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Climate Change Series | Part III: Ideas

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 |
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.  For this particular post, it is important to note that the author, Jordan Lewis, is the former president of UM’s Young and College Democrats. His sources are disclosed below this post, however.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The President’s Plan

 Last month, the President unveiled his plan for addressing climate change. It sets us in the right direction but in my opinion does not come close to solving the problem adequately. It is, however, cognizant of the political divide and does not require any action from Congress, only Executive Orders.

  • President Obama’s plan to direct the EPA to work with state and local governments to limit carbon pollution at power plants is a common-sense but still significant move.
  • The President set a goal to double wind and solar energy by 2020.
  • The FY 2014 budget will increase research by 30%.
  • The President set a goal to have a performance equivalent of 54.5 MPG by 2025.
  • The administration released plans to make rural utilities more sustainable, and to help make electricity generation more efficient.
  • The administration will also develop fuel standards for heavy trucks in the future.
  • The federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

While these measures are positive, and show a commitment to fighting climate change, they aren’t aggressive enough to lower our footprint to responsible levels.

 

A Responsible Plan For Now and In the Future for the USA

We need to take aggressive steps to combat climate change. Here are some policy ideas to help mitigate climate change:

 Efficiency:

  • Encourage automobile makers to enhance MPG standards, sooner. The technology exists to produce 40-MPG compact cars immediately, and President Obama’s proposal of 54.5 MPG could and should be met sooner. We can and should aim higher. Provide incentives that make electric vehicles, hybrids, and other efficient vehicles affordable on the marketplace.
  • Provide more tax-incentives for energy-efficient appliances and machinery.
  • Encourage sustainable agricultural practices, with a lessened reliance on fertilizers.
  • Set higher efficiency standards for electricity generation (like the Obama plan at power plants).

Rebuild Our Country

America’s infrastructure is in need of repair. A stimulus package would create millions of jobs and make our country stronger and more energy-efficient.

Build efficient roads and bridges.

Invest in renewable energy projects. Solar and wind powered energy sources are available and are not being used to the extent in which they could be used. Allocate funds for research.

Invest in Mitigation Strategies

  • Climate change will bring about many of the negative impacts as explained above. We need to invest in strategies that protect against some of these impacts.
  • Explore building seawalls along our coasts to mitigate sea level rise.
  • Explore crops that are more adept to warmer climates.
  • Build irrigation systems that save water, including microirrigation (as used in Israel)
  • Erect buildings that can sustain extreme winds and other forces of nature.

Engage in global pacts to reduce carbon emissions

  • By not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, it indicated that we were not willing to take significant steps to reduce climate change.
  • By entering into international agreements, we will spread goodwill that will encourage other countries to limit their emissions.

Reduce our dependence on coal and oil

Coal and oil are dirty fuels that form a major part of carbon emissions. Carbon is the most utilized fossil fuel in the world but also the dirtiest. Oil is ubiquitous in American transportation and industrial production.

Reducing our dependence on oil saves consumers money, enhances national security, and will reduce air pollution in our cities.

We should make it a priority to phase off coal and oil use as soon as possible. In order to fill our energy needs, we can utilize natural gas. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel and is generally abundant in the United States. There are significant environmental hazards to natural gas extraction. Natural gas extraction involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, in which chemicals, water, and sand are blasted into wells in order to draw gas to the surface. This has threatened our water supplies and allowed gas to seep out into homes. Americans must know what chemicals are used in these fracking techniques, and safeguards set in place to protect our water supply.

Finally, natural gas should be used as a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Avoid the production of wasteful synthetic fuels, including Keystone XL  

Synthetic fuels, such as tar sands, require additional energy input, and present enormous environmental damages. Keystone XL is a tar sands project. Let’s discuss the Keystone XL Pipeline:

  • Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water, and a viscous oil-like substance called bitumen, which can then be refined to produce oil. These tar sands are abundant in Alberta, Canada.
  • The tar sands project has caused massive deforestation and environmental degradation in Canada. In order to fully reach these tar sands, it will require the destruction of an area larger than Florida[1].
  • Each barrel of tar sands produces three types the amount of greenhouse gases as regular oil.
  • Tar sands are an environmental hazard, containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other carcinogens. It endangers aboriginal communities and the communities by which the Pipeline would pass by.
  • The Keystone XL Pipeline would run across America’s Rockies and through areas vital to ensuring our food supply. The most critical area it would cross is the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 30% of the water used for irrigation for agriculture[2]. A spill of this corrosive, toxic oil would threaten our nation’s breadbasket for a significant time to come. Early portions of the pipelines have already leaked, three times in South Dakota. There were 12 spills in this past year.
  • The tar sands would be refined in America but shipped overseas. It would not reduce dependence on foreign oil.
  • The tar sands project could actually cost Midwest farmers 20 cents per gallon in higher fuel costs[3].
  • Major unions oppose this project because there are few decent, permanent jobs to oppose the pipeline. It will create 35 permanent jobs (according to the State Department) while creating 51 coal plants worth of carbon[4].
  • Other nations are opposed to allow such a pipeline in their sovereign territory.
  • NASA scientist James Hansen described the Keystone XL as “game over for the climate.”
  • Simply put, President Obama’s plan to reduce the impact of climate change will be a mere paperweight if he approves the Keystone XL pipeline.

Enforce legislation to limit carbon emissions for industry

Despite efficiency increases and sustainable-use strategies, Congress should develop a plan to limit emissions from industry and factory groups. Cap and trade systems and carbon taxes are among the options that have been considered throughout the world. Cap and trade sets limits on carbon pollution and uses a market scheme where firms can purchase more credits on the open market. Such a proposal passed the House in 2009 but was not voted on in the Senate. A carbon tax scheme would place a tax on carbon emitters that could be offset by lowering other taxes on citizens. In terms of limiting carbon emissions, the carbon tax may have more might. Neither is politically feasible at the moment.

