What to do about ISIS?

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is making quite a name for itself–but maybe not in the way that it would prefer.   New reports are saying that the U.S. and U.K. are putting together a team of elite black ops agents to target ISIS.  According to sources for the U.K. paper, Mirror, this highly specialized team (known as “Task Force Black”) will consist of agents from the U.S.’s CIA, Delta Force and Seal Team 6, and the U.K.’s Special Air Service, MI5 and MI6.

By utilizing this task force the governments of both the U.S. and U.K. are hoping to avoid having to send ground troops into Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS.  There was a similar black ops operation that fought al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq with tremendous success.  U.S. and British government officials hope the same will be true with this renewed Task Force Black, as it takes on what appears to be the most ruthless and sophisticated Islamic terrorist group the world has ever seen.

According to reports, the U.S. has limited knowledge of ISIS.  Its evolution from a branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq to a much more sophisticated, organized and highly funded group has taken the U.S. intelligence community by surprise.  As Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said in a conference last Friday, “They’re beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded…This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

This is how bad ISIS is–several Islamic groups and Islamic states have distanced themselves from ISIS because of their extremely violent and brutal tactics.  Even al-Qaeda in Iraq, the one time “parent” organization of ISIS, has denounced its tactics.  And the Political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has recently asked that Hamas not be compared to ISIS, because Hamas does not agree with how they operate (mainly because ISIS willingly targets civilians–something that Meshaal claims Hamas tries to avoid).  The President of Indonesia–the world’s largest Muslim country–recently said that ISIS is “embarassing” and called on other Islamic leaders to reject their radical ideology.  Even Syrian officials have offered their help in fighting ISIS.  Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, recently said they would cooperate with any international efforts to fight Islamic State militants.  So you have Hamas and al-Qaeda distancing themselves from ISIS, and Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia all denouncing ISIS and showing concern for the brutality consistently displayed by this group.  This is why I said in the beginning of this post that ISIS is making a name for itself, but not necessarily in the way it would like.  This certainly doesn’t bode well for future recruitment efforts.

I am in no way a war hawk, but I’m not a total pacifist either.  War and/or military conflict should be avoided at all costs, but if ISIS is as bad as intelligence and military officials say they are, then the we need to do something.  Not just the U.S.–the whole world.  And if several Muslim countries and Islamic groups are denouncing the violent and brutal tactics that ISIS utilizes, then they need to step up and do more than just say they don’t agree with ISIS.  Stopping this horrific group has to be an international effort.  If it is just the U.S. or just “western” nations that go after ISIS, that will likely aid ISIS in their recruitment, because they will be able to spin it as an attack on Islam.  But if this is a joint international effort, with the aid of Muslim nations, then that will likely send a strong signal to ISIS that the world isn’t going to put up with their brutal bullying.

Beyond assembling the Task Force Black, it has also been reported that the Obama administration is reaching out to other countries to try to build a coaltion to go after ISIS.  However, after the fiasco that was the Iraq War, many nations are weary to join a new “coalition of the willing”.  Obama has been rounded criticized for his lack of response to many major international issues over the last few years–jusitifiably so–but he really needs to assert himself this time.  Ignoring problems because you are afraid of making the wrong decisions about how to deal with them won’t make those problems magically disappear.  This terrorist group is no joke, so it is time for Obama to be a real leader.  He needs to be decisive, confident and unwavering.  Effective leaders inspire others not because they always make the right decisions, but because they believe in what they are doing.  Part of the reason why some nations may be hesitant to help the U.S. combat ISIS is because they haven’t seen real leadership on the part of the United States and President Obama.  It’s time for him to be the leader the world needs right now.

 

 

 

 

 

A College Education is Crazy Expensive, Ya’ll

I came across this article at Policymic that talks about the rise in the costs of a college education.  While this is not news, the actual increase in costs–from tuition to housing to medical care to food–is quite unbelieveable.   Just take a look at the chart below:

College costs

It’s no wonder that college enrollment is starting to decline–students simply can’t afford it.  And that isn’t a good thing.  If we have a less educated public, we will be less competitve with the rest of the world.  Additionally, the more educated a person is, the more money they make throughout their lifetime.  Thus, they have more spending power.  Thus, our economy grows because people are spending more money.  So without these well-educated people, the opposite will happen.

