Mayhem in Mali

“There is no alternative. For some of these more radical groups, it’s going to take military force… We shouldn’t be optimistic that this is going to be a one- or two-week surgical strike, and then we go home.” – Jack Christofides, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

The president has had his hands full these days. Problems at home and abroad are pressing from all sides, and even though he no longer needs to worry about his re-election bid, Barack Obama has plenty of other worries to keep him up at night: A quickly-approaching fiscal cliff, yet more fallout from September’s Benghazi attacks, the appointment of the next Secretary of State, uncertain outcomes from the latest conflicts between Israel and Hamas, continuing violence in Syria, and a still-unresolved nuclear bone to pick with Iran, just to name a few. But one story that hasn’t gotten much attention, from president or press, is the ongoing violence and chaos that has gripped Mali for the past eight months.

A satellite image of Mali. Radical Islamists have taken over the northern desert region (known as the Azawad), an area roughly the size of France. (public domain)

Perhaps a bit of history is in order. Back in March, a group of soldiers staged a coup d’état, seizing the presidential palace and dissolving the government. In the aftermath of the coup, a group called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA, in the French acronym) unilaterally declared that northern Mali, an area known as Azawad, was to be a free and independent state. The rebels backed their words with deeds, taking the northern Malian cities of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal in a matter of days. After these gains, the MNLA was joined and eventually sidelined (or fought) by militant Islamist groups, a number of them with ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

These Islamists are now the effective rulers of northern Mali (and have dropped the MNLA’s calls for secession), enforcing a brutally repressive regime on its inhabitants. The groups, rather than hoping to split northern Mali off from the rest of the state, are instead looking to enforce their radical view of Shari’a law on the entire nation, putting the still-unstable south at risk as well. Reports coming out of northern Malian cities like Gao and Timbuktu tell of public beatings, stonings, and amputations, forced marriages, and threats of grisly violence toward those regarded as “unholy,” such as unmarried pregnant women. Death tolls are uncertain, but with the region gripped by conflicts between and within rebel groups and radical mob “justice” occurring on what seems like a daily basis, the anarchic north may have seen hundreds killed so far.

Mali’s is more than a humanitarian and moral crisis, though it is both of those things. It could also quickly become a strategic crisis for the region, the Mediterranean, and even the US. Without forgetting the real human suffering happening daily in this desert, the West should recognize that, if left unaddressed, northern Mali could easily become “Africa’s Afghanistan,” a safe haven for radical Islamists and terrorists. We know already that a number of groups in the Azawad have affiliations with Al Qaeda, whose heart in Central Asia may have been destroyed but whose arms could still have far-reaching and deadly power. The Malian government is certainly ill-equipped (and not particularly willing) to evict the radicals from the north. So who should do it?

The United Nations Security Council has already given the go-ahead for foreign military intervention, but not many powers have stepped up to the plate. There is a lack of willingness on the part of the West, particularly the United States and France, to become very involved militarily in Mali. Both countries have significant interests at stake in the region, and so would benefit from driving out extremists. France has had a number of its citizens kidnapped by the radicals, and the United States certainly won’t be better off for allowing a pocket of Al Qaeda influence to fester and grow, especially in light of September’s Benghazi attacks.

But neither country seems willing to acknowledge that the chaos and violence incited by the Islamist regime will not be limited by borders, especially in the sweeping deserts and largely un-policed region of West Africa. Mali shares huge borders with Mauritania and Algeria, both of which could be vulnerable to attack and both of which could certainly suffer from refugee overflows and uncontained extremism and violence. If nothing is done to remove or reduce Islamist influence in northern Mali, it could become a launch pad for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to wreak havoc across the region and even into Western Europe. Hillary Clinton herself said that northern Mali has become “a larger safe haven” that could allow terrorists “to extend their reach and their networks in multiple directions.”

