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Editors’ Note Dear Reader, Before we took on the role of Editors-in-Chief, the idea of choosing a theme seemed much more simple than it is in reality. Each cycle, we pick a topic with the hope that people will not only submit content, but also with the hope that the topic and scope of discussion will be substantial enough that our readership finds it to be valuable or enlightening. This month, we settled on “Religion.” By our logic, if a former senator cared enough to give millions to Wash U to form a center on “Religion and Politics,” the subject was more than worthy of WUPR’s consideration. However, even as we finish production on the magazine, we, as editors, have found ourselves at a loss for words about exactly why and in what ways the intersection of religion and politics matters to us as students and citizens. The Editors’ Note traditionally serves as a forum for us to expound upon our thoughts on the theme, but when it comes to religion, its role is so multifaceted and often contradictory, that for us to come to any tidy conclusion about its role would be a gross reduction of its place within the political sphere. Instead, for this cycle, we left the discussion entirely up to our writers. We reached out to organizations of faith across campus as well as our traditional pool of WUPRites, and we think they have produced some of our best content ever. As we have seen in recent weeks, this topic plays an incredibly important, often divisive role on our campus, so if you have any thoughts or responses to the articles we’ve published, you are always more than welcome to contribute. We hope you’ll enjoy the articles and incredible artwork your fellow students have produced for this issue. Happy reading and happy holidays, Moira Moynihan Will Dobbs-Allsopp
Table of Contents
The Little Nation that Could Aaron Christensen
The Obligation to Vote Charlie Thau
Shakedown Street: DrugHounds On My Trail Jared Skoff
Minting the Coin Grace Portelance
The Gift of Capital: The Rise of Eastern Investment or the Fall of an Economic Order Ari Moses
10 Profiling the race to the Governor’s Mansion Michael Cohen
Ambitious Progressive Policy in NYC: Noble Goals, Poor Execution
13 Influenza and Altruism Moira Moynihan
15 Little Town of Bethlehem, Megachurch of San Antonio Gabriel Rubin
16 The Concern with Energy Apathy Alexander Beaulieu
18 When Forces Collide: Jim DeMint and the Rise of “Teavangelicals” Billie Mandelbaum
19 Here Comes Honey Jew-Jew Wallis Linker
20 Brave New Christmas Serena Lekawa
21 How Fart-Joke-Visionaries Help Dethrone God Benjy Forester
12 Climbing the Broken Ladder: Why Equality of Opportunity is an Illusion Rahmi Elahjji
22 Religion and the American Family Jordan Victorian
24 Leave the Westboro Baptist Church Alone—They’re Not Worth It Aaron Wildavsky
25 The Westboro Baptist Church: Using “The Good Book” for Evil Candice Love
26 The True Meaning of Religion Aryeh Mellman
27 Buddha, the Original Postmodernist Lace Nguyen
28 Decline of Religion Karly Nelson
Staff List Editors-in-Chief: William Dobbs-Allsopp Moira Moynihan Executive Director: Nicolas Hinsch Staff Editors: Nahuel Fefer Gabriel Rubin Sonya Schoenberger Features Editor: Aryeh Mellman Director of Design: Michelle Nahmad Asst. Director of Design: Alex Chiu Managing Copy Editors: Kelsey Garnett Stephen Rubino Director of New Media: Raja Krishna Programming Director: Hannah Waldman Finance Director: Alex Bluestone
Staff Writers: Maaz Ahmad Stephanie Aria Alex Beaulieu Vinita Chaudhry Aaron Christensen Michael Cohen Benjamin Cristol Katie Shea Cullen Aashka Dalai Gabe Davis Shivani Desai Kevin Deutsch Hugh Dunkley, Jr. Naomi Duru Patrick Easley Rahmi Elahjji Adam Flores Benjy Forester Chris Gibson Matthew Hankin Hana Hartman Arian Jadbabaie Jack Krewson Miranda Kroeger Serena Lekawa Joe Lenoff Wallis Linker Martin Lockman Jimmy Loomis Candice Love Billie Mandelbaum Ari Moses Lace Nguyen Isaac Norwich Grace Portelance Naomi Rawitz Jonathon Robeson Razi Safi Victoria Sgarro Jared Skoff Ari Spitzer Danny Steinberg Charlie Thau Nathaniel Thomas Jared Turkus Govin Vatsan Jordan Victorian Aaron Wildavsky Scott Witcher Camille Lynn Wright
Front Cover: Kelsey Rogers Shelby Lindblad Back Cover Illustration: Esther Hamburger Editorial Illustrators: Margaret Flatley Simin Lim Katherine McCarter Michelle Nahmad Gretchen Oldelm Sara Wong Board of Advisors: Robin Hattori Gephardt Institute for Public Service Professor Bill Lowry Political Science Department
The Washington University Political Review is a student organization committed to fostering awareness of political issues. We shall remain dedicated to providing friendly and open avenues of discussion for students, irrespective of political affiliation or ideology. WUPR accepts submissions from any undergraduate: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Little Nation that Could Aaron Christensen
he chaos of the Arab Spring allowed far-flung regional and world powers to expand their influence in the Middle East. Among them was Qatar, an oil and natural gas-rich peninsula in the Persian Gulf, which had emerged two years ago as an unlikely regional hegemon. Smaller than Connecticut in area, Qatar has only two million inhabitants, most of whom are impoverished migrant workers. The Qatari government, however, amassed great wealth through the energy trade. With abundant income and highly ambitious leadership, tiny Qatar has managed to assert an extraordinary amount of influence across the Arab world. Qatar’s rise began in 1995 when Hamid al-Thani deposed his father, Emir Khalifa al-Thani. Saudi Arabia, one of Qatar’s traditional rivals, supported Khalifa’s claim to the throne, inflaming a rivalry that would define Hamid’s reign. As Emir, Hamid first focused on expanding Qatar’s soft power through the creation of the international news empire Al Jazeera in 1996. During the mid-2000s, Hamid promoted Qatar as a center of international diplomacy. But Qatar’s ambitions were greater; the nation’s leadership sought hard power in addition to cultural capital. Hamid decided to enact an extremely aggressive foreign policy using Qatar’s money to buy loyalties throughout the Middle East. Hamid’s strategy became “Fake it ‘til you make it”; in other words, by acting like a great power, Qatar just might become one. Rebels, guns, and money When the Arab Spring began toppling decades-old regimes in 2011, Qatar saw its chance to gain influence by operating in the power vacuum created by growing instability throughout the region. During the Libyan Civil War, Qatar was the primary foreign sponsor of the rebels. Leaked French military intelligence suggests that Qatar funded every side in the chaotic North Mali conflict of 2012 to gain influence in North Africa. As the world’s powers clashed in Syria, Qatar operated among them, patronizing a large section of the Syrian rebels with money and weapons. Hamid al-Thani gave much of his support to one of Saudia Arabia’s oldest foes: the Muslim Brotherhood. In Tunisia, the Brotherhood-led government received billions of dollars in Qatari aid and loans. Hamid sent even more money, roughly $7.5 billion, to Muhammad Morsi and the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, helping to prop up the country during its political crises. So great was Qatari aid that the opposition in Egypt and Tunisia routinely accused their governments of being Qatari puppets. In early 2012, the externally-based politburo of Hamas left its host nation Syria and settled down in Qatar. Hamid al-Thani welcomed his role as host and gave Hamas $400 million in economic aid to seal the deal. This sudden change of allegiance prompted Iran to cut off most of its own aid to Hamas. In two years, Hamid al-Thani turned his country into a major force in regional politics. In May 2013, at the height of the nations’ power, Qatari money had infiltrated most of the Middle East. However, this astounding success was untenable; Qatar’s limitations as a small state soon became manifest. Nothing lasts forever Qatar’s difficulties began in the midst of a succession. Perhaps hoping to avoid his father’s fate, Hamid handed over power to his son
Hamid’s strategy became “Fake it ‘till you make it”; in other words, by acting like a great power, Qatar just might become one Tamim on June 25, 2013. This destabilizing power transition came at an inauspicious moment. In summer 2013, Saudi Arabia stepped up its own funding across the region to counter Qatar’s meddling. Ahmad al-Jarba, widely considered a Saudi puppet, was elected President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition while the Qatari puppet in the Coalition’s leadership mysteriously resigned, a sign that Saudi Arabia had outpaced Qatar’s funding. An even bigger blow came in Egypt when the military overthrew Morsi’s government in July. Saudi Arabia, the likely orchestrator of the coup, gave the new Egyptian government $5 billion within days of Morsi’s fall. In light of these recent defeats, Hamas is now distancing itself from Qatar. The newly coronated Tamim, having lost influence over the largest Arab country to his rival, had to travel to Riyadh for his first state visit in August. Qatar’s was the ultimate ambition of small states: to use cunning and few resources to overtake the world’s powers. This wouldbe superpower acquired a small empire in less than two years and lost most of it in less than two months. But Qatar’s potential should not be discounted just yet. The ingredients of its past success—bottomless coffers and a chaotic Middle East—still exist. Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s primary rival, is struggling with its own problems. Unrest is building among the Kingdom’s Shia, Syria is becoming increasingly hard to manage, and the threat of a succession crisis is looming as King Abdullah ages. Perhaps Qatar’s present inactivity is simply a pause before another rise—a quiet moment that will enable it once again to surprise the world while the Saudis aren’t looking.
Aaron Christensen is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Obligation to Vote Charlie Thau
n a prediction of frightening precision, President George Washington, in his Farewell Address in 1796, offered a warning against the dangers of political parties. He said: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” It seems our first president was on to something. Many Americans attribute persistent Congressional failure to systemic partisan extremism and hold that Congressional leaders’ fear of losing their seats to more radical candidates makes them significantly less inclined to reach across the aisle and compromise. While this position is sensible, the issue of polarization is particularly interesting because there is a tendency to disassociate the problem with its cause, which is—at least partially—the voters. The American electorate must look itself in the mirror to a certain extent and ask the question of who put it there and take proactive steps to reduce radicalism before placing blame on politicians. Some hold the belief that citizens should feel a moral obligation to vote not only in general elections, but also in midterms and primaries. Such an obligation, however, should extend one step further. Barring an extreme inconvenience, Americans should be legally obligated to vote in order to codify an existing moral obligation. If you don’t believe low voter turnout is a problem, simply look at the statistics. At its highest in general elections, the electorate comprised only slightly more than 60 percent of eligible voters. Americans should be further appalled to learn that voter turnout drops dramatically during midterms and primaries. In fact, at its lowest, midterm turnout has reached an abysmal 39.0 percent of eligible voters three times: in 1978, 1986, and 1996. Unfortunately, people who vote in primaries are also often older, whiter, and more politically extreme than the average voter, particularly in the GOP. In the 2012 Republican primaries, there were only two states in which whites comprised under 90 percent of the vote. Further, voters 50 and older comprised over 55 percent of the Republican primary vote in 13 states, and over 70 percent in two other states.
