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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Recap: 2012

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Now is the time of year that any self-respecting news organization publishes its "best news of the year" in high style with flashy graphics and an upbeat soundtrack. Unfortunately I neither have the time nor budget to produce a video for you, however, I will do my best to replicate the other aspects.
 I have compiled this list from my own musings, as well as with input from other reputable sources. I have tried my best to pick news events that happened on an international scale and that had exterior ramifications for not just the nation involved, but for the world on a larger scale.  This list is by no means extensive--many of you may feel that I arbitrarily picked my subjects--but know that I gave it my best shot. Also, the numbers are not a ranking scheme, but merely a way for me to stay organized; all these events were equally important.
            Thus, without further ado: the top 10 news stories of 2012 (if you want a soundtrack for this recap, have at it:  Soundtrack for 2012)

1. Egyptian Presidential Election & Constitution
            Of all the nations that rode the rollercoaster of emotions produced by last year's "Arab Spring," Egypt has been one of the most driven to define its own democracy. Enter Mohammed Morsi, a relatively unknown politician into the elections held in June of 2012. Despite the political shenanigans of the ruling Mubarak-era military junta, Morsi defeated the state-supported candidate and became Egypt's newest democratically elected president.
            For Morsi, the win was merely a jump out of the frying pan into the proverbial fire; the time had come for Egypt to write its constitution and the military-dominated Supreme Court was threatening to disband all legislative committees involved in the creation. Morsi feared that the courts could have gone further, writes Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University who’s an expert on Islam. The courts may have “declared the presidential election invalid as well, creating a constitutional coup d’état against the president.” Morsi passed a referendum placing himself above and beyond the current laws and jurisdiction of the courts, promising to rescind his powers once a constitution was passed. Extremely wary of such a dictatorial grasp at power, the constitutional committees quickly drafted and approved a constitution on December 26th.  The document is a rather shoddy protector  of civil liberties in Egypt, but is a solid step in the direction of full democracy.

2. Successful North Korean "Rocket" Launch

            As a government, North Korea has always been partial to dangerous pyrotechnic displays, and the new ruler Kim Jong Un is no exception. Ever since the nation completed its first nuclear warhead, the challenge for the Korea scientists has been to find a vehicle that will deliver that warhead around the world.
            On December 12, North Korea launched a rudimentary weather satellite into partial orbit above the earth atop a Unha-3 rocket. The nation insists that the launch had nothing to do with military objectives and was merely a scientific exposition. However, weapons experts in South Korea, upon analyzing the debris left by the rocket, stated that the launch was a test of North Korea's ballistic missile vehicle. “They efficiently developed a three-stage long-range missile by using their existing Rodong and Scud missile technology,” a senior military intelligence official said Sunday, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
            If armed, this ballistic missile could at maximum reach any target within 6,000 kilometers of North Korea. However, before you worry, experts are unsure as to Korea's ability to weaponize the missile. Analysts doubt that North Korea has mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear bomb small enough to mount on a missile. If they do manage to miniaturize their warhead, the furthest target Korea could possibly hit would be Sarah Palin's home.

3. Russian Presidential Election
            Vladimir Putin has long been famed for his physique and feats of strength and valor. This year, it appears that the Russian he-man has strong-armed his way back into power as the president of Russia. After serving as the premier for his protégé Dmitry Medvedev, Putin switched places in the last election, taking the presidential title and choosing Medvedev as his premier. This is not the first time Putin has been president either: he previously held the position from 2000 to 2008.
            If you think something smells fishy, you are not alone. In the latest Russian election, not only did Putin win, but all candidates from his party either reclaimed seats or defeated opponents as well. This apparent election-rigging caused numerous protests from citizens and complaints from international watchdog groups. In response, the government has severely cracked down on dissension and contact with foreigners.  Russia has been down this road before; lets hope they remember the outcome in 1991.

4. Aung San Suu Kyi Elected
            In the CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) rankings for 2012, the nation of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) ranked as the third most corrupt government in the world. One woman however is attempting to change that statistic.
            Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the Burmese National League of Democracy (NLD), the opposition party in Myanmar's parliament. The NLD has a 59% majority in parliament for this session, for the first time in decades. Suu Kyi's election was a landmark because of all of the NLD candidates elected, she has been the most verbal, the most outspoken, and the most aggressive in pursuing sweeping reforms to Myanmar's faulty government. In the last election that she participated in, in 1990, she was placed under house arrest for twenty years, becoming one of the world's most noted political prisoners. This political prisoner however has now set out to change the system that imprisoned her.
            For all of her work, Suu Kyi was this year's recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not only has she called for reforms within her own country, but also reforms around the world, making her a strong advocate on the international stage. For her courage and fortitude, world leaders have lauded her, including US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

