The Digital Divide: Who Will Survive the Video Game Industry’s Online Future?

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With digital downloads taking over the future, physical disks could be on their way out. (Credit: Sara Winegardner)

By Sara Winegardner

Washington, DC – From cartridges to Blu-ray discs, video games have found new homes in physical media in order to store the data for the massive worlds they aim to deliver to audiences everywhere. That is, until now.

As the world has become increasingly more digital, gamers everywhere have begun to ditch the discs of the past to make room for the now most popular purchasing method: the digital download.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, the U.S. association representing companies that publish computer and video games, a 2016 industry report on gaming habits showed that 56 percent of total game sales in 2015 were made through digital formats. The percentage of digital sales has been rising since 2010, outpacing physical sales since 2014.

a gaming infographic

With this shift in consumer behavior, shops have struggled to adapt to the digital shift. New strategies have been proposed to change how long-established processes, like game pre-orders, are approached by brick-and-mortar stores to make them more competitive with their digital alternatives.

In February, physical retailers proposed a massive change in the pre-order procedures to publishers as well as platform holders that would allow stores to sell games prior to their official launch date. The proposed plan was inspired by the pre-loading process that has become wildly popular in digital marketplaces, which allows consumers to download a game before it’s officially released. The game becomes “unlocked” at midnight on its launch date, opening it for nearly immediate play.

Business owners want to transfer this idea to the physical disc, having publishers use the same locking principles to prohibit users from accessing the content until launch date while still granting them the possession of the product.

This could solve a number of problems for online retailers like Amazon. Trying to hit an embargo date and deliver packages on a game’s launch date is a mammoth task, and is often impossible to accomplish. Deliveries can often arrive either days in advance or a week late, resulting in fans being disgruntled by leaks of game footage or by their own inability to play a product that they’ve purchased.

Garrett Kriegseis, a 23-year-old gamer from Burbank, Illinois, has had a number of close friends face this struggle with purchases from Amazon as well as specialty retailers like GameStop.

“Some people would order it off of Amazon or GameStop’s website and get the game a day or two early,” Kriegseis said. “Those people were able to download the game and even play it, maybe not online because the servers weren’t up, but they’re still able to play the story before anyone else.”

Because of these experiences, Kriegseis found the idea of being able to purchase that physical disk early to be a “pretty awesome option.”

Although retailers and consumers could agree that this would be a winning situation for all, publishers have expressed concerns over releasing a game’s code, hidden inside the discs, to the masses that early.

Sean Bristow, a computer and network technician, believes there is hope in fighting those looking to pirate code with this suggested pre-order process.

“There are always going to be critical files for a game that are required for it to run, and so you can definitely have the majority of the files pre-downloaded and installed to this disc, and then have some of the more critical files be downloaded on launch day,” Bristow said. “While they may be able to strip away some of the locked code, it’s not going to be useful without those other critical game files, which they won’t have access to until launch.”

This would ideally work in conjunction with the day-one patches that commonly occur with video games today, delivering crucial updates, bug fixes, and new content that the developer was unable to program into the originally shipped files.

“It depends on the game, it depends on the file, but download the rest of the files and that launches the game,” Bristow said.

Bristow agrees that this hybrid option could be a solution moving forward for games retailers like GameStop, who could suffer if gamers stop choosing to purchase physical media. However, while he believes it could help to “keep them afloat,” Bristow doesn’t believe it will give GameStop the powerhouse status it held in 2009, when the specialty retailer earned more than $9.5 billion in revenues.

“It’s just never gonna hit that high again,” Bristow noted, in large part due to the digital shift. “Downloads are just so much more convenient, and if people do want that nice case with the disc, I think that’ll certainly help drive up the sales for that.”

“But, the number of people who care for that [physical games] are slowly starting to dwindle.”

Kriegseis continues to find more value in buying physical media despite the digital detours of the industry at-large.

“The physical and the digital games are always going to be the same price [at launch],” Kriegseis said. “I feel kind of cheated out if I get a digital game for $60 where I could have paid the $60 and got a solid game with the CD art, the cover art and any extra little pamphlets on the inside.”

Kriegseis sees these additional features as a way to connect with the developer behind the title. He had a particularly memorable experience with the pamphlets found in the CD case for The Witcher 3, which included a special message from developer CD Projekt Red.

“They had a huge pamphlet on the inside from the company itself saying, ‘Thank you so much for purchasing our game. You’re the reason why our company is still going,’” Kriegseis said. “You kind of get a connection with the company if they do something like that.”

Preserving the Present

While physical retailers try to find innovative ideas on how to rebrand themselves and retain their core audiences, publishers and platform holders are looking to retain the power they hold over the industry at-large.

Caught in the middle of this struggle are those trying to preserve the art of video games for the future. These still rely heavily on physical media as they await the freedom from lawmakers and publishers to work in the digital space.

Matt Steadman, the founder and executive director of the Video Game Heritage Institute, which works to preserve the cultural heritage of and promote the art of video games, has concerns far outreaching those of the present. His eyes are on this digital revolution could affect how we save the games being made today for future generations, leading him to start VGHI in Taylorsville, Utah two-and-a-half years ago.

“Our overriding goal is to just build a place where people can go and actually learn about the history of video games, experience them in an interactive environment, things that a lot of people just otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience,” Steadman said. “Interactive media really is the future and is bleeding out into other areas and is really just, I think, an amazing art form.”

Although Steadman admires how far games have come since the early days of the Atari, the digital shift and online connections required for most developed today have organizations like his struggling with how to adapt and preserve the art form for the future. Steadman believes that, without publisher support, the task will be incredibly difficult.

“At this point, the people who produce games and the people who make the money… they really haven’t shown any interest in preserving their work for the future,” Steadman noted. “They’re really the obstacle that’s stopping us.”

This causes problems particularly with games that live in these online spaces, never seeing any sort of physical iteration. A change in the industry has led to a number of games to release “patches” and “updates” after they launch, changing the landscape of the game forever as new content is introduced. For preservationists like Steadman, this means that VGHI must work to preserve every version of a game that comes to exist.

“It’s a huge issue because once those games are patched and they’re changed, there’s nowhere to find the original unless you already had a copy and are no longer allowing updates,” Steadman said. “There’s nowhere to go to that arena and experience the original arena that everyone played when the game was brand-new, but the publishers have access to that and the publishers are really the ones who would enable us to have a way for people to experience that.”

Preservationists have had victories in recent years granting them more freedom when working in these digital and online environments, making the shift from physical media slightly easier.

For video games relying on developer-owned servers to run, recent legislation will allow these worlds to live on long after the developer decides to pull the plug.

