Monday, January 25, 2016

A Thousand or One?

We read a story in English, today. It was simultaneously wonderful and awful and intriguing and confusing and everything in between. But more than anything, it made me stop. And it made me think.

It was a short story, titled "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." It seemed to me to be a parody, a type of social commentary on how the modern world runs. The story opens in this seemingly perfect society that is positively overflowing with music, grandeur, and joy. But there's a catch, of course. In exchange for the "happiness of thousands," one child is subjected to absolute torture - kept locked, on the edge of starvation and the brink of diseased death, in a locked, windowless room. Days bleed into years, but still, the child is offered little more than a bowl of corn meal and anxious stares. It knows no kindness. And while Omelas' society is well aware of the child's existence and disturbed by its imprisonment, all are aware of its necessity. They accept that in exchange for their happiness, the life of this child must be made absolutely miserable. They know, but they don't act.

To be honest, when I first finished reading this short story, I was hit by a sense of nausea and disgust, but I wasn't sure who it was directed towards. I am a total bleeding heart so, at first, I grew angry at the Omelan citizens for allowing such a travesty to happen. But then I learned that they hated imprisoning the child as much as I hated reading  about it. So I turned my anger towards the ones who walked away, before realizing that standing up to an entire society is extraordinarily difficult. In all honesty, I couldn't be righteously indigent at any particular character or thing - Omelas was by no means fair, but it was not evil or unfeeling either.

It made me think, though, about our own world and the different sacrifices that are hidden in our own basements and shadows. The US relies on the manual labor and hardship of a significant number of people to keep it running. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, domestic sweatshops kept the nation supplied with all the goods our citizens desired. Now we've outlawed such institutions on our shores so, instead, companies simply ship out their factories to other countries. Within the US, we rely on the poor and uneducated to fulfill different undesirable jobs, like picking crops on large scale farms. We are often quick to sympathize, always willing to open out wallets for the latest KickStarter for a homeless  family or a highly publicized drive for natural disaster victims. Yet, we are also content to forget, pushing back the thoughts that children may have stitched our shirts or impoverished adults may have assembled our electronics in horrendous working conditions. I'm not sure how I feel about that. And I'm not sure what can or should be done about this. What I do know is that America is made great because every citizen has an opportunity at happiness, a chance to shape their own lives. In our own Omelas, we should value the potential happiness of even a single individual on the same scale and of the same importance as the happiness of many. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Fees vs First Amendment?

The United States began as a nation of workers. Immigrants flocked from the four corners of the world to work on its fabled shores while citizens traveled across its vast lands in search of jobs of their own. This country was built on the principles of hard work, independence, and unwavering belief. Over the decades, as the US became more industrialized, the plight of workers of all types has followed a largely upward trend. 

The nineteenth century saw slavery and indentured servitude give way to paid work while the twentieth century bore witness to the rise of labor laws and the slow death of sweatshops. At times, the process to fair, safe labor conditions was long and dark. Sometimes workers' strikes were met with violent brutality, as in the Homestead Strike of 1892. There, steelworkers at a Carnegie Steel plant walked out in protest of incredibly low wages. They were met almost immediately by a band of paid strikebreakers, the Pinkertons, who beat them back. Meanwhile, barely regulated factories with trapped employees burned to ashes, as seen in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. There, workers were trapped behind locked doors, broken fire escapes, and narrow staircases and forced to choose between jumping to their deaths or burning alive. And yet, events like these spurred action. State and federal governments took note of the public's outrage and pushed forward laws to protect workers from unsafe working conditions while unions rose up to protect workers from their employees. Unions have played a huge role in shaping both the economy, the political landscape, and the labor market of the United States and they continue to have a huge impact, today.

That's exactly why the ongoing Supreme Court case, Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association, has gotten so much attention. The implications arising from the future decision of this court case would send ripples out through the country and could deal either a harsh blow or a strengthening pat to all public American unions. 

The case began with ten public teachers who resided in California. Like all California teachers, they were required to submit a certain amount in fees to the California Teachers Association (CTA), a union for public school teachers, despite not being members, themselves. The CTA argues that this money goes toward collective bargaining to increase teachers' wages and keep them employed - something that all public teachers, unionized or not, benefit from. As such, even teachers who are not part of a union are expected to pay this fee. However, teachers are allowed to get refunds on whatever portion of their fee has been spent on political activity by the union if they do not agree with that activity and do not wish to support it. This was done to ensure their First Amendment rights would be met. However, those ten teachers argue that they should not be required to pay any fee, at all, since they're not union members. Their position is that they receive few if any benefits from the union's collective bargaining and simply do not wish to be associated with its political activity.

