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 Jordan (like Egypt) actually rescinded citizenship of all its refugees, ultimately leaving Israel to absorb the refugee crisis created by their wars.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.

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.


Saint Patrick’s Day Preview: Jolly Pumpkin and Conor O’Neill’s

March 16th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

With Saint Patrick’s Day falling on a Monday this year, the typical day-long, party-hopping shenanigans that characterize many students’ celebrations may be out of the question. However, this does not mean that the day is lost. As soon as classes get out, head on over to Main Street for a solid selection of beer and a little piece of Ireland right here in Ann Arbor.

Located on the same block between East William and East Liberty, the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery and Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub and Restaurant both offer a wide variety of drinks, hearty eats and inviting atmospheres. The wooden ceiling and chairs in Jolly Pumpkin and the gentle lighting throughout convey the mood of an old tavern, while the wall decorations strung throughout Conor O’Neill’s, from kitchen cabinet replicas to directional signs complete with the names of local Irish villages, create a charming and more overtly Irish vibe.

While the atmosphere in Conor O’Neill’s may seem a little forced, the food and drinks certainly aren’t. They’re about as authentic as can be, and no less satisfying. What better way then to spend Saint Patrick’s Day than with a rich pint of Guinness and a hearty entree, such as Brendan’s Rueben (complete with corned beef, Thousand Island dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled marbled rye and pumpernickel bread). For the more adventurous, try Conor’s Ploughman (with sautéed vegetables served on seven grain bread with cheddar cheese and pesto mayo), each for just $9.00.

If you’re looking for a less authentically Irish, but nonetheless satisfying, selection, head across the street to Jolly Pumpkin and try one of their many draft beers (by the glass or by the pitcher to be shared with friends), such as the North Peak Majestic Wheat Ale for $4.50 a pint and $14.00 a pitcher. Or, if you prefer darker beers, the Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire at $5.00 for a 14oz glass or $18.00 pitcher is a great call.

If you’re looking for a great way to escape the cold, change up from the usual drinking venues on campus, or simply get in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day this year, drop by the Jolly Pumpkin or Conor O’Neill’s.


Common Sense Action Press Release

February 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

CS Press

Common Sense Action Launches the First Annual Campus-Movement Competition

Ann Arbor, MI – Common Sense Action officially launched the CSA Campus Challenge.  Twenty-five chapters will compete to build the Common Sense Action movement on their campuses, and they will begin to introduce the Agenda for Generational Equity (AGE) – CSA’s Millennial policy agenda – to electoral candidates. The competition will run for two months from February 3rd to April 1st, 2014.

“After researching, negotiating, and finalizing the national Agenda for Generational Equity, the Campus Challenge gives CSA chapters an opportunity to build the Common Sense Action movement and mobilize a nationwide network of Millennials who want to address the problems threatening our future,” said Common Sense Action Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Sam Gilman.

“With the CSA Campus Challenge, we ‘gameified’ campus organizing and movement building.  We want the Challenge to be fun,” adds CSA co-founder and Chief Action Officer Andrew Kaplan, ”Through a healthy mix of collaboration and competition, CSA has created a structure that incentivizes our chapters to begin growing the CSA movement exponentially.”

The competition has three goals 1) to increase millennial voter empowerment 2) to foster a candidate education program and 3) to broaden its community by increasing its network and advocating on the behalf of CSA. The voter empowerment goal’s purpose is to challenge Common Sense Action members to get their community involved in grassroots politics, candidate education will be achieved by chapter leaders engaging politicians with a questionnaire, and network building will help CSA garner national support.

Chapter’s will be evaluated and scored based on their success in six essential activities: the candidate education questionnaire, voter empowerment by gathering signatures endorsing CSA’s Agenda for Generational Equity (AGE), social media engagement, events hosted, media attention, and collaboration with other chapters.

