Five & One: November 8, 2010

    Logo by Nina Lincoff / North by Northwestern

    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.

    5. Natural gas discoveries in Israel could alter Middle Eastern relations

    Two large natural gas reserves have been discovered off the northern shores of Israel, raising important questions about the country’s energy future. The gas is not only primarily within Israeli territorial waters, but is also highly accessible. The relatively low cost of extraction makes obtaining the gas cost-effective, uncommon for offshore reserves, which often have prohibitively high extraction costs.

    These reserves, which according to the United States Geological Survey estimate contain as much as 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, could potentially fill Israel’s energy needs. The gas found in these reserves may help decrease Israeli dependence on Arab oil, allowing it to be less dependent on its Arab neighbors.

    But as extraction draws nearer, questions have arisen. While Israel has rights to the gas, the reserve also lies in Lebanon’s territorial waters. Additionally, the location of the reserve could lead to demands for profit-sharing, which Israel has already encountered with energy companies. An important fact to note, however, is that Israel is not likely to become a major exporter of natural gas. The reserve would likely be used for domestic energy generation, manufacturing, and fertilizer. Experts estimate that gas will begin flowing into Israel within the next two years, but before that happens rights to the reserve will have to be firmly established.

    4. Lackluster GM IPO likely to leave government in the red

    On Tuesday General Motors (GM) announced the specifics of its initial public offering (IPO), set to take place November 18. GM plans to sell common stock at an estimated price between $26 and $29 a share, which would value the company at approximately $50 billion. The IPO will offer to investors shares of GM currently held by the U.S. Treasury, the United Auto Workers trust, and the Canadian federal and provincial governments. Following the sale, U.S. ownership in GM will go from about 50 percent to about 35 percent.

    This is important both because it takes the Obama administration out of the uncomfortable position of controlling America’s largest automotive manufacturer and because it means that the U.S. will likely not recover all of the nearly $50 billion it spent to rescue GM from the brink of bankruptcy. More than just costing taxpayers, this outcome could end up costing the White House politically. With Republicans in marked opposition to the bailout when it was proposed last April, the news could give Republicans rhetorical ammunition in their efforts to reduce government involvement in the private sector.

    3. Northwestern sees low turnout among student voters

    Despite much hype surrounding the midterm elections and the Alexi Giannoulias versus Mark Kirk race for Illinois’ Senate seat, Northwestern University’s turnout of locally-registered students was, as one election judge described, “abysmal and embarrassing.”

    But it wasn’t for lack of effort. Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement pushed the issue since the beginning of the quarter — setting up registration tables around campus, encouraging students to vote local. Three voting stations were set up across campus at Patten Gymnasium, Parkes Hall and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.

    Getting students to register to vote, however, doesn’t guarantee their turnout on Election Day. It is unknown whether voter apathy or a simple lack of confidence in the candidacy is to blame for the low turnout. But Northwestern students account for about 10 percent of the city’s population, and have made a difference in local politics in the past. While those absent voters may have had little effect on the outcome of major races, like for the Illinois governorship or senate seat, local elections could have fared differently.

    2. CIA looks to take control of counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen

    After the recent Yemeni mail-bombing scare, an increase of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen seems ever more likely. One potential scenario envisions giving the CIA operational control over U.S. special forces in Yemen. This arrangement wouldn’t be unprecedented: The CIA has a history of running covert operations under presidential directives and has had control over military units before, most notably in Iraq. Most important however, is that the CIA already has responsibility for the unmanned aerial vehicle strikes in Pakistan, a tactic which would likely feature prominently in any expansion of U.S. involvement in Yemen.

    Whether or not CIA operational control of U.S. Special Forces is a prudent idea, however, is very much open to question. The option is attractive to the Obama administration because CIA operations are covert and would thus require the disclosure of far less information to the general public. In addition, Special Forces could operate without the blessing of the Yemeni government and without observing traditional rules of engagement. The fact that the U.S. is going to be more involved in Yemen is a near certainty. The details in form and organization of this involvement remain to be seen.

    1. Anglo-French nuclear agreement may set precedent

    The French and British governments recently concluded a far-reaching defense agreement which could lead to an unprecedented level of military cooperation. The deal will create a 6,500-man rapid reaction force composed of both French and British soldiers and commanded by a single officer from one of the two countries. The two countries have committed to operate a single aircraft carrier, putting a single vessel to sea at a given time. Most importantly, the agreement sanctions the creation of a joint nuclear research facility where the two countries will share basic information about their respective nuclear stockpiles for at least the next fifty years.

    The deal is a cost-saving measure for the British government, which is looking to cut a sizable portion of its $60 billion defense budget in the coming years in order to offset spiraling deficits. While both countries will retain independent control of their nuclear arsenals, the intent of the joint research facility is to examine and test both countries’ nuclear warheads. The move is unusual because these weapons are typically closely held national assets. The short-term consequence of the cooperative agreement may only be cost savings, but the long-term precedent it sets for European defense politics remains uncertain.


    0. Nine of ten Illinois children “left behind”

    The full results of the annual No Child Left Behind (NCLB) evaluation, released the last Friday of October carried grisly results for the high schools of Illinois. According to NCLB standards, over 90 percent of the state’s institutions — 609 of the 655 secondary schools — do not meet math and reading benchmarks, and may face federal sanctions.

    Included in the long list of failed schools is New Trier Township High School. New Trier, located in Winnetka, is one of the state’s top high schools as measured by practically any metric, from ACT scores to college matriculation. But because the performance of a particular subgroup, students with disabilities, New Trier failed to meet the required annual yearly progress standard as mandated by NCLB.

    The state’s low success rate and the inclusion of New Trier calls into question the legitimacy of NCLB standards and Illinois’ largely failing grade. The act, passed in 2001 by the Bush Administration, does not broadly conclude that failing high schools are poor educational institutions, but rather that they have not progressed in what may amount to a single statistical category since the previous year.


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