This seems like a very contradictory approach. Even as the US says that terrorist factions based in northern Mali could become a grave threat if allowed to remain in power unchallenged, it refuses to commit militarily, and is reluctant even to commit to using attack drones in the future, a tactic problematic in our supposed ally Pakistan but likely to be much more straightforward and successful in the flat desert of northern Mali (see map).

This hesitation could be ascribed to a noble refusal to expand the so-called War on Terror into yet another country, but such praise would be misplaced. Unlike past actions in Iraq, Pakistan, or Yemen, military action has the go-ahead in Mali, not only from the national government of the country itself, but from the UNSC and the region more broadly. The US wouldn’t be haphazardly dropping missiles on a dubious international mandate, but rather would be cooperating with an overwhelmed and desperate government.

I’m not saying that the West needs to send 10,000 of its own soldiers (the rough UN estimate of the number of troops needed) into the fray, or even that it needs to send a fraction of those. Regional powers like Algeria, Nigeria, or Mauritania (not to mention Mali itself), perhaps along with the African Union, could take the lead, and the UN could contribute peacekeeping forces to make peace stick once it’s achieved. But the United States and France, both with a significant interest in excising the Islamists, can’t sit back and wait for others to solve the problem.

There isn’t just a moral incentive to dismantle this regime; there are strategic motives as well. The US should step up and use its technology and military power to help the international force that may soon take shape. We don’t need to have “boots on the ground,” but drones in the sky might not be a bad place to start. We can’t afford to wait for Mali to become another Afghanistan. North Africa seems only to be growing in significance, and American leadership would be wise to recognize this.

But this problem will require more than military might. If there’s anything that the West should have learned from our military excursions of the past decade, it’s that regional divisions and local grievances can’t be sorted out with airstrikes and Predator drones. Armed force will be needed to cripple the radical regime in the north, but ultimately Mali needs reconciliation to solve this problem. Foreign intervention should weaken the Islamists to the point that they have no choice but to join in real dialogue, and should protect the fragile interim government until it can get back on its feet and give the Azawad the attention it needs.

For that matter, the international community should give Mali the attention it needs as well. We’ll all be better off for it.

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The C Word

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”      -Abraham Lincoln

As the smoke clears from another presidential campaign, Americans are waking up to the daunting problems we face and the frightening speed with which they’re approaching. As the focus shifts from who will be solving our problems to how they can be solved, members of both parties will need to relearn how to get past their differences and work together to overcome these challenges.

The most immediate and (for now) most daunting task facing Congress and President Obama is to deal with the “fiscal cliff” that we’re set to fall from at the start of 2013. “Fiscal cliff” is one of those slippery terms that we all have a vague enough understanding of to fear, but one that is not fully understood by many Americans. Put simply, this cliff is an end-of-the-year deadline, after which huge spending cuts will take effect and various tax breaks, including those from the Bush era, will start to expire. The bigger fear is something called the “sequestration,” a bundle of sweeping spending cuts of around $1 trillion that will automatically trigger at the end of the year if Congress fails to create a realistic deficit-cutting plan.

The combined effects of these spending cuts and tax hikes are estimated to knock 3-4% off of GDP when all is said and done, and considering that US growth is only around 1 or 2 percent, the resulting decline would almost certainly set off recession on a potentially global scale. This CNN video does a good job of explaining the whys and hows of the situation in greater (and more alarming) detail. Plus the commentator just sounds so damn enthusiastic.

If the United States is to face down such a huge challenge, we’re going to need something that has become a dirty word in American politics: compromise.

I generally dislike quoting dictionary definitions when I write, but I feel like this would be a good situation in which to do so. Compromise, when you look it up, has two definitions. The first is “a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.” The second is “an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger, suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity.” (emphasis added)

The last few years of political discourse have seen the second definition overtake the first. Political compromise is now seen by many as a betrayal of one’s beliefs, a kind of ideological weakness. If a politician, especially one on the political right and/or associated with the Tea Party, hints at an agreement or compromise with someone of the opposite (or even just a different) opinion, he’s attacked as a traitor to his party and to America.