Utilize urban planning techniques and mass transportation

The government should emphasize sustainable urban planning strategies. The benefit of sustainable cities is that transportation costs are lower, for consumer products and transportation to work. Less land is required, allowing more land to be set aside for green space. Finally, the cities provide an opportunity to utilize effective mass transportation systems. Our systems should be made to run on renewable fuels and should be attractive for residents to travel on.

Research techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere

We need to prepare for climate change getting worse in the future. Thus, we must invest in research to find sequestration methods that are effective. Sequestration removes carbon dioxide from power plants (carbon capture and storage) and the environment and stores it in the Earth or other place that will not contribute to climate change. Carbon capture technology is already being implemented, but other sequestration techniques are still under study.

Encourage contraception and population controlA way to fight climate change would be to provide low-cost contraception to developing countries. This would not only lower demand for fuels and climate footprint, but also improve standards of living and the status of women. It’s a win-win.

Engage in Reforestation practices in the United States and across the world

The United States should invest in setting aside land to allow native forest to regrow, adding to biodiversity and taking carbon out of the atmosphere. We should encourage other nations to protect their forests.

Encourage personal responsibility and the 3 R’s

As a society, the American people should look to make changes in our lifestyle to lower our carbon footprints. We should buy less, reduce, reuse, and recycle. We can reuse a lot of household items and keep them out of landfills. By recycling products, we save energy that would be used to make them. We could make one less trip on an airline this year. We should look to purchase goods that are recyclable and use paper instead of plastic and Styrofoam. We should look to kick our habit of buying plastic water bottles that are expensive, carbon intensive, and clog up landfills. American tap water is cheaper, cleaner, and healthier than most bottled water. Finally, we should look to eat less meat. Consumption of meat produces carbon dioxide at several levels. Land is cleared in many developing countries to raise cattle, removing carbon sinks, and with the burning of trees, releasing it into the atmosphere. Up to 45% of all of the land on the Earth is occupied with livestock grazing[5]. Cattle also require larger grain (100 times more water) inputs than other crops. Finally, cattle belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the environment.

Encourage the purchase of locally made products

We can also reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, at farmers markets and mom-and-pop stores, rather than from overseas. Cargo ships account for 3% of carbon emissions, but that’s small compared to the footprint of a commercial airliner. Buying local helps the environment and local businesses. Everybody benefits and it puts people to work. With the trade deficit so starkly in favor of China, it’s time to put our resources to work to encourage the purchase of more American products, including enforcing the label “Made in x” for all products coming from overseas.

 

Climate change is a threat to us, our children, and our grandchildren. We need to fight for a future and press our leaders to limit emissions in order to have a liveable world for the next generations.

Sources:


[1] http://ran.org/what-are-tar-sands

[2] http://www.nrdc.org/land/files/TarSandsPipeline4pgr.pdf

[3] http://www.tarsandsaction.org/keystone-xl-facts/

[4]http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/04/17/1885621/keystone-pipeline-will-create-only-35-permanent-jobs-emit-51-coal-plants-worth-of-carbon/

[5] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/we-could-be-heroes/

Climate Change Series | Part II: Why Care?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 24th, 2013 |
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Effects of Climate Change

Sea level rise would threaten the world’s coastal cities, including Miami. Over 100 million people live within three feet of sea level. In the developing world, sea level rise would hit the hardest, causing massive refugee crises and deaths from disease and other impacts. The effects will also be felt at home. According to Jeff Goodell of the Rolling Stone, with just three feet of sea level rise, 1/3 of South Florida will be underwater. With six feet, ½ of South Florida will be gone. The Florida Keys are already vulnerable to sea level rise[1]. Since 1920, South Florida has seen over 9 inches of sea level rise.[2] The projected sea level rise is double that. South Florida expects to see a sea level rise of 9 to 24 inches in the next 50 years. NOAA projects a general sea level rise from 2.5 to 6.6 feet by 2100[3].

Temperature projections are varied due to uncertainties about carbon emissions in the future. If we lower our emissions, warming will slow, but the converse is also true. The IPCC expects a global temperature increase of at least .2 degrees Celsius per decade for the next two decades[4]. Even if we stopped emitting carbon today, the result of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere would increase. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change recommends a hard limit of 2 degrees Celsius warming. After this point, dangerous positive feedback mechanisms would enhance carbon inputs into the atmosphere and thus increase warming. Such feedbacks include the release of methane from Arctic permafrost, release of carbon from the oceans, desertification, forest fires, increased water vapor (a greenhouse gas), and a loss of albedo from Arctic glaciers (Snow and ice reflect heat back towards the atmosphere. Without such cover due to climate change, this capacity is reduced.)

v  Plant life will migrate toward the poles, and up to ¼ of all organisms will go extinct, including the polar bear.

v  Extreme weather events will happen more often. Without natural barriers to erosion, the effects of such storms will be worse.

v  Rainfall patterns will change. Some areas will receive record amounts of rain while others will go into prolonged drought. In areas such as China and Northern Africa, the movement of desert threatens arable land.

v  Certain diseases such as malaria will thrive due to warmer climates, putting much of the tropical and semi-tropical world at risk.

v  Damage caused by climate change will be measured in trillions of dollars. The Stern Review estimates damage due to climate change at about 5% of global GDP[5].

v  Water supplies will be critically reduced due to salinization, increased evaporation, and drought. It has been said that the next wars will be fought over water supplies.

v  Many parts of the world that depend on agriculture, including the Midwest, could suffer from drought and increase pestilence, decreasing global yields. Changes in ocean salinity will impact fisheries around the world and the economies that depend on fishing.

