Friday, May 16, 2014

Race relations under the dome

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Hannah Meissner and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

“Welcome Home.” Reading those words on our acceptance letters sent our hearts soaring with the knowledge we had made it.

Yet, for many minority students, coming to Notre Dame will never quite feel like coming home. Instead, as senior Felicia Byrd put it, they will spend their time here “feeling tolerated instead of accepted.”

Recently, the issue of racism at Notre Dame has been made public thanks to projects such as “I, Too, Am Notre Dame.” While the project has met with support, there has also been substantial negative backlash at the thought that the incidents depicted in the photos could have happened on our campus.

Sophomore Preston Igwe, a Pre-Health and Sociology major, believes that “A lot of people just accept these little incidents of racism at Notre Dame because we don’t want to believe that at this perfect place, where everyone is happy and part of a cohesive family, that this problem could exist […] but no family is perfect.”

We want to believe that we are a post-racial society, but we are not. Racism still exists and afflicts many of Notre Dame’s minority students, despite the claims of the University’s inclusion clause, which states that the University “strives for a spirit of inclusion among [its] members […] We consciously create an environment of mutual respect, hospitality and warmth in which none are strangers and all may flourish.”

But when a student believes he/she can describe the NAACP or the BSA as “racial rabble rousers,” how can one doubt that Notre Dame struggles with racism?

Of the thirteen minority students I interviewed, only two had not personally experienced racism. However, each interviewee recalled instances where he or she had witnessed racism directed towards others. Most instances of racism on campus consist of microaggressions, small acts of mostly non-physical aggressions between different races. These incidences range from stereotypical comments to using derogatory language such as the “N” word. But what all microaggresion have in common is that they make Notre Dame’s minority students feel unwanted, unappreciated, and unwelcomed.

Freshman and Science Pre-Professional major Natalie Thomas has continuously dealt with comments such as “You’re pretty for a black girl” and “You’re so white!” when she does not meet the criteria of ‘black’ in someone’s mind. Natalie also has to correct people after they assume that her scholarship is an athletic one.

As ‘Katy,’ another Notre Dame minority student says, “the minute the sweatpants come on you are automatically assumed to be an athlete.” Some people believe minority students encountering comments like these should “grow thicker skin,” but what these people don’t realize is that this is not the only time they’ve been asked if they are an athlete.

Minority students continuously correct people’s misperceptions about whatever scholarship or financial aid they may or may not be on. After awhile this becomes a nuisance; a nuisance that white students here have seldom dealt with. This is how microaggressions work. It’s not the one bee sting that usually does damage, it’s thousand that are devastating.

Minorities also often feel targeted by another kind of microaggression: exclusion, or having to deal with people who don’t want to get to know them simply because they’re minorities.

A freshman minority student, ‘Edna’ says, “I feel like there is this giant wall between me and everyone else because of the melatonin in my skin.”

Freshman Electrical Engineer Michael Hutchinson says one of the reasons he dropped out of ROTC was because he felt like he was being kept at arm’s length from everyone.

Many minority students can relate to Natalie’s, ‘Edna’s,’ and Michael’s stories, and many more can relate to being called the “N” word - a word that, due to it’s painful past, is never okay in any circumstance.

Sophomore Ray’von Jones has had friends come back from parties upset because someone shouted “What are these n***** doing here” and has heard people shout “n******” on South Quad (though she is not sure if this is directed at her). “Edna” has been in a Notre Dame guy’s dorm where a male student came up to her and asked “Can I call you n*****?” and when met with complete silence explained his action by saying “I have a lot of black friends.” ‘Edna’ was in a room full of people, and not a single person stood up for her or told him that it would not be okay for him to refer to her as n*****.

Finally, there is Curran Cross’ story. Curran Cross is a sophomore History and French double major. Curran has not felt welcomed at Notre Dame. He has dealt with people calling him “n*****” despite asking them to stop, people putting their fingers in his hair, asking him to play his “ghetto music” and to twerk for others, making Curran feel like a circus animal. At one point when Curran was talking to other guys about an attractive white female, one of the guys told him, “You have your women, and we have ours.”

When asked to tell his most serious incidence of racism, Curran said: “One time I was hanging out in my dorm with some of my guy friends when another guy came in and slammed the door shut. The entire room became silent. The guy looked at me and said ‘I am going to beat your f****** ass n****’ and no one said anything. I was in a room full of guys and not a single person spoke up. The guy kept yelling at me. I started counting how many times he said the “N” word and it was 19 times in 17 minutes […] Another time I was walking out with another friend and this guy looked at me and said ‘F*** n*****,’ but that time my friend did stand up for me.”

Each of these incidences has occurred at Notre Dame and was carried out by Notre Dame students. Most of them have been in the presence of others and not one person spoke out or stood up against it.