The Supreme Court previously upheld unions' right to demand fees from nonunion public workers in a 1977 case, but is now reconsidering whether this goes against public teachers' First Amendment rights. I think it's a particularly intriguing case because it calls into question the very purpose of unions. In theory, the true point to having any type of union at all is to keep workers protected and to ensure they are paid fair wages in good conditions. Unions allow workers to band together and form a single collective voice so that they are better heard. However, over the years, unions have become increasingly politicized. Many spend money supporting specific candidates who, in turn, support the unions' positions and promise to further its goals. Quite simply, unions have gotten caught up in the business of lobbying. This isn't necessarily bad! After all, it's great that they allow workers to provide their own input and suggestions to lawmakers. However, that does complicate things when not all workers agree on what those suggestions should be. 

Now, I absolutely love learning about any type of labor event. For me, labor history and labor-related current events lie at the very intersection of my humanities interest and my idealistic outlook - they go to the very core of issues that confront all people across all different walks of life. What draws me so strongly to this specific case is partially this focus on labor issues (specifically an issue that could so profoundly affect so many people) and partially how it skims into politics. I think the question lying at the heart of this debate is "how do you separate politics from labor issues... or is that not possible?" And I'm really curious to see what the justices believe the answer to be.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Something a Little Different

I'm going to deviate from my usual topics for this post. Normally, I scan through the headlines on The New York Times, find something that particularly resonates with me, and start writing. But this week, I find myself too preoccupied and lost in thought to do that. See, for many high school seniors across the US, results from the early round of college applications will be coming out towards the end of this week and into next. Millions of students will spend the next dozen or so days hunched over computer screens, continuously refreshing their emails, waiting to hear back from that one true-love-college they pored their hearts and souls into. And, I know, this all sounds incredibly melodramatic. Parents and other well meaning adults like to reassure us that, "it's just undergrad!" and they're right. These decisions won't dictate our futures nor will they (or at least nor should they) impede our happiness. And yet, I can't help but feel like some innate part of my "value" is tied up in what I'll be hearing next week.

See, when I was little, I was always categorized as the "smart one." One of my earliest memories is sitting in the back of my family car with my dad and mom in the front. It must have been a weekend because we were driving somewhere in the middle of the day and somewhere new, I suppose, because my parents kept making wrong turns. I was probably three or four and I remember hearing my parents say we'd need to make a U-turn and go back. I chirped out from my car seat nest that once we made the U-turn, we'd need to turn right to go the opposite way. It was such a silly, little comment - something that I had no reason to remember saying, nearly 15 years later. But after I said it, my dad turned and gave me a look that I still remember. He looked so impressed and, dare I say, proud? My mom smiled so, so widely and spent the next few minutes praising me and telling my dad how amazing it was that I could figure that out. Of course, when I spent the next half an hour pointing out other directions, eager for more compliments, they found it a little less impressive. Still, that incident shaped me. It solidified up two really huge parts of my personality: that of being a people-pleaser and a "try-hard."

A year or so after that, when I was in kindergarten, my parents found out that our school district wasn't really that great. So they increased their commute lengths and took on debt for the first time in their lives to move our family to another town that had some of the best schools in the state. And each year, right at the end of summer, my parents and I would eagerly await a bundle of letters from my new school that told us I had qualified for the next gifted & talented program or honors course. Then after fifth grade, I got a stack of envelopes from my future middle school. I remember sitting in my kitchen with my parents standing around me, tearing open those envelopes, and reading out that I had gotten into honors Language Arts, honors Science, and honors Social Studies. Immediately, my dad almost subconsciously blurted out, "What about math?" I spent the next few days panicking, only to learn from a friend that there was no official honors Math course - it was just called Pre-Algebra. So I quickly dug out my schedule, found Pre-Algebra listed on row three, and ran over to show it to my dad. Notice a pattern?

When I applied to high schools in eighth grade, the thought of what I'd do if I didn't get into my schools never really entered my mind. I had been so used to being a "big fish in a little pond" - I had grown so complacent - that I just didn't worry much. I didn't necessarily assume I'd get in, but I wasn't really worried about the alternative. My results came back as my parents and I had grown to expect and I had my pick of schools to choose from.

