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Sometimes, when we are up late studying history for some boring test the next day, we forget the significance of what we are reading. I, personally, find it hard to see the relevance of random wars and power changes on my life. I rush through the reading and memorize the dates but most of the time I couldn’t care less about the time period I am studying. But, today’s news will be history in just a few days from now. And, the great thing is, that ten years from now, students all around the world will be complaining about their test over the “The Middle Eastern Revolutions of 2011”.

It started with a small country in North Africa. In December 2010, the people of Tunisia stood up to President Ali and ultimately overthrew his regime. Apparently, his administration had let the country go to ruins. The high unemployment, inflation, and violation of rights were becoming to much for the citizens. A revolt would certainly be a welcome change to the status quo. Was is the right choice? I guess we’ll see.

This sentiment then spread to Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak had been in power for 30 years. His inhumane regime supported a plainclothes police force hired by Mubarak’s party, the Baltageya. Amid numerous police brutality cases and human rights violations, Mubarak’s rule has also featured a plethora of political corruption. The case for revolt in Egypt is convincing too. Will it turn out well for them? Actually, it probably will. They are lucky enough to have a responsible military. But what about the countries that don’t?

I think some people forget that after revolution comes reconstruction. It’s easier to tear something down than it is to build it back up. And to construct a better version of the government you just tore apart? That’s tough.

With the power of grassroots movement, the government is actually very vulnerable. The past few months have shown that. But, what’s to say the people will do any better running the country? Will they elect a leader that is more altruistic? Maybe they will. But, if the next leader is just as greedy and selfish, they will be back to square one. Except now they also have hundreds of deaths on their hands.

So, when people talk about revolt, there should probably be a threshold for what they really mean. The situation should be bad enough so that ANY change would be favorable. The economy and/or societal welfare should be so terrible that one would risk worse conditions just for the chance of a positive change.

I’ve heard some people in the past few months complain about the U.S. government. They think that because Congress is so ineffective, we should radically change the system of government. Some people even say we should break it down and start all over.

My main question is, why would anarchy be any better than what we have right now? Why would tearing down the constitution that has served as a model for countries around the world lead to a better system? Revolution breeds change. But, it’s up to the people to make that change a good one. If one person can win the support of the movement and slowly become a fascist dictator, well then, your country will be like Germany in the 1920s.

Was revolution justified in Tunisia and Egypt? Probably. They had enough problems with their government that it was worth the risk of tearing it down and starting over again. But for those who think tearing down the U.S. government would help (libertarians included), you should probably think harder. Do you know more about politics than the founding fathers did? If you do, then maybe you should elect some better leaders or maybe lead a class action lawsuit and stop complaining.

Sometimes, though, change is needed. The revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia are both historic and inspiring. But, let’s not get carried away…

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In May 2010, the U.S. launched an air strike against an Al Qaeda stronghold located in Yemen. While many news agencies reported this as a success, it turns out that this strike actually killed the province’s deputy governor. This respected leader had been using political means to try to convince Al Qaeda that the terrorist fight was not worth it. His tragic death was used as a rallying point for Al Qaeda supporters and portrayed as propaganda to spark a wave of anti-americanism. The U.S.-influenced Yemen president, Ali Saleh, had to essentially bribe local tribes in order to stop the ensuing violence.

The scary part is that in May the media depicted this air strike as the work of an old Soviet-era air force regiment controlled by President Saleh. However, we found out later that this was actually a secret mission ordered by the Obama administration and intentionally hidden from the public. Only recently have we discovered that there are more “shadow” missions like this one.

Although Obama won the election on a wave of anti-war sentiment, the United States has increased military and intelligence operations in about a dozen countries. These “Special Access Programs” are being conducted in countries like Pakistan and places in North Africa. Apparently since Al-Qaeda is running a covert operation against the U.S., we’re allowed to run a secret mission back.

The difference is, of course, that we are a respected country not a terrorist organization. Or at least we should be. The problem with names such as “The War on Terror” is that they justify going to war with anything that the president constitutes as “terror”. And although this president is attacking countries that actually have Al-Qaeda operatives located within them, the logic behind these attacks is very close to the Bush Doctrine.

Supporters of these attacks will say that these strikes are necessary for homeland security. They will note that terrorism has changed the world and the U.S. should change with it. The assumption behind these claims is, however, that these strikes work. Many people forget that for every innocent man or women that is killed, more children are abandoned and seek refuge and revenge through terrorist organizations. They will grow up with a strong, logical reason to hate America. We may actually be breeding more terrorists.

