Eric Holcomb

The Indiana Republican Committee announced on Tuesday (July 26) that Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb will be the Republican party’s nominee for governor. Holcomb replaces Governor Mike Pence, who ended his bid for reelection to serve as Donald Trump’s running mate in the upcoming presidential election. Holcomb has served as Lt. Governor since March 2016, when Sue Ellspermann stepped down.

Holcomb has been involved in many political positions and campaigns throughout his career, however, he has never been elected to office. In 2000, Holcomb ran for the US House of Representatives against Democrat John Frenz. During the campaign, Holcomb’s team ran a negative ad* that is now widely believed to be misleading, and he ultimately lost the election. Beginning in 2003, Holcomb served as an advisor to then Governor Mitch Daniels. He played a vital role in Daniels’ re-election in 2008 and also worked as deputy chief of staff during the Daniels’ administration. He later held the position of Chairman of the Indiana Republican Party and served as Chief of Staff to US Senator Dan Coates. When Senator Coates announced that he would not be running for re-election in 2016, Holcomb stepped down from his position as chief of staff to enter the race for senator. Prior to the primary election, Holcomb withdrew his name from the ballot, and Governor Mike Pence appointed him as lieutenant governor.

During his short bid for senate, Holcomb debated Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young.** He advocated for a system that would track non-citizens after they enter the country and for cutting the corporate tax rate. He stated that he was the candidate who was “supportive of the LGBT community,” but his stance on specific issues was and remains unclear. The Indy Star notes that both conservatives who are opposed to and those who advocate for LGBT rights supported him in his Senate race. However it may be difficult for Holcomb to gain the support of those on both sides of this divisive issue as he runs for governor. Bill Oesterle, a gay rights advocate, initially supported Holcomb and formed a super PAC for Holcomb in his senate race; however, Oesterle later criticized Holcomb for his choice to accept the role of Lt. Governor under Mike Pence. Oesterle cited Holcomb’s choice to work with Governor Pence as the worst professional betrayal he has experienced in his career.

Undoubtedly, Holcomb’s nomination will have a major impact on the current gubernatorial race. During his campaign for senate, Holcomb frequently cited his time working with Daniels as evidence that he has the ability to create and execute plans that unite people with diverse political beliefs. He will likely continue to link himself to the former governor during the upcoming election as he attempts to bring together a divided party. Holcomb knows his opponent, John Gregg, well. During Holcomb’s time working for Daniels’ first campaign, Holcomb often contrasted Daniels’ vision for the state with that of the current state government. He scrutinized the actions taken by the state government, and at that time Gregg was the speaker of the House and played a visible and integral role in government as a Democrat.

As he begins his gubernatorial campaign, Holcomb faces a divided party and a state that is not very pleased with controversial policies implemented by Governor Pence. Holcomb will likely have to work to distance himself from the contention surrounding Governor Pence. Holcomb may face criticism for his misleading campaign tactics in 2000 and his role in Governor Pence’s administration. He will also need to build name recognition and put together his campaign rather quickly.

Much of Holcomb’s career has been working with other political leaders rather than working on his own political campaigns. Due to this, Holcomb has not taken a strong stance on many issues. This election gives him the opportunity to voice his own opinions and to create a strong platform. I hope to see him campaign on strong ideas rather than just linking himself with popular politicians and avoiding real policy.  I look forward to seeing where he stands on the issues facing Indiana as well as hearing his specific plans for the state as he begins his campaign.  

*The ad accused Frenz of supporting bestiality through a vote to give funding to the Kinsey Institute, a sex research center. Frenz had actually voted for the state budget which included funding for Indiana University, where the Kinsey Institute is located. (The budget included funding for other state universities as well.)

** In the primary election, Todd Young was chosen as the Republican candidate, and he will run against Democratic candidate Evan Bayh.

 

Sources:

Advertisements

U.S. Infrastructure

The United States infrastructure is not very strong. By many rankings and reports, infrastructure in the U.S. needs to be improved. According to the Global Competitiveness Rankings from the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks eleventh in the world for infrastructure, and The American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. a “D+” for infrastructure. The United States falls short in all areas of infrastructure; highways, bridges, ports, and the power grid are a few portions of the infrastructure that need to be improved.