“Legally, preservationists and organizations like ours are allowed to create replacement servers and replacement systems to facilitate these games moving forward into the future,” Steadman said. “It’s a special exception that was made to the DMCA [Digital Milennium Copyright Act] just recently, which is really exciting.”

However, these laws are just a starting point, with many more improvements still waiting to be made before organizations like VGHI have the freedom necessary to preserve any and all games being made today.

“At the same time, without having the original developers, original sources, and companies who own that content at least providing some information to push that forward, it’s an extremely difficult thing to just pull off technically,” Steadman said.

Without the support of the publishers and content creators, the task becomes gargantuan, and nearly impossible for a growing organization like his. The switch from physical media could be a positive one in many ways, according to Steadman, but there has to be cooperation from every part of the industry before digital platforms are ubiquitous.

“Physical media is very much on the way out,” Steadman admitted. “That actually makes the job of the preservation easier, but in other ways it makes it much more difficult.”

“The major thing that needs to happen is buy-ins from producers and buy-ins from the big companies like Nintendo and EA and Ubisoft and all these other big game studios who are creating this content and having them realize that, really, what they’re creating is a part of culture and it’s an art form,” Steadman noted. “They’re really the ones in a position to enable organizations like ours to preserve them for the future.”

 

 

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The Debate on Hydroponics: How Should Legislation Define Organic?

Isabella Le Bon

President's Park Greenhouse FBVegetables at George Mason University President’s Park Greenhouse (Facebook: @gmugreenhouse https://www.facebook.com/gmugreenhouse/)

WASHINGTON–The chinampa raised fields, or what have been known around the world as the Aztec floating gardens, were an early example of mankind’s most innovative agricultural systems. Ancient farmers irrigated fields in marshlands, forming multiple plots of land separated by canals. As populations around the globe increase, archeologists and agricultural scholars sometimes look to our ancestors for solutions to food insecurity.

Today food producers are experimenting with alternative agriculture so they can feed growing numbers, as well as make ends meet. The mega agrochemical company Monsanto is promoting genetically modified seeds as the answer. Others believe the planet’s environmental and food security issues can be reduced through organic farming and more local farms. Intersecting with both organic and local food movements is the rise of hydroponic farms.

Populations are most dense in cities where land is sparse and food deserts, areas of low food security, are one too many. Various nonprofit organizations have come together in American cities to develop and promote urban gardens. Some of which, hydroponics, are reminiscent of the pre-ante floating gardens. Hydroponics are crops grown in pools of water-mineral solutions in greenhouses or hoop houses, large coverings that serve to partially control a garden’s environment.

Water-based growing systems have been the subject of recent controversy within the organic farming community. Some organic farmers who use soil argue that soil is essential to growing organic food. Hydroponic farmers say growing hydroponically is more efficient, sustainable and can even produce more nutritive plants.

Sustainability is perhaps the most significant argument in favor of hydroponics. Without the need for soil, hydroponic crops are well suited to urban farming and further innovation in this field could lead to solutions to rising food insecurity. If hydroponics lose the ability to acquire organic certification they could become less relevant to consumers whose demand for organic food continues to rise. Hydroponics’ potential benefits to public health would be lost.

Many hydroponic producers are certified organic, meaning they follow a set of specific regulations developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These rules, laid out in the Organic Foods Production Act, are considered and often recommended by the National Organic Standards Board, a federal advisory board made up of organic food community members.

In February, the NOSB published a discussion paper on aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics especially. The document questions the legitimacy of organically labelled foods grown without soil. In OFPA legislation, soil is a main component of what is called the “organic plan.” Without an adjusted organic plan for soil-less crops, NOSB members consider whether the USDA should cease to grant these kinds of producers organic certification.

Organic soil-based farmers have argued that soil maintenance is an essential part of organic food production. Due to excessive soil erosion, pollution and overgrazing, a lot of earth’s soil lacks the proper nutrients to produce healthy plants. Soil is a mixture of either clay, pieces of rock and organic remains, or dirt. Healthy soil also contains an abundant ecosystem of microbial organisms. These microbes contribute to the recycling of nutrients in the soil and thus to the nutrition of the plants that grow within. In order to both have healthy food crops and sustain the environment for future generations, soil fertility must be maintained and promoted.

Hydroponic growers take soil out of the equation and grow their plants in mineral solutions to which they manually add microbes.

Donielle Nolan, George Mason University’s greenhouse coordinator, works with GMU’s office of sustainability to produce hydroponically grown vegetables for the university’s dining hall.

“Maybe it’s not exactly the same, but you can get really, really close to the same microbial communities that you would have in soil,” Nolan said. “For instance, in my hydroponic system I add to the water beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi which not only hep me to compete with pests, but they also keep the plants healthier.”

Microbial communities in any setting are very complex and diverse making it difficult for scientists to assess the comparability of manmade microbial ecosystems to those in soil. Dr. Adam Diamond, an expert on food sustainability and political economics at American University, said some farmers and researchers believe bacterial communities in hydroponic settings are not comparable to soil. Diamond referenced his conversation with a farmer who stopped growing with hydroponic systems when he discovered research showing soil-less plants were less nutritive as a result of insufficient bacteria.

“They were growing hydroponics and they decided to stop because they found out that hydroponic vegetables had a lot less nutrients,” Diamond said.

Nolan said it is unfair to categorize hydroponic plants as less healthy than soil-based plants.

“If you have just like really sandy soil there could be very few microbes and very few nutrients in there,” Nolan said. “And, if you look at a really healthy hydroponic system there could be more microbes and the produce could end up being more nutritious.”

Not only are natural bacterial communities in soil difficult to study, hydroponic systems’ bacterial compositions vary from garden to garden. Some case studies show equal or greater nutritional value in hydroponics crops, while other studies show the opposite. In general, there has been little research on the topic.

Lack of research will remain an issue if hydroponics become less relevant to consumers. As consumer demand for organic food continues to rise, forbidding organic certification to hydroponic systems could decrease their relevance as a food production system.

“So, again, trying to make hydroponics not organic is not helping the situation,” Nolan said. “It’s not bringing it any further. It’s holding us back, for sure.”

The demand for organic food and increased desire to eat healthfully is the main reason for the rise in hydroponic farms. If the NOSB decides hydroponic plants cannot be labelled organic then consumers may reasonably believe hydroponics are not organic and are thus less healthy. When demand for a product decreases the supply of that product decreases in response.

Any benefits of hydroponic farming which could include driving innovation in search of more advanced techniques would be reduced, or lost. While nutrition benefits of hydroponics growing may be hard to analyze, hydroponic farmers say there is no debate when it comes to sustainability.