The implications are pretty clear. Each candidate is forced to pander to a smaller and fairly homogenous base of zealots, rather than preach a message intended for the general public. Since certain states are clearly dominated by either Democrats or Republicans (California or Texas, for example), and certain districts within each state are even more polarized, primaries often decide the entire election. A larger electorate would at least force candidates to appeal to a slightly broader base, if not completely change the election results. Of course there are legitimate objections to my position. First and foremost, most Americans would view such an obligation as an infringement on basic American
ing their health, however, they simply have to provide a valid reason, freeing them of the obligation to vote and a fine. Further, days on which elections are held should be considered national holidays in order to allow people to vote more easily. Lastly, the government must do its part to encourage citizens to cast their ballots. For example, voter registration is difficult for many, so we should eliminate restrictive voter ID laws and, in the case of states with a history of institutional racism, shift the power to clear citizens to vote from states, to the federal government. Further, the government should encourage the proliferation of nonpartisan groups that motivate people to vote through traditional or social media,
Barring an extreme inconvenience, Americans should be legally obligated to vote in order to codify an existing moral obligation. freedoms. Yes, but we would be trading a very small amount of freedom for the significantly larger benefit of a strong incentive for Congressional compromise. A workable system might mirror Australia’s current mandatory voting policy. Every citizen over the age of 18 is legally obligated to vote in Australia. If a voter does not cast a ballot, she must either provide a reason or face a $20 fine. This slight penalty is indicative of the reasoning behind the law, which is simply to cement a moral obligation rather than harm those who don’t vote. Secondly, voting can be extraordinarily frustrating. Ballots are cast during the work week, finding a polling center is annoying, the weather may be bad, lines may be long, etc. These are relatively insignificant obstacles to most. If an individual is sacrificing something morally significant or jeopardiz-
and require that schools educate their students on contemporary politics and remain as partisan-neutral as possible Gridlock in Washington is perhaps the most pressing political problem that this country faces. There can truly be no compromise on important issues if Congressional leaders are too busy worrying about the extremism of their next primary. Fortunately, Americans can do something about it. As George Washington also said: “Government…is force; like a fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
Charlie Thau is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shakedown Street: Drug-Hounds On My Trail Jared Skoff | Illustration by Simin Lim
an I see your license, registration, and proof of insurance?” He had been tailing me for a few minutes before he pulled me over. “I stopped you for a couple of reasons,” he explained. “You never drifted outside your lane, but at one point you did drift close to the dotted lines at the edge of the lane. Also, at one point while I was behind you I caught you going 69 in a 65 mile-per-hour zone. Were you aware you were going that fast?” I told him I didn’t realize I was driving that fast. He wanted to know where I was going. I told him I was driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, visiting friends at school. He asked which school. I guess the NCAA isn’t big in his family. He asked for the driver’s licenses of my two passengers and told me to step out of the car. “Do you own a passport?” he asked. Now I really started to get nervous. This is it, I said to myself. This is the end. They know about my unpaid Canadian parking ticket and they’ve finally found me. The county sheriff and the Ontario Provincial Police have joined forces in an unprecedented manhunt to track me down. I told him I didn’t have my passport on me and he didn’t bring up the ticket. At this point he took me to his vehicle and asked me to step inside, but first he instructed me to lift up my hands so he could pat me down. He patted down my pants and pockets and other areas where I might be hiding something. “I have a dog, and he sometimes barks,” he warned me. “Nothing to worry about.” The dog was behind a car barrier, but there were openings that he could stick his nose through. He sniffed me when I got in the car and seemed satisfied. After looking up our ID’s in his computer, the officer wrote me a warning for going 69 in a 65. When I got home, I looked up the officer’s name. He’s not a traffic cop. He is a Deputy at the McLean County Sheriff ’s Office and, as I had suspected, he is in charge of the County K-9 Unit specializing in article searches and narcotics detection. That brings us back to me. I’m driving a light blue Chevy Cavalier from the late ‘90s. I’m a college student, transporting two other college students with a McDonald’s bag in the back seat. I also have a few large bumper stickers. On my back bumper I have a Grateful Dead dancing bear, a metallic Phish logo, and a quote from the Big
Lebowski. The officer saw a beat-up car with some psychedelic stickers and immediately pegged me as a “druggie.” I cannot tell you what constitutes probable cause. And clearly not everyone who eats McDonald’s, listens to jam bands, and quotes the Big Lebowski is high. But the deputy who stopped me had an easy target. And while these areas of interest may not indicate that I sell drugs, based on what we see on TV, they seem to be prerequisites…right? You might argue that the officer was looking for someone who matched my description. Maybe he was. But once he had spoken to me for a few minutes and determined that I was not intoxicated, what pushed him to take me out of my car, pat me down, and test his suspicions with a drug-sniffing dog? The answer is stereotyping. And we do it ourselves. When we meet someone who is a Phish fan or a Deadhead, the first thing that comes to mind is drugs.
Clearly not everyone who eats McDonald’s, listens to jam bands, and quotes the Big Lebowski is high. But the Deputy who stopped me had an easy target. Today, even the title of “fan” has become controversial. While some are content to advertise their passion for the music, more people would go around calling themselves Deadheads if there were no stigma associated with it. And you can’t blame them for being reluctant when this stigma defines first impressions across the board, not only with law enforcement but also in social interactions. For many people, this kind of music has been reduced to a stereotype. For me, it never has. So I keep the bumper stickers. And I still quote the Big Lebowski. Some friends of mine encouraged me to take off the bumper stickers for the ride back from Ann Arbor. I refused. Hopefully we can fight against these stereotypes in the long term. But in the meantime, we reserve the right to jam on.
Jared Skoff is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Study Abroad Civic Scholars Program Deadline: February 2, 5pm Classic Civic Scholars Program Deadline: February 24, 5pm
Come to an information session: Monday, December 9th at noon, Bearâ€™s Den, Private Dining
SOPHOMORES, ARE YOU THE NEXT CIVIC SCHOLAR? Civic Scholars are a select group WUSTL students who are committed to public service and social change. Apply to become a Civic Scholar and explore your civic passion. Study Abroad Civic Scholars Program Deadline: February 2, 5pm Classic Civic Scholars Program Deadline: February 24, 5pm
Come to an information session: Monday, December 9th at noon, Bearâ€™s Den, Private Dining
Minting the Coin Grace Portelance | Illustration by Michelle Nahmad
ust weeks ago the US government avoided hitting the debt ceiling and defaulting on its obligations once more, but the battle is far from over. While kicking the can down the road seems to be all the extent of what our gridlocked politicians are capable of, those who no longer feel that a reasonable compromise is in our future are looking for inventive solutions, plan Bs, to save our government from another shut-down or worse, default. Of these plans, one of the most ridiculed and least understood is the concept of minting a trillion dollar coin. As self-explanatory as this seems, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding what exactly minting this coin would mean—confusion that stems from a deep lack of understanding of what money is in contemporary times and what the government can do with it. The idea of creating a trillion dollar coin can seem both ridiculous and reckless. Most laypeople assume that the creation of a trillion new units of currency would have massive implications, such as high inflation and economic turmoil. However, according to the idea’s originator, economist Paul Krugman, this action is more of an accounting trick than an act of policy. The treasury would mint this coin and immediately deposit it into the US government’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank. The government could then continue to issue checks against this account, and with a trillion new dollars credited to the account; no new debt would have to be issued. Therefore, these trillion dollars would never make it into circulation -– the numbers on a bank account would, but for all intents and purposes the average person would be unaffected. Our current debt would not be negated, and this isn’t free money to spend as the government chooses ; it would merely push the date when we hit the debt ceiling a trillion dollars down the road. In practice, this policy is little different than our repeated Continuing Resolutions to keep funding government, and a thousand times better than a default on our debt. So why is this measure so difficult for most to accept as a viable option? One concern is that minting a trillion dollar coin sets a bad precedent. Greg Walden, a Republican representative and introducer of a bill to ban the trillion dollar coin proposal observes that, “When it came time to pay the bills [in my small business], we couldn’t just
mint a coin to create more money out of thin air, we sat down and figured out how to balance the books.” To many in this camp, the coin’s potential to set a dangerous precedent and the easy out it gives our government makes it an unacceptable option. The idea that the government can finance its own debt seems to be incompatible with fiscal responsibility. If we can repeatedly mint trillion dollar coins instead of making tough decisions, our government will lose its ability to enact reasonable, sustainable policy. These critics have valid concerns; a single accounting trick may have negligible consequences, but it should never be used on a regular or long term basis. Further, allowing the executive branch to bypass Congress, regardless of how ineffectively it is operating, and negotiate its own finances is rightfully troubling to those who value the checks and balances built into the American system. Violating the separation of powers should only be a part of a last ditch effort, never a routine practice. A large part of the reason why laypeople are so against this idea, however, is that it goes against our very idea of what money is. The problem with financing spending in this way is that it doesn’t fit in with a worldview where money is finite and easy financial solutions like this aren’t possible. It makes us uncomfortable to think that the government doesn’t have the same relationship with currency as a household does, or a firm. When the government creates money and value, our money isn’t tied to anything anymore. Not only can the government do this, but it can do this with relatively little consequence. This concept is difficult to wrap one’s mind around, but that isn’t a viable reason to reject the coin. While this accounting trick is slightly underhanded and misleading, we have to consider the alternative. If members of Congress cannot compromise enough to negotiate a reasonable debt deal, we are looking at stalemate and
It makes us uncomfortable to think that the government doesn’t have the same relationship with currency as a household does, or a firm. economic disaster. Minting the coin would be a last ditch effort, a way to prevent the worst when no other options are available, and should not be discounted in a disaster scenario. We must get over our discomfort regarding what money is and who can manipulate it, and stop laboring under the impression that our government will never let us get to the point where an action like minting the coin is needed. Our government is being backed into a fiscal corner and in two short months, we are going to be faced with the exact same debt ceiling debate we just postponed. If you can honestly say that you have faith in Congress’s ability to make decisions, forget the coin - we’ll never need it. If not, understand what the coin is and what exactly it does, consider the alternative, and get ready to mint.
