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Chaos in the Ukraine

March 2, 2014
Posted by Matthew Dudak
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It has been a long month for the editors at RantAWeek, and free time to write posts has been hard to come by. But, there is currently a huge crisis developing in the Ukraine, so it is high time we wrote an article.

The general state of the crisis right now is this: after Russian-backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was forced to resign as president and fled to Russia, the unidentified troops (which are likely Russian, and we will just call Russian) invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea, taking over the semi-autonomous region. Okay, that is a lot, so let’s break it down.

Who is this Yanukovych guy?

Viktor Yanukovych rose to power by becoming involved in local politics and then became governor of an economic powerhouse of a state in 2000. He was appointed Prime Minister in 2002 and was elected to President in 2004. However, following those 2004 elections, huge protests broke out in the Ukraine, and, in what became known as the Orange Revolution, the elections were declared fraudulent and Viktor Yushchenko ended up winning the election. After serving another term as PM from 2006-07, he cleanly and clearly won the election in 2010. While his tenure as President was fraught with a few problems, such as the imprisonment of his political rival Yulia Tymoshenko, his Presidency was largely popular, mainly because of his attempts to garner closer ties with the EU.

So how did he fall from grace?

The issue of relations with the EU was exactly what made him fall from grace. In November 2013, days before he was supposed to sign a deal to increase economic relations with the EU, he rejected the deal, instead opting for a deal with Russia. This to public outcry and widespread protests. The Ukrainian people preferred the deal with the EU for two major reasons: first, they feared falling under the influence of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and second, the EU deal offered much greater, long-term economic gains. Because of this action, protests, which were bigger than the Orange Revolution protests, broke out across the nation, eventually becoming rather bloody, resulting in the deaths of 88 people. After increased pressure from the EU, Yanukovych agreed to pass power onto his Parliament and to hold elections early. However, soon after making this agreement, he fled Kiev (the capital of the Ukraine) to take refuge in Russia.

So how did this lead to Russia invading?

Because of the chaos that has ensued in the Ukraine since Yanukovych left the capital, Russia felt that Russians in the Ukraine (mainly in Crimea, more on that in a second) were in danger. Crimea became a hotspot because of its huge Russian population. Roughly 60% of the population of Crimea is made up of ethnic Russians. Russia has always felt a duty to defend those who claim Russian heritage in other countries, and has a tendency to flaunt its power to come to their defense. In this case, the actions Russia has taken are not unprecedented, but their scale is.

Where is the precedent?

In 2008, while many dumb Americans were fretting about Russians in Atlanta, Georgia, Russians were actually invading the Caucus nation of Georgia. In a region of Georgia, South Ossetia, a group of separatists took over and declared the region independent. The Georgian army invaded and Russia invaded retaliatory. The conflict ended days after when the EU brokered a cease-fire, and the region remains semi-autonomous and under supervision of both Russian and Georgian forces.

What makes Crimea different?

There are two key differences between South Ossetia and Crimea. First and foremost is the size of the two regions. Crimea has a population of just under 2 million, while South Ossetia has a population of just over 55 thousand. But, beyond the size of the two regions, there is also much more at play in Crimea on an international level. The reason for this is because of a document called the Budapest Memorandum, signed by the Ukraine, the US, the UK, and Russia. The Budapest Memorandum essentially states that in exchange for the Ukraine joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the other countries would stay out of the Ukraine’s business. Russia, by taking any action in Crimea, is clearly in violation of this, and the Ukraine is using this agreement to condemn Russia’s actions. While this is unlikely to cause the US or the UK to take any military action, it will certainly cause both parties to take diplomatic action, and the US has already come out and condemned the actions.

The future of this is incredibly uncertain, but if any other major events occur that require analysis, we will try to keep up with it! However, because of our small team, we are unable to have constant breaking news, so for that, try the great liveblogs that are put together at The BBC, The Guardian, and Reuters.

Filed under International

Venezuela, After Chavez

January 19, 2014
Posted by Tyler Miksanek
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Hugo Chavez, the longtime leftist leader of Venezuela, died in March 2013 after a long battle with cancer.  Over his fourteen years of ruling Venezuela, Chavez worked to nationalize many of the nation’s industries, socializing the country while also building a cult of personality around himself.  While Chavez was able to pass on his socialist visions to his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, Maduro lacks the cult of personality that Chavez employed so successfully to garner support for his policies.

