February 20, 2008

Finish Tying the Knot in the “Enron Loophole”

By Katherine Wollny [POL 301D-Spring 2008]

My father’s past mumbling echoes in my mind as I think back to all the times I’ve asked him for a few bucks to grab a cup of coffee before school or work. As he’d fork over the cash, I would always hear the same story—how a cup of coffee used to be ten cents and it is outrageous that my extra large regular from Dunkin Donuts cost almost $2.25 (I wonder if the story would have been more exaggerated if I was a Starbucks latte lover instead). It was a ritual that came standard when asking to borrow money for almost anything. In recent years, the latest and greatest version has been about the price of gasoline and the cringing thought of giving me two twenty dollar bills and hoping that it would be enough to fill my itty-bitty thirteen gallon tank. I never thought the day would come so soon when I would share the same sick feeling with my father every time I pull up to the pump.

In 2001, being among the sixteen year olds who experienced a bad license picture for the first time, I clearly remember the gas price posted when pulling in the station after the landmark event: $1.26 per gallon. Luckily, the Gulf station down the road from my apartment, now seven years later, is one of the cheapest places to gas up in the county at $3.17. Twenty minutes south to the next town where my parents live, it’s a whopping $3.39. Just the fact the price is over three dollars amazes me—over two dollars for that matter. How did this happen?

It all started with one name we all know: Enron! In 2000, the Enron Loophole Act was passed with the original intent of deregulating energy futures trading facilitated by the now defunct “Enron Online.” This loophole has been taken advantage of, causing the energy commodity markets to be dubbed “dark” by the lack of oversight, and creating excessive speculation and energy price manipulation. The price for crude and heating oil, gasoline, natural gas, and propane effects every American in their day to day lives.

My parents are a perfect example. Both are retired and living on fixed income, which is significantly smaller now compared to when they first entered retirement five years ago. Now with the surge in heating oil prices, they have become considerably more conservative: so layer up because your hand will be cut off if you dare touch the thermostat. But seriously, the oil bill took up a large chunk of their monthly budget this winter and it shows by their new pattern of spending autonomously. I cant grocery shop in my mother’s pantry anymore because it is starting to look as pathetically bare as mine, filled with minimal generic brand necessities. It should never have come to this!

Why hasn’t anything been done to correct this major problem that has been an infection in our economy for so long? There are a handful of reasons, but here is what I think is the big answer: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), who would be responsible for regulating actions in the energy commodity markets has been severely crippled by a significant decrease in funding, resulting in insufficient resources necessary to do its job effectively. Even worse, the advisory committees assigned to the CFTC commissioners are conquered by financial players, who depend on the little oversight, and do not include the vital input of the majority—consumers and small businesses.

At least Congress has taken notice of these shenanigans in recent months. Last June, a bipartisan report came out of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations acknowledging price distortions in the energy futures market, being supported by “a broken regulatory system that has left our energy markets vulnerable to any trader with sufficient resources to alter energy prices for all market participants.”

Thank you, Senator Carl Levin, for bringing this to the Senate floor and introducing the Close the Enron Loophole Act in September. You started the ball rolling, so please continue it down the right path to quickly cover the entire hole. By next winter, I expect to be able to visit my parents in a toasty warm house.

The Blackwater Bomb: The Detrimental Effects of Private Military

By Kerriann Stout [POL 301D-Spring 2008]

The current White House administration has been widely utilizing private security companies. Currently many of the top officials in Iraq are protected, not by the United States military, but by Blackwater USA, a private security company. This is a result of a push towards military privatization by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. While in office Cheney had plans to weaken the pentagon’s power, and outsource some of their jobs to the private sector. With the market ripe for the taking, Blackwater owner Erik Prince stepped up to the job. Paul Bremer’s, former director of reconstruction in Iraq, arrival in Iraq in 2003 gave Rumsfeld the perfect reason to utilize Blackwater in the war. Blackwater was given a contract for all of Bremer’s security.

The White House and Department of Defense are bending, twisting, and sometimes outwardly breaking laws in order to accommodate Blackwater, all with complete disregard for public opinion. Their inability, or rather lack of desire, to regulate Blackwater remains dangerous because the Blackwater Contractors remain without liability for their actions. Bremer protected them under order 17, of his 100 orders made while in Iraq, providing them immunity from persecution. Essentially there are thousands of armed contractors in Iraq without any responsibility for their actions, and the Bush Administration finds this to be perfectly legal. A September 2007 shooting by Blackwater contractors who opened unprovoked fire on Iraqi citizens is further proof of the detrimental affects this type of military brings with it. The Blackwater men are being paid double and triple what the United States military makes, and is being held accountable for nothing.

