Religious Persecution on the Rise Globally

April 18th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

For Americans in a modernized world, religious persecution seems like an antiquated and archaic notion rather than an infringement upon liberty and natural rights. In fact, Americans—millennials, in particular—dispassionately take religious freedom for granted. This is either because we are less concerned with religion, freedom, or both.

Why should millennials invest in defending religious freedom if they are indifferent, or less concerned with religion on a personal level? A recent Pew Research study claims that 54% of millennials believe this increasingly non-religious attitude “doesn’t make much difference for American society.”

In an interview with the Review,Dr. Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a professor at Georgetown University, explained why students—and anyone who values democracy—should be concerned with defending religious freedom.

“Everyone should care about it,” Dr. Farr said. “In terms of the United States but also around the world, because when countries have no religious freedom, they are unstable.”

Farr cites Egypt as an example of a struggling country where the United States should be facilitating a move towards religious freedom. In Egypt, as in any democracy, religious liberty is a necessary condition for a stable democracy. What’s more, stability is in America’s interest.

“The reason is that [religious freedom] is necessary if they’re going to have a stable democracy, and it’s in our interest for them to have a stable democracy” Dr. Farr explained. “It’s true all over the world, there are many countries where this is true; most of them are very important to the interests of the United States.”

Perhaps the disinterest of religious freedom amongst millennials is a result of the mass globalization and information age, which ironically insulates us from the international brutalities that continue to occur against religious.

Or rather, we are distracted with an idealistic mindset, and we tell ourselves, “That can’t happen in this day and age!” As Secretary of State Kerry recently quipped, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion.” After all, it’s not the 11th century, nor is it 64 AD, so surely humanity is past that. Not quite.

All too often, religious persecution is thought of as a remnant of biblical history in the biblical age. In reality, religious persecution, although perhaps less brutal in this day in age, still persists, and likely on a much larger scale.

Today’s persecutions are not much different from what Paul wrote of in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

Paul was later beheaded in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero.

In North Korea, Chrisitan missionary Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly preaching against the North Korean government. In Iran, Saeed Adedini was sentenced to eight years in prison for evangelizing. These are just a few publicized examples, similar to the persecution some of the Christian disciples faced in biblical times.

What’s concerning is that all indicators point towards increased hostility towards religious believers. However, even more alerting is the lack of acknowledgment by the Western world, from the lay-citizen and college students, all the way to President Obama.

“Every indictor [of religious persecution] is getting worse including the groups that are most harassed—Christians—is getting worse year by year; Muslims are not far behind,” Farr said. “The fate of Jews has gotten substantially worse over the last six years.”

The World Watch List reports that an estimated 50,000-70,000 North Korean Christians are imprisoned in concentration camps, while sectarian violence in Syria resulted in 1,213 martyred Christians in the year 2013. In Nigeria, 612 Christians were martyred while the September 22, 2013 bombings of a church in Peshawar, Pakistan resulted in 88 deaths (World Watch List).

A more comprehensive study by the Pew Research Center found that religious hostilities are at a six year high, increasing in every region of the world with the exception of the Americas. In 2007, 20% of the 198 countries included in the study had high religious hostilities, which rose to 29% in 2011 and up to 33% in 2012. The sharpest of these increases took place in the Middle East and North Africa, on account of the Arab Spring, with significant rises in hostilities occurring in the Asia-Pacific region.

Although the number of countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion has stayed roughly the same since 2011, 43% of the countries included in the study were rated high or very high: the highest percentage in six years (Pew Research Center). What’s more disconcerting, though, is the fact that 76% of the world’s population is living where overall restrictions on religion are high or very high, up from 68% in 2007, according to the same Pew study.

Furthermore, five of the world’s most populous countries (Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, and Burma) had the most restrictions against religion, taking into account both social hostilities and government restrictions.

Since 2007, social hostilities towards the religious have steadily increased in several categories, including harassment of women over religious dress and violence related to religion, including both terrorism and sectarian violence. Although overall government restrictions have stayed steady since 2011, government restrictions on public preaching and government use of force against religious groups have grown steadily. Amongst the former, “nearly half (48%) of the world’s countries in 2012, up from 41% in 2011 and 31% as of mid-2007” used force against religious groups, according to the Pew Research Center.

Among religious groups between 2006 and 2012, Christians were harassed in 151 countries, while Muslims were harassed in 135 countries, and Jews in 95 countries (Pew Research Center). It is important to note that Christians and Muslims collectively make up over half of the world’s population.