 

Sources of Greenhouse Gases

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Here is the breakdown of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States[6]:

  • Electricity: 33%
  • Transportation: 28% (90% of which is petroleum)
  • Industry: 20%
  • Commercial and Residential: 11%
  • Agriculture: 8% (fertilizers, livestock)
  • Deforestation combines for 20% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Cement: 4% worldwide
  • Aviation: fastest growing: 3.5% worldwide
  • Garbage: 3% worldwide

More information worldwide[7]:

  • Coal: 25% Gas 19% Oil 21%
  • Direct Emissions: 34.6% (Agriculture, Land Use, Waste)
  • 76% CO2 15% Methane 7% Nitrous Oxide
  • The atmospheric carbon levels have passed 400 parts per million, the highest level in 3 million years. Some scientists have advocated for 350 ppm as a safe level. We’re far from that[8].

 

Sources:


[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/why-the-city-of-miami-is-doomed-to-drown-20130620?page=2

[2] http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/05/3485930/debbie-wasserman-schultz-says.html

[3] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/06/noaa-sea-level-rise/1750945/

[4] http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

[5] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_report.cfm

[6] http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html

[7] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/05/31/this-giant-chart-shows-where-all-our-greenhouse-gases-come-from/

[8] http://americablog.com/2013/05/global-warming-heat-trapping-co2-concentration-passes-400-ppm-milestone.html

Climate Change Series | Part I: Fact or Hypothesis?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 23rd, 2013 |
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Is it happening?

Yes. That’s the answer from the scientific community. The International Panel on Climate Change found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal”. A recent study found that 97% of climatologists (out of 12,000 peer-reviewed articles) found that humans are causing changes in our Earth’s climate system. If 97% of doctors recommended a new treatment for cancer, it would change the medical paradigm when it comes to treating cancer.

 

Climate Denial

However, when it comes to climate change, our public and politicians have been slow to embrace decades of research and data. A comprehensive strategy to mitigate climate change is necessary, but has been met with opposition from industry and energy companies. These organizations, led by the Koch Brothers ($67 million by themselves[1]), have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to scientists and climate denial groups to manufacture data and delay critical policy. Brown & Williamson, a tobacco giant, noted in a memo “Doubt is our product”. It’s no wonder that groups such as the Koch Brothers are employing the strategies that the tobacco industry has used to combat evidence that smoking causes cancer. These industry groups have funded studies designed specifically to refute evidence of climate change, and use these studies to challenge the consensus that climate change is caused by human activity. In many cases, these scientists (geologists) have no credentials in the field of climate science. But some Koch Industries-funded scientists have recanted their skepticism of climate change, with one scientist, Richard Muller stating, “humans are almost entirely the cause” of climate change. In any case, the Koch’s are in a paramount position to lobby against climate policy in Congress. As the biggest donors to the Tea Party and conservative front groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers have considerable ability to fund campaigns and candidates that are opposed to climate policy. In fact, the increased power of the Tea Party to challenge incumbents has caused Republicans to side with the energy lobby to avoid a primary challenge. As a result, the majority of the Republican Party is at least skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, and has fought against climate policy, to keep oil subsidies, and against the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases.

 

Evidence of Climate Change

 Our planet is warming at a pace that is unprecedented in history. This warming directly corresponds to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution. We must make a distinction between weather and climate; weather is an indication of atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, while climate is a measure of these conditions over an extended period of time. In this next section, we will use indicators of long-term climate to demonstrate that climate change is occurring at a rapid pace[2].

  • Most of the warming has taken place in the last 40 years, in the same time as carbon emissions have soared.
  • All 20 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1981. All 10 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 12 years. According to NOAA, 14 of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years[3].
  • The argument that solar output causes climate change is a common theory used by climate skeptics. The years 2007-2009 experienced a deep solar minimum, yet were some of the hottest years on record.
  • 2012 was the hottest year on record for the United States, and second most extreme in our history.
  • This year is expected to be no different. The summer in Australia was their hottest ever. This May was the third warmest on record (1998 and 2005 warmer). In the last few weeks, a heat wave struck Alaska, soaring temperatures into the 90’s.
  • The global sea level rose 17 centimeters in the last century. The rate of sea level rise this decade is double that.
  • The top 700 meters of ocean have warmed by .3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. It takes an enormous amount of heat to warm the ocean by that amount.
  • Our ice sheets are diminishing rapidly. Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic km of ice per year from 2002 to 2006. Glaciers have retreated at record rates.
  • The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by 30%. The amount of CO2 absorbed by the oceans increases by 2 billion tons per year.
  • 2012 saw 362 all-time records high temperatures in the United States but no record lows[4]. Last week, Death Valley, California came close to recording the hottest temperature ever on Earth.
  • Every major governmental institution has indicated that anthropogenic climate change is happening.
  • Every nation except the United States and Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, signaling an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Australia has since confirmed its intent to limit its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The past few years have seen an increase in extreme weather that can be linked to a changing climate. A warming of the oceans strengthens the intensity of hurricanes. Six of the 10 strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record have occurred in the last 15 years. Hurricane Katrina killed 1,800 people along the Gulf Coast. Last October, Manhattan was under water from Hurricane Sandy, a year after the Northeast was struck by Hurricane Irene. 2012 saw a historic drought in the American heartland and in Russia, both vital breadbaskets for the planet.
  • The past decade has seen record numbers of extinctions and migrations of plant and animals to cooler climates.
  • Scientific records have indicated that such warming is unprecedented by studying the remains of corals and other organisms. The effects of climate change has been predicted and by substantiated by computer models.