To start, U.S. highways are not properly funded or maintained. According to an article from The Economist, the United States loses $100 billion per year due to traffic jams, and the ASCE gave the U.S. a “D” for its roads. A major source of funding is the Highway Trust Fund. The Highway Trust Fund has two main purposes: it supports projects relating to the interstate system and road construction, and it funds mass transit projects. The fund finances about a quarter of all public highway and mass transit spending across the nation. The Highway Trust Fund is paid for mainly with a federal gas tax, however the gas tax is becoming less effective. The federal fuel tax is not indexed for inflation, and it hasn’t been increased since 1993. Also, greater fuel efficiency and an increase in mass transit and car-pooling have decreased revenue brought in by the tax. Currently, the Highway Trust Fund is running a deficit. A bill passed in December 2015 covers this gap until 2020. If a solution is not reached by then, the fund will be unable to pay states. All projects would then come to a halt.   

Bridges and dams are also in need of much repair. Ten percent of U.S. bridges are considered deficient, and the age of the nation’s average bridge is 42 years. ASCE rates American bridges at a “C+”. In 2012, nearly 14,000 dams were considered high-hazard, and the average dam is 52 years old. The ASCE gives the U.S. a “D” for its dams.

The nation’s power grid is also inadequate. Much of the power grid was built about fifty years ago when Internet access wasn’t necessary and electronic devices were a luxury. Now, these things are a necessity for businesses. Roughly $150 billion is lost to power outages each year. The equipment is aging and being used at its maximum capacity. ASCE estimates that about $107 billion is needed by 2020 to maintain the power grid.

Not only is there a lack of funding for infrastructure, but there is also a major problem with the way funding is spent. Money is often used to finance new projects rather than being used to repair existing infrastructure. For example, an article written by Angie Schmitt in February 2015, found that between 2004 and 2008, 43 percent of funding for roads was spent on repairing existing roads while 57 percent of funding went to expanding and creating roads. However, existing roads made up 98.7 percent of the nation’s roads, and just 1.3 percent of the nation’s roads were new. Essentially, just 43 percent of the funding was spent on 98.7 percent of roads, while 57 percent of the funding was spent on just 1.3 percent of roads. Clearly, funding is not smartly allocated.  

Politicians and interest groups have proposed several different plans to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure system, and I’ll discuss these plans in future posts. 

auto-736794_1920

Infrastructure

Crumbling roads, dilapidated buildings, rickety bridges, and flickering power all sound like part of the setting for a post-apocalyptic novel; however, they are also elements of a failing infrastructure. When considering the most paramount issues facing the nation, or even the state, infrastructure is not usually an issue that most people consider, and it is not an issue that many find compelling or exciting. However, a robust infrastructure is a leading factor in having a healthy economy, and the state of the infrastructure has a large impact on the entire nation. Unfortunately, the United States’ infrastructure is very flawed, and funding for infrastructure is often inadequate or misused. Scholars and politicians have proposed various plans to improve the nation’s framework, and, likely, a combination of these plans, coupled with public support, could result in a much stronger infrastructure. In a series of posts, I plan to address topics such as the importance of having a good infrastructure, problems with the infrastructure at both the state and federal level, and proposed solutions to these problems.

Why is a good infrastructure necessary?

When considering the word “infrastructure,” many people think of roads and transportation. While roads are an integral part of a nation’s framework, many other elements are involved in composing the infrastructure as well. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines infrastructure as “the basic equipment and structures that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly.” When applying this definition to the United States, or other nations, infrastructure includes buildings, roads, the power grid, bridges, airports, access to clean water, and communication systems. Having a stable and well-functioning infrastructure is vital to a nation’s growth; a good infrastructure leads to a more productive economy and a more able workforce.

Nations with a stronger infrastructure will  have a more robust economy. A good framework makes existing firms more competitive and provides economic incentives to companies or nations looking to invest in a region. A firm is more likely to locate in a region with an efficient transportation system and an effective communications system than a region where roads are crumbling and there isn’t any access to Internet. This can be seen by comparing the economies of China and India.

