This quarter, North by Northwestern is hosting weekly columns from Politics & Policy, a new undergraduate publication with a focus on — you guessed it — politics and policy at local, state, national and international levels. Five & One breaks down what news to read — and what news to ignore.
Updated 5:42 p.m. CST
Politics & Policy has updated the article to reflect new information regarding casualties in the Iraqi hostage situation.
5. Hostage crisis shows little progress for Iraqi military
A group of militants, allegedly members of Al-Qaeda, took more than fifty parishioners hostage at a Catholic church in downtown Baghdad Sunday evening. The militants had attempted to storm the Iraq Stock Exchange building earlier but had retreated to the church after killing several guards and detonating at least one car bomb. Iraqis military units cordoned off the church and evacuated civilians from surrounding buildings.After several hours, the military units stormed the church, ending the standoff. Fifty three hostages, numerous military personnel and all of the attackers were killed.
Except for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which provided overhead video of the incident, American forces were not involved. There was great loss of life among both the hostages as well as Iraqi government forces. Hostage situations are difficult to resolve without excessive bloodshed; they require a high degree of coordination and speed on the part of police and government forces. The number of hostages killed, even with some US support, indicate the Iraqi military is still incapable of resolving complex security crises.
4. NU gets more bad press over blackface incidents
In light of Northwestern’s recent Halloween blackface incidents, Dean of Students Burgwell Howard sent out a campus-wide email last week warning students to be conscious of their Halloween attire this year.
It was perhaps a bold move — reminding students of the appropriate way to dress for a holiday they’ve been celebrating for twenty some-odd years. Howard told Northwestern’s campus newspaper that continuing to be proactive on issues like blackface is important. But the email seems to have been intended for a purpose beyond just education.
Northwestern has been making headlines more than normal lately, but it hasn’t been good press. Howard’s email hints at the university administration’s fear that another PR disaster could have been looming in the midst of the holiday weekend.
“Halloween is unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most NU students can be forgotten and some poor decisions are made,” the email stated. But the precautionary letter may have only added to the university’s recently negative coverage. The story has sparked more than 25-thousand views and made the front page on the Huffington Post’s website. If Howard’s email was an attempt to avoid another negative headline, the plan appears to have backfired.
3. To make room for business, Evanston moves to restrict churches
Evanston’s City Council voted Monday to move ahead with a land-use ordinance which would increase restrictions on churches looking to expand or move into Evanston. Churches are already required to obtain special permits from the council to operate in most of Evanston’s downtown zoning districts; the ordinance would expand this requirement to Evanston’s business and commercial districts. In a memo to the council, Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley argued that “religious institutions, when located in commercial districts, often have a distinct deadening effect on the district. The lack of activity during the weekdays…can break up the vibrancy that is critical to a successful business district.”
The ordinance raises the possibility that the city will face lawsuits similar to the one it lost to Vineyard Christian Fellowship in 2000. The court found Evanston to be in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) because the city’s zoning laws singled out houses of worship.
Of course, the council isn’t openly flouting judicial precedent. Towns are generally given wide discretion in making and applying zoning laws (the Seventh Circuit U.S. Appellate Court upheld a similar Chicago ordinance in 2003) and Evanston’s motives aren’t explicitly directed at restricting the free exercise of religion. Yet there is little doubt the ordinance will make it more difficult for churches to expand or move into Evanston. Additionally, it’s unknown whether or not the spaces currently occupied by Evanston storefront churches would be filled by revenue-generating businesses if the churches weren’t there.
2. Federal Reserve works to fight deflationary fears
The US Treasury sold inflation-protected bonds at a negative yield on Monday, the first time in American history. Traders purchased $10 billion of these bonds at a return rate of negative 0.55 percent, breaking the record low yield in late April of last year.
This negative yield rate indicates that investors anticipate a significantly higher rate of inflation in the near future and are therefore willing to accept a negative return on their assets in order to protect them from an expected spike in inflation. Traders anticipate that these bonds will bring greater value than holding cash or investing in other financial instruments not protected from inflation.
These expectations should come as no surprise. As America’s limited economic recovery continues longer than expected, lackluster consumer demand has pushed the inflation rate to extremely low levels; consumer prices are up only 0.8 percent since this time last year. In order to prevent economic deflation, which could push the U.S. economy back into recession, the Federal Reserve is expected to announce a second round of asset purchases, known as “quantitative easing,” when it meets this Wednesday. By injecting more currency into the market and thus reducing the value of dollar-denominated assets, the Federal Reserve hopes to boost inflation and ward off deflationary fears. This expected quantitative easing explains bond traders’ expectation of an inflationary spike and their acceptance of a negative real yield.
1. RIAA cracks down on file sharing website
Last Tuesday, a federal judge issued an injunction to shutdown the file sharing website LimeWire as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Judge Kimba Wood also found Mark Gorton, the founder of the LimeWire, to be personally liable for the damages caused by his company, which include the assessed economic “damage” of every file ever shared over the LimeWire network.
The RIAA is attempting to limit file sharing of copyright protected material, specifically music. The case reveals a strategic change for the RIAA; who, with the notable exception of their suit against Napster, has generally sued individuals who download music illegally, as opposed to the file sharing websites themselves. The group’s changing tactics reveal its attempt keep up with technology, which has outstripped the effective reach of American copyright law.
The court’s ruling on Gorton also raises questions about where blame should lie. This case could set a precedent that the producer of a tool can be held responsible for the actions of consumers who use it. Inventors may no longer responsible for just their own actions, but for the actions of those who use their creations as well.
0. Stomping at Rand Paul event incites criticism
Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul made national headlines last week for the actions of one of his supporters. As Paul entered a debate in Lexington against opponent Jack Conway, an activist from the liberal group MoveOn.org attempted to present Paul with a fake award mocking his links to corporate interests. Supporters of Paul grabbed the protester, wrestled her to the ground, whereupon one man stomped his foot down on her neck and shoulder. And it was all caught on camera.
The video has led to repercussions for the man accused of stomping as well as criticism of Rand Paul. But while the incident was both criminal and tasteless, it hardly reflects the attitudes and beliefs of Paul or the nation’s conservatives. Protesters are often motivated by anger and disagreement however the actions of an impassioned few should not be construed to characterize the behavior or positions of a political candidate.