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Chaos in the Ukraine

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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
Mar 2, 2014

Syrian Rebels: What the US Withdrawl of Aid Means

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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
Dec 15, 2013

The Affordable Care Act: Unexpected Consequences

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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
Nov 10, 2013

Nigeria: A Case Study in New Terror

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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
Oct 8, 2013

Egypt’s Transition: International Perspectives

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Halfway through the summer, it looked as if Egyptian democracy was turning towards failure. At that point in time, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) had recently removed former president Morsi from office, and instated interim president Adlay Mansour. Since then, the situation has only worsened. After several weeks on being in power, a combined effort of the police and military stormed a mosque and a university where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, were camped. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, remains adamant about getting Morsi reinstated and refuses to compromise.

The situation in Egypt is a mess, however, the international approach to the situation is rather interesting. Having a foothold in Egypt is essentially a current balance of power battle. On one side, the United States and some Western allies (though many Western countries remain indifferent) are still used to having a foothold in the country. During the Mubarak days, the United States had a very close relationship with the Mubarak regime. And while Mubarak is gone, the relationship has largely persisted because of one entity: the military. The US gives Egypt billions of dollars in aid, but much if this aid is meant for the military of Egypt. Additionally, this miltiary aid is given with the stipulation that any arms aquired must be bought from the United States. And when it comes to training the Egyptian military to use these arms, the best people to train are of course the United States military. The US and Egyptian militaries have very strong ties, which have led to very strong ties and persistent ties between the US and Egypt.

On the otherside in the battle for a foothold in Egypt, are regional players, such as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Since the coup in Egypt, all three of these countries, and others, have stepped up their aid in Egypt, trying to ensure that whatever happens after SCAF creates a real government, they have close ties with Egypt. Yet while these nations understand the importance of Egypt, the US often seems indifferent about Egypt and is losing sight of this importance.

In the end, the struggle to get a strong foothold in Egypt, and influence their future direction will continue. However, the United States should realize that Egypt could help promote important foreign policy goals. Not only is Egypt is a strategic location for military deployments, but improved relations could potentially establish Egypt as a permanent broker for the United States in the region. Additionally, if the United States plays it right, they could use their partnership with the military to help smooth over the transition for Egypt to true democracy. Recently, the United States has approached Egypt pretty apathetically, however policymakers need to realize the foothold that the US has, the advantages of strengthening it, and the potential detriment if it continues its apathetic approach.

Filed under International
Sep 8, 2013

Bo Xilai’s Trial: Opened Windows Into China

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In the United States, we tend to think that party politics run the government. While a bit true, the real masterminds behind the parties (RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz) are often behind the scenes. And with names like those, it is no surprise they stay veiled. Yet in China, party politics truly do run everything as the Communist Party and the Chinese government are not two separate entities. Between the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, China experienced its rare transition of power, as the President changed from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping and the Premier changed from Wen Jiabao to Li Keqiang. In addition, seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the key decision-making entity in the Chinese Communist Party were replaced. This staged transition, which only occurs once every decade, was undermined by a scandal that rocked the party.

The scandal began in November 2011, when Neil Heywood, a British expatriate was found dead in his hotel room. In February 2012, Wang Lijun, a former police chief in the region where Heywood was found dead came forward, claiming that Heywood was murdered. After further investigation, the murder was pinned on Bo Gu Kailai, wife of rising Communist Party start Bo Xilai. Soon after, for unrelated reasons (which will be discussed later), Bo was sacked from one after another of his political posts until he was finally kicked out of the Communist Party altogether. Now, Bo is awaiting a trial for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power. The trial has been scheduled for Thursday, and is really largely a ceremonious event. In reality, the shear indictment of Bo means that he will be convicted as the Communist Party leaders have likely already made up their mind about the case. Bo’s case will likely simply join the other 98% of trials which turn into convictions in China. However, while speculating about the trial is pointless, and thus cannot be made sport, like it often is with US trials, the implications of the trial are important to understand. From our liberal, Western perspective, the trial seems to represent one step forward and one step backward.

First, the step backward. The trial reveals to the world just how tightly controlled everything is in China by the Party. Technically, China has an independent judiciary, but in reality, the judiciary is simply an extension of the Party. The likely conviction demonstrates the breadth of political repression in China. The sacking of Bo demonstrates the lack of room for dissenters within the Party. The list goes on. But in all, Bo’s case truly represents the human rights side of China has continued to remain the same, and has barely liberalized at all.

Yet if you cannot change the system, it is a step forward to see the new policies the system seems to be adopting. In order to understand why Bo was sacked, it is imperative to understand his views and his past. The single most influential factor on Bo is his father- Bo Yibo- a key figure in Chinese politics throughout the 80s and 90s, referred to as one of the Eight Elders who greatly shaped modern-day China. This meant that Bo Xilai’s rise to power was largely due to his association with his father, and his status as a “princeling” of Chinese politics. However, with this, Bo Xilai felt a level of commitment to old traditions, and for this reason was a strong supporter of Maoism and “red culture.” However these extreme Maoist views are largely outdated, and the modern-day Communist Party has moved passed these. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and previous Premier Wen Jiabao are all liberal reformers within the Party. Their views of primarily economic liberalization (not to the point of capitalism, but to at least allow further economic growth) have become dominant within the party, so naturally when Bo actively opposed these views, he was sacked. While the reason for his sacking, as previously discussed, represents a kind of human rights stagnation, the Party’s incentive is demonstrative of something that the citizens of China and the West can look fondly upon. Even though China continues to work within the same repressive system as always, at least their economy is beginning to open up and liberalize. The hope is that eventually, a liberal economy naturally brings a liberal political system.

In the end, Bo’ s case is nothing too extraordinary, however, the attention it has received allows it to act as a rare window into the devices at play in China. This case allows us to realize that while China continues to remain as oppressive as ever, and thus has stagnated in this arena, by economic liberalization becoming a prominent policy in China, there is hope that China will continue to make progress economically and this could lead to further cultural and social progress in the future. The fate of Bo has been sealed, but the fate of the Chinese system has not.

Filed under International
Aug 20, 2013

Palestinian Disunity: Major Roadblocks

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Politics in Palestine can get a bit tricky. Start with the fact that they are not globally recognized as a soviergn state and pile on their disunity of political powers, and you are left with one of the trickiest political situations around. The basic thing to understand about Palestine is that there are three very different regions, with three very different political climates. The Gaza Strip is the region that has the least freedom, and in turn an extremist group Hamas has come to power. In the Golan Heights, which is more Syrian and Lebanese than Palestinian, the primary power is Hezbollah which is the radical Islamist militia from Lebanon. In the West Bank, the power is the Palestinian Authority, lead by the party Fatah. The PA is the entity which the international community recognizes, and the entity recognized by the United Nations as a observer state. Hezbollah basically stays out of Palestinian affairs as they would rather be a part of Syria or Lebanon (like the Golan Heights was prior to 1967) than a separate Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the PA are trying to make ammends to present a unified front for Palestine. However, along the way, the PA is running into many roadblocks in the process of trying to create a sense of unity.

The first roadblock along the way is that Hamas is having trouble to unify the Gazan people in the first place. If the PA wants to have any hope of creating unity, they would have no way of getting most Gazan people as a whole on their side; instead, the PA needs to try to get Hamas as a whole on the side of the PA. But of course, this is a problem if Hamas does not have the support of the Gazan people. Earlier this year, there was a volley of rocketfire between the Gaza Strip (led by Hamas) and Israel. They signed a ceasefire to stop it, but recently, it appeared as if the ceasefire was at risk of collapse. An independent militant who had no association with Hamas fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip to Israel. This meant that Hamas, which was previously thought to be the unifying force in the Gaza Strip, has not actually unifed the Gaza Strip, and if Hamas cannot unify the Gaza Strip, then even if the PA can get Hamas on their side, the PA has no hope of unifying disparate groups in Palestine.

The other major roadblock that the PA is facing is the fact that Hamas sets back peace talks. Israel only recognizes Hamas as a terrorist group, not as any sort of political power, thus Israel has remained adamant about not having Hamas present at any peace negotiations. This past Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israel ad Palestine has both agreed to sit down at the negotiating table once again. While this is a huge step forward, as the PA prepares to come to peace talks, they will struggle with this issue of how to deal with Hamas. If Hamas is present, no doubt Israel will be less likely to give into any demands and thus Hamas will have no reason to unite since peace talks will fall through; but if Hamas is not, the PA will be unable to garner true popularity for the peace talks, once again meaning Hamas and the PA are disunited. Meaning that as of right now, the PA is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Since Hamas refuses to support anything for which they are not present, the PA will struggle to unite Hamas and the PA because it leaves the PA will essentially no way to unite Palestine.