India has chosen to focus its economy on services rather than manufacturing, and the nation has neglected its infrastructure. For example, the country’s power grid is overworked, its airports are much too small, and it appears to be moving towards a shortage of freshwater. According to an article from the Federal Reserve Board of Atlanta, the country invested only 3.6% of its GDP in infrastructure in 2009, and India’s government has stated that the poor infrastructure has likely slowed economic growth by about 2% per year. On the other hand, China has invested a lot in its infrastructure since the late 20th century. In 2009, the country spent 9% of its GDP on infrastructure. The nation built new coal mines and developed a modern power grid. Currently, China is developing nuclear power plants and investing heavily in their roads and highways. This, along with the country’s inexpensive labor, makes the nation very attractive to foreign investors. As of December 2015, China ranks fourth for foreign direct investment, while India ranks twenty-second. Furthermore, China’s per capita GDP is now more than double that of India.

Not only does a solid infrastructure attract investors, but it also leads to a more able workforce. A good infrastructure includes having access to clean water. Also, an efficient infrastructure ensures that electricity is available to keep food and medicine refrigerated. Having these amenities makes a country’s human capital more productive, leading to a more productive economy.     

Look next week for a post on problems with the U.S. infrastructure! 

Sources (for this post and future posts):

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. (2008). Retrieved February 22, 2016, from https://www.frbatlanta.org/regional-economy/econsouth/vol_10_no_2/econsouth-vol_10_no_2-building_a_better_world.aspx

Fixing the Highway Trust Fund. (2016, January 25). Retrieved February 21, 2016, from http://www.concordcoalition.org/issue-briefs/2016/0125/fixing-highway-trust-fund

Golson, J. (2015, January 23). It’s Time to Fix America’s Infrastructure. Here’s Where to Start. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.wired.com/2015/01/time-fix-americas-infrastructure-heres-start/

Halsey, A., III. (2012, August 1). Aging power grid on overload as U.S. demands more electricity. Retrieved February 21, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/aging-power-grid-on-overload-as-us-demands-more-electricity/2012/08/01/gJQAB5LDQX_story.html

Johnson, D. (2015, December). How the Clinton and Sanders Infrastructure Plans Measure Up. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-johnson/how-the-clinton-and-sande_b_8688628.html

Marco Rubio’s Plan to Build a 21st-Century Transportation System. (2015). Retrieved February 22, 2016, from https://marcorubio.com/issues-2/marco-rubio-transportation-policy-highways-roads/

Schmitt, A. (2015, February 05). More Money Won’t Fix U.S. Infrastructure If We Don’t Change How It’s Spent. Retrieved February 22, 2016 from http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/02/05/more-money-wont-fix-u-s-infrastructure-if-we-dont-change-how-its-spent/

Yglesias, M. (2015, December 01). Hillary Clinton’s infrastructure plan, explained. Retrieved February 22, 2016, from http://www.vox.com/2015/12/1/9826668/clinton-infrastructure-plan-explained

Most Important Problem. (2016, February) Retrieved February 25 from http://www.artba.org/newsline/2015/10/22/two-new-polls-show-americans-overwhelmingly-support-increased-funding-for-infrastructure/      

traffic-jam-388924_1920

Representative Christina Hale

I was recently invited to attend a conference for the College Democrats of Indiana (CDIN). CDIN is a group of college students across the state who are interested in politics and who support the Democratic party. At the conference, I had the opportunity to meet students who are passionate about government and politics. I also heard several speakers discuss utilizing social media, volunteering for campaigns, fundraising, and the future of the Democratic party. State Representative Christina Hale, from Indianapolis, is the Honorary Chairperson of CDIN. She spoke at the conference, and afterwards, she sat down with me to talk more about what she hopes to accomplish during 2016.

 

Representative Hale has experience working around the globe, and she first ran for office when she realized that she wanted to have a positive impact, not only around the world, but also on her own community. She became involved with CDIN around the same time she first ran for office in 2012. She hopes to inspire young people to question policies and candidates, to be involved in campaigns when possible, and to vote. She wants to see young democrats holding candidates accountable and voicing their opinions on issues. She would like to see democrats having fun and staying positive as they work in politics. In terms of volunteering and being involved, Representative Hale asks young democrats to volunteer with local and state level elections. She believes one can gain valuable experience when helping with these elections. Hale hopes that young democrats will be able to run for office sooner rather than later, and she wants to see the state legislature become younger and more diverse.  

