military sci-fi. The Honor Harrington series (which is a New York Times bestselling series), by David Weber, exemplifies so much of what I love about sci-fi. Weber has created a complex, detailed, futuristic and credible universe set approximately 2000 years in the future. It has intricate political structures (based with recognizable parallels to established political systems here on Earth – as a political science major I just love this stuff) as well as an interesting and unique military system which lends itself very well to a captivating plot. Weber also includes what every good book needs – consistent, realistic, and likable characters who can drive the plot forward. With 15 excellent novels (11 in the main military series, and two 2-novel sub-series, one in the spy/action sci-fi category and the other coming closest to space opera) set in the “Honorverse” and more coming, Weber has created a universe that stretches the imagination while keeping one captivated throughout.

So, whether it be one of Weber’s novels, or another sci-fi novel, or any novel at all – try and take some time this summer to read a good book, out in the sun, inside with the A/C on full blast, wherever you feel like it. I promise, you won’t regret doing so.

It's called governing

Get yours today.

Get yours today.

Hey Guys,

President Obama signed the Health Care Reconciliation package on Tuesday. Finally, Health Care Reform is official. The Reconciliation package included MAJOR student aid reform measures as well. The legislation projects a $425 increase to the maximum Pell Grant alongside an allotment of 800,000 additional awards. Basically, pell grants’ funding will be increased by the federal government by up to $40 billion. The bill also includes lots of provisions and support for community colleges and historically black colleges. For people struggling to pay their loans, repayments for graduates will be capped at 10% instead of 15%. And, those who perform public service will see their debts forgiven after 10 years.

On top of that, president Obama has also staunchly advocated for financial regulatory reform. Debate on that legislation could start very soon in the Senate; meaning we could see more impactful legislation signed into law in the upcoming months.  If that were not enough, three Senators–a Democrat, Republican, and Independent– are writing a comprehensive “energy bill.”

Think about it this way: in less than two years President Obama’s resume could include a series of monumental initiatives. The Recovery Act, health care reform, student loan reform ,financial regulatory reform, and the Clean Energy Bill. This administration has identified America’s most serious problems and set out to do something about them. That’s called governing. After 8 years of simply ignoring problems–only letting them fester into a series national crises–a bit of problem solving is pretty refreshing.

More later,

Tim

p.s. Off shore drilling is politically necessary. Sad, but true

HCR: signed

So…

The House approved the Senate bill, and of course, it was signed into law today by the President. Expect some modifications to come in the Senate’s reconciliation process, but other than this is pretty much a done deal. Republicans threaten to repeal it or challenge it’s constitutionality, but there is little chance either of those approaches will work. Repealing it wouldn’t succeed–Obama would simply veto it if a repeal did pass. And just about all objective sources don’t consider this legislation to be unconstitutional.

So now, the “message war” begins. Republicans have a difficult challenge ahead of them; primarily because history shows us that the American people generally don’t like to give up reforms once they start receiving the benefits. Take a look at medicare and social security: once those reforms were enacted, they were incredibly popular with the American people. And, just like this legislation, those programs were once called “socialist.” Now they’re considered sacred and virtually untouchable (well, maybe not welfare).Thus, Republicans have to hit hard early. The Republicans are going to have a tough message to sell to the American people anyway–give up your new rights and benefits…they don’t want to be a step behind in the message wars before that argument begins.

It’s still early, obviously, but it looks like the Dems are already gaining a little ground from the passage. 49% of the American people (acc. to a Gallup/USA Today poll) believe that passing health insurance reform “was a good idea.” Only 40% thought it was a bad idea. That’s a huge gain for the Democrats–just a couple of weeks ago the numbers were in complete reverse (if not worse). I guess American’s love a winner. And the winners right now are Barack Obama, the Democrats, and the American public.

