Posted 2 years ago

The Millennials: Best. Generation. Ever.

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Posted 3 years ago

The Democratization of Arms

Among scholars of terrorism and international affairs, one of the most frightening trends today is what’s known as the “democratization of arms.” Simply put, it means that individuals or small groups increasingly have the opportunity to build or obtain weapons of mass destruction.

As information technology spreads and science expands, a disgruntled loner has ever more means to create explosives with greater destructive power or chemicals with a more destructive reach. Science fact is rapidly surpassing science fiction. Gene splicing can now be done in the garage, creating the threat of the next major plague being hatched right down the block. The blueprints for a radioactive dirty bomb are quite simple. Obtaining the material to build one is only a slightly greater problem.

“The rapid pace of technological progression, as well as its ongoing diffusion, offer clues as to some of the likely next big things in warfare,” Andrew Krepinevich writings in this month’s Foreign Policy magazine. “Indeed, important military shifts have already been set in motion that will be difficult if not impossible to reverse. Sadly, these developments, combined with others in the economic, geopolitical, and demographic realms, seem likely to make the world a less stable and more dangerous place.”

Among the more frightening trends in weaponry is the rapidly advancing field of biological weapons. Indeed, in the coming years some experts fear they’ll see the emergence of “genetic bombs” – weapons that are designed to kill members of a specific race or ethnic group by targeting certain genetic markers.

“The very advances in biotechnology that appear to offer such promise for improving the human condition have the potential to inflict incalculable suffering. For example, ‘designer’ pathogens targeting specific human subgroups or designed to overcome conventional antibiotics and antiviral countermeasures now appear increasingly plausible, giving scientists a power once thought to be the province of science fiction,” Krepinevich writes. “As in the cyber realm, such advances will rapidly increase the potential destructive power of small groups, a phenomenon that might be characterized as the ‘democratization of destruction.’

On Sept. 11th, we at the Bob Graham Center will be hosting a discussion on the threat of biological terrorism. Graham Center students spent the summer interviewing local emergency officials in counties throughout the Sunshine State. They’ll be presenting their findings. Some may startle you.

Posted 3 years ago

Reading about ‘The Longest War’

We’re just beginning to see the slew of books that will be coming out over the next month dealing with 9/11. But already there are a few very interesting standouts. On Oct. 12, we’ll be hosting journalist and scholar Peter Bergen at the Bob Graham Center. Best known for his appearances on CNN, Bergen has written one of the most comprehensive histories of the war against terrorism since 9/11, “The Longest War.”

To get ready for that session, students also might want to check out Robin Wright’s new book, "Rock the Casbah." Wright has been covering the Middle East for over two decades and is one of a handful of American journalists who truly know the region inside and out.

"Wright argues that Osama bin Laden miscalculated the consequences of the 9/11 attacks," wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times. "Like Mr. Bergen, she points to the emergence of powerful new critics of Al Qaeda, who had jihadi credentials themselves, most notably Sheik Salman al-Awdah , whom she describes as “one of bin Laden’s earliest role models” and who in 2007 issued an open letter to that Qaeda leader, condemning him for spilling the blood of innocent people." 

Two other must-reads are "Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda," and “Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself.” The first is a fascinating look at the means through which the United States is waging a secret war against the terrorist group.

Among the more interesting revelations are details about how Al Qaeda communicates using online multiplayer games and how American spies infiltrate the group through chatrooms. The second book, by Pamela Constable, is a look at one of the most fragile and dangerous nations on earth, Pakistan, where Al Qaeda’s founder Osama bin Laden finally met his end at the hands of US Navy Seals.

Posted 3 years ago

The New Terror Threat

We’re not only going to be looking back at the events of that horrible day on the anniversary of 9/11 at the Bob Graham Center. We’re going to be looking forward to what America is facing in the Middle East and around the world. That day we’ll be hosting a special panel on the the biological terrorist threat with Bob Graham, Chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism. He still advocates for the recommendations in the Commission report, “World at Risk,” that dealt with biological terrorism.

Why Florida? The Sunshine State was very much at the front lines of the war against terrorism in 2001. Many may now forget, but Mohammed Atta and the 9/11 hijackers launched their plot from a safehouse in Hollywood, Florida. And a month later, the headquarters of a Boca Raton-based media group was the target of an unprecedented anthrax attack that killed one photographer who opened a package containing weaponized anthrax spores. The FBI has concluded the author of that attack was most likely a rogue US weapons scientist.

Posted 3 years ago

A New Look at the Financial Crisis

At a time when the federal government, as well as many state legislatures, is grabbling with mounting deficits and the risk of financial default, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service will hold an exclusive forum on Sept. 8 looking into the origins of the U.S. financial crisis. The event will be held at the Pugh Hall Ocora and begins at 6 p.m.

Phil Angelides, who investigated the crisis on a national commission with former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, will join Graham for a discussion of the economic crisis and what can be done to prevent another one. The no-holds-barred discussion will cover past, present and emerging fiscal crises. The conversation will be moderated by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission – tasked with producing the official record and recommendation on how the financial services industry brought down the economy – released its final report in January. Since then, its findings have been hotly debated as lawmakers have grappled with establishing new financial regulations dealing with banking, housing and investment. The FCIC was unable to issue a unified report, with some members issuing their own findings.