 

SOURCES:


[1] http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/global-warming-and-energy/polluterwatch/koch-industries/

[2] http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence

[3] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/feb/15/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-12-hottest-years-record-have-com/

[4] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/01/05/1394711/2012-saw-362-all-time-record-high-temperatures-in-us-but-zero-all-time-record-lows/

Race and Justice in America: A Counterpoint Special

By Hyan Freitas | News Director | July 21st, 2013 |

Below you’ll find the full audio of Counterpoint’s roundtable discussion on race and justice in America.  We dedicated the entire Counterpoint hour to these topics in light of conversations that have started across the nation following the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman.

We also split the show into three segments in case there is a specific topic that might be of more interest than another or if you tuned in late when it aired live.  Each has its own player below.

Part I: Reactions to the Verdict

Part II: A conversation on racial profiling: Is it an issue?

Part III:  The American Justice System:  Is it unfair to minorities?

Counterpoint: Race and Justice Special Edition [Full Audio] by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

 

Counterpoint Race and Justice Special: Reactions to the Zimmerman trial by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Counterpoint Race and Justice Special- Discussing Racial Profiling by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Counterpoint Race and Justice Special: Race and the justice system by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

This special aired July 19, 2013 | Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1pm EST on WVUM 90.5FM | WVUM.org

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By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 12th, 2013 |
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Image Source: http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/monsters-university/

While I am sure it will come up on the show at some point, I want to give a quick stance on the recent doubling of student loan interest rates. Congress recently failed to block a doubling of interest rates on federal student loans from the then-current 3.4% to the new 6.8%. Currently, both houses are trying to put something together to bring the rate back down, but there has been no official movement at the time of writing.

 

Students go to college more so now than ever before; it is almost expected that an applicant for most jobs have a college degree. Unfortunately, and I think many people can relate, college isn’t exactly cheap, so the government was nice enough to help out. Of course, like all loans, the government charges interest, which used to be a bearable 3.4%, but which is currently 6.8%. As it is, the stereotype is that after graduation, the students start working at the lowest rung and earn just enough to eek out a living after paying their rents/mortgages/bills and loans back.

 

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: you can’t take money from people who don’t have any. As I said above, the stereotype is that college students don’t have much money, since they are most likely going to school to be able to get a job in the first place. But on the other hand, the government has no obligation to give these loans, nor does it have an obligation to keep them at 3.4%, but since it has offered, and considering the other offers, like banks getting loans with near-0% interest, interest should at least be allocated appropriately.

 

Ultimately, it is still up to the student to accept the loan, and it isn’t wrong for the government to ask for the double rate, but it simply doesn’t make sense to. Either private lenders will beat the government, like any free market has the capacity to do, or the percentage of students going to school may drop for fear of being unable to repay. We certainly don’t want to end up with a generation deeply indebted from their college educations, but at the same time, there is no obligation for the government to make it cheap. The government guarantees 12 years of schooling; a high school diploma, and everything else is optional, even if it is preferred.

 

I think I can sum up my stance here with an simple analogy: if you want orange juice, you’ll likely get more from the fat, juicy, plump orange than you will from the one that’s yet to ripen and still green.

“Arab Spring” – The Morning After

By William Ng | Counterpoint | July 10th, 2013 |

 

We all remember the rallying cry that sparked a wave of revolutions throughout the Arab world.  The people were tired of being held down by oppressive government rulers, and they wanted to be a part of the decision making process. In short, they wanted to become a democratic country.

Through a string of civil protests, uprisings, and civil wars, a handful of countries were able to successfully overthrow their rulers.  It was something the world had marveled at, the beginnings of democratic order that will eventually lead to peace in an often chaotic region of the world.

Here, in the U.S., our eyes were glued to what was happening in the summer of 2011.  The feeling that something grand was happening was inescapable.  President Barack Obama had described this phenomenon as “a historic opportunity” for us “to pursue the world as it should be.”  Some even thought we have finally won the war of ideology with radical groups like Al Qaeda.

It has been two full years since the phenomenon known as the “Arab Spring” began.  Where are these countries now? Was democracy the magical pill that these countries needed?

The answer can be gleamed in the recent crisis in Egypt, where the dubious transition of power that began last week still remains unresolved.  Despite having a constitution that was approved through referendum about half a year ago, the people revolted and whispers of a military coups are running wild.

The process of a thorough democratization process for these countries certainly looks dim.  Most countries in the Arab world (that have “succeeded” since the beginning of Arab Spring) are now struggling to maintain order and to push forward without loosing what they have gained so far.  Aside from social instability, the economic outlook also provides another major road bump.  The region’s economic growth has been sluggish.  According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, majorities in several countries value a strong economy more than a democratic government.  This makes their situation particularly concerning.  Despite all the changes that have occurred,  the region comprising the Middle East and North Africa still remains the least free in the world, with Freedom House estimating that 72 percent of the countries and 85 percent of the people there still lack basic political rights and civil liberties.

I am not saying that authoritarian governments in this region will endure forever.  The series of protests in recent years have shown that changes to their political infrastructures can happen.  The timetable of when and how is still to be determined, and maybe Egypt will be the best example to look at in the meanwhile.  If Egypt does not fall back into chaos, and actually continue with what they had started in 2011, then the outlook is good.

There are some positives with the recent ousting of former President Morsi by the military.  It’s found in the protests that seemed to have lead to the recent events in Egypt (notice that I said “seemed”, time will tell whether this was a coup or not).  The protest was larger than any protest in 2011, and it spoke out against the situation that the Muslim Brotherhood had placed them.  In Egypt, crime rates are higher than it was before.  And truth to be told, Egypt seem to be nowhere better off than it was in 2011.  But the people have found a voice that seem to be much more powerful than it was in 2011, now it’s just a waiting game to see what will be the outcome of the military intervention that had occurred.

