Weekly Wrap-Up

BY: MATT KEENAN

Happy Friday everyone! Classes may have only just returned, but the world has been busy as usual. After Sunday’s wild NFC championship game between Green Bay and Seattle, the sports world was treated to more wild news, as it seems the New England Patriots could have deflated footballs for their game against the Indianapolis Colts. If the Patriots are found guilty, the consequences may be severe. Cheating is not a new thing for the Patriots; the last time they got caught, and head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, the maximum amount the NFL could sanction. On Thursday, Tom Brady, New England’s star quarterback said in a press conference “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.” Unless Brady somehow was the Incredible Hulk, he would not really have the chance to deflate footballs, so why is he even a suspect?  I trust Scooby Doo and the gang to get to the bottom of this.

On Wednesday, the United States Senate voted to acknowledge that climate change is real. Here’s the thing; climate change is not something that only exists because the Senate all of a sudden acknowledges it. The fact that climate change was something that even had to be debated in the United States Senate is laughable. The vote count was 98-1, so congratulations are in order for Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi for being the lone dissenting vote; I’ll be sure to give you a high-five once you decide to join the rest of civilization. The Senate did return to its traditional form, however, by voting down an Amendment that designated “human activity significantly contributes to climate change.” Even Lindsey Graham acknowledges this fact. Lindsey Graham. As they say on ESPN, “C’mon man!”

Early Friday morning, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah died after being admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. The Saudi King lived to the ripe age of 90, and was viewed by many people as a reformer. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said “He was really quite and extraordinary figure. He was probably the most progressive and liberal minded king of Saudi Arabia since King Fasal, which is a long time ago, in the early 1970s.”

Also on Wednesday, President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address. Campus Blueprint’s Duncan Yetman provided a response to President Obama’s address, which I encourage to take the time to read if you have not already. Part of me is afraid that the speech will only be remembered for the insane mic drop moment, but most of me thinks that is absolutely fine. President Obama inherited a whole host of problems when he took office, and now that he is forced to contend with a Republican-controlled Congress, he has my personal blessing to continue being the coolest president in history. We hope you have a great weekend, and we will see you back next week!

I leave you with the best reaction gif to President Obama’s mic drop I have yet to see.

Drawing Lines: Obama’s State of the Union Address

Obama’s demeanor in Tuesday’s State of the Union (SOTU) address was in marked contrast with many of his recent speeches. As he addressed the new Republican majority he seemed to possess a new sense of confidence, if not urgency of the situation.

Most of this was timing. Obama is halfway through his second term, a period when most presidents worry less about short term political consequences and focus rather on establishing a clear narrative for their time in office. Obama’s impressive approval rating (50 percent as of this week) belies some of the difficulties he’s faced over the past two years. After the emergence of ISIS, a Republican romp of the 2014 midterms, and renewed racial tensions, Obama needed to reestablish a guiding narrative at which to look at his Presidency. Taking advantage of the growing economy, shrinking unemployment, and increased energy independence, Obama opened his address with a clear and concise case that “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

Using the successes of the past six years as leverage, Obama then issued what can only be described as a thoroughly progressive agenda in front of a deeply conservative Congress. I won’t pick apart every idea he gave in his SOTU address (his speech was over 58 minutes long), but here are the five main areas:

• A praise of “middle class-economics”, and an argument to support policies integral to this focus (Obamacare, paid maternity leave, higher minimum wage, free community college among others)

• Support of what he defines as “21st century businesses”, and an argument for the infrastructure, internet freedom/security, and trade deals these business need

• Defense of his dovish approach to foreign policy, using Cuba, Russia, and the Middle East as examples of balanced power and shared responsibilities

• A direct challenge to Republicans on climate change, specifically addressing the common “I’m not a scientist” claim

• A move back to the “values” of bipartisanship and shared interests among Democrats and Republicans

Of these five areas, the last one stood out as the most important. As Obama talked about “value” politics he seemed to return to the central themes he laid out in the 2008 campaign, framing his presidency as a fulfillment of these promises. The aggressive, value-heavy message Obama delivered to Congress on Tuesday was, in this sense, a reaffirmation of his original pledge to work “beyond politics” — a message sharpened by his struggle with Republicans over the past six years. Undaunted by Republican advances in the 2014 midterms, Obama seemed to develop a kind of “take or leave it” approach when it came to comprise, resulting in a far more progressive stance than some Republicans had expected.

For all the policy suggestions and powerful rhetoric, the general mood of Obama’s speech can best be summed up in an unscripted moment during the address. Near the end of his speech, Obama referenced a shared vision for America that both Democrats and Republicans could believe in, reminding Congress he could no longer run for office… “I know, [be]cause I won both of them”.