AGE addresses a wide range of policy issues that uniquely impact the Millennial generation, including entitlement reform, investing in education, workforce development and infrastructure, and repairing America’s broken political system through greater civic engagement. The Agenda was designed form a truly bipartisan standpoint, utilizing valuable policy recommendations from both sides of the aisle.

Chapters are expected to achieve the core requirements, with the ability to be awarded silver or gold status if they go above and beyond the minimum requirements for each section of the scorecard. There will also be a grand prize awarded to the highest achieving chapter based on the amount of silver and gold benchmarks achieved.

Chapter leaders will submit a weekly scorecard and participate in leadership development calls to help the chapter leaders develop essential marketing and grassroots organizing skills needed to be successful in the competition. The national board will track the competition’s progress and keep participants motivated.  The leadership calls will involve discussions on social media strategies, campus organizing, and leadership development.

Raina Sheth, Vice President of Communications for CSA at UofM is “looking forward to engaging our large student body in a national grassroots bipartisan movement.” She also “cannot wait to connect student organizations through press releases, social media and campus-wide events.”

Potential prizes CSA chapters can earn include: dinner with a Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) senior fellow, CSA and BPC gear, priority status for future BPC and CSA internships, a one year subscription to Netflix or Spotify Premium, and other exciting opportunities.

To follow the competition’s progress like the Common Sense Action national Facebook page and Twitter. You can also check out the blogs chapters will be writing throughout the competition, and more information on AGE at

The following chapters are participating in the Campus Challenge: Arizona State University, Boston University, Brown University, Claremont McKenna College, College of William and Mary, George Washington University, Hofstra University, Lafayette College, Louisiana State University, Loyola University, Ohio State University, Swarthmore College, Tulane University, University of Alabama, University of Arizona, University of California: Berkeley, University of California: Davis, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, University of Northern Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt University, Washington and Lee University, and Wittenberg University.

About Common Sense Action

Common Sense Action is a grassroots organization that expands opportunity for Millennials by bringing the next generation to the policymaking table and building a movement of Millennial voters committed to advancing generational fairness, investing in Millennial mobility, and repairing politics.

Contact Jevin Hodge with any questions:

Race: Coming to a Campus Near You

February 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Race has been the primary issue of debate on Michigan’s campus recently, but is also just as contentious a topic on campuses across the country –  from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaking about race at Palm Beach Atlantic University, to a spoken word video gone viral at UCLA.

Here at Michigan, the recent Black Student Union protest demanding various race-based special treatment for minorities yielded compliance by both administrators and the Central Student Government.

On Monday, when speaking to students at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Justice Thomas took a shot at political correctness and hypersensitivity towards race, noting that our current society is more race conscious than during his youth in pre civil-rights Georgia[1].

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” remarked Justice Thomas.

“Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them — left them out.”

Thomas also said that he faced greater discrimination from those in the North, rather than from the South, which is stereotyped as being more discriminatory and racist[2].

“The worst I have been treated was by northern liberal elites. The absolute worst I have ever been treated,” Thomas said. “The worst things that have been done to me, the worst things that have been said about me, by northern liberal elites, not by the people of Savannah, Georgia.”

On the west coast, at UCLA, The College Fix s Josh Hedtke reported on a video from November of a student group called “The Black Bruins” who express their misfortunes and victimization in spoken word[3].

“The video is prefaced by a slide reminding or enlightening us of the assassination of two black students on the UCLA campus in 1969. It then jumps to black students standing in a group lodging their grievances openly on campus, behind their head spokesman, Stokes, who is currently working on a degree offered by an Afro-American Studies program that may soon become its own independent department at UCLA” reports Hedtke.

The student in the video cites low graduation rates of minority students, as well as underrepresentation and marginalization, amongst other “racist” inequities.

Hedtke argues “different groups of people are simply represented unequally in different endeavors. It’s what happens in a diverse society where people are free to pursue their own goals. Professional sports, such as basketball and baseball, provide illustrative examples of this.”