5. Syrian Civil War
            It seems that there has been a news story from this conflict on the front page every day. The Syrian civil war is a bitter battle that shows no signs of coming to an end. What began as a mostly peaceful protest against dictator-president Bashar al-Assad in hope of reform has become a fight to the death between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian government with innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 57,000 people have died in the fighting, with over 23,000 of those casualties being non-combatants.
            The war has spilled over into the nearby nation of Turkey on occasion as well, causing Turkish casualties and international ire. However, Assad was already in the proverbial international doghouse due to his regime's human rights violations. From mass executions to rigged juries, Assad is accused of numerous crimes against humanity. In a recent attempt to prevent further innocents being killed en-masse, the United States has deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Turkey-Syria border to deter Assad from firing his biological and chemical weapons on the Syrian rebels. Policy officials at the Heritage Institute note that Assad realizes that he is losing his grasp on his power. Assad recognizes the fact that it is only a matter of time before his end--and he will make sure to cause as much damage possible in his death-throes. As one man once put it, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
           
6. Chinese Presidential Selection
            Of all of the transfers of power staged this year, the Chinese presidential selection promises to hold the most implications for the rest of the world. This year the elite political body that forms the core of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was reshuffled. The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), as this body is known was announced to the world with new faces and a new organization. The number of seats on the PSC shrank from nine members to seven and included the names at the top of many speculative lists: Xi Jinping (President), Li Keqiang (Premier), Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.
            Cheng Li of the Brookings Institute says that these choices do not bode well for those who were hoping to see some political reform in China. "This Party congress has sent a very clear signal that this leadership is politically conservative." While in America, conservatives are considered the best choice for achieving political reform, in China, the selection of conservatives signals a maintenance of the dictatorial power exercised by the state so far, Li believes. However, Noah Feldman, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, thinks that the streamlining of the PSC and the overall willingness to change leadership shows promise for reform: "China isn’t on the royal road to democracy or to capitalism without major state direction. But in 2012 it reaped the benefits of its historic move away from dictatorship -- and in historical and comparative terms, that’s impressive enough."
            Like any election, we will just have to wait to see how things pan out for the governing body of China.

7. Israel-Gaza Conflict
            You might ask, what else is new? After all, it seems that the Israeli-Gazan fighting is always on the front page and is always considered a momentous event. Well, I'll admit that you are correct. However, I think that this issue deserves some attention, especially because of some of the new developments in that arena.        
            In August, a rash of rocket attacks by Hamas fighters spurred retaliatory attacks by the Israeli SDF; Israeli airstrikes, missiles, and artillery quickly struck back at the rocket launch sites. These airstrikes spurred only more rocket attacks by Hamas, and both sides found themselves in a tit-for-tat fight with the innocent populace caught and killed in between.
            The military tensions were only worsened when the UN granted Palestine observership status within the council, lending legitimacy to Palestine's cause. To make matters worse, new evidence surfaced that Yasser Arafat, beloved leader of the PLO, may have been assassinated by Israeli agents. Only causing more anger by Gazans was Israel's decision to continue the expansion of its Jerusalem settlements, encroaching on the border that Palestine claims.
            A ceasefire was finally reached in late November, but not before hundreds had died. This is one conflict where both sides seem to repeat their mistakes, and with great vigor. The old adage says that nothing new happens in the world--it is merely history repeating itself. The Israel-Gaza conflict proves that point perfectly.

8. EU Financial Crisis & Bailouts
            In the 2008 foreign film Slumdog Millionaire, one of the characters makes a rather astute judgment: "There are two reasons to make mistakes in this life: money and women." While promiscuity may not be a problem, money has certainly caused its share of troubles for the European Union and its Euro this year. The European financial problems of last year became the European financial crisis of this year, with several nations almost declaring complete bankruptcy. Greece, on the verge of financial collapse, even attempted to leave the failing organization in the hope that as a nation it could define its own economic freedom.
            Realizing the imminent threat of complete EU collapse brought about by not only Greece's wage woes, but also the troubles of Spain and Italy as well, German chancellor Angela Merkel quickly put together a bailout package. The Eurozone countries approved a 237-billion-euro rescue package for Greece, as well as for Spain and Italy. Economic officials at Bloomberg believe that while the bailouts did afford some slight benefit, the danger of defaulting on the debt still looms.
            On a interestingly related note, when the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) was published for 2012, the nations who received bailouts were found to have ranked 5 or 6 places lower than previously (indicating more corruption). Apparently money, as well as power, corrupts.

9. Attack on US Embassy in Benghazi
            The attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya that left 5 Americans dead, including ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has been called many things: a terrorist attack, a freak explosion of violence, a retaliation for the infamous anti-Muslim video published in the US. Finally however, we have answers: an independent inquiry as well as a congressional committee have both come to the conclusion that the attack was premeditated and carried out as a terrorist strike.
            As the New York Times reports, the independent report slams the “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” in the State Department’s bureaus of diplomatic security and Near East affairs that resulted in a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Problems with security, intelligence, and grasp of the situation plagued the Obama administration both during and after the attack. However, it seems that the administration is responding appropriately now. The Times goes on to note that "Mrs. Clinton accepted all of the panel’s 29 recommendations and has already begun to make changes."
            As to the mastermind behind the attack, FBI and CIA agents have questioned a suspect who was detained in Turkey, then extradited to Tunisia. Authorities have stated that Ali Harzi, a Tunisian, is "strongly suspected in the attack." It seems that finally answers are forthcoming in this deadly situation.