Two years into the Arab Spring, we can now look at the situation in its face and call it for what it is.  The truth is that yes, the uprisings of the last two years have certainly challenged authoritarian rule in the Arab world.  But there still exists structural conditions that seem to be preventing further political liberalization in the region.  On top of that, factors such as war, corruption, and economic stagnation could further undermine the Arab Spring progress.

The role of the U.S. in dealing with what is happening has to be realistic.  We are going to have to deal with the Arabic world with what it currently is, not what it was or will be.  We will have to be in bed with some unsavory nations, but we have to focus on attainable goals.  That does not mean we should give up either, it merely means that we have to help where we can without overstepping.  That is a hard line to discern, something both former-President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama can tell us.

So now that all the glam and make up has come off, and it’s now the morning after.  What the Arab Spring originally looked like still exists… but the truth is that it’s just not as gorgeous and perfect as we thought last night.

 

Snowden Episode II

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 4th, 2013 |

2013 Mike Kanoff

I’ve been away from the Edward Snowden story for a while, so this week, I thought I’d touch on it again and see what’s changed. After a somewhat-tense departure from Hong Kong, Snowden has been in international limbo for a week, stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since the U.S. government revoked his passport, which left him with no valid travel documents, and now he cannot enter any other country or leave the waiting area of the airport. During his time cooped up, he has been busy applying for political asylum from 21 countries. Additionally, Wikileaks, the online leaking platform famous for the cases of Bradley Manning and its founder, Julian Assange, has announced its support of Snowden and has joined in helping him with his asylum requests.

 

While the man himself continues to be immobilized, the NSA leaks have shown no signs of stopping: it has recently been reported that the controversial NSA programs have not been confined to the U.S., with some European Union member countries finding bugs in embassies and network intrusions believed to be linked to the NSA after a document Snowden released named foreign embassies and missions as possible “targets.”

 

I guess I’ll start with the big question: where will Snowden go? Russia has offered to let him stay, but with the catch that he “stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners.” Putin’s offer seems more than a little suspicious, but could be a subtle concession to America while remaining in a strong position at the negotiating table, since Russia doesn’t really do extraditions, or he could be hedging his bets. Regardless, for the moment, Snowden will not be turned over the the U.S. Also, a handful of nations have replied to Snowden’s requests for asylum with the message that he must be on their soil to make such a request, but Bolivia has said that it would favorably consider his application, without explicitly demanding he be on their soil, which led many to believe that Bolivia could be the country to grant Snowden asylum. Wednesday (local time), the Bolivian president’s plane from Russia heading home was disallowed clearance over French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese airspace because of a rumor that Snowden may have been on board, as speculated by the announcement of possible asylum. That story is still developing at time of writing, but it was released that Snowden was indeed not on the plane when it circled back and landed in Vienna.

 

Personally, I’m hoping that we find out in a couple days that he was in a secret compartment or something and actually made it to Bolivia; with the assertions of U.S. spying in the EU (which I will get to shortly) and the global nature of the Internet and the NSA’s spying thereof, and not to mention Biden’s request for Ecuador to deny Snowden’s application, it seems to me that the U.S. is starting to play dirty. Therefore, if the U.S. is violating the human rights to privacy and to seek asylum, I say it’s fair game if Snowden gets sneaked into a country willing to protect him. Snowden himself alleges that the U.S. is “wheeling and dealing” with his case, and I’m inclined to agree, though there is very little evidence at this time other than Biden’s talk with Correa.

 

So while Snowden himself is trying to find a safe haven, his leaks are doing anything but hiding. It was revealed that the U.S. has been spying on not just ourselves, but our European allies. Allegedly, the NSA has bugged EU buildings in New York, D.C., and most shockingly, Brussels. Additionally, it was revealed that the NSA was allegedly tapping the calls, texts, and emails of most EU allies, with the only exception being Britain. Unfortunately, this story is still developing at time of writing, but should these allegations prove to be true, EU member states Germany and France have already warned of severe repercussions, and it would be logical to expect others to join them.

 

I think we can safely say this isn’t just about terrorism any more. Last time I checked, the EU was very distinctly not a hotbed of terrorism or related activities. What’s more, the EU and its member states are our allies. I’m pretty mad (putting it lightly) that my own government is spying on me. I can only imagine the outrage to be felt by Europeans should it be confirmed that not only is another government spying on them, but an allied government. The president has released a statement along the lines of “everybody who runs intelligence services does this, not just us,” and I’ll concede that he’s right, but we’re talking about our allies, our friends on the international stage. I could see this with China, Saudi Arabia, Russia: our “friends” friends, but this is the EU– we have almost identical goals, we’ve covered each other’s backs for decades– friends don’t spy on friends.

 

I’m left asking “why?” We don’t need to spy on the EU: they’ll tell us what we want to know within reason. Even if they were hiding something, so what? We’re so deeply intertwined that if anything bad happens to one, it affects the other. If it’s anything that’s only good for the EU without being good for the U.S., well… we deal with other countries too; we’re not in an exclusive relationship. Bottom line– I see absolutely no reason to spy on the EU: the European Union is thoroughly uninteresting in terms of threats to the U.S.’s security.

 

A quick parting remark on the home front: people like myself, who have gotten pretty angry with the NSA’s revealed activities, are staging nation-wide and Internet-wide rallies to try to “Restore the Fourth,” on… you guessed it, the 4th of July, and apparently there are a lot of us. I’m not quite sure we’ll have the massive turnout or presence that Egypt just experienced, but here’s hoping for the best. For more information visit http://www.restorethefourth.net/, or if you prefer to save your anti-spying sentiment for a non-holiday, that’s cool too. Either way, enjoy your 4th!

