Historically Irrelevant

Morally Bankrupt

I don’t often write in the first person, but occasionally I find personal pleas more powerful than anything written in the objective and oft times seemingly omniscient third person. Today, I watched a documentary, The Ghosts of Rwanda, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Whilst being an emotionally draining experience, it also had a somewhat unexpected effect on me: I became intensely angry. When I say I became angry, I want you to understand my full meaning: I become angry at almost nothing in life. Ask most who know me, and anger is not a word that would pop into their head when they think of Conor. But this documentary revealed bubbling, scathing hot rage right below my surface. The questions that remained: why?

The lack of Western response to the Rwandan Genocide is a horrific black spot on international relations. The refusal of the United States, or any other country for that matter, to stop the slaughter of over 800,000 innocent Rwandans is atrocious and disgusting. With a minimal commitment, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. But, the lack of “US interests” in the region prevented such intervention, and we watched on the sidelines as man, woman, and child alike were butchered en masse. This horrific chapter conjured up connections to the current state of the world. I recently talked about the moral bankruptcy of the West in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, but it goes back much further than that. Rwanda is a great example. The West claims to value “human rights” and “democracy,” but does little to actually serve those ends if their financial and strategic interests don’t line up. This is nothing new, and shouldn’t be news to anybody, but it’s a fact that bears constant repeating.

Within the past few years, the West has stood idly by, watching countless slaughters in Syria, in Sudan, in the Central African Republic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in various other areas around the globe. If economic interests or “terror” isn’t on the agenda, the West wants nothing to do with saving lives. The worth of human life, at least to policy makers, is nil.

Every fiber of my being screams out that this is wrong. Why do we, as citizens of a democracy, accept a government that places the financial interests of our nation over the lives of other humans? Why do we not cry out for justice as we watch the lives of millions crumble on our televisions? Why do we carry on as if nothing’s wrong with the world, as if our lives are the only ones that matter? Apathy, apathy, apathy. The eternal enemy of mankind; it takes so much to care, so we choose not to. And we let our leaders place their financial interests over those of human life. I have no solutions. I have no answers for this problem. I don’t even truly understand this problem, and realize that this post is merely the ramblings of a naive, somewhat disillusioned college student. But I do know that human life is something worth fighting for, and I do know that I will not accept a world in which anything is placed above that. What can I do? Not much. But for now, at least I can hope. Hope that one day, perhaps far into the future, when governments act for the general good of mankind rather than selfish interests. When the life of one man is placed above the financial interests of another. When humanity is finally human.

For a young voter or voter of color, voting for Democrats isn’t a matter of hope for a better future. It’s basically a defensive crouch to prevent the insane sociopaths from taking over.

—David Atkins

The Decay of the West

The date is the 21st of November, 2013. A few hundred Ukrainians huddle together in Maidan Square, calling for closer integration with the European Union after their president, Viktor Yanukovych, eschewed talks with the EU in favor of a loan deal with Russia. To this small gathering of dissenters, the EU represents the Western ideal. They have watched as closer European integration has brought their neighbors prosperity, as theirs stagnated.1 They have watched as their leaders have fallen to corruption, oligarchy, and the influence of Vladimir Putin. And they are tired. Their goal, at least initially, was to push Ukraine closer to the heart of Europe and the West, the moral ideal.

That dream of the West is, sadly, merely a delusion. For decades, Europe and the United States have claimed the moral high ground. Free trade, capitalism, democracy; these are words and concepts endowed with fairness and progress for all. These were the calling cards of the American retort to the Soviets during the Cold War. And these ideas no longer seem important to a now stangnant and hypocritical West.

The protesters at Maidan sought to join the EU because the EU is a symbol of progress and Western moral superiority. But that moral superiority is no more. One must only look at the hypocrisy shown in the last decade, with the West on one hand intervening in Iraq to “find weapons of mass destruction,” yet watching as true WMDs are used in Syria without any intervention whatsoever. Money is the name of the game, not democracy, self determination, and human rights.

The consequences of this destruction of the moral pedestal so long reserved for the Western world can be seen quite clearly in the increasingly emboldened Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. The Russians no longer fear the West.2 Putin invades the Ukraine because he knows the West no longer has the wherewithal to do anything about it. He’s figured out the ruse, and will use it to his advantage. There’s nothing the West can do to stop Putin, because it no longer has the moral high ground nor the will power to put anything into action. What this will mean for the future is terrifying and disturbing. We live in a brave new world, and the tyrants are winning.