10. 2012 London Olympics
            The excitement and expectation began to build long before the first athletes moved into the Olympic village in July. On 18 May the Olympic Flame set down on British soil, beginning the torch relay that swept around the country and allowed everyone the opportunity to share in the occasion. Eight thousand inspiring individuals took part, from sporting legends such as Dame Kelly Holmes and fellow Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave to those nominated for their work in the local community.
            Athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees rose to walls and waves of sound as unprecedented levels of support inspired outstanding performances and records tumbled. On the track, Usain Bolt’s double triple (100m, 200m and 4x100 relay gold for the second time) brought cheers not only in the stadium, but also from his home nation of Jamaica.
            In the pool, Michael Phelps graciously rose from Olympic waters for the last time, taking an incredible 22 medal haul with him – 18 of them gold. And in the velodrome Sir Chris Hoy won his sixth gold medal to become the most decorated British Olympian of all time.
            The positive repercussions from hosting the Games will be felt across the UK’s capital for decades to come, thanks to the regeneration of the area and the legacy created by the state of the art stadiums and facilities such as the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre. London 2012 was an Olympic Games that pervaded the boundaries of sport the world over, and is one that will not be quickly forgotten.
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           2012 has been an eventful year. We have lived, cried, laughed, mourned, celebrated, and remembered. Like any year, we won't get to live it again, but don't regret it in any way. There is no sense in saying "what if...;" just accept and live with what was.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We Grieve...

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     Yesterday, twenty children died. Twenty kids who hadn't even graduated from elementary school, twenty kids who were loved dearly by their families and community, twenty kids who just  the day before ran and played without a care in the world, gunned down where they stood.

 Yesterday, six adults died. Six mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends; six adults who devoted their lives to teaching and mentoring the future who will never see their work come to fruition; six people who gave all they had for the children they taught.

  We ask how this could have happened. Of all the towns in America Newtown, Connecticut is one of the least touched by crime and poverty, yet is now the site of the worst school shooting in our nation's history. "How is this possible?" we wonder. Of course it was the shooter's fault--Adam Lanza is responsible for every life that passed before his bullets; but we almost want to place the blame elsewhere as well--after all, Americans are normal, stable people. Surely Adam is not solely to blame for this tragedy. It was the legislators who have not passed strict gun laws. It was the US healthcare system for not providing affordable mental counseling. It was Adam's own parents that failed to raise him correctly.

     But why do we need to blame anyone else? This shooting has brought grief to every one of our hearts--why stir up more angst and frustration? For those of you who think this is political fodder, please cease. This is not a "prime piece of evidence for gun control." This is not the platform for more political pontification on our health system. This is where twenty-six innocent souls died. This is where mothers and fathers will never see their children again in this life. This is where children's blood stained the pavement.
     Do not be afraid to mourn those lost.

     Yesterday, I lived life as normal. I spent time with friends; I went and saw a movie; I celebrated this Christmas season with my family. Am I cold? Am I insensitive to the fact that for twenty-six families, Christmas will now be a funeral? Should I have stopped my life because lives ended yesterday? I mourn those killed; I grieve for the families and pray for their loss, however, America, do not be afraid to carry on. Grieve in your hearts but show strength in your actions. If we cease to continue, when shall we begin again? Dedicate the quiet parts of your life to remembering these children and teachers, but do not be afraid to proceed with life.  Courage is rising the the challenge and meeting adversity. Let us meet this adversity with resolve.
     We will remember these dead for decades to come.

     For the families of this tragedy, and all whose hearts were wrenched by this horror--look for hope. Look for peace. Look for joy.
     Look for Christ.
     I don't know why the shooting happened. I don't know how it fits into God's plan. Nay, I do not claim to have the answers. Remember this though: what Christ has to offer is far greater than what you are feeling now. We cannot bring them back...
One of the children wrote this note for his mother the day before dying in the shooting.
...but we can find peace in the arms of Christ.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." 

This sounds like a cliche answer, but it is a true answer. Christ grieves with you over your children. He loved your children. He loved every laugh and smile that came from their lips; He loved every time their eyes lit up with joy.
     America, find commiseration in Christ. He grieves with us today.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Yasser Arafat: A Grave Matter

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Former PLO & PA leader, Yasser Arafat (AP)
            The old adage says that dead men tell no tales, however, thanks to modern science and medicine, corpses now can tell their stories. This ability is extremely useful as you may imagine, especially if these corpses happen to be infamous deceased world leaders who suffered, shall we say, controversial deaths.
            Such is the case with the former leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat.
            Before you start worrying that some terrorist has resurrected Arafat to lead an army to destroy the world, let me clarify that thankfully that has not happened. Instead, a joint team of Swede, French, Palestinian, Swiss, and Russian scientists are excavating Arafat’s tomb in order to exhume his body to determine whether the former premier was assassinated.

