• One Step Foward, Two Steps Back: South Korea’s First Female President Shadowed by Her Father’s Past

    South Korea, the country in the developed world known for its gender inequality, elected their first female president, Park Geun-hye on Wednesday, December 19, 2012.  CNN reports that Park won the election against incumbent Moon Jae-in with roughly 52% of votes when Lee conceded with about 48% of votes.

    Park, 60, is the daughter of authoritarian leader, the late Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. Park entered the political arena in 1974 at the age of 22 when she became South Korea’s First Lady after her mother’s death, which was a failed assassination attempt intended for her father.

    Although Park Chung-hee is remembered for bringing economic prosperity to the country, he is also known for dsiregarding human rights and torturing enemies. In 1979, South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator was assassinated by his chief intelligence officer.

    As a single woman, Park vows to serve her country as a mother is devoted to her children, according to The New York Times

    “I have no family to take care of,” she said. “I have no child to inherit my properties. You, the people, are my only family, and to make you happy is the reason I do politics. And if elected, I would govern like a mother dedicated to her family.”

    The shadow of Park’s father continues to cast over Park. The older population who remembered Park’s father’s positive contributions to South Korea is mainly responsible for electing Park into office. On the other hand, Moon was more popular with the younger generation, after Park’s comment that her father’s coup d’etat during his reign was “necessary.”

    Last September, Park publicly apologized for the crimes committed during her father’s presidency.

    The tension of Park’s rise to political power became highly visible last Friday over Time Magazine Asia’s typo. LinkTV reports that the front cover of Time Magazine Asia’s issue featuring Park, originally titled “The Strongman’s Daughter”, was renamed “The Dictator’s Daughter” on Time’s online edition.  The implication’s of using the word “dictator” as opposed to “strongman” upset supporters of the Saenuri Party, the political party Park represents, while dissenters believed the online title better represented the former president.

  • A Different Arms Race: Newtown Tragedy Brings Gun Control to the White House

    On Friday, December 14, 2012, one of the most devastating American tragedies since 9/11 happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. At 9:30 am, twenty-six victims–twenty children, six adults–were killed by Newtown resident Adam Lanza. Many suspect that Lanza, suffered from a developmental disorder, most likely Asperger’s syndrome. He had obtained the guns used at Sandy Hook from his mother, Nancy Lanza, the first victim of that Friday, who used to go trap shooting.

    While the nation mourns the loss of Newtown’s children and teachers, Sandy Hook has been a wake-up call for Congress and the White House to make some decisions about how to address the regulation of gun control.

    One month prior to the events of December 14, Specialist in Domestic Security and Crime Policy William J. Krausse compiled a Congressional Research Service report titled “Gun Control Legislation”. The report goes into extensive detail and explores “Federal Regulation of Firearms,” “Issues in the 112th Congress,” and “Other Salient Gun Control Legislative Issues.”   Most importantly, the report recounts that gun control has been an issue that needs addressing, because of the recent events that even preceded Sandy Hook:

    Congress has debated the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control. In the wake of the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO, theater mass shooting, in which 12 people were shot to death and 58 wounded (7 of them critically) by a lone gunman, it is likely that there will be calls in the 112th Congress to reconsider a 1994 ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices that expired in September 2004. There were similar calls to ban such feeding devices (see S. 436/H.R. 1781) following the January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ, mass shooting, in which 6 people were killed and 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded. These calls could be amplified by the August 5, 2012, Sikh temple shooting in Milwaukee, WI, in which six worshipers were shot to death and three wounded by a lone gunman.

    In a “Letter from Victims and Families of Mass Shootings in America” sponsored by the Brady Campaign and written by relatives of mass shooting victims, claims that “every day in America, 32 more families lose loved ones to gun murders.” The letter notes that  “most in tragedies that do not make national headlines because they are so common.”

    The “Letter” is ultimately a plea for politicians to put aside their political differences and put in “sensible solutions” in place to protect Americans from gun violence–they believe the American people have the right to “hold our elected leaders accountable to do everything they can to enact such solutions.”

    President Obama alluded to bringing the gun control debate forward to the White House in his speech during the multi-faith vigil held at Newtown High School on Sunday, December 16, but there are no proposed legislations at this time for gun regulation.

    In the meantime, an article in The New York Times reports that Dick’s Sporting Goods has temporarily removed the rifles from the shelves and Bass Pro Shop has removed Bushmaster rifle–one of the guns Lanza reportedly used–from their website. Walmart.com has removed the information blurb about Bushmaster rifle on their website, but continues to sell the guns.

  • “Where Stories Take Us”: Establishing a Deeper Connection with Public Policy

    On the evening of Wednesday, November 28, 2012, G. Wayne Miller of the Providence Journal spoke at the Pell Center to discuss the power of story-telling in journalism. During the lecture, titled Where Stories Take Us: Story in the Public Square, Miller described the art of story-telling and provided specific examples of how some works in the Providence Journal made an impact on Rhode Island public policy.