With religious hostilities consistently on the rise, more citizens should be concerned. All the while the leader of the free world doesn’t seem to be alerted to such rising persecutions. After assuming office in 2009, President Obama dragged his feet for more than two years before nominating an Ambassador for International Religious Freedoms, finally nominating Suzan Johnson Cook. In October 2013, Johnson Cook resigned as ambassador. Ever since her resignation, the post has been vacant with no nominations by the Obama Administration.

“They simply are uninterested in advancing religious freedom around the world,” Dr. Farr told the Review. “It’s not because they are ‘for’ persecution; that’s not it. It’s just not high on their list of priorities. They’re far more interested in advancing other things.”

Other countries see this is not a priority of Obama’s foreign policy concerns. Part of the problem is that the position of Ambassador for International Religious Freedom isn’t taken seriously, only being seen as a figurehead. But with the growing trends hostile to all the major religious sects, the administration needs to prioritize religious freedom abroad.

I would go so far as to say that the Obama Administration’s policy of inaction for religious freedom is more disturbing than its lack of useful action in the Ukraine crisis and the Syrian Civil War. It will be a travesty if Obama doesn’t fill the vacant ambassadorship soon, and it reflects his lack of priority in defending religious freedom globally.

If this administration continues to sit on its hands, anyone concerned with advancing liberty and democracy should and needs to vouch for action to defend religious freedom at home and abroad. It’s up to millennials to apply the pressure and send the message of liberty in defense of those persecuted if the Obama Administration is unwilling to do so.

 

Obama Aims to Raise Minimum Wage

April 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

21eca1e9f8d83c0c500f6a706700db78On Wednesday, April 2nd, the University of Michigan had the pleasure of hosting the President of the United States as he came to give remarks about raising the federal minimum wage. At 2:45 pm at the Intramural Sports Building, at least 900 students stood by with bated breath, waiting for Barack Obama to finish his lunch at Zingerman’s.

In his typical charming fashion, the President began his remarks by congratulating our basketball team on a cut-short-too-soon season, hemming and hawing before getting to the meat of this “meanwich.”

Though expected to explain an increase in the federal minimum wage, President Obama spent far more time endorsing what he has embraced as “Obamacare” and vilifying congressional Republicans. There are now 7.1 million people signed up for “Affordable Health Care,” (although that number reflects people who already had healthcare as well as those who were kicked off their old insurance plans), but at least 30 million Americans are still uninsured. He took this speech as yet another social opportunity to push his incredibly impractical healthcare initiative, and directly insult the Republican Party, which has passed around fifty economic recovery proposals, only to have them shot down by Senate Democrats. Luckily for the President, much of the audience consisted of young college students, who don’t yet realize the impacts his policies could have on their future.

Once he got to the topic at hand, the President brought up his lunch at Zingerman’s in an attempt to connect with the young Ann Arborites and tried to tie in how Zingerman’s was “an excellent example of fair wages for employees.” Though he may not have realized while ordering the Reuben, but Zingerman’s isn’t exactly the most affordable lunch fare. A small Reuben costs fourteen dollars, while the regular costs nearly seventeen. For the average worker, that is more than expensive for a day’s meal.  Instead, Zingerman’s is relished for special occasions or parties. It’s held on such a pedestal not only because the sandwiches are delicious, but because people don’t eat there every day. Obama’s “high wages high profits” remark failed to include one incredibly important detail: high costs.

Obama proclaims that his party is the champion of the middle class; that Republicans only concern is for the “1%.” However, raising the federal minimum wage is anything but helpful to the middle class. He claimed that “raising wages isn’t just a job for elected officials, it’s also a job for businesses,” without considering the real effect these higher wages will have. The economy isn’t doing well enough for additional pressure to be placed on business owners. Small business owners across Michigan have expressed concern that the extra costs of employees will force them to raise the prices of their products and cut back on regular employees, who Obama identified as an average of thirty-five years old (hardly helpful to graduating seniors looking for any means of living). The costs of living will increase, and people will struggle more than ever.

President Obama is a cool guy. He comes off as very charming and personable, which makes him the ideal candidate for college students. But he isn’t trying to enable these young people to get them standing on their own two feet. All he wants to do is come off as their “friend,” as someone to hang out with, to ensure that this generation remains faithful to the party that has kept them jobless, paying increased taxes to cover the uninsured, and completely blind to the long-term implications of these plans.