But as the article points out, the federal government is making quite a profit off of student loans.  In 2013 it is estimated that the Department of Education made a whopping $50 billion profit from student loans.  So even though the federal government has taken some steps to help ease the giant financial burden recent college grads have had to deal with by capping the interest rate on student loans to 10% of income, and forgiving any debt still owed after 20 years, they really have no incentive to do anything about the exorbitant and continually rising costs of a college education.

This issue is just another great example of why it is so important for our generation to vote.  We need to put pressure on our politicians to do more about college affordability–and other issues that are important to our generation.  But when only 20 percent of us vote in midterm elections, politicians have zero incentive to do anything about these issues.  Because our lack of civic engagement tells them that we don’t care.  Do you care?  If you do, then vote!

Poll: Most Americans Think U.S. is Headed in the Wrong Direction

Here’s a shocker:  According to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, only 28 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, and only 13 percent approve of the way Congress is doing its job.  Furthermore, a plurality say they trust neither party to run the federal government, and a whopping 62 percent say that they want someone who isn’t their current Congressional leader to be elected this November.  However, come November, what won’t be shocking is the high incumbency rate in Congress.  Why?  Because Americans simply don’t care enough to vote the good-for-nothing idiots out of office–and because of highly gerry-mandered Congressional districts.  But it will be more due to the low voter turnout.

Americans are disgusted and fed-up to the point where complete apathy has set in.  After all, what is the point of voting when all politicians are the same?  And what is the point of voting if lobbyists and special interests have more power than the people?  Both are good questions, but I think the better question is how did we get here?  In other words, why doesn’t it matter who is in office (because no matter who it is nothing will change)?  And why do lobbyists and special interests have more power than the people?

The answer is quite simple:  our democracy is weak because we, the people, are weak.  We gave up–a fairly long time ago actually.  We don’t fight as much as we should.  And we don’t demand accountability from our leaders as much as we should.  I’ve said this over, and over, and over, and over again:  a democracy gets its strength from the people, because a democracy is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.  If we, the people, don’t care anymore then we can only expect our democracy to weaken further.  (Note:  The United States is technically a Republic.  But the U.S. is also considered a democratic Republic, meaning it consists of a government in which the power resides in the people, as it is run by leaders that are directly elected by the people and are bound to “rule” by law.)

Our politicians don’t change because we don’t make them.  And lobbyists and special interests have so much power in Washington because we let them.  Think about it:  if only 40 percent of Americans vote in mid-term elections, and barely 50 percent vote in general elections, we’re not a big threat to politicians jobs’ or to the power lobbyists and special interests have in Washington.  This is especially true for younger Americans.  We want our leaders to pay attention to the issues that affect us, but we don’t vote.  Thus, our leaders have no incentive to listen to us because we don’t threaten their jobs.  Older people–who vote in much higher numbers–threaten their jobs, which is why our government spends over four times more money on seniors than it does on the youth.  Bottom line:  if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.

In a healthy, thriving democracy, the people aren’t ignorant observers who do nothing but complain about how bad things have gotten.  The people in a healthy democracy are well-informed of the issues, and when they aren’t happy with how things are going, they actively do something about it.  They participate (i.e. vote, protest, right letters/emails to congressional leaders, call their congresstional leaders, attend town hall meetings, etc.).  They don’t sit around complaing about things they don’t understand (because they don’t bother to actually learn about them), or about how nothing ever changes.  The people in a healthy, thriving democracy understand that they are in charge, and if they give up their power (by becoming complacent and/or apathetic) then they have no one to blame but themselves.

FDR once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”  He also said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”  In other words, democracy won’t succeed without a well-informed, participatory public.  Our problem is we currently lack both in the United States.  We have a very misinformed public (and yes, the mass media is horrible and certainly shares a big chunk of the blame for this, but there are a lot of of other forms of media available today, so one can still read up and get the facts), and we also have a very apathetic public.  It’s a double-whammy, and our democracy gets weaker by the day because of it.

As long as we believe that nothing will ever change, instead of actively trying to change things, then yes, nothing will ever change.  And as long as we continue to vote in low numbers, thus not threatening the jobs of our leaders or the power that lobbyists and special interests have over them, then again, nothing will ever change.  Only when we, the people, realize that change has to first come from us–since we are the true rulers in a democracy–will things begin to get better.

