Month: March 2013

The Danger of Cyber Threats: The Future of Warfare

In mid September 2012, The New York Times’ computer systems were infiltrated by a series of cyber attacks traced to Chinese hackers. Reporters’ passwords were stolen and sensitive information was breached.[1] The Chinese government denied any responsibility. Since then, there have been multiple reports of Chinese hackers infiltrating other American news organizations, such as The Washington Post, Bloomberg News and the Wall Street Journal.[2] This outbreak of cyber attacks does not reflect a new method of warfare and espionage, but a growing global phenomenon beginning in the 1990s. The Department of Defense (DOD) categorizes a cyber threat as either a cyber attack or cyber espionage. A cyber attack aims to manipulate or disrupt data, while cyber espionage aims to steal data.[3] The U.S. government became aware of the depth of its vulnerability to cyber threats in 1997 through the ‘Eligible Receiver’ test run by the DOD. In this test a team of hackers were organized to infiltrate the Pentagon using only publically available computer equipment and hacking software. With these limited resources they were able to take control of the U.S. Pacific Command Center computers, power grids and 911 systems in nine major U.S. cities.[4] Despite this astonishing feat, the United States did not begin large-scale defensive precautions against cyber threats until after 9/11. Driven to action by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a group of concerned scientists wrote a...

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Clean Tech’s Real Solyndra

The iconic image for the debate on climate change over the last decade has not been footage of glacial ice tumbling into the arctic sea or the cover of An Inconvenient Truth (2006). It is the climate forecast PowerPoint, crisscrossed with variable lines, demonstrating the empirical case for any number of global outcomes. The graph is familiar not only to people interested in the climate dilemma or in the energy industry, but also if you’ve perhaps seen a TED talk or Al Gore’s film. The truth is that forecast models appear persuasive, but if it ever felt a bit odd to nod your head to an argument applied to so many other endpoints, you’re onto something. Part of these evocative illustrations is a guess—to call it by name—about future benefits to come from technology improvement and innovation. The idea is that future technologies will contribute to the global balance of emissions. Putting aside the deception of building an argument on this fungible figure, the problem arises, even for well-meaning presenters, because the information needed to guess wisely doesn’t exist. From an early age, schoolchildren are prodded to look critically at arguments that don’t pass the sniff test. This is a moment to remember that fundamental civic tenant. The fact is, at this point, no one can accurately estimate the real value of technology improvement because the incentives driving technological...

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Democratizing Foreign Aid

  In one of his first presidential directives, President Obama called for more transparency, participation, and collaboration between the government and its people. The state of our democracy is under question because of money in politics, political inequality, and opaque backroom deal making that creates conflicts of interest in public policy. Advancements in technology and innovations like crowdsourcing, crowdvoting, and crowdfunding present an opportunity to improve the democratic process. The foreign aid process is ripe for improvement through these innovative technologies. According to the United States Agency for International Development, U.S Official Development Assistance (ODA) totaled $30.8 billion in 2011. Top recipients included: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, Iraq, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Gaza, Haiti, and South Africa. Various sectors of aid disbursement include action relating to debt, administrative costs of donors, agriculture, construction, tourism, etc. Although this level of transparency might satisfy some, if the average voter sought to learn more about specific projects funded, they would have to sort through data scattered throughout USAID’s website.   Transparency aside, there is no opportunity for a voter to choose which countries, which sectors, or which projects receive funding. Of course a concerned and active citizen could write and lobby their representative, but the time, bureaucracy, and inefficiencies of the current process are discouraging. On their website, USAID published its commitment to innovative transparency, but they may...

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A Letter for Diversity

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the population of the United States is more diverse than ever. In the 2010 Census, Texas was 37.6 percent Hispanic/Latino, 11.8 percent African-American, and 3.8 percent Asian, which closely resembles the demographic makeup of the United States as a whole. However, the diversity of Texas and the U.S. is not reflected in the racial and ethnic composition of the LBJ School, especially among Latinos and African-Americans. In fall 2011, the student body was only 15.6 percent Hispanic/Latino and 3.2 percent African-American. While an exactly proportionate reflection of the U.S. population is not inherently valuable, the current disproportionality is problematic for multiple reasons. First, as a graduate school focused on training students for public service, it is important for LBJ graduates to reflect the public that we are training to serve. As professionals who are being trained for leadership in a democratic society that draws authority directly from its people, it is important that servant leaders reflect the ‘people.’ This is currently not the case. Second, as public servants, we will enter careers inevitably influenced by politics, and developing the cultural competencies and skills necessary to navigate complex political and social situations is critical for success. Working for a diverse public that holds an array of community values requires thoughtful reflection and preparation, which we feel we are currently...

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Former Secretary Rice in Longhorn Country

This evening, Former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice spoke to a full house at the LBJ Auditorium. Though Dr. Rice touched on a number of political issues, the tone of the speech was apolitical. Surprisingly, Rice’s speech was filled with humor and stories. Some main points that stood out included: The American education crisis is the greatest threat to national security. The United States needs comprehensive immigration reform. When asked whether she would take a different stance on the War in Iraq given hindsight, Dr. Rice adamantly stated she would “overthrow Saddam Hussein again.” Dr. Rice also emphasized the fact that “today’s headlines are not the same as history’s judgments.” Dr. Rice’s policy perspective is unique because of her leadership roles during different security eras:  the Cold War and post 9-11. Her remarks on life outside of politics were just as insightful as her opinions on policy. Where Dr. Rice may have fallen short was on addressing America’s role in the post-Arab Spring Middle East. Her generic diagnosis on the lack of institutions in the Middle East offered no tangible policy recommendations or options. What are your reactions or thoughts to Dr. Rice’s...

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