UCLA has an even more diverse student body than Michigan does, and white students are actually more underrepresented than black students, according to Hedtke.

“In 2012 in California, the total percentage of the black population was 6.6 percent, and the total percentage of the white population was 73.7 percent. In contrast, the percentage of white student at UCLA is 27.8 percent and the percentage of black students at UCLA is 3.8 percent.

In effect, white students are actually severely “underrepresented” compared to black students: the white percentage at UCLA is only 37.7 percent of the total percentage of white residents in the state, whereas the black percentage at UCLA is 57.6 percent of the total statewide percentage of black residents – a 20 point difference!

More so, UCLA is extremely proactive in creating a diverse and inclusive study body population. There are 112 student groups that contribute to diversity at the institution, Hedtke writes. Not to mention 16 ethnic or cultural study programs and other initiatives that induce diversity.

“Many of these groups receive funding from the UCLA student government. We have 16 “___________ studies” majors ranging from Chicano Studies to Gender Studies to Israel Studies. UCLA has an actual written “Strategic Plan For Diversity.” In the 2011 “UC Accountability Report,” an annual report that addresses subjects such as “Affordability” and “Undergraduate Student Success,” the longest section, totaling 22 pages, is devoted to “Diversity.”’

The University of Michigan is comparable to UCLA, both in its academic rigor and its pursuit of diversity through various programs, organizations, and departments. Michigan houses over 18 centers that are devoted to studying various cultures, races, and globalization to foster a diverse learning community – not including all the programs and majors that are housed in such centers.

Michigan also has a whole portal dedicated to diversity, as well as a provost dedicated to diversifying the Wolverine student body.

Michigan also has an administrative position similar to UCLA’s that is dedicated to spearheading diversity, the Vice Provost for Education and Equity. In a letter to the Michigan community, Provost Martha E. Pollack wrote, “This position will have responsibility for providing strategic leadership that results in increased access and success for all students, the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty, and the development and expansion of academic programs that prepare all students for success in a diverse world.”

Hedtke writes further about so called “transgression” committed against minority students by faculty members, one being a distinguished professor of education who instigated a sit-in of a lecture.

“Among the 81-year old professor emeritus’s alleged transgressions are repeatedly requiring students to write “Indigenous” in lowercase form instead of uppercase form (consistent, by the way, with its not having proper noun status as can be discovered readily in any standard dictionary), requiring students to capitalize “white” if they also choose to capitalize “black,” and my personal favorite: requiring the students to use the Chicago Manual of Style instead of the style standards of the American Psychological Association.”

Seemingly, minority students at UCLA have similar woes to those here at Michigan, both calling for more diversity and inclusion while administrators of both institutions strive to comply with students’ concerns and demands.

Read Hedtke’s full article at The College Fix.

Some observations about Stephen Tonsor, an interview with Gleaves Whitney

February 4th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Gleaves Whitney is a former student of Professor Tonsor, as well as speechwriter and historian for former Governor John Engler. Currently, Professor Whitney directs the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University.

What contributions did Professor Tonsor make to Michigan’s History Department?

Back in the 1980s, when I told a friend that I was doing graduate work in history at Michigan, he looked surprised: “But you are conservative, and there aren’t any conservatives on the faculty in Ann Arbor.” “Oh, that’s not true,” I shot back, “I had lunch with him.”

Academic rigor requires intellectual diversity, and Stephen Tonsor contributed prodigiously to both the rigor and diversity of a Michigan education. During his career, the history department was in the vanguard of social history, which was decidedly progressive, so Tonsor’s brand of intellectual history made him an outlier. Yet his reputation going back to the ‘fifties was legendary. I cannot tell you how many people I’ve come across who, decades later, vividly remember their class with Professor Tonsor. His insights were brilliant; his humor, biting; his turns of phrase, beautiful. 

What was his legacy regarding the conservative movement in America?