The second part of this is much more frightening to me than the first. Accusations of “un-Americanism” are not only inflated and fear-mongering, they’re dangerous to the ideals of liberty itself. If every controversial or counter-partisan statement is labeled as a betrayal of America itself, how can we have any honest and meaningful discussion of the huge challenges we’re facing? Ideas and solutions that run counter to the party line or acknowledge the virtues of the other side can’t just be summarily dismissed. I can think of nothing more un-American than crying communism every time an opponent opens her mouth or claiming that our (re-elected) president wasn’t born in the States simply because his skin isn’t white.

Many Americans say they wish that those in Washington could learn to get along. But compromise is more than just getting along. As the first definition I listed above says, it is a “settlement of differences by mutual concessions.” Both parties to a compromise need to come to the table prepared to give some ground.

No law (or budget deficit plan for that matter) is perfect, and we would be naive to think that whatever plan Congress draws up will be perfectly to our liking. Times of crisis, like this fiscal cliff seems to threaten, require sacrifice and compromise on all sides, including our own. It’s tempting to think that our own individual ideas are always right, and that if everyone were to just see it our way, things would work out perfectly. But no one person (or even party) can see every perspective in perfect clarity, making it critical that we learn to leave room for the possibility that someone else may be right.

A spirit of compromise doesn’t have to mean an abandonment of principles. If we choose to adopt the first definition rather than the second, compromise becomes a recognition that we can’t address the enormous challenges we face without accepting that we can’t always get everything we want. And with the fiscal cliff fast approaching, it’s a lesson we need to learn now.

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Restarting… with a plug!

Hi all!

After an effectively year-long liaison, I’m finally going to try and kickstart Mundi Cogito again (no, not that Kickstarter). Looking over my past articles, it seems that a few changes are in order though.

First, I’m not going to try to make MC something that it’s not. In the months before I dropped off the radar here, I clung to a dream of turning the site into a kind of political/international news clearinghouse, where readers could come to get a different perspective on the latest events around the world, hopefully from a cadre of informed and informative writers. Since then though, life and studies have more than caught up with me, and have brought me to the realization that running such a site would be hard enough even if it was the only thing that I spent my time on. As it is, I’m a full-time student with two jobs, a girlfriend, and plenty of homework.

So from now on, I plan to run the site in a way that better reflects the amount of time and energy that I can realistically dedicate to it. I’ll strive to post regularly and predictably (once a week, perhaps), and to offer a good variety of topics, ideas, and perspectives. At the same time, those posts will probably be less formal (and more opinionated) than they have been in past. I’ve also come to realize that I write not only to share my thoughts and opinions, but also because I just enjoy the process. I can’t claim that this blog will offer the most original, innovative, or inspiring articles that one can find on the Internet; frankly, there are plenty of pundits, bloggers, and commentators out there as it is, many of them much more informed than I. So my goal is not just to share thoughts and ideas, but to savor the experience on its own merit.

I’m also planning to reorganize the site a bit to make it less clunky and more accessible, so if you see an unexpected theme change, don’t be alarmed.

Finally, I’m always open to the idea of guest (or “permaguest”) writers for the blog. If you’re interested, please comment on a post about a topic you might want to write about, or send me a private message.

I’m looking forward to getting things started again!

Oh yes… the plug. My brother just started a new blog today called Publius. Some of you may know that Publius was the pen name assumed by 3 of America’s key Founders, who together wrote the Federalist Papers, an argument for and defense of the new Constitution and the Federalist political philosophy. The blog examines each of the 85 Papers, their meanings, and their contributions and significance to American thought. My brother is a fantastic writer, and his blog offers a refreshing and insightful look at these fascinating documents.

Okay, shameless plug is done! Welcome to the reboot of Mundi Cogito, and enjoy Publius!