Occasionally some brave soul will stand up for their friend, such as in Curran’s story, but on the whole, students here are either tolerating racism or are “remarkably” ignorant to the fact that racism is a problem.
The sad fact is that when being confronted with racism, most of us will stay silent. As ‘Katy’ says, “no one wants to be the one who shuts the person down.” It seems that here, at Notre Dame, we are scared to confront, we are scared of conflict. But as Felicia points out, “Conflict can be good if it is healthy and if we can work together so we can help each other.”

Racism is a big issue. It is a problem that will not be resolved this year, or next. But there are steps we can start taking now in order to make Notre Dame a home not to just the majority, but the minority as well.

Olevia Boykin, a senior Political Science and Sociology double major, has some ideas as to how we can start taking the first steps: “The first thing that needs to happen is Notre Dame needs to make it a priority […] We have vague commitments to inclusion and to diversity, we haven’t defined what these things mean. Any effective business sets goals, and we are not doing that in terms of the racial climate on our campus […] Also we’re students, we’re busy, we come for four years and then we leave, we cannot be the sole drivers of change […] The administration needs to not focus on getting black students to come here, but needs to focus on making sure students stay and enjoy their time here. It would be a lot easier to recruit if the current black students could say without question their real story instead of their [Spring Visitation Weekend] story.”

As Olevia says, students should not be the sole drivers of change, and there are some steps the administration and the students can begin to take to improve the experience of minority students at Notre Dame.

The administration could create a “Cultural Competency” class. Many students may have never had to interact with racial difference and as a result often view that difference as a threat rather than as an opportunity to grow.

Having a class during Freshman Orientation either in the dorms at a Diversity meeting, during “Building a Community the Notre Dame Way,” or some other time, and presented by the leaders of the minority clubs in conjunction with faculty and administrative leaders at Notre Dame would help make students less ignorant of racism.

Such a presentation would educate people on issues ranging from “why it is never okay to use the “N” word” to how to ask someone about their culture in a respectful way. This would be a small change, but an important one. Especially since most of the time, microaggressions are the result of students’ ignorance to how what they are saying is offensive and could be perceived as racist.

By holding a cultural awareness class, Notre Dame would be better able to eliminate some of these problems.  And an awareness class would certainly increase the likelihood that someone would step up and contest the aggressive behavior of those out and out racists who currently feel comfortable and safe in bullying minorities because experience has emboldened them.

Of course, students can do many things on their own as well. Freshman Computer Engineering and Music double major Quinlan McWilliams points out that “hardly anyone corrects people when they use the ‘N word,’ if we seriously want to stop racism from occurring on campus, we need to start calling out people when they are racists.” We as a community need to stop tolerating these incidences.

We also need, according to Jas Smith and others, “to get the student body involved in going to other cultural events. We need to embrace people for who they are. We can learn a lot from each other.” The goal of eradicating racism is not to baselessly accept more minority students. Everyone, including minority students, wants the students at Notre Dame to be duly qualified.

The goal is also not to become color blind. Instead we should see minorities for the race they are, but not assume we know everything about them because they are Black, Latino, Asian, etc.

As Preston Igwe says, “If you don’t see the color, you don’t see the person. We have to appreciate the difference.”

We as a community at Notre Dame, the students and the administration, need to come together and actively work to begin to make all minority students feel as if they have a home, a home where each member is recognized for their unique talents and abilities, and cherished for the differences that have made them who they are today.

The drone war must end

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Tajae Turner and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Despite promising to drastically reform United States drone policy last year, the Obama administration has continued with its murderous drone campaign.

Both the administration and the war hawks in Congress have continued to praise predator drones as the future of American counterterror operations. They continue to preach to the misinformed and horrified public that drones have less than a one percent civilian casualty rate and that they lower the terrorist threat because they have killed many leaders of Al Qaeda.

However, it is time to call Obama’s drone campaign what it truly is: reckless, state-funded terrorism. All you have to do is look to the places where we exclusively use drones, Yemen and Pakistan, and it becomes clear that every claim the government is making is complete and utter fantasy.

 If the US government’s goal in Yemen was to bolster Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), abuse human rights, and alienate the Yemeni people through a massive robot slaughtering then they have achieved that goal.

As the young Yemeni activist Ibrahim Mothana puts it, “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.”

So far the drone campaign in Yemen has resulted in massive terrorist safe havens and has bolstered the AQAP. According to Micah Zenko, a counterterrorist expert from the Council on Foreign Relations, the AQAP has grown from a few hundred members to several thousand since the advent of the drone program.
Additionally, the effectiveness of the AQAP has improved as well. In May of 2012 the AQAP struck the capital of Yemen and left hundreds of people dead or wounded. This was by far one of the largest terrorist attacks in the country’s history.