It has been said that in a democracy, the people shouldn’t fear the government, the government should fear the people.  Who do you think has more fear in our democracy–the people, or the government?  By the results of the poll referenced above, I’d say it’s the people.  It’s time we fix that, don’t you think?  Ok, good–then come November, get out and VOTE!  Just imagine what could happen if instead of a 40 percent voter turnout, there is an 80 percent voter turnout?  Do you think then the government might start to fear the people?  Just some food for thought for the next 3 months, as you ponder over whether it is worth it to vote or not.  (Hint: it is)

Bill Maher

 

 

 

Are Millennials “Over” Israel?

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, 18-to-29-year-olds are the only age group that blames the violence in Gaza more on Israel than Hamas–interesting, but perahps not all that suprising.  And a great article at Salon.com analyzed the reasons why this is the case.  According to the article’s author, David Palumbo-Liu, there are two central reasons why Millenials aren’t exactly buying the arguments put forth by the Israeli government to justify their actions in Gaza:  (a)  younger people don’t quite agree with the post-WWII rhetoric of  Israel having the right to defend itself–at all costs–in order to prevent another Holocaust; and (b) the availability of news, images, testimonials and videos regarding the conflict in Gaza coming from various sources other than the mainstream media that Millennials are more inclined to use (e.g. Social Media outlets).

I hesitate to give an opinon on this conflict, mainly because I simply don’t know enough about it to give an opinion (not a terribly informed one, at least).  But also because as a former student of international relations, I understand that there is rarely ever (if ever) one completely innocent party and one completely guilty party in a conflict, and that most conflicts are far more complicated than we realize.  Now, despite the fact that neither side is entirely to blame, it is oftentimes true that one side is the instigator, or uses excessive/unjustifiable force, or absolutely refuses to compromise.  And honestly, from what I can tell, this conflict has all of that–and both sides are guilty of all of it.

I completely agree that Israel (and all countries for that matter) has an inherent right to defend itself.  But what I struggle with–and I feel that I speak for a lot of people in my generation when I say this–is the number of Palestinian deaths vs. Israeli deaths.  It is a little disproportionate, and as the article referenced above says, “That Hamas has also committed attacks on civilians does not erase the fact that Israel’s violence violates basic international humanitarian laws regarding proportionality.”  Not to mention the ongoing (and illegal) Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the continuation of Israeli settlements in these Palestinian terrorities (something even the U.S. government has warned Israel to stop doing).  Millennials simply aren’t comfortable giving their unwavering support to Israel, knowing full-well that all of this is happening.  Now that isn’t to say that Millennials agree with Hamas.  Certainly we understand that they are a terrorist group and should be disarmed immediately.  But the fact of the matter is, Israel isn’t so innocent either.

I think what is most upsetting to our generation is that there just seems to be no end to the violence.  Neither side is really willing to compromise.  So I wonder, what exactly needs to happen in order for both sides to realize that the amount of violence, death and destruction just isn’t worth it?  I mentioned in a previous post that I felt that this conflict was going to reach a very catastrophic end.  Something really, really terrible will happen, and I believe that it will likely occur in the next few years.  And this something will be so horrifying that we will have reached a level of violence and death that humanity has never known.  Another world war?  Use of nuclear weapons?  I greatly fear what it could be.  Of course I hope I’m wrong, but if I am right, the one good thing that might come out of it is a lasting peace–because we will have learned that the only way we will ever progress and advance as a species is by living and working together in peace.  War, violence, intolerance, ignorance and hate only hold us back.

Will the world ever know peace?  Certainly not in our lifetime.  But if you look back over history, as a species we have grown far less violent than we once were.  Hopefully that trend will continue, and maybe a few centuries from now our great-great-great-great grandchildren will learn about this period in time and wonder how we could have ever harbored such hate for one another.  And maybe, just maybe, they’ll also learn about a special generation–called Millennials–who decided that they wanted to change things.  This generation decided that they weren’t going to just accept that things were a certain way, and instead wanted to be more loving, tolerant and peaceful.  And that was perhaps the most important turning point in human history.  Don’t say it can’t happen.  The best part about history is that we can write it any way we want.  And, of course, whatever we decide will be a part of our generation’s legacy.

 

Hope and Perseverance

Considering the current state of the country and the world, I thought that this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt was appropriate.  I couldn’t agree with her more.