Maduro’s lack of a public mandate manifested itself early on after Chavez’s death.  Despite Chavez naming Maduro as the man to replace him, emergency elections held after Chavez’s death left Maduro with a thin 200,000 vote lead over center-right opponent Henrique Capriles.  More recent local elections confirmed that opposition to both Maduro’s party and policies remains strong.

There’s good reason for discontent with Maduro’s socialist policies.  Economic problems that first surfaced during the end of Chavez’s reign have only intensified during Maduro’s first few months in office.  The nation has faced shortages of staple goods like sugar, milk and toilet paper as price controls set by the central government have limited supply.  Inflation, a common woe for emerging Latin American economies, has skyrocketed to dangerous levels.  While developed economies are happy with a 2% inflation rate, Venezuela has been dealing with inflation rates upward of 50%, well above normal levels.  To add fuel to the fire, growth rates are slipping, threatening a possible recession.

Chavez could always rely on his cult of personality to help him power past economic difficulties and limit criticism.  Unfortunately for Maduro, the economy is even worse now than it was under Chavez, and he has no similar cult of personality he can use to deflect blame.  Whether or not Maduro can strong-arm the economy back to relative stability is likely to be the main decider of public opinion toward his leadership.

However, Maduro faces problems that go beyond the economy.  Violence within the country has also shown a marked increase during his first few months in office.  Venezuela had violence problems even when Chavez was in power.  Still, Venezuela’s history of violence did not stop a 14% rise in homicides in 2013 alone.  One murder in particular, that of former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, has attached a face to the rising violence.  Spear had transformed herself into a popular television star since her days as a model, and her widespread fame in Venezuela makes her the most well-known example of the government’s failure to control the murder rate.  Maduro announced a plan to increase the police presence during his first days in office, and the failures of this plan to ameliorate the worsening problems with violence bodes poorly for his effectiveness in office.

Chavez was able to enforce a strict status quo on Venezuelan politics, but Maduro’s newcomer stance leaves him in a much weaker position.  Maduro has faced a rocky first few months of power, but it is his response to Venezuela’s growing woes that will define his presidency and determine the nation’s direction forward.  Hopefully, his 2014 will be better than his 2013.

Filed under International

Happy Holidays from RantAWeek

December 19, 2013
Posted by Tyler Miksanek
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Hello, we here at RantAWeek typically take a short break over the holiday season.  We apologize for the lack of articles, but assure you we will be back in January with fresh analysis.

Sincerely,

The Editors

Filed under Uncategorized

Syrian Rebels: What the US Withdrawl of Aid Means

December 15, 2013
Posted by Matthew Dudak
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When it comes to US foreign policy, generally we go one of two directions to exercise influence: huge gobs of money, or our huge military. However, due to our drawn-out engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans are increasingly weary of military use, and so we turn to our monetary influence. This past week in Syria, some Islamist rebels captured key rebel warehouses which acted as the foreign aid intake and processing facilities. So, in response to this instability, the US cut our monetary influence to the rebels, ending all nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels. Without this aid, the rebels will be scrambling to take all necessary steps to get the aid back. With a civil war which has waged on for almost three years and has taken the lives of over 120,000 people, the cutting of this nonlethal aid could diminish any advantages the rebels have gained; after all, if they are unable to feed themselves, they will be unable to fight. So, in response to the cutting of aid, the rebels will naturally scramble to form a more moderate, all-inclusive and Western-backed coalition, meaning that the aid cutoff will have short term detrimental effects, in the long term it may expedite the end of the civil war.

To understand this point of view, it is important to first look at how weak the rebels are without the backing of the West. The obvious dependencies are on aid; rebels depend on the West for arms and basic necessities alike. The Syrian people as a whole also depend on the goodwill of the West to ensure that refugees in countries like Turkey can at least live (although certainly not comfortably). But beyond the obvious, the rebels are dependent on the West to represent them diplomatically. Understanding why will require a slight detour into an explanation of the actual makeup of the rebels.

When looking at other civil wars, they are certainly never clean wars; in civil war, determining loyalty is often a very messy process. However, the situation in Syria is considerably worse. The Syrian rebels are fighting from a diverse set of backgrounds, for a number of different goals. Sure, there are “rebel leaders” who the West officially recognizes to have control over some number of people, but many rebels are fighting in small packs with a single leader, but ultimately not looking for direction from some higher up. Throw in the presence of al-Qaeda, and the situation is increasingly messy. A large part of the reason the US has tried to keep its hands clean of the whole situation is simply that we have no idea who to help and who not to help. The entire rebel force is essentially leaderless, and even the “leaders” have very little sway among large swaths of the rebel forces. This not only creates a complicated situation, it also creates a weak force.

The culmination of this weak force was seen when Syrian President Bashir al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. The rebel forces, while they condemned this use of force, really could not do anything to stop it. It was not until the US an Russia brokered a deal to get the weapons out of Assad’s hands that the situation was able to be dealt with. Sure, everyone knew that Assad had violated international law, but without the rebel forces having organization, they were unable to truly do anything about it. This lack of organization has forced the rebels to be dependent on the West for basically everything.

So, with this dependence on the West, which is being weaned, and a lack of organization, where do the rebels go from here? Rather than let the infighting between Free Syrian Army (the group that had previously controlled the warehouses) and the Islamic Front (the group which gained control of the warehouses) continue, the rebels have to find a balance between the two. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is already Western-backed, but there was a fear for a long time that if they incorporate the Islamic Front (IF), they would lose Western backing because countries like the US generally are against Islamism. But, in an unprecedented move, the US recently announced that they would be open to the IF being folded into the FSA, striking a balance between moderate secularism and Islamism. The FSA would be wise to heed this advice. If the FSA and the IF can combine their efforts, then hopefully the West will be back on board with aid, and eventually the rebels will be successful in their endeavors to overthrow Assad. If the efforts are combined effectively, Syria may be able to become what has, up until this point, only existed as an oxymoron: a stable Middle Eastern democracy.

Filed under International

The Affordable Care Act’s Rough Path Ahead

November 25, 2013
Posted by Tyler Miksanek
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Americans spend more than most other nations on healthcare.  In fact, a remarkable 18% of our GDP goes to healthcare expenditures.  But at the same time, we seem to be paying more and receiving less in return.  Compared to other highly developed nations such as France, Japan, Canada and the UK, America has a shorter life expectancy and a higher rate of infant mortality.  President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, popularly (and oftentimes derisively) nicknamed Obamacare, started out with the goal of expanding access to quality healthcare while lowering the out of pocket costs.  Unfortunately, the goals may have been noble, but the implementation has been deeply flawed.

First, disappointing registration numbers handicap the act’s effectiveness.  The healthcare.gov website where people could register for the new federal healthcare exchanges has been plagued with technical difficulties.  Frustrated and often unable to use the website, many of those who were interested in signing up ultimately failed to do so.  The result: less than 27,000 people signed up in the first month.  The government was expecting millions of people to sign up in the website’s first year of operations, meaning that the actual numbers are a huge letdown.  Worse, all the bad press the website is getting is likely to persuade many of the 50 million uninsured Americans to avoid taking full advantage of the benefits Obamacare can give them.

Even the 27,000 who did sign up may not be in the clear.  Worries have been surfacing lately that the people who do sign up for the exchanges will be the most unhealthy patients, and thus the most expensive to insure.  The underlying problem is a phenomenon known as adverse selection, where people are driven away from insurance because of the high price unless they have drastic enough medical concerns to be willing to pay.  Of course, if only very expensive to insure patients enroll, the price will have to increase even more, and the process will continue.  The whole purpose of insurance is to minimize individual risk by spreading costs among a larger pool of people.  However, the small pool of potentially very expensive people signing up for these new exchanges, in addition to insurers being forced to cover preexisting conditions, toy with the usual calculations of insurance risks and will likely increase prices.

Focusing on these setbacks makes the blame appear to sit entirely in the hands of President Obama and the Democrats, but this is simply not true.  Many governors, mostly Republican, have turned down the Medicaid expansion that the federal government offered to the states.  Funded almost entirely by the federal government, the expansion was designed to help low income Americans who currently are without health insurance obtain medical coverage.  The governors of the 25 states who rejected the expansion cited their opposition to Obamacare in general as well as the added costs to the states when declining the expansion.  However, the minimal costs states would have to pay would be dwarfed by the savings to the overall system, which now has to pay for emergency procedures administered to uninsured and low income individuals who can not pay for their operations.  Worse, denying the Medicaid expansion puts hundreds of thousands of families in the position of not qualifying for Medicaid but not having the money to pay for insurance through the new exchanges, allowing them to fall through the cracks by choosing to not implement a low cost solution.

These problems and more need to be worked out before the Affordable Care Act can be deemed successful.  Political differences and petty ideological concerns need to be swept aside for the health and economic security of Americans as a whole.  There are problems enough without political pandering making things worse.  Ultimately, the Affordable Care Act still has the capacity to do the nation’s health system a world of good, but the programs it creates, public sentiments and actions of politicians must all align to salvage the situation.

Filed under Domestic

The Affordable Care Act: Unexpected Consequences

November 10, 2013
Posted by Matthew Dudak
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As Kathleen Sebelius sat testifying before Congress on the merits of Healthcare.gov, the new online healthcare marketplace put in place under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), immediately behind her, the screen was flashing an error as the computer could not access Healthcare.gov. The website, and the rollout of new parts of the ACA as a whole (mainly the individual mandate) has been wrought with problems, and as a result, over the course of the past several weeks, Obama’s approval rating has declined over ACA concerns. The ACA was supposed to be the sterling victory of the Obama administration, and more importantly, was supposed to be the legacy Obama leaves behind (which makes sense given the ACA is nicknamed “Obamacare”). Yet the law has clearly taken its toll on the administration, both in the website and the implemenation of policy standards. We will examine the website glitches, policy problems and their affect on the administration as a whole.

First and foremost, the most easily recognizable and laughable problems are the website glitches. While it may seem as if a website not working is certainly not an indication of anything major (ask any high school student in the nation how good their school is at using technology and they will make you realize how awful beauracracy can be at using the internet), it surprisingly taints the image of both Obama and the law. In his 2008 campaign, Obama was able to successfully harness the power of the internet and social media unlike any previous campaign, and the excitement this created among the youth vote was a large factor in his victory. Since his election, Obama has continued to champion social media, open data and even weekly webcasts. As part of his attempt at creating a modern presidency, Obama created the online healthcare marketplace as part of the ACA. Healthcare.gov is by all accounts accessible, however it is very bad at handling high volume traffic, such as that which would be expected with deadlines like those set under the ACA. With these glitches, perception of the White House was instantly transformed from a modern, tweeting, texting, Facebooking, internet-capable administration to a bunch of monkeys hitting keyboards and hoping something turns out right. The website glitches are harming the perception of both the administration as a whole, and the ACA specifically, as a modern, technologically savvy entity.

Beyond just the surface-level website problems, there are unforseen problems with the ACA itself. While constructing the 906 page behemoth, Obama promised the entire time that no one with a preexisting insurance policy would be forced to change their policy. However, recently, an onslaught of insurance companies have been sending out cancellation notifications to their insurees, citing policies which do not meet the standards set forth in the ACA. In essence, the ACA is forcing insurance companies to do the very thing Obama promised would not happen, thus tainting the image of the ACA as even those who like the core ideas of it are uncertain if they will be forced to change policies or not.

As a result of website glitches and unexpected cancellations, the Obama administration is likely going to extend the deadline for when it is neccessary to have an insurance policy, while scrambling to stop cancellations and get the website working once again. While the cancellations will prevent fines for consumers in the short term, in the long term they may drive up premiums as the insurance companies are claiming any delays will cost them millions of dollars. Clearly, this law is having unexpected consequences upon insurance companies, consumers and the Obama administration as they are forced to deal with new problems. In the end, the law may be doing more harm to the perception of the administration than good.

 

While the Obama administration may have trouble with its tech-savviness, we at RantAWeek recently got a Twitter! Please follow us @RantAWeek, or click the button on the side of the page. And as always, please “Like” us on Facebook!

Filed under Domestic

NSA and the Fat Tail

October 27, 2013
Posted by Tyler Miksanek
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Sometimes, the most intriguing examinations of current events stem from an analysis that eschews the political mindset and replaces it with a different style of thinking.  RantAWeek adopted a mathematical tone for last year’s analysis on the connection between Olympic medals and GDP.  Similarly, a use of mathematical concepts can benefit a discussion concerning the NSA’s spying on the communications of world leaders.

The mathematical concept in question is the fat tail.  A fat tail describes a statistical result far from the expected value that nonetheless has a reasonable chance of occurring.  Mathematicians often like to simplify calculations by ignoring outliers, but the whole point of the fat tail is that these outliers really matter, and ignoring them is dangerous.  Take the financial markets as an example.  Classical views of the financial markets held that daily changes in large stock indices like the Dow Jones followed a normal distribution, which is characterized by ‘skinny tails’ that make large changes a statistical improbability.  However, since records began for the Dow Jones in 1896, the index has experienced more than 38 days with a daily price change greater than 7%.  Assuming a normal distribution, large price changes occurring with that frequency is almost statistically impossible.  Financial traders trusting in the assumed impossibility of rapid price swings would have seen their theory, and their market holdings, disintegrate before their eyes on Black Monday in 1987, when the Dow Jones dropped 22.6%.  The fat tail in the financial market had manifested itself in a nasty way, wiping billions of dollars off balance sheets across not only the country but also the world.

So how does this all connect to the NSA scandal?  The NSA’s strategy in spying on the communications of world leaders was to gain an information advantage.  In other words, there was an expected benefit.  The U.S. government was able receive some additional intelligence on the thoughts of world leaders through the implementation of this spying network.  On the other hand, and equally important to note, is that on a macro scale, this benefit was relatively small.  After all, President Obama summed up the power of diplomacy in garnering information by saying,  ”…if I want to know what [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel is thinking, I’ll call Chancellor Merkel.”  Even without the massive spying program, the U.S. government would have been able to acquire most necessary information through less secretive strategies.

Obama’s remarks seem rather hollow in retrospect, as Angela Merkel has now accused the United States of spying on her internal communications to gain information.  However, the extent of the alleged spying extends well beyond Germany.  France, Argentina and Mexico are all accusing the U.S. of spying on their leaders.  All the news begs the question, why did the NSA pursue such a extreme spying program if some of the benefits were limited to extra information about countries that are already our allies?

The answer- they forgot about the fat tail.  The risk/reward scenario played out well when it was assumed the spying program would be safe from international criticism because it could never be reported by the media.  But in doing so they ignored the possible outliers in the fat tail.  This mistake became clear when Edward Snowden’s leaks began, and the unexpected result of international news coverage greatly changed the situation.  The NSA would never have embarked on the program if they knew the damage Snowden’s leaks would cause.  But that’s what makes the fat tail so difficult to take into account, it is by definition unexpected.

Even though a fat tail event is not expected to occur, the challenge lies in planning for them.  That way, embarrassing situations like the one the NSA currently finds itself in can be avoided.  Luckily for the United States as a whole, most countries are simply accepting the NSA spying as an inevitable consequence of the information age.  While there has been some backlash, it has not been nearly as devastating as it could be.

Still, the NSA got lucky with the response.  Not all fat tail scenarios end as well.  And that’s why when any policymaker makes an important decision, they should always consider the fat tail.

Filed under Domestic, Technology

The Government Shutdown Deal

October 20, 2013
Posted by Angela Yang
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On the evening of October 16th, the Senate passed another proposal to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government with an 81 to 18 vote, after the House was unable to move forward with a resolution the day before. Later that night, the House approved the Senate’s proposal with a 285 to 144 vote just hours before we would reach the debt ceiling on October 17th. Thus, the Republicans in the House conceded, ending the sixteen-day long government shutdown with a bill that was signed into law at 12:30am by President Obama. The deal allowed an extension of governmental borrowing power until January 15th and raised the debt ceiling until February 7th of next year.

This decision is a prime example of how legislators intentionally put themselves in dire situations by creating major deadlines. Although they seem highly irrational, these actions actually reflect a lot about strategies used in American politics. Congressmen create deadlines as a way of punishing each other for their inability to compromise. They hope that during these times of despair, the opposing political party will give in to their demands. Yet, this is exactly what has not happened and probably what will never happen. Within just a year, our government has been dangerously close to the edge of the fiscal cliff, squeezed by sequester, and shut down and reopened. But instead of coming together to compromise, legislators keep pushing key issues further and further back. By not reaching an agreement, they punish everyone, forcing the US back into the cycle of stalemate.

The October 17th deadline was very crucial to Congress because the Treasury would run out of ways to meet its obligations without borrowing more money. Soon after, the government runs the risk of defaulting on the national debt because of its inability to delay payments. For this reason, negotiations over the debt ceiling are generally interconnected with budget deals.

Concessions from both parties are usually necessary to get both types of bills debated and passed through the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate. When the government was first shut down, a Continuing Resolution could not be passed because House refused to even begin debating a bill passed by the Senate unless a majority of the majority would support it. A majority of the majority in the House meant reaching a consensus with some hardline conservatives in the Tea Party, a practically impossible feat. Luckily, on the 16th, the House passed a bill with only a minority of Republican votes and a majority of Democratic ones after Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell were able to construct a deal hours before we hit the debt ceiling.