At first this seems puzzling, but the nature of these drone attacks explains all of the drastic uptick in terrorist attacks.

First, the Obama administration uses a dehumanizing and disgusting definition of militant. The CIA now classifies “all military aged males in a strike zone as combatants,” unless they are provided evidence proving otherwise. This means that if there was a drone sent to kill a terrorist at O’Neill Hall, the government would claim to have killed hundreds of terrorists.

Second, the vast majority of strikes are what is known as “signature strikes”. A signature strike targets individuals whose identities are unknown but who exhibit certain patterns of behavior or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity. This essentially means the government can justify destroying anyone they choose as long as they have a suspicion of foul play.

When you define people as people, it becomes clear that the thousands the U.S. government has killed without knowing their identities were quite often innocent civilians. This has evidently radicalized the communal people of Yemen to fight the judge, jury, and executioner by any means available.

The drone campaign is having the same result in Pakistan. I believe the former Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Louis Delvoie, hit the mark when he wrote, “Drone attacks are stoking an endless fire of violence and revenge.”

The Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan have experienced more than one drone strike per week for years, all while being subject to complete Pakistani Taliban control. According to a recent New America Foundation publication, a study of 114 reported drone strikes from 2004 to 2010 in Pakistan found these strikes had a 32 percent civilian casualty rate.

As the death toll has risen, so has the resistance from both the Pakistani people and its government. Massive groups have staged protests against U.S. drones in Islamabad, the nation’s capital, by burning toy drones wrapped in American flags and displaying images of families and friends who have become victims of the drone war.

With pressure mounting, the Pakistani high court, along with President Hussain, has made it illegal for the U.S. government to use drones within Pakistan borders. However, the bombs continue to drop, continue to radicalize the public, and continue to continue to erode Pakistan’s security. Not only has the drone campaign proven to be immoral and counterproductive, but it now blatantly disregards international law and sovereignty.

The longer Obama’s drone war drags on, the worse the consequences become. Terrorism will continue to grow in these areas and the idea of powerful nations following international law will continue to seem like an irrelevant utopian ideal.

Furthermore, our monopoly on the skies is disintegrating. Other powerful nations, such as China, are building up drone programs of their own. With the precedent the Obama administration has set, this can only spell the continual oppression of innocents.

The only way to avoid causing more turmoil is to call for an end to the policies that have resulted in the slaughtering of the innocent in the name of national defense.

Why ND should be going geothermal

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Garrett Blad and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

When discussing green energy these days, talk of wind and solar always seems to grab the limelight. But have we underestimated another player in this game?

Without an affordable way to store energy, these intermittent sources are still restricted to the minor leagues. While we were looking to the skies for a solution for clean energy, did we hold our gaze too high?

On March 20, 2014, Ball State University shut down its four coal-fired boilers that powered the university since the 1940s. Shut down, for good.

The university has chosen to replace this power with, that’s right, geothermal energy.
Deploying geothermal technology at such a large scale was unimaginable before, making this transition unprecedented. Who knew that a public university in Muncie, IN would break through barriers in clean energy technology?

So what exactly is geothermal energy? This type of geothermal energy does not generate electricity, but rather uses the stable, 55 degree temperature of the Earth as either a heat source or sink, depending on the time of year.

During the winter, the heat from the ground is picked up by the water pumps and is used to heat buildings. During the summer, the process is reversed and water is chilled in the ground and used to cool buildings.
The difference is that a typical power plant burns fossil fuels to produce heat, whereas a geothermal system simply transfers heat from one place to another.

Construction of this ambitious heat pump system started in 2009. After the drilling more than 1,000 miles of loop field piping, the geothermal project now links 47 buildings across campus and provides heating and cooling potential to 5.5 million square feet, or about 100 football fields worth of space.

While some energy is still needed to power the heat pumps, the project reduced the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half.

The four coal-fired boilers that previously provided the bulk of the university’s power were able to be completely terminated and now, energy production depends on just three natural gas-powered boilers, adding up to a savings of over $2 million in operating costs annually. The project, which cost $80 million in total, will pay for itself in forty years.

Ball State’s bold move to construct this geothermal system changes the game for energy reduction measures.

Never before was it thought possible to fashion such an immense version  of the geothermal heat pump.
Ball State has created jobs, reduced its impact on climate change, improved local air quality, and become a national beacon for emissions reductions and clean energy deployment.

What’s more, this technology is not exclusive to Muncie, Indiana; it can be applied nationwide. So what does this mean for us at Notre Dame?

A recent survey of the geological structures beneath University of Notre Dame showed that the entire campus is suitable for geothermal heat pump technology. However, it appears as if the university is not fully convinced of this technology seeing as no large-scale project has been presented.

