Author

About the Author
Jacob Weindling grew up in Denver, Colorado and graduated from UMass Amherst with a political science degree in 2009. He lives in Boston now, spending most of his time outside of work either reading, writing, or yelling at one of his teams on TV, as sports and politics are his true passions. The most sage advice he can provide comes from hall of fame college basketball coach Bobby Knight: "Stupid loses more games than smart wins."

Here’s The Biggest Threat To America’s Economy

Nearly a decade of economic stagnation has fostered an environment of distrust and anger around some of our most important institutions, and this has lead us to Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Both candidates pose as warriors for the underclass, promising that their policies and/or personality will break the vice grip of the “establishment” or the “1%” or the “upper class” or any other number of buzzwords thrown around at campaign rallies to generalize America’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens.

The way our politicians talk about the rich, it’s as if they’re a monolithic class of people.

The top one percent are not a homogenous group of monetary zealots hell bent on destroying civilization one Machiavellian step at a time; they’re a somewhat diverse group of white people (roughly 96%) whose jobs range from pediatricians, to athletes, to “managers” of everything you could possibly imagine.

The Chief Economic Adviser to global insurance giant Allianz, Mohamed El-Erian essentially wrote the thesis for this piece in his interview with Business Insider:

“Don’t underestimate the power of a simple framework to put into context a lot of the unusual and improbable things we see.”

Looking at the composition of Fortune 500 directors, we see a distorted example of the same issues surrounding race and gender that we have struggled with since the dawn of humanity.

Fortune 500

Credit: Dr. William Domhoff/ University of California, Santa Cruz.

When Bernie Sanders derides “the one percent,” he’s doing the truth in his message a disservice.

“The one percent” stretch across nearly every industry in America. Surely Senator Sanders does not believe that LeBron James is engaged in a cynical attempt to drive middle class workers’ wages down, but the generality of his rhetoric implies just that.

When trying to determine the central issues surrounding our economic malaise, simply saying “the rich are winning and we’re all losing” does not do the importance of the topic justice. In short, no shit.

We need to dive deep into the causes of our problems, instead of blanketing people and industries with cheap generalizations that barely scratch the surface, and then retreating to our corners.

All that said, there is one industry that stands out when searching for the genesis of our modern economic dysfunction: finance.

Ever since the crash of 2008, the world of investment’s public perception has taken a major blow, and it was not exactly in the best shape to begin with.

Matt Taibbi has popularized the term “Vampire Squid” as a nickname for Goldman Sachs in his reporting on financial malfeasance. Goldman Sachs has certainly done plenty to earn this derisive moniker, with one example being their complex plan to drive up the price of aluminum in order to further pad their wallets.

However, just because executives at some of our largest financial institutions have proven to be corrupt and inhumanly greedy, even at the expense of the people supposedly working for them, it does not mean that the entire industry is rotten.

My father worked as a stockbroker for 35 years, and I can promise you that a lot of the complexity coming out of the executive offices of Wall Street is nothing like what your average broker does while trying to create wealth for their clients.

Nearly one million people work in financial services in America, and the majority of them are trying to do right by their customers and play by the rules.

Many of the problems with finance don’t stem from some nefarious, evil plot to enslave mankind in some sort of New World Order (like Alex Jones’ four million monthly unique subscribers to Infowars might assert), but from what precipitates the fall of all great empires: a toxic combination of secrecy and ego.

The world of “shadow banking” has been blamed for much of our economic corruption, as it is an easy target due to its complex nature.

An eagle outside of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

An eagle outside of the Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Tim Evanson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Tucker Hart Adams is one of the few people who foresaw the economic crash of 2008.

Her travels have taken her everywhere from leading classrooms in Russia to the heads of boards in both the private and public sector.

“We’ve just outsmarted ourselves,” Adams said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Shadow banking isn’t some sinister thing, it’s simply something that we don’t know that much about.”

It’s similar to how scientists call dark matter “dark” because we know it’s there, and we can measure its impact on us, but we can’t even begin to rationally explain its inner mechanisms; the same can be said of shadow banking.

In fact, “shadow banking” has been around for ages.

Izabella Kaminska asserted in the Financial Times that Pompey’s offensive against the Cilician pirates in 67 BC is similar to today’s battle against offshore banking and off-balance sheet accounting.

The problem with determining if she is correct is that no matter how far and wide you search, there is no universally agreed upon definition of “shadow banking.” Kaminska goes on to write in the FT:

“The nearest thing to a formal definition comes from Perry Mehrling, professor of economics at Barnard College in New York City, who suggests that anything involving money market funding of capital market lending qualifies as shadow banking. For others, it’s simply lending done by any unlicensed institution, or non-bank, which doesn’t have access to ‘lender of last resort’ liquidity in a crisis.”

Even though the term conjures up images of the executive suites of Manhattan’s skyscrapers, there are many financial entities that would qualify as “shadow banking,” like Bitcoin.

So when we’re talking about “shadow banking” in the sense that most TV news discusses it, we’re really talking about the derivatives market, which is a real problem.

It was one of the prime causes of the 2008 crash, which stemmed from an effort to try to get ahead of the market, and the market nearly swallowed itself whole using financial instruments that Wall Street didn’t quite understand.

These complex swaps that basically amount to various forms of financial insurance have led to a situation where only the biggest banks have the capital and the expertise to play in this space. However, just because a bunch of wonks are on the case with a nuclear silo full of cash doesn’t mean that they will succeed in this post-2008 world, as it was revealed that five Wall St banks just failed living will tests.

Now, this doesn’t mean that derivatives were solely responsible for that result, but given the explosion of their popularity in the first part of the 21st century and its resulting impact on the economic crash, one would have to imagine that they played a role in these failures.

Four large commercial banks were responsible for 91% of the total banking industry notional amounts in the derivatives market in Q4 2015, which is a fairly tenuous situation.

Given the amount of this space that is controlled by so few entities, one misstep might cause a hiccup that could have drastic consequences for the rest of the economy.

Our government has a hand in all of this mess, as it creates the conditions for everyone to operate within. The derivatives market is in the shadows because the federal government has not found a suitable method to regulate these securities, yet will not ban them outright either. This ambivalent position sows the seeds of confusion for later crises.

The chart below further demonstrates the dramatic effect that certain government policies can have on the economy. Accounting for capital gains, which the government taxes at less than half of the tax rate for labor, the top 10% are taking a greater share of the income than they did during the Gilded Age.

Sads

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Saez/UC Berkeley

The Panama Papers, which will dominate much of the news cycle over the coming months, will produce a veritable truckload of stories about companies dodging taxes (amongst many other potentially scandalous revelations once the 11 million documents get sorted through and litigated).

A report just stated that the 50 biggest US companies stash an estimated $1.3 trillion overseas. Ironically enough, the Financial Secrecy Index ranks the United States as the 3rd best place in the world to hide money.

Somehow, we manage to chase our own cash out of the country with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, yet we let much of it and others back in through faceless shell companies exempting millions (billions? trillions?) of dollars from taxation.

The statistic that most embodies the absurdity of US tax havens is that 64% of Fortune 500 companies are based in Delaware (I’m sure that it has nothing to do with their state tax code and everything to do with Joe Biden’s charm).

Andy Fastow, the former felon/CFO of Enron, is lending his expertise to help firms spot fraud, sometimes even pro bono. He gives lectures on how companies engage in tactics today similar to what he performed at Enron.

Because of the shitshow that is the US tax code, it’s more beneficial for Apple to station their global HQ in Ireland than in Cupertino.

“If Apple did not do this, your iPhone would cost $2,000,” Fastow told the Irish Times. “They run over $50 billion of earnings through this building [in Ireland].”

Once accounting for state taxes, the average corporate tax rate in the United States is 39.2% (unless you have an army of lawyers, accountants, and Congress on your payroll, then you pay much less). To compare, the global average is around 25%.

Tucker Adams provided RISE NEWS with a simple solution to keep tax money within our borders:

“You have all these companies going through all this to avoid taxes at 39%, you’ll collect more revenue if you bring the rate down to match everyone else.”

According to the Atlantic, only three OECD countries (Mexico, Turkey and Japan) bring in less tax revenue as a percentage of GDP than the United States.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Eyink/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Andy Fastow, the former CEO of Enron has warned that big companies are doing similar things that he did. Photo Credit: Lindsay Eyink/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Now, that’s not a list that you necessarily want to find yourself at the top of; tax policy should be focused on funneling as much money into the hands of consumers, because my spending is your income etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…but if your tax rate is high and the relative income you gain from it is low, something is fundamentally wrong.

Tax rates are not the only area where the government is fomenting big problems, central bank policies have contributed as well. Keeping interest rates near 0% for nearly a decade has been punishing savers, as Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, one of the largest hedge funds in the world said in an annual letter to his shareholders:

“Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the toll these low rates — and now negative rates — are taking on the ability of investors to save and plan for the future. People need to invest more today to achieve their desired annual retirement income in the future. For example, a 35-year-old looking to generate $48,000 per year in retirement income beginning at age 65 would need to invest $178,000 today in a 5% interest rate environment. In a 2% interest rate environment, however, that individual would need to invest $563,000 (or 3.2 times as much) to achieve the same outcome in retirement.”