Change is hard, apathy is easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers.

—Russell Brand

In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.

All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dínen.

"You cannot enter here," said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. "Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!"

The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.

"Old fool!" he said. "Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!" And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.

And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the city, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of war nor of wizardry, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.

And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns, in dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the north wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.

— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

My favorites of 2013

2013 was a year. I, being a person, had some things that I liked during that year. Here are a few of them.

Favorite album — Whilst not necessarily released in 2013, I think my favorite album that I listened to this year is Swiss Movement by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. A superb introduction to jazz, this album consist of a recording of a 1969 jazz festival in the titular country, and boy is it explosive. The depth is fantastic, the joy of the musicians evident in the music, and is just all around fun to listen to. It comes with my highest recommendation.

Favorite fiction book — Whilst I read quite a few stories this year, none stick out in my mind more than Dan Simmons’ absolutely mind-blowing Fall of Hyperion. The sequel to the 1989 Hugo award winning Hyperion, it’s a sprawling epic sci-fi that delves into religion and philosophy in a wildly interesting way. The sheer scale and quality of the world building is impressive in it of itself, but combine that with a superb narrative and interesting characters and you’ve got a winner. At no less than five moments did I mutter under my breath expletives and put the book down to contemplate the sheer intensity and awesomeness of the plot unfolding. If you’re looking for a great book to read, you can’t go wrong with Fall of Hyperion; just be sure to read Hyperion first!

Favorite non-fiction book — I try to vary up my reading habits so that I read an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction, hence the two categories of books. This year, no book could hope to match the impressive work that is Steven Pinker’s massive 2011 The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Its thesis is fascinating: despite what the media portrays, Pinker shows that quantitatively general violence has drastically declined since the begging of the first agricultural revolution for myriad reasons, which he delves into deeply chapter by chapter. It’s a truly fascinating read, and will most likely change how you view humanity and our future as a species.

Favorite movie — 2013 was an absolutely fantastic year for movies. There’s one, however, that for me stands miles above the rest. If forced to battle virtually any other movie, I’m confident that it would win. Of course, I’m talking about the supremely fun Pacific Rim. There’s really just nothing else like it; it’s all the good parts of a Transformers or Power Rangers with none of the bad, and has Idris Elba to boot. What more could you ask from a movie about giant robots fighting aliens?

Favorite television show — This category can’t really have any other winner. Quite possibly the greatest television show ever made, and almost definitely the most exciting, my favorite show of 2013 is Breaking Bad. Every episode of season 5 was simply insane, and had me on the edge of my seat. And the ending… what can I say about the ending? Easily one of the most satisfying conclusions to any form of media, ever. If you’ve never watched the show, you’re in for a real treat. If you’ve already watched it, watch it again; I almost certainly will.

Favorite video game — Usually I’m a sucker for story heavy games. I adored the hour and a half long cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid 4, and cried at the ending of Bastion. But this year, a game with no story—or rather, a player created story—caught my heart. My favorite game of 2013 is Paradox’s superb Europa Universalis IV. A grand strategy game, EUIV allows you to choose any nation in the world starting in 1444 and watch it grow until 1820. There are no objectives or victory conditions, only an open-ended history simulator. Reform the Roman Empire as Byzantium. Conquer Spain as the Aztecs. Make Ulm the Holy Roman Emperor. You can even rule the world as Fiji. The possibilities are endless in EUIV, and the best part is that losing is arguably more fun than winning. If you’re at all a fan of history, you owe it to yourself to check out Europa Universalis IV.

And that’s my list of a few favorite things from 2013. May your new year be prosperous and joyful!

Half-heartedness does not reach into majesty.

—Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

The Government Shutdown

The government of the United States is officially shut down.1 This is a scary and somewhat misleading statement, but let’s go through the steps of what it is, why it has happened, how it can be stopped, and how it will affect you.