As a university who continues to burn coal on campus and whose carbon reduction goals fall well behind other universities, we have much to benefit from a system such as this.

Are we ready to take this huge step towards lower emissions and better air quality?

In light of other, far more expensive projects that are planned for campus expansion here at Notre Dame, this hardly seems extravagant. The cost of a geothermal pump system, which would greatly reduce our impact on climate change and improve air quality on campus, would be dwarfed by the impressive $400 million Campus Crossroads project that will be built in the upcoming years.

The question is, what will our legacy be?

Atheist not anathema

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Dan DeToro and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Before you lock your doors, know that atheists come in peace.

People assume that because atheists do not follow ancient holy texts, they must have no moral compass and therefore will perform evil and heinous actions, seeing as they have no eternal reward to look forward to or conversely, no eternal damnation to fear.

This misunderstanding is showcased in a joint University of British Columbia and University of Oregon study that illustrated the incredible prejudice and distrust towards atheists. In the study a man hits a parked van, doesn’t leave insurance information, and then proceeds to take all the money out of a wallet he finds on the sidewalk. Subjects estimated the likelihood that this man was an atheist significantly higher than the likelihood that he was a Christian or a Muslim. Even more disturbingly, subjects considered the likelihood the man was an atheist quite close to the likelihood the man was a rapist.

People’s levels of prejudice towards atheists are about as high as towards rapists, unquestionably the scum of society. Why?

The answer is essentially that Americans distrust atheists because Americans don’t know many atheists. Atheists remain a relatively small portion of the population, around 12 percent, and how many of them are open about their disbelief? When people equate a disbelief in God with sexual assault, there is little incentive to be open about this fundamental part of who you are.

America remains a highly religious country, in contrast to other industrial nations which have seen religious affiliation and beliefs decline at much sharper rates. This could be due to the absence of atheist, or even non-affiliated, politicians; the 113th Congress is the first to include a Representative who does not affiliate with any religion. This is not surprising considering that a 2012 Gallup poll found Americans object to voting for an atheist more than a member of any other religious group.

The statistician Nate Silver noted in a TED Talk that the people who objected to Barack Obama mainly because of his race were the more likely than the average voter to lack any black neighbors. If people insulate themselves from ideas and experiences that confront their worldview, the result is misunderstanding and distrust that in turn breeds prejudice and hate.

It does not help that atheists are overwhelmingly Democrats, while Republicans tend to be more religious than the average American. The result is that the current political climate of extreme polarization extends into the religious sphere and vice versa. There is, however, a solution to these problems: open dialogue. Theists and atheists, Democrats and Republicans, should stop antagonizing each other with ad hominem attacks and irrational accusations.

Atheists are not bad people. Some are, but so are some Christians, some Muslims, some Jews, some Buddhists, etc. Every group has bad apples. Membership is not an end-all, be-all definition. Labels do not capture the whole of the human self. Having faith does not make you a good person, and not having faith does not make you a bad person.

It is what we do that defines us. Our actions and their consequences provide the narrative against which we can judge ourselves and which others can judge us. It matters not how many times a year we attend church, if we fail to help the members of our community.

Being good is about furthering the wellbeing of the people you love and the people you don’t. Being good is about not engaging in prejudice and stereotyping, but fostering understanding and promoting harmony. People will always disagree about ideas. Faith, or lack thereof, is no reason to hate or insult someone.

Do not judge atheists because they don’t believe in God. Instead, see them for who they are. Investigate their characters, and you will probably find thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate people who have a deep respect for life and nature.

SCOTUS Widens Gate for Big Money in Politics

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Iris Schweier and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said “it should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts, that drives our democracy.” The Supreme Court seems to disagree. 

On April 2, 2014, the Court decided McCutcheon v. FEC and struck down aggregate contribution limits in federal elections. The 5-4 ruling held that caps on the total amount of money an individual can give to political campaigns, PACs, and parties in a given election cycle are unconstitutional. 

Individuals are now free to give as much as they want, or as much as their checkbook allows. In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the “decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws.” 

Prior to McCutcheon, a wealthy donor could contribute up to $123,200 per two-year election cycle. That’s more than double the median household income in our country. Clearly, the previous cap affected only the wealthiest Americans, whereas the Court’s decision impacts the vast majority of regular people who want their voices to matter. In practical terms, the decision means that one wealthy individual can donate millions to numerous candidates, PACs, and political parties around the country.

Without aggregate limits, nothing prevents a wealthy donor from—legally—funneling money to a candidate after he or she has already reached the maximum in direct contributions to the candidate. For instance, if Donor A can’t give more to Candidate B, Donor A could simply write checks to a joint fundraising committee, which in turn could funnel the money back to one particular party committee that works entirely to support Candidate B.