The average public school student is now in poverty, but will anything change?

BY LINDSEY KELLOGG

 

The Washington Post recently reported that low-income students are now biggest group of students in public schools at 51% of all students.

 

“For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation,” reporter Lyndsey Layton writes.

 

North Carolina has the second-lowest amount of students in poverty in the Southeast at 53%. (Virginia, by far the lowest, has 39%.) This fits in with recent trends of growing income stratification in the US and the thought that, while wealthier groups people are bouncing back from the recession, the poorest people have been left behind.

 

The reasons for this seem to be stagnated economic growth for lower-class Americans and the lack of resources they receive. For many schools, poor test scores means they don’t get as much government assistance as those with high scores. A host of societal problems–from absent parents to not enough food–already keep their students at a disadvantage.

LopiP.AuSt.79

Poor schools are prone to overcrowding.

 

“Schools, already under intense pressure to deliver better test results and meet more rigorous standards, face the doubly difficult task of trying to raise the achievement of poor children so that they approach the same level as their more affluent peers,” Layton explains.

 

In last night’s State of the Union speech, President Obama addressed the economic plight of most Americans and tried to build support for measures to raise taxes on the wealthy.  ”Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” he asked.

 

Unfortunately, the GOP that now controls Congress is not inclined to agree. It seems that the idea that some Americans are stuck in a poverty they can’t work their way out from while CEOs make several hundred times the average annual wage is one that will, at least for the time being, keep being unquestioned.

Hog Farming in North Carolina: A Foul Tradition

BY KELLY HUGHES

Since 1990, the hog industry in North Carolina has seen major shifts in structure and scale, experiencing unprecedented growth. Today, the hog industry includes more than 10 million hogs, most of which are concentrated in the eastern part of North Carolina where industrial hog farming plays an important role in the area’s economy. However, industrial hog farming generates a range of environmental problems such as air and water pollution, posing hazards to the health of the nearby communities. This trade-off between economic benefits and environmental consequences is crucial in determining the future of the hog industry in North Carolina.

Changes in policy generated accelerated growth and consolidation of the North Carolina’s hog industry. In the 1980s, the hog industry was developing and consisted mainly of small family-owned hog farms. North Carolina ranked only 7th nationally in hog production. Shortly afterwards, several policies were introduced which paved the way for the proliferation of large-scale industrial hog farms. In the 1990s, hog farms were placed under lenient environmental regulation, benefited from tax breaks and became exempt from traditional zoning regulations. These policies attracted corporate giants such as Smithfield Foods and irrevocably changed the course of North Carolina’s hog industry.

Over the next 20 years, the number of hogs produced quadrupled, increasing by millions and eventually exceeding the human population. The hog industry grew 89% between 1992 and 2002, and North Carolina emerged as the second largest hog-producing state in the country, a status it maintains today.  Nonetheless, less noticeable shifts in the structure of the hog farm industry were occurring behind the industry’s rapid expansion. While the number of hogs produced expanded, the growth was paralleled by an equally rapid shrinking in the number of farms, from approximately 15,000 to just 2,800.  Small family-owned farms were replaced by large corporation-owned factories. The standard image of the hog farm soon became one of thousands of pigs crowded in confined spaces.CAFO_hogs

However, this rapid expansion in the hog-farm industry was accompanied by a proliferation of environmental problems, leading to stricter policy regulation. In 1995, 20 million gallons of waste spilled into North Carolina’s New River, and four years later, Hurricane Floyd released hog waste and hog carcasses into North Carolina rivers. The resulting environmental degradation and negative publicity caused legislators to reevaluate the monolithic hog industry. New regulations required hog farms to be set certain distances away from residences and community buildings. Even more, the Clean Water Responsibility Act placed the restriction on the construction of new farms in North Carolina. Despite these regulations, environmental problems continue to plague the hog farming industry to this day.

Hog waste management is a main problem with industrial hog farming, generating a range of environmental problems. The hog industry generates 40 million gallons of manure each day, much of which is stored in open lagoons. Liquid manure is often sprayed directly onto agricultural fields, causing excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous to run off into nearby waterways. These excess nutrients can lead to algae growth, degrading the ecosystem and killing fish populations. The manure can also seep into groundwater, leading to contamination of drinking supplies.