President Obama Proposes Increased Minimum Wage to Michigan Students

April 3rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

941eec6df8a03b0c500f6a7067009f4dOn April 2, 2014, an enthusiastic group of students from the University of Michigan greeted President Barack Obama on the basketball court of the University’s Intermural Sports Building.  The crowd, consisting of 1,400 University students and administration, Michigan government officials, etc., produced a roar of applause as the President climbed the podium to propose an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.  Mira Friedlander, a senior and political science major at the University of Michigan, introduced the President through a personal account of her current experience and struggle working as a waitress, while collecting the minimum wage. “The current minimum wage is definitely not going to pay my student loans,” Friedlander said.

President Obama entered on a serious note; however, the speech quickly assumed a positive attitude as he called out to Michigan basketball players Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Jordan Morgan, as well as Michigan football quarterback Devin Gardner, all of whom were in attendance.

President Obama cited several Michigan businesses in the attempt to gain support for his proposal.  Specifically, he spoke of Zingerman’s Delicatessen, a well-regarded Ann Arbor eatery.  He discussed Zingerman’s minimum wage crisis through his reference to Paul Saginaw, one of Zingerman’s owners.  The President described Saginaw’s arrival to Washington, DC in the effort “to lobby for his workers, to lobby for better treatment for workers through a higher minimum wage.”  In a continuation of references to Michigan businesses, he acknowledged Ford Motor Company and the work of Henry Ford, who doubled his workers’ wages in the effort to increase workers’ productivity and loyalty.  President Obama acknowledged Ford’s effort to enhance a relationship with workers and business owners, and thereby, improve business relations.  “The workers could afford to buy the cars that they were building.  Fair wages [and] higher profits are not mutually exclusive.  They go hand in hand,” the President said.

Throughout his speech, many students hung on his every word, their faces radiating the dream for equal opportunity.  At one point, the President said that three in four Americans support an increase in minimum wage.  Though he wholeheartedly addressed why a minimum wage increase will benefit society, he failed to address the reasons as to why one in four Americans are not in favor of the proposal.  President Obama failed to report that an increase in the minimum wage may cause employers to reduce their workforce, and therefore, increase the rate of unemployment.  He also failed to acknowledge that raising the minimum wage may force some businesses to close, as they will be unable to pay their workers.  In addition, the President kept the argument one-sided, calling out Republicans for their opposed view of his proposal.  As a result, the students produced a chorus of boos.  “No, no, don’t boo,” he responded.  “Organize.”

The banner displayed at the President’s speech, “Opportunity for All,” most accurately portrays President Obama’s goal of an increased minimum wage.  He attributes this proposal to his image of an ideal America, enhanced by the desire to rise from poverty and the creation of a supposed larger middle class.  Will an increased minimum wage eliminate poverty, as indicated by the President?  Unlikely.  Though his speech addressed the minimum wage issue, his underlying message was clear: “To make sure we are giving everybody a chance… that we are not just looking out for ourselves all the time, but we are also looking out for the person next to you.  That’s also what America is about,” the President said.  “We’ve got to get opportunity for everyone to strive for…  Everybody’s got a chance.” President Obama’s appearance on April 2, 2014 marks his third visit to the University of Michigan, making him the most frequented sitting president to visit the University.

Investigation Clears Christie of “Bridgegate”

March 26th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

The investigation into Governor Chris Christie’s role in “Bridgegate” headed by the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher has come to the conclusion that the governor had absolutely no knowledge of or involvement in the scandal.

The New York Times reported that the probe was commissioned by Christie himself, noting that the firm “has close ties” to the Christie Administration. Such a close history with the administration brought up questions regarding the credibility of the inquiry, but any missed aspects or “cover-ups” will be exposed by parallel investigations being undertaken by the State Legislature and the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman.

The lawyer in charge of the review, Randy M. Mastro, dismissed any notions of “sugarcoating” and said the investigation has laid out a timeline of events as well as cataloged all communications leading up to the closures. The review included at least 70 interviews, including those with Christie, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, and other senior staff, and cost an estimated $1 million in legal fees that will fall upon taxpayers. The investigation did not include interviews with former staffers Bridget Anne Kelly—Governor Christie’s former deputy chief of staff—or Bill Stepien, whose emails linked the administration to the scandal and ultimately led to their departures.