Of course, I experienced failure plenty of times when I was little. But rarely did I experience academic failure. Every now and then, I wouldn't do so well on a quiz or test, but almost never did I experience failure in the classroom to a large degree. Things changed in high school, as they are often wont to do, and I went through a much more mixed amount of successes and failures. I wasn't the best at everything, or even at most things, but by the end of junior year, I found an internal sense of calm and confidence. Even throughout the college app process, I didn't feel on edge. I was happy with myself. But now, I think I'm going to go insane waiting for decisions.

So that was an extraordinary amount of background to get to my main point which is that because of all of that, because of how my childhood experiences led me to define my self-worth, I am now the type of person who refreshes her email every 20 minutes to see if her early college has announced the date it'll be releasing decisions. I'm the type of person who's spent an entire beautifully sunny weekend afternoon sitting in her house, thinking about all the different ways her rejection letter can be worded. I'm the type of person who gets way too emotionally invested in one school and in one decision. Logically, I know that it's not healthy. I know that I should stop obsessing and distract myself more pleasant topics. But at the same time, I feel that I can't. I want to make my parents proud, yes, but I also want to make myself proud and sometimes I think that I can't do that unless I get into my dream school. It's silly, it's nonsensical, it's mentally taxing. So from tomorrow, I'll try not to think about it anymore. But for tonight, for just a few more hours, I'll indulge in my cloud of doubt and worry.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Long and Dark December

Two years ago, I became obsessed with Coldplay. I would sing along at the top of my lungs to Viva la Vida and tear up when I heard the first few notes of Yellow. I had a favorite song picked out, a favorite album lined up, a favorite lyric chosen. And then I heard Violet Hill. I don't mean it lightly when I say it was almost a religious experience. I listened to Violet Hill at a time when I was feeling an odd mix of idealism and hopelessness - I had so many plans for the world, so many ways I wanted to help and make things better, but at the same time, I was also so frustrated with my fellow human. My dad would tell me news he heard about a child in a poor family in India that was the top student in his state, but was forced to do manual work as a brick-layer because his family could not afford to send him to college. I'd read on the New York Times about unrest in the Middle East and how dozens more men were killed, women raped, and children enslaved as ISIS continued to take control of small villages and towns. I'd see around me as I walked down the streets of New York homeless people crouched among littered wrappers, with their backs against buildings that saw millions of dollars of profit in a single day. I was disgusted, enraged, and just so fed up with the sheer inequality I saw.

I think I have to share the lyrics to Violet Hill in order to properly express just how much it impacted me. It goes like this: 

Was a long and dark December // From the rooftops I remember // There was snow // White snow
Clearly I remember // From the windows they were watching // While we froze down below
When the future's architectured // By a carnival of idiots on show // You'd better lie low
If you love me // Won't you let me know?
Was a long and dark December // When the banks became cathedrals // And the fox // Became God
Priests clutched onto bibles // Hollowed out to fit their rifles // And the cross was held aloft
Bury me in armour // When I'm dead and hit the ground // My nerves are poles that unfold
If you love me // Won't you let me know?
I don't want to be a soldier // With the captain of some sinking ship // Would stow, far below
So if you love me // Why'd you let me go?
I took my love down to violet hill // There we sat in snow // All the time she was silent and still
If you love me // Won't you let me know?
If you love me // Won't you let me know?

It hit me. Profoundly. And I was reminded of it this past weekend. Last night, over a hundred people were murdered in Paris as they were enjoying a Friday evening in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Their deaths were caused by acts of senseless depravity. They are the latest casualties in an unofficial war that has gone on for decades too long, but they were also individuals, ordinary people who had lives and dreams and memories that were cut far too short. The monsters responsible have turned their peaceful religion into a guise for war, fitting rifles into the pages of their holy books and turning their age-old prayers into violent battlecries. What can be done? What can we do? I was watching the Democratic debate tonight and I saw the candidates grapple with those questions, trying to testify before the country that they have a plan, that they can lead us in our fight on terrorism. I couldn't help but respond with some degree of cynicism. 

For the past several months, I have been watching what amounts to little more than a carnival of idiots on show. The Republican debates have fully given up on being anything other than another source of cheap entertainment - a reality show featuring our large and diverse cast of edgy characters. I've listened to people happily announce that they only watched the debate to see Trump, to laugh at his absurdity, to find humor in the people we may very well elect to lead our nation. I've heard comments that are downright racist and sexist lead to increases in candidates poll numbers. I've seen the type of finger-pointing name-calling that should have been eliminated in kindergarten be brought onto a national debate stage. And perhaps the Democratic candidates are more civilized and open-minded, but they, too, are turning a presidential campaign into a contest of how entertaining each candidate is. Hillary Clinton decided to bring Katy Perry, a pop icon who has absolutely nothing to do with politics, with her to her rally in Iowa to keep the masses entertained with songs. 

