It was the nightmare scenario that some have been warning about for years; not a militant attack on our shores, but a covert infiltration into our systems. Early in 2021, a presently-unknown actor remotely accessed a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Florida and attempted to raise the level of sodium hydroxide to incredibly dangerous levels. A plant employee noticed the activity as it happened in front of his eyes, and the attempted poisoning of 15,000 people was stopped even before automated alerts would have notified workers of the change. The investigation remains ongoing, and authorities aren’t publicly suggesting a perpetrator yet.
Fallout continues from another dangerous breach of a software company, SolarWinds. Malicious actors, likely Russian according to US intelligence agencies, compromised SolarWinds software, which was subsequently downloaded onto customers’ systems in a software update. These customers included many government agencies and countless private companies. The initial hacking went unnoticed and unreported for months, exposing unclassified networks at the US Departments of Treasury, State, and Homeland Security (DHS). The full extent of the damage may not be fully understood for years.
Older incidents continue to resurface as well, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled charges against three North Korean military hackers, an extension of DOJ’s charges in the 2018 Sony hack. DOJ also charged the hackers with schemes to steal over $1.2 billion from banks across multiple continents and the theft of over ten million dollars worth of cryptocurrency.
On a long summer’s day in Philadelphia, year 1787, a passerby asked Benjamin Franklin what form of government the Constitutional Convention devised. Franklin responded, “[a] republic, if you can keep it” [emphasis added].” Over 200 years have passed, and Franklin’s iconic quote nonetheless remains etched in many Americans minds.
After a tumultuous year, America remains an unfinished project of what the Framers envisioned some 200 years ago. America lies here battle-tested and bruised from centuries of political, ethnic, and racial strife. We looked to the 2020 election as a time to reckon with our different interpretations of America’s common creed. The election became the battle for the soul of America.
As we struggle to keep our republic amidst extreme polarization, we also struggle to keep the bonds that unite Americans. Over the course of many years, we have depended on our federal government to solve our divisions, only to see them deepen. As Americans look toward Washington D.C. to settle our disagreements and make ever harder compromises, we neglect our own communities, our own neighbors.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, stated that, “politics is filling a void of the hollowing out of national, local traditional tribes.” For decades, Americans built their identities based on their neighborhoods, workplaces, spiritual groups, and families. People now look to politics for a shared identity instead of local communities.
Among the events that happened in the 2020 election cycle, Virginians voted in support of a constitutional amendment establishing a bipartisan commission for redistricting across the state. The commission, which will be composed of both citizens and legislators, will draw congressional and district maps before submitting them for approval by the Virginia General Assembly.
The composition of the commission has faced some heat from various legislators and community advocates, with the Virginia NAACP citing the possibility for direct harm to Black and brown voters across the state. Because the General Assembly’s leaders select the legislators who will serve on the commission, as well as the five retired circuit court judges who will choose the citizen members from a list provided by the political leaders themselves, there is a strong belief that powerful politicians still control the process. And to complicate matters, there exists no requirement within the amendment to diversify the commission.
While advocates believe that this commission will provide transparency in what is normally a behind-closed-doors process, those who opposed the amendment are convinced that, because of the party leaders’ control, it is “enshrin[ing]” gerrymandering into law.
In South Asia, between India and Thailand, the reclusive country of Myanmar has been turned upside down in the past three weeks. The democratic experiment that began in 2011 following the transfer of some power from Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, came to an end in the early morning hours of February 1st. While military coup d’états are not as common as they once were, this development could have far-reaching implications for the new foreign policy goals of the Biden administration. President Joe Biden has publicly committed to upholding human rights and democracy worldwide. China has expressed an interest in improving its relationship with the United States under the Biden administration, but significant U.S. intervention in Myanmar would undoubtedly strain relations further. China has invested greatly in Myanmar in the past decade, most notably with the Belt and Road Initiative.
To understand U.S. policy options, one must consider the coup in the context of Myanmar’s fraught history. As Myanmar’s parliament prepared to convene on the morning of February 1st, Tatmadaw soldiers secured the building and detained the country’s civilian leadership, including the de facto civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Officially, the Tatmadaw was merely exercising its constitutional right to declare a state of emergency, in this instance due to allegations of election fraud, which it has said will last for one year. Unofficially, Myanmar is once more outwardly ruled by a military junta—the norm and not the exception since a 1962 coup d’état.
In response to the coup, protests have erupted across the country. Largely, the military government has remained silent—no top generals have spoken to the public or to the media, except for the coup leader and de facto ruler Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Nevertheless, military officials have moved quickly to introduce a law which would make criticizing the junta in any way (including online) punishable by up to three years in prison. World leaders have condemned the coup, including President Biden, who announced sanctions against the coup leaders. Thus far, the only substantial action the United States has taken is to restrict access to the $1 billion in Myanmarese funds held in the United States. President Biden did, however, say that more repercussions would follow.
Further sanctions by the United States are not likely to significantly impact Myanmar’s military government—most of their trade is done with China, which has invested over $20 billion in the country since 1988. Notably, China has not yet passed judgement on the coup, officially referring to the Tatmadaw’s actions as a “major cabinet reshuffle.” The question is, “What should the U.S. do?” The answer may be unpalatable to some, but it is simple: do nothing more than what has already been done.
The pre-employment requirement of psychological evaluations may seem like a formidable blockade to prevent the wrong people from becoming police officers, but as it stands, there are currently many ways for applicants to slip through.
Pre-employment psychological evaluations are a well-known solution adopted by police departments to inhibit unfit applicants from being hired. These tests are a part of the larger effort to increase vigilance around granting officers the power to wield a weapon which can take someone's life away in the blink of an eye.
Over 90% of police departments in the United States demand that applicants pass a psychological evaluation, but most states permit local departments to determine the quality of the testing process.
The Cleveland police officer, Timothy Loehmann, who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, had several red flags pop up in his psychological evaluation. Dr. Thurston Cosner conducted the evaluation and noted in his report that Loehmann "...didn't appear to have much of an understanding of what the work entails" and "...[seemed] fairly rigid and perhaps [had] some dogmatic attitudes that could be problematic in police work.”
This year Tamir Rice would have turned 19 years old.
So, why was Officer Loehmann still hired?
Two main reasons why inept or dangerous police officers slip through this process are the pressures that police academies face to hire new officers and the absence of a standardized police psychological evaluation.