The potential for corruption is high, especially considering our political history. For instance, according to a 1974 congressional report, the dairy industry laundered $2 million to Nixon’s reelection campaign through hundreds of contributions to various committees “which could then hold the money [… ] so as to permit the producers to meet independent reporting requirements without disclosure.” Today, wealthy donors like the Koch brothers routinely turn to party committees to channel further political contributions after maxing out in contributions to individual candidates. 

Political candidates know who their biggest donations come from, and they know that pleasing big donors while in office is key to getting money for their reelection campaigns. But what about the 99 percent of Americans who can’t afford to be big donors? Elected officials ought to work to please them as well. 
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.” 

Campaign finance reform is needed now more than ever in the wake of McCutcheon, and as people like Minnesota Senator Al Franken have noted, this may mean amending the constitution—a document that was meant to form a government by the people and for the people.

If our government is truly for the people, the voice of the people must be heard. It must not be drowned out by big money. 

The Hegelian Dialectic

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Alex Ehler and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Racial equality; women’s suffrage; worker’s rights; marriage equality; reproductive rights; all of these were and are hotly contested issues within and outside of the United States. Some of these issues have become prominent within the past decade, while others have long been put to rest, with many now considering it taboo to discuss them.

Why is it that we no longer permit institutionalized slavery? Why is it that we extended suffrage to women in the United States? To ignore these questions or to simply explain that our ancestors “did the right thing” is insufficient. We must examine the dynamics of past debates, and we must analyze trends.

With regard to social issues, seldom do we observe a conservative force “winning out” in the long run. Most today acknowledge and appreciate this—if they do not, they are “backwards, racist, sexist, etc.”

Why are issues that were so evenly split in the political arenas of ages past now considered common sense? Why aren’t the pros and cons of race-based slavery still discussed today? To be clear, I find the practice of slavery to be, of course, abhorrent. German writer and philosopher Georg Hegel offers a springboard to answer these questions.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is the father of the aptly named Hegelian Dialectic. Dialectic, derived from the Greek dialegesthai—to converse with—is defined per Merriam-Webster as “discussion and reasoning by a dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation.” What makes the Hegelian Dialectic unique is its accurate account and explanation of the dialogue between liberals and conservatives—understood beyond the American and modern ideologies of “liberal” and “conservative,” as the theory is meant to transcend any one time and place.

The Hegelian Dialectic argues the following: when conflicts arise, opposing opinions or ways of thinking come to be. In other words, when a political issue becomes prominent, typically two large camps form with opposing solutions to the problem.

Today, social issues that serve as examples of such a conflict would be marriage equality and reproductive rights. The two forces aiming to come out the victor are Thesis—conservative force—and Antithesis—liberal force.

The Thesis stands for previously accepted modes of thinking and systems of belief, while the Antithesis is representative of the response or opposition to these accepted values. Seldom, if ever, Hegel argues, does one side definitively win the conflict. Rather, a fusion of the two previous opinions—a Synthesis—emerges.
The Synthesis, as one can expect, embodies values of both the Thesis and Antithesis. Within time, this Synthesis evolves into the new Thesis, the old way of thinking, and is challenged again by a new Antithesis, and so continues the dialogue between the forces—the dialectic.

What are the implications of what Hegel has astutely told us? One of the most empowering is that each and every one of us has a part to play in the dialectic that we, too, are a part of. With which side do we find ourselves sympathetic? From  issue to issue, perhaps we will vary between Thesis and Antithesis, conservative and liberal. I know I do—a fiscally conservative, socially moderate-liberal agnostic is sure to find him or herself on both sides of the various debates from time to time.

Beyond instilling within us a sense of power and purpose, Hegel also warns us to never, either as liberals or conservatives, set our hopes too high, as neither side is fully satisfied after the proverbial battle. Conservatives will incessantly see their preferred beliefs falling around them, while liberals will always be left wanting more for their cause.

There exists, however, one consolation for social liberals: time. If the Hegelian Dialectic continues, as it has done for centuries and maybe more, the dialogue is always shifting towards the “left” overall—never do we move backwards. Never has a prosperous society become more socially conservative and continued to be prosperous on a long-term scale. To refer to the previously-used example of American slavery, abolitionists never were able to see and realize their true dream of racial equality, but their efforts did achieve it in the long run in terms of the law and constitution.

Progress still needs to be made, to be sure, but William Lloyd Garrison would surely be proud of all the progress that we as Americans have made. Will we see full, 100 percent marriage equality in our lifetime? Perhaps we will, perhaps not. But  if social liberals continue to fight for equality in this arena, it will be so—maybe not for us, but for our children or children’s children.