Tonsor was a self-described paleoconservative – a devout Catholic and traditionalist – who exercised limited leadership in conservative institutions but who was never afraid to exercise intellectual leadership within the broader conservative movement. He is most remembered for thrusting a spear at the heart of neoconservatives at a 1986 gathering of prominent conservatives in Chicago. It was during the Reagan presidency, and many of the neocons in attendance had ties to the 40th president’s administration. Tonsor told a cautionary tale that culminated in this bombshell: “It has always struck me as odd, even perverse, that former Marxists have been permitted, yes invited, to play such a leading role in the conservative movement of the twentieth century. It is splendid when the town whore gets religion and joins the church. Now and then she makes a good choir director, but when she begins to tell the minister what he ought to say in his Sunday sermons, matters have been carried too far.” That image – classic Tonsor – signaled the end of playing nice between the two camps. It brought the tensions within the conservative movement to the surface, and there has been open suspicion between paleocons and neocons ever since. 

As a former student of his, what is the most important lesson you learned from him?

I once asked Tonsor what was the most important quality the historian should possess. Without hesitation he said, “Imagination.” The past is a different country. Historians who follow their intellectual curiosity must be able to distance themselves from the tyranny of the present and be able to enter the past with an open, alert mind.

Tonsor also placed a premium on intellectual integrity. Historians must not reconstruct the past out of an ideological commitment but be open to wherever the evidence leads, no matter who might be offended. The honest treatment of the evidence might alienate the more politically correct among us, but that is the price the historian must be willing to pay to produce good work.

Tonsor also put a premium on excellent writing. If it is worth saying, it is worth saying well (as he himself demonstrated in his own essays, articles, and books).

What’s do you think current students should know about Prof Tonsor?

Tonsor had the reputation for being intellectually tough and personally gruff – he could be hard on his students. But he also reached out to connect more deeply with them. After class he liked to invite students home to have lunch and a glass of sherry with him and his wife, Caroline. The trek to 1505 Morton (in Burns Park) often involved a stop at Ulrich’s to pick up the latest Wall Street Journal (for editorials) and New York Times (for reporting, art, and book reviews). It was on that twenty-minute walk that Tonsor, given his encyclopedic mind, could hold forth on just about anything you wanted to talk about. Nor was he shy about expressing his prejudices. I well recall his judgments concerning the horrid sentimentality of English choral music, the excesses of Romantic poetry, the best moraines to hike in, the damage squirrels do to gardens, the inadvisability of buying Japanese imports, and the zigs and zags of the modern Catholic Church. If the discussion turned political, he would express impatience with statists. If the conversation turned academic, his anger would flare at the rise of identity politics. In his view, radicalized academics were turning university departments into theme parks and freak shows. This is not to say that he could not also enjoy more lighthearted conversation. He had a bevy of humorous stories from his personal life, especially his childhood spent in a German Catholic home in southern Illinois.

Despite the prickly exterior, Tonsor had a sweet side, especially when it came to children. One warm Halloween he invited my son and other children to trick-or-treat out of his home in Burns Park. And if ever he saw a penny on the ground, he would pick it up for his grandchildren’s piggybank.

Tonsor was also a faithful correspondent with friends and former students. He wrote striking longhand letters – some of the most beautiful that I have ever received. And I would be remiss if I neglected to reveal, on a personal note, that he became my godfather when I was received into the Catholic Church.

What could students best take away (or learn) from his life and scholarship? 

There were so many things Stephen Tonsor taught those who came into his orbit. Among the most important lessons, he believed the good life – the life worth living – is inseparable from truth, goodness, and beauty. He argued that culture trumps politics, so you shouldn’t become enamored with Washington, DC. He cautioned that while books are faithful friends, you should not become so overeducated that you forsake common sense or neglect the sublime and beautiful around you.

Stephen Tonsor was sui generis. There will never be another. May he rest in peace.

The Michigan Review thanks Professor Whitney for his time and effort in telling us about his time with Professor Tonsor.

On the ASA Boycott of Israeli Universities

February 2nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

This past December, members of the American Studies Association, the United States’ oldest and largest academic association dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of American history and culture, passed a resolution endorsing a boycott of Israeli universities. In the election that led to this endorsement, which drew the largest number of participants in the organization’s history, an overwhelming 66 percent of members voted in favor of the boycott. According to the ASA’s website, its endorsement stems from “Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions; the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students; [and] the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights…”

In passing such a resolution, the ASA has joined the growing international ranks of left-leaning  academic associations and individuals who have condemned Israel for its treatment of its Palestinian population. Some within this movement, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, have even drawn parallels between Israel and Apartheid South Africa. These condemnations have drawn consistent and impassioned criticism from a variety of fronts, notably academic and political, which have continued their criticism by reacting to the ASA’s recent boycott.

In the month and a half that has followed the resolution, at least five institutions have withdrawn their membership from the ASA while several current and former presidents of prominent American universities, including Amherst and Princeton, have condemned the ASA’s resolution.  In doing so, they have cited general opposition to academic boycotts for their negative impact on academic speech and exchange as well as displeasure with what they perceive as a double standard in the ASA’s decision. Furthermore, two Democratic state assembly men from New York have indicated plans to introduce legislation that would remove state support from any public or private college that participated in the ASA or any other group involved in a boycott of Israel.

Though such reactions may appear rash, they make sense when one considers several basic facts. Firstly, it is interesting to note that the ASA has not endorsed the boycotting of universities in countries with far worse human rights records than Israel’s, such as Iran or China. Following the ASA’s rationale that violations of human rights and international law by a country’s government merit repercussions against that country’s educational institutions, it is illogical and unfair that Israel’s universities alone should be singled out for boycott. The ASA’s decision to narrow its resolution to Israeli universities is thus logically inconsistent and, more importantly, intellectually dishonest.

The ASA ignores Israel’s tangible achievements in human rights as the strongest democracy in the Middle East, with free and open elections and minority representation in parliament. It also ignores Israel’s strides in reducing inequality of opportunity between Jews and minorities by instituting a comprehensive affirmative action program. Such a program has led to high minority enrollment at institutions such as the University of Haifa, where over 30 percent of the student body is Arab (with Arabs comprising roughly 20 percent of Israel’s total population). Rather than unfairly single out Israel by endorsing university boycotts that adversely affect the flow of ideas and the empowerment of a group of people on whose behalf the organization is claiming to act, the ASA should withdraw its support for the boycott and promote proactive policies that further assist Israel’s Palestinian population. It should also distribute its criticism more evenly and hold Israel’s neighbors to the same standards.



No Such Agency

February 2nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Illustrations by Mark Weaver, Mike Theiler/Corbis, Enzo Signorelli/Getty Images, Nick Servian/Alamy

Illustrations by Mark Weaver, Mike Theiler/Corbis, Enzo Signorelli/Getty Images, Nick Servian/Alamy

by Sayaan Saha

The National Security Agency is estimated to be the largest intelligence agency in the entire world, both by personnel and expenditure. But what do we really know about the NSA? The DOD is headquartered at the Pentagon; the CIA is headquartered at Langley and the FBI in Washington DC. So where is the NSA located? The FBI stops crime; the DOD protects our borders, and the CIA fights terrorists. So what does the NSA do? Even throughout the ongoing data mining scandal, the NSA has remains a shifty figure in the shadows. The agency has recently run into a lot of unwanted publicity with the Edward Snowden affair. However, amidst all of the whistle blowing, it seems NSA just becomes more opaque.

Let’s start at the top. The National Security Agency is located at Fort Meade, Maryland, it is directed by General Keith Alexander. Unlike their counterparts the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the NSA is not authorized to conduct personnel based foreign espionage. Essentially, a spy agency with no spies. So it begs the question: Who populates the ranks of the NSA? The NSA recruits computer experts, hackers and engineering PhDs. It is the largest employer of mathematicians in the nation. The NSA isn’t looking for devilishly handsome, martini sipping lady-killers, like James Bond. They are looking for the math and computer geeks that are as skilled in programming and engineering as you and I are in breathing. At the top they are led by a four star military general, a graduate of West Point. He holds degrees in electronic warfare: physics, national security strategy and business administration. General Alexander has thus rightfully earned the nickname “Alexander the Geek.” I recommend looking at an amazing article on that does an exemplary profile of General Alexander and is entitled “The Secret War.”

Under Alexander’s vast wings he commands the National Security Agency, the United States Military Cyber Command, and the Central Security Agency. He presides over the all three branches of the military, his domain ranges from our military’s cyber defense capabilities to clandestine signals intelligence. The sheer vastness of Alexander’s authority is unparalleled, and the range of his capabilities grows with every passing hour. When Alexander took the helm of the NSA in 2005, it was in danger of being left behind in the technological revolution. He is quoted in a New York Times article in that same year saying how the NSA needs to reform in order to become more “modern” and “advanced.” Within just a year of his ascension to the head of the Agency, the NSA developed a cripplingly advanced virus known as Stuxnet. A nasty bug designed to cause centrifuges that are used in nuclear plants to malfunction and destroy themselves. This virus was so advanced that it was able to cause critical damage to Iranian nuclear facilities while simultaneously creating the illusion that everything was fine. The Stuxnet virus was never detected by any of the Iranian scientists, even after it had destroyed the centrifuges. Ironically, the virus may have worked too well.  The virus quickly began infecting other computers, and it began spreading to computers worldwide. It was only then, a third party cyber security agency was able to discover the virus. It was clear that the virus was so advanced that it could only have been built by thousands of hours of professional manpower.

Alexander took an agency on the brink of irrelevancy and in no time had it developing advanced viruses. Alongside the data mining and the tapping of phone calls, General Alexander builds cyber weapons. Unlike the numerous bombs and tanks in our military’s arsenal, Alexander’s weapons don’t hold any physically form. They don’t make a peep, and are virtually undetectable. Alexander can cripple your forces with his computers; he can cause critical damage to nuclear facilities, steal all of your secrets and disable your offensive capabilities. Electronic devices manage our world; computers manage our financial information, control UAV drones armed with bombs and help write that essay that is due next week. In 1908, Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “The nation that secures control of the air will ultimately rule the world.” For one hundred years that was identically true; however, as we begin to truly transition into the 21st century, it appears the nation that secures control of cyberspace will ultimately rule the world.


The Review’s Super Bowl Preview

February 1st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

When the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos meet up in Super Bowl XLVIII, it will be the ultimate clash of styles in what should make for a truly memorable game. The Seahawks, the top ranked defense in the league, will test the Broncos, the top ranked offense in the league. The Broncos are a finesse, up tempo, quick-starting offensive unit, while the Seahawks are a physical, bruising, “mash-it-down-your-throat” team that enjoys low scoring, ball-control, take-the-air-out-of-the-ball style of play. Peyton Manning and the Broncos act like they are frontrunners and play with an aura of supremacy and dominance that passes the eye test of a Super Bowl Champion. The Seahawks, on the other hand, play with chip on their shoulder each time they take the field, as if nobody respects them despite their dominating physicality, carrying the weight of seemingly the entire Pacific Northwest on their backs. Immersed in this clash of styles are a number of headlines that will provide no shortage of drama as the game approaches.