Interest rates are a double edged sword.

When they’re low, it encourages borrowing but discourages saving. If I take on $1,000 in debt at 1% interest, I’ll only owe $10 on my interest payment. I don’t know about you, but a $10 interest payment that I have to make sounds a lot more appealing than a $10 interest payment that I will receive.

The main reason for this dependence on the Fed to play the role of economic Batman comes from the fact that our political system is completely paralyzed, which lets markets know that any major tax reform is completely off the table.

People should be angry. The deck is stacked, the game is rigged, and the bad guys have already won before you even finished reading this sentence, yet no one seems to be doing anything about it.

However, just because all you hear on TV is gloom and doom does not mean that is all that’s occurring. Our most pressing issues are largely concentrated in rectifiable areas; there’s simply a lack of will to undertake the effort to correct them. Perhaps it’s an issue of culture, as we assume that the “smart guys” will eventually fix it.

Warren Buffett’s right hand man, Charlie Munger certainly thinks so, as he stated during Whitney Tilson’s annual meeting:

“Too much of the new wealth has gone to people who either own a casino or are playing in a casino. And I don’t think the exaltation of that group has been good for life generally, and I am to some extent a member of that group. Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are not two of my favorite people on earth, but they are absolutely right.”

Some investors like Bill Ackman are speculating that the next economic calamity will come from student debt, as they say it could resemble the housing crisis.

But Tucker Adams disagrees with this assessment, telling RISE NEWS:

“No I do not believe this is like 2005, 06, 07. The average student debt is about $28,000, and there isn’t the speculation around it like there was with housing, so it’s much more manageable.”

If there is a bubble that could be created by this student debt, it might be in apartments, as millennials have been reluctant up to this point to seriously invest in housing, but we would be the first American generation in history to buck this trend.

“These new apartments they’re building just outside the city and not near much public transportation, those are the ones I would worry about, but I think it would be very very sad if millennials decided not to buy houses,” Adams said. “They’re a solid investment.”

Whatever economic future we are entering, the general sentiment amongst experts seems to be that it is manageable, so long as we have the political will to do what is needed.

Given that Donald Trump is the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican nomination, political will to do real, challenging things seems to be off the table right now.

Things are bad, but they’re fixable.

There are simple steps we can take to tilt the scales back in favor of the many. One example is to find a better way to compensate federal regulators in the financial sector.

America is fighting off a recession with one arm, and we need the government to function properly and join the Fed in this fight. The fact of the matter is that our political and economic futures are intertwined. Without government creating the right conditions, economic growth stalls, and the levers of power are leveraged by the powerful to grab a larger slice for themselves while the rest of us struggle to grow the pie.

Our economic dysfunction is largely in response to a tax code devised to help a select few and waste resources for everyone else. Nearly everyone agrees that the current tax code is less valuable than a Nickelback cassette, but nothing is being done about it.

Why? It makes no sense. Americans have abandoned our responsibility to govern ourselves effectively, or even show up for an election every two years.

Congress’ approval rating hovers near 10%, yet we reelect our Congressmen at a 90% clip, effectively proving that Americans are political hypocrites. We despise our Congress, but don’t care enough to change it, thus creating the conditions for corruption to flourish.

Hopefully we will use this election as a moment to understand how our apathy has helped to create all of this misfortune. We demand that government be for the people, of the people, and by the people, but we don’t hold any of the people accountable.

Like every single one in recent memory, the main issue in this election is the economy. We want government to fix it for us, but in order for that to happen, Americans need to step up and fix our government first.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Kurtis Garbutt/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Africa’s First Billion Dollar Start Up Is A Bet On The Rise Of The Continent’s Middle Class. But Is It A Smart Bet?

For decades, the narrative around African business has been pretty negative. But things are changing as demonstrated by the recent achievement by the Africa Internet Group– as it became the first ever African based “Unicorn” start up company.

Africa Internet Group just received an $85 million investment, valuing the company at over $1 billion, and making it a “Unicorn”.

AIG is essentially Silicon Valley, but all packed into one business.

They invest in and help manage over 30 African companies like Easy Taxi, Jumia, and Lamudi, which mimic the Uber’s, Amazon’s, and Zillow’s of the world.

Glassdoor reviews from former employees of AIG give it a 3.2 rating out of 5 with 21 reviews. The pros largely coalesced around the work: always busy and challenging.

The cons all focused on the same issues surrounding management, with every negative review either highlighting a lack of communication or unrealistic expectations for their subordinates.

These complaints about management seemed to be shared by ownership, as last December, the company began to lay off upper level staff left and right, with one of its largest companies, Jumia, firing over 300 workers in Nigeria, its largest market.

It is not unusual for one startup to go through upheaval like this, but when many companies all operating under the same umbrella go through the same issues, it is a bit worrisome.

However, AXA and Orange would not have invested in AIG at the valuation they did unless it was satisfied with its executive team, so one would think that this massive shakeup is largely a good thing for the company.

Given the timing of the overhaul and the subsequent transaction, this management purge was most likely a contingency for these large firms’ financing, because ultimately, they are not investing in AIG, but in the rising African middle class.

The common theme amongst AIG’s portfolio is e-commerce, as they have laid the foundation of their company on the emerging proletariat.

The size and the economic maturity of the middle class is the subject of fierce debate, as companies like Nestle serve as cautionary tales; their billion dollar expansion hit a rut and was forced to scale back its African workforce by 15% once returns proved to be smaller than expected.

WATCH: Inside a Africa Internet Group Office in Lagos, Nigeria. 

Much of the investment in Africa has been based around the notion that one third of Africans are “middle class,” which emerged from a 2011 paper from the African Development Bank Group which stated that the middle class had tripled over the last 30 years.

However, the AfDB defined it as Africans living off of $2 to $20 in purchasing power per day, with it divided into three separate tiers which further muddied the certainty surrounding the definition of “middle class.”

Standard Bank released a study last September that looked at 11 African countries which account for over half the continent’s GDP, and found the size of their middle class to be 15 million people, or about 300 million less than AfDB estimated for the entire continent.

The middle class of the largest African country by GDP, Nigeria, is estimated at 11%, with 86% of all Africans reportedly falling under “low income.”

The Pew Research Center provides extra support to this assertion as they estimate that just 6% of Africans qualify as “middle class,” which they define as living off of $10 to $20 per day.

90% of Africans are estimated to still live off of less than $10 per day according to Pew.

However, even though the data seems to hint that investors may be too bullish, it does not mean that they should reverse course and become bearish on the many different African economies.

Capital is still flowing into the continent, as foreign direct investment is up over 12% since 2008.

Additionally, some of the struggles companies like Nestle experienced could be due more to cultural misunderstandings than a lack of disposable income across Africa.

“There was no presumption [from the AfDB] that this middle class would exhibit Western modes in terms of consumption of food formula for middle-class babies [Nestlé] nor for whisky [Diaego],” Kayizzi-Mugerwa, one of the chief economists for the AfDB said. “In the latter case, Africans have always had a partiality for beer − irrespective of class – and the beer companies are doing roaring business.”

Many African countries are still dealing with structural issues that go back centuries, as Egypt’s inflation is 210th in the world due to the instability that has arisen over the last 5 years.

Nigeria needs to modernize its workforce as 70% work in agriculture, yet farming accounts for just 20% of its GDP.

South Africa, which remains the model for many African countries, has 66% of its workforce comprising the services industry, which accounts for 67.4% of its GDP, yet the rest of the continent’s labor pool is much closer to Nigeria than its most modernized nation at its southernmost tip.

The historic investment in Africa Internet Group must be seen as a larger investment in Africa as a whole, because without a modernized Africa, the e-commerce that AIG provides would have no market for buyers or sellers.

Africa is still an emerging economy, but it has shed many of the 3rd world caricatures that the West has forced upon it over the years, with Sacha Poignonnec, CEO of Africa Internet Group providing a mission statement for the company that could be construed as one for the entire continent as well:

“We want to be profitable but we are very long-term oriented. Amazon is a great model to look at. They have a great valuation, they have a great customer base. Everyone one is confident that Amazon has a great future but they are still yet to make money.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us

Clusterfuck: How Bush And Obama Both Created ISIS

Last week witnessed yet another guerilla attack on a European capital, as bombs went off in the Brussels airport and subway, murdering and injuring hundreds.

Events like these expose the silliness of most of our squabbles, as the true members of civil society shine through while a handful of mad(mostly)men demonstrate for all of us the true downside of mankind.

Anger is what nature provides us with in these situations because it forces us to assign blame, thus highlighting the failures of the present as a warning to future generations, and there is plenty of criticism to go around.

Taking a look back at the evolution of ISIS is instructive of the catastrophic failures of US foreign policy, as it took a series of cataclysmic blunders across two Presidencies that fostered the environment from which this murderous death cult would emerge.