Angelides is no stranger to financial crises at the state or federal level. He was elected as California’s State Treasurer and served from 1999-2007. The Associated Press reported that he made “the sleepy treasurer’s office a policy powerhouse,” and The Sacramento Bee praised Angelides as “the most effective and dynamic state treasurer in a generation.”

Angelides testified in May before the U.S. Senate that the financial crisis was avoidable, the result of federal regulators failure to identify and address obvious hazards in the nation’s financial system, coupled with widespread risky lending on the part of private enterprise. In late June, he wrote a scorching op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that Wall Street has largely skated on any responsibility for the financial collapse.

“They say that winners get to write history. Three years after the meltdown of our financial markets, it’s clear who is winning and who is losing. Wall Street — arms outstretched in triumph — is racing toward the finish-line tape while millions of American families are struggling to stay on their feet. With victory seemingly in hand, the historical rewrite is in full swing,” Angelides wrote.

Posted 3 years ago

Re-visiting 9/11

In less than two months the United States will be facing the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest disasters in our nation’s history. We’re planning a special session at the Graham Center. Among the topics we’ll be discussing, in addition to the attack itself, will be the aftermath and the events leading up to what is now called the Arab Spring. Already, we’ve had two major speakers – Nick Kristof and Ayaan Hirsi Ali — in the past year discussing many of the events of the last tumultuous decade. Over the next three months we’ll be hosting Sen. Bob Graham, who has written extensively on the intelligence failures leading up the attacks, and Peter Bergen, the journalist and author who has written an exhaustive history of the “long war” against al-Qaida.

On Sept. 11, Graham will host a session at the Pugh Hall Ocora discussing the threat of biological attacks and the state of preparedness in Florida. It’s part of a special program featuring the efforts of University of Florida students who have been looking at preparedness issues over the summer months.

Graham, chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, most recently wrote about 9/11 and the mysteries surrounding the role of Saudi Arabia in that attack. The issue has so intrigued him that he’s made the rare step of dealing with them in a new novel. Why? As he’ll tell you, it’s easier to discuss intelligence in fiction and not run afoul of giving away any of the great secrets he was privy to as one of the nation’s foremost policy experts on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Bergen, who will speak at the Graham Center on Oct. 12, has dedicated the last decade to an exhaustive series of books that provide one of the best courses on Osama bin Laden and the terrorism war he started. His most recent book, The Longest War, is a definitive account the war against al-Qaida. 

“Though some of the material in The Longest War is familiar, Bergen, through interviews with lesser-known figures, particularly from the world of counter-terrorism, adds much to what is already known,” said a reviewer at London’s Guardian website. “However, it is on the other side that the book is revelatory. The internal workings of bin Laden’s group are still largely obscure, at least to the general public, and Bergen does a fine job of negotiating the maze of personalities and ideologies to explain the various evolutions al-Qaida has undergone.”

Posted 3 years ago

Gaming at the Graham Center

Talk to most people about video games – especially parents – and the first images that come to mind are monsters, soldiers and so-called “first-person” shooter games. But over the last decade especially, a growing community of designers have been dedicated to creating games that seek to teach, inspire and instill values dealing with human rights, democracy and civic engagement.

This fall, the Bob Graham Center for Public Service will be hosting two very important leaders in this movement. In September, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will come to Gainesville to talk about her pioneering work with iCivics, a game movement that creates entertaining games for children dealing with such issues as immigration, leadership and justice. O’Connor, who has worked very closely with former Sen. Bob Graham to pass a sweeping civics curriculum for middle and high school students in Florida, believes these games could fill a vacuum in over-burdened schools lacking the materials and time to teach civics.

In October, the Graham Center is going to host one of the leading thinkers in the “games for change” movement. Jane McGonigal, a leading designer of highly engaging multi-player games that deal with human rights and international politics, will appear on Oct. 4 to talk about her work. McGonigal is also the author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” one of the best books on gaming in recent years.

If you’re a parent, especially one dealing with Xbox or PlayStation or World of Warcraft, this is going to be a lot to get your head around. But McGonigal, O’Connor and others are convinced that games can teach serious values in much the same way as books, classroom lecture or a PBS documentary. Some would even say they can do a better job because they require the player to actively think through the choices being made – in situations dealing with everything from Third World farming, to illegal immigration to human trafficking. Nobody suggests they should replace books or the best teachers – they are merely one more facet of an intellectual diet in the 21st Century.

So check out these sites, and mark these dates on your calendar. We’re looking forward to some very engaging discussion about an exciting new way of looking at creating the new leaders of the next generation.

Posted 3 years ago

Former U.S. Sen. Graham, who also served two terms as governor of the Sunshine State, founded the Bob Graham Center Center for Public Service as a means of going beyond the classroom and giving students insight into the nuts and bolts of political leadership.

It’s part of his lifelong dedication to the idea that citizens need a firm grounding in democratic government to discharge their rights and responsibilities, regardless of which field a Bob Graham Center student chooses for a career, be it politics, business, the arts or the sciences