First and foremost, Peyton Manning has the chance to cement his legacy as one of, if not, the greatest quarterback of all time with a second Super Bowl win. This would quiet all of his doubters who constantly criticize him for his inability to succeed in the playoffs and would add to his incredible resume of NFL dominance. Speaking of dominance, Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman has dominated the headlines as of late, due to his theatrics at the conclusion of the NFC championship game. The world will have the opportunity to see if he can live up to his haughty words on the highest stage in all of sports. Another key headline will be the weather at MetLife stadium, where temperatures are expected to be between the 20s-30s and the winds will most certainly be a factor in the play on the field.

A few other subplots of intrigue: Pete Carroll is seeking to become the first coach to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl. This is the first Super Bowl where both teams hail from west of the Mississippi since the Chargers played the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX in 1995. Seahawks’ wide receiver Percy Harvin should return from his injury sustained in the NFC Divisional Round against the Saints, giving the Seahawks another offensive weapon. The experience gap between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, at 14 years, is the largest between any two quarterbacks to start the Super Bowl, and Wilson is the 6th youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. On the field, watching Denver’s talented core of receivers go up against the Seahawks’ vaunted secondary will likely be deciding the factor in the matchup, while watching Marshawn Lynch against Denver’s stout run defense will provide no shortage of entertaining, tough, physical play.

So, where will the game be won and lost? Five key factors as follows will go a long way in determining who wins Super Bowl XLVIII.

Which set of running backs will be tougher in the trenches?

Marshawn Lynch will be receiving all the hype in this matchup and deservedly so. He’s already run for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs after rushing for 1257 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. However, Knowshon Moreno is having a career year of his own, rushing for a career high 1038 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 548 yards through the air. The Broncos leaned on him heavily in the cold, especially in their epic game against the Patriots when he rushed for over 200 yards. Despite battling a nagging rib injury, health will not be an issue for him in the Super Bowl. The ability for these two running backs to grind out tough yards against stout opposing run defenses will be crucial for getting their teams into manageable third down situations, especially considering the conditions and winds. Expect both running backs to carry the ball above their per-game averages.

Kickers and the Wind

Broncos’ kicker Matt Prater missed one field goal in the regular season. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka missed two. Both of these guys are money in the kicking game. Both are also used to outside, cold, windy environment in their home stadiums. The wind will be a huge factor at MetLife Stadium, and the ability of these kickers to remain steady in the kicking game could make a difference in the game, especially if the weather conditions prevent offensive explosions. Eight of the last Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or less, meaning missed field goals become ever more painful to stomach.

Coaches in Unchartered Territory

John Fox’s last appearance in a Super Bowl came 11 years ago, when the Carolina Panthers lost to the Patriots by a field goal. Pete Carroll has won college titles but he’s never advanced this far into the postseason at the professional level. In a game with very low margin for error, every 4th and 2 decision, every time-out, every play, every challenge, and every 40 seconds rolling off the clock is important. Will the coaches let these moments get the best of them on the big stage? Will they handle the expanded press coverage, the exposure, the distractions, the longer halftime, and extended warm-ups properly? Will the coaches have their teams prepared to handle adversity with the stakes at their highest?

Russell Wilson’s Feet

            While the Broncos certainly don’t lack for experience in terms of facing opposing mobile quarterbacks, as they faced the likes of Michael Vick, Terrelle Pryor, and Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson presents more complex problems in comparison. The Seahawks utilize less designed quarterback runs for Wilson compared to the number of designed runs utilized in the offenses of the aforementioned quarterbacks. Most of Wilson runs come as a result of scrambling once the play breaks down or carefully thrown-in designed run to keep the defense off balance. Wilson’s football IQ is also a couple of levels higher than his fellow dual threat quarterbacks, as evidenced by his 32 games played in his first two seasons, without injury. This alone will give the Broncos defense fits, and will be a key for the Seahawks in extending drives and keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands.  