The governor himself handed over his iPhone and telephone records and allowed the lawyers to search his government and private email accounts. Items analyzed in the investigation include emails on government servers of past and present employees, Port Authority records, subpoenaed documents from Port Authority appointees Wildstein and Bill Baroni, as well as interviews with “independent witnesses and associates of Mr. Christie outside the government,” according to the New York Times.

Although Christie was cleared of any first hand knowledge of the incident, the continuing investigations launched by the Legislature and U.S. Attorney’s office will also look into whether the Governor “created or condoned a culture that fostered political intimidation.”

After the final review is delivered to Christie, he has said he will make it public without any alterations.

 

 

Why President Obama Should Approve Keystone XL

March 23rd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

There is currently a heated debate around the proposed Keystone XL expansion – the final stage of a project that began in 2008 and is nearly finished. This article, the second of two articles on the Keystone XL expansion, will explore whether or not the US government should and will approve the Keystone XL expansion.

North America is currently in the midst of an oil boom. However, we are failing to capitalize on this boom. In 2008, TransCanada and ConocoPhillips submitted a proposal for the Keystone XL extension, which would nearly double the capacity of the Keystone pipeline, yet the Obama administration has delayed the approval of Keystone XL (for more information see my previous article on Keystone XL). These delays have led to reliance on a less safe and more costly means of transporting oil: railroads. Last year has been characterized as the worst year on record for oil spills by railroads. Given the poor status quo, the Obama administration has an opportunity to approve the Keystone XL extension, subject to environmental reforms that reduce our dependence on oil. They should take it.

Keystone XL provides many benefits to the United States, including increased efficiency and safety compared to rail, and helps us become less reliant on oil from oppressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Keystone XL is more efficient than rail since it lowers the cost of shipping oil and frees up railroad capacity for other goods. Keystone XL is safer than trains because pipelines are less subject to human error and other issues that plague railroads. While there is a risk of oil spills for pipelines, such as the 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the risk is far higher for railroads. Finally, by tapping domestic oil sources, Keystone XL frees us from unhealthy alliances with oppressive regimes.

Despite these benefits, the extraction and shipment of oil from the Canadian oil sands imposes costs to the environment. These costs include increased carbon emissions, environmental damage, and a reduction of incentives to develop alternative sources of energy. Increased carbon emissions come from two sources: increased usage of oil and the energy usage from oil extraction in Canada. However, while oil extraction from the oil sands is energy intensive, it is only 18-25% more energy intensive over its lifecycle than “conventional” oil. The carbon emissions problem is due to oil, not just oil from the Canadian oil sands.

Environmental damage from this oil is due to the environmental costs of extraction on the land and the potential for spills. Extraction of oil from the oil sands involves excavation of the land and can permanently disfigure the landscape (for more detail on this process see my previous article). Additionally, oil spills, like the spill in the Kalamazoo River, do happen. This is why changes to the original Keystone XL extension proposal were made to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska. Nevertheless, with approval of the Keystone XL extension, these costs need to be accounted for.

In order to account for these costs, the Obama administration should only approve the pipeline conditional on environmental regulations that reduce our dependence on oil immediately (not just foreign oil). Some of these incentives could include a reduction in public subsidization of roads, ending subsidized heating oil, liberalization of mass transit, and ending the commuter tax credit for drivers. Additionally, the Obama administration should impose tighter regulations on oil transport by rail in order to reduce the risk of oil spills.

The current oil boom is a tremendous opportunity, but it also has real costs that need to be accounted for. The current status quo is not working. The Obama administration needs to approve Keystone XL with sufficient reforms that reduce our dependence on oil. Otherwise, his delay in approving the project will only lead to the emergence of a damaging, under regulated substitute: rail.

 

Why President Obama Should Approve Keystone XL

March 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

There is currently a heated debate around the proposed Keystone XL expansion – the final stage of a project that began in 2008 and is nearly finished. This article, the second of two articles on the Keystone XL expansion, will explore whether or not the US government should and will approve the Keystone XL expansion.

North America is currently in the midst of an oil boom. However, we are failing to capitalize on this boom. In 2008, TransCanada and ConocoPhillips submitted a proposal for the Keystone XL extension, which would nearly double the capacity of the Keystone pipeline, yet the Obama administration has delayed the approval of Keystone XL (for more information see my previous article on Keystone XL). These delays have led to reliance on a less safe and more costly means of transporting oil: railroads. Last year has been characterized as the worst year on record for oil spills by railroads. Given the poor status quo, the Obama administration has an opportunity to approve the Keystone XL extension, subject to environmental reforms that reduce our dependence on oil. They should take it.