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A Whole New World (of Problems)

The emblem of the National Transitional Council (and a pretty damn cool one at that) of Libya. The NTC claims to represent rebels across the country, but do they have the influence to really unite Libya's opposition? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s days become more and more numbered, the question of Libya’s new leadership is coming to the front of international leaders’ minds, and of course is a topic of paramount importance to Libyans themselves.

Little sidenote here – it seems that Moammar Qaddafi’s son and heir-apparent, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, has either escaped rebel custody or was never captured in the first place. Rebels had reported that Saif was captured, and would be handed over to the International Criminal Court, but it seems that won’t be happening until he’s actually, well, captured. Just a little update!

Control of Libya seems to be moving safely into rebel hands; at least, the general momentum of the conflict is in the rebels’ favor for now. The probable outcome is an entirely different story, and one I won’t dive into here, except to say that I’m generally optimistic for the rebels. Let’s be generous to the rebels and the National Transitional Council and assume that they’ll soon take power.

The new leadership will face many challenges and problems as they take over Tripoli. The first, and perhaps most important of these is figuring out who the new leadership actually is. Like so many revolutionary movements, the rebellion in Libya is made up of a complicated fabric of different tribes, factions, and interest groups, a fabric that is difficult to tease apart. While the NTC (National Transitional Council, the de jure leadership of the Libyan rebels) is technically in charge, there are so many different groups represented in the rebellion that it will be a major challenge just to bring everyone under a single banner.

And beyond the already daunting task of uniting the rebel forces is the challenge of holding back the tide of anger, resentment, and vengeance that is likely to be brought to bear against Qaddafi supporters by rebels after the tyrant falls. The last thing post-Qaddafi Libya needs is an Iraq-esqe chaos-state (catchy huh?) where violence is the only law people obey.

On top of all this, there’s the ever-present risk of another dictator rising from the ashes of the Colonel’s regime, an outcome which is not entirely unlikely, and one which would render the entire revolution moot and make the international community that facilitated the change seem rather moronic.

The stakes are high in Tripoli and across Libya. The people of the country certainly don’t lack resolve and bravery, traits which they’ve demonstrated throughout the revolution. But because Libya has been in Moammar Qaddafi’s headlock for the past 42 years, the country has few political institutions, and the young people who are largely responsible for the rebellion don’t have any experience leading large political groups, much less governments. During his lengthy rule, Qaddafi made a point of splitting up tribes, organizations, political groups and movements, and any other form of organization that he could get his hands on. This simple yet effective dictatorial tactic will make it trickier for the Libyan people to form the political groups they need to and to build a stable state.

This state will need to hit the ground running in order to keep up with the constant demands of a divided and conflict-ridden country like Libya. Besides managing infrastructure issues like water supply, electricity, and the many other things Qaddafi promised the rebels would cut off if allowed to come to power, the NTC and other leaders will still need to manage the winding down of a civil war. Even after Qaddafi’s death or capture, the country will remain divided, and it could take quite a long time to bring things back together.

To achieve these and other goals, the new government will not only need to act fast and think faster, but will also, in all likelihood, require a bit more international nudging. The NATO air campaign has helped the rebels enormously, but the majority of Libya’s problems can’t be solved by aerial bombardment. If security is a major issue in the weeks and months after regime change, it may be necessary for peacekeeping forces (who should be from a variety of contributors, not just the US) to step onto the streets of Tripoli until things can be calmed down. Once some democratic institutions have been set up (and this process is already underway in Benghazi and across the country) and the NTC has found its footing, the international community can pull out and declare Libya a job well done.

There are of course many more issues and challenges that I may have overlooked or airbrushed in the course of writing this, but the Libyan rebels seem to be on the right side of history in this conflict. If their determination can bring about democracy and revolution gives way to freedom and security, then the story of the rebels who stood up to Moammar Qaddafi’s violence and repression will be a refreshing revival of the Arab Spring and a powerful reminder to tyrants across the Middle East and the world at large that violence and rage can’t stop a people who will give anything to win back their country.