The Bush Administration

George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq served as the catalyst for the creation of ISIS, at least in the form that we know it as know.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but one of the “advantages” of a dictator (from a wonkish macro perspective) is that the brutality of dictatorships tends to keep some semblance of order in these intentionally fractured societies.

ISIS did not have the means, nor the capability to become what it is today so long as Saddam was in power.

However, simply removing Saddam was not enough to facilitate the rise of ISIS.

It took a series of cataclysmic blunders across two Presidencies that fostered the environment from which this murderous death cult would emerge.

The first of many gigantic mistakes after the initial invasion came from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney’s commitment to a “light footprint” in Iraq following the initial invasion.

David Kilcullen, an Australian counter-terrorism strategist who arrived in Baghdad’s Green Zone in 2005 called it “Ground Zero for the greatest strategic screw up since Hitler’s invasion of Russia.”

By not providing American troops with enough support to maintain the peace, Rumsfeld ensured that a power vacuum would be created in one of the most violent areas on the planet, right on the border of our regional nemesis.

American pilots during the early days of the Iraq war in 2003. Photo Credit: US NAVY

American pilots during the early days of the Iraq war in 2003. Photo Credit: US NAVY

The United States sent 127,000 troops to manage a divided population of 33 million in a country that is larger than California (California has about 126,000 police officers, fire fighters, and EMT’s to serve its 38 million citizens).

According to US Central Command’s OPLAN 1003-98, it was estimated that the army would need at least 385,000 soldiers to accomplish its goals in Iraq. The administration gave them a third of that.

Providing our troops with insufficient support in a war torn country was bad enough, but the Bush White House exponentially compounded that problem with its next two calamitous mistakes.

If you had to point to any singular event that is responsible for the rise of ISIS, disbanding the Iraqi army after the invasion would be it.

The US military had hoped to weed out Saddam loyalists and keep it mostly intact, but the administration eschewed that difficult task in favor of simply scrapping the army altogether.

As a result, from May 23, 2003 to September 6, 2006, the security of all of Iraq was the sole responsibility of the United States of America.

Major Robert S. Weiler from the United States Marine Corps summarized the contradiction at the heart of this clusterfuck:

“The decision was a product of colliding priorities. The Secretary of Defense wanted a small occupation force that commanders knew was imprudent, the military planners adapted by planning to use the Iraqi Army to make up for coalition short falls, and the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted to dissolve all things Baathist or resembling Saddam even if it was the only mechanism allowing the country to function.”

Seemingly overnight, 250,000 young men and their weapons and talents of war were thrown out on the street, and a huge chunk of them wound up joining the initial version of ISIS: al-Qaeda in Iraq.

This choice makes Rumsfeld and Cheney’s decision to use 127,000 US soldiers to keep the peace even more befuddling, and that is before you even get to the fact that around 80% of Iraqis reported a dislike for the American occupation. It was a plan that literally defied logic.

Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority overseeing all this, defended his momentous decision by stating that the Iraqi army could not be trusted by the populace, as the Baathists loyal to Saddam had too much power, and the Sunni’s were accepted as a sunk cost; there was no expectation that they would remain loyal to the state during the American occupation.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer (R), talk to reporters at the Baghdad Forum, Dec. 14, 2003, about the capture of Saddam Hussein. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Europe Images/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer (R), talk to reporters at the Baghdad Forum, Dec. 14, 2003, about the capture of Saddam Hussein. Bremer made the terrible decision to disband the Iraqi army. Photo Credit: U.S. Army Europe Images/ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

But instead of trying to bridge the gap between the CPA and Sunni leaders, Bremer accelerated the process of alienation and installed Nouri al-Maliki as Iraqi Prime Minister; a devout Shiite who was raised with contempt for Sunni’s.

Maliki joined the Dawa party as a young man, which aimed to create a Shiite nation-state in Iraq by any means necessary.

Saddam arrested and executed many members of the Dawa party, including some of Maliki’s family members, which only further exacerbated the sectarian tensions boiling inside of Iraq’s future Prime Minister.

The idea that much of the Iraqi Army would remain steadfastly loyal to Saddam seemed like a specious argument anyway, because Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor wrote in “COBRA II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq,” that Saddam refused to let his army enter Baghdad out of fears of a coup.

In 2007, the Combat Studies Institute published “Warfare in the Age of NonState Actors: Implications for the U.S. Army,” and it detailed the absurdity of Bremer and the CPA’s decision:

“Taking away the jobs and weapons in which so many men have depended for so long, and giving them an equivalent civilian occupation in a peacetime (something even highly educated US military personnel find challenging), is a delicate and absolutely vital challenge which has little room for error. To simply disband them is extremely dangerous”

Nouri al-Maliki provided the final push to facilitate the creation of ISIS, as he fired countless Sunni commanders during his 8 year tenure as Prime Minister.

These seasoned military men were out of a job with no prospects provided by the new regime, and al-Qaeda’s new branch in Iraq (AQI) was more than happy to welcome them into their ranks.

Photo Credit: Al Jazeera English/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Nouri al-Maliki (R) fired countless Sunni commanders during his time as Prime Minister of Iraq. Photo Credit: Al Jazeera English/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

There was no shortage of candidates available for any position in this new army, as some estimates put the unemployment rate as high as 60% in Iraq after the CPA disbanded the military.

The US government basically helped create an enemy from scratch for its army to fight during the Sunni uprising, which carried out scores of bombings across Iraq between 2003 and 2011, resulting in roughly half a million civilian casualties.

Sasnak Joshi, a Senior Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute highlights the central issue at hand:

“It’s less important in terms of the contribution to manpower, or sheer heft or size, and more important in terms of the specific skills, connections, linkages and technical expertise that the Baathists bring to the table.”

In 2014, Adnan al-Asani, Iraq’s deputy interior minister, told Al Arabiya that half of ISIS’s top military commanders: Haji Bakr, Abu Ayman al-Iraqi and Abu Ahmad al-Alwani, were all former high-ranking members of Sadaam’s party.

This map from Mother Jones of a divided Iraq from 2007 further depicts the folly of coalescing behind one faction, as any group that obtained absolute power would be seen as a threat to the rest of the populace:

Photo Credit: Mother Jones Magazine

Photo Credit: Mother Jones Magazine

Iraq is basically a fake country constructed by colonial powers; it’s really three countries cobbled into one, and a modern day colonial power came in, smashed everything, and sparked a civil war.

The History of ISIS

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is effectively the father of ISIS.

Not only did his actions lead to the creation of ISIS, but the group embodies his spirit; a spirit that was deemed too extreme by Osama freaking bin-Laden. Zarqawi was a fighter who came up through organized crime, not “finding religion” until later in life, yet he thoroughly enjoyed rape, murder, and torture no matter what ideology he presently subscribed to.

Zarqawi became radicalized in prison during the 1980’s, and upon his release in 1988, he traveled to the Peshwar region of Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets.

By 1992, he had returned to Jordan to create Bayat al-Imam, which was the first iteration of ISIS.

Zarqawi was locked up for 15 years by King Hussein of Jordan, where he was subsequently mentored by Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, and the duo expanded the influence of their newfound Jihadist organization both inside the prison and within the outside world.

Upon Zarqawi’s release from jail in 1999, he visited Osama bin Laden, who was alarmed at his extremist views, but nonetheless was convinced to give him seed funding for his new organization, which was set up in Herat, 355 miles away from bin Laden’s base in Kandahar.

Photo Credit: Maureen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the father of ISIS spent years in a Jordanian prison during the reign of King Hussein (L) where he became more radicalized. Current King of Jordan Abdullah II (R) is shown with his father in this public propaganda photo. Photo Credit: Maureen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

By the time the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Zarqawi had assembled an army of between 2,000 and 3,000 men, the organization now being known as al-Tawhid wal-Jihad.

Zarqawi soon left Afghanistan to set up camp in Iran, and when some of his operatives were arrested in Europe in 2002, Zarqawi became a much more prominent figure in counterterrorism agencies across the globe.

He spent the next couple years hiding out in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq all while expanding his army, culminating in an agreement with al-Qaeda’s security chief, Seif al-Adel, to move the group into Iraq.

Zarqawi spent most of his time in Iraq in the “Sunni triangle,” gaining new recruits and setting up bases.

By the time the US invaded in 2003, Zarqawi had effectively assembled a Sunni nation-state to combat the invasion.

His strategy was based on four central tactics that we still see ISIS use today:

  1. Isolate American forces by targeting international coalition partners (ie: the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad).
  2. Attack civilians there to help (ie: the May 2004 beheading of Nicholas Berg, thought to be carried out by Zarqawi himself).
  3. Spark a sectarian war by attacking Shiite targets (ie: the December 2004 attack against Shiite leader Sayyid Muhammad al-Hakim at a funeral in the holy city of Najaf)
  4. Deter Iraqi cooperation by targeting politicians, recruiting centers, and police stations (too many examples to count).