Keystone XL provides many benefits to the United States, including increased efficiency and safety compared to rail, and helps us become less reliant on oil from oppressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Keystone XL is more efficient than rail since it lowers the cost of shipping oil and frees up railroad capacity for other goods. Keystone XL is safer than trains because pipelines are less subject to human error and other issues that plague railroads. While there is a risk of oil spills for pipelines, such as the 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, the risk is far higher for railroads. Finally, by tapping domestic oil sources, Keystone XL frees us from unhealthy alliances with oppressive regimes.

Despite these benefits, the extraction and shipment of oil from the Canadian oil sands imposes costs to the environment. These costs include increased carbon emissions, environmental damage, and a reduction of incentives to develop alternative sources of energy. Increased carbon emissions come from two sources: increased usage of oil and the energy usage from oil extraction in Canada. However, while oil extraction from the oil sands is energy intensive, it is only 18-25% more energy intensive over its lifecycle than “conventional” oil. The carbon emissions problem is due to oil, not just oil from the Canadian oil sands.

Environmental damage from this oil is due to the environmental costs of extraction on the land and the potential for spills. Extraction of oil from the oil sands involves excavation of the land and can permanently disfigure the landscape (for more detail on this process see my previous article). Additionally, oil spills, like the spill in the Kalamazoo River, do happen. This is why changes to the original Keystone XL extension proposal were made to avoid environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska. Nevertheless, with approval of the Keystone XL extension, these costs need to be accounted for.

In order to account for these costs, the Obama administration should only approve the pipeline conditional on environmental regulations that reduce our dependence on oil immediately (not just foreign oil). Some of these incentives could include a reduction in public subsidization of roads, ending subsidized heating oil, liberalization of mass transit, and ending the commuter tax credit for drivers. Additionally, the Obama administration should impose tighter regulations on oil transport by rail in order to reduce the risk of oil spills.

The current oil boom is a tremendous opportunity, but it also has real costs that need to be accounted for. The current status quo is not working. The Obama administration needs to approve Keystone XL with sufficient reforms that reduce our dependence on oil. Otherwise, his delay in approving the project will only lead to the emergence of a damaging, under regulated substitute: rail.

 

A Record-Setting Winter

March 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This winter has been painfully snowy–in record-breaking fashion. Prior to the winter storm on Wednesday, March 12th, Ann Arbor had seen 86.3 inches of snow during the 2013-14 season. However, with the additional four inches that Wednesday’s storm graced us with, we have now seen a total of 90.3 inches—a new record for Ann Arbor. The old snow total record had been 89.8 inches, which was set during the 2007-08 season (mlive.com).

While Ann Arbor has already broken its snow record, other cities within Michigan have not been so fortunate. However, good news—they are close, and there is still time. Detroit, for instance, has currently seen 90.7 inches of snow, putting them roughly three inches below their record of 93.6 inches set in 1880-1881. These three inches are certainly attainable, as the average snowfall in Detroit from now through April is 5.2 inches (mlive.com).

Flint only needs 1.2 more inches of snow to set their record. What’s more, they can take pride in the fact that they have had at least one inch of snow on the ground for the last 95 days. With temperatures forecasted to remain quite low for at least the next week, Flint may set an at-least-one-inch-on-the-ground record of over 105 days (mlive.com).

While these record-breaking figures are interesting and add an element of fun to our winter misery, the weather conditions have been detrimental to Ann Arbor’s road safety. Wednesday’s frigid morning temperatures, ice-covered roads, and substantial snow totals were troublesome for commuters. Luckily no injuries were reported, but slick road conditions caused a slew of road runoffs and fender benders on I-94.

If these record-setting snow totals have you feeling down, rest assured. There are now less than 20 days until spring, and polar vortex level temperatures are soon to be a distant memory. Our pipes have frozen and burst, our fingers have been frostbitten while tow trucks and snowplows have been overworked, fires have broken out, schools have been closed, and cars have crashed—so please, Mother Nature, reward us with a warm spring.

The Athletic Department Gets it Right with the New Football Student Seating Policy

March 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Central Student Government and the athletic department have put together a new football student seating system beginning next season that should solve many of the problems regarding student attendance at home football games. The package addresses the incentives to not only attend the games but also to arrive early, while accommodating students’ most pressing desire: the ability to reserve groups with their friends without having to arrive at the same time.