The Al Qaeda Yemen branch is currently as strong as ever. If we didn’t learn this lesson during the failed missions of the cold war, we should at least come to grips with it now. No matter how good our military drones and assault planes are, we can’t beat terrorists by shooting at them.

After all, in the eyes of a child whose parents were just killed by an American air strike, aren’t we the terrorists?

As you all probably know, Obama visited Texas today. His 6 hour trip to this overwhelmingly Republican state was much more about fundraising than it was campaigning. Obama’s approval is low enough that Democratic politicians like Bill White and Mark Strama are trying to distance themselves from him. But, the highlight of this trip, at least in the eyes of thousands of UT students and faculty, was his speech in Gregory Gym.

While Obama was expected to make his appearance at 2 pm, the line outside of Gregory Gym apparently started around 9 am. There were three different kinds of tickets: “floor”, “bleacher”, and “balcony”. Once again, I was amazed with how efficiently this event ran. There were people passing out water while we were waiting and almost exactly at 12 pm the line started to move quickly into the gym.

Obama’s speech emphasized the importance of higher education in this evolving world. And to address the critics that want him to focus solely on the economy, he drilled in the point that an educated workforce is the first step to a growing economy. Like always, Obama had facts to back up his points. One-third of college students, and one half of the minority students, don’t earn a degree even after six years. Not only that, but America has fallen from 1st in the world to 12th in terms of college graduation rates in the span of one generation.

This is as close as I got.

This got me thinking. Deficit spending and unemployment benefits are only temporary fixes for the economy. Without a top-notch, well-educated workforce, however, America’s decline is inevitable. We can invest in renewable energies and biotechnology all we want; but, without innovators and critical thinkers, that money would go to waste.

As we’ve seen in the past few years, many jobs can easily be outsourced. Factories and call centers don’t have to be in America anymore. But, you can’t outsource innovation. If we have better thinkers here in America, it won’t matter how cheap labor can be in other parts of the world. Companies will succeed here as long as we have a leg up on education.

So while education may not be the answer to our current financial crisis, it may just be the fulcrum of our long term economic growth.

In other news, Naveen and I were quoted in thisĀ Dallas Morning News article about Obama’s visit.

I’ve often heard critics say that the young people in our country are apathetic about politics. This is somewhat hard to believe. First of all, the 2008 election was a huge talking point at my high school. People who weren’t even old enough to vote were donning their “Obama ’08” t-shirts and passing out Obama stickers. But then again, presidential elections are exciting for everyone right? The real test of apathy, or lack thereof, would be how the young react to politics during a downtime.

The president’s administration recently announced that Obama would be giving a speech at UT Austin this coming Monday. This appearance will be an invitation-only event with a “limited” number of tickets for students who can show their valid UT student IDs. While he endures a record low approval rating of 44%, students were asked to line up for a chance at one of these “golden tickets” to hear him speak.

A critic may take this opportunity to predict a low student turnout to prove to the public that Obama’s “honeymoon” period is over. This was most definitely not the case. Not this president. Not at this university.

My brother, my friend, and I arrived at the Texas Union at 10:30 PM Friday night ready to camp out all night for tickets to see Obama. The line was officially supposed to begin at 10 PM, just half an hour before we got there. To our surprise, there were already at least 500 people ahead of us.

Although we weren’t sure if we were going to get tickets, we decided to wait it out. Fortunately, the Texas Democrats organized a voucher system for us to claim a line number and then return in the morning to resume the wait. This method worked flawlessly and we arrived at around 7 AM to find at least 1000 people waiting in a massive line.

The line stretches down the entire street.

Somehow, we only had to wait until 8:30 to receive our tickets. The whole process was surprisingly efficient (I guess that’s what happens when Democrats run an event).

My Golden Ticket

Besides from walking away very happy with the prospect of seeing Obama in a couple of days, I also realized something very exciting. We, the young people of the nation, are definitely not apathetic about politics.

But one question still remains: how many people would have lined up if George W. Bush was coming in to town?

Okay, the mosque won’t be “on” Ground Zero. The Financial Times says it will be a “stone’s throw” from Ground Zero. It might take an olympic athlete’s arm to throw a stone the full two blocks that stand between the planned mosque and Ground Zero, but the fact remains: it’s pretty damn close to where the twin towers stood nine years ago.