 

During the interview, Representative Hale discussed growing jobs in the state. She said that, while Governor Pence states that Indiana has more jobs now than in 2008, the jobs pay much less. “We have more jobs that pay less. That’s a problem. Our per capita income relative to other states has been on the decline since 1962. Household income since the early 2000’s. We’ve got to stop that trend. Attracting and growing the kinds of jobs that will support good salaries is key.” She thinks it’s not only important to increase the number of traditional office jobs, but also to increase jobs in advanced manufacturing. “I think that we need to put in conversation local businesses, local educators, chambers of commerce, economic development professionals, and everyone who has a stake in keeping the economic health of regions alive.”

 

Hale coauthored a bill that would consider economic development by regions rather than cities. She believes this would ensure that cities within regions aren’t competing for opportunities, and would enable people to better forecast the future of key industries. She hopes this would, in turn, allow people to finish school prepared for available jobs.

 

Along with discussing job growth in Indiana, Hale also expressed concerns for our state’s infrastructure, as many of Indiana’s roads and bridges are crumbling, and there is a lack of funding to support them. “We capped property taxes in recent years, but we didn’t replace the revenue that municipalities used to receive from those taxes. So municipalities are having trouble paying for basic services.” Also, a portion of the gas tax has shifted from being used to improve roads and bridges to funding healthcare. One proposal increases the gas tax, but Hale questions whether this is an adequate solution. “When you consider raising our gas tax, cars and motor vehicles are more efficient and using less gas than ever before. So when that model used to work in the past, it doesn’t work now. And we’re not even considering the fact that we have more and more hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.” She believes that fixing the infrastructure requires an adjusted mindset and likely an overhaul of the tax code to fit this new normal in transportation. “It’s clear that how we move people around will change over time, so we need to change our mindframe and likely our tax code along with that.”

 

Representative Hale gained a unique global perspective when she was working around the world. She experienced many different cultural norms that gave her a different outlook on the challenges faced by our state. For example, her opinion on education was shaped by her experience in Wales. She was shocked when teachers at her son’s school informed her that he needed remedial classes. She realized that children in the United Kingdom started learning to read and attending school much earlier than in the United States. She now has been working to lower the compulsory starting age, and she believes making affordable early childhood education available is extremely important.

 

During her talk with the college democrats, Hale discussed gun violence. She acknowledged that accomplishing much in terms of stricter gun control would be difficult this year. She told the group that the best way to work against gun violence is to speak out and talk to one’s representative.

 

Representative Hale also mentioned some of the bills that she has been working on recently. Currently in Indiana if one is raped or sexually assaulted on a college campus, one reports the incident to the victims’ advocate on campus. Information reported to the victims’ advocate is not confidential. “Anything the victim reports becomes part of the public record, it becomes discoverable by the court. So, if I’m telling my story to the victims advocate, I’m probably assuming,that like speaking to my attorney or my medical provider, that it’s confidential information, but it isn’t. So, I want to change that. I want to know that if I’m reporting a crime, it won’t be used against me in court.”

 

As a democrat in the House of Representatives, Hale is currently in the minority party. When trying to get bills passed and work accomplished, Hale emphasized the importance of having strong relationships with one’s colleagues.She noted the necessity of gaining the trust of one’s colleagues. She also mentioned that she thinks it is important to be an advocate for her bills and to talk with the chairpeople of committees about getting important bills on the agenda. “There are so many bills filed that chairs don’t always have time to read them all. There’s a deficit of time. So getting to those chairpeople early, once they’ve learned to trust you, personally and professionally, helps a great deal.”  

 

The last question I asked Representative Hale was about what she feels are the most important issues that need to be addressed in the coming year. If she could magically accomplish any one thing, she stated that she would like to fix problems with addiction. She feels that our state is not making enough headway to fix problems due to addiction. She believes that issues such as low paying jobs and poor education compound to feed this problem. Also, she does not think there are enough resources available to effectively deal with the problem. If she had the capability, Hale also stated that she would like to inform everyone in the state on the important challenges that Indiana is facing. Practically, Hale mentioned three issues she would like to see the legislature solve this year. Firstly, she would like to see our state accomplish equality for all people. Secondly, she would like to secure funding for the public infrastructure. Thirdly, she would like to see the legislature come together to work on the challenges the state’s education system is facing. (She would like to see a more productive grading system for teachers and schools. She wants to see students graduating with a credential that will help them to succeed.)  