“Our goal has always been for students to attend games and arrive early and this plan reinforces this goal. From the student perspective, feedback through CSG, as well as multiple surveys showed that sitting in reserved groups was the students No. 1 concern and this plan addresses that feedback,” said Hunter Lochmann, chief marketing offer of the Michigan athletics.

The plan features changes to 2014 seating in addition to further changes to future seasons thereafter. There will be no more general admission seating, as there was in 2013. Instead, all season ticket holders will have reserved seats, similar to the system that had been in place before 2013. However, the key change implemented as a result of this plan is that seating will be administered based on previous season attendance. In 2014, all students who attended five or more games in 2013 will be seated in the SuperFan group, located in the lowest rows closest to field level. The remaining students will be seated by year, with the seniors seated just above the SuperFan group, followed by the juniors just above the senior group and so on. Groups can be formed with a maximum of 100 participants and will be seated based on average class level of the group.

In 2015, the plan will kick into a higher gear. Seating will be determined based on a points system that will begin in 2014. Students will receive three points for every game attended in addition to three extra points each time they arrive 30 minutes before game time. There will be a 36-point maximum to account for inclement weather and break games. The students with the highest point total will be seated in the lowest rows the following season. Groups will be seated based on their average point total.

Overall, the policy appears to be exactly what students desire and the athletic department deserves a great deal of credit for their willingness to work with student government and for the creative plan produced. This plan allows the serious, committed fans to be rewarded for their dedication, as fans with perfect attendance that show up early will be seated closest to the action. The policy further allows those who choose to buy tickets for the social aspect of football Saturdays to have the opportunity to create a seating group with their friends instead of requiring them all to arrive at the same time. Group seating is generated in the fairest way possible, although it does incentivize those with low point totals to join groups with students who have high point totals. Despite this, the incentives are shaped for all to attend games as opposed to skipping games, since most people prefer not to be seated in the highest rows. It also forces freshmen to prove their dedication before they are rewarded with a superior seat location.

The problem facing the athletic department in regards to student seating is based on the fact that once students purchase a ticket, there is little that can be done to force students to attend on time or even attend at all. The fact of the matter is that many students care more about the drinking than the actual football being played, and that is something no athletic department policy can change. Nonetheless, this policy gives the strongest incentives for students to show up early since it gives them a tangible reward for attendance.

Over the past few years, the complaints about the athletic department have been rising. People have clamored and complained about increased ticket prices, the student seating policy, and a general feeling that the athletic department doesn’t care about Michigan students and only cares about profit. However, with this policy, the athletic department has done their part to show they care about the students and are willing to reward them for dedication. There are no excuses anymore. If you aren’t dedicated enough to Michigan football to attend games and arrive early, you don’t deserve a good seat. The onus is now on the students to prove to the athletic department that we care about Michigan football and not just about getting drunk on Saturday mornings. The athletic department did their part. Now, it is time for the students to do theirs.

CPAC Revs Up College Republicans

March 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

What do you get when you bring together Republicans from all around the country for a weekend full of politics? You get CPAC, or the Conservative Political Action Conference. This year’s conference was held March 6-8 in National Harbor, Maryland – just outside the borders of our nation’s capital. Young conservatives and College Republicans from all over the United States, including our very own CRs from the University of Michigan, were the predominant attendees. The weekend consisted of various seminars, networking opportunities, and numerous Republican public figures giving speeches and signing copies of their latest books.

As the Republican National Convention in 2016 slowly approaches, a select few of these figures made sure to make their presence known on the CPAC stage, eagerly using this opportunity to further establish their potential bid for the White House. Among some of the prospective presidential candidates attending were New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, Texas senator Ted Cruz, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and neurosurgeon (and Michigan alumnus) Ben Carson. The energy in the room varied from speaker to speaker as each of these men spoke about his ideas of the current status and goals of the Republican Party, along with throwing a few punches at the incumbent president.

As almost anyone familiar with internal GOP politics knows, there’s an ongoing competition of ideas between the social conservatives, moderate Republicans, and libertarian Republicans. CPAC provided the perfect forum for each of these factions to pitch their vision for addressing the issues they feel are most crucial to the future.