Just a Trace
            Last year, news organization Al-Jazeera published a documentary in which Swiss experts declared that high levels of the radioactive substance polonium-210 had been found on Arafat’s clothing and personal belongings in his home. Polonium-210 is not only one of earth’s rarest elements but also one of the most lethal. Ingesting less than 1 gram (0.04 ounces) of the silver powder can kill a healthy adult in a matter of a week. Polonium first made headlines in 2006 when it was used to kill KGB agent-turned-Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.  Once again, the element is suspected as the poison of choice in Arafat’s 2004 death.
            CNN interviewed  Francois Bochud, director of the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bochud said his researchers had tested Arafat's toothbrush, clothing and keffiyeh, the distinctive black-and-white headscarf he often wore.
A body fluid stain from the clothing contained 180 megabecquerels per liter of the radioactive isotope, while a typical sample would contain 5 megabecquerels per liter, Bochud said. (A becquerel is a unit of measurement of radioactivity for all of you non-geeks out there.)

Assassination? Maybe.
            The close friends and family of Arafat have long declared that his death was the result of an assassination by the Israeli secret service. Just prior to his death, Arafat claimed repeatedly that Israeli special forces were attempting to kill him. Many ignored his claims as the paranoid accusations of a 75 year-old man against a government that had long frustrated his hopes of seeing Israel and Palestine united again. However, the discovery of the presence of polonium-210 has changed the entire situation surrounding his death, lending credence to the claims of assassination.
            One note must be made though—until the full exhumation and toxicology report is published, no fingers can or should be pointed.

Severe Ramifications
            Extreme care must be taken on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict with regards to the results of this exhumation. In addition to the already tense relations over the incessant rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on Israeli urban centers, and the retaliatory airstrikes made by the Israeli Air Force upon the Hamas/Hezbollah rocketeers, the discovery that Israel assassinated the Palestinian’s beloved leader could force the area into a direct and bloody conflict. As  scholar Michael Fisbach notes “To the end of his life, Arafat remained a polarizing figure. To most Palestinians, he remained  the almost mythical symbol of their drive for independence and dignity, who pulled together a dispersed and downtrodden people, turned them into a movement, and led them to the doorway of independence.”
            The PLO is seeking to cross that threshold of independence that Arafat led them to, as evidenced by the recent bid for UN recognition and membership. The organization is fiercely determined to achieve acceptance upon the world stage, and to find that Arafat was assassinated would make the PLO all the more determined to fulfill that dream. Arafat longed to see a free Palestine and his legacy still lives on. If he was truly a martyr for the cause, then the cause will be seen as all the more legitimate: a dangerous place for both Israel and the entire Middle East to be in.
            In life, Arafat was, as Fisbach said, a polarizing figure. He was labeled often as a terrorist, yet was a recipient of the distinguished Nobel Peace prize for his efforts.  In life, he wished to be able to tell the story of Israeli-Palestinian peace, but now in death his remains may only begin yet another tale of violence.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Your vote doesn't count...

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Russian women vote during the recent gubernatorial
elections (Guardian UK)

The political climate in Russia right now is colder than the Siberian wastelands in the dead of winter. For the first time in nine years, the Kremlin has allowed Russian districts to hold gubernatorial elections. Nine years is a long time for voters to wait to have their say, especially when the governing authorities strictly discourage other forms of political activism and protest (see the October 17th arrest of opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov).  Despite the recent elections however, most voters will once again leave the polls feeling cheated and disregarded. Yulia Boronenko is the political strategist for one of the only opposition candidates to be allowed onto the ballot. She sums up her view simply: “This is Russia. Forget independence. There is no independence here.”
            Boronenko’s opinion is not unfounded though; throughout the campaign process, she has seen the heavy hand of the Kremlin ensuring the victory of each candidate belonging to the Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. It is no coincidence that each candidate belonging to Putin’s political camp defeated all comers; it was instead a carefully planned and manipulated contest.

The “Tactical Sketch of the Campaign”
            On October 4, ten days before the polls opened, a 43-page document was leaked onto a Russian social blogging site called “The Smart People’s Forum.” Allegedly the campaign strategy for all incumbent governors (who belong to Putin’s United Russia Party), the remarkable document details the sort of insider manipulation that Russians fear is at the core of their political system. The most revealing section of the document was titled “Tactical Sketch of the Campaign,” and closely explained how opposing candidates would be handled. “The optimal number of candidates,” the section begins, would only allow two other parties onto the ballot — a “nationalist” from the Liberal Democratic Party, and what the strategy calls a “spoiler” from Patriots of Russia, a tiny party with no seats in either the federal or the regional parliaments. “Consultations with these parties have been carried out as to their possible candidates; the presumptive candidates are controllable,” the document states. “The main instrument for ensuring the necessary results for candidate _________ is to create a group of controllable candidate-opponents with the use of the ‘municipal filter.’”
            What is the “municipal filter?” To put it simply, the incumbent governor is the filter. Through a series of proclamations and acts passed by Putin in the last decade, the incumbent candidate now has the power to decide who may oppose him at the polls. This power to control the political arena virtually guarantees victory for the incumbent, despite any unpopularity. The uncompetitive situation resulted in a dismal voter turnout in the district of Novgorod—a measly 36%--because without a strong alternative, the citizens simply see no point in voting. Alexander Zhukovsky, adviser to the governor, said this hurts the entire political system. “That is really going to hurt legitimacy,” he told a reporter for Time Magazine “For the next five years we’re going to have to deal with people claiming that the czar is a fraud.”  When asked whom she would vote for, Nina Mikhailova, an elderly babushka of the same district, bewilderedly responded, “I guess I’ll vote for Mitin.... Why? I don’t know. Who else is there?”
            What is even more interesting to note is that most voters never even saw nor heard about the 43-page insider document. Nikolai Petrov, an expert on regional elections at the Carnegie Center in Moscow said that he had never seen a government leak this revealing. “Sometimes you see a couple of pages, some specific tactics, but nothing like this,” he said. Yet not one of the local television stations or newspapers reported the findings; the government almost entirely controls all of the public media. Even private websites that published the document were subject to less subtle censorship. The forum the document was originally posted on was so heavily hacked, the moderators were forced to shut the site down for several days. The forum’s administrator, Vasily Nikitenko was repeatedly approached with sums of money to take the document down. ““When I told them to [buzz] off, the attacks peaked,” he told a reporter. “We’re just hoping it will stop after the elections.”
Russians in Moscow protest the apparent rigging of the
elections (RT/AP)