 

I really appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to attend the conference and interview Representative Hale. Representative Hale was very knowledgeable about the issues, and she is committed to improving the state. I look forward to seeing what Representative Hale, the state legislature, and CDIN are able to accomplish in 2016.

 

Interview with John Gregg

I recently had the opportunity to speak with gubernatorial candidate John Gregg. A lifelong resident of Indiana, Gregg is running for governor because he believes Indiana “needs leadership that can unite us, not divide us.” He believes that he has the ability to bring people together to work for the common good. If elected, he wants to focus on creating jobs, growing Indiana’s young technology industry, and bringing advanced manufacturing to the state. He does not want to govern on social issues. During our conversation, Gregg addressed many issues that are currently facing Indiana and how he plans to address them if he is elected. I enjoyed hearing about his goals and plans for the state, and I look forward to hearing more about these and how he plans to implement them as the election progresses.  

Gregg began by discussing critical issues that he feels are not often talked about during the election. He stressed the importance of encouraging cooperation between state and local governments. He believes there is currently war on local government, and he wishes to stop it in order to allow the state and local governments to work together to bring people to Indiana. Mr. Gregg also acknowledged the importance of cooperation between the state and local governments in regard to crime. He believes the state should provide local governments with more resources as needed to fight crime.  

Education has been a salient issue in this election, and Gregg shared his plans for education in Indiana. Mr. Gregg wants to include teachers in all of his changes to education and said that he intends to consult often with Glenda Ritz, the current superintendent of public instruction. One issue that he finds most important is early childhood education. He believes that having early education is necessary in today’s world. In regard to standardized testing, Gregg noted that the system is flawed. He iterated his belief in the ineffectiveness of testing one year and not having the scores until the next year. He does support some performance based funding in order to keep schools accountable, but he wants to talk with teachers in order to make testing effective and beneficial.

One issue he discussed that really affects me is the gender wage gap, the difference in income between men and women. As of 2014, Indiana has the eleventh largest gender wage gap in the nation. This is concerning to me, not only because I will be working soon, but also because having a large wage gap is bad for Indiana’s economic growth. Mr. Gregg stated that the gender wage gap is a problem that needs to be addressed in Indiana. He believes the most important step in eliminating the gap is to make people aware of the problem and to express to them that it is a problem that affects them. If he becomes governor, he plans on performing a review to ensure that there is gender equality within the state government. He hopes that this would then spread into businesses throughout the state.

Gregg has several ideas when it comes to improving the state’s economy. He asserted that the most important step in growing the economy is to “create an environment that is welcoming.” He wants to ensure that Indiana is a state that welcomes businesses and allows them to flourish. One step he believes the state needs to take in order to accomplish this is to increase the state’s capital. He wants more capital to be available in Indiana so business owners do not have to go to other states for investments. He also discussed the importance of creating a long term plan to improve the state’s infrastructure. Having a good infrastructure is vital to the state’s economy, and Gregg expressed concern about the current infrastructure. He alleged that the state is about 800 million dollars short on funding to just maintain the current infrastructure. He also cited that roughly ten percent of the state lacks access to cell phone coverage and a slightly higher number of people lack access to high speed Internet.

When asked about gun control, Gregg stated that he is a responsible gun owner. He owns guns, enjoys hunting, and believes that people have the right to own guns. He notes,however, the importance of using guns safely. He thinks it is important not to give convicted felons or those who are mentally ill access to guns, but he believes this is an issue for the federal government to handle.

Gregg supports allowing medical marijuana. He is currently looking at and considering the possibility of decriminalization of or lesser penalties for crimes related to marijuana, but he does not support the legalization of marijuana.