“Well first of all, sustainability in terms of, like, not just sustaining the earth and future generations but sustaining the amount of effort you put into it because hydroponics–the biggest benefit, I think, is that there’s no weed,” Nolan said.

A large reason consumers buy organic is because they want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals used in conventional agriculture to reduce pests and weeds. Nolan said the controlled environment in a hydroponic greenhouse allows for less herbicide and pesticide.

“And on an industrial scale, they don’t have the labor to get rid of those weeds, so what do they do?, they cover it in herbicide,” Nolan said.

The hydroponic farm Nolan runs at GMU is not certified organic, but they use no chemical pesticides or herbicides. However, if Nolan were to seek organic certification in the future the USDA might have a problem with something else besides chemicals. Hydroponics systems grow their plants in a water-mineral solution, but there are other growing media involved. Coconut husks, coconut cores and peat moss are some of the typical materials used in hydroponic pools.

Soil-based organic farmers take issue with these growing materials because they do not contain bacterial ecosystems as soil does. Container-grown plants also use these kinds of materials and, like hydroponics, do not have specific regulation sin the Organic Foods Production Act. All the same, there has not been little, if any, opposition against container-grown plants receiving organic certification.

“If you remove the microbes from the soil, all it is, is, clay and sand and like some organic material,” Nolan said. “And rock wool is, or especially coconut core; that’s still organic material, and if you’re adding microbes there’s like almost no difference–like, technically speaking–because you still have that life in the water and you still have that organic material that’s holding it together so, like, I don’t agree with that argument hat is’ any less good.”

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According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two thirds of its fruits and nuts are grown in California. The heavily farmed state has also been on the forefront of the organic and local food movement since the 1970s. As demand for organic foods has since risen, the number of  organic and hydroponic farms have both increased in California.

Dennis Nuxxoll, vice president of federal government affairs for the Western Growers Association, an association representing produce farmer sin western states including California, said any changes to organic labels will directly affect many of the association’s members. Nuxxoll voiced concern over the NOSB’s February discussion paper on hydroponics.

Nuxxoll said he does not see the problem with soil-less growing media like coconut husks and peat moss.

“I mean the the most fundamental line is, ‘Is it an organic substance or si it some sort of artificial synthetic additive?’ right,” Nuxxoll said. “I mean that’s the most fundamental thing, and now we’re dancing on the head of a pin because now we’re saying, ‘Yes, it’s an organic material, but it’s not active enough.'”

Although the majority of organic farmers are not hydroponic, disallowing hydroponics organic labels would reduce the organic food industry’s current size and future growth. As farmland becomes more sparse the needed increase in agriculture for greater populations will eventually plateau without alternative growing systems.

According to a 2015 study published by the Organic Trade Association, a business association representing U.S. and Canadian organic farmers, U.S. imports of organic foods far outrun exports, totaling nearly $1.3 million in 2014. As organic is the fastest growing marketing in food production so any regulations to this industry are considered heavily.

“In this country, the whole scheme of organic regulation is all about creating markets,” Diamond said. “And like, AMS [Agricultural Marketing Service] which oversees the organic program will not say organic is better for human health or the environment: ‘It’s what people want and we want to help farmers meet that demand.’ In many European countries, they have a very different approach and it’s that organic helps advance public policy goals like cleaner water, healthier soil, healthier food, better animal welfare.”

Markets are undoubtedly at stake in the debate of organic labels for hydroponics farms. But with little research on the nutrition of hydroponics plants, the debate is currently bound to the limits of profit-making motives and sticky legislative language.

 

 

 

Is the United State’s opioid epidemic partially a result of the structure of its healthcare system? (Final Version)

By Alex Seibel

Washington- When Travis Rieder got into a motorcycle accident nearly two years ago, there were two concerns on the minds of his doctors: saving his foot with emergency surgeries, and treating his debilitating pain with the opioid drugs at their disposal.

The doctors were professionally obligated to prescribe him oxycodone to ensure that Rieder did not suffer unnecessarily. Unfortunately, the same sense of obligation was not there for ensuring that Rieder would know when and how to reduce and stop his dosage, with the only advice he was given resulting in what he described as his month in withdrawal hell that was worse than the accident and surgeries.

Rieder, assistant director for education initiatives and research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, recounted his harrowing brush with opioid dependence in the January issue of Health Affairs, and how at least ten doctors failed to advise him in how to quit taking the drugs in a way that would help him avoid suffering the effects of withdrawal. Rieder, through his experience and in his research since, has come to recognize his doctor’s inability to help him get off opioids after prescribing them as an ethical failing.

“This can be seen simply as a specification of the Hippocratic dictum to ‘first, do no harm.’ By prescribing a drug that has predictable harmful effects without a plan for dealing with them, a physician is at least partially responsible for causing those harms,” Rieder wrote in the Health Affairs article.

The role of drug manufacturers in helping to cause the opioid epidemic has been a frequent subject of headlines. There was Purdue Pharma’s 2007 prosecution in federal court over misbranding their opioid drug OxyContin as being less addictive than it really is, resulting in a fine of $600 million. More recently, McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health were respectively fined  $150 million and $44 million for failure to adequately monitor and report suspicious orders of their opioid drugs made through pharmacies. The Center for Public Integrity reported late last year that drug companies have used lobbyists and funded seemingly independent advocacy groups in order to fight prescription limits of their drugs in statehouses throughout the U.S., and that D.C. lawmakers and regulators have also been subjected to heavy lobbying in favor of the use of opioid drugs in treating pain.

Rieder says that, while “pharmaceutical companies certainly didn’t have their hands clean” concerning the cause of the crisis and that their direct marketing to doctors helped influence the prescription of opioids, that the view that some activists have of the companies being a sole cause is somewhat misguided. Expectations placed upon doctors to treat pain by the consensus of the medical field in the 90s onward have also played a large role, according to Rieder. A 1997 article in the American Journal of Nursing identified pain as “the fifth vital sign”, due to the fact that pain can get so severe in some patients that quality of life is severely reduced, sometimes to the point of causing suicidal thoughts and actions.

“Right at the same time that we have this influx of heavily marketed really powerful sustained release opioids you also have a medical field that is now telling its doctors ‘you’ve been undertreating pain for decades and you have been torturing your patients”, Rieder said, and that this “pushed doctors into a situation where they weren’t trained to prescribe these opioids or to manage them with any kind of care.”

Rieder wrote in his Health Affairs article that the two pain management teams that handled his case were only prepared to prescribe medication, not help patients withdraw off of them, and cited the finding of Judy Foreman that there is little to no formal training in U.S. medical schools for pain management.