Grace Portelance is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gift of Capital: The Rise of Eastern Investment or the Fall of an Economic Order Ari Moses | Illustration by Sara Wong
hile Western banking institutions have traditionally dominated global commerce, Middle and Far Eastern nations are catching up as they develop stable economies with international presence. The rapid economic growth of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations, especially China, has recently enabled emerging powers to support struggling nations throughout the Eurozone and in developing nations in Africa and Asia with necessary capital. The rise of this type of international capital investment has coincided with the increasing power and shifting strategy of sovereign wealth funds—investment funds owned, at least in majority, by a state. China is a key player in this arena--its sovereign wealth funds account for approximately one-quarter of global sovereign investment assets. Over the past 15 years, many Eastern nations have established sovereign wealth funds, which act as investing bodies for the government, in order to protect their own commodity interests. Petrostates dominated this trend until the turn of the 21st century, when Chinese state funds began pouring domestic capital surplus into foreign markets, especially commodity and currency sectors. China Investment Corporation (CIC) and China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) have invested over a trillion dollars into these markets and have outperformed investment banks, their western counterparts. Effect of the 2008 Economic Crisis After the 2008 Global Economic Crisis, debt-stricken Eurozone nations were desperate for an influx in positive cash flow. However, because banks or financial institutions were unwilling to grant risky loans to unstable regions, these nations had to look beyond traditional financial institutions for support. China’s SAFE and the CIC invested
in these financially depressed nations by purchasing bonds and debt and by procuring equity from companies in need of cash. By the estimates of some industry professionals, these firms purchased as much European sovereign debt as did the European Central Bank. By investing in debt,
company stocks, and equity while they were cheap in a depressed Eurozone, Chinese funds yielded tremendous returns. Since 2007, the CIC has nearly tripled its principal of $200 billion into over $550 billion. Currently, China holds more foreign exchange reserves through its sovereign wealth funds than the next five nations combined, including the combined economies of the Eurozone. Commodity Company Purchasing In addition to Eurozone debt, stateowned enterprises have invested heavily in commodity companies. Gazprom, a stateowned natural gas producer in Russia and one of the largest companies in the world, has purchased gas and oil firms across Eastern Europe and Asia in order to increase its size and power as a firm on the global market and to raise its influence over commodity prices. Over the past 10 years, Chinese state-owned oil giants PetroChina and Sinopec have acquired other oil firms and
reserves across Asia, with investments in the billions. More recently, the CIC has bought a sufficient portion in Urakali, a Russian producer of potash (an agricultural fertilizer), to gain seats on the company’s board, and the CIC is thus able to sway the commodity’s price to benefit the Chinese economy. The CIC’s acquisition of Urakali signals the changing foreign investment strategy of state-owned enterprises: sovereign wealth funds are now buying foreign commodities in order to provide their own companies and people with market insight and advantage. Shifting Foreign Policy Transactions of this nature represent an aggressive shift in Chinese economic policy. China and other nations with sovereign wealth funds invest beyond their borders in order to strengthen their nation’s infrastructure, appeal to foreign investors for their private sectors, and enhance their nation’s prestige through demonstration of financial power. However, the sovereign wealth funds of emerging Eastern powers are not simply injecting the capital into investments in pursuit of domestic interests—they are disestablishing the structure of the global economy. These funds bypass global financial hubs in London and New York and pursue ventures independently, generating new powerful financial centers around the world and shifting economic power towards the East. No longer a passive actor on the global stage, China’s recent investment patterns signal the nation’s readiness to advance from a regional to international power.
Ari Moses is a freshman at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Profiling the race to the Governor’s Mansion Michael Cohen
early a year into his second term, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is flying high in the Democratic Party. In September alone, he appeared beside President Obama at an event promoting the state’s automotive industry, and then presented at former President Clinton’s Global Initiative conference just a week later. Nixon is emerging purposefully from a tense standoff with Missouri’s predominantly Republican General Assembly, and he seems poised to advance his policy goals for the remainder of the term. As popular as he is, Missouri’s strict term limits for statewide offices will force Nixon to search elsewhere for employment come late 2016, at which point national politics may beckon. After eight years of Democratic leadership, Missourians will choose from what promises to be an eclectic pool of candidates. Missouri leans right in presidential and congressional races but has chosen a Democrat in five of the past six gubernatorial elections. As in any statewide contest, the cast of characters in the gubernatorial race will feature a mix of recycled politicians and enthusiastic up-and-comers. Even three years in advance, policymakers and personalities are posturing for position and sizing up potential opponents. Frontrunner Chris Koster: A member of the Republican Party as recently as 2007, Koster is now considered by many political experts to be the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor in 2016. He skillfully bridges the ideological chasm on social and ethical issues as an avid supporter of stem cell research (the primary catalyst, he says, for his leap across the aisle) and as a devotee to the principle of capital punishment — a function more of his respect for Missouri jurisprudence than religiously-rooted dogma. Koster has largely shed the stigma reserved for many ostensible political opportunists (the party switch was naturally scrutinized at first) and has fashioned himself as an advocate for prioritizing specific issues over blanket partisanship. His remarkable curtailment of Medicaid fraud in Missouri may rank as his most impressive accomplishment as Attorney General, solidifying his reputation as a champion of
non-partisan issues. Just last month, Koster opposed a bill relaxing gun laws — a politically treacherous proposition in Missouri, even for a Democrat. Yet, owing partly to his alignment with Governor Nixon, Koster seems to have escaped any lasting damage to his political capital. Koster’s habit of molding himself in the image of Nixon is lost on no one. Each will have served multiple terms as Attorney General; and each borrows ethical ideals from both conservative and liberal doctrine. Perhaps most significantly, each chooses his outspoken moments carefully, rendering their public influence more potent and avoiding the political miscarriages characteristic of a number of Missouri politicians. Koster is the only candidate to en-
Missouri women — especially Republican women — may be primed to support an impressive female candidate like Hanaway en masse. Peter Kinder: At one point the favorite for the 2012 Republican gubernatorial nomination, Kinder was forced to settle again for Lieutenant Governor. In early October, Kinder announced that he is considering challenging Republican Congressman Jason Smith in the August 2014 district primary. Republicans hope he stands down in order to avoid GOP in-fighting, and, after a period of uncertainty, he probably will…so long as he adequately exhibits his political muscle. Kinder is known as a nearly fanatical critic of the Affordable Care Act and will
After eight years of Democratic leadership, Missourians will choose from what promises to be an eclectic pool of candidates. gage in serious fundraising to date, and, for that reason alone, should find himself at the head of the pack come election season. Players Catherine Hanaway: As a high-powered securities litigator, Hanaway may have the best claim to “outsider” status once campaign season rolls around. But is that an advantage? 2012’s Republican challenger for governor, Dave Spence, cast himself as a private sector capitalist with a “fresh approach,” but was soundly defeated by the incumbent, Jay Nixon. That said, Hanaway forecasts as a stronger candidate thanks to her six years of public service. As the first female Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives and then as the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, Hanaway can portray herself as a trailblazer and veritable political force. Hanaway’s status as a Republican woman establishes an interesting dynamic for the 2016 election. Republicans haven’t put forth a female nominee for the Senate or Governorship in Missouri since 1996. After Todd Akin’s notorious struggles with gender issues in the 2012 Senatorial Race,
likely leverage this reputation to rally the conservative establishment. Missouri politicians are a leading force nationally in efforts to delay or suspend the implementation of ObamaCare and Kinder may be the leading crusader, but it’s difficult to imagine healthcare persisting into the 2015-16 campaign season as the premier hot-button issue, posing problems for his platform and his candidacy. Campaigns can blossom or crumble at a moment’s notice, and a lot can change between now and 2016. That said, political strategies are contrived long in advance and implemented gradually. If Koster can stay the course, he is primed for a comfortable march straight to the Governor’s Mansion.
Honorable Mentions: Clint Zweifel, Ron Richard, Robin Carnahan. Charlie Thau is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ambitious Progressive Policy in NYC: Noble Goals, Poor Execution Isaac Norwich
here’s something about New York City that makes it wonderful – and it’s not just the bright lights of Times Square or the fact that the wheels of the US economy churn down on Wall Street. New York stands for something different. In New York, we believe that the government can, and should, work to help those in need. America is driven by the mentality that prosperity comes from picking oneself up by his or her own bootstraps, but in New York City, we believe government has the ability to give a certain momentum that isn’t available elsewhere. That’s why our government has tried passing laws such as Bloomberg’s oft-derided Soda Ban. Some claim that it’s just New York’s “CEO” aiming to limit free choice, but most New Yorkers understand that it’s an attempt to tackle the rising obesity rates throughout the city. Granted, its implementation wasn’t the best. The recent tobacco policy passed by New York’s City Council is the latest in a long line of well-intentioned policies. Yes, while many are questioning why one can “join the army but not drink a beer,” NYC raised the age required to buy tobacco products to 21. In trying to combat teenage smoking, the New York City Council – NYC’s legislative body – was faced with two options: either require bodegas and stores to move cigarettes out of sight, like rental movie stores do with the few porn movies people still watch, or raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21. And they goofed. Plain and simple, they dropped the ball. Mayor Bloomberg, in his final few months as mayor, had hoped to move cigarettes out of sight in stores all throughout New York City. He intended to move cigarettes from behind cashiers in order to discourage impressionable children from seeing them, rather than to inconvenience the purchasers of tobacco products. The City Council, on the other hand, lead by failed mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, was set on raising the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, the highest in the United States. No one doubts that the law may decrease the amount of people who decide to start smoking, but given the cost of creating an illegal market and curtailing an 18 year old’s choices, the gain is miniscule.
Bloomberg gave up on his initial goal only a few days before the Council voted on Quinn’s measure. A strong push from the Save Our Store Coalition, a group backed by the tobacco industry, helped stave off the requirement that retailers move cigarettes out of sight. New York has always been a place where government laws aim to improve the lives of citizens. From banning smoking in public areas 10 years ago, to attempting to restrict the amount of soda individuals drink, the goals are admirable. Implementation, however, is often fraught with problems. For example, the attempt to limit soft drink sizes was blocked by the State Supreme Court ruling that Bloomberg’s sidestepping of the City Council to enact the ban was illegal. I’d argue that support would be greater for a tax on large quantities of soda than a simple ban, potentially avoiding the legal issues the ban ran into. Furthermore, a tax is a more efficient means of dealing with the negative externalities of obesity, as it lowers personal quantities of soda consumed closer to society’s optimal quantity of soda consumed. In fact, according to Kelly Brownell of Yale’s Rudd Center on Obesity, large soda taxes (15-20 percent) could reduce soda consumption by 8 percent. When it comes to disincentivizing cigarette smoking, why not move the packets out of view? This would work to combat the image of cigarette packs as “normal” items comparable to candies, sodas, and other foods that are sold in bodegas and stores across New York City. Instead, the recent law passed by the City Council has acted like a ban for 18-20 year olds when it comes to cigarettes. The NYC government, lead by a strongly Democratic City Council coupled with a health-oriented mayor has certainly aimed to look out for its citizens. These policy goals fit within the ideology that NYC embraces and enjoys, and as New York embraces its soon-to-be
Yes, while many are questioning why one can “join the army but not drink a beer,” NYC raised the age required to buy tobacco products to 21. Mayor de Blasio, it will be interesting to see what a progressive politician does in office. Will he continue to aim for “government knows best” policies that are in citizens’ best interests but may be unpopular? Will he attempt to do as the populace pleases, and bury the Soda Ban goal of discouraging rising obesity rates? Or will he focus so much on raising taxes on the rich that health concerns fall by the wayside? Image by Flickr user roberthuffstutter [CC BY-NC 2.0].
