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With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, the foreign relations between Iran and the United States have thawed slightly. The new government under Rouhani has undertaken multiple diplomatic measures, including the release of several political prisoners, conciliatory statements from Iranian leaders, and even an exchange of letters and a phone call between President Obama and President Rouhani. Rouhani is a political moderate, which is a stark contrast from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After Rouhani’s election, there is now hope that Iran can take a different path, not only by entering negotiations over its nuclear program but also by seizing what appears to be a genuine opportunity for change.
Last year, oil companies such as TransCanada, Valero and others pushed for the completion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry heavy crude oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada, through several Midwestern U.S. states, and down into the refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. A decision on the approval of the permit is expected by July. One of the main reasons for the pressure to approve the pipeline is the oil lobby’s marketing campaign that tries to convince Americans that increasing domestic oil production will decrease gas prices here in the U.S.
The European Union is teetering on survival as the member nations decide the fates of their fellow debt-ridden countries. Another blow to the unsteady Union came from Prime Minister David Cameron’s government in the U.K.
After last Tuesday’s election, we saw President Obama earn his re-election, the Democrats keep the Senate and the Republicans keep the House. The focus in Washington has now shifted towards the rapidly approaching fiscal cliff on Jan. 1. The fiscal cliff refers to the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts that will be implemented on New Year’s Day if Congress does not pass a new budget for the next fiscal year.
The flare-up between Israel and Iran has progressively gotten worse over the past six months and, with the events that took place at the UN General Assembly, it is clear that an Israeli preemptive strike is becoming more imminent. While addressing the UN, Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, appealed to the General Assembly to stop Iran before their nuclear capabilities are complete. In Israel, many believe that if Iran becomes armed with nuclear weapons, the Iranians will not hesitate to use those weapons against Israel. To Israel’s credit, they may be right. There has been constant vitriolic and dangerous language coming out of Tehran in which leaders have vowed for the destruction of Israel.
In 2008, the Federal Reserve decided to bail out multiple financial firms through the $700 billion program known as TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). TARP was met with an understandably high amount of criticism and opposition. Many felt that it was a gift to the banks that had recklessly caused the financial crisis, and that it would cause "moral hazard" within the financial industry, since banks would believe that the government would always bail them out. While TARP was a handout to the financial sector, we cannot ignore the fact that it was a necessary act that the federal government needed to undertake. If TARP had not been passed, we would have seen a systemic failure in the U.S. economy, which would have well caused a second Great Depression in the U.S. and around the world. TARP stabilized the American economy and set a platform for future growth in America. In fact, out of the $700 billion that was loaned out, the Federal Reserve returned a profit of over $25 billion. Just this week, the Federal Reserve sold off its assets in AIG's mortgage backed securities for a $2.8 billion dollar profit. This was a profit for the taxpayers and a testament to the success of TARP. TARP can even be used as a model for other countries that face risks of systemic failure as well. It makes much more sense to keep liquidity in the financial markets than to allow for a bank to fail. The financial system of America is set up as a peripheral network of firms. Each financial firm will hold accounts in every other financial firm. Therefore, if one bank goes bankrupt, all of the other banks are negatively affected because their holdings in the failed bank are wiped out. This is exactly what happened when Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail. Every other major bank on Wall Street was on the verge of collapse. Letting Lehman Brothers fail was a mistake, and, had we saved Lehman, it is very likely that the financial crisis would not have blown up into as large of a problem. When Lehman failed, the credit markets immediately froze, and all short term lending was halted. This prevented businesses from taking out payroll loans to pay employees. Instead, the credit markets would have been fine if Lehman were rescued, and even though we would have had to still bail out every other bank, we would not have seen the Dow plunge more than 7,000 points, and we would not have incurred such a severe recession. We would have had a significantly smaller recession that would not have cost us as many American jobs. Thus, America should be very content with TARP and its effect on the American economy. It staved off what would have been the worst economic plight since the Great Depression. It also put us on this path to economic recovery in which our gross domestic product has continued to grow, and the stock market has made a recovery from its lows in 2008. With Greece and other Eurozone countries literally up in flames over their economic crises, the U.S. has been able to avoid outright calamity. And most importantly, TARP has succeeded in restoring Americans' faith in the U.S. economy.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States made a fateful decision with countless ramnifications. In the lawsuit between Citizens United and the Federal Electoral Commission, the Supreme Court declared Citizens United victorious and effectively allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money towards political contributions. This decision by the Supreme Court drew scathing criticisms from countless political watch dog organizations which characterized the ruling as the beginning of the end of democracy in America. This ruling essentially ended the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform and opened the way for the rise of super political action committees more commonly referred to as "super PACs." Originally, the limit on an individual's campaign contribution was $2500, but the new Supreme Court decision now allows these super PACs to receive unlimited sums of campaign donations. Therefore, a wealthy individual or corporation can single-handedly bankroll a candidate's campaign. We have seen this throughout the Republican primaries in which each candidate has a corresponding super PAC that spends vast amounts of money on behalf of that candidate. The problem with allowing individuals and corporations the ability to contribute an unlimited sum of money to one candidate is that it inherently dilutes the voice of the majority of the American electorate. Unlimited spending in campaign contributions allows special interests to dominate elections. A candidate who receives a $1 million donation from a corporation is going to be more inclined to look after the interests of that particular corporation rather than his constituents. The average voter cannot afford to donate anywhere near as much money to a candidate than a corporation can and this leads to the lack of representation of the people in the U.S. government. At this point, politicians and elected officials are essentially "bought" by special interests. By allowing these unlimited amounts of campaign contributions, we are depriving the average voter of his proportionate voice and influence in the government. And this has already led to the disenchantment of many voters who don't believe they have much political efficacy to effect change in government. To make our democracy better and to fix this issue, we need to institute substantial campaign finance reform on the amount of influence that corporations have on elections. The consensus that needs to be reached is that corporations do not have rights like individuals. Therefore, the notion of corporate personhood should be rejected. A corporation is not, nor has it ever been, a person with voting rights. Yet, at the same time, we are offering them rights that are guaranteed to people. The very idea that corporations can now channel their immense wealth to advocate directly for or against a federal candidate is detrimental to our democracy. Furthermore, there is a compelling state interest to restrict corporate spending in elections. It would level the playing field for all candidates and it would make it tougher for a candidate to win an election just because he has a lot of money. I understand that money is going to end up being an integral part of elections. But I believe that the source of this money should come from people donating to campaigns rather than corporations throwing money at candidates. People have a constitutional right to give those funds and campaign finance reform gives the individual donor a voice more comparable to other interest groups which have always had a disproportionate amount of influence in politics. It is imperative that we as a society push for campaign finance reform because it would advance the objectives of a broader marketplace of ideas and of free speech, assembly, and thought. It would reduce corruption in government by discouraging candidates from "selling themselves" to special interests bidding for their votes. If we as Americans really want to better our democracy, then campaign finance reform needs to be our first legislative step.
People around the world that live in the midst of oppressive regimes have only a few options when it comes to gaining freedom. Often they organize protests against the government and wait for a response.
We've been hearing a lot about the troubles that European governments have faced in dealing with crippling amounts of debt. But even though this particular debt crisis originated in Europe, it has negative implications on the world, and especially in the United States. Every time bad news comes out of Greece, Italy or any other European Union country, U.S. investors are hit hard with huge losses in the Dow. This is because American banks have over $800 billion worth of exposure to Europe's ailing financial system.