The invasion of Iraq served as one of the greatest recruiting boons Jihad has ever seen (second only to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict), as an influx of foreign fighters from all over the globe entered Iraq to fight with Zarqawi and the rest of the Sunni insurgency against the US army.

After the bloody battle that took Fallujah in 2004, the insurgency began to pass out leaflets demanding full compliance with their version of Islamic Law, even going so far as to list the names of “offenders” who were marked for public execution. By October 2004, Zarqawi pledged his allegiance to Osama bin Laden and renamed the group al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

The Sunni insurgency boycotted the 2005 Iraqi elections, which proved to be a disastrous decision, as they were left out of the redrafting of the new Constitution.

Zarqawi continued to attack Shiites, further dampening popular support for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The final straw came in November of 2005 as AQI bombed a wedding party, killing 60 people, most of them Muslims.

al-Qaeda began to distance themselves from AQI, as it along with other Sunni terrorist groups were absorbed into a larger Mujahedeen Shura Council from which Zarqawi was excluded.

His brutality and aggression had simply become too much for a terrorist organization that was obsessed with developing popular support from Muslims of all backgrounds. The United States killed Zarqawi in an airstrike on June 7th, 2006, but by then, his ideology had already poisoned an entire generation of fighters.

The 20,000 troop “surge” of 2007 is largely credited as the key event to break the stalemate in Iraq, but the surge would not have had the impact it did if it were not for Sahwa, more commonly known as the Sunni Awakening. Frustrated with the lack of progress by AQI, Sunni tribesmen began to use AQI’s tactics against them, killing many of their senior leaders and intimidating many more to leave the movement.

This was so successful, that by 2009, more than 100,000 Sunni tribesmen were working in cooperation with the United States army against AQI. Not only had they either killed or captured well over half of the organization, but the flow of foreign fighters entering Iraq went from around 120 per month to just a handful.

The Obama Administration

However, an opportunity to reassert themselves emerged when Barack Obama continued the Bush Administration’s misguided “small footprint” strategy by ratifying the US-Iraq Status of Force’s Agreement that Bush had negotiated, which promised a full withdrawal of all US troops by December 31, 2011.

On December 18th of that year, the last US boot left the ground in Iraq, leaving a fractured and vulnerable country with no national force capable of holding all of its disparate parts together.

With AQI seemingly confined to an existence as a regional pest, the Iraqi election of 2010 served as a major event which breathed life back into the movement.

After the populace had elected a more moderate, even pro-American Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in 2010, the United States still continued to back the increasingly unpopular Nouri al-Maliki and his allies in parliament while pursuing conflicting goals, as Joe Biden told top US officials

I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement]

As yet another power vacuum was being created by American intransigence in Iraq, next door in Syria, an even larger problem was emerging. The Iranian backed dictator, Bashar al-Assad, was facing a serious challenge to his rule, as the Arab Spring spilled into Syria’s streets.

American Vice President Joe Biden in Iraq in 2011. Photo Credit: U.S. Forces Iraq/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

American Vice President Joe Biden in Iraq in 2011. Photo Credit: U.S. Forces Iraq/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Assad and his Alawite support (who are minorities in Syria) were being challenged on all sides, and his strategy to stay in power is to build up the more extremist segments of the revolution while brutally massacring the moderates, thus presenting the West with a stark choice for the future of Syria: him or ISIS.

Obama massively compounded the problem when he stated that Assad using chemical weapons would be a “red line,” for the United States.

Once it was discovered that Assad did gas his own people, the President did nothing militarily, effectively letting the rest of the world know that he did not have the will to commit to a war with a relatively small regime like Assad’s even if he implied it, making his future proclamations on this conflict ring completely hollow.

Additionally, it let Assad (and by extension, Iran) know that they had full control over this situation.

While the United States debated what to do, the former Iraqi officers and Sunni Jihadists who had comprised AQI began to unite with Syrian factions, and captured Raqqa in 2013, declaring it the capital of the Caliphate the following year.

Still paralyzed by indecision, the United States watched as this new iteration of AQI claimed town after town, reaching a breaking point in 2014 as ISIS took over Mosul, Iraq’s 2nd largest city.

Five months prior to this event, Obama dismissed ISIS as a “JV team,” further demonstrating the administration’s miscalculation of this virus rapidly spreading across the globe. By the time a serious military campaign was launched, ISIS had already established a nation state.

Conclusion

Long story short: a decade-plus of foreign policy adventurism and fecklessness from two Presidents combined with the psychotic brutality of a charismatic Jihadist culminated in the establishment of a functional Caliphate in 2014.

Since its establishment, the US State Department estimates that upwards of 25,000 foreign fighters have flocked to these hinterlands formerly known as Syria and Iraq.

Even though they have demonstrated the capability to export their ideology and tactical skillset across the globe, there are still many signs that ISIS is on the decline.

In January, the US military estimated that ISIS has lost 40% of its territory in Iraq and 20% in Syria. In that same month, ISIS announced a 50% pay cut for everyone on the payroll.

Additionally, there have been many reports of protests in ISIS controlled territory, as we are seeing the same dissatisfaction that many Iraqi Sunni’s felt after the initial opposition to the US occupation.

If we have learned anything from this quagmire, it is contained in this sobering quote from Syrian Businessman Raja Sidawi:

“I am sorry for America. You are stuck. You have become a country of the Middle East. America will never change Iraq, but Iraq will change America.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Cover Photo Credit: Barney Moss/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Time To Pop The Bernie Sanders Bubble

Nothing summarizes the Bernie Sanders platform better than this since deleted tweet that contains exactly zero adjectives. Even the word adjective is a noun.

BERNIE

His heart is in the right place, but the details are a mess.

Sanders has captured America’s attention with a similar elevator pitch to Donald Trump: The political and economic elites write their own rules, and have been screwing over the rest of us for years.

The reason this message has been so successful for both candidates is that it is largely true.

Nothing encapsulates the separate set of rules the rich and powerful have written for themselves better than the fact that no major executives went to jail in 2008 for nearly liquidating the entire global economy in a decades long campaign of fraud and abuse.

However, just because someone can identify a problem doesn’t mean they have the solutions to fix it, and in the past week, many liberal economists who probably agree with Sanders’ fundamental premise have said his math might as well be made of unicorns. I encourage all Bernie Sanders supporters to read this sober evaluation of his economic forecasts.

Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman’s position on his economic plan is particularly brutal because he has been making Bernie Sanders’ central argument every week in Fortune, Slate, The Harvard Business Review, Foreign Policy, The Economist, Harper’s, Washington Monthly, and the New York Times for the last two decades.

Here’s a bit from his recent New York Times piece on the matter:

“This controversy is an indication of a campaign, and perhaps a candidate, not ready for prime time. These claims for the Sanders program aren’t just implausible, they’re embarrassing to anyone remotely familiar with economic history (which says that raising long-run growth is very hard) and changing demography.”

Sanders should be commended for pointing out the obvious problem at the heart of our economy, but he has been much more dishonest than his backers would tell you.

The Republican Party has blocked nearly every proposal President Obama has put forward, deriding him as a Socialist, even though he’s been arguably the most conservative Democrat in the Oval Office in nearly a century.

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There is no way in hell that Sanders is going to get an actual Socialist agenda passed through the obstructionist era Republican Congress, and yet he almost never addresses this vital factor in the equation, instead vaguely referencing the need for America to have a political revolution.

Kenneth Thorpe, a public-health expert at Emory University recently criticized Sanders’ healthcare plan to help the poor as in fact, doing the exact opposite, and instead of refuting his math, the Bernie team said his healthcare plan is tied to a $15/hour minimum wage in order to make it work.

This is another prime example of his dishonesty on his ability to accomplish his agenda. He wants to fight two gigantic political battles at the same time, yet refuses to address the political realities of that situation.

Barack Obama was elected in 2008 with as big of a mandate from the people as you could imagine (for modern times at least) and he was only able to get one ambitiously big bill (the Affordable Care Act) through a Senate controlled by his own party.

Sanders loves to talk about the will of the people, yet he fails to acknowledge that the will of the people has installed many members of Congress who don’t agree with him.

For years, Republicans have been rightfully criticized for their one size fits all economic policy of “throw more capitalism on it.” Sanders is basically making the same argument, but with “revolution.”

Bernie Sanders in Iowa a few weeks before the Iowa Caucus. Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Bernie Sanders in Iowa a few weeks before the Iowa Caucus. Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Bernie is depicted as a paragon of virtue and honesty, and he has been incredibly consistent with many of his views, but to paint him as some sort of continual political outsider is absurd.

Anyone who has been in Congress for 25 years is a politician through and through, and Sanders has pulled the same ploy that many have seen Republicans pull on The Daily Show for years.

One week before he voted for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (which applied the death penalty to drug trafficking and introduced a Federal “three strikes” law with a mandatory life sentence – it didn’t pass) and the Ominibus Crime Bill of 1994, (this one did pass, and contained many of the same measures but with the addition of reducing the age for minors to be tried as adults) Bernie Sanders said:

“We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.”