Initially, I kind of agreed with the New Yorkers on this one. Although the 9/11 attacks obviously didn’t represent all or even a majority of Islam, it was an act of Islamic agression against our country. Because of this, it may seem kind of inconsiderate or even rude to ask New York to endorse the construction of this multi-story symbol of Islam. After all, would the Muslims appreciate it if the Christians wanted to build a church on the site of a Crusade massacre?

But then, I thought again. The majority of Islam was appalled at the actions of Al-Qaeda on September 11th. And, this mosque would actually attract these moderate muslims. Support and tolerance for this mosque could be a powerful symbol to the Islamic world that it is safe and even encouraged to be a Muslim in America. Intolerance towards religion was one of the reasons the attack on the World Trade Center happened in the first place, right?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is with me on this one, too. Allowing a mosque to be built near Ground Zero isn’t just constitutional, it’s also a symbol of strength. This is America. We want to be known as the shining beacon that accepts all types of people. Compromising our strong values just so we can sleep better at night knowing Ground Zero is Islam-free is exactly what Al-Qaeda would have wanted.

So the construction of the mosque, which will include a 9/11 memorial, is neither insulting nor tolerable. It is, in fact, a powerful symbol of moral tenacity in an overwhelmingly intolerant world.

How did Proposition 8 pass in California in the first place?

Nobody really knows.

But somehow it took almost two years and a gay federal court judge to finally overturn this oppressive law. Chief Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 on the constitutional grounds of equal protection and due process. For those of you that don’t know, Proposition 8 states that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”.

For some reason many of us are under the impression that the GLBTQ movement in America has been making amazing strides in the last few years. While progress is definitely underway, same-sex marriage is only legally granted in 5 out of the 50 states. Good job America.

I never really understood the point of going out of your way to pass laws that restrict other people. It makes some sense to pass laws like drinking age or even a ban on illicit drugs. While these laws are oppressive, at least they effect everybody (i.e. on the road, in public places, etc). If you aren’t gay, why should you care if they can get married? Why should you care that they can visit their partners in hospitals? If you can help other people be happy with no cost to yourself, what’s the problem? To all the evangelicals out there, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought compassion was a key part of Christianity.

Then again if being gay is a choice, then these people are making the wrong choice, right? Actually, no. Nobody would choose to become a part of an oppressed social group. Also, there are plenty of examples of animals in the wild being gay. Darwin would concur: a gene that makes an animal “looser” and more tolerant of different mates could, plausibly, be selected for. Don’t believe me? Believe this. They are obviously born gay and should be treated just like any other citizen.

Anyway, this fight is far from over. There will definitely be multiple appeals to this decision. But, hopefully, this makes it to the supreme court and America can finally take a great step forward in the area of social justice.

Has Obama followed through with his promise for Iraqi troop withdrawal?

Actually, yeah.

By the end of this month all U.S. combat troops in Iraq will come home. While some naysayers are still complaining that 50,000 troops will still be left in Iraq, I say that these troops are necessary forĀ the continuing growth of a new government. These troops’ primary duty will not be combat. Instead, they will be instructed to train Iraqi troops and continue rebuilding.

It’s pretty sad the way the media portrays news. It makes sense, but it’s sad. Reporting on Iraq became drab and dull after the stories became repetitive and people started losing interest. Because of this, many Americans probably forgot that our troops were still dying and insurgents were still fighting. The fact is, July 2010 was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since 2008. The war was still going on and there was no end in sight…until now.

Most of us probably remember the controversy when President Bush started this terrible war. We also remember the harsh criticism he received for this decision in the succeeding years. But soon this debate started to get boring. Supporters said we were winning and opponents said one can’t win a war without a purpose.

There was no easy fix. If we pulled out, some would say those who died gave their lives in vain. If we stayed in Iraq, more troops would die and more money would be spent. Bush couldn’t flip flop on his decision by supporting a withdrawal and had McCain won, he wouldn’t have been able to branch out from his neocon, Bush doctrine supporting, political base.

So, thank you Obama for making the tough decision. We’ve helped the Iraqi government incorporate democracy and we’ve gotten rid of Saddam Hussein’s oppression. That’s a victory….right?

P.S. Happy birthday, Obama.