In January 2006, Hamas was democratically elected in the Palestinain Authority’s legislative elections, defeating Fatah.
This win launched a power struggle between Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, and Hamas.
Palestine is split laterally across Israel, with the Gaza strip bordering the Mediterranean sea. Hamas controls Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority (PA), run by Fatah, is mainly in charge of West Bank. The International Community considers PA to be the government of all of Palestine.
However, because half of Palestine does not see PA as legitimate, Hamas still wields considerable power.
Israel’s strategy to combat Hamas has not only been to overpower Hamas with their military, but to also cut off aid to the Gaza strip, hoping the destitution will cripple Hamas’s power. The opposite has happened.
Hamas provides schools, food, hospitals, and basic needs to Palestinians in Gaza, therefore gaining their support and loyalty.
Although I do not support Hamas’s terrorist actions, the root of their cause is legitimate. Israel has consistently broken international laws with their pre-emptive strikes and expansion of settlements.
These preemptive actions often unnecessary and grossly violate all international laws concerning human rights.
Any armed conflict between Israel and Palestine has resulted in several times more Palestinian deaths.
The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, resulted in 1100 Palestinian deaths and about 164 Israeli deaths.
Palestinians fight with rocks, Israeli’s have tanks. The Palestinian arsenal does not even compare to that of Israel.
Even in December 2008 when Israel began a wave of air strikes against targets in Gaza, aiming to stop rock rocket fire from Hamas, 1,414 Palestinians died, while only 13 Israelis did.
According to the UN World Food Program, between 35-65% of the agriculture has been wrecked in Gaza because of Israeli strikes.
Most recently Israel attacked an international aid ship heading for Gaza, calling the attack “pre-emptive.
The attack was unwarranted and unnecessary.
The ship did not pose a national security threat to Israel, but rather was found to be carrying, according to the IDF, “toys, some wheelchairs, and lots of used clothes.
In order to bring peace, Israel will need to give up some concessions.
One way is by agreeing to a two-state solution of some kind. In this proposed solution, two states would be created, Israel and Palestine (which is not a nation yet, but a territory), with the 1948 borders.
The main problem with this is that the two halves of Palestine are split across Israel, and the logistics are complicated and near impossible to understand when creating a unified state that is geographically divided.
A second plausible solution is the one-state binational solution in which all citizens would be granted equal rights without regard to race or religion.
The government would operate like a federalist system that governed over Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Neither of these solutions is perfect, but one permutation of these must be implemented to bring peace to this bloody corner of the world.
Both Israel and Palestine commit human rights violations, but Israel, being exponentially more powerful, must take the first steps towards bringing legitimate peace.
In both countries, a plurality of those polled preferred a two state solution, or some variation thereof.
Another poll by Near East Consulting (NEC) in 2007 found that 70% of Palestinians preferred a peaceful solution to the fighting over Hamas tactics.]]>
When it comes to scientific research, such as stem cell research and education, the US does not even rank in the top ten among its peers. In fact, Iran has more productive stem cell research programs than the US.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 18th among 36 countries examined.
There are several reasons as to why the US is starting to fall behind other nations. Our national education system is deeply flawed.
The inequality gap in education is a large part of the reason why our standards are fallen. The most recent educational program’€No Child Left Behind (NCLB)’€has only worsened standards across the US, especially in states that are already struggling with education reform.
NCLB requires all states to pass a standardized test of some sort, such as the MCAS.
Schools that have a large number of students who fail to meet the minimum score lose funding. The theory behind NCLB is that schools will improve education in fear of losing money. Unfortunately, in practicality, the threats lead to worsening standards of already low-income schools.
Part of what pays for teachers, books, and computers are property taxes. In lower income neighborhoods, with low property taxes, there is not enough money to buy textbooks for every student, much less computers.
These schools, therefore, are already at a competitive disadvantage and tend to test lower simply because of the lack of resources.
