Gun control: a problem or a solution?

Last Tuesday a gunman walked into Reynolds High School near Portland (Oregon) with a rifle and shot a student to death before he was later found dead. This is the third outbreak of gun violence to shake a U.S. high school or college campus in less than three weeks. Last week, a man opened fire at Seattle Pacific University killing a 19-year-old freshman, Paul Lee, and inuring other 2 students. And on the 23rd of May, a man killed 6 people and wounded 7 more in Santa Barbara, California.

The incident in Oregon was the 74th school shooting in the U.S. since the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in the U.S. about 1 out of every 4.5 million school kids between the ages of 5 and 18 dies from homicide each year at school or getting there and back, . That works out to about 10 to 30 kids a year, or about 1% of all kids who die from homicide.

The U.S.A. has more guns than any other industrialized nation, is it just a matter of personal security? Some people argue that they don’t expect the police to defend themselves because by the time they call the police, it’s too late. Therefore thy obtain guns for self-defence. This creates a vicious cycle: thief or criminal in America carries a gun because he doesn’t know if the other person (eg. owner of the house) has a gun. As Mr. Ryan Turner, president of Democrats Abroad Madrid, said in an interview: “So when someone enters your house, you are very scared because you think they carry a gun. Here in Europe in general, it might not cross our mind that the burglar has a AK47 Kalashnikov. Usually burglars are quick and they don’t normally use violence”

second amendment

On the 10th of June 2014, Obama showed his concern regarding the issue of guns’ control inside his country by saying: “My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage”

As response to the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, Barack Obama threw on January 16th (2013) the major offer on the control of weapon of the last two decades. The legislative offers were destined to avoid that the weapon comes to inadequate hands, to prohibit the sale of the weapon, to increase the safety in the schools and to improve the services of mental health.The legislative offers had three fundamental changes: to prohibit the rifles of assault, to limit the number of bullets in the loaders, and to extend the control of the precedents for all the transactions of weapons.However, when the legislation came to the Senate in April, it failed to get the 60 votes needed and all Obama’s major initiatives, including the background checks, were defeated and have remained stalled ever since. Nevertheless, The American president promised, that “sooner or later” a more strict legislation would be achieved for the control of weapon.

In our opinion, gun regulation must be stricter. We think the United States has already suffered for a lot of murders and something must be changed in order to prevent those shootings from happening again. We don’t argue against the Second Amendment which gives you the right of owning a gun, we consider that as well as other products and services, guns must follow some kind of control, regulations and limitations. We think the government should try and not be influence by powerful lobbies such as the NRA and try to create pieces of legislation that protects the citizens of the U.S.A.

“The eternal question of politics” – An insight into gun control and health care in the U.S.A.

For the last three months, some of my classmates and I have been writing news and opinion articles on the region of North America. For my last assignment I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Ryan Turner, current Madrid Chapter President of Democrats Abroad, which is a non-profit organization working in spreading the Democratic message to U.S. voters in other countries and encouraging them to vote for Democratic candidates back home. I decided to contact Mr. Turner because he is an American international relations professional who is directly connected to the Obama Administration. I was very lucky to discuss with Mr. Turner important issues for the American society such as gun control and health care system.

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Left: Paula Padrino (student at Universidad Europea de Madrid – Interviewer); Right: Ryan Turner (President of Democrats Abroad in Madrid – Interviewee)

 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare“, is a United States federal statute signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Mr. Turner explained that the aim of this law was to provide those 45-50 millions of uninsured Americans with health care coverage.

In order to make this possible, the government had to guarantee the health care insurance companies that they will have customers by creating a mandate (every citizen of the U.S. need to have some kind of health care coverage). This mandate is one the causes for the opposition coming from republicans, they think that this legislation violates individual rights. However, as Mr. Turner said: “How do you convince insurance companies to willingly participate in this market if they don’t have any assurance that they will have customers?”

“You shouldn’t think of health care as just a sick care, health care is not design to be used when you have already gotten cancer. Its aim is to prevent people from getting the cancer in the first place” – Mr. Turner claimed. He added that there is an open conversation and Obama tried to make people aware that there is another way to think about health care.