A career Washington politician saying one thing and then doing the opposite, isn’t that what Bernie is running against?

Bernie Sanders is an avowed Democratic Socialist, which he will say is an important distinction from the Socialism of Lenin and Marx. However, as it pertains to the economy, the only real difference between the two is specificity.

Socialism leaves room for market and non-market collectivism, but Democratic Socialism is just the combination of a Democratic political system and a Socialist economy. Both involve central planning, which is a dirty phrase in politics (because it’s a terrible idea); so candidates like Sanders sell it as if they are using government to humanize economics.

Putting aside the fact that neither government nor economics is “human” in nature, at some point, this all comes back to the same problem: the state is not just the referee of the market, but the coach and the general manager as well. That is the essence of Socialism, and the Soviet Union provided us with a perfect example of why it is incredibly difficult to work with at a large-scale.

Sanders is also dishonest about what Socialism actually means:

“You go to your public library, or you call your fire department or police department, what do you think you are calling? These are socialist institutions.”

The presence of regulation and public goods doesn’t equal Socialism. Nearly all forms of governance believe in providing basic public services for the populace. Police and fire departments exist in Syria, yet no one would say Bashar al-Assad has been anything but a Fascist dictator.

Just because a handful of powerful people are going 100 mph in a 75 doesn’t mean you drop the speed limit down to 30, you just enact methods to stop those people from going that fast, or even better, enforce the laws already on the books to stop the activity in the first place.

Almost all of our major economic markets have become horribly corrupt due in large part to their lax regulation. The cruel irony of our political corruption is that America is simultaneously overtaxed and undertaxed.

We have one of the highest effective business tax rates in the world, but that’s only true for those who cannot afford armies of lawyers and accountants to locate the seemingly infinite amount of loopholes that politicians have blasted into the US tax code.

Whenever a Berniebro lectures me about how we should simply emulate the Nordic countries, I can’t help but laugh.

Here’s why it is such a ridiculous argument:

The combined GDP of Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Norway is $1.7 trillion.

US GDP: $16.77 trillion.

This is like comparing the physics of driving a sports car to an oil tanker. What works at less than 3% the scale of us up near Santa’s workshop doesn’t necessarily compare to the greatest economic engine the world has ever produced. We need our own model.

The irony when Bernie Sanders says things like ”If you read what [Eugene] Debs said about the goals of socialism, it’s no different from what I’ve been saying — that all socialism is about is democracy” is that he’s also advocating for a pretty awesome form of governance that we already have in place: Liberal Democracy.

Many of the exact same programs Bernie Sanders endorses can be attained in a Liberal Democracy. Want proof? Look around. Socialist policies like Medicare and Social Security were accomplished along with the presence of a free(ish) market for healthcare.

Both ideologies agree on a strong central authority acting on behalf of the public, the key difference is that Socialism entails government ownership of at least parts of the economy; whereas Liberal Democracy is about using the Federal Government to ensure that the free market does not act against the interests of the people. In one model, the government picks winners and losers, in the other, the market does.

Socialism isn’t all bad.

For example, abolishing the right of private property on certain lands (also known as Eminent Domain) can be hugely beneficial, as the interstate highway system proves.

However, what separates America from all the other economic powers are the rewards that exceptional individuals can extract from the free market by providing something superbly beneficial to the masses: like the phone many of you are reading this on.

Socialism is opposed to providing proportional compensation to visionaries like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk.

Ultimately, Socialism is an offensive ideology to so many because it is antithetical to our most fundamental understanding of the world.

Everyone is not equal, that’s not how evolution works. Certain traits and characteristics win out to keep the species alive today and help build a better future while others simply fade into obscurity.

The free market reflects this reality, and that is why it is the greatest weapon against poverty in the history of this planet.

All of this is not to say that the inspiration for Sanders’ campaign is bunk, people should be pissed off at 2016 America.

Our Democracy has been hijacked by somewhere around 300,000 oligarchs to create oligopolies as far as the eye can see (or as the great George Carlin called it “the illusion of choice”).

Every country that embraces free market principles is better off for it; competition makes everyone better. Look at what China has done in this century as the ultimate proof. Markets should be regulated, some more than others, but the economy should not be centrally planned, which is at the heart of any Socialist ideology.

When Bernie Sanders says that he espouses a Socialist philosophy that doesn’t involve central planning, he’s really just describing the Liberal Democracy we used to have. We don’t need to completely upend the political system simply because we fell asleep at the wheel for a half century, we just need to modernize it and get back to doing the things that made our governance the crown jewel of mankind.

Cover Photo Credit: Phil Roeder/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Apple Has Learned The Lessons Of Eisenhower In Their Fight Against The FBI

Apple and the FBI have captured the public’s attention by battling over unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, but this is about more than one terrorist attack. This is a power struggle over the future of digital communication.

Encryption seems opaque and impossibly complex, and that’s the point. Even though it has only recently entered the popular lexicon, humans have been using encryption to keep secrets hidden since ancient Greece.

Now it’s an essential component to everyone’s electronic communication, and the United States security apparatus is essentially demanding unilateral power over its on/off switch.

A judge ordered Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to help the FBI unlock San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone 5c, which seems like a reasonable request.

After all, it has the word reasonable in it.

But like many vague government directives, its request is far from the definition of the word it uses. What the FBI really wants Apple to do can best be explained by the world’s most notorious hacker.

Granted, there are so many layers to the Snowden story that you have to take everything he says with infinite grains of salt, but the man clearly knows his tech.

He’s pretty much stuck where he is for the rest of his life, so it’s hard to see how criticizing the FBI benefits him in any way (unless you believe that he’s a Russian operative, but that’s a discussion for another day).

This isn’t just about hacking into this one phone. The FBI wants Apple to build them a cyber weapon that bypasses encryption on iPhones around the world.

Encryption has been a central debate in the intelligence community for quite some time, and lines have clearly been drawn between civil cabinets and law enforcement, as the Obama administration has offered conflicting messages on this topic.

Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Hernán Piñera/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Leslie Cald­well, the head of the Justice De­part­ment’s Crim­in­al Di­vi­sion alluded to the need to bypass encryption at a technology policy conference earlier this year:

“The De­part­ment of Justice is completely com­mit­ted to seek­ing and ob­tain­ing ju­di­cial au­thor­iz­a­tion for elec­tron­ic evid­ence col­lec­tion in all ap­pro­pri­ate cir­cum­stances. But once that au­thor­iz­a­tion is ob­tained, we need to be able to act on it if we are to keep our com­munit­ies safe and our coun­try se­cure.”

Ironically enough, the very next person to speak at that conference was another top Obama official at the Federal Trade Commission, Terrell McSweeny, and he offered a diametrically opposite opinion:

“As a per­son charged with think­ing about con­sumer pro­tec­tion, I deeply worry about things like man­dat­ory back­doors. We need to be very mind­ful of con­sumer data se­cur­ity, and we should be very, very care­ful about any­thing that un­der­mines that data se­cur­ity.”

James Comey, the director of the FBI, is one of the chief architects of the case against encryption, as he laid out in his famous 2014 “going dark” speech:

And if the challenges of real-time interception threaten to leave us in the dark, encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.

You can see this schism in on the campaign trail too. Here’s the child of the former head of the CIA Jeb Bush’s take:

“If you create encryption, it makes it harder for the American government to do its job — while protecting civil liberties — to make sure that evildoers aren’t in our midst. We need to find a new arrangement with Silicon Valley in this regard because I think this is a very dangerous kind of situation.” 

Compare that to former HP CEO/former Presidential candidate/future Fox News analyst Carly Fiorina:

“I certainly support that we need to tear down cyber walls, not on a mass basis, but on a targeted basis. I do not believe that we need to wholesale destroy every American citizen’s privacy in order to go after those that we know are suspect or are already a problem. But yes, there is more collaboration required.”

So why is the private sector so concerned with protecting encryption? Apple’s stance doesn’t seem to be based on firm principle since they have unlocked iPhones for the feds at least 70 times before.

This is a high-profile case, so what Apple does or does not do will be scrutinized infinitely more than those 70 instances combined, and the public has never been more sensitive to the security state than it is right now.

Apple doesn’t want to hurt their brand. Plus, what the FBI is demanding is unprecedented. They’re ordering Apple to build a backdoor into its seminal product.

That’s not something that can only be controlled by one party; once a backdoor exists, anyone with the wherewithal can access it.

The second the FBI uses this new software to bypass encryption, the race will be on to reverse engineer it, and if/when this type of technology falls into the wrong hands, a huge chunk of mankind’s digital infrastructure would be compromised (not to mention the horrors authoritarian regimes around the world would inflict on their people with this weapon).

Given that our security state already looks like a Orwellian fever dream, we should heed President Dwight Eisenhower’s prescient warning from his farewell address and support Apple in this fight:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Here’s How The Warriors Turned Steph Curry Into A Well Rested Bionic Superhuman

Before blossoming into the greatest shooter the sport has ever known, Steph Curry was defined by his fragile ankles.

