Author Archives: Jerry

World Population Day

Today is World Population Day. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement to commemorate this day.
On the spotlight for this year's commemoration is the issue of adolescent pregnancy, and a call on Governments to take measures to enable girls to make responsible life choices and realize their potential.

To conduct research on topics related to population, you may want to consult one of the Lehman Library research guides, Population, Migration and Refugee Studies. It contains links to background information, databases, annual reviews, statistics and other materials of interest. Sample titles include: Handbook of Population, The State of World Population, and the United Nations Demographic Yearbook.


Lehman Library End of Semester Hours

Lehman Library will have extended library hours and study hall hours until the end of finals, May 16th as follows:


            End of Semester Hours                           Study Space Only

    Monday – Thursday    9am – midnight               midnight – 4am

    Friday                            9am – 10pm                   10pm – 4am

    Saturday                       10am – 10pm                 10pm – 4am

    Sunday                          11am – midnight            midnight – 4am

All service desks close 15 minutes prior to study hall beginning.

Life Imitates Art?

I made the mistake of going to my local multiplex last weekend to see "Olympus Has Fallen" — a mistake not just because it wasn't a very good movie, but because now I get all confused when I read the New York Times. The Times seems to have taken a plot point from "Olympus" — North Korea makes a move to destroy the United States with nuclear missiles — and incorporated it into serious news stories. Or are these stories just cleverly written reviews/propaganda pieces for the movie, dumped on the front page, disguised as news? Like I said, I'm confused.

Luckily, the Columbia University Libraries provides me with many resources to help me verify the film/news story conundrum. First, I need some background information, as I'm not as familiar with Korean politics as I should be. The Library of Congress has a great resource for this purpose, North Korea: a Country Study. The Library of Congress also has a component, the Congressional Research Service, which acts as a reference librarian for Congress and issues reports on topics requested by Congress. Ordinarily, these reports are not available to the public, but the Libraries subscribes to a module of ProQuest Congressional, which gives us access to these valuable reports. A search of CRS reports for "North Korea" retrieves 499 reports, but since the database goes back to 1916 I will just sort by date and look at the most recent ones, with titles like North Korea's Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues; North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation; and Foreign Assistance to North Korea. Finally, I do a search on CIAO: Columbia International Affairs Online, to find any research reports written by research institutes and NGOs.

Thanks to these databases, I have achieved clarity on this issue. Now, when did Morgan Freeman become Speaker of the House of Representatives??

Human Development Report 2013

The 2013 Human Development Report – "The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World" – examines the profound shift in global dynamics driven by the fast-rising new powers of the developing world and its long-term implications for human development. The Report identifies more than 40 countries in the developing world that have done better than had been expected in human development terms in recent decades, with their progress accelerating markedly over the past ten years. The Report analyzes the causes and consequences of these countries' achievements and the challenges that they face today and in the coming decades. Each of these countries has its own unique history and has chosen its own distinct development pathway. Yet they share important characteristics and face many of the same challenges. They are also increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

The Human Development Report series is published by the United Nations Development Programme, which also publishes human development reports for specific areas of the world and even individual countries. The UNDP also provides access to the data for the individual human development indicators, via the Public Data Explorer, a tool developed in conjunction with Google Labs.

Iraq in the Rearview Mirror — and Special Inspectors

Today the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction issued his final report, Learning from Iraq. "The body of this report reveals countless details about the use of more than $60 billion in taxpayer dollars to support programs and projects in Iraq. It articulates numerous lessons derived from SIGIR's 220 audits and 170 inspections, and it lists the varying consequences meted out from the 82 convictions achieved through our investigations." It serves as a follow-up to the previous comprehensive review of the rebuilding effort, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience. The SIG has, in fact, issued quarterly and semiannual reports since since 2004.

In case you're wondering, there is a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which provides the same oversight and reporting function for U.S. activities in Afghanistan. What other Special Inspectors are out there, making sure that the taxpayers dollars are well spent? There is also a Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), which is "a sophisticated, white-collar law enforcement agency, … established by Congress in 2008 to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse linked to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)." The remainder of the Federal government has to be satisfied with oversight of their activities by the (non-Special) Inspectors General which are present in each Cabinet department and many subsidiary agencies.

The Zero Dark Thirty File

"The poster for the blockbuster movie Zero Dark Thirty features black lines of redaction over the title, which unintentionally illustrate the most accurate take-away from the film – that most of the official record of the hunt for Osama bin Laden is still shrouded in secrecy." This is the opening statement from The Zero Dark Thirty File, a new collection of declassified U.S. government documents from the National Security Archive, posted on January 17, 2013. This briefing book contains "all of the available official documents on the mission," including the color card carried by the Navy SEALS which identified Bin Laden and his family members and the Tactical Site Exploitation and Cache Search Operations handbook, which outlined the procedures to be followed on such a mission. 

