• The Last Stand: A Final Look at the Polls Before Election Day 2012 (Op-Ed)

    A summary of this morning’s polls on The New York Times, The Washington Post and Real Clear Politics: an edge for President Barack Obama in the Electoral College, a veritable deadlock between Governor Mitt Romney (47.4%) and President Obama (47.8%) in the popular vote, and an uncertain turnout for the swing states.

    In one final attempt to sway voters hours before Election Day, both candidates are currently wrapping up their presidential campaign tours in the swing states. President Obama appeared this morning in Madison, Wisconsin, and will also make stop in Columbus, Ohio and Des Moines, Iowa before ending the day in Chicago. Meanwhile, Governor Romney will launch an ambitious tour, traveling to Florida, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire.

    As the 2012 campaign comes to a close, it is easy to recall the back-stabbing, exaggerated messages made by both political parties, perpetuated by partisan commentary and vicious campaign advertisements plastered on television, Internet and social media.  This election makes it hard to piece together the truth.

    I urge you to look beyond the superficial pageantry of politics and look at the facts. Think deeply about the presidential candidate you are supporting this election, starting with these three questions:

    What are his views and ideas for America?

    What is his plan to make those ideas a reality?

    How does his attitude, character, and ideology meet the qualifications to be a leader?

    There are many other questions that need to be asked, and answered, but as citizens, we should have the knowledge and confidence behind our choices.

    After pondering these questions, I also urge you to plan a time in your schedule tomorrow and make your way to your local polling station. Election Day represents the power Americans possess to make their voices heard. Why not exercise your right as a citizen?

    Still not convinced? Watch Champion The Vote’s “Why Vote?” and The New York Times and filmmaker Errol Morris’s “11 Excellent Reasons Why Not to Vote?”. These videos may not offer fancy statistics, but they give insight as to what inspires people vote and how it makes a difference.

     

  • EPA Grant Encourages Students to Develop Green Technology

    The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently accepting applications for Phase I of the “P3” Grant Competition, which provides funding to teams of college students who design sustainable technologies.

    The People, Prosperity and the Planet (“P3”) Grant has two phases: Phase I awards $15,000 to winning teams to develop their idea. Then, in order to reach Phase II, they must complete their design and share it at The National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington D.C. The winners of Phase II are awarded $90,000 to develop their idea into a reality.

    Fifteen university teams earned the P3 Grant, including the Butte College Sustainable Community Development Institute for the “Rice Hulls as Alternative Building Project”; SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for “Sustainably Overcoming Hindrance to Struvite Recovery from Anaerobically Digested Dairy Manure,”; Princeton University for “Wind Energy for Haiti: A Rapidly Deployable Renewable Energy System”; and Vanderbilt for “Don’t Eat Your Spinach: Nature Inspired Biohybrid Solar Cells”.

    The EPA website encourages students who work in interdisciplinary teams, involving departments of “chemistry, architecture, industrial design, business, economics, policy, social science and others,” to apply for the P3 Competition.

    The EPA will be accepting applications for the P3 Grant (2012-2013) until December 11, 2012. To learn more information, please click here.

  • The FEMA Debate: Hurricane Sandy Raises Questions about FEMA’s Role

    Since Hurricane Sandy’s departure from the East Coast of the United States, 6.6 million people in 15 states and the District of Columbia are still without electricity—1.9 million New Yorkers alone are without power. All of the sights and sounds of The Big Apple—the subways, the trains, the city’s skyline—are either submerged underwater or shut off.

    In light of the hurricane’s aftermath, there have been discussions about how the federal government and state governments should handle emergency aid with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

    According to FEMA’s website, the organization’s mission “is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.”

    Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who worked at FEMA from 1993 to 2001, believes FEMA is necessary when a state government’s resources need additional assistance to repair damage, provide shelter to victims, and other disaster relief protocols. FEMA should be available to provide aid to governors who request it, Republican or Democrat, but in no way should FEMA replace the role of local aid operations.

    Lee Witt says “when a state is overwhelmed, or a disaster involves several states, FEMA supports – but never replaces – the local response.”

    Having a resourced to support affected communities in need of disaster relief makes sense, but some argue that FEMA aid is abused. The Department of Homeland Security reported that $643 million had been “wrongly distributed” to 160,000 homes affected by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005.