Over the course of his first 3 NBA seasons, Curry missed 66 games, most of that coming after his initial operation, as he sprained his ankle five times while playing in 26 games the following year.

If his 2012 surgery failed, he was faced with the bleak prospect of inserting tendons from a cadaver into his ankle in the hopes that they would function better than the ones nature provided for him.

Luckily for Curry, the NBA, and anyone who ever wished that Steve Nash and Pete Maravich would have an And1 basketball baby, his last surgery is looking like it could be his last ankle surgery.

Steph’s problems were actually a pretty easy fix, as they were due to a mess of scar tissue, bone spurs, chips, and cartilage filling his joints “like crab meat.”

Dr. Richard Ferkel essentially vacuumed it all out, and the next face of the NBA was reborn.

“I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but rehabbing for two years. I feel like I’m never going to be able to play again. This ankle thing is not gonna be my life.”

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Photo Credit: Golden State Warriors/ Facebook

Curry took advantage of as many resources as he could to fuel his 2nd chance in the NBA. Before every game now, Curry straps on his Zamst ankle braces (designed for post-sprain activity) and a pair of Under Armour sneakers created specifically for his feet.

Every team is looking for an edge somewhere in keeping players healthy and consistent. It is an accepted fact that this is the new market inefficiency in sports. But few organizations pursue this avenue with the vigor and resources of the Warriors.

They hired Australian sports science guru Lachland Penfold this offseason, and according to owner Joe Lacob, the goal is to “have like, a video game fatigue meter. A guy like Lachland will be able to go up to Bob and Steve [Kerr] and say, ‘Guys, he’s at a 77, and our threshold is 75 for Safe to Play.'”

The NBA’s new SportVU cameras that track and measure almost any movement on the court have combined with the GPS trackers the team wears in practice to give the Warriors unprecedented insight into their players’ health and its relation to their game.

The Warriors place a premium on their players’ mental acuity as well. Steve Kerr has made it a team goal to reduce personal stress, and the Warriors run complex drills to test their nervous system, as Curry described in an interview with Tech Insider:

“We overload our sensory system, nervous system, in our training with different lights. There are little beams that we have on the wall, and I’ll be doing dribble moves and reading the lights that are associated with different moves. Different colors mean to do a different move, and you have to make that decision in a split second and still have control of the ball.”

What do Steve Kerr, Chip Kelly, the Vancouver Canucks, and Jason Bourne all agree on? As the line from Robert Ludlum’s famous 1990 book goes: “Rest is a weapon.”

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Photo Credit: Golden State Warriors/ Facebook

Before Kelly even arrived in Philadelphia three years ago, the Vancouver Canucks signed a deal in 2009 with Fatigue Science.

No professional squad has a more brutal travel schedule than the northwesternmost team in North America; the Canucks traveled one third of the distance to the moon en route to their 2011 Stanley Cup Finals loss, so it’s only natural that they would be interested in the effects of sleep, or the lack thereof, on the body.

A 2012 Harvard Study placed Fatigue Science’s armbands on orthopedic surgical residents and found that they averaged 5.3 hours of sleep per week, and because of this, the risk of medical error increased by 22%. Significant fatigue basically has the same effect on the body as being drunk.

Kelly has said that he believes that “an elite athlete needs between 10-12 hours [of sleep] a night.”

He was a college football pioneer in so many ways at Oregon, and he was practically the only college coach who was seriously investing in sport science.

As Chris Brown wrote for Grantland in 2014 about the basis of Kelly’s research (which was conducted on Australian-rules football):

“Many of those studies used heart rate, GPS, accelerometers, and gyroscope monitors worn by players in practice to determine how to train for peak game-day performance and how to prevent injuries. These studies also tracked the movements that players made in games so teams could mold practices and training to what players did on an individualized and position-by-position basis.”

The Eagles were 18th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost to injury metric the year before Kelly arrived.

They invested a ton of money in his programs, placed trackers on their players’ wrists in practice, and finished 1st and 2nd in his subsequent seasons. Kelly has since been fired from the Eagles and is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan used to show up for work before sunrise. But things have changed for him.

“I thought that showed dedication and work ethic. I don’t do that anymore, because I realized it is more important to be rested and ready than it is to beat everybody to work.”

Pete Carroll has long embraced the importance of sleep, and the Seahawks now schedule their travel and training schedules to maximize their players’ sleep efficiency.

Richard Sherman has become one of Carroll’s acolytes on this issue, emphasizing how the head coach’s focus on good sleep was central to their Championship season of 2014 in an open letter for Sports Illustrated.

The pace of innovation in sports is accelerating. The Moneyball Era opened the floodgates for a reevaluation of everything.

Once available only to elite athletes, this technology that monitors players’ health and performance and helps explain their inextricably linked relationship is becoming more widespread and affordable.

If these advances could help alter the course of Steph Curry’s career, and thus, the history of the NBA, imagine the possibilities they could create in neighborhoods across the country.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Why The AFC Championship Might Be Peyton Manning’s Last Game Ever

If the Denver Broncos lose in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, it could very well be Peyton Manning’s last game.

It would almost certainly be his last game in Denver, given that both he and Brock Osweiler are free agents. Neither would probably accept a backup position next year, and Denver would be foolish to hang on to another year of Manning while losing out on a potential decade-plus of Osweiler.

Peyton’s Legacy in Denver

Even though it seems like it was just yesterday that us Broncos fans stopped Tebowing and embraced our inner Manning, this is Papa John’s fourth year in blue and orange. Looking back, he’s done quite a bit.

Year 1: I’m still not ready to talk about this.

Year 2: For Bronco fans, there are few things better than beating the San Diego Chargers and Phillip Rivers, exponentially more so in the playoffs, but winning our first Brady-Manning playoff game and going to the Super Bowl afterwards was probably better. As fun as those were, what happened next was equally disheartening as they ended up on the wrong side of the only 43-8 game in NFL history.

Year 3:

Always a good sign when a prominent and trusted journalist with a good relationship with your team’s head coach reports that he’ll leave “if” they lose their playoff game later that day. That was a hostage situation that robbed us of another Brady-Manning AFC Championship.

Year 4: If Bronco fans had to list the 5 teams they hate the most, the consensus would form around Pittsburgh, New England, Kansas City, Oaklandlangeles, and San Diegolangeles. In four years, Manning secured playoff wins over three of them, with the potential to clinch the Brady-Manning playoff rivalry in favor of the Broncos this weekend.

Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it’s been a good run.

Bronco fans have a unique perspective on the Manning-Brady rivalry, because as a Colt, Peyton routinely eviscerated the Broncos to the point where they traded for Champ Bailey after Manning threw for over 800 yards and 9 TD’s in back to back playoff games against Denver. We’re not fans of Brady, but Peyton wasn’t exactly our favorite guy either.

Even in the face of recent HGH allegations, Peyton’s legacy is mostly secured in Denver. The debate about PED’s has certainly waned from its peak in the previous decade, as many people don’t really know what to make of doping in sports anymore due to its complexity, and because it seems to be so widespread.

Plus, the NFL has little interest in finding out whether Peyton Manning is taking PED’s, because if he is, so is a gigantic chunk of the league. This is a story that will most likely never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Fans care about wins, and Peyton provided plenty of those for Bronco fans to go along with a laughable amount of NFL and franchise records. With two more wins, he would become a Denver legend. Without them, this was merely a fun, yet mildly disappointing episode in an otherwise long term relationship with our city’s favorite sports team.

Peyton’s legacy vs Brady

Far too many words have been committed to a debate that no one can really ever win, so I won’t waste any more space here, but given that I live in Boston and have to deal with the noise, I just want to remind my compatriots that a handful of field goals and a couple other plays not involving Peyton Manning or Tom Brady have swung this rivalry in favor of Brady in the Win-Loss column. Assigning the efforts of 46 men (not to mention the coaching staff) to 1 man is an inefficient way to compare two players. Such is the nature of a game that is decided by inches.

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots

Believe it or not, but there are people other than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing in this game.

While everyone has been trying to push their way to the front of the line to pour more dirt on Peyton Manning’s career, few have talked about the real reason why the Broncos are hosting the AFC Championship Game: the best defense in the NFL.

Debating Manning has commanded so much of the conversation that it’s given many the impression that the offense is still the one we’ve become familiar with over the last decade-plus. It’s not. They’re not even running the same offense they were running when I wrote my column on the QB controversy a month ago.

Since then, Osweiler lead multiple comebacks in the biggest game of the season, jolting the Broncos out of their doldrums by running the Manning/Tom Moore offense to near-perfection. The entire offense fell apart the following week, turning the ball over 5 times before Manning came in relief of Osweiler. Peyton lead comebacks against the Chargers in week 17 and the Steelers in the Divisional Round while hopping in between Kubiak’s West Coast scheme, and Moore’s spread attack.