Isaac Norwich is a Freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com
Climbing the Broken Ladder: Why Equality of Opportunity is an Illusion Rahmi Elahjji
come from San Antonio, a city that erupted into the national spotlight back in 2012 after our mayor, Julian Castro, gave the Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention. Heralded as the face of rapidly changing American demographics and often labeled as an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party, Castro spent a majority of his speech highlighting his humble beginnings. He spoke extensively on how education changed his life, lamenting that equality of opportunity is not a reality for many Americans. Castro’s defining policy move in San Antonio during 2012 was the aptly-termed “Pre-K 4 SA” program which would increase the sales tax within San Antonio’s Bexar County by 1/8 of a percent in order to offer universal pre-kindergarten education. Despite opposition to the tax increase, the measure passed with 54 percent of the vote. Early education movements in cities all across the country have received tremendous bipartisan support. A great deal of research supports the policy. The Perry Preschool Project, perhaps the most comprehensive study of early education, found that children who attended preschool possessed a 44 percent higher high school graduation rate after age 27 and a 42 percent higher monthly median income after age 40. It is important to emphasize, however, that these studies prove only a correlation between pre-K and future success – it is unclear if pre-K truly determines future success. In fact, a new study conducted by educational psychologists at Stanford suggests that the disparity between children of higher and lower socioeconomic status appears even at the age of 18 months, before any formal education. The Stanford study discovered that at the age of 18 months, children in higherincome families possessed vocabularies up to 60 percent larger than those in lower-income families. This raises the question of whether children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds enrolled in these early education programs already have to play catch-up to compete with their more affluent peers. This is certainly not to say that early education programs like “Pre-K For SA” are
not worth the cost; they most certainly are, as the correlations found by the Perry study suggest. Education policy makers just have to think of them as one piece of the puzzle of equalizing opportunity in America, and not as a “quick-fix” for an unbalanced system. The inequality of academic success produced by socioeconomic inequality com-
The entire system needs reworking from the inside, no matter how slow, politically painful, or tedious. pounds until these same children reach a college-level age. It has become fashionable for universities to advertise their generous financial aid offerings, as well as their commitments to socioeconomic diversity. However, this supposed equalization of opportunity only operates at the margins. Children of less wealthy families must overcome obstacle after obstacle to even attempt to compete with those of a higher socioeconomic status. By the time these children reach their high school graduations, these obstacles have engendered a sizeable achievement gap. Cognitive psychologists have found that, as a result of constant preoccupation with their financial difficulties, children growing up in or near poverty exhibit impaired brain function as adults. For a more intuitive example, consider two children living in different neighbor-
hoods of the same city. One child comes from a family making roughly $100,000 a year, putting it in the upper-middle class, while the other comes from a family living slightly above the poverty line, making around $24,000. In all other respects, both children are equal. Yet, by the time these two children reach 2 years, the more affluent child will likely respond to language prompts twice as fast as the less privileged child. By the time both children reach formal education at 5 years old, the less affluent child will lag behind the more affluent child by 2 years based on test scores. Finally, by the time both have made their way through the majority of the formal education system, the more affluent child will outscore the less affluent child on the SAT by an average of almost 20 percent. Nobody is claiming that efforts to promote equality of opportunity including early education programs like “Pre-K For SA” and universities’ general financial aid programs are not worth the time being invested. Research has proven that efforts like these play a marginal role in closing the achievement gap. However, education policy is widely politicized, and policy decisions like these that make it into the headlines simply build up this façade of equality, when in reality the system has a long way to go to be “equal.” The entire system needs reworking from the inside, no matter how slow, politically painful, or tedious. Education represents one of the few avenues for social mobility poor children are offered. If that is also corrupted, we must reevaluate what we really mean by equality of opportunity and the American Dream. Image by Flickr user MRCPLChildrens [CC BY-SA 2.0].
Rahmi Elahjji is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at rahmi. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Influenza and Altruism Moira Moynihan
became interested in the public health questions surrounding vaccination on college campuses when Student Health Services (SHS) changed its policies on flu vaccines, eliminating its walk in flu shots clinics in favor of appointments. Knowing the importance of the shot, I tried to schedule an appointment, but to my dismay, the next available slot was nearly three weeks out. My frustration was shared by numerous others. Unfortunately, many students were only seeking the vaccine once an outbreak had occurred in their immediate circle, a gesture that unfortunately is too late to mitigate the crux of the problem. SHS has since resolved its scheduling problems, and there are now same-day availabilities that allow students to be seen and vaccinated in fifteen minutes. However, given the importance of vaccination, Wash U should consider other models of large-scale vaccination, to reduce the risk of an outbreak and mitigate young people’s role as carriers of the virus. SHS’s Director of Administration Deborah Harp underscored the importance of the vaccine, urging me to “get the word out” about this simple, but critical act as we approach flu season. She discussed how the change in vaccination policy comes as a result of the administration no longer mandating a uniform insurance among students, so now, most students are choosing to bill to individual insurance companies or pay themselves. The response to this change has been largely positive, and Harp explained how “SHS has served many more students this year than with walk in clinics.” Despite this improved response, many students are still going unvaccinated, largely by choice. Given that the risks from the flu tend to be low for the college age demographic, countless students are choosing to tough it out, sans vaccine. I spoke with Dr. Bob Jacobson, head of the Employee and Community Health Research Initiative at the Mayo clinic, a pediatrician and a renowned expert in the field of vaccinology. He identified key problematic behaviors among young people that contribute to influenza outbreaks each year, citing the close quarters of a college campus as having enormous potential to facilitate an outbreak, perhaps the most obvious reason to encourage vaccination. He noted that college aged people’s largest barrier is their “perceived invulnerability.” Because most young
people are not considered high risk patients, many will be misdiagnosed or not seek out medical advice at all: “People show up in the winter and get tested for strep, and it’s possible to get a false positive (about 15 percent of the time)…when really it’s the flu. There is a misperception that college kids don’t get it.” Dr. Jacobson noted that college students have “the sense that the flu vaccine is really for other people,” but the reality is that our age demographic has a 40 percent chance of contracting the virus during flu season, even if it is never diagnosed as such. Selfish rationale aside, Dr. Jacobson also presented an altruistic argument for vaccination. The World Health Organization reports between a quarter and half a million people die annually from influenza, and these deaths disproportionately touch the elderly, chil-
Vaccination is ultimately an altruistic act, one that the university should strongly consider mandating. dren, and those living in poverty. Given the amount of volunteer work college aged students do with these populations, not getting vaccinated is incredibly problematic. Getting vaccinated not only prevents you from infecting other people, but it has also been shown to save lives. According to Dr. Jacobson, “studies show that people who work among the elderly…can reduce the death rate among patients [by getting vaccinated.]” The arguments for vaccination seem strong enough that we, as a student population, should have easy enough access to the vaccine that nearly, if not, all of the students would be vaccinated. Dr. Jacobson explained that successful models of large-scale vaccinations exist in many schools and workplaces, noting that “in four to five hours you can vaccinate 4,000 to 5,000 people…Unlike other medicines, you aren’t taking big risks by vaccinating. The vaccines are really safe and can be given quickly, and people can be screened easily for whether of not they can get it.” Wash U, theoretically, could inoculate its entire student body in a matter of hours.
Given the high risks associated with communicable diseases on a college campus, as well as the high probability of our infecting people in more vulnerable populations, Wash U could do more to ensure uniform vaccination. There are, of course, economic considerations were the school to provide vaccination for all of its students, but the benefits arguably far outweigh the costs. In fact, given that the cost per unit of the vaccine is so low (usually around $15), many companies lose money by billing for it, as the cost of processing insurance paperwork outweighs the cost of the vaccine. Many business owners choose not to attempt to recover these costs, and instead count the substantial decrease in employee sick days as compensation enough. Harp said SHS would be reluctant to incur these costs, especially since the Affordable Care Act now requires that all insurance companies cover the vaccine, and says that billing students is “the fair thing to do…rather than take funds away from other things that SHS can do.” While SHS may not be able to incur these costs, the university could certainly handle the expense. If not the university itself, perhaps Student Union (who had $300,000 of carry forward money at the start of this year) could take on the initiative, an endeavor which could certainly fall within their mission of “allocate, advocate, and program.” My reasons for getting vaccinated were largely selfish. I did not want to deal with the flu, nor did I want to miss classes or work because of it. However, my attitude (which I suspect may be a common one) fuels a culture of what Dr. Jacobson calls “presentism.” Students assume they are invincible, and thus we are being noble by still suiting up and showing up to classes, to activities, and to work, even when doing so ultimately puts our classmates, professors, and the larger community at risk. Vaccination is ultimately an altruistic act, one that the university should strongly consider mandating or at least facilitating. With the resources available to this school, there is no reason that our entire student population could not be vaccinated in a matter of days.
Moira Moynihan is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Little Town of Bethlehem, Megachurch of San Antonio Gabriel Rubin
ohn Hagee doesn’t make small talk. He has no patience for laborious finetoothed theological examination, and he rarely whispers. Hagee exists in a state of crescendo, where every word booms resonantly from his wide frame as though the Wizard of Oz spoke it with the backing of Black Sabbath. As senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Hagee’s influence among American evangelicals has few close rivals. And while other megachurch leaders tend to spend their political capital on promoting a right-wing social agenda, Hagee has chosen to spend his obsessively promoting the cause that the Land of Israel must always be a Jewish state. Though beleaguered supporters of Israel are always looking for new (and influential) allies, Hagee and Co. are not the saviors they seek. Indeed, by joining forces with the Christian Right, American Zionists risk alienating the majority of Jews whose reasons for supporting Israel have little in common with those of evangelicals. Some Jewish-American Zionists see Christian Zionists as God-sent reinforcements at a time of extreme peril for Israel. The Jewish state finds itself more isolated than ever in the international arena while still dealing with the incumbent challenges that come with the territory (literally). Its key base of support, American Jews, has shown itself to be more apathetic or conflicted about its relationship to Zionism than in any recent generation. Blame assimilation, crappy Hebrew schools, or Likud policies towards Palestinians; but whatever the cause may be, Israel finds itself in need of a few more American friends. Evangelicals have rushed to fill that void and more. Hagee founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in 2006, and has since enlisted over a million members. With around 50 million evangelicals in the US, he says his work has hardly begun. He studies and collaborates with the masters: Hagee has become a prime ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), given plum speaking assignments at their conferences. He recruits sizeable delegations to assist in AIPAC’s congressional lobbying work, and CUFI by itself has worked assiduously
and quickly to make their presence felt in the corridors of power. AIPAC’s influence on Capitol Hill has few rivals, so any affiliated organization tends to draw the attention of elected officials. While AIPAC’s Jewish membership predominantly hails from particular urban centers (reflective of the broader American Jewish population), evangelicals tend to come from places with smaller or negligible Jewish populations—the South, rural areas, and farther flung suburban counties. This distribution makes CUFI and AIPAC’s political work complementary; most members of Congress, regardless of who they represent, know that there will be a sizeable (or at least vocal and influential) portion of their district that supports pro-Israel policies. And here’s where the Faustian bargain comes in for American Jews: though CUFI claims to support Israel, what do they mean
the narrative surrounding the modern State of Israel has always been one of national redemption and renewal, not eternal salvation. Why should it matter to Jewish Zionists if their reasons for supporting Israel differ from those of Christian Zionists so long as they are on the same side? First, because of the political implications. By giving firebrands like Hagee a bully pulpit (he declared that Iran would be thrown into the “dustbin of history” before whipping the normally dapper and demure AIPAC crowd into a frenzied chant of “Israel lives!” in 2007), the mainstream pro-Israel community risks its bipartisan (or nonpartisan) reputation. Hagee’s book Obama’s New World Order: Can America Survive? can be purchased on the Hagee Ministries website, not far from links to CUFI’s site. Secondly, eschatology matters, and it should make Jews and Israelis uncomfortable that the evangelical imperative
Evangelicals…view Jewish control over the Land of Israel as biblically necessary for the second coming of Jesus. Though messianism also plays a crucial role in Jewish theology, the narrative surrounding the modern State of Israel has always been one of national redemption and renewal, not eternal salvation. by that support, and from where does the impetus for their support arise? In the recent (and instantly notorious) Pew Survey on American Jews, respondents were asked whether God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Forty percent of Jews answered affirmatively, compared to 82 percent of evangelicals. That gap illuminates the fundamental, if perhaps odd, difference in how Jews and evangelicals view Israel. The majority of Jews eschew the eschatological implications of the state, preferring instead to see Israel as a refuge for a persecuted ethnic group. Evangelicals, by contrast, view Jewish control over the Land of Israel as biblically necessary for the second coming of Jesus. Though messianism also plays a crucial role in Jewish theology,
of Jewish control over Israel rests primarily on a narrative of Christian salvation (Hagee, admittedly, has promoted the idea that Jews do not need to believe in Jesus to be saved, though he has been roundly criticized for it by other evangelicals). Zionism must surely provide a big enough tent to allow individuals of various orientations to express their support for the existence of a Jewish homeland. But when certain voices cause others to abandon the tent, was their inclusion prudent in the first place?
