The Lexical Challenge of Cyber-War

The online version of The Economist recently hosted a three-day online debate entitled ‘Cyber-Warfare: Is the risk of cyber-warfare overrated?‘. The event pitted King’s College London’s foremost expert on e-conflict Dr. Thomas Rid against Richard Bejtlich, Chief Security Officer of the digital security firm heavyweight Mandiant. While the former defends his position against the existence of cyber-warfare as such in today’s world (a stance he further elucidates upon in his recently-released and appropriately titled Cyber War Will Not Take Place), Mr. Bajtlich contends that the lack of a singular, monolithic, and universal definition of ‘warfare’ means that cyber-attacks, and the threat they represent, are nothing short of a ‘historical reality’. [1.  http://www.economist.com/debate/days/view/997 ]

There is little doubt that we’re on the precipice of a brave new world in regards to the level of priority assigned to digital information security within the defence and security industries. The debate moderator, Edward Lucas, refers to the spectre of a ‘digital Pearl Harbour’ (sic). Despite his lack of any real clairvoyance, it would be dangerous to dismiss this suggestion as unrealistic. As noted by Mr. Lucas, the increasing sophistication of our globalised and networked society brings with it an equally disconcerting level of vulnerability. In the same way that the events of 11 September were required to incite re-examination as to the state of Western defence preparedness, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the World Trade Centers have a digital counterpart floating about somewhere in cyberspace. A significant portion of the reason that our current definition of cyber-warfare is so loosely defined comes from the fact that we lack any sort of precedent from which to draw reference.

cyber war toys
This may not have been what they had in mind. (Tech Week Europe)

However, as Mr. Rid noted in discussing the threat of digital sabotage, this line of thinking may not be warranted at all. While today’s intelligence may come in 140 characters or less from a battlefield that ends in .com, the advent of the internet and its popularization merely marked a new chapter in the history of (counter-) espionage. He explains that the World Wide Web is simply a new setting in which the traditional clash between intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts will play out. In his efforts to de-mystify the idea of cyber-war and return it to its rightful place, Rid explains that:

Soon it may be time to drop the “cyber” and call a spade a spade: espionage, plain and simple.

Mr. Bejtlich, however, rejects his opponent’s claim that warfare, as a concept, is inherently limited to characterising cases involving physical, violent, and ‘kinetic’ real-world repercussions. He instead embraces a more ‘holistic’ and ‘Eastern’ approach to defining war. He claims that the ambiguity surrounding the term ‘cyber-warfare’ contributes to the risk being ‘misunderstood, not overrated’, and that the entrance of cyber-war to the scene is reason to expand upon the aforementioned conventional Western definition. In completing his pivot to the East, Bejtlich highlights the disparity between Chinese and American conceptions as to the reality of the contemporary ‘digital arms race’. He explains that:

China’s awe at America’s “soft power” leads experts to conclude that China believes it is fighting a cyberwar with America now, and that America is the aggressor because of its cultural and media power alone.

The dichotomy between Eastern and Western conceptions of war seem to drive a significant portion of this debate. Again, the divide that appears between the two ‘schools’ (though they are hardly monolithic) is nothing new. Since its arrival in the West, scholars, strategists, and businessmen have combed through every page of Sun Tzu’s perennial treatise The Art of War for hidden gems that would give them unique insight into strategic thinking. While the knowledge contained in this particular work has long since become ubiquitous, the emergence of the cyber-threat (and, especially, China’s public enthusiasm towards cyber-preparedness) has re-emphasised the more general need to acknowledge diverse and un-orthodox conceptions of what constitutes war and how to think about. We’ve seen this occur with the explosion of more conventional counter-terrorist considerations in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7, and I believe the digital threat will bring a similarly inevitable need to re-prioritise. With the increasing frequency of episodes like that of the Stuxnet ‘worm’, which have demonstrated the willingness of Western governments to match China’s apparent investment in what may well be the future face of intergovernmental conflict, it’s plain to see that, regardless of the terminology used, the era of digital conflict is upon us.[2.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-12465688 ]

What strikes me as the most interesting take-away from the Economist debate is the importance of lexicon. As the moderator has astutely observed, a large number of the contentions have spawned from linguistic disagreements. The ‘militarisation’ of the debate, which nearly single-handedly dictates represented therein, is highly contingent upon the language and media profile we bestow upon the issue. As a society, the ‘width’ of our definition of warfare has an enormous impact on how we perceive threat. The recent success of American ‘Honeypots’ (decoys target created for the purpose of detecting and analysing sources of cyber-attacks), appear to have justified previous allegations of the Chinese Army’s involvement in digital sabotage that spurred President Obama into signing a February 2013 Executive Order entitled ‘Executive Order — Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity’. [3.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/executive-order-improving-critical-infrastructure-cybersecurity] As more and more legislation is formulated in Washington and other capitals across the globe, it has become increasingly essential to familiarise the public with the reality of the threat in order to avoid overzealous policy that follows in the wake of ignorance, fear, and hyperbole.