So when I saw some of these candidates get up on stage and insist that they can fight terrorism (and after I've seen the tweets and other messages on social media that their opponents on the other party have been using to express condolences for Paris and rage against ISIS), I get hit by a wave of distrust. Politics has become so cheap, it seems almost irreverent to be discussing such an awful attack minutes after you insinuated that your competitor is a liar and cannot be trusted. The Paris attacks are being treated as another campaign issue and are getting folded into the sticky web of the presidential race, rather than being discussed as a separate global issue that should not be thrown around. The fact that the Lebanon capital was shaken by suicide bombers just the night before was not mentioned once on that stage, even though over 50 civilians died in that case, as well. Perhaps I'm getting overly sensitive about this. Maybe I'm just frustrated with all the campaigning, I don't know. But I do know that this is an issue that deserves a lot more from the candidates than a couple tweets and 4 minutes of discussion in front of some news journalists (while simultaneously trying to claw out from under your competitors by showcasing your sheer compassion). We have to do something genuinely meaningful. Something that will actually help and not just content ourselves with tossing words around. 

It is going to be a long and dark December.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finding a Home

Everyone has a story. Mine spans across three generations, two continents, and five different homes. It's not unique in theme or even in ending, but is simply a personal retelling of a tale that has repeated millions of times over. It is the story of a journey fueled by the rumors of the all-too-famous American dream, in search of that far-too-elusive quality, opportunity. It is the saga of an immigrant.

Now, I know, I know it does get a little boring to hear so many of these stories over and over again. Each has its own small variations, but at the end of the day, the basic plot line is the same: originally lived in less-than-ideal-circumstances, studied hard and immigrated to the US, arrived for the first time, struggled financially and culturally for several years, and then finally marked that proud moment when they joined the echelons of the middle class and officially became citizens. Each telling is touching and beautiful and motivating, but it does tend to get repetitive after awhile (which I realized after reading way too many sample college essays online). It's gotten to the point where the typical "immigrant story" has become incredibly common and almost cliche. But the point is, there are millions of people across the US and across the world, as a whole, who have similar rags to riches tales.  And, yet, there are millions more that would give up so much just to have a chance of forming their own.

Every time I check the headlines of the NY Times, I find at least one article about the very same huge group of people who are trying desperately to immigrate. Originating from Syria, Afghanistan, and other war-ravaged areas in the Middle East, these people clearly are fleeing from their homes for the chance of a better life. Yet, when they arrive in Europe, they are met with fences and police officers and a seeming wall of hatred and mistrust. And I understand, really and truly, when the governments of countries like Germany say that they simply do not have the resources to take in the mass of migrants waiting at their borders. Integrating so many people into a society that has an entirely different language and culture is incredibly difficult, and several months of adjustment time will probably be needed before many migrants are able to find jobs. It will definitely be an effort that puts a dent in Germany's coffers. What I don't understand, though, is the anti-migrant hysteria that has risen up from segments of the public.

I have read and heard so many reactions that have simply summed up to: "I don't want them here." People insist that they don't want their hard-earned tax dollars euros to be wasted giving handouts to these migrants. Or they like to mention that these migrants come from a culture that's simply too different and point to past bouts of violence from immigrant communities. All of which sounds relatively reasonable (if a bit selfish and prejudiced), except then I remember that we are so quick to label these Syrians and Afghans and Iraqis as "migrants" that we forget that they're people. They all faced terrible hardships and horrors in their home countries. They all endured horrendous, unthinkable conditions in their flight to Europe. They all have their own stories.