The shutdown and congressional stalemate caused congressional approval ratings to plummet, especially those of the Republicans, as voter discontent threatens the representatives’ next term. It also cost our government billions of dollars and damaged our credibility. As for the hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers that were sent on an unpaid, forced vacation from their jobs, they were expected to be back to work on Thursday. Many Republican leaders, like Senator Ted Cruz from Texas who led the push for greater Democratic concessions, were disappointed with the deal, while others like House Speaker John Boehner felt that passing the bill was the only viable solution. Republicans had lost the shutdown battle, but at a large cost for everyone.

It is easy to blame Republican partisanship for the government shutdown, but that does not account for the lack of compromise on the administration’s side either. Many people predicted that the Democrats would be more compromising, but Obama refused to be persuaded. For example, Democrats during Ronald Reagan’s term cut military spending and Republicans lessened the scope of Medicaid during Bill Clinton’s term. In this case, Republicans initially demanded that the Democrats defund the Affordable Care Act and change regulation standards on carbon emissions of the Environmental Protection Agency. In the end, the only concession made by the Democrats was an amendment stating that the incomes of people receiving subsidized health insurance must be checked more thoroughly. Therefore, both Republicans and Democrats are partially at fault for the government shutdown.

Fortunately, legislators of the two parties were able to come together on October 16th to avert another major crisis, whose repercussions would be disastrous for our economy and all of the nations that are economically tied to us. In addition to the new budget and debt ceiling, both parties have also set a goal of creating a budget plan for the next ten years by December 13th. Hopefully this will actually get done so, at least for the next ten years, the government will run smoothly.

Filed under Domestic

Nigeria: A Case Study in New Terror

October 8, 2013
Posted by Matthew Dudak
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On September 29th, 2013, a group of Islamist militants in northeastern Nigeria stormed a college, killing 40 students. The group responsible for the attack was a group called Boko Haram (literally translates to “Western education is sinful”). Boko Haram was formed in 2001, and since 2010 has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks across Nigeria. Boko Haram is interesting, partially because of their impact in Nigeria, but mostly because the way Boko Haram operates, and the way they always have, is increasingly becoming the norm for terrorist organizations across the globe.

A key thing to understand about terrorist organizations is that while, at their core, they are built around some extreme ideology, this is not the main reason they get supporters. Terrorism is normally strong because it offers a better alternative. Pirates in Somalia’s al-Shabaab join because it offers an alternative to the low standard of living in Somalia. al-Shabaab creates jobs in Somalia, no one else does. Terrorism is risky business, but terrorist organizations attract supporters because they allow the member to support their family. In addition, terrorist organizations, however unfortunate this is, are often more meritocratic than governments in countries in which terrorism thrives. Governments are corrupt, but terrorits organizations rarely are. The same is true of Boko Haram. In a country plagued by political and police corruption, Boko Haram grew by attracting young, unemployed men to speak out against this very corruption. This means that dismal economic situations, corrupt politics and inconsistent law enforcement create perfect breeding grounds for terrorists. Increasingly, we are seeing the rise of terrorism in not just Nigeria, but in other countries  which meet these standards (Yemen, Mali, Syria). In essence, terrorists are beginning to find themselves striking fear into “weak” governments, trying to eventually gain some level of control. While this is nothing entirely new, the effects this has upon the terrorists actions is a key difference. Instead of focusing on bringing terror to developed countries, as was seen on 9/11, terrorists are seeing success in gaining power in these countries with “weak” governments, meaning that terrorists, including Boko Haram, are increasingly focusing on more regional targets.

One of the Nigerian government’s primary goals in the past decade has been fighting Boko Haram. They have poured lots of government and military resources into fighting Boko Haram. When going after terrorist organizations, the traditional technique is to go after the leaders, hoping that by destroying the leadership, the organization will become ineffective and eventually fall apart. This has not worked at all in Nigeria. Every few months, the Nigerian government will make an announcement saying that they killed some important leader in Boko Haram. Yet, despite making this announcement, no one really knows whether or not that person was an important leader. Boko Haram is a very unorganized group, with disparate groups of members, and posessing only a very loose idea of what they would actually like achieved. Increasingly, this is the trend in terrorism, as more organizations lack an organizational structure, just a bunch of people who have a loose idea of what to do. This makes increasingly hard to fight terrorist organizations, as our traditional method is thrown out the window.