In spring of 2015, a religious freedom restoration act (RFRA) was passed in Indiana, and debate over RFRA and LGBT rights followed. In regard to RFRA, Gregg wants it to be repealed. He also wants to ensure that the LGBT community is given protection under Indiana’s civil rights statute.*

Gerrymandering, or the manipulating of legislative boundaries in order to benefit a specific group during redistricting, is a problem throughout the nation. Governors do not have much to do with gerrymandering as the state legislatures draw the districts, yet Gregg plans to speak out against gerrymandering.
Throughout this article, I have aimed to present my interview with Mr. Gregg in an accurate and unbiased light. I hope that I have chosen relevant topics that will help to inform voters. During our discussion, some of Mr. Gregg’s answers were a bit general, and I look forward to hearing more specifics of how he will implement his ideas as his campaign progresses. I really appreciate Mr. Gregg’s time, and I had a great experience talking with him. He seems to genuinely want to make Indiana a better state.  

 

*A Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in Indiana in the spring of 2015, and the act caused much controversy throughout the state and country. The act states, “a state or local government action may not substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is: (1) essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and (2) the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.” Basically, state and local governments cannot do anything (through the law or any other action) that hinders a person’s right to practice religion unless they have a good reason. Under the act, a “person” does not just refer to an individual, but also to organizations, churches, corporations, and any entity that is able to sue and be sued and that can carry out practices compelled by religious beliefs held by individuals who have control of and ownership of the entity. The act seemed to allow the use of religious beliefs as a defense not only between a private party and the government, but also as a defense in a conflict between two private parties. One of the main causes of controversy was the view that the act could be used to discriminate against LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) individuals. Many thought that the intention of the act was to allow discrimination against LGBT individuals, yet Governor Pence and lawmakers in support of RFRA refuted that allegation. After much debate, the act was amended to prevent people from being able to withhold goods, services, employment, housing, or public accommodations based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or military service. This did little to appease anyone. Many still wanted the entire act to be repealed, while others were upset with the new amendment. 

 

Works Cited
+”Conference Committee Report Digest for ESB 50.” Indiana General Assembly. Indiana General Assembly, 2015. Web. 04 Jan. 2016.
Gregg, John. “Interview with John Gregg.” Telephone interview. 28 Nov. 2015.
Guerra, Kristine, and Tim Evans. “How Indiana’s RFRA Differs from the Federal Version.” IndyStar. USA Today, 2 Apr. 2015. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.
“Senate Bill No. 568.” Indiana General Assembly. Indiana General Assembly, 2015. Web. 4 Jan. 2016.

Attack on Kenyan University

https://i2.wp.com/www.news-articles.org/maps/kenya-924.jpg

Early Thursday morning, terrorists attacked Garissa University College, located in North Eastern Kenya. During the attack, students were separated by religion. Non-Muslims were targeted, and at least 147 people were killed during the attack. 142 of the people killed were students. Four of the attackers were killed by Kenyan security forces, and five suspects have been arrested. Al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization, was responsible for the attack. Mohamed Kuno, a high-ranking al-Shabaab official, planned the attack, and the Kenyan government placed a large bounty on him. On Saturday, al-Shabaab threatened to kill even more people in Kenya.

In 2011, Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabaab. Since then, al-Shabaab has carried out a number of attacks targeting anyone who isn’t Muslim in Kenya. This attack is the deadliest attack carried out by the terrorist group, and it is the worst terrorist attack in Kenya since 1998.

In response to the attack, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that the government would support the victims and their families. On Saturday, he announced that flags would be flown at half staff and the country would observe three days of mourning. After the attack, the United States stated that it would help Kenya and others in the region to take on al-Shabaab. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack.

Al-Shabaab

Al-Shabaab is a Somali terrorist group that wants to turn Somalia into an Islamic state. The group is responsible for attacks that killed aid workers, journalists, and African Union peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab is aligned with al-Qaeda. The group generates a lot of money, about $70 to $100 million dollars per year. The group’s advertising and public relations are very strong; they have a very strong Twitter account and make a lot of videos promoting their group.

Somalia has a weak government and a lot of poverty. These factors make it easy for a terrorist organization to grow. Al-Shabaab grew from another terrorist organization, al-Ittihad al-Islami (AIAI). In 2003, there was a disagreement between the young and old members of AIAI. The older members wanted to change the politics of the group, but the younger members wanted to focus on forming an Islamic state. The young members of AIAI aligned with a group of Sharia courts and formed al-Shabaab (“the youth”).   