    Russell S. Sobel of The Citadel urges the federal government to focus on maintaining law and order instead of providing immediate aid and extended assistance—Sobel believes the private sector and local aid provided by churches and other private nonprofits can do a better job coordinating disaster relief programs.

    “After a disaster, government is and must be a productive and important part of the process — just as it is every day in our economy — by ensuring the presence of the two things decentralized markets need to work effectively: unregulated prices and secure property rights,” says Sobel.

    Overall, it can be concluded that most politicians and analysts agree that FEMA must be in place, but the extent to which it is used to still needs to be clarified.

    Lee Witt and Sobel are part of The New York Times debate, “Do We Really Need FEMA?” To read the full articles of their opinions (and others), please click here.

     

    2012 Election Update: Obama has cancelled his presidential campaigning for the past three days to focus on Hurricane Sandy. He visited the FEMA department in Washington D.C. and plans to visit Atlantic City, N.J. to see the damage with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Romney and Ryan’s stances on state-reliant disaster relief and cutting FEMA budgets by 60% are still under scrutiny by the public.

  • Malala Yousafzai Opens Our Eyes to What Really Matters

    Everyday, brave men and woman are tirelessly promoting democracy and basic human rights. In a country such as Pakistan, this heroic task comes with great risk. On Tuesday (10/9/12) Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl from Swat Pakistan, was attacked by the Taliban for her support of girls’ education.

    This inconceivable act of extremism served as a wake up for conservative clerics, secular politicians, military leaders, media figures, and the general population. One media outlet stated “Malala Yousafzai is in critical condition today, and so is Pakistan… we are infected with the cancer of extremism, and unless it is cut out we will slide ever further into the bestiality that this latest atrocity exemplifies.” Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the country’s top military leader, made sure he was the first national leader to visit Malala in the hospital. His rare public showing, served as a symbol of hope and told Pakistan, and the world, exactly where the power and future of his country lies. Kayani announced “Islam guarantees each individual — male or female — equal and inalienable rights to life, property and human dignity.” He also added that the attackers, “have no respect even for the golden words of the prophet . . . that ‘the one who is not kind to children, is not amongst us.’ ” Police have identified a suspect that they believe traveled from eastern Afghanistan.

    Xavier William, a Christian who leads the nondenominational tolerance group Life for All in Pakistan said, “We feel that extremism is rising at an unchecked rate now.” We have seen several recent evils similar to the attack on Malala happening in Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Education said that over the past decade, 550 schools in 11 Taliban-plagued provinces have been forced to close their doors. In Kabul, enemies of female education poisoned a school, leaving 150 girls ill.

    The United States has an obligation to help protect and honor the brave sacrifices that Malala and others have made. In order to create a better world, we must support Malalas’ aspirations to become a doctor and every young person’s right to dream, to learn, and to live the life they imagine for themselves by preventing the Taliban from spreading fear. Malala and her father are two prime examples of people who are ready to change things for the better, and refuse to leave their country behind. The United States must stand with people like that by continuing security assistance to Pakistan and moral leadership.

    As last week’s Washington Post mentioned, the Obama administration is seeking negotiations in an attempt to settle the Afghan conflict. Part of the U.S. position would be to insist that the Taliban must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution. It is very unlikely that the Taliban will ever make this agreement, but if this were to happen, women’s rights in Pakistan would no longer be a big issue. These negotiations will never take place, mostly because a group that stands by their attempted murder of a 14-year-old girl can never be trusted.

    I am hopeful that Malalas’ demonstration of patriotism will change the dynamics in Pakistan, but according to the Taliban spokesman, one of Malala’s worst sins was to “consider President Obama as her ideal leader.” (Los Angeles Times). The Taliban hates the United States and everything that we stand for. As Malala’s story makes it clear, people around the world aspire to build a country similar to our own, where decisions are made by the vote of the people, and not with the guns of extremists. The American Dream is based on opportunity for everyone who seeks it. Let’s hope that what Malala has accomplished will provide the people of Pakistan with some of the basic rights that we take for granted everyday.

  • The Significance of “Faithful Citizenship” in the Voting Booth and Presidential Debate Watch II

    On Tuesday evening, Oct. 17, 2012, the Pell Center co-hosted a lecture and presidential debate watch with The Mercy Center of Spiritual Life and the Religious & Theological Studies Department in Bazarsky Lecture Hall.

    The featured lecturer, Dr. Peter Steinfels of Fordham University, discussed Faithful Citizenship in a Partisan World. Dr. Steinfels defined the meaning of faithful citizenship; explored the conflict between religious faith and political affairs; and connected the relationship between faithful citizenship and theological-political debate to illustrate the anxiety of how today’s voters must make decisions about their informed involvement and their personal stances on moral issues.

    To give a brief secular definition, faithful citizenship means being politically informed and engaged in civic activity, such as joining advocacy groups. Dr. Steinfels emphasized that “active participation” was the key element involved in faithful citizenship. The more religious definition of faithful citizenship, according to the text of Catholic bishops, means “drawing on depths of understanding with the help of Scripture.”

    Dr. Steinfels identified citizenship, faith, morality, conscience, and prudence as the five elements necessary to shape political view.  Faith, in the context of religion, means examining Scripture, but secular context means examining personal faith—our faith to make decisions based on what we believe.  In regards to morality, Dr. Steinfels made an interesting observation about the issue of morality among college students based on observation of his own students at Fordham University. The role of the media, sexuality, religious upbringing, and “discrete personal action” are the four most common subjects that students refer to when discussing the issue of morality.

    Conscience, the notion of what is right or wrong, is, as Dr. Steinfels described, “a gold-plated word in American culture.” Americans value this freedom of conscience, the freedom to choose, because we view our ability to choose as a right. The religious definition of conscience written by the Bishops says it is a “judgment of moral reason […] made after seeking the truth through Scripture.”

    It is evident that the bishops stress the integration of Church teachings and how those teachings from Scripture, should impact the shaping of political opinions. For over 40 years, bishops have tried to reverse Roe v. Wade, but it is still in place.

    Dr. Steinfels argued prudence as the most important virtue, because it is with prudential judgment, the insight and perception, which aligns the other virtues that voters exercise during the election. Dr. Steinfels believes “faithful citizens would employ prudence” when deciding which presidential candidate to vote for.

    Dr. Steinfels also examined how the doctrines of the Catholic Church affect the voting booth. He used the issue of abortion as an example to illustrate the moral tensions not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also the tension of deciding where religious views fit in the legal system. For example, if the Church supports pro-life, should the law decriminalize abortion? The pondering of religious influence on politics lead to the question that has been asked by many for years—If abortion is made illegal, is it the responsibility of the state or the federal government to regulate the issue?

    The most important take-away from the lecture was when Dr. Steinfels claimed that citizenship pervades everyday life by being politically informed and actively participating in civic activities. More importantly, it is a responsibility that should be exercised on a consistent basis—citizenship must extend beyond the presidential election in order to be considered a faithful citizen.

    After the lecture, attendees enjoyed popcorn and refreshments in the O’Hare lobby before watching the debate. The second presidential debate between Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., was moderated by CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley. Regardless of political party, it should be noted that President Obama gave a more energized performance compared to his approach in the first presidential debate held October 3rd.

    There were some technological malfunctions to poll the audience prior to the debate watch, but polls taken after the debate revealed that the audience majority believed that the second debate only confirmed their presidential candidate choices (55%). The majority also believed President Obama won the evening debate (53%) against Romney (33%). Obama was the most supported among the audience (47%), but Romney had a large minority (43%). There were still some individuals who were either undecided (6%) or choosing another candidate (3%).

    The Pell Center will be holding the last Issues Forum and Presidential Debate Watch on October 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm in Bazarsky Lecture Hall in the O’Hare Academic Center.

  • The Electoral College: Does It Matter?

    In case you did not notice the past few months, the 2012 Presidential Election is a big deal. The United States faces two choices that will lead to two very different outcomes. Stimulating our economy, creating jobs for the American people, is on the forefront of the many other issues the nation faces—issues on healthcare, foreign policy, education, and sustainable energy also need to be addressed.

    Americans are highly encouraged to vote for their preferred presidential candidate, come Nov. 6, but I cannot help but wonder about the Electoral College and their role in relation to the popular vote.

    Full disclosure: I knew little to nothing about the Electoral College before I did some research.

    I knew it was not like a typical “college” with a campus, students, dorms, and, if you’re lucky enough, even scholarships. I was fortunate to know that much from the start.