With this new terror, it is, of course, imperative to find new ways to fight terrorism. The best way to fight new terror goes back to the idea of “weak” governments. Since we can no longer attack the structure of the organizations, we need to focus on cutting off the source from which terrorists grow their strength. In the case of Nigeria, the solution rests with President Goodluck Jonathan. While Goodluck Jonathan is fairly clean by Nigerian standards, the rest of his government is far from it. Jonathan is fairly passive, but he needs to pick up his act and become more aggressive in fighting corruption, both politically and in law enforcement. The other key that Jonathan needs to get down is the economy. Nigeria has immense potential for economic prosperity. With Africa’s largest population, and immense oil reserves, Nigeria could be a true economic powerhouse. But Nigeria lacks the infrastructure and education to take advantage of their potential, and with this dismal economy, terrorists prosper. Yet despite this, Jonathan has spent over a quarter of its annual budget this year just on fighting Boko Haram. Its money would likely be better spent on infrastructure and education, hitting at the root of Boko Haram better than continuing its failed military campaign. These two ideas can be applied in how governments worldwide approach terrorism. Rather than focusing so much on military offensives, commit fewer resources to military defensives, and use the rest of the resources to cut down on corruption and boost the economy, choking terrorists out of power, and thus fighting new terror.

Filed under International

Government Shutdown: Causes and Effects

October 6, 2013
Posted by Tyler Miksanek
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On October 1st, the United States Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution needed to finance government activities, leading to a government shutdown.  This information has been all over the news media, but often without a clear and concise explanation of what exactly is going on and what it all means.

To clear up the confusion, a little background is necessary.  One of Congress’s constitutional responsibilities is to pass the nation’s budget.  However, in recent years, Congressional stalemate has made complete budget overhauls rare, and Congress has often relied on Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to keep government funded.  CRs are used as a sort of legislative compromise mechanism; they don’t specify specific increases or decreases in funding to each government program, but instead provide across the board funding based on appropriations levels of the year before.

But even though CRs are a compromise designed to be much simpler and therefore easier to pass than a full budget, Congress still failed to pass one.  The underlying reason was, interestingly enough, not a fight over appropriations but a fight over healthcare.  Congressional Republicans, led by Senator Ted Cruz, said they would only pass a CR if it included a dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, popularly referred to as Obamacare.  Democrats refused to accept their terms, and since each party controls one house of Congress, a stalemate was reached.  The morning of October 1st marked the beginning of a new fiscal year, but without a continuing appropriations bill, nonessential government operations were shut down.

The term ‘nonessential’ is key.  A government shutdown does not mean America’s nuclear arsenal is left unattended and airport security disappears.  These government operations are considered essential to the continued safety and security of the United States.  Still, the ‘nonessential’ part of government includes the 800,000 government workers who were sent home on furlough, including the majority of NASA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Labor, in addition to half the Department of Defense.  Important programs and government services are now without funds, potentially causing trouble for those who depend on them.

Unfortunately, the negative effects of this government shutdown are almost insignificant compared to the potential negative effects if the debt ceiling is not raised later this month.  While the debt ceiling and the government shutdown are often incorrectly thought of as being the same problem, they are actually two different concerns entirely.  The government shutdown occurred because Congress failed to appropriate money to fund programs.  Raising the debt ceiling allows Congress to borrow money to fund programs.  More simply, government shutdown is to spending as debt ceiling is to borrowing.

That explanation still doesn’t demonstrate why not raising the debt ceiling is so catastrophic.  If the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17th, the government will be spending more money than it is taking in without an ability to borrow more, setting the United States on the path to credit default.  An advanced sovereign nation defaulting on its debt is exceedingly rare, and usually precipitates economic turmoil for the country involved.  And given that the United States is not only the largest economy in the world but also that the United States dollar is the main reserve currency of the world, the international consequences of a default would multiply the economic destruction of already severe domestic effects.

Because of the dire stakes, it is extremely unlikely politicians will actually allow the government to default.  That being said, a ‘grand bargain’ where both sides of the aisle can come to a comprehensive, long-term solution on both borrowing and spending is just as unlikely, especially in the hostile political environment the government shutdown has created.  The most likely solution is a series of stopgap fixes to increase the debt ceiling and restart the government.  Ultimately, we shouldn’t expect a panacea to our nation’s woes – Washington is too divided for that – but we shouldn’t expect Armageddon either.

Filed under Domestic, Economy

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