The United States supports UN backed African forces fighting al-Shabaab. The U.S. also donates money to aid countries fighting al-Shabaab.

The Somali government has gotten stronger recently which is good. In 2012, the Somali parliament elected a president. This is the first time Somalia has had a stable government in over twenty years. In 2013, the United States officially recognized the Somali government for the first time in over twenty years.

Sources:

The Conflict in Yemen

In January 2011, protests began in Yemen. During this time many countries in the Middle East were having protests calling for democracy. Protesters in Yemen called for then-President Ali Abd Allah Saleh to step down. (Saleh had been in power for over thirty years despite corruption and a poor economy.)

Many groups wanted Saleh to step down, including the Houthis. The Houthis are a group of people based out of northern Yemen. They are Zaydi, a branch of Shia Islam. The Houthis strongly oppose western ideals. They are also anti-Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation. The Houthis felt repressed by the government, and they also felt that Saleh had too many ties with the western world. Other groups wanted Saleh to step down because his government was corrupt and he was a dictator.

Throughout February and March, protesters continued to call for Saleh to leave office. On March 18, 2011, people loyal to Saleh killed over 50 protesters. After this, many government officials resigned in protest of the incident. Major General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the most powerful military officer in Yemen, announced his support for the opposition and many others joined him. About one month later, Saleh announced that he would sign a plan proposed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The plan removed Saleh from power and, in return, granted him immunity. Though he had agreed to the plan, Saleh refused to sign the proposal at the last minute. After the proposal was slightly edited, Saleh again refused to sign it. Finally, on November 23, 2011, Saleh signed an agreement to step down and give power to Vice President Hadi. (This plan had the support of the United States, other western countries, and Saudi Arabia.) Hadi was elected President in 2012 for a two-year term, and he was supposed to work on building a new, better government.

During this time, the Houthis became stronger, especially compared to the government. The new transitional government was pretty weak. The old government had been corrupt, and the military wasn’t strong. The old government had left many government organizations weak. Though the Houthis were strong, they weren’t given much representation in the new government. During 2013 and early 2014, Yemen held a meeting to work on creating a new government. The Houthis weren’t given much representation at this meeting, and the meeting ended up not accomplishing much. (The terms of the transitional government were just extended.) The Houthis were very upset about this, and they began to protest against the government. These protests escalated into fighting which spread to Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, by September 2014. The Houthis took control of the capital, and in January they took control of the presidential palace.

What’s left of the transitional government is now in the city of Aden. Recently, the Houthis have been moving in that direction, and they continue to fight against those loyal to President Hadi. Ironically, it seems that former president Saleh is now working with the Houthis. Saleh has even led some of Yemen’s military to work with the Houthis. The possibility of the Houthis pushing the transitional government out of Yemen entirely makes this situation important on a global scale.

To complicate matters even more, the Houthis aren’t the only group fighting for power in Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is based in southern Yemen. The Hadi government had worked with the United States against AQAP. Though the Houthis are not aligned with AQAP, they are more concerned with fighting the Hadi government than AQAP. Because of this situation, AQAP is able to grow and become a larger threat.

So what?

Saudi Arabia and the United States support the Hadi government. Saudi Arabia began launching airstrikes in Yemen last week, and President Hadi is currently in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have Iran’s support. The Houthis even go to Iran for military training. Yemen shares a long border with Saudi Arabia. Having the Houthis, who work closely with Iran, gain a lot of power in Yemen is not good for Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and Iran have often competed for power in the Middle East, and this can be seen as an extension of that conflict.

The United States supports Saudi Arabia and the Hadi government in this situation. However, the United States is working with Iran in the fight against ISIS, and the U.S. is also trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran. Saudi Arabia opposes the nuclear deal, and, through this conflict with Iran, Saudi Arabia may be sending a message to the U.S. that Iran shouldn’t be trusted and that no nuclear deal should take place.

Saudi Arabia’s involvement causes oil prices to rise. Rising oil prices concern countries that import oil, such as China. The rise in oil prices will be good news for countries that produce oil, such as Iran and Russia.

Sources: