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Claims of War Crimes as Israel-Gaza Conflict Rages On

Operation Protective Edge, the name given to the Israeli Defense Force’s ground assault against Hamas' military arm, is aimed at halting rocket and mortar fire on Israeli territory. In addition to cross border fire, Protective Edge is targeting a network of ground tunnels Hamas’ militants use to infiltrate Israeli territory.

Whatever Israel’s intentions are, one thing is clear; the loss of life has been alarming.

The death toll has passed 1,000 and, according to UN reports, 72 percent of those killed have in fact been civilian, including a larger number of women and children. Last week, an air strike killed five and wounded dozens of others inside a Gaza hospital. Israel’s target was a cache of anti-tank missiles that was identified as being in the “immediate vicinity” of the hospital. More recently, a UN shelter was hit killing 16 and injuring many.   

You Can't Just Flip A Switch: Bringing Renewable Energy to the Developing World

Carlos Pascual, the Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs for the State Department, spoke last week on the new geopolitics of energy and what challenges and opportunities this presents for the future. Most notably, he emphasized the need to consider the developing world moving forward, creating policies that are based on an understanding of finance and that foster transparency.

Today, 1.2. billion people do not have access to electricity and 2.8 billion rely on wood or other biomass to cook and heat their homes. To address this, the UN has put forth its Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030. This is a daunting set of goals; the World Bank estimates that to increase global renewable energy consumption from 13% to 30% or more by 2050 would require an additional “17,000 wind turbines, 215m square meters of solar panels, and 80 solar power plants every year for the next 40 years.”

Meeting the demand for renewable energy, therefore, requires that the cost of this energy decrease. While this can be done partly through investment, it must also be done by reducing the financial barriers placed on this technology. As Peter Brun of the Guardian notes:

Protecting Our Global Habitat

The United States and the global community currently face a variety of challenges, and it is becoming increasingly clear that no one actor is capable of solving all of our global problems. In particular, issues related to the environment need to be resolved collectively, since many environmental concerns do not respect borders or sovereignty. 

These issues range from the preservation of biodiversity to the maintenance of clean watercourses. Many natural resources are labeled as common-pool resources, since single proprietary ownership is not possible and many different groups of people are able to use the same resource simultaneously.1

These resources often face collective action problems due to actors' inability to work together for a common purpose due to self-interest. Moreover, there are also free-rider issues; it is difficult to force all actors to follow actions beneficial to the group if they can receive benefits without doing so.2 This issue is often conceptualized as the tragedy of the commons, which is defined as "the degradation of the environment to be expected whenever many individuals use a scarce resource in common."3

However, these results are not inevitable and can be avoided with effective governance strategies. These strategies need to incorporate the wide variety of actors that use the same resources, and in cases of transnational resources (such as trans-boundary river basins), it is important to coordinate actions between state actors. 

Journalist’s Detention Highlights Importance of Immigration Reform

Vargas Handcuffed (Photo Courtesy of Time Magazine)

US Border Control officers released Jose Antonio Vargas last Wednesday, after holding him overnight at an airport in McAllen, TX, for failing to provide proper identification. Vargas, 33, is a Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist and the star of the critically-acclaimed film Documented, which chronicles Vargas' life in the US as an undoucmented migrant.

Vargas’ arrest sparked outrage in the US, where he had lived for more than two decades without a single encounter with law enforcement.

Vargas initially came to the US at the age of 12, with a man who allegedly was his uncle. After successfully crossing the border with this “uncle," Vargas went to California to live with his grandfather and grandmother, both of whom were naturalized US citizens.

In California, Vargas enrolled in a nearby middle school, where he quickly assimilated into American life and customs. He mastered English, acquired friends, and aspired toward “typical” teenage goals like learning to drive.

Vargas discovered that his Green Card was fake when applying for a driver’s license. He confronted his grandfather, seeking the truth about his citizenship status. His grandfather confessed that Vargas’ supposed “uncle” was really a coyote, hired to bring Vargas over the border illegally.

Vargas’ story is further complicated by the recent passage of Obama’s Dream Act, which provides a legal path to citizenship for those who came to the US as young children, stayed at least five years, and graduated from high school. Vargas is 33, and the Dream Act only applies to persons aged 15-30.

Green is the New Black

Selfies, hashtags, and Priuses (or is it Prii?). What do these 3 things have in common? They all have been or still are trends.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I’ve seen first hand how going green – biking, composting, recycling, etc. – can be just as trendy as crop tops and iPhones. Now as a student at UC Berkeley, I’ve also seen the growing demand for organic food and fair-traded products, among other things; many people flock to buy these products though they remain relatively expensive. But are these products trendy because they are expensive or are they expensive because they are trendy?

It should be noted that the main reason these products remain so expensive is because of their quality. Organic food costs more to produce and fair-traded products pay local farmers a higher fee, which is then passed on to the consumer. That being said, there are also examples of inflation, such as when Whole Foods artificially inflated prices for a wide variety of items.