The environmental problems generated by the hog industry can have health consequences for nearby residents. In addition to generating negative externalities such as unpleasant odors, hog farms also negatively impact the air quality by increasing ammonia emissions, which can lead to respiratory problems. Other health problems such as thyroid disruption and anxiety have been reported but not conclusively tied to hog farms. Additionally, hogs are fed large amounts of antibiotics and artificial hormones to promote growth, causing a rise in antibiotic-resistant pathogens. According to the New York Times, hog industry workers are found to inadvertently carry these pathogens, which could lead to their spread.

The hog industry has also led to social inequity problems as the negative consequences of hog farms disproportionately impact disadvantaged people such as minority or low-income groups. Environmental groups have recently petitioned the EPA to review the hog farm permits issued by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resource (DENR). The groups argue that the permits violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the hog farms are under-regulated and most directly affect minority groups. The petition argues that the DENR needs to respond by “overhauling the general permit to protect African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans from the adverse disproportionate impacts of industrial swine facilities.” The EPA’s response has yet to be announced.

Factory farmed hog production has led to a rise in the economic importance of the hog industry in North Carolina. Today, it is worth over $1 billion dollars, contributing significantly to the local economy. Furthermore, the hog industry employs nearly 12,000 people and accounts for more than $200 million in wages. However, the increased consolidation of the hog farm industry means that profits are increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top players while individual farmers get an increasingly small share. After several merges, Smithfield now controls 90% of the hog market in North Carolina, where the economic significance of the hog industry means it has political power.

Despite the environmental and health problems, attempts to increase regulation of the hog farms in recent years have been sparse, in part because of the economic and political power of the industry. Most of the debate is focused on the use of lagoons to store hog waste, pertaining to the environmental reasons listed above. Although the Clean Hog Farms Act of 2005 originally planned to ban manure lagoons, it was modified to become less restrictive; even so, it failed to pass North Carolina’s General Assembly. While hog farms have lawsuits and fines for violating the Clean Water Act, lagoons are still a common practice, and legislation has not changed significantly. Historically, it has taken an environmental crisis such as the release of hog waste after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 to prompt a legislative reevaluation of the hog industry. However, recent action such as petition of the EPA for civil rights violations could catalyze similar debate and changes. In order to address the problems of the hog industry, legislators are going to have to weigh the economic benefits against the environmental and health consequences. Their conclusions will shape the future of the hog industry in North Carolina.

 

The Importance of Learning about Islam

COMMENTARY BY: MATTHEW KEENAN

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Campus BluePrint as a whole.

I am not an apologist, and I believe that the people who attacked Charlie Hebdo’s office have committed the most egregious action in human capacity. That being said, the comments I viewed on news websites like CNN bothered me almost as much as the horrible actions of the attackers.

“Muslims, why they can’t [sic] enjoy life like everybody else??”

“Muslims continue to kill and commit terrorism on a daily basis and yet the West allows these animals into their countries.”

Animals.

I went to public school in the United States of America for 15 years before I learned a single thing about Islamic culture or religion. I studied mathematics for all that time, and as I recall American schools use Arabic numerals. I was not aware that animals were capable of complex mathematics. So perhaps middle easterners and Muslims are not animals.

I, like most American students learned a little bit of philosophy in high school. Unlike most people, I chose to pursue it in college, and I have loved every second of it. Until I studied Islamic culture, I did not know that the work of ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato survived only because Arabic scholars translated the original Greek works into Arabic. Latin scholars then translated the Arabic works into Latin. I was not aware that animals were capable of studying and preserving manuscripts of Philosophy.

“They marry their sisters [sic] cousins.”

There are roughly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and they live on at least 6 continents; Antarctica is a toss-up. The American education system, however, makes barely any reference to roughly 20% of the world’s population, and that baffles me. Americans living in a post-9/11 world are brought up in a culture that imagines the Middle East as a blank space on the globe (except Israel, of course). Should a teacher attempt to teach about the Middle East or God forbid the Qur’an, the phones will be ringing off the hook calling for the teacher’s resignation. However, I read parts of the Bible in high school, and no one seemed to have a problem with that.

Well I do. For being a supposed global superpower, Americans are ignorant, and they are damn proud of it. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center gave Americans reasons to hate anything related to Islam unconditionally, thus keeping generations of students in the dark about a major global culture. We have declared war on an entire culture because of the actions of a minute few.

“What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.” – Robert E. Lee

I do not wish to condone the actions of the attackers on Charlie Hebdo; I know they will eventually face justice. I do not condone, however, a cultural trend of ignoring 1.5 billion people because of blanket stereotypes and racism. Muslims like to go out on weekends, watch soccer, and even (gasp!) go to comedy shows… In English. One of my favorite comedians, Ahmed Ahmed, is an Egyptian-American, and during one of his shows he was talking about how he got offered the role of “Terrorist Number Four” in a movie. His response was: “Thanks but no thanks. Every time I take a part like this it’s like feeding the beast, it’s like putting fuel on the flame. No way.” Now is not a time for retribution. Now is the time for learning. Now is the time for progress.