This appears to be changing thanks to the CDC issued “Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain” that provides doctors and other medical professionals with guidance on how to prescribe these medications to patients and how to determine when to help them get weaned off. The Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have both written pledges signed by medical and nursing schools throughout the country to improve education and training of students in utilizing opioid drugs in patient treatment.

Dr. Peter Liepmann, a family physician who wrote a Health Affairs article in response to Rieder’s account, is skeptical that such measures are enough to address the sort of issue that Rieder faced in his treatment. Liepmann wrote that the problem is primary care doctors, who assess a patient’s medical issues as a whole as opposed to the other specialists that focus on certain aspects of a patient’s care, do not spend enough time with patients due to how insurance payment policy makes longer primary care visits expensive for medical facilities and favors sending patients to specialists instead. This lack of time with a patient’s primary care doctor means it is easier to miss a problem with a patient’s opioid drug use, according to Liepmann.

“Insurance companies set prices and make health care payment policy, based on what’s good for insurance companies, not what’s good for the nation. Hospitals and health systems provide services based on what’s profitable,” Liepmann wrote.

“Primary care is the basis of functional health systems, the U.S. is built on hospitals and specialty care (instead), so that is why costs are high,” Liepmann said.

Like Rieder, Liepmann is hesitant to place all the blame on pharmaceutical companies for the opioid epidemic, though he does say that the various medical industries in the U.S. have a lot of influence on healthcare policy to their own benefit rather than that of patients. One of the problems with trying to address the opioid crisis is that drugs which can help alleviate symptoms of opioid addiction and withdrawal in individuals are expensive in part because of the ability of drug companies to influence policy regarding pricing. A month’s worth of Suboxone treatment can cost $1,100 dollars, according to Liepmann.

“It’s ungodly expensive, and you know there is this battle going on between drug companies and the insurance companies… you’ve got the big health systems, you’ve got the big health insurance companies and big pharma; you’ve got Godzilla, Gargantua and King Kong duking it out in New York City knocking big buildings over, and you know we are running around in the streets trying not to get stepped on,” Liepmann said.

The relationship between opioid and heroin addicts that get started on an addiction or dependence from a legitimate doctor’s prescription is unclear, according to Rieder, but there has been clear correlation between use of opioid medications and later use of heroin. Rieder cited one study which found that non-medical use of opioid medications preceded future heroin use at a rate of 89 percent, and the source of said medications was either through family, friends, or personal prescriptions.

It wasn’t until three months after Rieder’s accident and surgeries that one of his surgeons noticed he was still taking the drugs and advised him to start getting off them, according to Rieder’s Health Affairs article. Rieder said that one study found that 6 percent of patients that go to a doctor for a minor to moderate procedure and are prescribed opioids are still taking those medications three to six months later.

“That’s a really kind of shocking statistic because we don’t expect most people to be on regular opioid use three months after a minor procedure, I mean I was getting weaned off three months after a basically catastrophic set of procedures, so that was really striking,” Rieder said.

President Trump’s Missile Strike in Syria Leaves American’s Wondering about Possible War, Refugees

By: Ana Tarlas

WASHINGTON, DC–President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike in Syria earlier this month to protect the citizens of a country he denied refugee resettlement status to within the first 30 days of his presidency.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons against citizens in north-western Syria that killed 89 people. The chemical attack resulted in the first U.S. military strike in Syria since the civil war started six years ago.

“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, hours after authorizing the strike. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many, even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”

Some critics say Trump’s remarks are contradictory because of his previous executive order halting refugee resettlement.

“I think it’s contradicting that he had that press conference where he was giving the reasons why he wanted to attack Assad, because he was gassing beautiful babies, but then he won’t let those same children enter the country,” said Stephen Babbitt, American University senior studying Middle Eastern policy.

Since his official campaign began more than two years ago, Trump talked about how he was determined to defeat ISIS, the Islamic extremist group that has taken control of many Middle Eastern cities, including parts of Syria.

One of the first executive orders signed by Trump halted the process of refugee resettlement for four months, and suspended admittance of Syrian refugees indefinitely. Trump said it was to prevent radical Islamic terrorism and members of ISIS making their way into the U.S.

Hurubie Meko, staffer at the refugee resettlement agency U.S. Church World Services (CWS) said that given Trump’s executive order, resettlement agencies everywhere are required to stop work on open cases. Refugees making their way to the U.S. cannot continue the process of their resettlement until after the four-month period is over, meaning most of the paperwork will expire, requiring refugee’s and resettlement agencies to begin the process all over again. This excludes Syrians, as they will still not be able to receive resettlement once the four-month halt is over.

Civil War

The civil war in Syria began nearly seven years ago when pro-democracy protests erupted in the country, challenging the Assad regime. Government forces under the Assad regime responded violently to the protests by opening fire on demonstrators. This eventually resulted in a civil war between the citizens of Syria and the oppressive Assad regime.

Over the course of the six years, Assad has bombed Syrian hospitals, elementary schools, and other public places in Syria with chemical weapons. In his address to the nation after authorizing the missile strike, Trump said that the Syrian government violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). CWC is an arms treaty that prohibits the use and production of chemical weapons. Syria signed the treaty in September 2013.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since the civil war began in 2011, the Syria conflict has created the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Pre-war, the country had a population of 20 million. Now, over 13 million people are displaced, about 6.6 million remain internally displaced in Syria. 5 million have fled to neighboring countries: Turkey, 2.9 million; Lebanon, 1.1 million; Jordan, 700,000.

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Trump ordered for 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a Syrian airfield at 3:40 a.m. local time. Trump’s order came as a surprise to many, as he had previously rejected the idea of military action against the Assad regime and Syrian government. But, Trump said after seeing photos emerge of babies choking to death on toxic gas, his opinions changed on military action in Syria.

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies – babies – little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines,” Trump said.

Babbitt agreed that Trump’s actions directly contradicted his stance on refugees and immigrants. However, he said there is a time and a place for worrying about a president’s hypocrisy, and this isn’t one of them.

“I have to put that aside a little bit,” Babbitt said about Trump. “In the end, these Syrians aren’t going to care about an American politician’s hypocrisy, they are going to care if they can live for the next day.”

Babbitt has extensively studied the Middle East and lived in Jordan for a brief period. He speaks Arabic, and is studying U.S. foreign policy. He has worked at the State Department and counter-terrorism organizations.

The recent missile launch sparked inklings that the U.S. will officially put boots on the ground and go to war with Syria. Babbitt said that war with Syria would only benefit the U.S. and Syria if the cause of war was purely humanitarian. Babbitt said though the U.S. often invades countries proclaiming it is for humanitarian need, that is often not the case.