Going forward, the continuing struggle to create a single front for Palestine is a major roadblock towards any progress in peace negotiations. In order for Palestine to unite its disparate groups, they must first control their own people, and ensure that there are two major powers with full support before moving forward.  The most logical way for the PA to treat the peace talks are to simply sit down themselves and either hope that they can convince Israel to allow Hamas to sit down as well or convince Hamas to support their actions at the peace talks. Either way, the PA has a very long road ahead of them on uniting Palestinian groups.

 

Filed under International
Jul 24, 2013

SCOTUS: A Term In Review (Part 2 of 2)

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Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (or SCOTUS) wrapped up. The 9 men and women that make up the highest court in the land ended their session with several landmark cases. RantAWeek breaks down four of them, these are the last two.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin
This case, in a surprising turn of SCOTUS-fate, broke down 7-1 (Kagan recused herself). The majority had both liberals (Sotomayer and Breyer) and conservatives (Kennedy, Alito, Thomas, Roberts and Scalia) leaving Ginsburg as the sole dissenter. The case began when Abigail Fisher, a young Texan woman, sued the University of Texas at Austin (therein referred to as UT) for admitting other students with lesser credentials because of their race allowing them to fit into an affirmative action plan. The lower courts that the case had gone through had sided with UT, meaning Fisher continued appealing until the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ultimately took a fairly moderate approach (something Congress cannot seem to do well), deciding that Affirmative Action is constitutional and legal, but it must follow a tighter set of standards. The Court established a test, called “strict scrutiny.” Essentially, courts must establish that use of race to develop a diverse student body is absolutely necessary. That is to say that all other methods have or absolutely would fail. In all, the Court determined that affirmative action is almost a last ditch effort to develop diversity in universities.
Shelby County v. Holder
In this case, the Court went back to good-ole party lines. The majority was the conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts) and the swing (Kennedy), while the dissenters were the liberals (Ginsburg, Sotomayer, Kagan and Breyer). The case started with Shelby County, Alabama suing the Department of Justice for the Voting Rights Act (VRA), seeking a permanent injunction on the enforcement of that law. The district court sided with the DOJ, and it was appealed, where the appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision. As a bit of background, the VRA requires all state and local government with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get approval from the federal government before instituting any voting changes. The Supreme Court kept Section 5 of the VRA, which sets out the approval process, but struck down Section 4, which establishes which state and local government must follow Section 5. This effectively left that aspect of the VRA dead, but not impossible to resurrect. However, the key move was that the Court handed the job of determining which state and local governments apply over to Congress, which will pretty much kill it given that Congress will be very unlikely to agree on anything. Meaning that, without directly killing it, the Court killed it.
Filed under Domestic
Jul 3, 2013

SCOTUS: A Term In Review (Part 1 of 2)

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This past week, the Supreme Court of the United States (or SCOTUS) wrapped up. The 9 men and women that make up the highest court in the land ended their session with several landmark cases, RantAWeek breaks down four of them, these are the first two, the next two will be coming up in the next few days.

United States v. Windsor

The court broke down in a 5-4 decision on Windsor, with the liberals (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayer and Kagan) and the swing vote of Kennedy. Kennedy wrote the opinion. This case was a case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA). DOMA essentially defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal law. This meant that same-sex couples could be legally married at the state level and get benefits (no inheritance taxes, joint tax filings etc.) on a state level, but not on a federal level. Ultimately, in an opinion written by Kennedy, the court decided that DOMA was unconstitutional. However Kennedy carefully worded this so that the opinion sets precedent for sure, but still dances around whether or not same-sex marriage itself is a constitutional right. Kennedy essentially wrote an opinion on federalism, not marriage. His opinion outlined only that in states that have legalized same-sex marriage, the federal government must recognize all those marriages as legal marriages.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Instead of issuing a decisive decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in this case, the court again got caught up on the issue of standing. The court again broke down 5-4, but this time, on anything but ideological lines. The majority consisted of two conservatives (Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia), and three liberals (Breyer, Ginsburg and Kagan). Very rarely is it that Scalia and Ginsburg are on the same side on any case, but once the actual reasoning behind the decision is revealed, it makes a little more sense. In no way is the court saying that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, instead, they are making a decision based solely on the standing to appeal. The tricky thing about this case is that two same-sex couples sued the state for passing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. The federal district court ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional. However, the government of California agreed with this decision and decided to not pursue any appeal of the case. So instead, proponents of Proposition 8 decided to appeal it. The Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th District agreed with the district court on its unconstitutionality. However, the SCOTUS essentially said that the proponents of Proposition 8, because they have no investment in the case, they have no standing to appeal. Thus, the court essentially says that the district court’s ruling was the final ruling unless the government of California decided to support Proposition 8. The results of this case are essentially that Proposition 8 is dead in California, and the government can now issue same-sex marriage licenses.