Response to Adversity

Russell Wilson’s high football IQ has already been mentioned and it’s no secret that Peyton Manning is commonly regarded as one of the most intelligent players to ever play football. The precision and preparation with which each quarterback play on weekly basis spreads to the rest of their teammates. As a result, both of these teams are almost never caught off-guard, always stick to their plan, often controlling games from start to finish, whether it be on the strength of their defense or a fast-paced high powered offense. This game, on the other hand, won’t be easy for either team, as they may see their strength taken away or at least slowed. The winner of this game will emerge based on how they respond to adversity. Peyton Manning hasn’t trailed yet in the playoffs. How will he respond if he needs a touchdown in the 4th quarter? Richard Sherman hasn’t had a touchdown scored on him in weeks. How will he respond if Manning beats with a spectacular Manning-like throw early on? Responding strong to adversity separates champions from contenders, and adversity will certainly show its face in Super Bowl XLVIII in multiple facets. Who will step up and persevere?

Economics of the 2014 Winter Olympics

January 28th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the Official logos for the Sochi Olympics

One of the Official logos for the Sochi Olympics (Courtesy of

Set to begin February 7th and run through the 23rd, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia are fast approaching. Recently, it has been revealed that this year’s games will exceed cost projections by roughly 500%, making them the most expensive of all time. Upon winning the host bid, Vladimir Putin pledged $12 billion to turn Sochi—a small waterfront town—into a “world-class resort.” As it turns out, this number hovers around $50 billion. Despite vastly inaccurate budget projections, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister has affirmed that “everyone is satisfied” with how Sochi has been developed since winning the bid in 2007. Regardless of what the Russian government has reported, it seems as if the process has been riddled with issues and inefficiencies.

To begin, past Winter Games suggest that the $50 billion investment will not be recovered. According to Robert Barney, founding director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, “no Olympic games in history have made it in the black.” Considering that the average cost projection is underestimated by 180%, it seems nearly impossible that a 500% projection error is recoverable.

If all goes according to plan, Russia will see returns on their investment for years after the games. Sochi, an area of Russia that rarely sees snow, is slated to become an upscale tourist destination after being developed for, and receiving publicity from, the Winter Games. However, this plan is typical, and in most cases, it falls through. When considering the amount of money spent on security for the 2014 Winter Olympics, who is to say that Sochi can provide consistent safety for tourists in the future?  If facilities go unused in the future—which is very common in host cities—Russia will have to either absorb tremendous maintenance costs (on stadiums, etc.), or abandon them as a sunk cost.

To make matters worse, much of the money is coming from the government, the public, and state-owned banks. Accordingly, Sochi appears to be Vladimir Putin’s “pet project: a sign of his power over people and nature, and of his international legitimacy” (The Economist). Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and opposition leader, has argued that Sochi is a model of “lawlessness, inefficiency, and disregard for human nature and people.”  In this way, everything surrounding Sochi appears to be part of a larger political agenda in which Russia’s long run welfare is marginalized.

Olympstroy, a Russian state corporation, has been overseeing most of the construction. According to a report by The Economist, “The quality of the work is patchy.  The ski jump has been redone many times, and the cost has risen sevenfold. Newly laid sewage pipes have burst, so a nasty smell drifts over a kindergarten playground. Sea-coast fortifications cracked soon after installation. The work has been carried out with little concern for the environment. The river flowing into the Black Sea has been polluted by construction waste and protected forests have been cut down. A green whistle-blower was prosecuted and chased out of Russia.”

Still, there are some (perhaps unfounded) benefits to hosting the games. In all cases, leaders who are responsible for winning the host bid fortify their resume. Additionally, host cities hope to increase both tourism and trade. However, even cities that bid for hosting and do not win the bid see 30% increases in international trade, as their bid signifies that they are “open for business with the global community” (CNBC).  So, all the benefits that Sochi hopes to realize from hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics are either based on speculation or unnecessary spending that will likely not see a return.

Hopefully, Sochi turns into a tourist haven after the Olympics, but given a $50 billion trench and shady political agendas, it seems unlikely. Still, we look forward to watching eight of our fellow Wolverines participate as athletes.