    Created in 1787, the Electoral College is a governmental process during the presidential election. Every four years, the Electoral College representatives for each state are elected by a state’s political parties. On Voting Day, the state delegates then cast their votes and counted by Congress.

    To my understanding, the Electoral College was created because during the 1700s, most people were not as informed enough about the politics in the United States, let alone informed enough about much else. The majority of the educated population comprised of white, land-owning gentlemen.

    Today, in the year 2012, Americans have access to a wealth of information, everywhere from the classrooms of K-12 and higher education to local newspapers in the grocery store. Information can be accessed on the go. Smartphone apps for news outlets—Twitter, CNN, Huffington Post, and The New York Times to list a few—can be viewed on the iPhone, a high-tech device that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. Unlike the 1700s, not only do people have more access to information, but the amount of information is omnipresent and overwhelming.

    It’s hard to argue that the public does not have enough information to make political decisions. If the public has opportunities to be well informed and to choose their personal stance, then why do we still need the Electoral College?

    The popular vote and the Electoral College vote have differed several times in American history. The most recent example of the popular vote and the Electoral College vote dissention is the 2000 Presidential Election. Even though Al Gore won the popular vote, he lost the election because he only had 266 Electoral College votes—George W. Bush won with 271 Electoral College votes. The population is told that every vote counts, but in the end, it is the votes from the representatives of the Electoral College that are tallied for the final election results. An Electoral College prediction model from August 2012 projected Gov. Mitt Romney to win the presidential election.

    What do you think of the Electoral College? Should the government consider eliminating this process and conduct elections counting only the popular vote? Do you know why the Electoral College is still in place? Please share your thoughts below.

    Note: Over 700 proposals have been made to modify or dispose of the Electoral College, but none have passed through Congress.

  • Play Nice: The Importance of Fair Trade

    In a world where the gap between rich and poor keeps growing, fair trade makes a difference.

    The main purpose of fair trade practices is to provide opportunities to impoverished nations and their people. The Fair Trade Federation defines fair trade as “an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system.” Fair Trade organizations ensure workers are in safe labor conditions and paid higher wages to sustain themselves and their families. Employing the poor not only gives them higher wages, but also gives them faith.

    Coffee, tea, bananas, and chocolate are the most common fair trade products. Since 1986, Equal Exchange, a Fair Trade Federation Member, offers products that are “sustainably grown and organic”, in addition to being fair-trade certified. It is apparent fair trade companies view that combining environmental and human awareness are essential to global equality.

    There are corporations, however, who do not integrate fair trade in their businesses. The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010) exposed how child labor and child trafficking on the Ivory Coast are driving forces in the chocolate industry to keep America’s favorite candy bars inexpensive. Several huge chocolate companies, including Mars and Nestle, promised to abolish child trafficking in their production by 2008, but the documentary showed children still working the cocoa plantations.

    As of October 3, 2012, Hershey started the “Raise the Bar, Hershey!” campaign, which promises the company will produce “ethically certified cocoa by its 2020 deadline.” Mars has been using Rainforest Alliance Cocoa and joined sustainable chocolate farming organizations since April 2009.

    By encouraging large corporations to ethically employ impoverished peoples and promoting their products in the market, ethics will become a norm in business. More importantly, everyone is given the opportunity to live a better quality of life. Perhaps we don’t need the latest designer handbag or smartphone, but we have the responsibility as global citizens to help others obtain the resources we all need to survive—food, water, shelter, and hope.

    “Human Trafficking: The Facts.” UN.GIFT. UN.GIFT, 2007. Web. 3 Oct 2012. .

    Fair Trade Federation. Fair Trade Federation, 2012. Web. 3 Oct 2012. .

    Equal Exchange. Equal Exchange, 2012. Web. 3 Oct 2012. .

    “RAISE THE BAR, HERSHEY! CAMPAIGN WELCOMES HERSHEY’S ANNOUNCEMENT TO SOURCE 100% CERTIFIED COCOA BY 2020.” Raise the Bar. Green America, 03 Oct 2012. Web. 3 Oct 2012.

    “MARS, INC. ANNOUNCES SUSTAINABILITY COMMITMENTS FOR COCOA.” . International Labor Rights Forum, 10 Apr 2009. Web. 3 Oct 2012. .