When I flipped through the news a couple weeks ago, I heard Scott Pelley describe a young man man who hid inside the hood of a moving car for hours, withstanding terrible heat and cramped space just for a chance to sneak into Europe. The report went on to talk about a single mother with a frail toddler, desperate to get her daughter to a hospital in Europe capable of performing needed heart surgery. She ended up getting scammed out of $12,000 by smugglers and was interviewed while she and her brother roamed the streets of Greece, homeless and penniless. The people making their way to Europe are not looking to take a vacation, they're not trying to just find a place where they can make a little more money or have a little more opportunity. Many are genuinely fleeing for their lives, away from air strikes and violence and quickly shrinking sources of water and other resources. And instead of extending a hand to try and help, instead of at least expressing sympathy, so many people are quick to say they don't want migrants coming into their countries. I think that's appalling. I don't pretend to know what the solution to this complex crisis is, but I am positive that it doesn't involve any amount of anti-immigrant hysteria. This has to stop. We need to fix things.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oil Makes the World Go Round

My Saturday mornings are usually lost in the blurry haze of lethargic activity. I roll out of bed (literally - I flop dramatically onto the floor and groan for a few minutes) before stumbling to the bathroom to take a shower. A half an hour later, after steamy water and a bowl of cereal, I buckle myself next to my dad and brace myself for an hour's ride into New York City.  I used to think it was the coolest thing ever to get to go to the city on a weekly basis, to go to Columbia and listen to (usually) fabulous lectures by brilliant students and professors, but, as with most things, the magic wore off with time. I still get excited in class when we learn something mind-blowing, of course, but I started to approach the whole affair with a certain amount of tedium. I was tired, plain and simple. That all changed earlier this year, when I got to take a course on "Energy and the Modern Economy." I entered the course sure that I would spent each class doodling in the corners of my notebook. What interesting things could I learn about the economy? I had always hated finance and economics with their immense reliance on probability and statistics, so I viewed the class as another chore to get over with. I was absolutely sure the professor would be a sixty year old man who spent his youth running around on Wall Street before retiring to Columbia to drone on about the benefits of capitalism. Great.
Instead, I was greeted on the first day by an amazingly witty, knowledgeable, fun PhD student who was barely in his thirties. As the weeks passed by (time went by much quicker than I anticipated), I learned more about coal and solar and biofuels, but above all, I learned about oil. I learned that the world runs on oil - literally. Entire countries' economies hinge on national oil companies' profits while on an individual level, citizens need oil to power their transportation and their lives. International diplomatic relationships are often shifted entirely based off the global concern of oil - after all, the price of oil is set on an international scale and is often transported between countries, mandating that a certain amount of pleasantry and maneuvering is required to keep oil flowing and avoid disrupting peoples' lives. Take the United States' relationship with Saudi Arabia, for example. American officials may frown upon and at times be completely outraged over Saudi Arabia's "religious police" and the restrictions they impose upon women and their citizens, at large, but that frustration is carefully hidden behind a mask of remaining allies to keep oil from destabilizing. As we discussed more and more of the intricacies of oil, I finally realized just how interconnected, and how interdependent, our world is.
Oil shapes the world...
While my energy class ended a few months ago, I've begun to notice how prevalent the topics I learned about are. Every time I browse through headlines in a national newspaper, I see something related to oil, usually tied in with other major international headlines. This week, that story came in the form of a New York Times article describing how rising tensions in Yemen have introduced the possibility of future volatility in the oil market and caused a price spike this Thursday. In Yemen, a group of Houthi rebels are backed by Iran and fight against the country's president who is backed by major oil producer Saudi Arabia. The conflict has led to recent bombings which, in turn, has set the international economic community on edge. While Yemen does not produce a whole lot of oil (usually only around 130,000 barrels a day compared to Saudi Arabia's 9,460,000 barrels per day), it is critically located on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Countless oil tankers go through this strait, passing between Yemen and Africa, in order to get to the Suez Canal and export oil to other nations (see the map below). Strife in Yemen could mean disruptions in naval traffic, leading to the slowing down of oil deliveries and the stagnation of the global oil economy, at large (read more about this here).
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is tiny, but must be crossed if ships from the UAE or other Middle Eastern countries want to access the Red Sea and Suez Canal
This is not the first time in history that political unrest raised fears about the economic future of oil. Shortly after World War II in 1951, Iran's government underwent a radical shift as a new nationalist leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, took center stage and sought to nationalize Iran's oil reserves. Britain immediately grew concerned, worrying that this governmental change would crash its Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and so began economic sanctions against Iran. The US under President Truman remained largely neutral at first, but later grew to mistrust Mossadegh, worrying that his actions would wildly destabilize Iran's economy. This could mean that the USSR would step in and offer economic assistance to Iran, spreading communism into a new part of the world. Very concerned about the Soviet Union, the US quietly aided a coup d'etat to throw Mossadegh out of power two years after the start of this Iranian Crisis.
As with most domestic concerns for the US at the time, the Iranian Crisis of '51 was a symptom of the much larger threat of the Cold War
These lines of thinking probably seem a bit paranoid - so there is/was unrest in the Middle East, what else is new? So what if the oil market goes up or down a little? The reality, though, is that even a small degree of conflicts in this extraordinarily volatile, but fundamentally important part of the globe makes the entire world hold its breath. We need oil and are desperate to maintain peace in order to get it. Decreases in oil prices lead to happy voters and smoothly moving industries, while increases or sudden oil shortages leave the world on stand-still mode. Fluctuations in oil prices change standards of living at home in the US and directly impact citizens in a way that few other resources can, so every political problem in the Middle East leads to an undercurrent of worry with the question, "What'll happen to oil?" running in everyone's head.