“I think that too many times when we’ve gone to war in the Middle East, it’s been for various other reasons like material and regional allies,” Babbitt said.  “But if we go there just for the sole purpose of humanitarian intervention, I think the outcome would be better.”

Babbitt also said that after studying political patterns in Europe and the U.S., there is a widespread far-right wing movement sweeping the countries. Currently, Europe is experiencing a surge in far-right parties and Neo-Nazi political parties. Though Babbitt said there are some conditional variables as to why there is a rise in these parties, the biggest cause for the far-right insurgency in Europe is because of the influx of Syrian refugees resulting from the civil war.

“That’s a huge effect of refugees that the Syrian war has had on the globe with the rise of these parties, and people like Donald trump who are very anti-immigrant and anti-refugee,” Babbitt said.

Neighboring countries to Syria are overwhelmed with the increase of migrants and refugees. Refugee resettlement advocates say that if you properly resettle the refugees fleeing from Syria, countries will benefit rather than collapse.

Meko said the process of what is happening in Europe is completely different than what refugee resettlement is like in the U.S. Refugees from Syria cannot come to the U.S. by boat or foot, so the Syrians resettled here go through an extremely vetted process.

“Refugee resettlement in the U.S. is not what is happening in Europe with migrants and refugees just kind of showing up at the borders and just getting into a safe country, and getting asylum or requesting asylum,” Meko said. “It’s a heavily vetted process.”

Meko added that asylum is granted to refugees with the most need, or in the most danger. Most of the refugees being resettled by host countries are women and children.

The U.S. president releases a number for perspective refugees that the country will commit to resettle each year. At the start of the fiscal year, the Obama administration committed to settle 110,000 refugees in the U.S. The ceiling for refugee resettlement was reduced by more than half as the Trump administration committing to resettle 50,000 refugees, the lowest in 35 years. The Obama administration set a goal to resettle 10 thousand Syrian refugees during on fiscal year of his presidency, a goal that was accomplished.

Babbitt said he doesn’t think there is any way for Syria to prosper and function with Assad in power after the destruction he caused his nation.

“I don’t think that Syria will ever be able to be a functioning recognizable state unless Assad is gone, either dead or exiled or in some French villa somewhere,” he said.  “I don’t think that they’ll be able to accept the things that he’s done to them and let him become a leader again.”

Babbitt also is hopeful that if the U.S. ends up in a war in Syria, we are accommodating to the country’s needs, instead of going for U.S. advancement or to curb Russian power. Often, Babbitt said humanitarian aid is ineffective because it is not strictly humanitarian aid. The best way to secure Syria and restore order is to work on behalf of the Syrian people.

“I think that a lot of people need to just focus on what people in Syria need, rather than what we think is best for them.”

Net Neutrality debate heating up faster than Internet speeds

By: Rebeca Berger

Sean Carver knows a thing or two about technology and the Internet.

After receiving a job offer from Yale University as a research scientist, Carver, who would be working remotely, realized he was missing one critical piece of equipment: a computer.

He went to the nearest Microcenter store to purchase components, looked online elsewhere to learn how to put them together, and built his own computer.

Even with his impressive credentials and tech knowledge, Carver still fell victim to a phenomenon that is becoming more and more present in society today: his Internet speed slowing down.

Carver made a phone call to Comcast when he noticed his service speed falling short to see if they could fix the problem.

“I don’t know if it means anything, maybe the network was busy, but I’m very skeptical of these companies,” Carver said.

Comcast told him to unplug the modem for ten seconds and then plug it back in, Carver recalled, which he said helped fix the problem temporarily. He then left it alone and forgot about it, until the speed irked him enough that he would call again.

“I’m skeptical that Comcast is playing games with me because they have shown me that they do play games,” Carver said. “I could switch service providers, but I don’t know if a new service provider would be any better.”

In 2014, large Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T had control of just over half of the market, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Since 2016, this number has jumped to over 80% control, Forbes reports.

This oligopolistic market has caused a variety of issues that affect both consumers and the Content Service Providers (CSPs), such as Netflix, Google, and Amazon, that own and create the material seen on the Internet.

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A visual representation of how Internet content is distributed.

For consumers, this has created minimal options in terms of choosing a service provider that is available in their area, affordable, and grants them access to the aspects of the Internet they need. And, as in Carver’s case, noticeably slower Internet speeds.

For content service providers, a much larger problem prevails. Because they need the help of the ISPs to put their product out to the public, they are also dependent on this market that is being dominated by a few large companies.  As a result, ISPs are beginning to charge the content providers extra money to have their content reach consumers faster.

This idea is what is known as net neutrality which has recently sparked debate among consumers, think tanks, and Congress, in addition to the service providers on both ends.

With the exception of ISPs, most people and companies are in favor of net neutrality, meaning that companies should not have to nor be able to pay more to have their content streamed faster. Rather, what is up for debate is how large a role the government should play in controlling these rules.

The FCC regulates interstate communications regarding the radio, television, phone, and Internet industries, which is where net neutrality falls under. Current Chairman Ajit Pai, who was nominated to lead the agency by Donald Trump, wants to roll back the 2015 FCC rules that are in place.

Public Knowledge is a non-profit public interest group that works on access to information, pro-competition policy, pro-copyright reform policy. Its mission statement from its website says, “we promote freedom of expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works. We work to shape policy on behalf of the public interest.”

Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, is very clear on their stance on net neutrality.

“We’ve been at the forefront of pushing for strong legally sustainable net neutrality rules,” Berenbroick said. “There are a handful of companies in the broadband ecosystem that control most of the access to retail consumers. Consumers should have choices about what they want to access online, how they access that content, and that content shouldn’t be slowed down or discriminated against based on who owns the content or who’s trying to access it. We think those sorts of roadblocks are problematic from a competition standpoint and from a public access-to-information standpoint, which is sort of the lifeblood of democracy. We used to rely on the daily newspaper or the nightly news for information. Now, we rely on a whole myriad of sources online and access to those sources is critical.”

Public Knowledge saw a victory for their side on February 26, 2015, when the FCC, under former chairman, Tom Wheeler, passed the Open Internet Order by a 3-2 party line vote. Simply put, this order enforces Title II of the Communications Act, and calls for no blocking and no throttling of legal content by ISPs, as well as no discrimination of content or paid prioritization deals of any kind.

However, not everyone was happy with the passing of this order.

Evan Schwarztrauber is the communications director for TechFreedom, a self-described non-profit, non-partisan tech policy think tank, that has a similar view of the net neutrality to Chairman Pai.