This is not to say or to mean that individuals have no power to change the future or that the world we live in is a determinist one. Indeed, Hegel tells us quite the opposite: we all play an integral role in the dialectic, the dialogue, and every individual voice is of paramount importance in fostering development of both the dialogue as a whole as well as our societies.

Georg Hegel, with no knowledge of 21st Century American politics, has nonetheless taught social liberals that they have the power to fight for the future, and that history has a liberal bias.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lefty's and Common Sense, feels right

Last semester we set out on the ambitious project of Lefty's 2.0, and now this semester we are proud to begin yet another chapter for Lefty's in the form of our partnership with the progressive print publication Common Sense.

Common Sense is a newspaper that, like Lefty's, champions the progressive voice on Notre Dame's campus and that, like Lefty's, was revitalized this academic year after a former incarnation had faltered.

We at Lefty's are excited about the promising potential of this mutually beneficial partnership, and hope that our readers will appreciate it as well.

So, we invite you to read the various articles originally published in Common Sense, as well as a few bonus articles that weren't in the print edition, on our site. Also, know that we will have more information about and more content from Common Sense in the future.


A dose of Common Sense

This piece was written by Christian Myers and Stephen Hawn, on behalf of the Common Sense editorial staff, and originally published as an editorial in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

The University of Notre Dame is a world-class, Catholic institution of higher education. The University of Notre Dame is not “conservative,” nor is it “liberal,” nor is it ideologically monolithic in any other way—individuals from other religious traditions are welcomed and valued.

What to do about Putin’s moves in the Ukraine

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Tyler Bowen and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Over the last month and a half, the crisis in Ukraine has provoked fears of a resurgent Russia, the erosion of American credibility, and the general decline of the United States.

I, too, am writing about race

This piece was written by Notre Dame senior Shelley Kim and originally published as a letter to the editor in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

After reflecting on criticism of the “I, too, am Notre Dame” project and supporters of Mark Gianfalla’s “The Campus Who Cried Wolf” Viewpoint article, we have concluded that the disagreement over race relations is due to Notre Dame’s cultural organizations. We have proposed some changes that are more constructive for campus race relations.

Silent Demonstration Counters Hate Speech

This piece was written by Notre Dame Senior Christian Myers and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

There is always a silver lining.
Right-wing pundit and author Ann Coulter came to campus this semester at the invitation of Notre Dame College Republicans and followed through on her reputation for insensitive and disparaging comments. Coulter’s visit, however, had the positive effect of sparking a movement among several student groups to counteract hate speech on our campus.

Why Notre Dame’s Lawsuit Ought to Fail

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Emily Flores and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

The University of Notre Dame has filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for a rehearing of its plea for injunction against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which requires that employers’ health insurance plans include full coverage of twenty FDA-approved and non-abortifacient types of contraception.

What is 'natural'?

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Stephen Hawn for Common Sense.

Throughout my conversations with some of the more conservative students in Notre Dame’s community, I so often hear them claim that being gay is unnatural. I hear students claim that being gay defies the natural order of nature, and that it is somehow contrary to our natural purpose as human beings.

Euromaidan protests powered by social media

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Alexa Fedynsky and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Back in November, I remember liking the Facebook page “Euromaidan” after student protests broke out in Kyiv, Ukraine in response to the president’s failure to sign a trade agreement with the European Union.

Corporate tax breaks are criminal

This piece was written by Notre Dame freshman Dan DeToro and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014.

Remember when Mitt Romney demonized the 47% of Americans whom he claimed lacked personal responsibility and did not pay income tax? 

A quarter of these people are elderly and don’t work while a further 17% are students or disabled. The rest of the 47% still pay federal payroll tax.

Challenging Tradition is Human

This piece was written by Notre Dame junior Stephen Hawn and originally published as an article in Common Sense on April 23, 2014

Perhaps one of the most unique human qualities is our capacity for change, and one undeniable pattern throughout human history is the rapid pace at which change occurs. Civilizations rise and fall. Cultures come into existence and are lost just as easily. Even the change in the United States in just the last 50 years is remarkable. We declared forced segregation illegal, had a sexual revolution, and are in the midst of a successful gay rights movement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Religious Liberty and the End of Corporations

The Supreme Court heard a case that represents a social issue of paramount importance. Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is indicative of a larger undercurrent in the United States that began with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and has most recently found a home in the Affordable Care Act, and the employer mandate to provide contraception—the dramatic expansion of the protection of “religious liberty”. Hobby Lobby argues that providing health insurance that covers birth control violates the religious beliefs of its owners, and should be granted an exemption. This case ultimately comes to the questions of whether the religious beliefs of the individual owners can dictate policy for the entirety of the business, and whether the corporation is actually an individual that can express these preferences. I contend that this drastic expansion of the definition of “religious liberty” is at best harmful, and at worst an opportunity for business owners across the country to deny rights to workers and services to patrons.