Returning to the debate for a moment, in his concluding review moderator Edward Lucas remarks:

I am glad we moved away from the questions of semantics. These are important, but the real question is what actions we take, not what words we use to describe them.

This is a sentiment that I couldn’t possible agree with any less. In my opinion, semantics and the use of precise language occupy a space at the core of the debate over cyber-terrorism and cyber-warfare. The fact that we are continuing to struggle in producing a singular definition for concepts like ‘terrorism’ and ‘cyber-crime’ functions only to increase the importance of which words we use to frame the dialogue. It would seem as though Dr. Rid’s concluding remarks concur.

Is the risk of cyberwar overrated? The answer, as several readers have pointed out, indeed hinges on terminology. But the argument—talk of cyberwar is wrong—is not just semantic. Language matters. Language frames ideas. And ideas are powerful: ideas determine how we see the problem, what we do to solve it, who we think should be in charge, and how governments spend taxpayers’ money.

The emergence of cyber-warfare will popularise a whole new array of household vocabulary. Buzzwords like ‘viruses’, ‘worms’, ‘trojans’, and other techno-jargon have the potential to become much more than words parents use to dissuade their children from clicking pop-up advertisements. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smattering of 21st century Wargames-esque films or the post-Craig James Bond wielding a threatening micro-SD chip in a theatre near you. The age of digital e-terrorism is approaching, ‘Pearl Harbour moment’ or not.  You can bet on seeing a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of Cyber-War grace the shelves of bookshops everywhere in the near future.

As Dr. Rid has indicated, the importance of language to the debate is central and unavoidable. In our post-Iraq invasion world, we  quite simply can not afford to allow sensationalism and cherry-picked intelligence to drive political decision-making and public opinion. The rhetoric that academics, politicians, and ‘experts’ use to engage the public discourse not only colours popular perceptions of the issue, but can often quite literally define it. This is exactly why the debate over the vocabulary we use in discussing cyber-war, cyber-crime, and cyber-terrorism is not simply an issue of semantics.

How Millennials Just Might Save American Politics

American politics are certainly an acquired taste.

The high-profile spectacle of the American party-politics can be difficult to understand and even harder to ignore. The country’s sheer size (in both a demographic and geographical sense) means that the supply of talking points rarely runs dry. While it may be true that the problems vexing the United States (think: gun violence, gay rights, racial tension) are not uniquely American problems, the country’s colossal scale and well-funded media machine foster a sensationalist culture that fuels larger-than-life perceptions both at home and abroad.

While the average bystander would be quite reasonable in dismissing the whole of American politics out-of-hand as being laughably conservative, the reality is indeed a bit more nuanced. The feeling of familiarity that has accompanied decades of widely exported American culture has worked to further entrench and encourage a casual (if not the reductivist) understanding of American politics in the rest of the world. The legacy of the United States’ hegemonic status during the Cold War era has imbued much of the contemporary educated world (especially that which exists across the Atlantic) with a certain sense of laziness when it comes to confronting American domestic developments. It’s certainly easy to base one’s conception of the political scene around the dichotomy between a small minority of culturally enlightened coastal inhabitants stuck in perpetual resistance against the neo-conservative whimsy of the uneducated, gun-toting, red-necked, evangelical masses. However, this fails to account for the quiet majority represented by ‘Middle America’, arguably the most potent electoral force in American politics. It’s indeed this sort of citizen, unremarkable to the news media at large, that serves to characterize the system. While the spectrum seems to be polarizing itself at an alarming rate during its quiet slide to the right, the average voter’s convictions are still far a cry from anything that is being parroted at excessive volume from whomever Fox News has appointed pundit-of-the-week.