Denver will win this game if they can run the ball effectively, contain Gronk to simply a good game instead of an extraordinary one, and consistently pressure Brady and knock balls down at the line.

New England will win this game if they can take away deep passes and throws outside the numbers from Manning. That will free them up to put extra players close to the line to stop the Broncos best threat: their rushing attack. Offensively, so long as the Pats protect the ball they should be fine. Josh McDaniels’ offense is great, and even though the Denver defense is more than up to the task, it’s hard to see how Brady won’t get his points.

This game will most likely come down to the Denver offense and the New England defense. One thing to keep an eye on is the Patriots Achilles heel: their nearly non-existent running game. They trust their run game so little that they abandoned it while running out the clock with a one score lead last week, and Brady nearly threw one of the costliest interceptions in recent playoff history.

Denver’s Achilles heel this season has been Peyton Manning.

His arm strength has been a major issue since his neck surgery, but it was his decision-making earlier this season is what made him look like the worst quarterback in the league. If the Peyton Manning from fall 2015 shows up, Sports Illustrated’s prediction will prove to be prescient.

If the Peyton of the last two games shows up, then this has all the makings of a classic.

Cover Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Why LeBron Needs To Fight For Tamir Rice: A History Of Athletes As Social Justice Warriors

Athletes play an outsized role in our society. Their exploits dominate large portions of many lives and have a dramatic impact on our emotional security. In a sense, they’re family.

LeBron James grew up in Akron, was drafted by Cleveland, left to chase titles in Miami, only to return to Ohio to try to end one of the saddest streaks in sports (the 1964 Browns were the last team to win a title for the rock n roll capital of the world).

LeBron embraces being a pillar of the community, and in recent weeks, part of the community challenged that pledge, calling for him to sit out games in order to protest a tragic case.

The Tamir Rice incident can be described by a myriad of terrible adjectives, but the case follows a familiar script: a young unarmed black man was killed by the police.

Watch: Shooting of Tamir Rice video. (CNN Report): 

What makes this version of it so horrifying is that you can replace “man” with “child” and “killed” with “assassinated.” The video shows the act in all of its ugliness, clear as day.

However, a grand jury ultimately ruled that officer Tim Lohemann was not guilty. Lohemann was described by his previous police station as someone who “could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal.”

Policing is a difficult job with plenty of shades of gray, but given the words of other police officers and the video evidence, this particular incident seemed to be much more black and white.

The community called on LeBron to fight back against a force that has been operating since the dawn of humanity, and James’ response was underwhelming to many.

“To be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue,” LeBron James on the Tamir Rice case.

James said that he wasn’t really paying attention to the case:

“To be honest, I haven’t really been on top of this issue. So it’s hard for me to comment. I understand that any lives that [are] lost, what we want more than anything is prayer and the best for the family, for anyone. But for me to comment on the situation, I don’t have enough knowledge about it.”

Is it his responsibility to carry this burden? What could he even do?

We are entering a new era of athletic activism with the expansion of social media. Athletes have usurped the power of journalists to distribute and shape their message. LeBron has already taken advantage of this infrastructure to show solidarity with another young, black, innocent victim.

Photo Credit: LeBron James

The 2012 Miami HEAT protest the Trayvon Martin killing. Photo Credit: LeBron James

To determine what LeBron’s responsibility might be, a look back at the last century of this issue would be instructive.

Due to America’s history with slavery and its struggle with the ensuing fallout of a botched reconstruction and the Jim Crow era that followed, much of activism in sports has been centered on the fight for racial equality.

Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson, and many many many others went through literal and metaphorical trials throughout the Jim Crow era, as their natural resistance to oppression served as models of what the next generation of athletes could come to expect from those in control.

Even if the power structure didn’t change, the next generation of activists increased their share of power with the expansion of TV.

The 1964 NBA All Star Game was the first to be televised, and it almost never happened. Bill Russell helped to organize a walkout unless the owners agreed to recognize the players’ union. They proved to everyone in sports that it was possible to fight back against injustice, win, and keep their job.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos painted perhaps the most famous image of athletic activism, wearing black gloves, and raising their right fist in a show of solidarity while standing on the 1968 Olympic podium.

A grafitti version of the famous "black power" salute from the 1968 Olympic Games. Photo Credit: Newtown grafitti

A grafitti version of the famous “black power” salute from the 1968 Olympic Games.
Photo Credit: Newtown grafitti

As powerful as Smith and Carlos’ gesture was, its impact on society could not compare to the ordeal of The Greatest, or as he put it:

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.”

Muhammad Ali nearly sacrificed the greatest boxing career of all time in order to protest the Vietnam War after being drafted in 1966; refusing to fight by citing his devotion to Islam and its firm stance against wars of all kind. Ali minced no words on his view of the United States government:

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slavemasters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end…I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years. “

Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, boxing license, and his passport so he could not fight overseas, unable to box again until 1971.

His case would eventually go to the Supreme Court, and this battle against the government was the first thing that many came to learn about the Vietnam War. The man formerly known as Cassius Clay was a major influence on an era that irrevocably changed the American public’s relationship with our government.

It’s difficult to find another athlete from any era exercising their conscience at the risk of so much while having as large of an impact as he did.

The energy and frequency of high-profile protest decreased in the next era as more money flowed into sports, and everyone’s attitude could be summed up by the famous (reportedly true) Michael Jordan quote: “Republicans buy shoes too” and Charles Barkley’s line of “I am not a role model. Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids.”

There were occasional bouts of activism, including one that serves as a cautionary tale for all players.

In 1992, Craig Hodges, Jordan’s championship teammate, wore a dashiki to the White House, presenting a letter to President George H. W. Bush pushing for the government to begin to seriously invest in the black community.

That season, Hodges shot 37.5% from deep (3.9% higher than league average), 94.1% from the free throw line, and committed just 22 turnovers in 56 games, yet he never played again as 27 teams all felt they had no room for the efficient 31-year-old shooting guard.

Fast forward to today’s conversation where people openly snicker at the thought of anyone hand writing a letter, and activism seems to be on the rise.

In this decade alone, Derrick Rose and countless other NBA players wore I Can’t Breathe shirts in the wake of the Eric Garner tragedy. The Clippers covered up their logo in protest of Donald Sterling.

The Phoenix Suns wore jerseys that said “Los Suns” in response to a draconian immigration bill passed by the state of Arizona.

The St. Louis Rams exited the pregame tunnel with their hands up in a show of solidarity with the Michael Brown protestors in Ferguson.

Andrew Hawkins wears a shirt in warm ups calling for justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.

All of these players used the power of images and their celebrity to make a statement about the injustices they see in our society.

It’s not just symbolism that characterizes today’s protests either. Outspoken players like Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo have campaigned fervently in support of LGBT rights, the former claiming that it cost him his job in the NFL, and the latter even getting into a spat with a congressman over the topic.

All-World QB Aaron Rodgers aggressively raises awareness to try to end the decades long war in the Congo, and will even go out of his way to denounce discrimination in his home stadium.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell can see some parallels between today and Muhammad Ali’s era of activism:

“I grew up in the ’60s, where everybody was socially conscious. I believe in it. I’d be a hypocrite if I stood up here and told you any differently, because more than likely, some of those protests that Dr. King and some of the others that took a part in non-violent protests, is the reason why I’m standing here in front of you today.”

Athletes live privileged lives that are funded entirely by our adulation. Their celebrity exists only because the community deems it so.

Athletes live privileged lives that are funded entirely by our adulation. Their celebrity exists only because the community deems it so.

They have a moral obligation to give back to the rest of us, but because of the contentious nature of social change and existing power structures, activism is bad for business.

This balance is difficult to achieve, with athletes like Muhammad Ali and Craig Hodges serving as cautionary tales of how one’s career can be ripped away from them in an instant.

However, with the emergence of this new era of activism and the ability for athletes to control their own message, there is plenty of room for LeBron to advance his involvement in the Tamir Rice case, especially since so many of his contemporaries seem ready and eager to lead us into a new world.

Do you think LeBron should be more than just a player? Tell us in the comments below: 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Keith Allison/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Is Peyton Manning Just A Backup Quarterback Now?

Full disclosure: I am a diehard Bronco fan.

I grew up in Denver and there are two rules to living in Colorado: go to the mountains as much as possible, and place your emotional wellbeing in the hands of the Denver Broncos.

Denver is a great sports town with four professional teams, but the Broncos have been nearest and dearest to our hearts for the longest. If Coloradans had the option to get rid of the Broncos or to ax the Avalanche, Rockies, and Nuggets, I have no doubt that we’d still be showing up at Mile High on Sundays.

Hell, Tim Tebow is more beloved than nearly every Avalanche, Rockies, and Nuggets player ever. Football is the subtext of our state.

Other than the Carolina Panthers’ run at perfection, the biggest story in the NFL right now surrounds the future of Peyton Manning.

NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport reported last Sunday that Manning would not be happy as the Broncos’ backup quarterback, which was quickly rebuked by Denver’s Executive Vice President and General Manager, and unofficial Governor of Colorado, John Elway.