          This specific case is crucial because it signifies a starting point by which draconian “religious freedom” bills could find precedent, should the Court decide in favor of the non-government party. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby will affirm the personhood of corporations, a model that was created by the Court in the aforementioned Citizens United case. This would mean that corporations cannot only express their wants in the political arena, but also follow a religion, hold a conscience, and discern right from wrong.

Here lies the true detrimental impact of the case—if the Court rules that corporations are treated as sentient entities, the Arizona “religious freedom” bill, and many others like it, would find a standard by which they can argue the legitimacy of their cause. If corporations can opt out of healthcare mandates on religious grounds, the decision to deny services to patrons deemed morally objectionable based on the owner’s religious beliefs would be justified, as would choosing to hang a “whites only” sign outside of a restaurant through the owner’s interpretation of Leviticus. A loan officer could deny credit to a man with visible tattoos because the Prophet Muhammad teaches that permanent markings are haram. The wrong decision in this case would eliminate any standard by which subjective religious interpretations can be separated from business practices in the free market.

To avoid these scenarios, the Supreme Court must rule in favor of the government party in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Further, the President should aggressively pursue appointing members to the Federal Election Commission that have shown strong support for political contribution reform. The government must make positive steps towards reversing the precedent set by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in order to affirm the basic tenant of corporate law that separates the corporation, a legal entity, from its owners, and allow individuals to seek goods and services in a truly free market. Just as my right to swing my fist ends at my neighbor’s cheek, the rights of businesses to express their beliefs ends where they violate the rights of workers and consumers alike.

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Irish history lesson

Being Irish-American is about a lot more than shamrocks, the color green, leprechaun hats, and partying every March 17.

In fact, Ireland and the US have a long history of interaction and many Irish-Americans have strong ties to the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick's Day is a great day to keep this shared history in mind, and for NYT contributor Timothy Egan that meant noting how thoroughly ignorant of a seminal event in Irish and Irish-American history one particular Irish-American is.

Egan's column covers how Paul Ryan's railing against food assistance and other programs intended to help impoverished Americans parallels the words and ideas of British officials who refused to relieve the victims of the potato blight. The similarity is both uncanny and disturbing. Obviously, the US is not in the same situation as, say, Ireland in 1847, but there are people here and now experiencing real hunger and the deprivation of other basic needs. Some of these people are even working one or more jobs. 

It would be great if Ryan could learn the lesson his ancestors did: hunger is a symptom of a defective society, not a defective person. It would be even better if others who share his views and make similar remarks about "dependency" would learn it as well, about both the SNAP program and programs to help the poverty-stricken generally. It will probably take more than a simple Irish history lesson and longer than a St.Patrick's Day parade, however, for them to learn it.

In the end, as always, the best response to his comments about the poor and nearly everything else that comes from Paul Ryan is:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Executives in motion

It may still be chilly outside, but you have no excuse not to get some exercise if these two can make the time:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Exercise in Hypocrisy

Last week, the College Republicans announced they would be bringing Ann Coulter to speak at their Lincoln Day Dinner in April.  While I have always known this particular student group to be a beacon of hypocrisy and the illogical, even I was struck by this announcement. 

The irony in this case stems from the president of College Republicans, Mark Gianfalla, authoring a viewpoint in The Observer last week that declared that the GOP embraced tolerance, unlike the Democrats.  Gianfalla states that they simply believe in “the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution.” 

It is with this backdrop that Gianfalla and his friends publicly announced their decision to bring Ms. Coulter to campus, a decision that baffled most and inspired rage in many.  The same group that called for tolerance last week is bringing one of the most intolerant and blatantly ignorant political commentators to grace the media today to campus.  Sarah Morris represented the thoughts of many in her compelling viewpoint, and I’ll take this opportunity to expand on her arguments.  The University’s reaction to this decision should be swift and forceful—issue a statement condemning this decision by the College Republicans.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Saturday Clips of the Week

The Daily Show and the Colbert Report took Monday off, but they made up for it with a solid showing the rest of the week.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Green for Green

I am not a fan of the role money plays in American politics, especially with the trends that have emerged since the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

A recent New York Times article, however, showed how this new arena of Super Pacs and unlimited outside funds can be put to good use. The article discussed how billionaire Tom Steyer and others are planning a nationwide effort to campaign to call for a serious response to climate change and pressure politicians to come up with real solutions.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Saturday Clips of the Week

The CBO released a biannual report that included analysis of the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act. Both Jon and Stephen covered the report and the responses it provoked.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

America's Game and America's People

I love football.