“From my perspective, strict net neutrality regulation harms consumers,” Schwarztrauber said. “And I can sympathize with those on the left who think the sky is falling – I get it – you fought very hard for regulation and it’s looking like it’s going to go away. All the more reason for Democrats to come to the table and debate this.”

Despite being on two different sides of the issue about whether the government should pass rules about Internet speed regulation, what Schwarztrauber and Berenbroick agree on is that one of the main concerns regarding net neutrality is the fear of preventing technology innovation and limiting potentially good business models to grow the industry.

“Government actors, regardless of whether they’re Democrats or Republicans, regulators, anti-regulatory people, want to use the word innovation because innovation equals good, universally,” Berenbroick said. “But, it’s hard to unpack what exactly is meant by that. On our side, innovation means creation of new business models and removing barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and new creators and new voices to enter the marketplace.”

Berenbroick continued, “I think while a lot of folks would point towards government as a barrier to innovation in some ways, which in some ways is absolutely true, in the net neutrality space, government is actually more of an entity that can promote innovation.”

According to Schwarztrauber, “I think that a strictly neutral net, where certain potentially innovative business models of zero rating and paid priority are not even explored, they’re not even allowed to be experimented on, that harms consumers.”

Hal Singer, an economist and senior fellow at George Washington’s Institute of Public Policy, says that he formulated his views on net neutrality based on personal experiences testifying on behalf of independent cable networks against vertically integrated cable operators.

“I also consider myself a net neutrality proponent, but I, as an economist, I recognize that if you ban an entire class of business arrangements, whether its paid priority arrangements, or zero-rating plans, that you’re going to throw away not only the bad plans, which we want to be thrown away, but you also ban a bunch of good plans,” Singer said.  “[The good plans] don’t discriminate against anybody, they’re well-fair in proving they lower prices and expand output.”

Singer has developed his own solution to the net neutrality issue, which he shares in his discussion forum, “Washington Bytes”, a podcast affiliated with Forbes magazine. He says he wants to bring his ideas to the policy world and that he’s trying to “get people to compromise” and “see my alternative as a way to 1) show respect for the problem and 2) show respect for the economics in refining an approach that would only knock out the bad conduct.”

According to Singer, current net neutrality solutions revolve around ex-ante or ex-post rules. Ex-ante rules revolve around prohibitions – the “no’s” of the 2015 FCC rules. On the other hand, with ex-post rules, there are no prohibitions. Instead, firms such as cable operators are basically allowed to do what they want, and in the event of a complaint by small cable companies or CSPs, they would have an opportunity to have their case heard by an independent fact-finder, at which point, if they prevail, they could get discrimination to end.

However, Singer described that from a policy perspective, none of the solutions stray away from these ideas or explore any of the middle ground.

“There’s a concern that if cable operators have their way, they could make life difficult for the Internet service providers, and thereby discourage them from innovating. So the question is, how do you design a set of rules that protects and fosters innovation at the edge, while at the same time, not being so invasive as to deter innovation at the core of the network by ISPs,” Singer said. “I think the approach that I’m pedaling, which is an ex-post approach—I like to call it a complaint-driven process—would respect the incentives at the core and also protect the incentives to invest at the edges.”

All three of these experts recognize that a general consensus needs to be reached with regards to net neutrality in the near future. They all agree that this issue does not have to be partisan when explained properly, and that action is needed before innovation is threatened or independent consumers experience a severe decline in their Internet service speeds.

While Berenbroick said individual consumers, such as Carver, are not quite yet able to notice a violation of net neutrality, he said there are cases, as heard in the clip below, where companies impeded service speed to all their customers, slowing down or blocking websites temporarily.

 

As for the future of net neutrality, “This debate is going to be more public. It’s going to be louder and bigger going forward because more and more of our lives have moved online,” Berenbroick said.

“Consumers at the end of the day are like ‘I don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong, I just want to make sure I can watch the Superbowl’. They want things to work. They don’t want things to not work and have to take six months to a year to litigate it to make sure they work down the road. People are more invested in their rights online, so I think we’re probably teed up for a large-scale debate over concentration of power, concentration of media, and net neutrality is part of that.”

Undocumented Students ‘Come Out’ To Fight Anti-Immigration Administration

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Undocumented Student Program Blocks College Gate on Open Day to Protest Budget Cuts 

Empowered by University-Funded Advocacy Programs, Undocumented Students Speak Out

By Grace Bird

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Luis Gonzalez doesn’t remember arriving in the United States when he was eight.

“I do remember waking up, and there were like a ton of lights and we were going down this street,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is 19 now. He is a sophomore at Georgetown University with a 3.8 GPA, a job, and an internship.

There are 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the US. There were 12.2 million in 2007, according to the PEW Research Center. Like Gonzalez, 66 percent had lived in the US for at least 10 years in 2014 – compared to 31 percent in 2005.

Luis Gonzalez
Luis Gonzalez in his dorm room (Photo provided by Luiz Gonzalez)

Gonzalez’s parents were seventeen when they became pregnant with him. Their small-town of Nayarit, Mexico was economically depressed and they struggled to find work. Shortly after giving birth to their second child, Eduardo ten months after Gonzalez, they crossed the border. Gonzalez and Eduardo were left in the care of their grandparents. Gonzalez’s parents settled in Orange County California, found work cleaning housing and washing dishes, and sent money to their sons. Gonzalez remembers speaking to his parents on the phone each Sunday.

“I don’t think that I understood that my parents aren’t here,” Gonzalez said. “I just thought, my grandparents are my parents.”

When Gonzalez was eight, he and Eduardo were reunited with their parents, who they no longer recognized, in the US. Gonzalez’s parents had a third child, Jesse, while living in the US, and the five shared one bedroom in a family member’s home in Orange County. Gonzalez and Eduardo attended a predominately white elementary school. Neither child spoke English, and the teacher and students in the affluent, could not speak Spanish.

“There was this one time when I just started crying in class because I just felt so frustrated,” Gonalez said.

Isolated in a whitewashed town, Gonzalez’s parents decided to relocate to a one-bedroom apartment in Latino-majority, Santa Ana. Here, Gonzalez soared: his school had an ESL program, his teacher spoke Spanish, and his homework was bilingual.

In Santa Ana, Gonzalez’s father developed a drinking habit and became verbally abusive, he said. Two weeks before the end of seventh grade, Gonzalez’s mother discovered his father was having an affair. They separated, and she filed for a restraining order.

“I think that I’ve just kind of blocked it out,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez’s mother, who had supported the family at home for some years, found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. She and the children moved into a friend’s garage.

“This is when I understood that education was the best thing that I could do,” Gonzalez said. “I had to try really hard in school…to ensure I could provide for my mom when I grew up.”