By withdrawing funding, the government is only crippling damaged schools. To stop the bleeding of money, states lower the testing standards so schools can pass. A March 2008 issue of The Economist notes that states such as Mississippi and Montana have very different tests from Massachusetts and California; students, therefore, and the level at which students learn and test are not at the same’€tests in Massachusetts and California are harder to pass, but schools have the resources so students can study. NCLB has made it easier for high-income schools to get money and harder for low income schools, widening the education gap in the United States.
The gap in school performance and structure of the school year, even school day, added together also lower standards in the United States.
During the long summer, students tend to forget major concepts they learned during the school year. But students in the higher income brackets can pay for tutors, summer school programs, and classes, so they are still learning. However, a large part of America cannot pay thousands of dollars for a summer class.
A study cited in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers concludes that test scores are higher in towns with higher property taxes when students take a cumulative test right after summer.
Solving the US educational crisis is not an easy task. First, it is incredibly difficult for the Federal government to control education without breaching states’ rights.
So much of education is controlled locally (by property taxes, and thus the people who pay property taxes), that there can really be no stringent national standard, which is why the government cannot completely strip NCLB, but only reform it. The public school systems in the US need to be reformed by adjusting not only how states receive money, but also which teachers are employed.
In New York in 2008, some schools had to hire teachers from the streets to fill the student to teacher ratio. Many school districts across the country have extremely under qualified teachers.
Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, initiated a teaching program in the Chicago school district that taught teachers. The program was a success, improving Chicago public school to record testing levels.
More importantly, however, early childhood education programs can make the difference in inculcating educational standards in children from an early age. Programs like Head Start make a difference in keeping children off the street and in school.
The work ethic in students attending good schools such as South is ingrained in students from an early age’€they come to South prepared and ready to work hard.
Finally, charter schools are also a good short term solution while larger scale changes are being made.
The KIPP charter school in the Bronx, New York selects students from families who have never gone to college, and sends them to some of the top colleges in the country.
Urban Prep, a charter school in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago, this year had 100% of the senior class get accepted into four year colleges (even higher than that of South).
Charter schools are very successful, but the only problem is that they do not help improve the public schooling system, so in the long term the government must reform NCLB.
If the United States hopes to compete in an increasingly globalizing world, it must reform its falling educational standards, mainly by decreasing the extremely large inequality gap. Only then will the US be able to further scientific, mathematic, literary, and academic frontiers.]]>
Beginning in 1912, President Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for health insurance, along with women’s suffrage, and safer conditions for social workers.
In 1945, President Truman called for complete healthcare overhaul. In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law Medicare and Medicaid, of which 49 million people and 56 million people currently benefit, respectively.
Now in 2010, Democrats have finally passed a historic healthcare bill with 219 votes in the House.
After passage by the House, President Obama will be able to sign this bill into law’€a bill that a hundred years of presidents have tried to pass. The potency of this bill is on par with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Civil Rights bills.
The Senate bill now passed by the House will cover 31 million people and, as announced by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, will reduce the budget deficit by $132 billion dollars, and the reconciliation bill, if passed by the Senate, will cover 32 million and reduce the deficit by $138 billion.
People will no longer be denied the right to life because they are poor, or disabled, or sick. Households in the lowest income bracket, those below 150% of the poverty line, would pay only 2 to 4% of their income on premiums.
Those earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level would receive tax credits to help pay insurance premiums and out of pocket costs, only paying 9.8% of their income.
Insurance companies can also no longer deny children with diabetes or cancer healthcare, or even adults with a family history of heart disease.
Under the bill, states will form insurance exchanges, which will provide a marketplace for employers and individuals to essentially “shop for different healthcare plans, increasing competition, and decreasing prices.
So contrary to complaints, this healthcare bill does not decrease competition and promote socialism, instead it maximizes competition to benefit regular people, rather than companies. Furthermore, government will not take away people’s choice, but expand it. Those who already have healthcare will be able to keep their plans or choose a new, more affordable plan.
The healthcare bill will also improve our staggering economy. The United States has one of the most inefficient systems of healthcare in the developed world, spending the most money and getting the least results.
The rocketing prices of Medicare and Medicaid would bankrupt the United States in the near future, and insurance premiums by private companies have increased at a faster pace than Medicare rates.