Je Suis Charlie

BY SAMI LACHGAR

I believe in the right to free speech and expression. I admire those that cast forth their views with regards to social justice issues. I even occasionally laugh at politically insensitive comics that are meant to push the buttons of the masses.

I am “Charlie.”

And due to this, some believe that my right to life should be ripped away from me. On January 7th, only two days after I had come home from visiting family in Paris for the holidays, three gunmen entered the Charlie Hebdo satirical newspaper headquarters, and proceeded to kill 12 individuals. The terrorist attack was as a response to a caricature about the Islamic prophet Muhammad, an individual who is never supposed to be depicted in any way.hebdo

Above are two examples of Charlie Hebdo’s political cartoons that created most of the outrage. On the left, the depiction of Muhammad states, “100 whips if you don’t die from laughter!” And the right side makes an illustration with the tagline “Love is stronger than hate,” which is naturally supposed to anger homophobes.

Charlie Hebdo has been doing things like this for years, and in 2011, they were firebombed for many of the same reasons. Today, however, the response from the public has been much stronger as the world has unified to condemn terrorism.

One of the most interesting facts of the case is that the first man killed was actually a Muslim policeman, which adds irony to the whole situation. Not only does it prove the bigotry of the terrorists, but it also serves to show that this isn’t an act that should be blamed on Islam by any means. Too often, the media jumps forward to condemn the whole Islamic community due to the actions of extremists. Like the 9/11 massacre, events like these are followed by fear and overgeneralization about Muslims. In France, it is no different, and many individuals have mobilized throughout Europe to advocate for anti-immigration stances.

What one must first understand is that the Muslim community there is extremely different when compared to the American Muslim community. In France, Muslims are often at a disadvantaged socio-economic status, and fill many blue-collar jobs. This often leads to heavy discrimination, so when events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre occur, they use it as an opportunity to condemn the entire culture in an attempt to reduce immigration. It must be understood, however, that this isn’t an act of Islam; it is an act of sadistic terrorism that has been labeled as France’s worst massacre in 50 years.

What needs to be made clear to terrorists around the world is that the globe is mobilizing to combat the intolerance that terrorists such as these created. I would want to know how different the American response would have been if this attack had happened on United States soil. Although Americans have become slightly more tolerant over the years, it is hard to think that a mass increase in negative prejudice against Muslims wouldn’t be a part of the aftermath.

Ultimately, this tragedy is one that has been dealt with through extreme sadness mixed with solidarity as millions rose around the world to support the victims, their families, and the French community. It must be said that by attempting to make France fall, all these terrorists did was make the entirety of Europe stand stronger.

Folt and Scandal at Carolina

Reflecting on a year of scandals by looking at the story of Chancellor Folt.

BY DUNCAN YETMAN

Those who are unaware of UNC’s academic history may feel sorry for Chancellor Folt. After becoming UNC Chancellor in April 2014, she has become the face of an academic scandal in the African-American Studies Department, culminating in a damning report by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. Look closely, however, and it is clear that Chancellor Folt’s tenure at Carolina has not only been dictated, but created by scandal.

The timeline begins in 2012. Pressured by numerous academic investigations, Chancellor Holden Thorp announced his resignation from the university. Weeks later, a search committee was established. The committee was composed of 21 members representing a wide-variety of UNC interests, including students, faculty, donors, and athletic boosters.  It seemed clear from the onset that this search was not necessarily about reversing Chancellor Thorp’s academic record, which resulted in increases to both undergraduate applications and research grants, but to rather improve the balance between athletics and academics at UNC. After a six month search behind closed doors, Chancellor Folt was unanimously selected by the UNC Board of Governors in a largely ceremonial vote.

Those who knew Chancellor Folt were likely surprised by the decision. Before coming to UNC, Folt had spent 11 years in leadership positions at Dartmouth – about as far as one can be from the athletically-driven, public nature of UNC. Initially hired by Dartmouth in 1983, Folt quickly rose to become dean of faculty in 2004, and then interim president in 2012 after Jim Yong Kim left to become the head of the IMF.