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Qaddafi’s Final Dawn?

A map of the current situation in Libya. Green indicates Qaddafi control, brown indicates rebel control, and blue indicates contested territory. As you can see from the image, rebel forces have seized Zawiya and have taken the battle straight into Tripoli. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Reports are flooding in from all quarters of incredible new gains for the rebel forces fighting Moammar Qaddafi’s loyalist forces in Libya.

After 6 months of conflict and more than 17,000 NATO airstrikes, Libyan rebels, led by the National Transitional Council, have brought the fight to Qaddafi’s doorstep. Over the last few days, the rebels have taken control of the city of Zawiya, despite heavy shelling and sniper fire from Qaddafi forces. Directly after rebel forces seized Zawiya, they began a charge for the capital, where a battle rages for Libya’s future even as I write this.

True to form, Qaddafi has insisted that he and those loyal to him (which he still seems to think includes the vast majority of Libyans) will fight “until the last blood drops.” Plenty of blood has already been shed in the short time since the city came under attack; the Libyan government reports 376 dead, and one can’t be quite sure that this figure is accurate.

But just as truly to form, the Colonel seems to be dead wrong about the outcome and scale of the growing conflict in Libya’s capital. Besides the rebel forces who are swiftly advancing on Tripoli at this moment, the uprising that was stifled here months ago has come back to vigorous life, where a dedicated core of rebel fighters is taking over parts of the city, including (according to some reports at least) Mitiga Airport. Even as Qaddafi loyalists struggle to contain the uprising (and not too effectively, according to many reports), more rebels are pouring in, by land from Zawiya and elsewhere, and even by sea from Misrata.

A map of the situation in Tripoli. Rebels currently control areas marked in red, and are presumably closing in from the west. Check the links at the bottom of this post to see a live-updating version!

The map to the right shows the current (12:59 pm, PST, 8/21) situation in Tripoli, to observers’ best knowledge. Though the outlook for Qaddafi and the rebels remains somewhat unclear, it would be difficult to argue that Qaddafi stands much chance of bouncing back from this latest advance. After months of bloodshed and civil war in Libya, it seems that this tyrant’s days are finally numbered. In fact, some think that he and his family may even have fled the country.

The situation is evolving fast, so before I assume too much more, I’ll leave it here. Check back in the next couple of days for speculation on a post-Qaddafi Libya!

For those interested, a live-updating version of these maps can be found here and here, respectively. The images in this post are screen captures of the images taken at 12:30 and 1:00 pm, PST, on August 21. 

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A Look at the 2012 Race

With a little more than a year to go before the 2012 presidential election, things are really heating up in the Republican Party. After a rather indecisive start, some GOP candidates are clearly emerging as frontrunners, while others have fallen too far behind to make up the difference (in fact, Tim Pawlenty has dropped out altogether). Meanwhile, President Obama has kicked his 2012 campaign into gear, advertising extensively online, and making speeches around the country.

So who are the major competitors in this race? I can hardly claim to be a political expert, but the following is a rough primer on who I think will be the big players in the 2012 election, and a brief description of each’s views and opinions.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, Democratic incumbent. Can he pull it off again?

44th President of the United States, and the Democratic incumbent in the 2012 campaign. Obama has been raising a pretty substantial amount of cash for the race, and hopes to get up to a record-breaking $1 billion for the whole campaign, up from his $779 million last time around. But despite this, Obama may not stand all that great of a chance of winning. The most recent polling data from Gallup shows the president’s approval rating dropping down below 40% for the first time in his term. If that indicates anything about his success in the coming election, things aren’t looking great for him.

Obama seems to be on the losing side here for two reasons. First, economics. Plain and simple. History has shown that the American people directly associate the success of a given president with the current state of the economy. And as the US goes into what may be a double-dip recession, more and more people seem to be blaming the President for what’s happened to their job, their house, and their bank accounts.