Later that day, the Broncos lost a heart-wrenching game in Pittsburgh where Peyton’s backup, Brock Osweiler, carved up the Steeler defense to the tune of 15/19 for 238 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown in the 1st half. In the 2nd half, the Broncos didn’t cross the 50 yard line until 2:58 left in the 4th, running 32 plays that gained only 71 yards.

After the game, Peyton called Rapoport’s report “bullshit” and “insulting.”

Rapoport isn’t some random guy spouting nonsense on the internet; he’s a seasoned sports journalist, having been a beat reporter for Mississippi State, Alabama, and the New England Patriots.

Rapoport has covered the NFL as a whole since 2009, so it’s safe to say that this report was not plucked out of thin air.

The crux of the issue with the 2015 Broncos is that the offense Peyton has come to embody is fundamentally different from the one that new head coach Gary Kubiak wants to install.

Kubiak is a Bill Walsh disciple, and plugged Terrell Davis into his version of the West Coast offense en route to back to back Super Bowl titles as the Broncos offensive coordinator in the late 90’s. The Tom Moore offense that Manning ran in Indianapolis is primarily rooted in the passing game.

This is why the Osweiler vs Manning debate is less about each particular quarterback, and should be more focused on how their talents fit into the greater offense.

The Broncos are built to run the ball.

In short, Peyton wants to play fast and isolate certain matchups over and over again, while Kubiak wants to keep defenses guessing and chew up the clock with short passes and runs to set up a rolling play action that takes shots down field (If you want a terrific and more detailed breakdown of the difference between these offenses, read this piece from Mile High Report).

With Manning’s litany of injuries right now, he simply doesn’t have the mobility to run the kinds of plays that are integral to a Kubiak offense.

No sport is more dependent upon the system that the players play within than football.

For example, Demarcus Ware played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense in Dallas and tore offensive linemen to shreds for a decade, reserving himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. He played last season as a 4-3 defensive end in Jack del Rio’s defense in Denver and was still good, but not the monster we had come to expect. He finished with 10 sacks, his lowest career output, save for his rookie season and his last injury plagued campaign in Dallas.

This year, until he hurt his back, Ware was arguably the best defensive player in the league, winning his first career defensive player of the month award in October. A big reason for this improvement? New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips replaced del Rio’s 4-3 with his aggressive 3-4 scheme.

This is why the Osweiler vs Manning debate is less about each particular quarterback, and should be more focused on how their talents fit into the greater offense. The Broncos are built to run the ball.

Both CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman are good running backs with complimentary skillsets, and their underwhelming offensive line is down to both their 2nd string tackles, which has led to some pretty ugly showings against good pass rushes (Khalil Mack single handedly destroying their offense most comes to mind).

Since Peyton likes to play out of the shotgun, the only way to meld Kubiak’s offense to what Manning is most comfortable with is to run the base formation out of the pistol, where the running back lines up around 7 yards off the line of scrimmage.

Basic logic dictates that the closer you are to the line of scrimmage, the easier it is to run the ball, and the Broncos have looked like a much more dangerous offense with Osweiler under center, executing the scheme Kubiak was hired to install instead of the awkward hybrid that Manning ran earlier this season.

That said, each players’ respective talents still matter quite a bit at the game’s most important position, and even though Osweiler is a demonstrably better fit for the Denver offense than Peyton is, he has not done enough to convince this partisan that he is a better QB than Manning at this moment.

Osweiler just doesn’t make enough big plays, as evidenced by his 6.71 yards per attempt, ranking him 30th in the NFL (to prove how weird this year has been, the three guys ahead of him? Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers).

Photo Credit: Jullo Enriquez/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo Credit: Jullo Enriquez/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Osweiler has done more than enough to secure the starting gig next year, but if Peyton has recovered from his injuries (as much as he can, plantar fascia doesn’t go away quickly), and can run Gary Kubiak’s offense (the biggest question mark in all of this), he should be the starting quarterback.

Of course Peyton Manning wouldn’t be happy as a backup, he’s Peyton Freaking Manning!

But the implication in a report like Rapoport’s is his unhappiness will be disruptive, and given Manning’s reputation as the consummate professional, that isn’t likely to happen. Media-generated hysteria is what’s disruptive.

It’s why Tim Tebow can never be a backup QB.

Where this all seems to be headed is an amicable parting of the ways between Manning and the Broncos in the offseason, with Peyton either retiring or signing with a QB needy win-now team like the Texans or the Jets. If he does return, it will probably be at a dramatically reduced salary.

Denver has three of its most important defensive players entering their first free agency this offseason, and Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, and Von Miller won’t come cheap.

There is virtually no scenario where Peyton’s current contract stays on the books and all three of those guys return.

John Elway brought Peyton to Denver in order to win a Super Bowl and end his career much like Elway did, riding off into the sunset baked in blue and orange, but the closest this team has come to reaching that goal is being on the business end of a historic Super Bowl beatdown against the Legion of Boom (which this writer was present for, the Broncos performance forcing him to get drunk off of $14 beers).

RISE NEWS writer Jacob Weindling (L) at Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City in 2014. Photo Credit: Jacob Weindling

RISE NEWS writer Jacob Weindling (L) at Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City in 2014. Photo Credit: Jacob Weindling

 

This is Peyton’s last shot in Denver, and just because the quarterback of the future has looked adequate to good in his first few starts does not mean that a healthy and able living legend should be sitting on the bench.

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Cover Photo Credit: Craig Hawkins/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Trainpocalypse: Real Danger To The Environment Is In Not Approving The Keystone XL Pipeline

The following is the opinion of the writer of this piece and not necessarily of Rise News.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a divisive issue in American politics. Typically, Republicans favor it, stressing its economic benefits:

“This decision isn’t surprising, but it is sickening. By rejecting this pipeline, the president is rejecting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.”House Speaker Paul Ryan

While Democrats mostly oppose it, with an intense focus on its environmental impact:

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” – President Barack Obama

Given how difficult it has become for both sides to agree on anything, let’s just start out with some indisputable facts.

  • The Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada have a substantial amount of oil
  • Around 48 companies have a stake in the oil sands, the majority of them not American-based
  • A pipeline is one of a few different ways to transport oil

The Keystone XL Pipeline is commonly depicted by American politicians as the single determinant in whether this dirty oil is going to be extracted from the ground, but that is a narrow minded take on a large-scale problem.

Whether or not America decides to build one pipeline will not stop Canadian businesses and state and local governments from exploiting the economic windfall of this massive supply of energy. With no major pipeline to move this oil to one of its most logical destinations, many of these businesses have turned to a myriad of options.

America’s railroads have become a much more popular method to distribute their cargo, with western transportation spiking in this last quarter after President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline.

“The environmental impact is negative either way, but when pipelines burst, they usually don’t present the immediate danger to life and property that derailed oil trains do.”

Transporting oil in a sealed compartment while speeding along metal rails is a much more dangerous option than pushing it through a pipeline.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration even says that “pipelines are currently still the safest means of transporting hazardous liquids and natural gas.”

If a train becomes derailed, multiple massive explosions are a possibility, as evidenced by the 2013 tragedy in Quebec that claimed 47 lives, the deadliest in the history of oil by rail.

WATCH: 2013 BBC report on the Quebec oil train tragedy

According to federal data, more oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. By creating a political football out of one project, we have avoided talking about the real consequences of action or inaction.

Inaction has led to a situation where oil that is especially combustible is being moved through cities and along rivers, and the problem is accelerating.

Nine railroad incidents spilled 4,900 gallons of oil throughout 2010; in 2014, 143 episodes released 57,600 gallons.

Even in the face of mounting calamities, the oil industry is dragging its feet on implementing new rail safety rules.

Granted, the rate of rail accidents has been declining since 2005, but the amount of oil being moved in the last five years isn’t even comparable to the ones preceding them. The issue has evolved into uncharted territory for the current model.

The Alberta tar sands oil industry is preparing to triple production by 2030. They are under immense pressure to find various methods to export this oil, especially since labor and materials have become more expensive.

Vetoing the creation of a pipeline into America will not keep this oil in the ground. There is plenty of demand for oil here, and any time we have the opportunity to lessen our dependence on Middle Eastern despots in order to become closer to our northern ally, we should take it.

Yes, a pipeline will have negative effects on the environment, but that oil is coming out regardless – the market has spoken. If we don’t buy it, someone else will. Saying no to a pipeline just means that more of this oil will be transported to the United States by alternative methods like rail, and there will continue to be tragedies that cost innocent lives.

The environmental impact is negative either way, but when pipelines burst, they usually don’t present the immediate danger to life and property that derailed oil trains do.

The United States should build a pipeline to the Canadian tar sands in order to alleviate the stress that is being placed on our railroads, and use the tax windfall to invest in an energy future where we don’t have to choose between a handful of lousy options.

Cover Photo Credit: Greg Gjerdingen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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