Her tenure there, however, was not always peaceful. Notable among her decisions was to pass/fail an entire class after widespread complaints of unfair grades by Jon Appleton, one of the distinguished faculty members at Dartmouth. Responding to a question raised by a member of the Dartblog, a campus newspaper, Appleton responded as follows:

ChancellorFolt--NoahPonton

@ Noah Ponton

“When Folt changed all the grades to ‘pass’ without ever having looked at the work or having spoken to me, I went to Jim Wright to complain… He said I shouldn’t make so much of the violation of my academic freedom as I was part of the ‘Dartmouth family.’… But then I did write to the faculty and this was picked up by the state and national press.”

The response by Folt, among others, was less than welcoming. “When this article and others appeared Folt, college attorney[Robert] Donin and former Provost [Barry] Scherr called a meeting and threatened me with disciplinary action if I did not cease my public campaign to reveal their violation of my academic freedom… I taught at Dartmouth forty-three years. The first forty were a gift and the last three a nightmare.”

While some may criticize her judgment at the time, the decision of Folt to pass/fail the grades speaks to her desire to deal with crises actively rather than passively, placing more importance on the general image of the university than any particular faculty member. Other instances, such as her decision to cancel classes for a day after racist comments were raised online (more on this story here) solidify this preference.

This boldness to stand up to faculty is not her only defining characteristic. In 2011 she helped create Dartmouth’s first campus-wide strategic planning process. Rather than one large report, the process was a combination of nine groups which offered a wide variety of criticisms. Though the exact details of the report are closed-off for non-Dartmouth students and alumni (thanks, Dartmouth), the summary of the process contained a wide range of suggestions, from “supporting faculty experimentation…, developing a comprehensive communication strategy…, [and] promot[ing] greater engagement with international alumni.” It’s pretty clear that many of these goals are rather vague, yes, but they demonstrate Folt and others’ desire to frame the university in a particular context, and essentially establish a clear narrative on how to lead Dartmouth into the future.

These two skills — her independence and her desire for a campus-wide vision — were exactly the characteristics UNC wanted. Beginning in 2012, Mary Willingham, a UNC employee who worked with an athlete support program, alleged to reporters that UNC athletes received improper help from faculty. While defended by the media, her divisive comments (she once said that “We may as well go right up the street to Glenwood Elementary and let all the fourth graders in here”) caused unease within the university. Though the scandal had begun a year earlier, the revelation began a firestorm of media attention, little of it positive. Following her resignation in 2014 due to a hostile work environment, she filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming that the university’s “retaliatory animus was a substantial causative factor for the adverse action that was taken against the plaintiff [Willingham.]”

At the same time, UNC was also challenged by a sexual assault scandal. Like many universities around the country, UNC faced criticism for its insufficient policies regarding sexual assault, namely, insufficient support and the policy of relegating sexual misconduct matters to the Honor Court. As a result of these policies, two complaints were filed to the Department of Education in January 2013, shortly followed by one of the victims, Landen Gambill, being charged with an honor code violation for “intimidation of the attacker”. This action resulted in another federal investigation by the DOE, bringing the total to three cases. Such actions further mired the university into more cases of gross misconduct, cases which challenged UNC’s reputation for academic and social integrity.

The strong character of Folt followed her from Dartmouth. Rather than let Willingham’s report dictate the narrative of the scandal, Folt harshly criticized inaccuracies within the report and assigned a complete independent investigation last year. The report, led by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein, published its findings a few weeks, ago, to damming results. In initiating the report, however, Folt eliminated the flow of the damaging links and established a clear message that UNC was in control and prepared to move forward in the scandal. In remarks regarding the scandal, Folt said “I certainly learned from the day I arrived in North Carolina that this was an issue and that the lingering doubts were really hurting the institution.”

Her handling of the UNC sexual assault scandal, though less successful, still showed her preference for a strong stance – or at least the appearance of one. Over two years the university established a Title IX office to address compliance issues with the law, though some criticized her choice of Howard Kallem, who had little experience working with victims. Despite further criticisms about the scope and pace of reform, the university has largely pushed on, reviewing drafts of a new sexual assault policy with a sexual assault task force before releasing it on August 28th. One of the most important items was the clarification of consent, which under the new policy is “the communication of an affirmative ‘yes.’” The investigation portion of a sexual assault case was also simplified, with a clearer idea of where their case stands during the investigative process. A yearly review allows an advisory group to makes changes as needed, and thus respond to any weaknesses in the new system.

Why mention such specifics? Because it speaks to the work the university has done to at least try to make conclusive progress on UNC’s critical failures. The strong action by Folt has drawn some criticism, notably in her handling of Willingham’s report, but, as a whole, that strong stance has paid off. In this sense, she carried her assertiveness – what was often seen as a weakness at Dartmouth – over into an institution that needed a strong voice. Much of the success of the last two years, if not directly attributable to Folt, was assisted by her no-nonsense approach in an effort to unite the university around the scandals.