I also love the specific teams I've cheered for over the years: my Eden Prairie High School Eagles, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Minnesota Vikings.

None of these teams however, have an undeniably offensive mascot. The Washington Redskins do. While the nation's attention is still turned to football, spread the word about this important message that should have aired during the game:

This is a simple change that needs to be made now, and then we can hopefully follow up by addressing the more complex problems facing Native Americans.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

If not now, when...

Will this be the year that we finally have immigration reform? 

It feels like it, but it also felt like it last year when the Senate passed S.744 and the House looked like it might give in to pressure and pass some form of H.R.15. So what reason do we have to think it will happen this year? How do we escape this myth of Sisyphus?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Clips of the Week

Our favorite TV news-comedians continue to call attention to the big issues of the day with incisive humor:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill Coverage (Part 2) - Why it happened?

Update(1-17-2014): WV American Water has declared the water system to be entirely safe. However, many local doctors are saying otherwise. Because of the continuing developments, part 3 of my article has been delayed to the weekend.

If you are currently unaware of the water crisis in West Virginia, see my article yesterday to get caught up.

As I continue my coverage of the West Virginia chemical spill into the Elk River, I feel it is important to give an update that most media isn't talking about. Several people in the supposed "safe zones" still have licorice smell in their water. One picture on Twitter I found showed sludge found in the bottom of a hot water heater. West Virginia American Water (which is a private, for-profit utility company) has been very unclear in what they consider safe levels of drinking water. Several residents in supposed "safe zones" are reporting their water having a thick consistency similar to motor oil even after flushing their water for 45 minutes. Most people I have talked to in WV say they will be avoiding drinking the water for some time. When you consider that most cooking requires water of some kind, this doesn't bode well for local restaurants, among other businesses that were hit hardest by this crisis. All told, the crisis is ongoing, with still no end in sight. As of today, Freedom Industries has been cited for violation at a second facility in Nitro, WV (downriver of Charleston). Freedom Industries had moved their chemical supply to the second location after Thursday's spill. Like the Elk River location, the Nitro location lacks a proper containment wall to prevent chemical spills from leaking. The Nitro location is not on a major body of water.

Today, I want people to understand how and why the coal industry in West Virginia became powerful enough that they could store chemicals near a local water supply without proper inspection for over a decade. The truth is, this is anything but a black and white issue. The state of West Virginia, as I'll show, does heavily rely on coal economically. I know most people reading this will be very pro-green liberals (I consider myself among them). Given this, I ask you to approach this article without your preconceived notions. This article does not directly address the large scale environmental impact of coal, as I will leave that for part three. I simply want people to be able to put themselves in the shoes of West Virginians, and understand that we are not uneducated dumb hicks that hate the environment. It is a complicated issue that doesn't allow for clear, clean, and easy solutions.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

West Virginia Chemical Spill Coverage (Part 1) - What happened?

Part 2: Understanding the relationship of West Virginia to the coal industry.

Last Thursday, a chemical spill in southern West Virginia resulted in 300,000 residents being told not to use municipal water. The affected area includes the capitol of West Virginia, and its largest city, Charleston. Over the weekend and even until today, much of the area is still under "do not use" orders from the local water company. Many residents are being told their water is now safe after flushing their system by running all faucets and water appliances for several minutes. However, several of these residents are still reporting a licorice-smell to their water that has hung over the city since the chemical leak.

So why does some grad student in South Bend, Indiana, care about this chemical spill? To many at the University of Notre Dame, West Virginia may mean little more than that school the Irish beat in 1988 to win the National Champion in college football. However, to me, West Virginia is my home, my friends, and my family. I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia. My parents and siblings live there. And this weekend, I feel I began to appreciate very differently what West Virginia means to me, and why its suffering affects me in a very real way, despite being a long, lonely 7 hour drive away. And as I've spoken with friends, I've realized just how poorly reported this whole situation has been. In this, I feel it is very important to help others understand exactly what to make of this story.

I realize many of you won't feel directly affected by this story, and may find it uninteresting. Even my fellow writers may question my decision to write three articles on a topic that is largely alien to our readers. But I think there are important lessons to learn from this chemical spill in West Virginia about energy policy, government regulation, the corrupting influence of money in politics, and, most importantly to me now, the meaning of community. Ultimately, I felt I had too much to say on this issue for one article, so I have broken my coverage of this story into three parts. The first part you are reading now will explain in detail what exactly happened in West Virginia, and what the affects of this chemical spill are. Hopefully, it will correct many misconceptions reported in the news. In part two, I will address my feelings on how and why this chemical spill occurred, as well as why I think this is a bigger story. In part three, I will try to address solutions to ensure these things don't happen again in the future.