Gabriel Rubin is a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Concern with Energy Apathy Alexander Beaulieu I believe the earth gets warmer and I also believe the earth gets cooler. And I think history points out that it does that and that the idea that man, through the production of CO2 is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd. -Rick Santorum I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects. -Rick Perry Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas; it is a harmless gas...And yet we’re being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the Earth. -Michelle Bachmann
hese former Republican presidential candidates epitomize an overwhelming problem within our society: a dangerous lack of knowledge and concern about energy. Although the United States is currently confronted with this seemingly overwhelming problem, like these presidential candidates, a majority of Americans do not even care. Only 45 percent of us consider the nation’s energy problems to be a priority, down from 60 percent in 2009. One of the more dangerous traits of a society is apathy. Thomas Jefferson once declared that “lethargy [is] the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” Understandably, there exists a range of issues that one may be more concerned about (i.e. the economy, immigration, healthcare, etc…). But if we, the American public, do not take the time to familiarize ourselves with even the most basic facts behind our nation’s energy policies, we can expect a disastrous future. Our indifference has already led to a serious lack of rudimentary knowledge: 87 percent of Americans could not correctly identify our number one supplier of oil. While most answered Saudi Arabia, only 13 percent correctly named Canada. American views inherently contradict themselves: although 49 percent oppose additional fracking, a supermajority - 82 percent - support more natural gas production. Somehow, 57 percent of Americans believe additional fracking will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. If most Americans do not realize the true meaning of fracking, or the damage it causes to the environment, how can we expect them to be educated voters? More importantly, how can we expect to progress as a society while a majority of us are voting with misguided beliefs? This alarming ignorance is not only present in fracking. While 65 percent of the country favors the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, 65 percent also want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, studies conclude that such a pipeline will significantly increase greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. To make matters worse, a majority of Americans were unaware that the United States’ energy production had increased over the past few years. Knowledge is crucial. Quite simply, possessing a stronger understanding of such issues will lead to more viable policy, which in turn will preserve our planet. The next time they enter their
polling center, voters must understand what the candidates truly represent when they declare a pro-fracking position. Our current lack of knowledge on energy issues will lead to a dangerous distrust of science. We have already experienced such absurdity during the climate change debate. Although a majority of the United States used to believe that humans were responsible for climate change, much of that thinking has dissipated. According to a Pew study, in 2009, only 36 percent of Americans believed that the Earth was warming because of human actions, even though 97 percent of climate scientists confirm the theory. One of the more prominent reasons for such a change is due to the influence of powerful contrarian organizations and busi-
If we, the American public, do not take the time to familiarize ourselves with even the most basic facts behind our nation’s energy policies, we can expect a disastrous future. nesses. But even the most basic understanding of climate science could have prevented the nation from believing in such blatant deception. Too much time on the part of environmental groups has been spent on lobbying Washington. Such organizations must divert substantial resources towards grassroots efforts in order to educate the public and cultivate public knowledge and support for energy policy. Our reputation as a world leader is also at stake. Numerous countries have already implemented policies to reduce environmentally damaging practices. By raising the gas tax, for example, European countries were able to significantly reduce carbon emissions through automobiles by forcing the use of public transportation. Although we have a lot of catching up to do, we must exercise perseverance and fortitude. We must present the United States as an innovator in sustainable environmental law. Then, and only then, will the rest of the world turn to us for guidance and leadership. Admittedly, it is not easy to overcome such significant lack of energy knowledge. Numerous overbearing forces are working to misinform the public on such issues. That is why it is paramount to find a way to defeat those who knowingly inflict harm through public deceit. Our future as a country and a civilization demands it.
Alexander Beaulieu is a freshman in the Olin Business School. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Religion and Politics
Religion and Politics
When Forces Collide: Jim DeMint and the Rise of “Teavangelicals” Billie Mandelbaum
n October 12, twelve days into the first United States government shutdown in 17 years, many Americans—and even some GOP senators—were busy denouncing the man behind it all: Ted Cruz. While the junior senator from Texas lost much of his credibility for his bizarre 21 hour-long filibuster antics, there was still one place where he received a warm reception. On that twelfth day of the shutdown, Cruz won the straw poll at the annual Values Voters Summit (VVS), a conference hosted by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. Cruz won 42 percent of the vote, beating out other rising conservative stars, including Dr. Ben Carson (13 percent of the vote) and Rand Paul (6 percent of the vote). Cruz’s runaway victory and unwavering support from the conference’s conservative attendees points to the emergence of a coalition of two previously separate Republican Party threads: the Tea Party and the religious right. The growing overlap between Tea Party and Evangelical interests has resulted in the formation of a new faction within the American political sphere. No longer beholden to the traditional pro-business lobbying arms of the Republican establishment, the confluence of Tea Partiers and Evangelicals has created a superpower of nihilistic politicians who will stop at nothing to push their antiObama agendas. How did this force come to be? Look no further than one of the most powerful men in American politics: Jim DeMint. DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina, and current president of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, has been the puppeteer behind the Tea Partyreligious right alliance. In 2008, while still serving as a senator, DeMint started the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), a superPAC “dedicated to electing true conservatives to the United States Senate.” For DeMint and SCF, “true” conservatives are those who have the “courage” to support fiscally conservative policies, such as spending cuts and repealing Obamacare. These positions align closely with those of the Tea Party. In fact, Senate Tea Party leaders including Cruz, Mike Lee, and Marco Rubio—all of whom spoke at VVS—were elect-
ed to their posts through SCF fundraising and campaign efforts. Cruz has even gone so far as to say that he wouldn’t have been elected if not for DeMint. However DeMint’s appeal does not end with the Tea Party. DeMint has been a religious right icon for his socially conservative positions. DeMint believes the adoption of
The Tea Party and Evangelicals have found common ground in their hatred for all things government, and more importantly for all things Obama. fiscally conservative policies will eventually tap into what he sees as America’s JudeoChristian roots. In his 2009 book Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America’s Slide into Socialism, DeMint writes, “The connection between God, the Bible, Christianity, virtue, law, individual responsibility, and freedom were unquestioned by those who shaped America’s founding.” So much for the separation of Church and State, let alone a basic knowledge of American history. While DeMint rose to prominence with SCF, it was not until this year with the
Heritage Foundation (which was a main VVS sponsor) that he gained the immense influence he now wields in American politics. In a September 2013 interview with NPR, DeMint said, “There’s no question in my mind that I have more influence now on public policy than I did as an individual senator.” This influence stems from the Heritage Foundation’s lobbying wing, Heritage Action. Heritage Action has become one of the most powerful lobbying groups within the Republican Party. Funded by individual “small-money” donors, Heritage Action was a main player in the recent shutdown strategy. Because much of Heritage Action’s funding comes from constituents, members of Congress have become more concerned about Heritage Action than traditional probusiness Republican lobbying groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce. Incumbent Republicans, such as Mitch McConnell, who are deemed not “conservative” enough by Heritage Action and SCF, face the threat of losing their primaries to SCF and Heritagebacked challengers. Though there are differences between the Tea Party and the religious right, it’s important to acknowledge where the interests of the two group’s overlap. The Tea Party and Evangelicals have found common ground in their hatred for all things government, and more importantly for all things Obama. As the government shutdown fiasco showed, the Tea Party and Evangelicals have formed a rogue power that will stop at nothing in pursuit of its ideological goals. For the “Teavangelical” wing, political pragmatism is far less important than defending its conservative principles. This steadfast idealism is tearing apart the GOP, and adversely affecting the entire American political system. Jim DeMint and his Teavangelical minions’ government shutdown strategy cost the US economy some $24 billion. Despite denunciation, these politicians continue to wage their ideological warfare. After all when the government did reopen Cruz reiterated: “I would do anything, and I will continue to do anything to stop the train wreck that is Obamacare.” Billie Mandelbaum is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religion and Politics
Here Comes Honey Jew-Jew Wallis Linker
t countless Passover Seders, I have been surrounded by my extended Jewish-Israeli family and have mentally noted:, “this would make a fantastic reality show.” I’ve heard from my Italian Catholic friend that Easter dinner at her house could provide material for a sitcom for at least three seasons. But the drama that transpires at these gatherings is due to family tensions and personalities attempting to mesh; it is based on social, not religious, aspects of life. When a TV show’s main premise is based largely on revealing the insiders’ perspective of a religion, it makes a mockery of the institution, further alienating the religious from the secular. Turning religion into a moneymaking scheme through the format of reality TV has negatively impacted the views of people who do not bother to gather their own information. Television trends have made reality TV devoid of any true reality. Shows like “Jersey Shore” or competitions like “America’s Next Top Model” are rife with people acting for the camera. On these shows, creating entertainment matters more than showing what life is truly like. Programs advertising themselves as showing the reality of religious groups are especially guilty of this. For example, “The Sisterhood,” a reality show on TLC, follows the lives of pastors’ wives in Atlanta. One woman featured on the show, Dominique Scott, admits she was a drug addict. Another woman, Tara Lewis, identifies herself as a former adulterer. These admissions are not the show attempting to reveal real life hardships; they are meant to create absurd entertainment value. The senior director of production, Wendy Douglas, has openly admitted that the show is “definitely entertainment.” To her it is a new look into a subculture that is not often addressed in reality shows. She believes that The Sisterhood has “broken some new ground.” While it may be true that religious life is not the most prevalent theme in reality TV, this form of media hardly attempts to build a society more accepting of diversity. According to Sophia A. Nelson, an author who has researched the private lives of first ladies, the show “The Sisterhood” paints a blasphemous image of pastors’ wives. “There is a code among these ladies, and that’s why [the show] is so off the mark…they would never go on TV and talk about their sex lives. They’d rather die than put out that imagery.” The show puts forth a
“real” characterization of this small, select group that is far from the truth, and yet people buy into it. For viewers, who know little about the life of pastors, their wives, or their followers, this becomes their perception of an entire group. TV profits from caricatures of religious people. For example, Bravo recently released a show called “Princesses: Long Island” that looks into the Jewish American “princesses” who live there. Here, the women are meant to represent typical, well-off, modern Jewish women, but are so over-the-top in their actions it becomes comical, and at points offensive. At one moment in the show a woman named Chanel announces with glee, “Guess what I have? MANISCHEVIIIITZ!” referring to the kosher alcoholic drink. According to Andrew Romano, a writer for The Daily Beast, “the women…rarely go five minutes without saying something like, ‘Shabbat Shalom, go f**k yourself.’” At moments like this, the women are not even over-exaggerating their Judaism, they are creating a character with as many outrageous clichés as it can put into a high-energy individual, a character that will draw in viewers. There is a trend in recent reality TV to focus on religious life that may be unknown to the viewer base, but not because of heartfelt desires to educate the public about multiculturalism and diversity. Rather, it can be seen as a means to increase profits. Networks first tap into a topic that has not been thoroughly explored in the reality TV sphere: the “real” lives of religious groups. Then they create characters, plot lines, and drama which may have been based on true aspects of life, but which are blown out of proportion to create a captivating story. Reality TV has become a genre dominated by a push for high ratings and profits, not by a desire to show what is real. By tossing religion into the mix, producers and networks have taken something once held sacred and commercialized it like any other mundane subject. Religion has often been utilized as a money-making tool in the
At moments like this, the women are not even over exaggerating their Judaism, they are creating a character with as many outrageous clichés as it can put into a high-energy individual: a character that will draw in viewers. past, and this continues to hold true as it moves into new frontiers. What makes it seem so unjust is that, in this case, the shows are advertised to the public as the truth, not as the manipulations they are. If one wants to really understand the role religion takes in everyday life, it is better to look into other cultures for oneself. Image by Flickr user roberlan [CC BY-ND 2.0]. Wallis Linker is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Religion and Politics
Brave New Christmas Serena Lekawa | Illustration by Katherine McCarter
e’re nearing that time of year again. Filled with zeal, Americans across the country will come together after a delicious family dinner with holidays on the brain. Trees, plastic garlands and shiny ornaments will abound. There may be singing and there may be yelling, and there will most definitely be chaos. Everyone will have somewhere to be, and no one can ever mistake what day it is, the day holiday fervor reaches its culminating point: Black Friday. The general bemoaning of the commercialization of Christmas is a familiar annual refrain, and not without cause. Indeed, Black Friday brings out the dark sides of companies and consumers alike; few would agree that adults clobbering each other over the last XBox on the shelf (because let’s be serious, it’s not over until the fat guy comes down the chimney) encapsulates their ideal holiday spirit. Many of the less violent byproducts of commercial Christmas are the subject of common complaints as well—the Christmas songs on the radio for two months, holiday special after holiday special on TV, cheesy decorations everywhere for too long. Of course, there are also the familiar bleats about secularism and commercialism waging a “War on Christmas” as some (particularly FOX News) would call it, detracting from the holiday’s religious significance. Winter after winter, FOX harangues the blasphemous restructuring of Christ’s birthday into a conglomeration of shopping, decorations and secular nonsense. This annual stream of coverage usually involves seeking out instances where religious statues are removed from public places, or where public schools attempt to curb religious influence. The undertones of this coverage promote the idea that American Christians are victims in this ‘war’ who must strike back to save Christmas—and return to their crystallized, biased idea of what America should be. But this categorization only separates Americans into even more distinct and hostile categories: the pious and the atheists, the latter seeking to tear the former down. Perhaps the most ridiculous
aspect of the “war” is that in its broadest sense the holiday season is about bringing people together. Since when has declaring the presence of war done anything but tear people apart? Furthermore, are hype, decorations and buildup truly unnatural parts of the season?
Let’s be serious, it’s not over until the fat guy comes down the chimney. If you type the word ‘Christmas’ into Google, the first item in the drop-down suggested search list is ‘Christmas countdown.’ Like it or not, this holiday is about the buzz. For many people, the most annoying part of the holiday season, the songs, the decorations, the incessant flow of merchandise, is that the onslaught starts so early. The first decorations at the mall usually surface in November or even October—as do the first ‘War on Christmas’ stories. Highly commercialized Christmas certainly has its drawbacks, but perhaps at this point it’s a necessary evil. Could anyone expect a player in the world of business not to capitalize on the holidays in any way they can? We may have passed the point of no return here (because I for one enjoy my peppermint
mochas at Starbucks). Furthermore, does emphasis on the more commercial or secular components of Christmas really constitute a ‘War’? A ‘Happy Holiday’s’ card in lieu of a ‘Merry Christmas’ one is not an attack prompting the world to cast aside religion; it is simply a broader of interpretation of the holiday that acknowledges different types of celebrations while embracing a unified spirit of the season. Ironically then, Christmas seems to bring out a lot of haters: the people who hate the shopping, the people who can’t stand the secularization, and the particularly special people who reconstruct the Christmas songs into perfect rhyme schemes of all the other things they hate about the season (internet chat rooms are true vehicles of artistic expression). Is there truly no way to reconcile things so everyone can have their holiday cake and eat it too? Can religion coexist with secular holidays? Does the intense commercialization wear on the genuine feeling of the season? Neither giant inflatable snow globes nor nondenominational holiday cards prevent the religious from celebrating the season how they see fit. Acknowledging the holiday season as something more universal fosters acceptance, not displacement. And as for the commercial hype? We love to hate it but let’s be honest: we also hate that we love it—at least, to an extent. It makes the holidays into a gigantic deal, but maybe they are! Families and friends come together to celebrate not just their new Nintendos, but each other. Everyone deserves to get obnoxiously excited over something at least once a year. So, next time you want to hurl when you see that sweaty guy in the red suit and plastic beard putting kids on his lap at the mall in November, look over at your friend or a stranger and roll your eyes—but do it together. That’s what the holiday spirit is all about, and maybe that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing. Serena Lekawa is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religion and Politics
How Fart-Joke-Visionaries Help Dethrone God Benjy Forester
lmost two years after The Book of Mormon’s Broadway debut, productions of the Tony Award-winning musical continue to draw eager crowds. I do not pretend to know the first thing about Broadway musicals, but I am a longtime subscriber to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s satire, most famously depicted through their Comedy Central show South Park. I find myself entranced by the perverse language, the crude images attached to the lives of fourth grade boys, and the magnitude of offensiveness that easily crosses every line that I would ordinarily draw. Like the rest of the masses, I found myself enamored of The Book of Mormon’s theatrical excellence and unprecedented comedy. Reflecting upon the musical, I became curious about a distinction between my experience with South Park and The Book of Mormon, namely that I watch South Park in my sweats from my couch while I dressed in fancy attire to join a sea of wine and champagne guzzling upper-middle-class theatregoers at a regal Chicago theater for The Book of Mormon. The paradigm of Stone and Parker’s satire shifted, because guiltily laughing in solitude at the absurdity of the jokes became a communal and shameless experience. An impenetrable fence used to exist around religion, protecting its doctrines from technology and discovery. Thinkers like Galileo and Darwin were once viewed as heretics, as society desperately fought to preserve the validity of its religious convictions. As my family drove home from the theater and reminisced about the play that made us feel entirely uncomfortable yet unabashedly satisfied, we mentioned that we were glad that our religion, often the target of Parker and Stone’s ridicule, slid through the cracks this time. While my outlook on the musical would have been entirely different if Judaism had been painfully trivialized, I could not help feel that all religion was victimized by this production. The production perfectly challenges the notion of religion, with one of its most famous numbers, “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” translating into “Fuck you, God,” and the conclusion of the show asserts that people will believe in the most absurd stories and doctrines for the sake of religious fulfillment. While many continue to cling to their religious beliefs, The Book of Mormon points to the vulnerability of organized religion. As a Christian minority, representing only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population, perhaps Mormons were easy targets for the South Park creators because most people found it strangely relieving to see someone else’s faith picked apart. As a relatively new and non-mainstream religion, people could laugh at the trivialization of Mormonism. However, the Mormon doctrine relies on stories just as fanciful as any mainstream religion. One may choose to believe in those stories, as I do with my own religion, but nothing about any faith can be argued as more factually verifiable than another. Therefore, this attack on Mormonism is an attack on all religion. Parker and Stone did their part, as genius satirists, by depicting the vacuity of religion that a growing contingent of American’s seem to identify with. People’s endorsement of laughter and money in the trivialization of Mormonism threatens any religious credibility. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an official statement in reaction to the musical, suggesting, “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever
by bringing them closer to Christ.” Clearly not eager to get defensive or start a fight, the Church threw up its arms in a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality, hoping that people would not perceive the play as a humiliating refutation of the entire premise of their religion. As a person of faith, I find myself torn and confused about my thorough appreciation of the musical. Part of me just takes the approach that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes, ap-
The paradigm of Stone and Parker’s satire shifted, because guiltily laughing in solitude at the absurdity of the jokes became a communal and shameless experience. preciating a work of great satire and humor and understanding that my faith has always existed in the face of such challenges. Parker and Stone did not themselves destroy the ancient walls protecting religion; rather, they inherited a world in which science continues to prevail, as religion grows increasingly vulnerable. Currently 28 percent of American adults leave the faith they were raised in for another religion or no religion, and these changes in religious affiliation are leading to a fast-growing contingent of religiously unaffiliated Americans. No religion is safe. A Broadway musical can tear religion to pieces and receive praise from the masses and even avert condemnation from the Church it targeted. The Book of Mormon musical shows that the wall protecting religion has shattered. Many will maintain their religious affiliations, but the trend towards faithlessness will continue.
Benjy Forester is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Religion and Politics
Religion and the American Family Jordan Victorian
hile Americans hold diverse views on how an ideal family looks, many of these views share a common thread: a mother and father. American parents are typically seen through a heteronormative lens; one must be female, the other male, and both heterosexual. American laws support such family structures, steadfastly supporting opposite-sex marriages as well as joint adoptions by opposite-sex couples. As a nation, and world, of mostly heterosexual individuals, many take no issue with our current system of family recognition. However, this system proves problematic to queer individuals and couples who may not fall under the protection of only opposite-sex family structures. Although American cultural views toward queer individuals and couples continue to evolve, our legal system often gives a clear precedence in recognition to traditional, opposite-sex families. Moreover, attempts continue to establish these traditional families as the only ones given legal recognition. As of November 2013, only 16 states and the District of Columbia support issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and only 6 states and D.C. provide state-level spousal rights such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. Many states continue to attempt outright bans on same-sex marriage. Moreover, as of August 2013, only 21 states allow same-sex couples to petition for joint adoption. A majority of states fail to protect samesex partners as they do opposite-sex partners. One explanation for
negligence and opposition toward same-sex families is religion, and the idea of traditional families that has developed out of religious beliefs. Marriage originated as a religious concept, and many religious ideals prevalent in the United States, including dominant Judeo-Christian teachings, have traditionally defined marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Given the prominence of these views and the exceptional influence of religion on public policy historically, it is unsurprising that legal recognition of domestic bonds would fall in line with religious ideals of love and family. Conventional support based on religion and morals certainly does not mean that opposite-sex family structures should not be supported. Furthermore, moral support, and especially religious support, should not be requisites for legal recognition. Many opponents of same-sex families cite the dominance of JudeoChristian attitudes as justification for excluding non-traditional families from legal recognition and protection; as a nation whose values are based on Christian teachings, the United States should not support same-sex families, who clearly do not align with historically prevalent Christian ideals. Such an argument is problematic. While many nations may explicitly support certain religions, the Constitution, provides clear precedent against religious establishment. Regardless of how entrenched certain religious beliefs may be in American culture and attitudes, those beliefs alone do not provide justification for public policy. In fact, justifying policy enactment with religious support violates constitutional principles against establishment. As a secular state, it is important that the policies put upon our citizens are enacted for valid governing purposes. It is not our governmentâ€™s role to legislatively referee morality, and such a goal is not valid justification for discriminatory policies. Opponents of same-sex marriage often cite the importance of protecting traditional marriage, morals, and family values. As a result, individuals supporting traditional families have used the legal system as a vehicle to promote their own religious values. Many states enforce laws that fail to give same-sex families equal recognition as their normalized counterparts. Many even explicitly deny samesex couples the ability to marry or jointly adopt children, legally subjugating same-sex couples to â€œotherâ€? status.