The question lingers, however, as to whether this stance will be beneficial to Carolina down the road. A sobering note would be to look at Dartmouth. In 2014 Dartmouth was the only Ivy League institution that experienced a decline in admissions, with applications falling by a whopping 14% from 2013 to 2014. While many of the reasons for this drop can be attributed to decisions made in the last two years – the decision, for instance, to not accept AP credits – one can wonder whether the culture Folt helped define created a negative environment for the university. That question, of course, is debatable.

What is clear, however, is that in the next few years Folt will have to do more than mere crisis management. The university is still reeling from historic budget cuts, yes, and while progress has been made on sexual assault, more work needs to be done. The critical question, however, for Folt is whether she can successfully balance UNC’s unique position as a research university, a public university, and an athletic university. For all of Thorp’s success and popularity, he was unable to achieve that balance. The question remains as to whether Folt will do the same.

The Food Security Debate

What will ultimately promote health and prevent hunger?

BY COLE WILHELMI

The World Food Prize international symposium might be the largest scientific conference that you’ve never heard of. Each October, hundreds of top government officials, food scientists, policymakers, and social justice workers convene in Des Moines, Iowa, with the stated mission of “advancing human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” The symposium is capped with the annual award ceremony, where the World Food Prize is presented to an individual who has made remarkable strides in the fight against world hunger. It’s often regarded as the Nobel Prize of food security (although with a much smaller fraction of press coverage). If anything, however, the world needs to spend more time listening to what comes out of this conference. Chances are, the opinions generated by the symposium might be radically different from your own impressions on food security, and they will undoubtedly have a major impact on guiding food policy decisions worldwide.

sonder market

Student group Sonder Market sells organic food on campus. @SpencerNelson

So why are the ideas of the conference so important, and how do they stack up against the beliefs on food security commonly held by the American public and students at UNC? One of the key principles agreed upon at the conference (and overlooked by much of the public) is that solving world hunger is a complex and vastly multidimensional issue. The going mentality in many public institutions is that a certain problem is best solved by compartmentalizing it in a specific “silo”–a system of thinking that minimizes collaboration, resource-sharing, and interdisciplinary solutions. We see silo management at work at UNC and many other universities: the department of chemistry does chemistry, the department of computer science does computer science, the department of economics does economics, and so on. UNC has improved on its interdisciplinary course offerings in recent years, but they are still rather uncommon. Most collaboration occurs among fields that show obvious similarities: biology and chemistry for example, or mathematics and physics. The biggest divide exists between the hard sciences and the humanities–very rarely will you encounter a class or department that works between the two. However, the dialogue at the World Food Prize demonstrated that this type of interdepartmental cooperation is absolutely critical to winning the fight against world hunger. Food security lies at the crux of public policy, economics, and science: idea sharing is the only way that the global food security movement will succeed. The objective of the conference wasn’t just to gather all the leading experts on food security, but also to recognize how incredibly diverse the expertise is. Dr. Amit Roy, President of the International Fertilizer Development Center in India, sums it nicely: “One intervention area won’t be enough to end hunger. Achieving sustainable food security depends on holistic solutions… Going forward, it is vital to have partnership: between the farmer, the research institution, the policymaker and others.”

The conference spent a good deal of time covering the use of technology and how to best integrate it into food security solutions. Here is where I think the views held by the attendees of the World Food Prize and the opinions of college students most differ. Certain technologies deemed critical at the conference are non-contentious and infrequently discussed outside the field: developing precision farming methods and using computers and big-data to make farming more efficient, for instance, will be key over the next fifty years. But most people choose to devote their attentions to the more controversial tools- the most (in)famous of which is the GMO. The use of genetic modification in crops is bitterly debated on the news and on college campuses, but the consensus among most environmental groups is that GMOs are anathema to sustainability and healthy food production. Keynote speakers and panelists at the World Food Prize conference were, surprisingly, mostly pro-GMO. They made an important distinction between GMO, the technology, and GMO, the agricultural system that most people don’t understand. They recognize that GMO the technology is just that: a technology, a tool that should be used with many others to solve hunger problems in a diverse set of situations. When used appropriately, this can be a tremendous boon to global food supplies. In fact, the 2014 World Food Prize winner, Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, focused his research on selective wheat breeding, ultimately creating over 480 wheat varieties adapted to grow in a huge array of climates and environmental conditions. His work boosted wheat production by over 200 million tons in 51 different countries.