Putin’s Game
            It would be unfair (and unfounded) to say that these dominated elections only mark the beginning of a new Soviet dictatorship. Throughout the elections (as far as has been discovered), Putin and his political party played by the rules—not one law was broken. Despite the obvious disadvantage new candidates have in the Russian political system, the campaign manipulation remained legal. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that Putin is still a power-hungry leader. His political career of being Prime Minister of Russia and raising up his protégé Medvedev, then becoming the Russian president and placing Medvedev into the seat of prime minister, and now finally returning to his place of power as prime minister, only points to Putin’s unwillingness to release his grip on Russia’s reins. It is important to remember that while Putin may not be a Nikita Khrushchev, he nonetheless was mentored in the halls of the KGB and schooled by the communist apparatchiks of the Cold War. I am not one to jump to conclusions (and neither is “conclusion-jumping” necessary), but the United States needs to watch these new developments in Russia closely. Russia has steadily grown increasingly more benevolent to Iran’s Ahmadinejad, to the point of directly vetoing restrictive measures to Iran’s nuclear program in the United Nations Council. Russia has begun to pull away from it’s relationship with the United States. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the latest development is a huge step backwards in US/Russia relations. “Last week, the Russian government unilaterally pulled out of a two-decade old partnership with the U.S. to safeguard nuclear and chemical weapons. This... follows Moscow's decision last month to close the U.S. Agency for International Development mission to Russia. Meanwhile, Russia continues to obstruct international action to end the Syria crisis. Moscow has vetoed three U.N. resolutions on Syria while arming a Damascus regime that has killed 30,000 in 19 months.”
            Things are quickly coming to a head between the United States and Russia. Since the Russian elections refused any possibility of reforming our relationship, the outcome of the American elections might just be the deciding factor.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Debate for the White House #1...

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     Tonight promises to be interesting. At 9pm, we will find out if both candidates can manage to avoid gaffes, stay cool, and still zing those one-liners at each other and the audience. Although Romney and Obama have distinctly different speaking styles, they both are seasoned and well-grounded speakers.  This debate is the culmination of weeks of preparation. To prepare for the debates, both candidates have used sparring partners: Romney has practiced with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman; and Obama has prepared with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
     On a side note, both candidates also have distinctive traits that appear when they are flustered. Here's what to watch for:
     --Obama: Tends to begin to drone on about a topic. He used to be a lecturer for law students, and he is most comfortable with that type of delivery; a monotone speech littered with vocabulary beyond the average person's.
     --Romney: Becomes excited and uses his hand gestures without purpose. Romney tends to be a slightly more dynamic, excitable speaker, and the excitement grows as he becomes flustered.

     Want to watch the debate? Starting at 9pm Eastern, the debate will be streaming live below.






Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam...

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     Eleven years ago, I was six. I remember seeing passenger jets with terrorists at the controls and innocent civilians huddled in the seats slam into the sides of World Trade Centers One and Two. I remember watching the graceful glass and steel crumble into concrete and ash around the impact as the fireball enveloped the upper floors. I remember stoically watching the faces of panicked pedestrians and newsmen blurting out the story before the debris of Tower One filled the streets as the building fell.  Seeing the tower crumple in on itself like a card house, floor falling through floor, and hearing the announcer exclaiming "Oh my God! Oh my God!" I finally grasped what had happened, and realized that nothing was going to be the same.

  I continued to watch, eyes glued to the screen, as survivors who escaped the building told stories of the bloody chaos and destruction on every floor of the Towers. The anguished voices of wives and mothers filled the newscast, calling the station to ask about the welfare of their loved one, And above all of the mayhem, reports began to stream in that another plane with hundreds of husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers had slammed into the western side of the Pentagon.  The images of firemen at both sites carrying away the wounded and dead are pictures that I, nor America, can ever forget. I knew I was safe in my small-town Virginia house, but the terror of the moment touched me as well, as it did Americans all across the nation.
   