Furthermore Blackwater is being given no bid “sweetheart contracts”. Given the country’s current economic problems it seems highly suspect that the government is handing out billion dollar contracts without putting them out to bid. Bidding out the contract would be far more economically sound, but Prince’s donations to the Republican Party seem to prevent this from happening.

Iraq is not the only place private security has been used by the United States. Blackwater’s involvement in Hurricane Katrina is suspicious at best. Where was the National Guard and Military? Even if it was necessary for extra help in the beginning why didn’t Blackwater leave after local law enforcers were able to control the situation? And the most important question is where was FEMA? The people of New Orleans had suffered a massive natural disaster and lacked everything needed to sustain life. These people were hungry, hungry people need food, not guns. Especially not guns attached to mercenaries. The fact that Blackwater was deployed on American soil begs the question just how much power does Erik Prince have over the current administration?

Looking to the future, Blackwater is currently courting NATO and the UN to get contracts that would allow them to go into Darfur. This speaks directly to the ineffectiveness of UN peacekeeping troops. It is yet another example of sending a private security company somewhere it does not belong. The growth of such a powerful private army could be extremely dangerous, with their loyalties not being national, but to one person.

In order to fix these problems the United States needs to scale back on the use of private contractors and take a look at revamping the Military in order to meet its needs. The cost now may be high, but the risk of allowing private contractors to be responsible for American safety is higher. Prince has already been giving too much control and as long as Blackwater remains in bed with the Republican Party, this situation will only continue to get worse.

February 19, 2008

Bush Vetoes Health Care Coverage to Protect the Poor (he claims)

By Rebecca DePaoli [POL 301D-Spring 2008]

This is an editorial intended for people reading a daily newspaper. It has a leftist bias; however, it is informative about a health care issue.

On October 18, 2007, the House of Representatives failed to override the President’s veto that denied health care to under-privileged children. Thirteen votes shy of the two-thirds majority vote needed to override a Presidential veto, the House proved to be ineffective in the fight for children’s health care. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was created under the Clinton Administration for children whose parents earned too much to be eligible for Medicaid, yet who made too little to able to afford private insurance. Since its creation in 1997, SCHIP has been responsible for providing means to health care to approximately six million children in the United States.

In September of 2007, the United States Congress passed a bill that would expand SCHIP in order to cover four million more children by 2012. In order to finance this broadening, $35 billion would be needed in addition to SCHIP’s current cost projections of $25 billion, totaling $60 billion over the next five years. This extra funding would stem from a national cigarette tax increase of 61 cents per pack.

Even though this plan seems like a no brainer, President Bush vetoed the expansion in the name of “poor kids”. He argued that the new legislation will focus on middle class children, leaving poorer children behind. This is simply not true. First, poor children are not and never were covered by SCHIP, but by Medicaid and secondly, the expansion of SCHIP would only cover more children, not less. If the family qualifies for the coverage granted by SCHIP, they will receive it; it is not a zero sum game.

It is extremely unethical for the President to be playing politics with the lives of American children. Children need annual visits to physicians and dentists and the government should be pushing for preventative medicine rather than reactive. If children are able to have check ups, it will be less likely uninsured children will have to visit emergency rooms for illnesses, this will ultimately decrease private insurance premiums for other Americans.

President Bush also stated that the bill would cost too much. Yes, a President who is willing to spend $2 billion a week or around $520 billion over the next five years on an unsubstantiated war, is unwilling to protect his country’s own youth for a mere $60 billion in the same time period. This is a great way to show fiscal constraint.

Perhaps the boldest reason President Bush gave to rationalize his heartless veto was that he was protecting the country against socialized medicine. He believes that the private sector should control the health care system in America and why not, they have been doing a great job up until now. What is really driving our American health care system is greed, by the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. They care more about profits than they do about children whose parents simply cannot afford proper medical treatment. It’s capitalism at its worst.

Why then, do you ask did the House of Representatives not override the veto? The House Republicans stuck with their party line of fiscal conservatism and a free market economy. They were not able to see past their political agendas toward the helpless children begging for an answer.