However, most of us only hear about GMO the agricultural system. The one associated with large crop monoculturing, environmental destruction, big agribusiness, nutritional deficiencies, over-fertilization and pesticide use…or basically, the US system of agriculture. When Americans hear “GMO”, they automatically associate the technology with the negative effects of the system, when in reality, the two are not necessarily linked. As Mark Lynas, author and environmental activist, said in panel discussion, “We can have GMOs produced in the public sector, without patents, which are offered free of charge to smallholder farmers.” When used correctly, GMOs can be adapted like any other scientific development. The same principle goes for fertilizer and pesticides–well-regulated use must happen to revitalize agriculture in struggling regions in the developing world. Leaders at the symposium dubbed this concept “sustainable intensification”- acknowledging the need for technology in agrisystems without abusing it.

Many of UNC’s student organizations related to food development and sustainability share a similar profile: UNC Sprout, FLO (Fair, Local, Organic), and the Sonder Market, an organic food stand that just recently debuted on campus, all favor organic crop production over conventional. Does this mean that they wrongly reject the idea of “sustainable intensification?” Not necessarily. The principle behind sustainable intensification is to embrace technology where it’s most needed. And it’s clear that in the United States, conventional food technologies have been overused at the cost of consumer and environmental health. So it’s also a matter of recognizing differences in priorities across regions: in developing nations, food production and boosting yield are most important, while in food rich countries like the US, nutrition and environmental health have become top concern. So far, organizations at UNC have done a good job of promoting more sustainable agriculture in North Carolina, and finally giving students on campus some healthier eating options.  One must only remember that “local and organic” is not always superior to conscious conventional farming, nor is it always feasible in developing countries facing shortages.

Ebola: Sensationalized or Plausible Threat?

BY SAMI LACHGAR

Once a disease that was just an urban legend to most Americans, Ebola has now flourished into an outbreak of uncalculated fear, inappropriate jokes, and media frenzy. The presence of Ebola in the first-world community, although in an infinitely smaller proportion as what is found in Africa, has illustrated the varied response to the disease across different cultures. While thousands of people die every year of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, Americans have only just now become interested in the hysteria caused by the disease because it has finally presented itself in the United States.

640px-Ebola_virus_particles“I don’t like the response in the United States particularly because we didn’t get involved until it was a threat to us,” freshman public health major, Sarah Wright, said. “It’s a world health crisis and the way that we’re responding just isn’t very directed.”

Ebola is a relatively new disease, discovered in 1976 in Western Africa. The initial case of Ebola passed from a fruit bat to a human, and since then it has drifted across Africa. The main problem with the tumultuous reactions of many Americans towards Ebola is that few understand how difficult it is to contract the disease.  Ebola can only be transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids, which mostly comes from sex, vomit, or blood.

The World Health Organization now reports over 10,000 recorded cases of Ebola, and warns that that number could escalate to 20,000 by the end of the year without preventative care. Like most viruses, the more people that have the disease, the more likely it is to spread.

This factor makes it necessary for people to be taught proper prevention techniques in third world countries such as wearing protective clothing. While maintaining a clean environment and quarantining infected bodies in Africa may be difficult, the United States has had little to no trouble. Most Americans see Ebola as a disease that has the potential to sweep through an entire population, but that is simply not realistic. In Africa, the main reason behind the spread is that the burial rituals require a cleansing of the bodies. This puts many people in direct contact with the dead that are still infected, while this would very rarely be the case in the United States.

To give a better idea of how controlled the virus actually is, one can look at the Center for Disease Control’s web page and find the well-documented list of possible people who may have had contact with infected people. These people are then checked out in order to make sure that they are disease-free and once the disease is found in a person, extensive measures are taken in order to keep them from getting in contact with anyone else. These measures range from protective clothing to proper disposal of used equipment, which are things that are lacking in African, third world countries.

To be fair to those that have an extreme fear of contracting Ebola, its symptoms do truly seem as though they came straight out of a horror film. The hemorrhagic fever not only leads to shortness of breath, chest pain, flu-like symptoms, and rashes, but it also results in vomiting blood, blood in diarrhea, bleeding from the eyes, and heavy bleeding in the gastro-intestinal tract. In cases that end in mortality, that death occurs approximately six to 16 days after the contraction of the disease.

The sad reality of the situation is that the American response to Ebola has an eerie similarity to the response to World War II in the respect that the United States didn’t actively care about the genocide of millions of jews until they were directly implicated. The reactions to the cases that have appeared in the United States have drawn similarities to reactions to Pearl Harbor where Americans reacted dramatically to the approximately 2,500 deaths from the attack. Most Americans had no tangible knowledge of what Ebola was before the viral infections occurred, and now millions of dollars are being funneled towards research and prevention efforts, even though the main method of prevention is sterilizing instruments used to treat Ebola patients. In other words, donating to ease the spread of Ebola is definitely good, but organizations dealing with Ebola need much more directed efforts towards the root cause.