“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not try.  For one thing we know beyond all doubt–nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says:  it can’t be done.”

Obama’s Foreign Policy Nightmares

President Obama has certainly had his work cut out for him on the foreign policy front as of late.  Between the situation in the Ukraine (especially with the recent downing of the Malayasian passanger jet) and the renewed conflict in Gaza, it has been a tough road the past week or so.  Obama needs to be very careful how he handles both situations.  Unfortunately, in both instances he is stuck between a rock and hard place.  There is no good solution, no right answer, no way to really make anyone happy.

As of right now, regarding both the conflicts in the Ukraine and in Gaza, Secretary of State John Kerry has been calling for a ceasefire.  That seems to be what other world leaders are pushing for as well.  However, any ceasefire that may come to fruition is not likely to last very long.  It would be a temporary fix at best.  And unfortunately other attempts to address these conflicts haven’t been very effective.  Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to be very willing to cooperate, and the economic sanctions the U.S. has launched against Russia aren’t doing much.  And after months of negotiations, talks between Israeli’s and Palestinian’s fell apart under Secretary Kerry’s mediation.

A critical problem seems to be that the Obama administration has no real strategy for how to deal with these two situations.  They are just kind of saying, “Well let’s try this next,” instead of trying to really understand the key players in these conflicts and what it is that they want (or don’t want).  Of course, things happen unexpectedly–like the downing of Malayasian Airlines Flight 17–and you have to deal with them as best you can when they occur.  But I feel like so far the Obama administration has handled things very slopily.  Yes, there are significant issues that Obama is dealing with here at home (a whole plethora of them) that are taking up a lot of his time and attention, but Obama needs to be more involved in these conflicts.  Otherwise he risks allowing them to spiral out of control on his watch.

However, it is more important than ever that the United States works with other countries to address these conflicts–and all future conflicts.  We have to pressure other world leaders to be more aggressive.  The United States remains a superpower and as such is considered the leader on global issues (whether fair or not), but in today’s very complicated world, we simply need more help.  And the Obama administration needs to make it very clear to other world leaders that the only way to bring about any kind of effective solutions to these conflicts is if there is rock solid international solidarity behind any actions that are taken.

I don’t see the situation in the Ukraine having huge implications for the future of our world, but I do feel that way about Gaza.  Gaza is just one of the many conflicts in this region, but it is the most important one.  I think that something really drastic and devasting is going to happen, likely within the next few years.  And it will be a total game-changer.  But the one good thing that may come out of it (that will hopefully come out of it) is a lasting peace.

The legacy Obama leaves behind will deal largely with how he handled critical foreign policy issues like the conflicts in the Ukraine and Gaza.  Right now, he isn’t doing so great.  Could it be that he has already started to check out because he has only a year-and-a-half left of his second term?  I surely hope not, and I doubt that is the case.  I think he is just exhausted and probably feels somewhat defeated, because no matter what he does, nothing ever seems to get better.  Plus, he has dealt with a combination of years of fighting the GOP over absolutely EVERYTHING, dealing with very complex and important domestic issues (like healthcare reform, immigration and gun violence, just to name a few), and having to confront the many global issues that have heightened during his presidency.  He hasn’t had it easy. No matter who was in office right now, they would struggle under these circumstances.  But let’s hope that Obama can persevere, because we need a strong world leader now more than ever.

Back from a Surprise Break

If I still have any readers of this blog, I’m sure you’re aware that I haven’t posted in a looooong time.  That hasn’t been intentional. As is the case from time to time, life got in the way. Lots of changes have happened in my life recently–some good, some not as good–and it has been difficult for me to find the time and/or motivation to blog. I even seriously considered giving up on this blog.  In fact, I hadn’t even visited my own website in months!  Pretty pathetic, right?  So today, I checked it out for the first time in a while.  It was almost like I was a new visitor.  And when I read through some of the pages at the top of the website it reminded me of why I started this blog to begin with:  because I truly believe that our generation will change the world in a very positive and powerful way.  My passion has been reawakened, and I’m sorry that I lost faith for a while.  I’m sorry that I doubted our generation’s destiny.  And it doesn’t matter to me if only a few people read this blog.  If you visit this blog and are inspired but what I’ve written, then I’ve done something.  I’ve made an impact, and that is my goal.  I want to inspire and empower our generation to fight for a better future.  So if even just 10 people are inspired by my words, then I’ve succeeded.