Second, Obama’s record in the Oval Office has shown little sweeping change, and his accomplishments are somewhat spotty. His health care plan is faltering in state courts, Guantanamo Bay is still up and running, and we’re still in Afghanistan. Don’t get me wrong, he has made progress; taking out Osama bin Laden and pulling the country out of Iraq (to a large degree at least), just to name a few. But compared to such Democratic titans of change as FDR or Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama doesn’t have much to show for his years in office so far.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann, candidate for the GOP primary nomination, House Representative, and presidential hopeful. Also, totally nuts.

Republican House member, representing Minnesota’s 6th congressional district. Bachmann is a devoted part of the Tea Party movement, and was part of recent strong opposition to the raising of the federal debt ceiling (she, like many others, doesn’t seem to realize that the debt ceiling is raised so the US can pay off debts that it has already incurred). She is also a stalwart conservative, both fiscally and socially, and has a strong appeal to the Far Right and large numbers of evangelical Christians.

Bachmann’s popularity and presence has been growing over the past weeks and months, and she resonates strongly with America’s substantial ranks of conservative Christian voters. She has also had two recent victories in Iowa: Coming in first at the Ames Straw Poll, and soundly defeating fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty in heated debate at a Republican debate in the state. Pawlenty has since dropped out of the race for the GOP primary.

But early success in straw polls and interparty debate doesn’t guarantee a good president, let alone a viable candidate in the general election against Barack Obama. Bachmann is similar to Sarah Palin in that she is loved by a specific demographic group (Far Right voters and evangelicals) and widely loathed by most others. Her extreme views and ideas simply don’t resonate with most people outside of her sphere of “Values Voter,” Tea Party influence. On top of that, she has shown little in the way of true leadership skills, and seems to be choosing to lead by protest, rather than by ideas.

What do I mean by that? Bachmann is loudest when objecting to others’ ideas (namely, Barack Obama’s), not when suggesting different ideas that might work better. She is, in a word, confrontational, which is a quality that only helps someone opposing those in power, not someone in that position themselves. But then again, in this age of polarized, partisan politics, she may still have a decent shot at the presidency.

(Also, if she wins, I’m moving to France.)

Rick Perry

Rick Perry, GOP candidate and current governor of Texas. Yeehaw?

Current and long-time governor of Texas. Rick Perry only joined the primary race this past Saturday, the 13th of August, after a few months of deliberating. (He said he would “definitely not” be running last December) Perry is something of an archetypal GOP candidate, being fiscally and socially conservative (and Christian). He has a long and, some would say, decorated history as governor of Texas, and claims responsibility for Texas’ relative success in creating new jobs during the recession.

Even though he joined the race mere days ago, many political junkies believe that Perry stands a high chance of being the frontrunner’s (Mitt Romney’s) main competitor. During his term as governor, Texas created a much larger number of jobs than any other state in the country, and the numbers there were substantially above the national average. Now, this of course does not mean that Perry was directly responsible for these great numbers, and many would argue that the jobs created were the kind few people would be ecstatic about holding. But still, it looks good.

So Rick Perry seems to have a great economic track record, especially concerning jobs, which are Americans’ biggest concerns at present. On top of that, Perry can talk the conservative talk, frequently promising to hack big government down to a minuscule size if elected. Add to that his conservative Christianity, prayer rallies, and gubernatorial experience (real leadership experience, unlike Bachmann), and Rick Perry seems to have a pretty straight shot at the Republican nomination.

Any drawbacks? Being from Texas. While Rick Perry largely resonates with conservatives, his geographical ties to a recent and rather unpopular president may hamstring him. Though of course a candidate’s strengths and abilities don’t necessarily come from or are hampered by his place of origin, the words “Texan” and “President” still don’t sit together comfortably in the minds of many, particularly the more independent voters who still resent the last Texan to sit in the Oval Office (but who doesn’t?).

Mitt Romney

Previous governor of Massachusetts (the 70th, to be exact), also-ran in the 2008 GOP primary, and deep-pocketed business man Mitt Romney.