Mr. Ryan Turner owns a post-graduate degree in IR and Economics from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. As he has been living in Madrid for quite a while now, I asked him if the Affordable Care Act could be considered an “Europeanization” of the U.S. system. He didn’t think that the American system is very comparable to the European health care system and he argued that the health care market that has been created is still private.

He continued by saying: “It’s not private in the same way that Spain or other European countries want to privatize their health care. In Spain there is a debate on privatizing health care but really is about privatizing management of the health care system. The American system is still maintaining a private market where insurance companies compete for this pool of 50 million uninsured Americans. The European system already provides health services to everyone”.

He mentioned another difference related to culture or mentality. “For example in Spain no one debates if everyone should have access to medical care, however in the States, the debate is why should I pay for anybody’s health insurance but my own. It’s a very unique American concept. There are two different cultural ideas”. This is a very individualistic view, which he hopes it will change.

Relating this concept of the American society being more individualistic, we discussed the controversial topic of gun regulation. My first question regarding this issue was if personal security is the reason why the U.S.A. has more guns than any other industrialized nation. Mr. Turner responded that judging from the national conversation, it is not just for personal security. He also thinks that there are a lot of people who own fire guns just because it is their constitutional right. Furthermore, he explained that there is another argument that is being debated since the National Rifle Association (NRA) has transferred their role from being an advocate of gun safety to becoming an organization for promoting gun ownership, that guns make people safer: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Moreover the NRA is pushing for teachers to have guns within the classrooms. Mr. Turner thinks its too much responsibility: “We shouldn’t be expected to know how to use a gun in order to be able to conduct normal civic life in the public form”. In Georgia for example (the state which Mr. Ryan is from) you are allowed to carry a loaded rifle with a magazine and walk into a mall or a restaurant. “It is true that the fact that the gun is exposed will deter violence from around them. However, how do people around you know that you are the good guy?” – he added.

Finally, I asked Mr. Turner what kind of measures could be taken in order to prevent mass shooting, such as Newtown, from happening again. He thinks that the gun industry needs to be regulated. “There is a lot of debate about how that regulation should happen, no one is saying that you shouldn’t have the right to have a gun” He thinks that restrictions on the type of gun that you have, the quantity ammunition you can carry and background checks should be made.

As a way to end my interview we discussed the conflict of interest in the political life. When it comes to legislation, it is hard for politicians to create policies for the long-term because their interests are always short-term. it is very difficult to tackle long-term issues like health care reforms. “Its hard for us to look 30 years down the road because no one wants to do it. This is the eternal question of politics”

 

11.06.2014

 

Paula Padrino Vilela

Taliban release last U.S. military prisoner of war

Last Saturday 31st of May, the Haqqani group (Islamist insurgent group) liberated the last American prisoner of both Iraq and Afghanistan war. Bowe Bergdah, an American soldier who was held hostage since the 30th of June 2009, was released in exchange of five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison.

 

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was delivered to the U.S. Special Forces in the east of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. Authorities declared that during the exchange there was no violence and that Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk. However he was taken to an American military hospital in Germany after receiving medical care at Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said that Bergdahl is showing improvement during his treatment after nearly five years in captivity and that there’s no “set timeline” to move him into an American hospital to continue his medical treatment.

The five Taliban involved in the swap were high-ranking members of the Taliban government (Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq) who were arrested by the U.S. in 2001. All of them fled together to Qatar in order to culminate the exchange.

 

This operation was the result of indirect negotiations between the United States and Taliban with the intermediation of the government of Qatar. Qatar agreed to take the Taliban detainees and said it would allow the United States to track the five men in the Gulf emirate. Under that arrangement, the United States installed extensive surveillance equipment to monitor their movements and communications.

In his early twenties, Bowe Bergdahl enlisted in 2008 without telling his parents. He was drawn by recruiters’ promises that he would be able to go overseas to help people. Once deployed to Afghanistan, he was disillusioned with the U.S. military mission. In his final email to his parents before his capture, he wrote: “I am ashamed to even be an American”.

After telling his comrades he was disillusioned, Bergdahl disappeared off his base in Afghanistan and was captured by Taliban fighters. After being captured, some fellow soldiers believed he willingly walked away from his post and called him a traitor. That morning Bergdahl’s unit started searching for him, as he didn’t show up for roll call. Members of his army still blame him for the deaths of other soldiers sent out to rescue him.