If you have stuck with me these past several months, I sincerely appreciate it.  I am so grateful for those of you that take the time to check out my little blog.  It really does mean the world to me.  It’s hard to know if anyone reads what you put out there, and every now and again I will get an email from a reader who had visited my blog and I’m so appreciative of that.  So thank you–thank you so very, very much.

A lot has happened in the U.S. and around the world the past several months, most of which has been bad.  It seems like our world and our country are headed down a dangerous path of destruction.  We live in a very complex world at a very challenging time, to say the very least.  If you didn’t believe that we are in the throws of a crisis before, I’m sure you do now.  It is daunting to think about all the problems we face–and it seems like everyday things just get worse.  But there is hope, and if there is any positive to come from this crisis, it is that this crisis is presenting us with an incredible opportunity to change the world for the better.

We can have a better future.  If we believe that we are capable of creating a more peaceful, progressive and sustainable world, then we can.  But we have to believe that first.  It upsets me when I hear people say that there is no hope…there is always hope.  Without hope, humanity would have never made it this far.  I know it sounds cliche but it’s true.  Hope, optimism and a giant dose of dogged determination are some of our greatest assests right now.  And that is where our generation shines.  Millennials have all the tools we need to be a changing force for the good.  It is about time we start utilizing them.

I’m going to leave you with my favorite quote by a true bad-ass and revolutionary, Thomas Paine.  He was a passionate fighter for democracy who believed that a better world was possible, and without him it is not very likely that our country would exist.  His powerful words in his most famous pamphelt, Common Sense, helped spread the revolutionary fervor that was sweeping the colonies in 1776.  In fact, it was one of the final sparks to the Revolution itself.  If Paine were alive today he would probably be a rebel rouser once again–relentlessly imploring our politicians and American citizens to step up and fight for a better country and a better world.  Needless to say, his contributions to history are priceless, and in the American Crisis No. 1, he wrote possibly one of the truest statements ever made:  “We have it within our power to begin the world over again.”  Yes we do, Mr. Paine.  We must certainly do.

 

 

 

Leaked UN Report Warns Climate Change Nearing the Point of No Return

A leaked UN report about climate change warns that the window to address this urgent issue is quickly closing. According to the report, failing to address climate change within the next 15 years would make it nearly impossible to solve. By 2030, if serious action isn’t taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we would have to literally start sucking the greenhouse gases out of the air. The biggest problem with this is that we currently do not possess the technology to take those kinds of drastic measures. Developing that kind of technology would take years (that we don’t have) and would also be extremely expensive–far more expensive than it would be to take aggressive action on climate change starting now.

According to the Times, the report finds that stopping climate change over the coming decade will still mean major economic and ecological damage — but it’s far tamer than what could come down the road. The current goal is to limit global temperature increases to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. The hope is that by beginning now, economic and ecological effects will come on gradually, mitigating their impact.

This is so scary. Like really, really scary. Climate change may not seem so dire right now to us here in the United States because it is actually the people living in the developing world who will feel the really serious effects of it first. This is mainly because many countries in the developing world are in regions where the effects of climate change will be most severe. Also, we have the means to deal with the effects of climate change far better than they do. But we have had our butts kicked by climate change lately as well–severe storms (both tropical and winter), severe droughts and floods, out of control forest fires, dangerous hot and cold weather. Just one single isolated incident isn’t enough to blame climate change. But when these extreme weather events keep happening with more frequency and more intensity (and they absolutely have been), it gets to the point where you have to acknowledge the common denominator: climate change.

I will never understand why some people refuse to believe that climate change is real–and is mainly caused by human behavior. This issue, more than any other, will be paramount in our generation’s legacy. We must take action on this issue NOW! We can reverse some the damage and slow it down, but we have to start acting now and we have to act aggressively. More than anything, think about future generations. What will their world look like if we do nothing? Is it a risk we’re willing to take–to not act on this issue because there is the slightest chance (about 3-5 percent) that climate change isn’t a serious problem? What if it really is this severe (and it is)? Without a doubt, our inaction will significantly impact the future–especially for those generations who come after us. They can’t do anything about this issue right now, but we can. So don’t we owe it to them to start taking aggressive action against climate change starting now?

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”