February 12, 2008

From Vietnam to Iraq: A Repeat of History, A Repeat of Mistakes

By Ashley Studley. [Pol 301D-Spring 2008]

Up until 9/11/2001, I rarely paid any heed to politics or worldly issues. I was slightly aware of current events, but I was far more preoccupied with my adolescent self to be truly bothered by any larger matter. Once the events of September the Eleventh occurred, I was shaken awake. I was distraught, confused, and wanting justice within every part of my being.
When President George W. Bush announced that Iraq had a direct correlation to 9/11, I almost ate it up as quickly as it had been served. I assumed Saddam Hussein had always been a threat, to his people and our own, and I was about to jump on Bush’s bandwagon like so many have now regretted doing.

But my high school social studies teacher deterred me from doing so. As he introduced us to the major issues surrounding the War in Iraq, he reminded us of the issues that revolved around the Vietnam War. That war, which lasted 16 years-the longest in American history, was one which we should not have involved ourselves in, and is eerily similar to the circumstances regarding our effort in the Middle East.

I found an article written by then-student Charlie Dering, dated March 30, 1971 in Pace’s former school newspaper, Sunshine. The headline reads as “War Atrocities”, and in it Dering makes note of the unmistakable actions taken by American forces in Vietnam. If it wasn’t for minor distinctions here and there, it would be easy to believe that Dering was ranting about today’s conflict.

In 1959, the United States sent troops to Southern Vietnam to assist in the stabilizing of their government. This part of Vietnam was having difficulty separating itself from the Communist party which controlled Northern Vietnam. In an attempt to settle this conflict, millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed, along with thousands of Americans. The U.S. finally pulled out in 1975, having failed to resolve anything.

Similar to today, the President has claimed that our new mission is to build and promote democracy within Iraq. Since his weapons of mass destruction theory didn’t pan out as well as he’d hoped, the goal now is to stabilize their government-the one which we destroyed by invading the country in March of 2003. We were only supposed to occupy for two years at most, a time span which has more than doubled as it reaches its fifth year anniversary in just a month. According to the Washington Post, American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimate that the combined death toll has reached 655,000. It is sad that our President knowingly misled us into an un-winnable war, and it is even worse that we have allowed it to go on for so long.

Dering’s article touches upon the sanitization of the news, and how up until Seymour Hersh exposed the Mai Lai massacre in 1969, Americans were not being informed of the truths of the war. Dering makes note that foreign media outlets were far more truthful in facts and photos with their presentations of the war. The same applies to today’s media, which is constantly criticized for its failure to give an accurate look into the Middle East. All we are given from day to day is a death toll, one without names or faces. Is the media attempting to keep us as detached from these casualties as possible? Or is it simply the government controlling what we see and what we hear? Whatever the unjustified reasoning, the public deserves truth, no matter how ugly or how bad it makes the country appear.

The student ends his article by saying “An end to these atrocities can be realized only by an end to the war. Evidently our President doesn’t want that.” Upon reading this, I realized that our country has not learned from its previous mistakes. It’s almost as if Charlie Dering looked into the future 37 years ago, and knew that our country would make the same blinding errors and never learn from them. Sadly, I wonder how many lives it will take and how many history books will need printing in order to end and prevent such atrocities from ever occurring again.

The Pulitzer prize photo: Kim Phuc - Vietnam Napalm bombing, South Vietnam 1972

The Tragedy that is Darfur. When Will the US Intervene?

By Matthew Herlihy. The following is an editorial for the general public. [Pol 301D, Spring 2008].

The War in Darfur, also known as the Darfur Genocide, is a battle that has been ravaging the western region of Sudan since 2003. Yet, for some reason, the citizens of the United States have not learned as much on this genocide as I think is necessary. It has been the habit of our government to engage in global endeavors to police our globe, to control genocidal acts in essence, but, still, the United States has no involvement in the growing problem that is plaguing the African continent. Civil wars are not uncommon to the continent; however genocide, considered a heinous war crime, is is an evil that must be tamed.

One side of this armed conflict is the Janjaweed, a group formed mostly of Sudanese military. The Janjaweed is a group based around the religion of Islam and shuns those who do not believe in the Islamic ways. Since 2003 they have been fighting with several rebel groups, primarily the Sudan Liberation Movement among others, all comprised of non-Arab persons. Statistics vary vastly on the number of deaths that have occurred from 2003 to now, but the majority of experts, including the United Nations, estimate that “as many as 200,000 are dead”(Q&A: Sudan’s Darfur Conflict, BBC News), and quite possibly many more. The United Nations however does not mark this conflict as genocide, whereas the United States has classified it as such.