Businessman and former governor of Massachusetts. Mitt Romney ran in the 2008 GOP primary, and came pretty close to the nomination, though he ultimately lost to John McCain. Romney is currently the decided frontrunner in the GOP race, leading in the polls and the pocket money (so to speak).

Romney has the benefit of name recognition from the 2008 race, as well as a pretty strong conservative history. He’s not as hard-lining as Perry or Bachmann, so he stands a better shot at winning over independents. Romney has a history of corporate leadership, and can claim to have experience leading a financial structure efficiently, which many people feel is exactly what this country needs (of course, part of that efficient leadership in Romney’s corporate life came from extensive job-cutting, but hey).

Romney does face the drawback of his history. During his time as governor, Romney brought nearly-universal health care to his state of Massachusetts. Since that decision, Romney has taken a lot of flak from his conservative competitors about his “Romneycare,” which they claim puts him on equal footing with the much-disdained president. On top of that, Romney has become more conservative over the past years, which leaves him without the long history of conservatism that candidates like Perry and Bachmann can claim.

So Who’s the Next President?

I wish I knew! I’d like to say that I’m confident that President Obama will be reelected in 2012, but things are still up in the air. Obama hasn’t been the dealmaking, aisle-reaching president he ran as, but I do think he could still get some great things done in a second term in office. The GOP primary is still quite undecided, and the general election hasn’t even begun, so we’ll have to see how the situation continues to change. Come back later for another update on the race!

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Making the Millennial Dream

I just finished reading a fascinating article on CNN this morning, about the jobs market as it relates to millennials. The writer, Ruben Navarrette, Jr., suggests that millennials like myself simply aren’t cut out for the rigors of modern work, at least not as most of us are now. He writes that, “In a competitive global economy, which is not interested in catering to anyone’s sense of self-worth, these young people may learn the hard way that their needs and expectations don’t match reality and that jobs are hard to come by.” Tough outlook, isn’t it?

Some may be unfamiliar with the term “millennial” as it’s used here. Millennials are, broadly speaking, a group of people from about age 18 to age 30, the sons and daughters of baby boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials have been raised during an incredible technological boom, a time during which the internet, cell phones, social networking, and an endless supply of other technical marvels have redefined the way life is lived, in first- and third-world countries alike. They tend to be very well-educated, and have an incredible sense of self-esteem and self-worth. They’re also the age group I’m a part of.

Navarrette is blunt and unapologetic in his assessment of millennials. But what he seems to see as negative traits in this up-and-coming generation might be seen instead as assets in building a brighter future.

RN (Ruben Navarrette; one can only type “Navarrette” so many times before one’s fingers fall off) cites millennials’ self-confidence as a drawback in terms of their future success. His argument is that this confidence leads young people to be too optimistic about their job prospects, and ultimately causes them to turn down “perfectly good” opportunities when they come along. Millennials, he says, expect too much and are unwilling to accept too little when job-hunting. There’s some truth to this: Many people around my age have pretty lofty goals and expectations for their lives, especially when it comes to work, which often makes them/us less eager to take less-than-desirable jobs if they’re not connected to those goals. RN puts it this way: “Many millennials have been known to hold out for the perfect job at the perfect company with the perfect salary and a clear path to the vice presidency, even if it means crashing with mom and dad well into their 20s.”

But is this self-confidence really a bad thing? Sure, it can lead young people to be unrealistic about employment. But at the same time, the many huge problems we face in the modern world aren’t going to be solved by timidity. Many millennials (myself among them) bring this confidence into their vision for the future, and aren’t afraid to have big dreams that match their admittedly large opinions of their own abilities. But this should hardly be called a disadvantage! We’re now in a day and age in which great ideas and innovations can go far, no longer restricted by borders, distance, or language, so it follows that as many people as possible should be creating and voicing great new ideas. Facebook wasn’t started by a baby boomer, after all!

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