The first and most obvious question we have to ask is what exactly is a government shutdown anyway? The US federal government operates on a fiscal year that goes from October 1 to September 30 of the next year. By the end of September 30, Congress is supposed to have a new budget out. In recent years, Congress has not met that deadline and used stopgaps to delay the budget making process without incurring a shutdown. This year, that process failed, but that’s an entirely different issue that we will not deal with here.2 All you have to know is that Congress is supposed to pass a budget by September 30, and this year they failed to do so. As a result, according to the Anti-deficiency Act of 1884, the government may not “make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation” or “involve either government in a contract or obligation for the payment of money before an appropriation is made unless authorized by law.” 3 In colloquial speak, that means that the government is not able to fund non-essential programs without having funds appropriated for them in a budget. No budget means that the government can’t spend money on things, even if it has the money to do so.

This means that the government as a whole shuts down because it’s illegal to use its money to fund government agencies. However, “essential agencies” are still open. That begs the question of which agencies and programs are being shut down? Essential agencies vital to national security, like the NSA, military, air traffic controllers, and the like, are all remaining open. Likewise, agencies that have their own independent source of funding, like the Postal Service and the Federal Reserve, remain open.4 However, most other agencies are being shut, and Federal employees are being “furloughed,” or being told to not come to work. Over 800,000 employees have been told to not show up, and are not being paid.5 NASA, the Federal Park Service, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control (right in the middle of flu season, no less), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (which regulates derivative markets), the Internal Revenue Service, and even half of the CIA, are all shutting down or drastically reducing their workforce (up to 97%, in the case of NASA).67891011121314

What does all of these agencies closing or drastically reducing their workforce temporarily mean? How does all of this affect you? The IRS won’t be performing audits or be able to help you file taxes over the phone. Veterans won’t be able to sign up to get new mental or physical health services. The CDC will have a much smaller ability to track flu outbreaks. Federal museums and parks are closed until further notice. If you want to get a new passport or buy a gun, you’re out of luck. And it may even delay one of NASA’s Mars rover launches for another 26 months due to the tight launch window for Martian rovers.15 Worst of all, having so many workers not receiving pay is bad for the overall economy. A shutdown of just a few days, which looks likely, could see overall US GDP in Q3-Q4 reduce by 0.3%, which is dozens of billions of dollars lost simply to governmental incompetence.16 If the shutdown lasts for longer, the consequences to the economy could be far more disastrous.

All of this seems very drastic and dire, so why in the world did it happen in the first place? What caused Congress to fail to agree on a budget this year? In one word: Obamacare. Already delayed countless times, Obamacare has been scheduled to begin coming into effect today, October 1, 2013, and indeed it has done so (the government shutdown does not affect the roll-out of Obamacame).17 Despite losing the initial voting, a Presidential election, and a Supreme Case fighting Obamacare, a significant radical minority in the Republican party viewed this budget battle as the last way they could successfully block Obamacare from happening. House Republicans, led by the likes of Ted Cruz, tied their version of the budget with an act that would entirely defund Obamacare, essentially making the law moot. The Senate rejected this budget on the basis that Obamacare, regardless of one’s objections to it, is an act signed into law by the President, widely supported by a majority of Americans, and upheld by the Supreme Court.18 Holding the government and indeed a nation hostage in an attempt to defund a law one does not like is simply no way to behave as a politician, at least in this lowly writer’s opinion. Regardless, the inability of both the Republicans and the Democrats to agree on funding the government with or without defunding Obamacare has caused this government shutdown.

The question now on everybody’s lips is what will it take to end the shutdown, and how long will it last? The longest shutdown ever lasted 21 days under Bill Clinton in 1995.19 It is virtually unimaginable that this shutdown will go on for any time longer than that. Anything more than a few days, really, would be highly unlikely, but still possible. What is needed to end this government shutdown is for Congress to simply do their jobs and pass a budget. The House Republicans and the Senate need to come to an agreement over what to do over Obamacare, which has been a law for years and is just coming into effect. That could take a while, given their general incompetence at governance. Perhaps this could be a wake-up call to the American people at the absurd partisanship and combativeness of the politicians in power. Or perhaps not. Regardless, the government is shutdown and will remain shutdown until our Congressmen can learn to compromise like adults.