    We did not know anyone at the Towers or the Pentagon, but their pain and fear became our pain and fear. We did not know the people courageous enough to drag coworkers out of the inferno or attack terrorists in the cockpits, but those people became our heroes too. We rose up as Americans and vowed to endure, to rebuild, and to never forget. Though the road of rebuilding has led us through two bloody and stigmatized wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have never stopped devoting ourselves to the idea that never again will 3,000 Americans perish in an attack on their homeland. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave, but only because those who died fighting for freedom were brave enough to remind us how precious our liberty is.

    Many have asked, where was God at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, or on Flight 93? I will tell you that He was right there with every person who perished, His heart broken that so many of His children died in the space of five hours. Why did He allow 9/11? I must say that we cannot know for sure; as Isaiah the Prophet explains this in Isaiah 40:13, "Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?" However, understand this, that the Lord's plan, while it may look destructive, is more beautiful than we could ever foresee.We cannot see the pattern of the tapestry God is weaving. We are on the other side of the loom looking at knotted threads placed seemingly without purpose. Occasionally we can catch a glimpse of the design,but then as soon as we think we have it pegged, a new thread or knot is placed that changes everything. Only when we meet God face to face in Heaven will we see his master plan. 

     Until we see this master plan however, know that there is a greater hand at work in the world than terrorist masterminds. Today is a day to never forget the patriots who died on 9/11, but also a day to never forget that there is more to the world than flesh, blood, and concrete. 


To those who saw the fire,
To those who felt the pain,
To those who were under rubble,
The places where loved ones were lain.
Your courage to face what had crumbled,
With patriotism, you took a stand;
Though through your hearts destruction rumbled,
And felt the evil planned.
Your sacrifices we shall never forget,
In the shadow of the Towers.
With tears on cheeks, but faces set,
You showed the world that Courage and Love still hold power.

911--never forget






Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Debt Forgiving Debt...

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An Egyptian woman adjusts her veil in front of a poster
outside an exchange office. (VOA)

           This past week, the United States grew close to finalizing a deal with Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood government and president, Mohamed Morsi, to help Egypt cut $1 billion from its national debt. Aside from the irony of one of the most debt-laden countries helping another nation pay off its own debt, the diplomatic move for the United States promises numerous benefits.
As the new Egyptian political system stabilizes, the Muslim Brotherhood ruling party has set its eyes on dramatically reducing the amount Egypt owes to foreign nations. This past month, President Morsi set off on a whirlwind tour of the world, not only re-establishing diplomatic relations with China, Syria, Russia, and the EU, but also requesting funds to help re-establish democratic relations within Egypt. Overall, Mr. Morsi’s requests have been successful with China pledging $270 million, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) throwing its support behind a $4.8 billion loan, and over $375 million invested by American financiers (in addition to the $1 billion provided by the American government). However, numerous Congressmen and taxpayers are wondering one thing: where does the money that President Obama pledged Egypt come from?

Where is the money coming from?
            The official explanation from Patrick Ventrell, the State Department’s acting deputy spokesman is that the $1 billion is not “new money.” And surprisingly, for once, the government seems to be correct. Like clockwork, the United States has given over $1.2 billion per year in military aid for the past few decades. Throughout the years, the account books have fluctuated back and forth until Egypt came out in the red—owing the US over $3 billion. Essentially, the money that the Obama administration is giving/forgiving out of the Egyptian debt is the money that would have gone to Hosni Mubarak for military support. In other words, the United States regularly gives Egypt $1 billion per year, so this deal is nothing new.
                        Except for the fact that the U.S. has already given Egypt millions this year. According to the 2012 Appropriations act signed by Obama in December 2011, the U.S. would only give to Egypt if the government was "supporting the transition to civilian government, including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association and religion and due process of law." However, the act allowed the Secretary of State to waive that requirement, which Hillary Clinton did in March, increasing the amount donated to over $1.7 million per month given to Egypt.

The reason for the charity.
            As usual, there is a method behind the madness. Maintaining a strong U.S. presence within Egypt, either militarily or monetarily, is key to preserving Middle-East accessibility and Egypt-Israel solidarity, notes Patrick Ventrell. As the New York Times reports, given Egypt’s influence in the Arab world, officials said, its economic recovery and political stability could have a profound influence on other nations in transition and ease wariness in Israel about the tumultuous political changes under way.
            It is  an economic fundamental that nothing is free—you always have to give to get. In this case, the U.S. is trading money for security. One question remains unanswered and unasked however: do we even have the money to spend?

_________________________________________________________________________________
Sources:

Friday, April 6, 2012

: 

Thank God that Christ changed the Status Quo.

The "Good" in this Friday...

: 
    Two thousand and twelve years ago this day, a man died. He wasn't the only man to die on that day. He wasn't the most famous man to die on that day. Yet, his death changed the lives of millions.
     He was the King, yet was a pauper. He owned the world, yet had no place to lay his head. He was the source of human life, yet submitted to a common criminal's  death. He rescued his friends, yet his friends deserted Him in the end. He was a man, and He was God.