Despite the best efforts of the far right to stymie the flow of newcomers, America remains at its core a nation of immigrants. The notion of the ‘melting pot’ society is something that gives the Unites States a sense of individuality, a cultivated cultural identity that differentiates it from other members of the English-speaking world like the United Kingdom and Canada. The most recent manifestation of this issue has come in the form of Congress’ attempt to formulate new reforms on immigration legislation, a prospect met with resistance on all sides. Continuing the trend of Congressional gridlock, staunch opposition has arisen among House Republicans. While the proposed reforms include changes that many would deem ‘victories’ for conservatives, the antagonistic fringe of the Tea Party-right has come out en masse against the legislation without providing any insight into how the problem might be resolved, per usual.

The notion of intra-party antagonism, while nothing new, is a powerful force in a system with little third-party prospects. The mainstream remains very much the only stream. The constraints involved with maintaining a strong party line has emerged as a significant hurdle for today’s Republican party, prompting John Weaver, a former campaign strategist for centre-right candidates John McCain and Jon Huntsman to claim that ‘[The GOP] will not be a national governing party for a long, long time if we turn our backs on this chance to pass immigration reform. It’s just that simple’. [2. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/07/the-immigration-fight-is-the-battle-for-the-soul-of-the-gop/277867/ ]

While the Republican party struggles with their internal strife, the outside world is changing as well. The Millennial generation, commonly defined as those born between the 1980s and the turn of the century, represents a significant electoral force. While 9/11 remains the single most momentus moment in recent American history, the Millennials came of age during a time characterized by the economic mismanagement and inception of multiple protracted military incursions under the administration of George W. Bush. A 2009 study completed by the Center For American Progress produced an interesting observation. The Center concluded:[3.  http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/progressive-movement/report/2009/05/13/6021/the-political-ideology-of-the-millennial-generation/ ]

What is most important about these voters is not their current predilection for Democratic candidates, however, but rather the deeply held progressive beliefs underlying their voting preferences. The progressive beliefs of these young adult voters could recast the core ideological battles that have defined our country’s post-Vietnam political discourse.

Make no mistake: the GOP is losing young voters. The previously ubiquitous notion of ‘young republican clubs’ is becoming less so, and it feels like the majority of young people, raised on a diet of unemployment and economic instability, are generally becoming disinterested in things like Reaganomics, social darwinism, and radical isolationism. On the topic of the immigration reform legislation that is currently negotiating a largely stagnant Congress, a Fox News survey of ~1,000 Americans found that Republicans (90%), people over the age of 65 (87%), and whites (83%) support the addition of additional ‘border security’ measures. Similarly, Democrats (82%), people under the age of 30 (81%), and non-whites (79%) support a path to citizenship for immigrants who hold non-legal status. [4.  http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/06/13/fox-news-poll-voters-want-immigration-reform/ ]

Exit polls from the 2012 Presidential election also illustrate the sharp division between demographics that underscores this potential demographic-political shift. White men still favored Mitt Romney by an overwhelming margin, while non-whites supported President Obama by an even more staggering margin (93% of blacks voted for the incumbent). Obama handily won both 18-29 and 30-44 age groups, while Romney took the 45-64 and 65+ demographics without difficulty. Interestingly, while Obama won out among those without a university degree, those holding a degree, and those with a postgraduate degree, Romney narrowly edged out his competitor among those with standard undergraduate credentials.[5.  http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/results/president/exit-polls/ ]

Issues by Age
Three Very ‘Millennial’ Issues

On the non-Presidential contentions du jour of American politics, the divide is equally maintained. A Washington Post/ABC News poll (above) again illustrates the rather sharp divide between the generations. I believe that these three issues are quite appropriate in illustrating this phenomenon as they represent a sharp departure from the social status quo as well as the shifting social norms of the Millennials. The study shows a significant divide between the Millennials (18-29 demographic) and their parents (50-65+) with the latter half of Generation X (those too young to be parents of Millennials: born after 1965 but before 1979) displaying a slightly left-leaning bias that characterised Middle America in the 2012 elections.

Another influential element in the shifting character of American voters is the erosion of traditionally boundaries that have discouraged voters from crossing party lines on an issue-by-issue basis. This is seen in the the emergence of trans-party movements that seek to promote rationality and compromise that transcends party lines. Among the more prolific of these ‘purple’ organisations include No Labels and The Coffee Party USA , which promote progress through a commitment to bipartisan dialogue. In disputing the effectiveness of reliance on the partisan balance of surveys, The Pew Research Center for People and the Press explains that: [6.  http://www.people-press.org/2012/08/03/party-affiliation-and-election-polls/  ]

Most fundamentally, [political allegiance] is an attitude, not a demographic.