  1. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/house-senate-government-shutdown-97557.html?hp=t1 

  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/post/congress-is-addicted-to-stop-gap-budgets/2011/09/30/gIQAXa1dAL_blog.html 

  3. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/31/1341 

  4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/30/absolutely-everything-you-need-to-know-about-how-the-government-shutdown-will-work/ 

  5. http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/30/politics/government-shutdown-up-to-speed/index.html 

  6. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/contingencyplans/2013/dhs-lapse-plan-summary-09-27-13.pdf 

  7. http://www.hhs.gov/budget/fy2014/fy2014contingency_staffing_plan-rev2.pdf 

  8. http://www.doi.gov/shutdown/fy2014/upload/NPS-contingency-plan.pdf 

  9. http://www.epa.gov/lapse/resources/epa-contingency-plan-2013.pdf 

  10. http://www.cftc.gov/ucm/groups/public/@newsroom/documents/pressrelease/cftcshutdown.pdf 

  11. http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/VA_Contingency_Plan_Document_20130927.pdf 

  12. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/01/us-usa-fiscal-spies-idUSBRE9900ZF20131001 

  13. http://www.forbes.com/sites/taxanalysts/2013/09/30/shutdown-will-stop-irs-audits-but-not-aca-implementation/ 

  14. http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2013/1001/Government-shutdown-NASA-turns-55-and-turns-out-the-lights 

  15. http://www.planetary.org/blogs/casey-dreier/2013/20130930-a-government-shutdown-could-delay-maven.html 

  16. http://www.macroadvisers.com/2013/09/showdown-over-a-shutdown-the-gdp-effects-of-a-brief-federal-government-shutdown/ 

  17. https://www.healthcare.gov/what-key-dates-do-i-need-to-know/#part=1 

  18. http://b-i.forbesimg.com/theapothecary/files/2013/09/TMC-September-2013-Tracking-Poll-Memo.pdf 

  19. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_government_shutdown_of_1995_and_1996 

The future is coming, and it can’t be stopped. History is a progressive process. Gene sequencing, when it becomes incredibly inexpensive, will revolutionize medicine by making drugs personal to one’s genome.

The future is coming, and it can’t be stopped. History is a progressive process. Gene sequencing, when it becomes incredibly inexpensive, will revolutionize medicine by making drugs personal to one’s genome.

The Case for Intervention

For two years, we have watched as Syria has torn herself apart. From the peak of one of the Middle East’s most tolerant and secular societies to polarized sectarianism that now ravages the nation, the old Syria is no more. She has burned to the ground, with the rest of the world giving a collective shrug. Islamic extremists have flooded into the country due to lack of Western support, leaving both sides of the conflict against American interests. And thousands upon thousands of civilians lay dead, with millions more homeless. It is a humanitarian crisis, and must be stopped. I’ve called for intervention countless times before, but now it seems that the great Western powers are finally seriously mulling action. This is the right move for a number of reasons, which I will lay out here.

Before we get into why intervention is the correct option, it would help to understand the conflict and how we failed the people of Syria. The seeds of civil war were sown during the frenzy of uprisings of the Arab Spring in early 2011. Syria was no exception to the spirit of the protests, with thousands pouring out into the streets in protest of Bashir al Assad, the tyrannical president of Syria. Rather than resigning like Mubarak or Ben Ali, Assad responded to the protests with brutality, mass imprisonment, and myriad executions. Like in Libya, protesters called on the West for the creation of a no-fly zone for protection. These calls, however, fell on deaf ears.

And so the people of Syria were left with little choice than to arm themselves. The initial coalition of rebels was broad and inclusive; Syria had a long tradition of Christians, Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites living side by side in harmony. Assad, of the Alawite Islamic sect, had the Syrian military on his side, a force numbering a little over 200,000 with advanced modern weaponry, tanks, and an air force. The rebels had little but manpower and small arms. After a few small gains by the rebels thanks to the initial shock of their attack and extraordinarily high morale, the conflict settled into a stalemate.