The price paid for the release of the Sergeant (the liberation of five former Taliban leaders from Guantanamo to Qatar) is a very controversial issue. Although some Republican members of the U.S. Congress have said the prisoner swap was a dangerous precedent, Obama stands by his decision and said on the G7 Summit in Belgium: “I make no apologies for making sure we get a young man back to his parents”. Furthermore, Mr Hagel, US Secretary of Defense, said that “This was the right decision for the right reasons”, “We don’t leave our people behind”.

Finally last Saturday Bowe’s parents appeared with President Obama at the White House to announce their son’s release. Obama argued that the U.S.A. never leaves the men and women in uniform behind. He thanked the government and Emir of Qatar for their help and their assurance to put measures to protect American national security. Due to the allegations of dissertation the American Army is going to review the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture and authorities say they will not ignore any misconduct by the released detainee. However, John McHugh, the secretary of the US army, said on Tuesday that officials would interview Bergdahl about the circumstances of his disappearance in Afghanistan once completes a rehabilitation programme in Germany. In addition, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated the former detainee should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Obama announces future foreign policy at West Point

On May 28th, President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Military Academy at West Point to define America’s doctrine on foreign policy.

 

Obama started his intervention by congratulating the newest officers in the United States Army. He pointed out that this year’s graduates are the first class who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11. Things have changed since he first spoke at West Point in 2009. At that time, more than 100,000 troops were deployed in Iraq, they were preparing an invasion to Afghanistan, they were trying to fight terrorism and America was just starting to enter one of its biggest economic crises.

Furthermore, this speech is the closest Obama has been to defining his foreign policy doctrine. Obama mentions how the world is changing rapidly, how Americans must adapt to the new situations and shift from military-interventionism to collective action and diplomacy. “U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail” He also explained that the U.S. and it’s important role in the international system is not in decline, on the contrary, he describes America as “the one indispensable nation” which the world looks to for help.

Regarding the use of military force, U.S. president insisted that America should never ask for permission to protect its citizens or its homeland. The U.S.A. will use military force if it’s in the interest of the country, Americans are threatened or its allies are in danger. He added that in the rest of the cases, U.S.A. will always look for other ways to solve issues such as international law, diplomacy or sanctions and isolation, for instance, the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Moreover, he defended his decision not to intervene in Syria and he offered support to Syria’s neighbours who are the hosts of thousands of refugees.

Unlike other speeches, this one was characterized by its foreign policy announcements. For instance, he is going to ask the Congress to support a new $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnership Fund that will be used to help and assist partner countries (such as Yemen or Mali) on the front lines. In addition, Obama announced that American presence in Afghanistan will be reduced by the end of 2016.

Obama also highlighted some aspects of the environment and climate change.He thinks that climate change is a national security threat, so it must be combated as such. U.S.A. plans to develop a treaty during the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate. “That spirit of cooperation must energize the global effort to combat climate change – a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we’re called on to respond to refugee flows, natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food,” Obama said. He emphasized the threat posed by the development of technology and globalization, saying that they have “put power once reserved for states in the hands of the individual, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.”

U.S. is nowadays a reference and the entity to which any state or any region goes to ask for help or advice. Military forces are and will be very important for the president and the citizens of the U.S  in order to maintain the peace and the stability of the country.

 

U.S.A. accuses China of cyber-espionage against American enterprises.

On May 19, five Chinese military officers were accused by a grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania (WDPA) for spying six American nuclear power, metals and solar products companies in order to steal trade secrets. China, on the contrary, denies these accusations and warns that bilateral relations between the two countries are going to be damaged.

A few days after the announcement of the American accusation, China signed a 30 year-gas-supply agreement with Russia, American’s rival counterpart due to the friction in Ukraine.

The defendants Gu Chunhui, Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu and Huang Zhenyu were officers in Unit 61398 of the Third Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The indictment alleges that the defendants hacked or intended to hack into the following American entities: Westinghouse Electric Co., U.S. subsidiaries of SolarWorld AG (SolarWorld); United States Steel Corp; Allegheny Technologies Inc; the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union; and Alcoa Inc. Mandiant, an American Cyber security firm, identified Unit 61398 as the source of a large Lumber of espionage operations. Unit 61398 is said not to be one of the most sophisticated bodies in China but it has hundreds of active spies.