The concept of an ideological split between older and younger demographics is certainly not a new one. It would be fair to assume, even, that a country’s youth will more often than not function as the driving force behind progressive politics. However, the American Millennials have displayed a few interesting tendencies including the disinclination to unconsciously vote along party lines as well as the desire to reconcile bipartisan differences in the name of progress. Another important factor, the increase in the Hispanic/Latino population, is another demographic trend that must be considered. The 2012 US Census revealed that the immigration boom that occurred during the 1990s and continued through the turn of the century has reinforced a surging Hispanic birth rate, and will likely result in a non-white majority in America before 2050. When you consider that 76% of non-white voters of all ages supported President Obama in the previous election cycle, this is far from insignificant.[7.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/12/census-hispanics-and-black-unseat-whites-as-majority-in-united-states-population_n_2286105.html ]

In any case, the ‘two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards’ brand of progress that has defined American civil and political culture during the last half-century and beyond will be incredibly difficult to dislodge. It’s certainly far too early to proclaim the inevitable death of the American right. The second Bush President and current House of Representatives have proved that ill-conceived policy choices have no bearing on the GOP’s longevity. As a result of its tremendous size, fickle culture, and unique history the U.S. will undoubtedly continue to struggle with many disputes that are simply non-issues in smaller, wealthier, and more welfare-inclined nations. Nevertheless, the Millennial generation has brought with it a cause for legitimate, if still cautious, optimism regarding America’s progress towards a positive political future.

The Future of File Sharing

As a life-long nerd, I’ve followed the development of online piracy and the ensuing industry backlash since the days of Napster (which, I might add, was developed by Shawn Fanning, a high-profile dropout of my alma mater, Northeastern University). The advent of publicly-available, affordable, and easily-accessible broadband internet and the introduction of file-sharing software to the mainstream user have ushered in a new realm of intellectual property challenges. The spectre of widespread online piracy has emerged as a  thorn in the side of entertainment and legal entities worldwide.

On the more aggressive end of the prosecution spectrum, you find agencies such as the American Department of Homeland Security’s Intellectual Property Rights Center (DHS IPR) and its long list of partner agencies. [1. http://www.iprcenter.gov/ ] Among the  DHS’ most visible ties are those to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is most notorious for its string of hawkish and costly lawsuits  throughout the mid-2000s. The series of lawsuits emptied their pockets to the tune of $64,000,000 over a three year period, while only to returning a paltry $1,500,000 in damages ($1.5 for every $64 spent), [2. http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100713/17400810200.shtml] and pursuing legal action against high school cheerleaders (after labelling them ‘vexacious’ after not agreeing to settle for $200 per song). [3. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/10/riaa-decries-te] For a comprehensive look at the RIAA’s legal crusade between 2003 and 2008, check out RIAA v. The People: Five Years Later on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website.

Das tut uns leid.
Das tut uns leid.

Obtuse and heavy-handed copyright enforcement hasn’t been limited to the sue-happy legal culture of America, though. An honorable mention goes out to the German Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs-und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (GEMA), which takes its duties as seriously as its name scheme would suggest. If you’ve ever lived or travelled in Deutschland, I’m sure you will have been made intimately familiar with the preceding image. They have been accused for single-handedly putting Germany back into the ‘digital dark ages’ by making an obscene proportion of Youtube videos unavailable to the general public. [4. http://www.thelocal.de/sci-tech/20130130-47633.html]

The entertainment faces a significant reshuffling with the dawn of quickly accessible online content. No longer are the industry’s middle men be able to extort exorbitant fees for an obsolete service. Equally, rights-holding companies will be less empowered to use the technical limitations of media ‘artifacts’ (i.e. CDs, DVDs, etc.) to maximise profits and resist technological progress until it is economic convenient. As a result, a series of comically absurd anti-piracy advertisements have been produced, as seen below.

…as well as the Motion Picture Association’s much-lampooned ‘Piracy, It’s a Crime’ campaign.

The notion that motor vehicle theft and downloading unlicensed media exist in the same legal realm is rather absurd. While the circumvention of legal avenues for  acquiring media is at best a snub of the social contract and by no means something that should be encouraged or perpetuated, nor is it something that can be effectively advocated on ethical grounds, the knee-jerk reaction that ‘piracy is bad for the entertainment industry’ may not be as cut-and-dry as it initially appears.