Gonzalez’s mother remarried when he was a sophomore, a prospect he said he was excited about. However, this marriage was similarly ill-fated: it ended with domestic violence and drug addictions – and two additional children.

For Gonzalez, school was an escape. Classmates weren’t aware of his home life. He found solace in his ninth-grade English teacher who he arrived early to class to talk to, about “everything.”

“Mentally, I would just create a separation between my home life and then school,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez graduated with straight A’s, nine AP classes, and a 4.69 GPA. Considering many state schools do not allow enrollments or charge undocumented students out-of-state rates, Gonalez’s high marks were deliberate. He was accepted into UCLA and UC Berkeley, however Gonzalez’s status barred him from receiving any federal aid. A private institution like GU is not subject to the same laws, and in March 2015, Gonzalez learned he’d received a full-ride scholarship.

For undocumented immigrants, airports are resolutely off-limits. However, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was signed as an Executive Action by President Obama in 2012, children like Gonzalez could travel – and live – without the threat of deportation for the first time in their lives.

750, 000 undocumented Americans have received work permits and deportation relief under DACA: 78 percent of the 1.1 million who are eligible, according to the PEW Research Center.

“Without DACA, I wouldn’t be able to go to Georgetown,” Gonzalez said.

DACA.png

Gonzalez’s was eighteen when he travelled on a plane for the first time. It took him to Washington, D.C., for a four-day orientation at Georgetown.

In his freshman year, Gonzalez dived into advocacy work. He mentored underprivileged D.C. children, joined student activist group UndocuHoyas as well as the faculty-student run task force for undocumented students. Arelis Palacios was appointed as a part-time Undocumented Student Coordinator on Nov. 20, 2016 – nine days after the election.

“It just makes sense to me to look after the most vulnerable people in our society,” Kendra Northington, GU Career Counselor and member of the task force said.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), a Georgetown alum and lead sponsor of the 2001 DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act that would promote a path to citizenship for undocumented residents and failed to pass, shared Luis’ story on the Senate floor on Jan. 14 to demonstrate the importance of DACA. Durbin read a letter by Gonzalez aloud to implore colleagues to cosponsor the BRIDGE Act, that sought to extend DACA for three years.

“Will we be stronger if we deport him, take this man’s talent drive and energy and banish it from this country?” Durbin said. “I don’t think so.”

Gonzalez will finish his second year at GU in May. He hopes to work as a high school teacher after graduation.

Mexican-born UC Berkeley senior Juan Prieto was born 15 minutes from the border, in a town he equated to a slum.

“We didn’t have streets. We lived right next to a giant dump,” Prieto, who is currently covered by DACA, said.

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Undocumented Activist Juan Prieto (Photo provided by Prieto)

For work, residents chose between the Tommy Hilfiger factory for a dollar a day, or the drug trade, Prieto said. His grandfather supported his daughter and grandchildren by pumping gas until his retirement.

When he was eight-years-old, Prieto’s mother decided to escape the town’s violent, militarized police and rampant poverty, borrowed documents, and crossed the border. Prieto, his mother, and his two younger siblings resettled in Calexico, a Californian town only fifteen minutes from their home.

For Prieto, adjusting to America was difficult. Classmates mocked his broken English and strange accent.

“One time in class, I was supposed to to read aloud… and I just started crying,” Prieto said.

Regardless, Prieto was selected for the gifted and talented program in grade five. His attendance was short-lived: Prieto’s white-majority class ostracized him, and he decided to return to his local school.

Unable to afford the exorbitant, out-of-state fees required of undocumented immigrants, Prieto enrolled in a community college in San Bernadino. He met several unauthorized Americans there and began to publicly disclose his legal status – a process he said was empowering and terrifying.

“When I came out as queer it was just me on the line, Preito said. “When I came out as undocumented, it was me and my family on the line.”

After graduation, Prieto transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in 2014 partially for its progressive views on immigration, he said. Berkeley introduced program in 2012 to protect its approximated 470 undocumented students. Berkeley’s resources for undocumented students includes an immigration attorney, a psychologist, student mentorship, an emergency grant, a library, social events like picnics “and just overall emotional support,” according to Prieto.

“I would have withdrawn from Berkeley without this program,” Prieto said.

Berkeley’s resources for undocumented students were threatened in 2016 when the California’s public university system reported a budget deficit of $150-million, according to the LA Times.

Prieto organized a protest against suspected cuts to the undocumented student program. He estimated fifty students, most undocumented, linked arms outside Sather Gate during “Cal Day” – an annual event that intends to flog Berkeley to prospective students – to salvage resources for undocumenteds. Prieto stayed awake the night before, organizing and making calls to the media.

“Before we knew it, the administration was reaching out, saying ‘what do you all want?’” Prieto said. “What can we do for you all so you can stop doing what you’re doing?”

Prieto will graduate from Berkeley this May. He plans to continue to advocate for undocumented people and work for a non-profit, he said.

“In silence, we accomplish nothing,” Prieto said.

Mexicans have long been the largest demographic of undocumenteds, yet this number fell from 57 percent in 2007 to 51 percent in 2016. This is  March 2016 census data – the impact of President Trump’s policy promises are yet to be ascertained.

The immigration debate is notoriously polarized in the US.

President Trump, renowned for espousing anti-immigrant, “America First” rhetoric, professed support for a merit-based immigration system in a speech to Congress on Feb. 28.

“It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially,” Trump said. “Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely on.”

Trump has been unclear about his stance on DACA.

Marshall Fitz, former Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress denounced a merit-based as unfair. It limits immigration mostly to white, western, English speaking people, Fitz said. People who give up everything to come to America to work hard and have a better life have historically changed the country, he said.

“A merit-based system is genius framing,” Fitz said. “But it’s basically saying we don’t want brown people.”

Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of conservative think tank the Center for Immigration Studies, said immigrants feel “entitled” to citizenship. The US economy is too advanced to sustain low-skilled foreigners, according to Krikorian.

“A person with little skill or education has a much more difficult time getting ahead than in the past, when we had an agricultural economy,” Krikorian said.

To Prieto, most anti-immigrant rhetoric is hate speech, and it should not be tolerated.

“Why do I need to prove to somebody that I’m human?” Prieto said. “I wake up knowing that every day.”

 

We’re Going to Space, Just Nobody Seems to Know How

Adam Jamieson

On April 24th, President Trump placed a long-distance video call to the International Space Station. The reason behind his call was to congratulate astronaut Peggy Whitson on setting a new record for most time spent in space by an American. During their talk, he reportedly asked her when she thought that America might see a manned mission to Mars, at which point she reminded him that that is ultimately up to legislation that he has already put into action.