“Senator Hagan has failed the people of North Carolina and the nation by not securing our border,” Thom Tillis said during an Oct. 7 debate with Hagan. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an Ebola outbreak, we have bad actors who can come across the border. We need to seal the border and secure it.”

This quote from Senator Thom Tillis not only exemplifies the overreaction of the American people, but it also displays how Ebola is being used as a political tool. In this case, Republicans are using the lack of action as a way to attack Democrats and are attempting to capitalize off of public unease about the issue.

The outbreak has been plastered all over every source of media, which has only amplified the American response. However, the Obama administration has fought back against the stigma surrounding the transmission of Ebola by having an American nurse infected with the disease meet with the President. At the end of the meeting, Obama gave her a hug, which has been put on display for all to see so that the general public understands the exaggeration of their own responses.

Only 19 cases of Ebola have arisen outside of third world countries (mostly from African aid workers bringing it back to their respective countries), and these have been well contained but have gathered more media attention than any previous Ebola death in the third world. In Spain, a nursing assistant contracted the virus, but has just recently been medically cleared. During her time in the hospital, however, authorities killed her dog out of fear that it might act as a carrier, which drew much criticism from the public. Ironically, it seems as though more people on the world stage cared about the death of the dog than the death of thousands of African men, women, and children with the disease.

Furthermore, Ebola has often been paralleled to AIDS in the transmission process, such as when Center for Disease Control Director Tom Friedman stated that “In the 30 years I’ve been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS,” but that is simply not the case.

AIDS affects approximately four more people per person infected, but it occurs over a lifetime and spreads slowly. Comparatively, Ebola spreads to approximately two more people for every person infected, but over about a 30 day period. Ebola has a higher potential for spreading. This, paired with the menacing 50 percent mortality rate in the third world, grants justification to the panic; however, it must be understood that prevention techniques are simple and make the virus virtually impossible of becoming a pandemic in the United States. The media, unfortunately, tends to leave out how simple the disease is to control.

Ultimately, it must be understood that as long as Ebola is not an airborne virus, there is no reason to dramatize its implications or even panic as a nation. It is undoubtedly a disease that must be dealt with, but this can be done with public awareness in favor of public fear.

“The general population of the US doesn’t understand that it’s NOT going to happen here,” Wright stated. “We need to step towards clearing the stigma about it so that fewer people panic irrationally.”

Eric Garner, the human being

How would you describe Eric Garner?

A father?
A grandfather?
A New Yorker?
An American?
A black man?
A dead man?

How about a human?

First and foremost, Eric Garner was a human being, and he was killed, unarmed and in public by men whose job it is to protect civilians.

When looking at Eric Garner’s death, various hypotheticals are useful when considering why the police treated him in such a violent manner. If Eric Garner was woman, a child, a banker, or white, would he have been choked out in broad daylight? It is essential to not only consider race but also gender and socio-economic status when perceiving situations in which police abuse and misused their power and authority. Recently, the United Nations expressed legitimate concerns “relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

Following his death and the death of Michael Brown, Steven W. Hawkins, the executive director Amnesty International USA, issued a statement urging the Department of Justice to “conduct such a review and to collect and publish national data annually on the number of people killed each year by law enforcement.” Not only do these tragic events highlight flaws in the justice system, but they also expose a major human rights violation: the inappropriate use of lethal force by police officers and a complete lack of accountability for unjustly killing civilians.

America, a longstanding beacon of human rights, equality, and freedom, is under the microscope, and the militarization and brutality of the police force show a dire situation. When it comes to Eric Garner, the complications of the Michael Brown case don’t exist. Unreliable statements and speculations are not needed because a fully explicit video exists, one where the words “I can’t breathe” can be heard as Eric Garner suffocates on the concrete. Following the events in Ferguson, one widespread conclusion was that proper documentation is need for police, and the president himself is pushing for legislature that would place cameras on every cop. Yet in the case of Eric Garner video evidence did exist, and still there was no indictment. This issue exists not because actions go unseen, but because the system allows violence to happen without consequence.

The lack of indict for the officer who killed Eric Garner is simply unacceptable, and it is also inhumane. At the very least, the family of the Eric Garner deserves a trial. On behalf of those who have died for humans right and for those still fighting for them today, Eric Garner deserves a trial. The sounds of civil suffocation are everywhere, and everyone has the right to breathe.

Commentary by Norman Archer