It is the first time that the U.S.A. has filed charges against specific foreign officials for criminal hacking. However, it’s not the first time that the U.S. has taken measures to try and stop cyber espionage. For instance, on the 6th of September 2013 president Obama met the Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in the city of St. Petersburg to talk about cyber espionage among many other issues.

China has denied the implication of its citizens regarding these criminal acts. Geng Yansheng, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, met with the U.S. Ambassador in Beijin, Max Baucus shortly after the U.S. charged the five Chinese officials and stated, “The Chinese government and military and its associated personnel have never conducted or participated in the theft of trade secrets over the Internet”.

China warns that the indictment is likely to damage the relationship between both countries. During the last decade, the accusations coming from both countries regarding cyber espionage are becoming more frequent. The two biggest economic forces have entered in a spiral of accusations and complaints dealing with the steal of national security information.

China denies the existence of this serious problem. What the U.S. expects from China is the elimination of the Sino-US Cyber Working Group’s interactions. Moreover, this indictment is merely an accusation, a defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. The U.S. is going to go forward with the charges, probably in order to prove its commitment to the protection of American businesses and for the absence of a better idea. However, sceptics said that U.S. authorities would not be able to arrest the Chinese officials because Beijing would not hand them over. Still, they won’t be able to travel to the United States or other countries that have an extradition agreement with the United States.

U.S. response to the abduction of the Nigerian girls

The abduction of more than 200 young Nigerian girls, most of them Christian, from the Government Secondary boarding school in Chibok by the terrorist group Boko Haram on the 14th of April this year, has led to an increase in social media activism. On May 9th, due to the strong social pressure, the U.S.A. sent a group of 16 military personnel from U.S Africa Command to join an interdisciplinary team working from the U.S. embassy in Abuja to try and help the Nigerian government forces to free the schoolgirls.

 

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the terrorist group, claimed that he will sell the girls as God had instructed him. Moreover, he considers that the girls shouldn’t have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married. Those girls were considered to receive a western education, this, in addition to their religious beliefs led to their abduction by this terrorist group whose name can be translated as “non-Islamic education is a sin”.

 

The role of the U.S.A. is of key importance in the international arena. On May 9th, the U.S. decided to send help to the Nigerian government in order to free the innocent girls. “The main role of this interdisciplinary group is to assess the situation, advise and assist the Nigerian government in their efforts to respond to the crisis situation and find the young women kidnapped by Boko Haram”- Army Colonel Steve Warren explained. According to the Pentagon, the members of the team sent to Nigeria are specialized in communications, logistics, civil affairs, operations and intelligence.

 

American citizens have asked the U.S. army to step into the problem using several campaigns in the social media. World-known personalities such as The First Lady of the U.S.A., Michele Obama, Amy Phoeler, Angelina Jolie, Malala Yousafzai or Hilary Clinton have raised their awareness and joined the social media campaign “Bring Back Our Girls” that urges for a military intervention in order to rescue the schoolgirls in the African country. According to Topsy, a site that offers Twitter analytics, thousands of tweets using (hash)BringBackOurGirls are being posted everyday. This shows the level of concern of the whole international community, not just Americans. Furthermore, on the 10th of May (Mother’s Day) Michelle Obama gave a speech to campaign for the girl’s release. It is very unusual for a First Lady to address national policy issues on her own. She said she and his husband Barack Obama were heartbroken over the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls.

 

Apart from the U.S. intervention, other countries have offered their help to the Nigerian government. The United Kingdom, France, China, Canada, Spain, Cameroon and Chad, among some others, have compromised to share valuable information and send skilled teams to the field. At the international level, the members of the U.N. Security Council expressed outrage over the abductions stating that appropriate measures against Boko Haram will be taken.

 

All in all, the public opinion is shocked by these terrorist acts and the U.S.A. seems to be trying to help liberate the girls from their abductors. As Obama said: “We’re going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them. In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies”.