Student Loan Rates Double. Now What?

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 1st, 2013 |

Student loans mean a lot to a lot of people. I personally will be taking out some loans for law school, and many of the people I know at school are taking out undergraduate loans. Student loan interest rates for most undergraduate students doubled from 3.4% to 6.8%. Members of Congress found this unacceptable but were not able to stop it. I spoke with Senator Angus King’s office last week and a key congressional aide to understand the specific legislation.

Here’s my rundown of the different proposals in Congress:

There are 3 major types of student loans: subsidized Stafford loans (for undergraduates-formerly 3.4%), unsubsidized Stafford loans (for some undergraduates and most graduates-now 6.8%), and GradPlus plans for graduates with other expenses, that is at 7.9%.

Most of the reform plans involve calculations using the 10-year Treasury-Bill rate, which fluctuates with economic growth. The current T-bill rate is 1.81% (for the sake of calculations, let’s say 1.8%). It rises with growth and falls with economic decline. Let’s get into the bills. I’ll offer my political prognosis on some of the bills, but not my policy recommendations. I think that all of the proposals are imperfect.

The House Republican bill would set all rates at 2.5% above the T-Bill rates (4.3%). It offers the lowest current rate for graduate students, but reflects an increase in the rate for undergraduates. However, interest rates are scheduled to rise as the T-bill rate rises along with economic growth, with a cap at 8.5%. The interest rates reset after every year. It appears to reduce the deficit. It passed the House but only had 4 Democratic votes. It is opposed by the Senate Democrats and the President. It would be dead on arrival.

President Obama’s plan is very similar to the Republicans’ (gaining Democrats’ scorn for pushing it to the right in the process). Obama’s plan offers fixed rates for the life of the loan, and caps obligations at 10% of their discretionary income. It does not yet cap interest over the life of the bill, but would start subsidized rates around 2.74%. Graduate rates would start about 4.7%. The President is trying to negotiate a solution for all parties involved.

The Senate Democrats plan is to extend the 3.4% unsubsidized rate for one more year. It does not use the T-Bill rate and would be the most expensive. It would have a difficult time passing the Republican House.

The Bipartisan Loan Certainty Act (S. 1241) is an attempt to bridge these gaps. It sets rates around 3.7% for undergraduates and 5.2% for graduates. It has a cap of 8.25%. It has 5 Republican Senate sponsors and 3 Democrat Senate sponsors. Interest is fixed from the beginning of the loan. It has support from the Senate Republicans, but is opposed by the majority of the Democratic caucus, due to the probability of increased rates as the economy improves. For a deal to be made, I believe that the cap needs to be lowered and other arrangements made to have the necessary Democratic support.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has a plan out to tie rates to the Federal Reserve lending rates, but it doesn’t look like it has the votes to pass. Regardless, Congress needs to act to keep rates low. The Government made over $50 billion last year on student loans, siphoning money from hard-working middle-class families and students.

SCOTUS & Gay Marriage: Two Reactions To One Big Issue

By Hyan Freitas | News Director | June 27th, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)

One June 26th, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled on two landmark cases dealing with same-sex marriage. DOMA, which defined marriage as an act between a man and a woman was deemed unconstitutional.  California’s Prop 8 was not taken up by the court, thus essentially paving the way for the resumption of gay marriage in that state due to a previous ruling by a lower court.   These rulings, and the broader issues that spurred them, have and will continue to be, the subject of fierce debate across the United States. 

We asked Jordan Lewis, the former president of the UM Young College Democrats, and Alex Alduncin, former president of the UM College Republicans (both are current Counterpoint contributors) to give their first takes on the historic decision:

 

From Jordan Lewis:

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. It also ruled that the appellants in the case involving California Proposition 8 lacked standing, and thus the lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional stands. It is a great day for this nation and historically, a significant day towards promoting equality. It also comes close to the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

As detailed in the case of United States v. Windsor, Edie Windsor married her partner in Canada in 2007. At the time, the State of New York would not perform same-sex marriages but recognized them in other jurisdictions. In 2011, New York started performing same-sex marriages. Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal government (and the states) did not have to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions and states. As such, the federal government taxed Mrs. Windsor upon the death of her spouse in 2009. Married couples are exempt under the law from inheriting the property of the other spouse, but since the federal government did not recognize Mrs. Windsor’s marriage, she faced a tax of more than $363,000. She appealed and the case eventually went to the Supreme Court. President Obama decided in 2011 not to defend DOMA, as it was his opinion that it was unconstitutional.

Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan in the majority opinion. Justice Kennedy had 10 years earlier to this date in Lawrence v. Texas struck down the sodomy law in Texas and 13 other states, making same-sex sexual activity legal in every state. Kennedy argued that the responsibility of regulation of marriage had historically fallen to the states. However, marriage plays a large role in federal statutes. Military pensions, tax provisions, and immigration are among a few of many (1,000 plus) fields that are affected by a petitioners’ relationship status. The State of New York chose to include same-sex couples under their definition of marriage. Kennedy noted that it “reflects both the community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality”. However, not all New York married couples were treated the same. Most received federal benefits related to their marriage. Others, however, were deprived of the same rights. Because of the denial of married status at the federal level, DOMA placed same-sex couple in the unenvious position of being in a second-tier marriage, and burdened both the couple and the children they raise. As such, DOMA denied the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Because DOMA enacted inequality into United States law, treating some couples differently then others, and resulting in significant burdens, Section Three was struck down by the Supreme Court. The federal government now must recognize the marriages of those residing in states that permit same-sex marriage.