The documents included in this briefing book will likely be the only ones about the Bin Laden mission available to the general public until the 30 year declassification review and publication of more documents in the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volumes.

State of the …..

Most of us make our resolutions with the arrival of the New Year. Not so for government entities. For some reason, the annual "State of the …" messages are always delivered mid-January to mid-February. They are often both a summation of the past year and a forecast of future governmental priorities. Here are the latest examples:

State of the Union

Arguably the most important, it is actually mandated by Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution. The American Presidency Project hosts a most interesting web site on the Message, with not only the texts of the speeches, but word counts and lists of the opposition responders. The Clerk of the House of Representatives provides information on the Origins and Authorization of the State of the Union address.

State of the State

The Governor of the State of New York also makes an address, the State of the State. The 2013 address was delivered by Governor Andrew Cuomo on January 9, 2013.

State of the City

Lucky New Yorkers! We get two State of the City speeches, one from the Mayor and one from the Speaker of the New York City Council. But for some reason, Mayor Bloomberg has not yet delivered his State of the City address, the latest one being from 2012. Speaker Christine Quinn delivered her State of the City 2013 speech yesterday.

Update! Mayor Bloomberg delivered his 12th (and last) State of the City address on February 14th, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Crowded Satellite Orbits

Go outside the city on a clear night, away from the artificial lights, and look up into the skies. What do you see? Are all of those millions of points of lights stars? Some of them may be reflected light from orbiting satellites. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database, there are currently 1016 operating satellites orbiting the earth: civil, commercial, government and military. But there are an additional 22,000 items of "space junk" large enough to be tracked by NASA and an estimated tens of millions of smaller particles of space debris. The space junk poses significant problems for operational satellites and the International Space Station, as detailed in a report issued in 2001 by the National Research Council, Limiting Future Collision Risk to Spacecraft: An Assessment of NASA's Meteoroid and Orbital Debris Programs.

Space junk is not the only problem facing the U.S. satellite program. Two satellite acquisition programs within the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) programs, are meant to replace current operational satellites, and both are considered critical to the United States’ ability to maintain the continuity of data required for weather forecasting. Both programs have been the focus of criticism, including several reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), on June 15, 2012, June 16, 2012, and June 27, 2012. The data obtained by these satellite programs is crucial for weather forecasting, which promises to be as turbulent in the future as it has this year.

The U.S. military satellite program, although highly classified, is also threatened by space debris. The National Security Space Strategy recognizes all of these issues and makes recommendations to "inform future planning, programming, acquisition, operations and analysis guidance." Look up!

“Lincoln,” the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment

Yesterday I went to see the new Spielberg film, "Lincoln," with Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. While I was expecting (and received) a subtle and commanding performance, what I did not expect was a concise and exacting account of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863,but the freedom that it granted was restricted and possibly would not last after the war was over. Lincoln felt that in order to permanently banish slavery from the U.S. a constitutional amendment was needed. It was not an easy task.

The measure passed the Senate in the spring of 1864, but the required two thirds majority was much more difficult to obtain in the House of Representatives, where Democrats had made gains in the 1862 elections. Lincoln put intense pressure on Democrats who had been defeated in the 1864 elections to vote with Republicans in the House, so that the vote for the amendment could be seen as a bipartisan effort. His efforts succeeded and the Thirteenth Amendment was eventually ratified by the states in December 1865, eight months after Lincoln's assassination.

Want to know more? The film was partially based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."

The Fiscal Cliff …

Now that the 2012 elections are over, people have time to begin to worry about the looming "fiscal cliff," as characterized by Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. What is this fiscal cliff? Essentially, it is a "perfect storm" of $500 billion in tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts which are scheduled to take effect in 2013. These measures result from a number of factors which have coincidentally come together at one time, creating the fiscal cliff.

In an effort to address the rising national debt and deficit spending, President Obama created the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, in February 2010, which was charged with "identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run." The final report of the Commission was released in December 2010 — The Moment of Truth. But a super majority of the members of the Commission itself failed to endorse it — the vote was 11-7, and 14 votes were needed for endorsement. The negative votes were cast by four Democrats and three Republicans. This created a standoff between the President and Congress over raising the debt ceiling. This resulted in a budget deal which required Congress to identify $1.2 trillion in savings by January or face deep automatic spending cuts across the board. Congress has so far failed to do so.

Additionally, a large number of tax cuts are set to expire in January 2013 without Congressional action. Emergency unemployment benefits are set to expire at the end of 2012, and a 2-percentage point cut in payroll taxes is also expiring. The Government Accountability Office has prepared updated analysis on the fiscal outlook for the federal government.