    To give story-telling context in the news world, Miller explained the three elements of a story: character, narrative, and emotion. The first two elements, character and narrative, are always found in hard news as seen in major news broadcasts from CNN, MSNBC, or Fox. It is emotion that touches people and makes the story memorable. When writing about public policy through the lens of story-telling, establishing an emotional connection with readers is important because it evokes a strong response.

    The incredible thing about story-telling, as Miller pointed out, is how good stories can persist over time and be told in a number of different ways. For example, Homer’s Iliad persists not only through literature, but also through film, literature, plays and, even for infants and young children, comic books and children’s books. Babies certainly cannot have a full-length discussion about The Hobbit or Madame Bovary (why you would ever read those books to infants is questionable in itself), but babies become familiar with feeling a connection while being read child-appropriate book such as The Little Prince, or Miller’s example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

    Miller transitioned to defining expository journalism. When first published in 1829, the Providence Journal declared its interest in the reporting of facts and promoting the interests of the community. Miller showed a few old newspaper front pages—Lincoln’s assassination, Pearl Harbor, landing on the moon, President Obama’s re-election. This demonstrated how writing about facts and statistics is important, even though it does not necessarily evoke as emotion as a story.

    Miller and his colleagues at the Providence Journal combine the elements of story-telling and expository journalism to shed light on public policy issues in the state or the nation. The Journal frequently publishes stories on the weak health of Rhode Island’s economy.   Since March, the Journal publishes stories Reinvent Rhode Island, a series of articles that shed light on how Rhode Islander are affected by the economy and possible solutions to fix the state’s problems.

    “Going it alone and losing ground: Single parents struggle to stay afloat” is one article Miller wrote for the Reinvent Rhode Island series in July.  The article does talk about the facts and figures of single-parent incomes, but Miller tells the story of one woman, Ms. Crystal M. Tetreault of Cranston. It is through Ms. Tetreault that the reader understands the struggles of being an unemployed single parent in Rhode Island and builds an emotional connection in recognizing that the problem is very real.  Miller said that most people responded positively to the article.

    After the presenting several more beautifully told stories of people and their relationship to public policy, including the profiles of Afghanistan War veterans featured in the Providence Journal’s documentary Coming Home, Miller concluded that if you tell a good story, readers will listen. The story does not end when we as readers finish reading. According to Miller, “it’s a question of what we do with it.”


    On Friday, April 12, 2013, Miller and The Pell Center of International Relations and Public Policy will be collaborating on “Story in the Public Square,” a day-long event that will focus on the “ethical” use of story-telling in the public arena. There will be panel discussions, a film screening, a student focused contest and the presentation of the first annual Pell Center Prize for “story in the public square.” To stay updated on the event, please follow Pell Public Stories on Twitter @pubstory.

    To learn more about G. Wayne Miller, please visit his website.

    If you want to learn more about Reinvent Rhode Island, please read the articles on the Providence Journal website and check out the Reinvent Rhode Island YouTube channel.

  • Tracing the Origins of the “Fiscal Cliff”

    Shortly after the re-election of President Barack Obama, there was an immediate and pressing concern to address the termination of tax cuts by January 1, 2013.

    The expiration of several tax cuts worth billions of dollars—the Bush tax cuts, the payroll-tax holiday, the alternative minimum tax, and tax credits—would result in raised expenses across the board, from the middle class to the affluent “one-percent.” The phrase used to define this impending economic crisis is known as the “fiscal cliff.”

    It is safe to say that the “fiscal cliff” is the latest catchphrase frequenting discussion of American politics this year after “Invisible Obama,” “the forty-seven percent,” or “binders full of women.” The origins of the last three phrases can be easily tracked down, but where exactly does “fiscal cliff” come from?

    Most news outlets are quick to trace the phrase’s origins to a speech given by Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke in this past February when forecasting the drastic economic shift, which is only five weeks (or merely thirty-six days) away as of Monday November 26th.

    However, a BBC News article traces the term’s origins back to 1957 when New York Times journalist Walter Stern used “fiscal cliff” in an article discussing first-time homebuyers:

    To the prospective home owner wondering whether the purchase of a given house will push him over the fiscal cliff, probably the most difficult item to estimate is his future property tax.

    The article also credits Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina to saying the phrase in 2008 discussing President Obama’s spending program, who suggests that the country could have some benefits by jumping off the immense financial precipice.

    Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans are slowly progressing, but the ideological differences that set them apart continue to persist, therefore barraging the conclusions of important decisions like the fiscal cliff. While Democrats want the Bush tax cuts to expire, the Republicans want them extended. Furthermore, Republicans want to maintain current tax rates, but reduce government spending.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke over the phone to discuss the fiscal cliff Monday November 26th.  The President and Senator Boehner are considered to be the leaders of the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in finding a solution to avert the fiscal cliff, but visible progress has yet to be seen.

  • “Poverty and Development” Visualizes a Fairer Economy by Transitioning the Informal Sector

    On Thursday, November 8, 2012, the Pell Center hosted a lecture given by Karen Tramontano, the founder and President of the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) at DiStefano Lecture Hall. The lecture, Poverty & Development: The Role of the Informal Economy in Changing People’s Lives discussed how developing countries’ economies benefit from integrating the “informal sector” of businesses with the formal sector.

    The informal sector, as defined by GFI, refers to the “billions of unprotected workers engaged in legal but unregistered enterprises outside formal economic structures.” Third world countries with struggling economies are linked to having high rates of informality, which is responsible for unequal opportunities, low wages, corruption, and child labor.

    Tramontano listed three downfalls of businesses to participating in the informal economy: the workers in informal business have a small chance of rising above the poverty line; the businesses are impervious to market forces of global businesses, and the impact of powerful economic consequences as a result of moving towards the formal sector are not realized.

    Transitioning informal businesses to the formal sector is the best way to aid employers, protect workers, and grow the economy.  To develop programs that encourage and maintain the transition, GFI surveys the poor in the informal sector to identify how to attract informal businesses to the formal. Since establishing GFI in 2002, Tramontano has transitioned informal businesses to the formal sector in developing countries all over the world, including Costa Rica, Peru, and Ghana.

    Tramontano discussed two different businesses –one formal, the other informal—working in Ghana’s cocoa farming industry. The formal business, dominated by men, has access to roads, storage facilities, and a John Deere tractor. They also had access to foreign trade and had better control over their supply chain.

    On the other hand, the informal business had no access to those resources. The informal business, which is run by women, earns lower wages, struggles to transport goods, and has less control of the supply chain.  Tramontano says more “insight can change development” by raising awareness of the opportunities the formal sector can provide to improve the informal business.

    Investing in women’s labor in developing countries is crucial to a sustainable economy, but it is only effective when women are out of sustained instability in the informal sector, which Tramontano describes as a “painful existence.” Unfortunately, child labor, which parallels the rate of women laborers, poses an even more challenging lifestyle.  Not only do child laborers lose their freedom of childhood, but they are cut off from earning a better education.

    Tramontano established GFI to solve the problem of inequal opportunity among the poor and minorities, a misrepresented group in the midst of macroeconomic industry. Senator Claibrone Pell, a former boss of Tramontano’s , urged her to “look for the next huge idea that people are missing.”

    By the end of the lecture, Tramontano made two things clear: GFI wants to make sure no one is exploited or excluded from opportunity.

    To learn more about the Global Fairness Initiative on their website, please click here.

  • Presidential Election 2012: Obama Re-elected (Op-Ed)

    Last night and early this morning, it was clear America had spoken. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term in office, despite the delayed rescindence of Governor Mitt Romney and the very disappointed Karl Rove as seen on Fox News.

    The president won the Northeast, the West Coast, and most of the swing states–Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. President Obama was earned votes from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan’s home state; Michigan, Governor Romney’s home state; and Massachussets, Governor Romney’s state constituents. Meanwhile, Governor Romney earned votes from the South and most of the Midwest. including Kentucky, Idaho, North Carolina and Texas.

    The 2012 Election was a victory for Democrats in the Senate. Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren unseated Republican senator and incumbent, Scott Brown in the highly aniticpated Massachussetts race. In Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin was not only the first woman to be elected as a Wisconsin senator, but she is also the first openly gay politician.

    Republicans Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana lost their Senate seats, which may be attributed to their comments about “legitimate rape” and carrying a child as a result of a rape part of “God’s plan.”

    Overall, Congress maintained the same setup it has had for the past two years–Democratic majority in the Senate, Republican majority in the House of Representatives. It is my greatest hope that the parties will finally work together and accomplish something, but there are already roadblocks in the way of building a united, cooperative Congress. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s statement does not reflect optimism from the right. Afterall, McConnell it was McConnell who adopted the mentality to make Obama a “one term president” during the 2008 election.

    It’s this mentality of inflexibility, negativity, and self-righteousness that has kept the nation from progress.

    I hope the nasty badgering from both sides comes to a halt or, at the very least, stops in Washington D.C. . I hope that the White House is listening to the pressure put on by the American people, including President Obama and Congress, to collaborate. I hope Congress will be obliged to move beyond partisanship and create an America that benefits the whole nation.

    Now that the winners have taken their tiaras, it’s time to move past the beauty pageant, kick off those sparkling, towering high heels, and get to work.

  • 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.