     On this day in history, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, died at the hands of the Pharisees and Romans, suffering to the last on a cross. He was a common man, with an uncommon heritage: His father was the Creator of the world, infinite master of the Universe. Christ stepped from the heavenly realm into human form, still imbued with His ultimate power and love.
     But He was killed.

     How is a day good if it marks the death of the Son of God?

     Because this was the day that you were you were forgiven. Today you were set free from sin.
 
     Throughout history, wrongdoing has always required a blood sacrifice for forgiveness; on this day in history, the  pure and sinless blood of God was spilled, covering and repairing the scars, past, present and future, caused by sin. There was incredible love shown on that cross; this God-man died on behalf of the entire world. Other religions have gods who died for various reasons, but never have any of those gods died because they loved every single person in the world.
      But Christ did. His bloody suffering washed you clean--He took the punishment that was yours from the day you were born. The thorns in his head, the nails through his wrists and his ankles, the shards of metal and glass left in his back by the executioners' whips; but at the end of it all He said, "Father, forgive them."

     Today, the Lord died, but today you were set free.

     Freedom from your sin is an incredible gift--go ahead and take it.
     We live because He loved.
   

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Skylights...

: 
     Another post, another poem. This one was written as a half-poem, half-song. If any of you have a possible tune for this, give it a go and let me know. Until then, it will simply remain words on a page. (Music really brings our language to life)

--Skylights--

You've got your money,
Drugs, drinks, and bling.
But you've never got your freedom,
A Liberty Bell to ring.
Your psychedelics, religious relics
Never brought anyone joy.

Existentialism is only detrimentalism.
Escape can't be found through the sky or ground.
Release can't read in fiction or Freud.
Success isn't gained through being paranoid.

You've only got Life through the Man on the tree,
Through the blood poured out to make other men free.
Though until now your existence seemed eternity,
Your Life has just begun.

The eternal grave has been turned back again:
You've been made aright--
You've been made alive.
--Today is the last day that you'll die--

Tonight is the night you begin to thrive
Tonight is the night you come alive
Like the current that flows to light up the skies
Is the joy of freedom that lights up your eyes.

There's a fire a'ragin', yearning for souls,
[It lights up the night, and love is its pull]
The flames fan across the full of the world
[Instead of ashes, they leave men strong and bold]

Light up the sky, light up the night
You've got freedom in Christ, He's won the fight.
Welcome to joy, the death of all strife
Welcome to victory, love, freedom, and life.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You are forbidden to say "No"...

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     There is a planet in our universe where right is quickly becoming wrong, and wrong is hurriedly transforming to right. The planet believes that shape-shifting morals is the perfect system for life. This same planet also is a proponent of Inter-Galactic "Free-Choice," where everyone is free to live as they please, act as they like (within legal barriers of course), and think as they want.
     But they aren't allowed to say "No."
    Within this planet, there are specific issues to which it's citizens (and subsequent galactic travelers from other worlds, once they are discovered) simply must comply. If they do not comply, the populace shouts them down as bigots, backwards, and marshmallow heads. They are overruled in the courts.
 
     A few days ago in Britain, an elderly couple who owns a Bed and Breakfast in the English countryside lost their court case to another couple whom they had refused hospitality at the hotel. The presiding judge ruled that the refusal amounted to unlawful, direct discrimination. Discrimination against whom?
    The couple who was trying to stay at the Bed and Breakfast was homosexual.
    Out of their beliefs the elderly host couple refused the two men a room because they believed that solely civil union (as well homosexual union) did not constitute a marriage. The host couple is considering appealing the ruling, especially because they believed that it was in their right as private business owners to allow or disallow people to stay at their inn. In addition, they believed that it was their prerogative to act according to their religious convictions: that homosexuality is wrong.
   But the British court forbid them to say "No."
   The reasoning behind the decision was that as a commercial enterprise, the B&B was subject to community standards, rather than the owners' private standards.
    Is this what religious freedom looks like?
    I realize that the homosexual couple may have been looking forward to a nice weekend at a B&B in the English countryside, but never, never, never should vacation plans supersede religious belief.

     This issue is now growing in America. I foresee many instances like this one where Christians refuse Homosexuals because the lifestyle is one of sin. Homosexuality is unnatural, unhealthy, and detrimental to the entire family, which is the foundation of our civilization. Christians naturally will refuse to extend the hand of welcome to this unnatural lifestyle. They love the sinner, but the sin is something Christians cannot support.

   The question is, whose beliefs will be overruled?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Losing to the Laogai...

: 
I realize I haven't written a post in awhile. Like any occurrence in life, there are hundreds of excuses and extenuating circumstances I can point to that have prevented my posting. However, there is one excuse in particular that I can pander to: a research paper.

The finished product is a sum of my research on the Chinese Laogai system. What you will read may shock you, but let me assure you: everything described is real, and happens every day. I may have an excuse to ignore my blog for a month, but we have no excuse to ignore this atrocity in China. 

Read the paper: Losing to the Laogai . 


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Fight?

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[Life is busy, so pardon the abbreviated post]

     Though men fight because of covetousness, their yearning to dominate, their quest for "dirt," it still boggles the mind that we would repeat our mistakes year after year after year.