The calls for a no-fly zone from the West were still coming, but the rebels settled on instead asking for modern weaponry and money to finance their resistance. AK-47s are of little use against tanks. Again, however, these requests fell on deaf ears. So the rebels turned to other sources for weapons. The Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were more than happy to oblige their Islamic brothers in casting off an Alawite leader and installing the Sunni majority (~60% of Syria) as the leaders of the nation. Previously, the rebels were a broad coalition with the aim of fighting Assad for the purpose of freedom and establishing a democracy. But when the rebels realized the only way they could receive weapons and thereby survive was to please their Gulf state benefactors, that purpose changed. The first does of sectarianism was injected into the conflict, with Sunni Islamic extremist groups flooding into Syria with the intention of creating an Islamic caliphate, armed with Saudi Arabian weaponry. These extremist groups were more heavily armed and well trained than their secular counterparts, so they began winning. It was only natural that many Syrians would flock to their side; if you know somebody can win battles, why not support them?

With the sectarianism, the Christians flipped sides and joined up with the Alawites and Assad, whilst the Kurds created their own separate autonomous rebellion, essentially seceding from Syria and setting up their own nation state in the north. And that is where the conflict lies today.

The reasons for intervening in this mess are many.

  1. The first, and most likely the one the White House will heavily lean on as justification for their initial strikes is that of Assad using chemical weapons. Chemical weapons, due to their horrific nature and their use as an indiscriminate weapon mainly targeting civilian populations, are banned by international law and considered taboo by virtually every nation state on Earth. Assad’s use, not once but at least twice, of these weapons is more than justification for small surgical strikes stopping his ability to use them. If Assad is allowed to get away with using chemical weapons indiscriminately on his own citizens, it would set a dangerous precedent for more dictators and oppressive governments to begin using them on their own citizens. He must be punished for his actions, and to show the world that the use of chemical weapons is not permitted under any circumstances.
  2. Not intervening now, after Obama set America’s “red line” at chemical weapons use, would be folly for the United States. The country’s credibility in the region is already quite low, but not following up on a clear and explicit threat would damage it even further. And it would also damage American relations outside of the region as well; if America won’t keep her word, why trust her at all? It would be particularly damaging to the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia; keeping China in check will be hard if American threats of retaliation are no longer taken seriously. Intervening now in Syria is essential to keeping up America’s reputation.
  3. It is in the United States’ best interest to intervene in Syria, and has been for some time. The region is falling into further disarray, and if not resolved soon Syria will devolve into the Somalia of the Middle East. Al Qaeda (or at least affiliates) is already inside Syria, and letting the country fall into further chaos will only allow it to become a breeding ground for extremism and terrorists that will strike against the West. Intervening now and at least attempting to create a secular coalition with the purpose of installing a legitimate democracy is a far better option than simply lying back and doing absolutely nothing.
  4. The seeds of civil war are already being spread far and wide from Syria. The longer the conflict goes on, the more chance its neighbors will be drawn into war themselves. Lebanon is more polarized than it has been in decades, with the traditionally and consciously diverse government dissolving after sectarian disagreement. It’s a powder keg that could explode at any time, and with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into the nation demanding food and shelter, the match could be lit very soon indeed. Iraq, too, is descending into chaos and violence, with hundreds of people dead thanks to IEDs and suicide attacks in recent weeks. It’s the worst violence since 2008, and puts Iraq at risk of once again descending into civil war. If we want to watch more countries descend into civil war and further throw the region into chaos, then by all means watch as Syria burns. But to stop more nations from imploding (and not to mention oil prices skyrocketing, which seems like all Americans care about in the region these days), intervention in Syria is necessary.
  5. The fifth reason for intervention is a moral one. The United States was founded on the principle of self governance and determination. Our spiritual foundation, the Declaration of Independence, enshrines the right of all people to revolt against an unjust tyrant and create a government that serves the people as a whole. What kind of nation are we that does not help those who yearn to do the same? Without the help of France and Spain, the United States would not exist today. It is only right that the United States helps Syria achieve the freedom that all men deserve.
  6. Perhaps the most obvious reason for intervention is that Syria is a massive humanitarian crisis that must be resolved. Millions of people are homeless and fleeing the country, while millions more are internal refugees. Over one hundred thousand people lay dead, many of them children and civilians. The infrastructure of Syria is gone, and many of her greatest cities just ruined buildings. Huge numbers of world heritage sites and historical castles are now just humps of rocks. It’s a disaster, and it needs to be stopped before more innocent people are killed by both sides.