New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie was one of the first speakers to make an appearance. Governor Christie’s controversial Bridgegate scandal did not keep the audience from giving him a standing ovation. Christie concentrated on painting himself as the rational, moderate conservative in the field of candidates. He also argued that the Republican Party needed to move beyond criticism and start offering alternative solutions to the problems at hand. “Our ideas are better than their [Democrat’s] ideas and that’s what we have to stand up for.” Christie came in fourth in the CPAC straw poll.

Meanwhile, politicians like Texas senator Ted Cruz differentiated themselves from the moderate-right by emphasizing the importance of sticking to principle and fighting for the full repeal of ObamaCare. Cruz advocated for a relentless approach in the upcoming elections and called on the base to stand together in unity: “You want to lose elections? Stand for nothing,” he said. “We put our head down, we stood for nothing and we got walloped,” raged Cruz, accusing previous presidential nominees Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney of not drawing clear-enough distinctions between themselves and the Democrats.

Kentucky senator Rand Paul made one of the final, and most attended,

appearances of the weekend event. Paul’s libertarian, limited-government conservatism was a big hit among the crowd, as he spoke in a manner that demonstrated his understanding of what it takes for Republicans to win back Washington in the fall, specifically the Senate. Although he avoided the topic of foreign policy, he made sure to address issues of personal freedom and the failures of the Obama administration. “I don’t question President Obama’s motives,” Paul added, “but history will remember his timid defense of liberty.” Not only was Rand Paul’s speech widely attended, but the senator also came in first in the CPAC straw poll, for the second consecutive year, with Cruz taking a second and neurosurgeon Ben Carson placing third.

Although the GOP may be divided in priority at the moment, one thing is clear: everyone that attended CPAC is unhappy with the status quo in Washington. In order to have a shot at winning back the presidency in 2016, the various factions within the GOP will need to find a way to come together. Each speaker at the conference hinted at this reality. The party is on the brink of an inevitable transformation, and it will be intriguing to watch.

The Iraq Theatre: Opening of the Second Act

March 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Iraq is long in the rear view mirror, a distant and increasingly fading memory. We are reminded that on May 1st 2003 President George Bush declared, “mission accomplished” in Iraq. Fast-forward 6 years, and newly appointed President Obama declares that most combat troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by 2011. Sure enough, the last combat troops left the sovereignty of Iraq on December 18, 2011. The dust has settled, right? We can now safely assume that the Iraq chapter has ended, right?

As you probably can guess from my intentionally leading questions, things haven’t just worked themselves out now that we aren’t looking. Iraq may have fallen out of the public eye, but the problems there haven’t become any less visible. With the rise of the Arab spring and Syrian civil war, Iraq now faces catastrophic destabilization. The result could further engulf the Middle East into a regional sectarian conflict.

To understand the situation in Iraq, it is critical to understand the better part of the last two decades of Iraqi history. Iraq is a country comprised of mostly Shiites, which is a sect of Islam. The other thirty some odd percent of the country are Sunni Muslims. These are the two main factions in the Islamic world, and they are entrenched in a global power struggle. These two sects of Islam disagree fundamentally on certain religious beliefs, thus creating an irreconcilable ethnic conflict between the two groups of people. The Middle East is ethnically mixed, and the borders of Iraq contain both groups of people under one government. In the last two decades we have seen brutal regimes come to power and subjugate certain parts of the population. Nowhere is this truer than in Iraq, which has an institutional memory of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Baath Party that brutally persecuted the Shiites of Iraq. At the conclusion of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Saddam’s government had fallen. In its place was left a cavernous power vacuum, and an oncoming king of the hill battle between the different factions that inhabit Iraq.

After the displacement of Saddam Hussein, the country was shell-shocked and reactionary towards the new political climate. The Shiites that were violently subjugated during Saddam’s authoritarian rule were resolved in never allowing history to repeat itself. The Shiite populous already had a deep mistrust of the Sunnis; however, distrust of the Sunnis was at its height following the removal of Saddam. Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, feared retaliation and revenge by Shiite Muslims. Iraq quickly started falling into civil war, as the two major ethnic groups began attacking each other on the streets. As most on-the-ground reporters recall, there were Shiite and Sunni mosque bombings week after week perpetrated by the other. This was especially true in ethnically mixed neighborhoods, where guerrilla fighting became prevalent.

As a result of the epic instability of Iraq, the United States had a prolonged engagement in Iraq acting as the police force to prevent the country from ripping itself apart at the seams. Contrary to what conspiracy theorist might try to convey, the United States wasn’t there mining for oil. The United States military had its hands full just trying to contain the violence on the streets of cities and prevent a full-scale civil war from breaking out.