   Some say history is nothing new, it merely repeats itself. I believe it does, because in the hundreds of centuries man has been on the earth, we have not changed one bit. Granted, our lives may be more advanced and comfortable, but cushions fail to shield the world from the true nature underneath the modern clothing.
We have no peace in ourselves
No inner rest to tap
Degraded, disgusting, a detriment to the world
But loved by a Saviour, unmatched.
Copyright C. Millhouse 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Chosen...

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Life is hard. We all can say that. But never forget who and what you are; how much you are worth:

Feeling left out, struggling through
The gray shell of the day.
Maybe pushed aside, maybe ignored
Humanity's mistakes, hunting you: the prey.


Not only theirs, but also yours;
Pains hanging on your heart. 
Whisper "Not loved," whisper "No good"
Between heartbeats miles apart.


But you're chosen.


He's pursuing you with open arms;
Pursuing you with His own heart.


You are chosen.


Full of love, ever enough
His head spinning for you.
The wounds in His hands drip with blood
That cries out:


You are loved.


Why doubt His Passion?
Why doubt His grace?
You're chosen as His bride
With Christ you have a place.


The gray tatters of life may press
Sorrows lie in wait for Joys.
But live like you've nothing left, 
Because He's chosen you.


[Chosen, and loves you.]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Questions...

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Why does our media give such overtly blatant attention to every minuscule detail of celebrities' lives, instead of reporting just the news?
     It isn't as if the actors will stop making movies if the news networks fail to report something on them every week...

Why do Republicans and Democrats immediately vote against anything that remotely hints of the other party?
     It isn't as if our nation depends on their contradictions to continue to function...(in fact, it is much the opposite)

Why do monkeys have to be our ancestors?
     After all, I just don't seem to have that "eat the stuff you found while grooming your friend" mentality...

I don't know. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

The 'isms'...

: 
     Add a little bit of humor in your day; think about things outside the box. Here are some 'isms', some real, some not, that I think can all tie back to a fear. So...here goes:

  • Disestablishmentarianism: The fear of politicians
  • Atheism: The fear of there being a God
  • Retailism: The fear of unspent money
  • Optimism: The fear of being a pessimist
  • Nihilism: The fear of everything 
  • Dogmatism: The fear of being wrong (in some cases)
  • Communism: The fear of sharing
  • Recidivism: The fear of going straight, for once
  • Parodyism: The fear of everything remaining serious
  • Bullyism: The fear of someone bigger
  • Occupyism: The fear of the 1%
  • Kim Jong-il-ism: The fear of being less than magnificently and almightily supreme
  • Hedonism: The fear of pain
  • Pragmatism: The fear of being impractical
  • Nuclearism: The fear of actually having to launch the missiles
  • Apple-ism: The fear of anything that is not a touchscreen
  • Video Game-ism: The fear of living in reality
Have more? Add them in the comments; thinking outside the box once a day is good for you. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Doomsday...

: 
     The Mayan calender caused consternation when it was discovered that the last date on the stone timekeeper was December 31, 2011. The general populace surmised that the end of the ancient civilization's calender meant that the world would end in 2012, the year not found on the calender. A movie was made, and the tale was immortalized (or at least magnetized), on DVD's all around the world.
The Mayan calender is not the only timepiece that may end this year though.
     Just yesterday, the "Doomsday Clock", a large clock face used by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to depict how close the world is to an atomic destruction, moved one minute closer to midnight, bringing the barometer of human fate to 11:55.
     Well, was moved, I should say. The minute hand has fluctuated back and forth over the years, being anywhere between 2 minutes til midnight when the Cold War began, and almost 17 minutes til when the U.S. and Russia signed the START treaty, beginning to destroy nuclear stockpiles. The recent reset is due to several factors, as the co-chairman of the Atomic Scientist board, Lawrence Krauss, says, "Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leads are failing to change business as usual. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate ... and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons — and in fact setting the stage for global reductions."
 
 So a question: is this clock just hype over the nuclear situation of the world, or is the concern real?
     First of all, the mere change of the time on the clock has caused overt amounts of worry and consternation, and though the occurrence has raised awareness, awareness is useless if it is mixed with fear. It is a fact, however, that the world may very well be on the brink of a war. With Iran at some point of the nuclear weapon process, Israel darting suspicious looks at any military occurrence in the Middle East, and with the U.S. still acting in the world as the major keeper of the peace, anything could happen. Russia is sitting back on it's laurels apparently disinterested with the world, yet the laurels it rests upon cover a nuclear arsenal to match the U.S. The end of the world could be right around the corner.
     However, the Doomsday Clock has forgotten one variable to the equation, one that cannot ever be defined. Though the nations involved are large and powerful, the God involved is in control of them all. And while leaders may bluster and threaten, they are powerless to kill and destroy until the appointed time. And when that appointed time comes, they will fight. But, being the end of the world, Christ will return in His glory, and the Doomsday Clock will be reset all the way back to the beginning, though never to tick again.
 
  If the end is near, then so is Christ.