The Senate bill will reduce Medicare fraud, not the benefits of Medicare, and Medicaid would be expanded to more than 16 million people, without increasing the budget deficit. Jobs will also be created by the new healthcare plan: research and development, nursing, and technical professions. The economic and logical aspects of healthcare reform, however, cannot be separated from their moral nature.
Healthcare, at its core, provides human beings with the right to life and the right to choose.
The Kaiser Foundation estimates that another 4 million Americans have lost health insurance because they have lost their jobs over the past two years. People cannot pay to live in a house nor can they pay to see a doctor.
This bill is not perfect, but it is a massive change for the future. President Obama, his staff, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats have passed perhaps one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in the twenty-first century.
The vote may not have been bipartisan, but the bill was’€it included over 200 Republican amendments. We cannot create the perfect healthcare system in one try.
Like our constitution, our government and our policies are living and breathing; they change and grow with time. Healthcare is not a privilege, but a right, ensuring all of us that our most fundamental ideals can be fulfilled’€the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.]]>
Â It is a complicated country whose people range from small to tall, from Sinhalese to Tamil, from Christian to Muslim, and from Buddhist to Hindu.
Perhaps the darkest mark in Sri Lanka’s history, and what seems to have defined this island for the future, is the bloody, 25-year long civil war, which recently ended in May of 2009.
The government, which defeated the Tamil Tiger Eelam Terrorist group, has been branded by much of the Western World as vicious and blood thirsty, and has been accused of committing genocide.
Even after the war, Sri Lanka has been criticized for expelling journalists and Red Cross workers from war ravaged areas in the North, triggering a humanitarian and human rights crisis.Â
The humanitarian crisis is real.Â Its expulsion of foreigners is true.
But these facts make up only one part of the story.Â Countries in the West, such as France, Britain, Canada, and the United States have criticized President Mahinda Rajapaksa for working with “hostile nations such as Iran, Russia, and China.
Britain has even barred Sri Lanka from hosting the summit of Commonwealth leaders.
These countries, however, fail to realize that Rajapaksa managed to accomplish what no Western country has been able to do’€defeat a terrorist organization.
Sri Lanka is a small nation, with limited resources, and received war funding from these “hostile nations because they were denied funds from the West, even though the United States State Department designated the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group.
The Tigers was the only terrorist group in the world with its own air force and navy, and it had ties to other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
There is a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka because the Tigers used civilian shields, meaning the war took place in the North.
If a region has undergone war for twenty-five years, it has also undergone blockades, famine, bombs, and much more.
The Sri Lankan government is trying to make strides to improve the region by building hospitals, roads, and overall infrastructure.
But progress is slow.Â The government is far from perfect, but it is not a monster out to destroy Tamils.
The war in Sri Lanka was by no stretch genocide’€calling it such demeans the power of the word genocide.
The Sri Lankan government did not systematically try to kill all Tamils, but waged a war against the Tamil Tigers’€not Tamils and not Hinduism, similar to how the United States is waging a war against Al Qaeda, not Arabs and not Islam.
There is no doubt war crimes were committed during this period, but the government was fighting an enemy that took hostage a section of the country and frequently used child soldiers and suicide bombers.
Terrorism does not seem as much of a threat when it exists an ocean away, but imagine terrorism one block away.
Imagine living in a country where your bus is gunned down while you are on your way to a temple to pray.
In 2008, a bomb blast in Anuradhapura, one of the holiest Buddhist places in Sri Lanka, killed 27 people and injured 90.
Sri Lanka is not a country that has a rigid apartheid system or severe caste divisions.
Tamils and Sinhalese live in harmony in most of Sri Lanka.
The government is not out to destroy Tamils, but to unify the country.
Sri Lanka is not perfect, nor is any other nation.Â Its history is tied to both peace and war, just like the world’s history.
To me, Sri Lanka is a place filled with clacking rickshaws, spicy aromas, and beautiful beaches.
Sri Lanka is small, but it has survived war, terrorism, and natural disasters, and will continue to press on into the future.]]>