In the following days, RantAWeek will give brief coverage of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and Shelby v. Holder on Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, respectively.

 

Filed under Domestic
Jun 29, 2013

Protests in Turkey: Erdogan Running Out of Time

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Turkey has long been upheld as the bastion of things actually working in the Middle East. The country has managed to strike out a balance of secularism and Islamism. They have a secular government that is influenced by Islamist ideas, without being fully controlled by them. For this reason, much of the Western world has looked towards Turkey to act as a vital link with the Middle East. Sure, the Western world still has minor problems with Turkey’s insistence that it did not commit genocide against the Armenians, and there is bad blood that still exists between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, but overall, Turkey is generally liked by the Western world. Not liked to the point where the EU is actually willing to admit Turkey into it, but liked enough that they at least deal with Turkey fairly regularly. The US is one of the exceptions, largely because of the clashes between Turkey and Israel. Point is, until recently, Turkey seemed to be stable and a perfect blend of Western and Middle Eastern governance. However, that may  now be changing.

Last week, a group of around 50 protesters peacefully assembled in Istanbul’s Gezi Park to protest the destruction of the park. The destruction was stopped, but only temporarily. A short time after, while the protesters remained, destruction continued, and police used tear gas against the protesters who still did not resist. Admittedly, this was not just any park, it was one of the city’s few remaining public parks, and also a place where many homeless people regularly found shelter in the park. After another few days of protests, police started to increase the methods, including more tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets. At this point, protests started to skyrocket. Thousands began to gather in Taksim Square, next to the park, protesting. Protests even began to spread throughout the country, resulting in many protests and The impetus for the protests was largely police brutality, but the protests have turned into something more. It is hard to find a unifying thread between the protesters. They have different religious views, different political ideologies, different party identifications. The key is a sense of grievance towards the Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan.

The biggest problem that many Turks have with Erdogan is his overbearing nature. While far from a Mubarak/Qaddafi/Ben Ali-type dictator, Erdogan has been shifting towards a more authoritarian style of rule as of late, and this has been very disconcerting to many Turks, and after the police brutality, they were finally given an opportunity to express their gripes. Officially, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is secular, though often mischaracterized as Islamist. As such, many Turks have supported the party for its relatively moderate stances in Turkey. However, Erdogan lives up to the misconception of the party, and has begun to push many more Islamist-influenced policies, including alcohol restrictions. Others are also enraged over the Syrian situation, where Erdogan has continually supported the rebels, and has taken in countless refugees from Syria. In the end, the protests demonstrate one thing: Erdogan’s time may be numbered. While the protesters do not seem to particularly support one alternative or another, the anti-Erdogan rhetoric is strong enough that even if protests die down, it is unlikely he will be successful if he tries to run for president next year.

Another interesting aspect of the protests are that they seem to cause a seemingly inconsistent party line. On the one hand, Abdullah Gul, current President of Turkey, Erdogan’s predecessor and also a member of the Justice and Development Party, has actually praised the protesters. Gul believes that protesters are simply expressing their democratic rights and supports them for that. While some of this may be partially inspired by the probably show-down between Gul and Erdogan in next year’s presidential election, it also indicates a sort of inconsistency in policy aims between the two leaders. Additionally, Bulent Arinc, Erdogan’s deputy, apologized on behalf of Erdogan for the police brutality, however many doubt whether or not he was actually speaking on behalf of Erdogan or simply himself. Erdogan, on the other hand, is currently in Morocco and has remained silent on the issue, but for obvious reasons opposes the protests.

The protests demonstrate not only a decreasing amount of unity within the government and the party, but also demonstrate a sharp decline in Erdogan’s popularity. Erdogan’s time in power seems very limited, however what happens after he leaves seems up in the air. Clearly, a more secular-influenced government is needed, but as for Turkey’s relations with Syria and the West, nothing is clear. But for now, it is time to ready our goodbyes to Mr. Erdogan.

Filed under International
Jun 4, 2013

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