California’s discriminatory law, Proposition 8, was not taken up by the Supreme Court, ruling that the appellants did not have standing. The Court reaffirmed a 2010 ruling in a United States district court that said that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. Proposition 8 had replaced an earlier law that granted same-sex marriage rights to Californians. Governors Schwarzenegger and then Brown and Attorneys General Brown and Harris declined to defend the initiative in court. In their place, Dennis Hollingsworth of protectmarriage.com defended the amendment. Justice Vaughn Walker overturned Proposition 8 in the US District Court based on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, concluding that California had no rational basis or vested interest in denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The case was appealed, and eventually the Supreme Court granted certiorari to Hollingsworth. However, the Supreme Court denied standing to Hollingsworth because as Chief Justice Roberts noted, “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to”. Thus, Walker’s opinion was restored. Same-sex couples in California will have the right to marry very soon. I think the Court purposely avoided a contentious ruling by not ruling on the merits of the case one way or the other.

Where do we go from here? The fight has just begun, and we should not rest until same-sex marriage is legal in every state. Section Three of DOMA was struck down, but Section Two was not challenged and still stands. Section Two allows states the rights not to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions. This is still discriminatory and violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution. If a driver’s license from New York is recognized in Alabama, so should a marriage. Section Two should be challenged and hopefully overturned in the courts. Other states will legalize gay marriage via legislation or ballot initiative. As of today, 1/3 of Americans live in a state where gay marriage is legal. Illinois, Hawaii, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado all look to take the next step in the near future, while Chris Christie’s veto is the only thing standing in the way of New Jersey. Other states will be more difficult, especially if they have constitutional amendments that ban marriage in their states, Florida included.

Our next step is to lobby our Congress to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prevent the firing of workers based on sexual orientation. Only two Republican Senators and three Republican House members have sponsored ENDA. Pressure Senator Rubio to include rights for LGBT couples in the immigration bill. Florida Governor Scott opposes gay marriage and adoption, and thus we should replace him with a Democrat who supports marriage equality. Unfortunately, Florida has a regressive legislature hostile to LGBT rights, and a population that is mixed on same-sex marriage, so the 60% needed to change the Florida Constitution will be difficult to come by. Generally, civil rights should not be based upon the whim of the majority, so the Florida Supreme Court may be the best remedy for LGBT activists. It would be up to activists to convince the Court that the Florida Marriage Amendment (Amendment 2) violates the principle of “equal civil and political rights to all” in the Preamble of the Constitution, and the Equal Protection Clause.

But Kennedy’s opinion leaves hope for many of these to be overturned in State Supreme Courts. It is somewhat inconsistent to have a federal policy that supports same-sex marriage rights and states that don’t. Kennedy states that the statute, “for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those from whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity”.

It is up to the States to determine whether their anti-gay marriage laws have any legitimate purpose. They don’t. There is no legitimacy to arguments against same-sex marriage. All of the arguments against LGBT rights are either based in fear, prejudice or a misguided sense of religion and neither should play a role in determining policy. The fears of some about gay marriage have been shown to be completely unfounded. Moreover, no person should suffer financially or legally because they move from New York to Florida. No American should face any disadvantage due to his/her sexual orientation. We need to make sure that DOMA Section Two falls, marriage equality is passed in every state, and that all protections are given to LGBT persons. We can and should do better than the status quo.

This is a great day for America, a great day for equality, but another reminder to keep working for progress. The gay rights movement is the new civil rights movement, and one we cannot stand to lose. We need to fight homophobia in our words, language, and culture. Frank Ocean and Jason Collins can make good role models. Save Dade, a local advocacy organization, have done wonders in our community, culminating in Miami-Dade County’s domestic partnership law. Become an ally. The fight for gay rights is a struggle for liberty, justice, and freedom. It’s a fight for America.

 

From Alex Alduncin:

As president of the UM College Republicans for the 2012/13 year, you may be wondering how I feel about the Supreme Court decisions today (But probably not.  I’ll go ahead and write about it anyway).  If you listen to Counterpoint, you’ll know that I support same-sex marriage, and yet I am an ardent Republican.  Seems like I should have conflicting feelings, no?

 

I believe that the decision by the Supreme Court today to deem parts of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is an important step in a long process that will ultimately end in the acceptance of same-sex marriage nationally or near-nationally.  Originally signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the law prevented the federal government from recognizing state same-sex marriage licenses for certain federal benefits, and allowed states to have the option to not recognize other states’ same-sex marriages.  The first part is now void; the second part remains in place.

 

This is a state-by-state issue, and as a result will take years or decades to filter through to most states.  If you are gay and live in a state with same-sex marriage, you will now have identical protection under both state and federal law as your heterosexual counterparts.  At some point in the not-so-near future, the Supreme Court will most likely take up a case involving a state which does not have same-sex marriage, and rule that states cannot bar gay couples from marrying.  The court had a chance to do that today with California’s Prop 8 case, but punted it.  It’s a shame, because that would have been the truly historic victory.

 

Let’s talk about the opponents of same-sex marriage for a moment.  In fact, let’s talk about people in general.  Opponents of same-sex marriage are not any more bigoted than any other random group of individuals.  There are bad seeds, just as there are bad seeds within the supporters of same-sex marriage.  But in general, these people are just like you and me.  They are your grandmothers, your fathers, your mentors, your friends, your countrymen and countrywomen.  In general, they do not hate gay people.  They just believe that the word marriage has a set-in-stone definition and are willing to fight for that definition.  One thing you cannot statistically generalize them as?  Republicans.

 

As much as the Obama 2012 campaign wanted to, and succeeded in, framing same-sex marriage as a partisan issue, it is really a generational one.  If you ask a young Republican if they support same-sex marriage, the answer will probably be yes.  If you ask an old Democrat if they support same-sex marriage, the answer will probably be no.  In fact, about one third of all Democrats are opposed to same-sex marriage.  Four years ago, that number was nearly half.   If you had asked superhero Barack Obama 10 months ago, his answer would have been no.