Allegations of lost profits made by the various trade associations (and government agencies on their behalf) fail to take into account the reticence of the industry to accept the new order that began with the modern internet. As peer-to-peer networks have demonstrated, there is absolutely no need to provide the consumer with physical media any longer. To claim that this has no impact on the products final cost is rather absurd. I would argue that media is now much more susceptible to legitimate market forces, as consumers are now able to obtain the film or album in an illegal manner with little to no additional effort. Compounding things is the fact that the entertainment industry’s attempt to halt technological progress with the invention of the DVD, it’s not only becoming easier to acquire things illegally, but you’re often left with an equally high-quality piece of media without having to first invest in expensive and superfluous ‘flavor-of-the-month’ hardware with which to play the media. Ironically, those who choose to view the media illegally also avoid the un-fast-forward-able anti-piracy messages that plague the first thirty seconds of DVD offerings.

Unfortunately for the profit margins of the media conglomerates up in arms with the common downloader, there is mounting evidence to suggest that piracy does very little to erode the sales of popular media. The wildly popular HBO-adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series was recently revealed to have made back-to-back claims to the title of most frequently illegally downloaded television series, (even if the most conservative figures are consulted) with about 5.2 million ‘pirates’ compared to 5.5 million network viewers.[5. http://mashable.com/2013/06/24/game-of-thrones-most-pirated/ ] What’s interesting, however, is that Season 2 of the show has thus-far topped Amazon.com’s Best-Sellers list for television shows in 2013. [6. http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=RssLanding&cat=news&id=1838005 ]

Other evidence has appeared through events like comedian Louis C.K.’s experimental release of a self-produced release, entitled Live at the Beacon Theater, which was distributed independently via his website in late 2011. In avoiding the traditional channels of diffusion (namely broadcast and physical media), C.K. provided fans with the performance for a fraction of the traditional price. Wrapped up in a few sincere words from the comedian himself that reiterate his belief that a strengthened fan-artist relationship and reasonable pricing scheme deter piracy, the consumer was provided with access to multiple digital downloads and an online streaming version of the performance free of any sort of annoying digital rights management (DRM) schemes for a mere $5. As a result, the comedian accrued over $1,000,000 in sales in only twelve days (of which $280,000,000, arguably a conservative estimation of the amount that would have been claimed by a production company, went to charity) .[7. https://buy.louisck.net/news/another-statement-from-louis-c-k]

What’s the point of all of this? You certainly don’t have to declare yourself a fan of illegal downloading to participate in the ongoing dialogue regarding the evolution of intellectual property, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the willingness of governments to devote valuable resources to the prosecution of those who choosing to commit illegal acts that have been demonstrated to have little consequence on society at large. It’s at this point that parallels can be drawn to the failed War on Drugs. In the same way that one can support the redirection of government funding and energy away from the futile and destructive battle against illicit drugs without actually supporting their use or taking them personally, it’s possible to speak out against government subservience to legal teams of the entertainment industry and the conscious effort to impede technological progress and the benefit that it brings consumers without actually participating in the activities yourself.

While the moral and ethical arguments against the infringement of intellectual freedom touted by prominent actors such as Kim Dot Com (of Megaupload fame), the Pirate’s Bay trio (Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde, and Fredrik Neijj) [8. TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard, a documentary about the three founders of the Swedish file sharing monolith can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOKXCEwo_8], and Anonymous can be difficult for the average internet user to identify with, they do not detract from the importance of the larger debate. The recent mass-market appearance of technology like the 3D Printer only increased the stakes of this debate, as the nexus of file-sharing and intellectual property will involve an even more immediate assortment of real-life consequences. The new ground being broken by today’s legal debates has the potential to set a series of precedents for years to come.

How will the issue change when the average citizen can download the plans to ‘print’ an assault rifle? In what ways, legally-speaking, will that data be treated differently from a unpurchased film? While we have the distinct generational privilege of witnessing the debate unfold in front of our eyes, I’m optimistic that our children’s children will be able to watch it online, instead of buying the DVD.