Religion and Politics
Marriage Equality Same-sex marriage opponents often argue that only oppositesex marriages deserve legal recognition because the societal and legal definition of marriage in the United States has historically included only opposite-sex couples. However, our modern definition must be expanded to reflect rapidly evolving sentiment in support of marriage equality and align with current constitutional precedent. On September 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law. The act was proposed in response to the growing possibility of legalized same-sex marriage. The act denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, regardless of if they could marry legally in their states of residence. Curiously, the federal government typically avoids legislating issues related to marriage, deferring to state policies in such issues. However, DOMA is an exception because interest in pursuing the act was spurred primarily by an effort to keep traditional marriage as the established norm in American law. Due to this overwhelming religious motivation, in June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of DOMA as unconstitutional in the landmark case United States v. Windsor. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Windsor, stated: “…interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages…was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence. The House Report announced its conclusion that ‘it is both appropriate and necessary for Congress to do what it can to defend the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage.’ The House concluded that DOMA expresses ‘both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.’ The stated purpose of the law was to promote an ‘interest in protecting the traditional moral teachings reflected in heterosexual-only marriage laws.’ Were there any doubt of this far-reaching purpose, the title of the Act confirms it: The Defense of Marriage…” [emphasis added].
The Defense of Marriage Act was passed with a primary interest rooted in religious ideology. Religious support, again, is not valid justification for legislation, and as a result, the provision was struck down. DOMA is evidence of the homophobia and heteronormativity, present and powerful, in our society and legal system. Even when states acted to ensure that a class of citizens was guaranteed rights afforded through the Constitution, legislators decided to undermine the legal legitimacy of non-traditional bonds through any method they could and establish same-sex marriages as, in Kennedy’s words, “second-tier.” Opponents of marriage equality also argue that allowing same-sex marriages infringes on religious liberty. However, polls reveal that “a majority of Americans support marriage equality and religious liberty, rather than believing that one threatens the other.” Our Constitution codifies explicit protections both for free religious exercise and against religious establishment. Religious opposition of same-sex marriages does not justify refusal to legally recognize them and arguably comes close to religious establishment. Moreover, justifying these refusals with “dominant” religious views fails to address the variety of attitudes present within individual religions, potentially denying proper free exercise. Prohibiting samesex marriages surely conflicts with free exercise for believers whose religious views support same-sex families, as well as nonreligious individuals who have a right to exercise a lack of religion.
Furthermore, Kennedy’s opinion brings up an interesting factor that surrounds issues of same-sex couples: children. Adoption Many arguments against same-sex marriage question the ability of same-sex couples to raise children as well as opposite-sex couples. Opponents contest that same-sex couples cannot provide as adequate developmental environments for children as oppositesex couples can. However, research suggests otherwise, revealing equitable development between children with opposite-sex and same-sex parents. Accordingly, numerous organizations have come out in support of same-sex couples raising children. Notably, the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest association of psychologists, opposes considering the sex of parents as a determining factor in allowing couples to adopt. In Windsor, Kennedy states that DOMA “humiliates tens of
Excluding same-sex families from protection to promote our individual religious beliefs is a gross misuse of democratic channels on the part of both citizens and public officials. thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples… mak[ing] it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives…” It is not the government’s role to question if certain adoptions align with religious views. There is no valid justification for prohibiting samesex adoption, denying families equal protection and casting doubt on their value and legitimacy. Ultimately, religion provides poor justification for excluding an entire class of citizens from a benefit and right. While marriage has traditionally been defined as between members of different sexes, modern systems of recognition must look beyond tradition and ensure that if an entire class of citizens is denied legal protection, there is sufficient justification for a policy of inclusion. Both as individual states and as a nation, we cannot justify unequal treatment of citizens simply because some citizens have lifestyles that do not fall in line with our religious beliefs. Excluding same-sex families from protection to promote our individual religious beliefs is a gross misuse of democratic channels. As we move forward as a nation, we must remember that legislation must have secular purpose and that research continues to affirm same-sex families as equal to their opposite-sex counterparts.
Jordan Victorian is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religion and Politics
Leave the Westboro Baptist Church Alone – They’re Not Worth It Aaron Wildavsky | Illustration by Gretchen Oldelm
hy is the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) relevant? We should all be asking ourselves that question. Think about it: The much-reviled hate group is tiny—roughly 40 members, mostly from one family—and its positions are so insane that they have no real political implications. Why, then, is the WBC all over national media? How did an extended family that hates the world (literally—they run the website godhatestheworld. com) become a household name? The problem is that America has forgotten a basic schoolyard lesson: some bullies are just looking for attention, and the best way to take away their power is to ignore them. Many of the WBC’s demonstrations are met with counter-protests, news coverage, and in some cases both. And while they’re undoubtedly well-intentioned, counter-protests, and media exposure only empower what would otherwise be a tiny, insignificant hate cult. I saw this firsthand when the WBC picketed my high school four years ago. Filled with righteous anger, several of my peers quickly organized a counter-protest. “Look at these people!”, the attitude went. “They hate gays, America, and all religions other than their own tiny strand of Christianity, and they think victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks deserve to die! And now they’re coming here because we have a Gay-Straight Alliance club! We’ve got to do something about this!” Staging a counter-protest might seem like the natural thing to do. But if I were one of the WBC protesters, I’d have been thrilled to see students flock outside en masse to hold up signs displaying cheerful platitudes like “all you need is love.” That means our protest gets local news coverage, our message gets out to more people, and we get attention. If no students show up, we’re just the nutjobs standing on the corner alone. We’re irrelevant. Counter-protests sometimes even bring the WBC more than just attention—they bring it cash. Fortunately, my school’s administration had the foresight to persuade us to keep our counter-protest silent and separated from the demonstrators by a fence, but all too often the WBC manages to rake in huge sums of money from lawsuits. These lawsuits happen when people lose their cool and physically attack protestors, but also when the cult makes frivolous accusations against counter-protestors. Opponents, the WBC hopes, will settle financially in order to avoid the costs of legal defense. Whatever their reason, these suits undoubtedly have an impact. In 1993 alone, the WBC won $43,000 in legal fees. In 1995, they won $100,000 in a single lawsuit. In 2010 they won over $33,000 off of only two cases. The family estimates that it spends $250,000 a year on protest-related expenses, and it’s a good bet that their lawsuit money contributes to that sum. Certainly, in some cases it can be very hard to ignore the WBC. If it were my six year-old child who had been gunned down at school by a madman, or my older brother who had been killed in action in Afghanistan, or my best friend who had been murdered for nothing more than being gay, I bet it’d be damn near impossible for me to just stand by while some of the most hateful individuals on the planet— insignificant though they may be on a national scale—heckled the
funeral from a hundred yards away. So I certainly don’t begrudge anybody who does succumb to this temptation. It’s perfectly understandable. But nonetheless, the right thing to do for long-term purposes is to let WBC protestors wallow in their insignificance—alone, ignored, and small. Is it fair for good people to be put in this predicament? Is it fair for people who have lost loved ones tragically and suddenly to have to choose either to listen to horrific catcalls or to perpetuate the cycle of catcall-giving? Not remotely. Honestly, the fact that they force people into this lose-lose situation just might be the worst thing about the WBC. So I get it. But I firmly believe that ignoring the Westboro Baptist Church is the better thing to do.
Aaron Wildavsky is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Religion and Politics
The Westboro Baptist Church: Using “The Good Book” for Evil Candice Love
t the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka Kansas, one family has made it their goal to share the main message they have learned from the Bible: “God hates fags.” They want all Americans to know that their seat in hell is being prepared just because they live in a place where it is okay to be gay, making Americans what they refer to as “fag enablers.” They are notorious for picketing soldiers’ funerals, flashing signs with messages like “thank God for dead soldiers.” And as determined by our First Amendment rights and the Supreme Court in 2011, all of their actions are legal. They are free to curse the graves of some of our bravest and most respected citizens who fought and died nobly for their country. Being universally disliked by all Americans, this is a group that really tests how much we value the First Amendment. As much as the WBC might get under our skin, if we want our freedom of speech protected in the future, we must respect their freedom. Most Americans agree that freedom of speech should be protected even if the messages are unpopular. So in a perfect world, there shouldn’t be restrictions on people’s freedom to express their opinions. But, there have been cases in which the US government has decided to make exceptions. The government has the power to punish any citizen who outwardly engages in acts that weaken the American political agenda regarding war and defense under The Espionage Act. This has ranged from censoring the news during wartime to the recent charges against Edward Snowden for releasing classified information and intelligence. Even when disregarding radical cases, exceptions are seen everywhere. Swearing, obscenity, or anything deemed harmful to the psychological health of children is prohibited. Reckless endangerment, or knowingly putting people in danger without reason, is also illegal in all 50 states. Words are not always freely ours, even with a constitution that guarantees just that. The US has drawn a line between
acceptable and unacceptable speech. Sometimes, for good reason though, the line can begin to blur. Regardless of these exceptions, it can be difficult to decide if the WBC crosses this line. Technically, these pickets, posted ahead of time to their website, GodHatesFags.com, are legal. This is not surprising since many people in the church are practicing lawyers. They do not vandalize; they are not violent; they don’t so much as litter; they simply stand where they legally can, and spew hateful messages to all those in the immediate vicinity. Maybe Americans are more sensitive to the time and places of these protests than the actual content: their attempt to picket Drake’s concert for “teaching the nations to whore” is almost laughable, and easily seen as a minor annoyance.
The Bill of Rights has given all citizens the freedom to express all opinions, and practice all religions regardless of popularity, controversy, and anger from outside sources. But when their picketing attacks sensitive issues like the Sandy Hook tragedy, or soldiers who have fought for the WBC’s very right to damn them to hell, it is harder to accept. The hate is constant whether they’re at high profile concerts or veteran’s memorials, but such disrespect to the dead in these extreme circumstances is utterly disturbing. Unfortunately, their message is just that: disturbing, not illegal. They cannot
become another exception. What is to stop the government from silencing others for expressing opinions considered controversial? The Bill of Rights has given all citizens the freedom to express all opinions and practice all religions regardless of popularity, controversy, and anger from outside sources. And we should try to respect these rights, even if it does hurt. The WBC’s voice doesn’t deserve to be suppressed through legal action. However, the efforts from various organizations to make the church’s presence unknown to mourners are great displays of patriotism. Groups like the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer group of motorcyclists supporting veterans regardless of religious or political affiliation, will attend any of these funerals upon request. With their presence, families of the dead see a sea of American flags, and hear patriotic songs and the sound of revved engines that block any disturbances from the church. Even members of the Ku Klux Klan have counter-protested the church’s stance on the Army. The WBC is not a group that can be ignored, though there is no winning battle against them. Their persistency, fearlessness, and unshakable faith deserves retaliation, not to irritate the church, but to show the families of dead soldiers that even though there are 40 people against them, there are millions who support everything their loved one did for America. While they still have their freedoms, we can still use ours to drown out their hateful message. If anything, the WBC has been successful in bringing together a large group of Americans regardless of political affiliation, religion, race, or gender. Maybe the Westboro Baptist Church is just another blessing in disguise.