 

That conveniently changed right before the election.  The 2012 GOP stance on same-sex marriage was identical to the 2008 Democratic stance.  Not to mention that this stance is “all the benefits of same-sex marriage, but let’s officially call it a union instead of a marriage”.  What stands in the way of same-sex marriage is a generation that grew up in a different time period, not the GOP.  We just happen to have the more…experienced citizens in our party.  Which is great for us, most of the time.  I’m going to bet that they’ll let the stubbornness of one word go away for 2016.

 

The Republican Party was the driving force in helping to emancipate slaves, ratify the 19th amendment giving women the vote, and pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.  They will be on “the right side of history” once more with same-sex marriage.

 

And the opponents of same-sex marriage?   Be careful how you judge them, because we will be judged the same way by our children for whatever unforeseen issue we feel one word is worth fighting over.

 

 

The XYZs of 3D-Printing

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 27th, 2013 |

<<Featured Image Credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes

Briefly during past editions of Counterpoint, we’ve brought up the topic of 3D-printing. I figured that since this week’s show will likely be all about the Supreme Court cases, I’d take up a less well-known topic.

 

3D-printing: it’s like regular printing– same idea, different material– but the extra dimension opens up so many possibilities. Where 2D-printers use ink jets or lasers to produce an image on a sheet of paper, 3D-printers use plastic (usually ABS, the stuff LEGOs are made of) to produce objects in 3-dimensional space. I’ll leave the tech component there; more information can be found by starting here. So how does this technology have a political impact? I find most of the political conversation boils down to a question along the lines of “who should be able to print what?” and then is usually divided between the copyright/patent sphere and the firearms-related sphere, recently catapulted into the spotlight by the Liberator pistol.

 

There was a time when copyright was good… a couple hundred years ago. Today, it’s all about DRM (Digital Rights Management) and preventing “piracy.” If you’ve ever changed cell phone brands and wanted to take your music with you from one to the other, you’ve likely encountered DRM; the thing stopping you from playing your imported music on your new device. And the best part, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t even work: the “piracy” it’s supposed to stop has yet to be stopped from circumventing any and all forms of DRM, and it all winds up being just a pain to the average, non-pirate consumer.

 

I could go on about how DRM is the demon-spawn of consumer unfriendly business strategy and asinine understanding of technology, but for the sake of time, I’ll assume my point has been made by now. The reason I’m bringing this up is that there have recently been murmurs of trying to create a platform/standard/expectation for soon-to-be commercially available 3D-printers to have built-in DRM. This would mean that when someone would buy a 3D-printer, they would be restricted from printing objects on a “blacklist” of sorts; likely copyrighted/patented objects or soon-to-be copyrighted/patented objects, but possibly other things, and possibly for completely non-legal reasons, like maybe the parts for building a new 3D-printer.

 

This is dangerous: if we censor one object, why not another? And for that matter, who gets to decide what everyone else can and cannot print? Those EULAs (End-User License Agreements) everyone blindly accepts could easily hide a clause barring a user from doing something economically hindering to the manufacturer, like using the purchased 3D-printer to print most of the parts for another 3D-printer for a friend (see RepRap). We’re talking about a complete overhaul of the entire manufacturing process; you think the toy makers, the Frisbee-makers, the anything-plastic makers are going to take this lying down? When the automobile was just getting off the ground, the Red Flag Traffic Laws were lobbied for by the stagecoach and railroad industries, which, as you will humorously discover by reading the article, severely crippled the automobile’s usefulness in favor of the incumbent industries. I have no doubt that a similar effort will be made against 3D-printing in the near future.

 

But staving off the impending “printing war” for a while, I’ll get to a possible weapon for such a war, the Liberator pistol. This is a pistol, created entirely from a 3D-printer, with the sole exceptions being a nail for the firing pin, and a chunk of metal to make the pistol identifiable to metal detectors. Yes it can actually fire a bullet; one at a time, with a reload required after every shot. The files for making the pistol were made unavailable after the Department of Defense Trade Controls (no, that’s not a made-up department) claimed control over the information and made Defense Distributed, the organization which created and made the files available to the public, remove them.

If you’ve been a long-time listener for Counterpoint, you might have picked up that I’m consistently neither pro- nor anti-guns, but I’m for this little plastic pistol. Yes it can fire a bullet, but only one at a time; it’s clear that this is a proof-of-concept rather than a mass-murder assisting device. Besides that, using it for malicious purposes has obvious dissuasion: It’s not very accurate, not nearly as sturdy as a metal counterpart would be, and again, can only fire one shot at a time. But it’s barely-veritable lethality is not why I support it; I support it because this is a showcase for what 3D-printing technology can do.

 

That… and the fact that trying to go against it is pointless. Within the first two days of its release, the files for the Liberator were downloaded 100,000 times, and at the time of writing, there are 15 separate torrents on The Pirate Bay believed to be containing the same files. The former means that many people already have it, and the latter means that even though the DDTC wants the files to disappear from the face of the Internet, the torrent to get them is available from “the galaxy’s most resilient bittorrent [sic] site.” The information is out there, and it’s not going anywhere, so it seems to me like going against it is pointless. As stated above, I really doubt this will be used maliciously, or even properly at all. It’s the bare minimum required to pass proof-of-concept, made for the sake of making it.

 

Oh, and if printing this thing sounds like a good idea, I wouldn’t: the DDTC is still working through this literally first-of-its-kind situation, so the legality may be in question, even with the metal block in the gun. Also, the pistol was printed on a high-end printer, not a regular consumer-grade one, so if something goes wrong printing it out and you fire it, you could lose your hand. Stay safe.