One of the greatest challenges faced in Iraq was forming a functioning government that actually represented its people. Iraq is a microcosm of the Middle East in general, in which the ruling party usually is not representative of the people they govern. As a result, the governments are more easily corrupted by power since they aren’t held accountable by the citizens. This can be seen in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, just to name a few. This makes oppression inevitable, and as a result the ethnic conflicts are perpetuated, as there is always a ready scapegoat. For the better part of the first decade in the twenty first century, the United States tried to establish a fairly represented government in Iraq. A government in which both Shiites and Sunnis get a say, in contrast to Saddam’s authoritarian rule. The task was proven to be immeasurably difficult as the deep seated ethnic differences bled into politics, culminating in an impasse between the two parties. The Iraqi government was crippled by paralysis, unable to even govern itself, which enticed greater extremist actions. Elections were subject to suicide bombings, while government buildings were hijacked and were under constant mortar fire.

After several years of effort, in late 2009, Iraq started stabilizing. The government was elected, and had Shiite majority and a sizable Sunni minority that was willing to cooperate to move the country forward. Iraq finally had a functioning government that was able to run the country by itself. The two most critical outcomes were that the two parties in Iraq were finally working together, and that the government could keep security in the country. The Iraqi forces were able to subdue the ethnic violence, and allow the country to finally move forward. So on December 18, 2011, the United States withdrew all of its combat troops from Iraq.

However, recent events in the Middle East have severely shaken up the atmosphere in the region. The Syrian civil war pits the Bassad’s Shiite government against a revolting Sunni populous. Syria is also very ethnically diverse, a population that consists of seventy four percent Sunni Muslims, twelve percent Alawite, and ten percent Christian, which is almost an exact inverse of the ethnic population in Iraq.  The Alawite is an offshoot of Shiite Islam, which is in a constant ethnic struggle with the Sunni sect. The Sunni majority in Syria loudly voices their disdain of the oppression of the Alawite oligarchy. The current state of affairs in Syria is a civil war between the Sunni majority, the Alawites, and the Kurds in the north. The rhetoric on both sides is charged with calls of sectarian violence, which has lead to conflicts and shootouts in ethnically mixed neighborhoods. Thus, the rebel forces against Assad’s regime are unable to form a unified force, due to constant internal sectarian conflicts.

Syria’s Civil War has drawn in many neighboring states; however, the states immediately on Syria’s border have played the most important roles. Iraq sits just due east of Syria and shares an elongated border with the country.  Iraq has finally been able to establish a stable and proportionately elected government that represents all aspects of its population. Iraq is in a fragile state, where the people are just beginning to build a cohesive nation after almost a decade of sectarian violence. The Shiites remember the terror and horror of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and there is great distrust of the Sunnis in Iraq. As recently as last summer, there have been bombings targeting Shiite mosques by Sunni Muslims. Sectarian violence is beginning to creep back into Iraq, and has caused Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who has close ties with Iran, to deviate from his moderate policies. Jackson Diehl excellently summarizes in his article “Lines in the Sand” how the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood endangers the balance of power in Iraq. “Syria, however, has spooked Maliki…A Sunni Syria endangers what Maliki views as the central outcome of the Iraq War, which is the political preeminence of Shiites in Baghdad.”

A destabilized Iraq would have immediate ramifications for the region. The United States spent hundreds of millions of dollars and military man-hours subduing ethnic violence in Iraq over the past decade, and has now withdrawn out of the country as things begin to calm. However, if Iraq slips back into turmoil, the US will have two very unpleasant choices to confront. The United States could reengage militarily in Iraq in order to stop the country from slipping into civil war. However, this option is unlikely, as it would be political suicide for President Obama, who would flip-flop on his promise to leave the Iraq theatre. The more likely outcome is that the United States will abstain from intervening into Iraq, and will allow Prime Minister Maliki to handle the conflicts. However, Maliki’s recent policies have been to detain and imprison his Sunni political opposition, including the Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. As the current Iraq government becomes increasingly more nervous of a Sunni takeover in Syria, it becomes more tyrannical and polarized towards its own people. Iraq’s size and proximity to other nations in the Middle East ensures that if Iraq were to fall into civil war, it would enflame the Middle East in sectarian conflict.  The result would be a bloody civil wars erupting across the Middle East, as the different ethnic groups begin to hash out political control of nations through violence.