Behind the Scenes

Post transferred from my old blog here:

Politics fascinates me. I love reading about the latest developments, debating over different ideologies, and full-out ranting about the on goings in Washington. In daily life, we are often too polite to voice our perhaps controversial opinions lest we anger or upset someone, but in politics, that same conviction and passion is (sometimes) rewarded. Often, when I'm talking with some of my oldest friends, the conversation somehow meanders into opinions on things like social welfare or abortions or involvement in wars. Despite having known each other for over a decade, we stumble, careful to insert "this is just what I think" or "but I don't really know enough about the topic" into every other sentence. There's a reason why you're not supposed to discuss politics at the table: it's polarizing.
But my dad and I are far past upholding pretenses of pleasantries. Whenever I read about an unfolding situation on Capitol Hill or find out about a national event, I ask my dad what he thinks of it. Often, we agree and commiserate on how terrible things have gotten or how impressed we are by someone's actions. Sometimes we don't. Those times, our innocent conversation somehow derails into slightly loud discussions which generally end with me silently thinking my dad is old fashioned or my dad thinking I am far too young to understand. It's all in good fun, but during these conversations, I can't help but wonder how politicians in Washington debate issues when my dad and I, who usually are so agreeable, can quickly dissolve into barely-concealed arguments. How much must be going on behind the scenes? What kind of concessions must be made just to pass a bill or to garner support for an issue? How, in short, does Washington run?
Of course, we could all just say Washington doesn't run and sit back and smirk at our own wit as we put down our governing body. I definitely do that all the time. But, despite its many, many flaws, the sheer fact that we have a running, (sort of) functional democracy is astounding. And elections! For so many countries across the globe, holding elections turns into an unmitigated disaster and sometimes stops completely, turning presidencies into dictatorships in a matter of months. Somehow in the U.S., each political party manages to orderly choose its candidate and the nation gets to decide which one to vote for. I was particularly impressed by this earlier this year when Mitt Romney quickly hinted at his interest in running in 2016 before he just as quickly announced he would be stepping out a scant week later (read more about that here).
The general buildup to the presidential election of 2016 has been filled with many "maybe" candidates. Hillary Clinton still has not officially announced she would be running (although people have been suggesting she would for years now) and the Republican nominee possibilities include many people from Jeb Bush to Rand Paul to Chris Christie. But the case with Mitt Romney caught my attention more than any other. The man seemed to do a complete 180 following a meeting with several important investors. Within the space of that one meeting, Romney decided to quell his ambitions and, instead, support the party by freeing up his supporters to back other candidates. The entire future of a major political party was shaped in a matter of hours by a couple of men holed up in a room.
This got my curious about hidden political meetings and the amount of things that get done "backstage" in our political system. So much must be going on behind the scenes to keep each elected official going in a certain path and to keep our entire system of government running. The renown "situation room" in the White House must contain countless top-secret military conferences that determine how the United States will interact with the rest of the world.
Of course, hidden meetings of a few impacting the future of many is not something unique about the United States. It is, after all, in the nature of most forms of government to have political leaders be privy to more information and thus make large-scale decisions. The very concept dates back to the days of the Roman Republic. For example, in 56 BC, overly two millenia ago, Roman leaders Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus met in the Lucca Conference to determine the fate of Rome. The actual city was in turmoil, a leader was sorely needed. And so, these three men sat down and created the bonds of the First Triumvirate, ultimately deciding Rome's future for the next several years.
Pompey and Crassus, they decided, would run together for the consulship in 55 BC while Caesar would command Gaul. Once their consulship was over, Crassus would sustain control of Syria while Pompey would keep Hispania. And that was that. Three men controlling the fate of an entire empire, splitting up whole nations as if they were sharing pieces of an entree. While (hopefully), nothing of that large of a scale is happening in Washington, all this simply begs the question: how much do we not know?