The Fallacy of Post-Racialism in America

While I fully intended for my first substantial post to cover a topic that has more of an international relevance, I felt as though the immediacy of the Zimmerman trial and tragic circumstances of the final hours of Trayvon Martin’s life warrant a few words on the subject. The controversial decision of the jury to acquit George Zimmerman of all charges and criminal culpability in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has reignited the fleeting contemporary American dialogue on the difficulties of being non-White in America. Regardless of the effectiveness of the prosecution’s arguments in proving ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that Zimmerman took Martin’s life in a malicious and/or pre-mediated fashion, the decision continues a dangerous and detrimental precedent in terms of society’s tolerance for violent interactions, especially those of involving African-American victims. While Zimmerman was dismissed by Judge Debra S. Nelson of Seminole County and told that he ‘has no further business with the court’, Marrisa Alexander, a thirty-one year old mother of three was given distinctly different treatment by the Floridian justice system. Despite not committing a crime anywhere near as serious as the slaying of an unarmed youth, Ms. Alexander was given a 20 year prison sentence (keep in mind: that’s 20 more years than Mr. Zimmerman received). Her offence? Firing a bullet into a wall to scare away her ex-husband who she believed threatened her safety. [1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/19/marissa-alexander-gets-20_n_1530035.html] This stark dichotomy is nothing new, though. It’s only the latest episode in a continued narrative of inequality in today’s American society.

Cincinnati Race Riots
2001 Cincinnati Race Riots

Having spent a significant portion of my formative years in a city that hosted the largest racially-motivated riot since the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles (coincidentally the other city in which I grew up), I feel as though I have no lack of personal experience with the issue of race in America.[2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_riots_of_2001] As a teenager I participated in demonstrations, school walk-outs, and other various forms of protest against the perpetuation of the glaring disparity in police action (read: violence) against African-American citizens (especially men in the younger demographics) compared to their white counterparts. While things have calmed significantly in and around Cincinnati over the past few years, the larger problem remains. The striking discrepancy between the treatment of inner-city African-American communities and their suburban white (and young urban professional) counterparts persists as a highly-visible relic of Jim Crow-era bigotry.

The difficulties for the YBM (Young Black Male) in America don’t stop with the police, however. In addition to dealing with nearly omnipresent racial profiling (for an easy example, see studies done on New York’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ program and wildly disproportionate incarceration rates [4. According to a 2009 Bureau of Justice Report, ‘Black non-Hispanic males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times higher than white non-Hispanic males.’ http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pim09st.pdf], the YBM must cope with entrenched social structures and other factors that discourage success. According to the Schott Foundation for Public Education,  the four-year graduation rate for YBMs that received their diplomas in the 2005/2006 school year (which, for argument’s sake, is the year I myself finished) was still below 50%. The report states that the ‘one million Black male students enrolled in the New York, Florida, and Georgia public schools are twice as likely not to graduate with their class as to do so.’ [5. http://www.schottfoundation.org/drupal/docs/schott50statereport-execsummary.pdf] If these numbers aren’t cause for a widespread genuine national debate, I really don’t know what is.

Personally, I find the utter lack of concern displayed by the silent majority and their elected representatives to be the most disturbing. Some politicians have even ventured to the extreme, claiming that we live in a ‘postracial’  society, and that race is no longer a dividing factor in America. This is an unbelievable feat of cognitive dissonance and proof positive that some truly think that ignoring a problem will make it go away. Believe it or not, this was actually the official position taken by a Congressional candidate that I had the distinct displeasure of sitting next to on a flight from Washington D.C. to Boston in the summer of 2010. Despite the torrent of exasperated anecdotes flooding in from those surrounding him, the candidate-who-will-remain-unnamed stood his ground firmly and even took the liberty of informing us of how he came to this conclusion after evaluating his son’s experiences in school. This popular delusion isn’t even limited to white men. Herman Cain, the pizza-mogul-turned-2012-Presidential-candidate and avid Tea Partier, nearly built an entire voter base on the idea that race isn’t a significant factor any more (thus African-Americans are perfectly capable of ‘picking themselves up by their bootstraps’ in veritable Reagan fashion). [6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15765349]

The election of Barack Obama in 2012 certainly marked a milestone in the continuing battle for equality. Equally, however, the pervasiveness of the ‘birthers’ and other inane detractors have proven that the claims of America’s attainment of a post-racial society upon Obama’s inauguration were wildly premature. While the present-day paranoia over Islamic terrorism has produced plenty of its own prejudicial quagmires that our nation is only beginning to confront, it’s absurd to pretend as though it has somehow magically supplanted the need to solve our racial problems of the past. As recent events have shown, we are certainly not living in the post-racial utopia that certain politicians and social darwinists would have you believe, in fact it’s quite the opposite.