How could this happen, some people will ask; how is it possible that such a terrible war can fly so easily under the American radar? Well, the United States still remains a part of the United Nations and therefore acts in compliance with the U.N. in efforts to relieve the situation of some of the tension. The roots of the War in Darfur though lie in the government. Rebel forces, in addition to enormous overpopulation and what is called “desertification”, or more simply put, the loss of serviceable crop land, have claimed that the government was favoring Arab Africans over black Africans. This type of sentiment led to various rebel groups forming, all with different leaders and different agendas, but all with the same general intent of overthrowing the government.

So what is the issue really, this is nothing more then a civil war it would seem on the surface, but in reality, it is the civilians of this region that are hurt the most. According to a November 15, 2007 article on bbc.com women have reported being held captive by the Janjaweed and used as sex slaves, citing the proclamation by the U.N. that war crimes are being committed with regularity inside Darfur. This however, is just the beginning of the vast troubles for the Darfur natives.

Refugees are what many Darfur natives have become, with millions displaced. In the same BBC article the author states, “millions have fled their destroyed villages, with some two million people in camps near Darfur’s main towns.”(Q&A: Sudan’s Darfur Conflict, BBC News). These camps though are hotspots for Janjaweed as they patrol the outskirts, and natives state that upon venturing too far from town “the men are killed and the women are raped,”(Q&A: Sudan’s Darfur Conflict, BBC News). Darfur remains an extremely hostile territory and at the present time it is difficult for aide groups to lend a helping hand, further disadvantaging the refugees from a stable form of life.

Unfortunately there is not much that can be done to stop such a large group of people who do not desire peace. If peace were something that most of these rebel parties thirsted for this conflict would have expired long ago, but this is not the case. The blood thirst that has become Darfur will continue until one of several things happen. First and foremost, all parties involved need to have a working ceasefire and pick up peace talks that were held in Nigeria without much, if any success. Secondly, despite the denial of western help by the Sudan, it is the responsibility of the United States and more importantly the United Nations to act swiftly and decisively in order to isolate these rebel groups and control them, most likely though having to be done with an insurgence of U.N. troops.

The Darfur conflict is a gripping dilemma and one without a clear cut solution presently, but a situation that without an evident ending can only lead to long civil war and unrest for the civilians of Darfur. I wrote this article in order to educate at the most basic level those who remain unaware of the trials that these refugees face at all times. If it has become the job of the United States to act as the policeman to the world, there is not a better time to live up to this role than this one. The involvement of the United States in Darfur should be a case of when, not if, and it seems appropriately so.

Unspinning the News: What Kennedy's Endorsement of Obama Means

By Jacqueline Cogel. This piece is an editorial directed toward the general public, about Ted Kennedy’s support for Barack Obama, and how the media tried to spin what he said. [Pol 301D-Spring 2008].

This race to win the Democratic primaries and become the presidential candidate for the party has been a tennis match going back and forth all campaign. The big story is two unlikely candidates who one will get the chance to run for president, a black man or a woman. Both have the potential to make their mark in history when Election Day comes, and when something this dramatic happens in the political world here in America, the media is bound to add a little spice here and there to spark the drama.

Ted Kennedy, as well as many others in the Democratic Party, decided to endorse Barack Obama instead of family friend Hillary Clinton. Kennedy says he is drawn to his commanding presence and admires the way Obama motivates a new generation of Democrats. Kennedy has done nothing wrong but simply support a very qualified and powerful candidate in the Democratic Party. Well, even someone as smart as Kennedy could not have seen this coming his way.

Various media sources began attacking Kennedy claiming that his support of Obama over Clinton is a clear sign that he is against women’s rights. Their rationale was; well why else would he go against a family friend and support her competitor. Since they could not be happy with maybe Kennedy is just doing the right thing and supporting who he thinks is best qualified in his political party, the media had to try and find a way to attack him and see if any drama could start. These races in our society can never be just about the two candidates and who is more qualified than the other. But instead we take everything and anything that is said, and the media spins it to portray the person to however they feel they can. And if there is ever anything that can be made to look detrimental to their character, the media swoops in and attacks full force upon the candidate.

In essence, I feel that Obama is a better candidate than Clinton, and I am a woman myself saying that! He has a better stand on his issues, and I agree with Kennedy that he does motivate a new generation of democrats and I think he does this better than Clinton. If the media would spend more time researching other issues in the political world and stop trying to twist and turn words said, the American people would be more informed on more important issues rather than the he said she said garbage we are told about today.

BOTTOM LINE: Kennedy is not against women and their rights, but he does support Obama over Clinton!