Rarely do America’s interests line up with humanitarian relief, but in the case of Syria they are aligned. It would be foolish of the Obama administration to sit on their hands now and watch as Syria further burns. Intervention is right, and intervention is necessary in Syria for myriad reasons. This intervention could be as little as surgical strikes on Assad or as great as creating, arming, and training a secular armed group to rival the Islamic extremist organizations and help tip the tide of the war in the rebels’ favor. Something must be done to save Syria. I implore the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to act, and act now. For two years, we have watched as over one hundred thousand people have been killed because we stood by and did nothing. How much more blood on our hands do we want?

44 years ago today, the United States landed two people on the Moon. Apollo 11 was the crowning achievement of NASA and assured the United States victory over the Soviet Union in the Space Race. As of today, the United States has no means of its own to put humans into space.

44 years ago today, the United States landed two people on the Moon. Apollo 11 was the crowning achievement of NASA and assured the United States victory over the Soviet Union in the Space Race. As of today, the United States has no means of its own to put humans into space.

Hard Times in Egypt

Egypt is a country on the brink of chaos. Two days ago, millions poured out onto the streets to protest the arguably autocratic rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and the President, Mohammed Morsi. Morsi, elected a year ago on June 30, 2012, has been behaving very much like his Turkish counterpart Erdogan in his view of “democracy.” Morsi has used his slim electoral majority to justify vast autocratic powers and for ignoring the views of those who did not vote for him. As a result, only 28% of Egyptians support the President and his ruling party.1 The Egyptians who lined the streets calling for his resignation numbered even more than the masses that called for Mubarak’s ouster two years ago.2 Because of this fantastic turnout, the military gave Morsi an ultimatum. Make a deal with the protestors within 48 hours, or a coup will take place to enforce the “will of the people.”3 Not surprisingly, protestors cheered at this development, chanting that “the people and the Army are one hand.” This joy is misplaced. The overthrow of Morsi by the military is disturbing in a few ways, and only bodes ill for the future of Egypt.

Morsi’s rule over Egypt, whilst not as explicitly tyrannical as his predecessor, Mubarak, was certainly not a picturesque democracy. Censorship, absurd Islamic laws, police brutality, and a fundamental disconnect from the electorate were abound, not to mention his disastrous handling of economic reform.4 It is on these grounds that the opposition movement, Tamarod, is calling for Morsi’s ouster in their 22 million signatures-strong petition.5 These grievances, while legitimate, are hardly grounds for the overthrow of a democratically elected leader. By justifying the removal of Morsi on such grounds, Tamarod sets a very dangerous precedent for Egypt’s fledgling democracy. Disagree with how the current leader is running the country? Instead of just voting them out in the next election, take to the streets and demand the military removes them! Were this the norm, many European leaders would most likely find themselves out of the job tomorrow. No good can come of this, for stability will be hard to find in a country content with replacing democratically elected leaders non-democratically.

That’s not to say that Morsi doesn’t deserve to go; he most certainly does. The problem is that the opposition is framing their justification in the wrong way. Rather than attack Morsi for his poor performance, Tamarod should focus on his botched writing of the constitution. Morsi and his government were tasked with writing a new constitution for a new Egypt. A constitutional committee was set up with a diverse body of Islamists of various fanaticism, ex-Mubarak officials, and secularists. The increasingly powerful Islamist faction called for a constitution based of Sharia, to which most others disagreed. Rather than try to compromise, the Islamists made sure that the other factions reserve simply removed from the council. With little input from the Egyptian people, a constitution was written in secret and in haste, put up for referendum with little fanfare. Only around 30% of Egypt bothered to vote for the obviously illegitimate constitution, of which only an inch above 50% supported.6 A little over 15% of Egyptians actually approved of the new constitution. Regardless, Morsi signed the constitution into law, delighting his Islamist brothers. This clear breach of the democratic process is what Tamarod should focus on in their calls for the removal of Morsi. A democratic leader who seems to misunderstand democracy itself, caring little for the future of his country by passing through a clearly illegitimate constitution certainly deserves to be removed.