 

“Tell me: Mars.” said the President, “What do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars?”

 

“Well,” Whitson replied, “I think as your bill directed, it’ll be approximately in the 2030s.”

 

“Well we want to try to do it during my first term or at worst during my second term,” said the most powerful man in the free world. “So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

 

This debacle more or less speaks for the current state of space policy, which, depending on who you ask, is going through a period of instability and confusion.

No matter who you ask, humans have big plans for space. The biggest questions surrounding those plans, are when they will happen, what their purpose will be, and, most importantly, how they will be paid for.

 

“It’s an open question at the moment,” said Casey Dreier, director of policy at the Planetary Society, in a phone interview on March 7. “The stretch goal is humans exploring the solar system by the end of the century.”

Dr. Scott Pace, director of policy at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, had a differing opinion.

“That’s not particularly true,” said Pace about the future of space exploration being uncertain, “The budget is actually fairly decent for NASA given the nature of the environment.”

These two experts are at odds over how exactly the legislative future of space exploration is going to play out. However, they both said that the long-term goal of the United States Government with regard to space is lunar development, and sending a mission to Mars.

According to Dreier, there has been talk of a potential “lunar village” that would serve as a natural successor to the International Space Station, a cooperative satellite community with astronauts from several nations. Neither he nor Pace mentioned any concrete plans by the U.S. Government, however there is a project under development by the European Space Agency (ESA) which aims to set up a base on the moon that would participate in business, mining, research, and tourism.

Johann-Dietrich Wörner, director general of the ESA, said on April 11 at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, CO that a moon village would “pave the way for human missions to Mars.”

 

According to a an article Dreier wrote for the Planetary Society about the first NASA budget outline from the Trump Administration, the budget allocates $624 million for research and development. This is $16 million less than in 2016, and $222 million less than projected for 2018 by the Obama Administration.

 

Again, positions differ.

 

“The joke then was that flat is the new up,” said Pace about Obama era funding for NASA. “In the Obama years we went from a two percent growth rate, dropped dramatically one year, came back up next year. Dropped flat again and then dropped flatter.”

 

Pace said funding has been volatile over the past few years, and that “it remains to be seen” what the budget situation will be in the Trump Administration.

 

Some of the confusion regarding the future may be able to be cleared up by understanding exactly what type of funding these experts are talking about. According to Dreier, a fundamental distinction in space funding is that between civil space and defense space. Civil space is all about research and exploration, and defense space deals exclusively with military applications of space technology.

 

“The idea of space as a sanctuary is gone,” Pace said, the focus on “military space is more of a pragmatic issue than an ideological issue.” Pace cited the need to compete with Chinese and Russian interests as part of the reason why he thinks the fiscal focus should be on defense space.

 

Although Pace’s focus is primarily on defense applications, Dreier remains a proponent of exploration and development, as well as acknowledging the importance of military applications. “Militarization is a big part of space, it’s a big part of the budget,” he said. “Most of the money in space is spent on militarization”

 

Pace’s motivation may not be an “ideological issue” but the divide between their two stances most certainly is.

 

This could account for why Pace believes that the Trump administration is so far doing a better job of funding space programs. President Trump’s budget proposal removes $54 million from non-defense agencies such as the EPA, State Department, and National Institutes of Health, and re-allocates them to the Department of Defense (DoD).

 

The views of Pace and Dreier are more aligned when it comes to potential practical developments on the moon. Dreier said that NASA has not released any intentions as far as lunar projects, but they would likely involve the creation of power. He said that, given the amount of ice on the moon, any long-term settlements there would likely involve using electrolysis to turn the ice into fuel.

 

Dreier said that a moon “colony wouldn’t just be people living on the moon, more like an oil rig in the middle of the ocean.”

 

Pace, in response to Dreier’s analogy, said “That’s a little too narrow. I would say an oil rig plus Antarctica. The oil rig analogy is apt, but I would add an Antarctic research center to it, as well as tourism.”

 

The idea of taking a vacation to the moon might seem far-fetched to the casual observer, but it is the most rapidly approaching stage of manned space exploration. In fact, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, recently unveiled plans to fly two tourists around the moon in 2018.

 

“NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher,” NASA said in a statement following the announcement “We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station.
“For more than a decade,” the statement said, “NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity’s future in space.”

 

According to Dreier, approximately one half of SpaceX’s funding comes directly from NASA. The two have a somewhat mutual relationship, as NASA controls a lot of the private company’s funding situation, but SpaceX own their own intellectual property.

 

“What you’re going to see is a continued mutual dependency between these companies,” Drier said.

 

Mars One is another major player in the future of space policy. Mars One is a mission that aims to create the first human settlement on Mars. They began selecting their astronauts in 2013, and are currently in the fourth round of narrowing down the candidates.

 

One of the benefits of privatized ventures into space is the ability for permanence. Whereas NASA missions to space are always scientific and subsequently have to be two way, private colonization missions are not tied to this. The astronauts that Mars One say they are planning on sending in the 2020s will never come back.

 

Of course none of this will be easy. Mars is very far away. There is no set measure of the distance, because it and the Earth are constantly moving in their orbits, but the closest together they have been in recorded history was a pedestrian 34.8 million miles apart in 2003.

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It does not take an expert on space policy to understand and report the challenges facing private companies such as SpaceX and Mars One.

 

“I mean, it’s probably not gonna work,” Maia Hatchett, a freshman at American University said, “There’s a reason that Earth is the way it is and all the other planets aren’t.”

 

Despite skepticism such as this, both the private and public sectors remain heavily invested in further exploration of space. There are also a lot of people who wish to work on such projects. Even after three rounds of elimination, Mars One still has 100 potential astronauts to choose from.

 

Additionally, people like Angelo Lucciola, 21, will soon be entering the workforce. Lucciola studies aerospace engineering, and is the president of the Telescope Club at the Florida Institute of Technology.

 

“I’ve always liked flying things,” Lucciola said, “just like the physics and how they work, just riding on them I’m not the biggest fan.”

 

Though he primarily studies engineering that has to do with airplanes, Lucciola said he has a deep interest in space, which originally led him to his field of study.

 

“I’m looking forward to it, should be soon,” he said about the possibility of a manned mission to Mars, “but I think we should focus on the moon first and let the private companies handle it.”

 

Lucciola may or may not be right, which is fitting. The experts have different views, and the President is asking individual astronauts to speed up the results of his own legislation. There is no doubt that humanity as a whole has an irrepressible urge to roam beyond our atmosphere, but nobody is quite sure exactly how that is supposed to happen.