In other news, 1 out of every 4 Republicans thinks Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. 38% of Republicans think he is comparable to Adolf Hitler.  Want to know more about how the Republican party is being taken over by total crazies? Just google “Harris Poll on Barack Obama.” I observed a tea party rally this weekend and had to endure shouts of “throw that n***** out of office” while looking at giant pictures of dead fetuses. Rahm Emmanuel (Obama’s Chief of Staff) asserted that the Republican party has been “taken over by a fringe group.” I’m beginning to believe him. Barney Frank, a gay Congressman from Mass., was called a “f*****” by a “tea partier”. The tea-baggers aren’t just homophobic; they’re racist too. Jim Clyburn, an African American Congressman from S.C. was called a “n*****” and then spat on. I shouldn’t be surprised about that though, especially after walking around the tea-party protest. The only person of color in the whole protest was selling American flags and t-shirts.

In short, I’m glad health reform passed so these wing-nuts can go back to the perverted, backward corners from whence they came.

Adieu,

Tim

Sustainability: Not just a fad

I find it fascinating when new words appear on the horizon of human culture. Through some perceived need, a novel concept emerges in the peripheries of language and begins to reshape dialogue. I imagine that the word “sustainability” first sailed into human consciousness in the 1960s, but was shared only in small groups of like-minded individuals. In the first years of the new millennium, however, the word has been branded on cereal boxes, t-shirts, campaign ads, canvas bags and energy companies, but as this word has become increasingly visible, its meaning has remained ambiguous. In ecology, sustainability refers to a biological community’s ability to diversify and survive over time. I think that this is a good place to start.

As we move into the 21st century, we face unprecedented challenges. The environment is being destroyed, much of the world is at war, and our nation has a tremendous healthcare problem. These statements are grounded in fact, and though various sources may stir up uncertainty, there is not enough evidence to the contrary. With these issues in mind, I believe it is clear that our culture is sick. We are perpetuating inequity, we are demolishing the earth, and we have lost touch with our own bodies. In short, we are eliminating our ability to sustain.

Let me clarify before I go any further. By culture, I am not referring to our American culture, for the values and aspirations that our country was founded on are truly remarkable achievements of the human imagination, which continue through to this day.  However, by and large, the citizens of westernized nations have accepted their role as consumers, silently assenting to the means of production and establishments of power.

Don’t agree? Then ask yourself who manufactures your food or produces your energy, and why so many Americans are diagnosed with obesity, asthma, and cancer. It is unsettling to find that there are bugs in our cultural operating system, and it takes an open mind to look past the media and find the truth. It takes an open mind to believe in sustainability.

Members of SEAK speak on the issue of sustainability. Courtesy of Eric Gonzales.

Members of SEAK speak on the issue of sustainability. Courtesy of Eric Gonzales.

If ecological sustainability refers to a biological community’s ability to diversify and survive, what does sustainability mean to a human community? Though clearly anthropocentric, I believe that it is necessary to recognize why this task is different for humans than for other species. We, humans, are wrapped up in a Gordian knot of religions, ethnicities, politics and sexualities, which prevent reconciliation and prohibit progress. Though non-human biological communities thrive with diversity, humans have historically done a wretched job of embracing it, and it is killing us. Our ability to incorporate multiple worldviews in an effort to create culture has been trumped by our desire to proselytize a consumer culture that dictates a constructed view of normalism. To be clear, I do not believe that Western culture is bad, but heavy doses of any cultural assumptions are bound to create destruction.

Fortunately, the world is waking up. Novel words and concepts are beginning to enter our communities and alter our culture, providing us with creative solutions to problems on separate planes of consciousness.

So what does sustainability mean?

Avoiding a strict definition, I believe that it is intended to give us pause, among our many activities, and offer us the opportunity to question our assumptions.  The evolutionary unfolding of human consciousness has been a remarkable process, and now we stand at a tipping point. The techniques of survival, which have proved so successful, are now antiquated, and it is time to rethink our strategies. We now have the opportunity to intentionally diversify our communities and to dedicate ourselves to the health of the future. In order to do so, however, we must make sure to pause, question our immediate assumptions, and act from a desire to sustain life and to create culture.

Sustainability: The admission that we are the most powerful agents of our collective destiny.