In Response to the Daily: Debunking the BDS Myths

May 13th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

File_PhotoOn April 21st, Rami Faraj authored an article titled “An unsafe campus climate,” featured in The Michigan Daily in which he dismissed the barrage of insults targeted at pro-Israel students and death threats received by CSG officials. He went on to accuse Jews (codeword: Zionists) of theft: “you have taken our lands, taken our rights, and are now taking our seats in classrooms.” These accusations are based on gross distortions of historical facts. Sadly, they also manifest an underlying philosophy of hatred and intolerance, which seems to be a common trait running throughout the Arab world–hatred of Sunnis or Shiites or Christians or Hindus or Jews or any human being who does not subscribe to a particular set of beliefs.

For centuries, there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel, particularly in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safad, and Ashkelon. This was long before the Romans conquered Judea and renamed it “Palestine” to dejudaize it. Contrary to Mr, Faraj’s assertions, the Jews of the First and Second Aliyot (1882-1903 and 1904-1914) lawfully and openly purchased land from Arab landowners. They fertilized what was said to be non-arable land, established peaceful Kibbutzim and were happy to employ hundreds of Arabs looking for work.

Aggressive wars initiated by Arab countries that vehemently rejected the two state solutions set forth in 1937, 1947, 2000 and 2008 not only took land from the Palestinians, but also created the first and second refugee problems. Jordan (like Egypt) actually rescinded citizenship of all its refugees, ultimately leaving Israel to absorb the refugee crisis created by their wars. Jordan even booted the PLO out of Jordan several years after the 1967 War. Even today, the catastrophic war in Syria–another Arab war that Mr. Faraj ignores even though it is occurring right before our eyes and has created (and continues to create) enormous human suffering–has given rise to a massive refugee problem for Turkey. The suffering of Palestinian Muslims has been the direct result of actions by tyrannical leaders of the Arab states that have practiced discrimination against Palestinians for decades and which have used the conflict in the Middle East to divert the attention of their own subjects from the sorry state of their own condition.

In contrast, Israel has treated its Muslim and Christian residents in a manner that would be unheard of in Arab states. Indeed, Muslim residents of Israel vote in elections and serve as members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), justices on the Supreme Court and soldiers in the army. Palestinian students comprise 20% of Israeli university students and many pursue successful careers in medicine, law and business. If Mr. Faraj still believes in a mythical Israeli plot to debase the status of Palestinians, he is welcome to contact the Technion Medical School’s valedictorian of 2013, Mais Ali-Saleh, a Muslim Palestinian woman and staunch opponent of BDS.

Israel has gone to great lengths to reach an agreement with the Palestinians on a two-state solution. Not too long ago, that proposal was rejected by the Palestinian leadership under Yasser Arafat (who stole many millions of dollars from the Palestinian people and deposited the money in offshore bank accounts for the benefit of his family), and then embarked on an intifada against Israel that accomplished nothing but misery that has been disproportionately borne by the Palestinians.

Mr. Faraj’s claim that the Jews do not qualify as an “oppressed people” is, in a word, absurd. Perhaps he should study a little bit of modern European history and become acquainted with the activities of Adolf Hitler. His actions were the subject of open trials at Nuremburg and caused displacement, torture and execution of millions of human beings. Or perhaps Mr. Faraj should focus on the openly hostile and violent discrimination practiced by Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims and vice versa. Or the executions of, and destruction of property belonging to Christians and Buddhists in places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. How many millions of human beings have died because of this hatred and intolerance over the last 30 years in wars with Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria? This is a very clear historical record of hatred, intolerance and yes, discrimination, but these facts inconveniently require Mr. Faraj and the BDS movement to look in the mirror.

Rap Gods of Political Philosophy

April 26th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Written by Marissa Allegra, aka 2Marz

 

The name is John Locke I have plenty to say

I’m a top-notch philosopher promoting freedom all day

 

Reason, property, law of nature,

ya can’t have consent without contracted labour

 

When I want a house and some weed to blaze,

I gotta leave the state of nature, makin contracts for days

 

Protect my property rights and my freedoms too,

establish a civil society, Burke what you gonna do?

 

Hey Locke that sounds like a progressive thing to do,

I say keep the tradition and preserve illusion too.

 

Instead of reason let’s stick to superiors,

if you ain’t got power by God then you an inferior

 

The illusion of power creates liberal obedience,

marxist equality is just a false experiment

 

I’m Marx and you got a point about illusion in your streets

It reduces the amount of violence needed to keep peace

 

But what about the bourgeoisie concentrating all the money in one place

Proletariat gets screwed while the kings and queens save face

 

Now I’ll agree with Smith that capitalism is a great productive force

but not when the rich do little and the rest work like a horse

 

I’m Jefferson, my notes on Virginia are kinda whack

I say there’s innate differences between white and black

 

Blacks can get little sleep and work for days

endure manual labor and stay cool through the blaze

 

Their moral character is low and their work ethic is high

let’s educate them, move then, so we can all get by

 

I’m Apess and I’ve got an argument to your case

one’s abilities and freedoms should not be determined by race

 

The true attributes of an American have been reduced

you use religion and piety as your hate crime excuse

 

The natives are not savages but inhabitants of the land

if you leave them to their homes war won’t ever be their plan

 

Douglass here, and I’m going to have to agree

the true character of a Christian isn’t on your constitutional decree

 

The founding fathers believed in equal rights and liberty for all

but the oppression of African Americans is still written in law

 

Religion used to be charitable and now it’s tyranny

judges get paid to convict a black man, ain’t that an irony

 

Tocqueville in the house to tell you about equality

Burke’s got it all wrong, it threatens our liberty

 

We all work for a living and make our own sacrifice

some earn more than others and that’s just a part of life

 

Social democracy believes that true equality can exist

but we’re all born so different, complete equality is just a myth

 

I might also warn you about what they call new Despotism

it creates a nanny state that’s a lifestyle control mechanism

 

America can cure despotism as a public liberty nation

participation, proper self- interest, and civic association

 

Hello my brothers the name is Crevecoeur

American exceptionalism opens up every door

 

Our nation boasts ecological advantage and miles of land to find

not to mention a clean slate and a non-feudal state of mind

 

Religious freedom, democracy, and national pride

no princes to bleed for, we’ve got no history to hide

 

The crown is the reason for a wage gap that hurts

come to America where we reward you for intellect and hard work

 

Now don’t forget agrarian justice is the true proposal of Paine

without a social welfare system we got a reason to complain

 

And Madison tells us that property is the source of faction

but I’d rather have my house and have to take a little action

 

All in all America is surely the dopest country around,

we learned from these men and then the colonies we found

 

Our history started out rocky and it’s still not perfect today

but I’d rather not be in royal England when I can rep the U.S.A.

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.