Unfortunately, it seems the current alternative is arguably worse than Morsi himself. It seems that Egyptians are quick to forgive (or perhaps forget) the military and SCAF, the ruling council appointed after Mubarak was deposed in 2011.7 SCAF’s rule was less than ideal for post-revolution Egypt. Various activists were jailed and tortured, including one who made signs saying that “the people and the military were never one hand.”8 SCAF tried tens of thousands of civilian protestors in military tribunals for disturbing the peace.9 And the much criticized “virginity tests” of jailed female dissidents occurred with SCAF’s approval.10 Morsi may be overthrown, but Egypt will hardly be in a better place under SCAF.

The light at the end of Egypt’s tunnel is painfully out of sight. If Tamarod changes its justification for Morsi’s ouster, then perhaps that light will get a little closer. If the people of Egypt make sure that SCAF, who will almost certainly be reinstated after Morsi falls, rules for a short a time as possible, that light will grow closer still. Elections must be called for early if Egypt’s democracy is to survive. Most importantly, however, a committee must be created to fix Egypt’s constitution, ensuring that a constitutional democracy is enshrined in a document not based on the principles of Sharia. Egypt has a rough time ahead, but it will hopefully be for the better.

The Supreme Court and the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a few decisions (as is customary in the month of June), amongst them perhaps the most consequential of this Court season.1 This case, Shelby County v. Holder, dealt with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law itself was passed in response to rampant voting discrimination in the South. It set up a “pre-clearance” requirement for many Southern states, stating that they had to get approval from Congress before they changed any voting practices for elections. The VRA worked phenomenally at combating voting discrimination, but was only created to last for five years. Not surprisingly, Congress has extended this deadline ad infinitum, recently extending it for another 25 years in 2006 with a vote of 98-0 in the Senate.2

The Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down Section 4 of the VRA in its opinion.3 Section 4 of the VRA lays out the “formula” for determining which states fall under its jurisdiction.4 The opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts, states that Section 4 is unconstitutional on the basis that “imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs” and that those needs are no longer justified. The Court notes that voting discrimination has fallen greatly over the past 50 years or so, in part thanks to the VRA. While not entirely true567, the bigger reason for the Court striking down the law is that it violates the Tenth Amendment and goes against the precedent of equal sovereignty of states, an idea presented by Roberts in Northwest Austin v. Holder, a case about the VRA decided in 2009.8 This idea of “equal sovereignty” states that all states should be treated equally in the eyes of the federal government unless some overwhelming, pressing issue shows itself. The VRA breaks the Tenth Amendment by determining that states must ask the federal government for permission to change voting practices, even though the power to create these practices is delegated to the states by that amendment.

There is much vitriol, especially amongst the left, at this ruling. They claim that it will bring about a new era of voting discrimination and that it is still needed. But such arguments miss the entire point of the Supreme Court. The Court’s objective is not to debate on the merits and effectiveness of laws, striking down those that are “bad.” They are the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws, and the Voting Rights Act, regardless of how helpful it was, is clearly in breach of the Constitution. Therefore, I agree that the SCOTUS made the right decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Besides, there still are a few options for preserving the fangs of the VRA while still abiding by the Court’s ruling. The Court did not rule that Section 5 of the law, which is the section that actually lays out the pre-clearance procedure, is unconstitutional. The only issue they took is with Section 4 of the VRA, which sets out the formula for determining which states must abide by Section 5. If Congress passes a new amendment to the law forcing all states to abide by Section 5, thereby fulfilling Robert’s prerequisite of equal sovereignty, the Court would have no issue. Besides, a new law protecting the voting rights of all Americans is desperately needed. States outside of the prior jurisdiction of the VRA like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have passed restrictive voting ID laws, and need to be curtailed. Perhaps the ruling on Shelby County v. Holder is a blessing in disguise, and will force Congress to come up with comprehensive voting reform that is relevant to the problems of the 21st century, and not the 20th.

Outside of the United States, Mary/marry/merry are all pronounced differently. Although news to me (as a native New Jersey resident with non-American parents), most of the United States pronounces all three the same. A curious oddity, this “Mary/marry/merry merger,” as it’s been dubbed, is documented in greater detail on Wikipedia.

Outside of the United States, Mary/marry/merry are all pronounced differently. Although news to me (as a native New Jersey resident with non-American parents), most of the United States pronounces all three the same. A curious oddity, this “Mary/marry/merry merger,” as it’s been dubbed, is documented in greater detail on Wikipedia.