Candice Love is a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religion and Politics
The True Meaning of Religion Aryeh Mellman
n today’s America, anything can be politicized. Issues like healthcare, faraway civil wars, and even mass shootings are used to drive a wedge between our two major parties, deepening the gaping chasms that already exist. In this paradigm, the most intimate emotional feelings are immediately wrenched away from us and thrust into the political conversation, lest one party miss a chance to bash the other. It is hardly a surprise then, that even religion, a millennialong search for meaning in life, a profound philosophical examination into why and how the world operates as it does, has been appropriated by politicos and reduced to merely another weapon in the political arsenal. To listen to contemporary American political rhetoric is to believe that opposition to gay rights and abortions are the fundamental pillars on which religion stands, and the more ornamental, though still crucial, designs include an aggressive belief in creationism and a strictly traditional view of women’s rights. The religious right has adopted these causes as a litmus test for potential candidates, and their appropriation of religion in politics is so extreme that religion is almost always framed in relation to the above causes. To make this reduction, as the Religious Right has done, is to insult the contributions and intelligence of thousands of years worth of brilliant philosophers, who, while barely touching upon these topics, have influenced and inspired billions of people across the course of history. The first piece of dialogue recorded in the Bible, which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (representing over 50 percent of the world population) hold to be revelation from God, is one Hebrew word: “Ayekah,” or “where are you?” The question comes right after Adam has eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, contrary to God’s directive, and is attempting to hide himself. “Where are you?” As much as anything else, it has been this question that has implicitly guided religious believers throughout the centuries. It’s really more of a challenge than a question. A challenge to truly reflect and ask yourself where you are going, and where you have been; are you now
where you want to be, and if not, what can you do to get there? Further on in the text, readers are given an important clue as to our referents in this search to place ourselves. In what a teacher of mine refers to as the most important line in all of Scripture, God says to Abraham, the father of these three major religions, that he should seek to “guard the way of God, doing righteousness and justice.” The text tells us not only to reflect, but specifies what we should be reflecting on. If we reflect and find our righteousness and justice lacking, we are doing something wrong. At its philosophical core, religion is an intensely personal quest to find meaning in our individual lives through beliefs and rituals and to improve the lives of others, through directed action. Given the importance of that personal quality, it is galling to see purportedly religious people advocating for two or three issues to the exclusion of all others. Admittedly, religion means different things to different people, but in no religion I’m aware of did God come down and tell people that homosexuality and abortion are the only two things worth talking about. If religion is going to be involved in politics, it should envelop the totality of the political experience. If religious people were to truly allow their values to influence policy, the idea that every human was created in God’s image would make discrimination, based on any characteristic, a thing of the past. The religious emphasis on family would ensure that each
To listen to contemporary American political rhetoric is to believe that opposition to gay rights and abortions are the fundamental pillars on which religion stands. generation takes care of the next one, and we would work to avoid crises in which too many people have too little social security. And religious adherents would work to make corruption, a form of theft, one of the cardinal religious prohibitions, absent from the political realm. The establishment clause in the Constitution is often cited as the basis for the separation of church and state, and praised by relieved secularists who would really prefer not to open each day of school with words whispered to dust and air. However, the framers put in this passage not only to protect people from religion, but to protect religion from people. When religion enters the dirty world of politics, it becomes sullied, reduced to just another bargaining chip among many. When religious right wingers rail against gay rights and abortion, I am tempted to respond as the Jewish sage Hillel did when confronted with an impetuous proselyte who wished to learn all of the Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you Image by Flickr user Chuck Coker [CC BY-ND 2.0].
Aryeh Mellman is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at Aryeh.email@example.com.
Religion and Politics
Buddha, the Original Postmodernist Lace Nguyen | Illustration by Margaret Flatley
uddhism was often characterized in nineteenth-century literature as devoid of any power for promoting goodness and in a state of degradation and decline. In Western thought it is sometimes characterized as a religion without a belief in God or the human soul, pessimistic and desolate, looking upon life as an ocean of suffering and finding comfort only in a final extinction in nothingness. It was not only the uninformed who made such assertions, but early Orientalist scholars such as Jules Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire, who described Buddhism as the nihilistic nadir of Indian pessimism. Only during the last few decades has the reinterpretation of Buddhism as consonant with postmodernism led to the transmission of Buddhism to Western philosophy. Postmodern, post-structural world Most great philosophers of the Western world, stuck in their own Eurocentricity, have either ignored or dismissed Buddhist thought and practice. They seem convinced that philosophy has its origins in Plato and is an exercise unique to the West. Nietzsche, who questions the assumptions of Western philosophy, does not look to the East for the answer but goes further back into the pre-Socratics. Camus and Sartre, who were considered radical, are really only radical within the confines of their own European paradigm. Even Michel Foucault, who ventures into Buddhist territory with many of his theories, never makes a reference to Buddhism. The element of post-modernity that gives Buddhist voices access to contemporary culture is implicit in Jean-François Lyotard’s simplified but seminal definition of the postmodern as “incredulity toward metanarratives,” or “grand” narratives that attempt to explain all human endeavor in terms of a single theory or principle. The great disenchantment of postmodernism surrounds a totalizing framework, one that transcends social, institutional or human limitations. Through focusing on ambivalence and plurality rather than assured singularity, postmodern thinkers have come to hear voices of non-European systems of thought such as Buddhism. It is hard to overestimate the extent to which Buddhism is intrinsically intertwined with postmodern theology. A contemporary world that embraces pluralism and ambiguity
of perception, the fragmented nature of reality, the elusive, indeterminate nature of self, would seem to fit Buddhism like a glove. Thinkers from Schopenhauer onwards would have been surprised to find the compatibility of Buddhist doctrines with their own way of seeing the
world. Kantians saw the views of Kant in early Buddhism, logical positivists those of Bertrand Russell, just as today Derridean poststructuralists behold the unraveling of Nagarjuna. Within the last century the teachings of the Buddha have been used to support the views of theosophists, fascists, environmentalists and quantum physicists alike. Ancient Buddhist doctrines Mahayana Buddhist philosophy emphasizes Śūnyatā, which may be simplistically translated as emptiness. This is the pivotal “centerless center” of Buddhism ontology. Śūnyatā in Sanskrit connotes “the emptiness of all things as such.” More precisely, emptiness is the notion that any belief in an objective reality, grounded in the assumption of an intrinsic existence, is untenable. This includes intellectual conceptualizations of reality. These constructs presuppose an essential substance that, in Buddhism tradition, are rendered epistemic delusions, and all epistemic discriminations are ultimately “empty”.
The postmodernist critique of metanarratives, and Buddhism’s of emptiness, demonstrate that all things cannot be understood within a logocentric epistemic system. Buddhists find themselves in sympathy with postmodern incredulity towards metanarratives, for here we have the key notion of “emptiness” that shares with postmodernism a deep suspicion of a single, non-fragmentary self, as well as any transcendental entity such as God or Mind. It too celebrates the disappearance of the subject-object duality. Yet in other respects Buddhism transcends the prevailing discourses of postmodernity. Meditation on emptiness is not a mere intellectual exercise, but a contemplative discipline rooted in ethical commitment. Buddhism has no cumbersome concept of a personal god; it presents a universe run by natural law and “cause and effect” rather than the capricious dictates of a creator. It is not just a description in unsentimental language of the way reality unfolds; it offers a therapeutic approach to the dilemma of human anguish. Thus, Buddhist doctrines embrace, but also precede and surpass, Western philosophical discourse. The Age of Awakening? The habit of treating the East as Other is a deeply ingrained European trait that goes back at least as far as Euripides and is ironically perpetuated even by postmodernist writers. There are signs of change, however, such as Galen Strawson concludes in his article, “The Sense of the Self ”: ‘Perhaps the best account of the existence of the self is one that may be given by certain Buddhists.’” Note the hesitation. Whatever characteristics of postmodernism may be inherent in Buddhism, it is foolish to describe Buddhist thought as “postmodern”— for the simple reason that Buddhism has undergone no phase of modernity to be ‘post’ of. Yet the reverse is true: Western thinkers, when they discard Eurocentricity, can find the answers in Buddhism, for clearly the Buddha himself understood these ideas 2,400 years ago.
Lace Nguyen is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHANGE IN THE RELIGIOUS SELF-IDENTIFICATION OF THE U.S. ADULT POPULATION 1990-2008 The American population self-identifies as predominantly Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian. 30% 25%
The “Nones” (no stated religious preference, atheist, or agnostic) continue to grow, though at a much slower pace than in the 1990s, from 8.2% in 1990, to 14.1% in 2001, to 15.0% in 2008.
86% of American adults identified as Christians in 1990 and 76% in 2008.
20% 15% 10%
1990 2001 2008
slim Oth er R elig ions Non e s/ No Reli gion Don ’t K now /Re fuse d
% GROWTH OF GROUP 1990-2008
Mo rmo n
Chr istia nG
Ma inlin eC
Cat holi c
Kno w/R ef u s ed Don ’t
s Non e
Ot h er R elig ions
0% Oth er C hris tia
The U. S. population continues to show signs of becoming less religious, with one out of every five Americans failing to indicate a religious identity in 2008.
Cat holi c
The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.
Catholic: Roman, Greek and Eastern Rites. Mainline Christian: Methodist, United Methodist, African Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian/Anglican, United Church of Christ/Congregational, Reformed/Dutch Reform, Disciples of Christ, Moravian, Quaker, Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Eastern, Christian) Baptist: including Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Free-Will, Missionary, and African-American denominations. Christian Generic: Christian, Protestant, Evangelical/ Born Again Christian, Born Again, Fundamentalist, Independent Christian, Missionary Alliance Church, Non-Denominational Christian. Pentecostal/Charismatic: Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Full Gospel, Four Square Gospel, Church of God, Holiness, Nazarene, Salvation Army. Protestant Denomination: Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Mennonite, Brethren, Apostle, Covenant, Christian Reform, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Messianic Jews. Eastern Religions: Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Baha’i, Shintoist, Zoroastrian, Sikh. (NRMs) New Religious Movements and Other Religions: Scientology, New Age, Eckankar, Spiritualist, Unitarian-Universalist, Deist, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Indian Religion, Santeria, Rastafarian. Nones: None, No religion, Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, Secular. Statistics from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008): http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/ARIS_Report_2008.pdf
Talking Points 10 percent
Gender gap for part-time jobs in favor of women.
Americans that could qualify for the least expansive healthcare plans with free premiums under Obamacare.
Median wage in 2012, its lowest level since 1998.
Syrians in refugee camps.
People in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record.
Years since JFK was assassinated
“I will not let anyone, anything, any political party, any governmental entity or any force get in the way of the completion of my mission.”
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I, am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
“World powers have recognized Iran’s nuclear rights.”
–New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, after his re-election in November
–Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on his now-public drug issues
–Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after Iran reached an historic accord with world powers that is purported to limit its nuclear activity