Could the Use of Rockets be Banned in the Middle East?

The use of rockets by Islamic groups from Gaza toward Israel and the more deadly use of rockets and bombs by Israeli forces toward Gaza have dramatically raised the possibility of banning rocket use in the Middle East.

Arms control in this region has always been difficult, as the Middle East has no equivalent of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a universal organization, the United Nations has difficulty dealing with regional security matters. There are UN regional bodies to deal with economic and social issues, but not security-related ones.

Thus, discussions and negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program is an ad hoc grouping. Likewise, negotiations on a Middle East Nuclear-weapon Free Zone often proposed by UN General Assembly resolutions—as well as agreed upon during the 5-year reviews of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons—has never advanced (though Finland had proposed to host a governmental conference on the issue).

The Arms Control and Regional Security Working Group (ACRS) was created during the 1992-1995 period, evolving from the Madrid “peace process” with 14 States. In the words of then US Secretary of State James Baker, the agenda of the Working Group was to consider

Roméo Dallaire: Leaving the Senate But Not the Life of Service

In Canada, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is a household name. When asked in elementary school to write a composition on a Canadian Hero, students invariably gnash their teeth in frustration as they find themselves presenting eight or nine identical essays on the famed commander of the ill-fated 1994 UNAMIR mission in Rwanda.

In his bestselling Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire recounts his experiences as a witness to the horrific mass murder of 800,000 men, women and children despite his peacekeeping force’s best attempts to prevent the slaughter.

The titled failure of humanity refers not only to the massacres, but also to the murderous passivity of the international community, whose failure to intervene despite Dallaire’s pleas and whose lethal withdrawal of resources and support from UNAMIR depleted Dallaire’s forces, abetting the killing of civilians for months.

North Carolina's Huge Risks with Rising Sea Levels

A map of projected sea level rise on North Carolina's coast

Despite the obvious danger that rising sea levels pose to communities on the Gulf Coast, tensions over climate change are flaring most acutely in the beach towns of North Carolina. In 2010, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) established the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission (NCRC) to study the effects of rising sea levels by 2100. Lawmakers were dismayed when the report predicted a 39-inch rise in sea level by 2100.

A map of projected sea level rise on North Carolina's coastBy the summer of 2011, realtors and community members living on North Carolina’s Outer Banks saw the figures and were shocked. Even worse, the state was already developing a website to enable residents to check the vulnerability of their property. In response to this news, realty organizations fought back against the commission’s report, arguing that its scientific methods were questionable, lacking an assessment of economic impact, and devoid of any maps.

Pirates, the Printing Press and Global Democracy

Cell phones have facilitated access to health care for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile applications are enhancing government accountability with respect to sexual violence. Social media is augmenting disaster response and emergency management.

Digital technology has drastically impacted some of the most routine facets of our lives. Beyond this new threshold of interconnectedness, we should consider digital technology’s impact on citizenship and governance in the future.

When Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1436, he knew it would ease the labor of monks who spent all day manually copying the Bible. He probably didn’t think it would fuel colonization of the New World, make custom t-shirts or enable representative democracy. Imagine the difficulties of lobbying, holding elections, and organizing political parties without the ability to mass produce written correspondence.

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond says, “Invention is often the mother of necessity, rather than vice versa.” Diamond’s point, outlined in the NY Times, is that inventors often create new products and the society finds a use for the product afterward.

Just as Gutenberg did not anticipate his press would promote literacy, mass media, and eventually enable the rise of Twitter, today’s technological developments have immeasurable possibilities.

Think Globally, Act Locally

Egyptian women demonstrating in Cairo's Tahrir Square

I never would have imagined that my 2010 summer in Egypt would change the trajectory of my life. However, my time there gave me critical exposure to social inequities in "Pre-Arab Spring" Cairo. It was there that I discovered my passion for social justice and the strength of global cooperation.  

Six months later, it was at that same Tahrir Square that I passed every day in which thousands mobilized to demand change in what began the 25 January 2011 Revolution and Arab Spring of Egypt. 

The truth is that young people around the world are becoming larger players in their societies. When we speak about global issues that we urge our international communities to address-- such as poverty alleviation, women's empowerment, access to education, and health equity--we cannot deny the role of young people in seeking change.

One of the biggest root issues that plague our global community is the lack of outlets that young people have to make their voice heard and create those changes. Local governments are not always doing the best job and aren't holding themselves accountable.

As a country and government, we can help create outlets for young people to raise their voices globally. We must invest in local NGOs and help develop civic society so that young people have channels to properly voice their concerns and demand systemic reforms from their local institutions.

The Arab Spring is a prime example of how active our youth is; oftentimes youth will take to the streets if they feel that they are not being heard. Young people are interconnected, multilingual, and globalized. Before our global community can tackle any issue on a larger level, we must look at ourselves and ensure that we are investing in local, youth-driven initiatives for change towards issues related to health, education, and economic opportunity. Young people have answers, and they can be part of the solution.