Syria: Staying Informed and Power of the Student Voice

Written by: KB

While the majority of the United States is still talking about Miley Cyrus and her interesting VMA performance, the rest of the world is discussing a much more important issue: the possible military intervention of the Unites States in Syria. With the recent use of chemical weapons against citizens, suspected of being carried out under the order of Syrian President Bashad Assad, an international limelight has been thrown on the Middle Eastern nation of 22 million. In responses to the unfortunate events that have recently occurred in Syria (currently engaged in a violent civil war), the Obama Administration has been actively pushing for Congressional approval to strike Syria, despite being warned by constitutional scholars, anti-war activists, attorneys, foreign-policy experts, and economists of the unintended consequences that would follow such an attack.

Syria and its history are quite complicated, but it is important to have a basic understanding of the last three years as a foundational background for the current situation. The early 2011 revolutions and anti-government movements that were sparked in Egypt and Tunisia inspired peaceful protests in Syria against the dictator leadership and the tyrannical authority. When the people began protesting, violence was the governmental response, which turned the people to violently act back in defense, and ultimately turned into a civil war.

Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) has been a leading voice urging the President and Congress to stay away from Syria. Turning to social media, Amash has publicly declared that a strike on Syria without full congressional approval would be “unquestionably unconstitutional and illegal,” and he has moved to unite republicans and democrats in the House to raise their voices in opposition to a possible new war, and a unique bipartisan coalition has been created. Despite the unified efforts against war, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have all publicly backed the Obama Administration in regards to the Syrian attack.

Regardless of US intervention, it is predicted the violence in Syria will continue for several years to come. But the question that has been raised by American leadership relates back to the horrors of World War I, which caused most countries to sign the 1925 Geneva Protocol, banning the use of biological and chemical weapons in war. Regardless of who is behind the recent chemical weapon attacks, either Assad or the rebels, the technology itself is against international law, and potentially poses a threat to future wars, setting a dangerous precedent that such technology is acceptable.

While the hawkish leadership in Washington, D.C. embrace the Orwellian notion that war is peace, when one steps back and views the situation from an outside perspective on US intervention, it becomes clearer of the negative implications of intervention in Syria. Increased international tension with China and Russia, increased US military casualties, collateral damage impacting civilians and foreigners, international law violations, decreased credibility for the Obama Administration, UN disapproval, and increased negative impacts on the US economy with the increased spending on military activity will all be inevitable consequences of war with Syria.

From a strictly economic perspective on the matter, some Keynesian economists would try to argue that a new war would be just what the US needed to help the economy, with the illusion that war creates jobs and stimulates the market. This increased production and employment associated with war often causes individuals to believe “war is good for society.” This could not be further from the truth, as Frédéric Bastiat explains in his Parable of the Broken Window, demonstrates how opportunity costs, as well as the law of unintended consequences, affect economic activity in ways that are "unseen" or ignored. Henry Hazlit later expanded the Broken Window Fallacy in Economics in One Lesson, “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” The economic stimulus to one nation's defense sector is offset not only by immediate opportunity costs, but also by the costs of the damage and devastation of war to the country it attacks. War destroys property and lives, and an increase in wealth or peace will never arise out of destruction.

In addition to economic disinterest in war, military opposition to Syria is also present. US military leadership has spoken out against the involvement in Syria. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has warned Congress, "We have learned from the past 10 years ... that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state. We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action. Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control." Militaristic knowledge of the situation may be beyond the scope of the general public, but when the individuals who would carry out the strike actively explain why it should be closely re-evaluated, perhaps their opinion should not be taken lightly.

The overwhelming opposition to the Syrian intervention by the represented citizens of the United States ideally would be an indicator of how the strikes should not occur, but unfortunately for the anti-war and non-intervention minded citizens in a democracy, this is not always the case. The United States does not possess globally accepted moral high grounds to play world police, nor does the nation of Syria actually pose a direct threat on America. The constituents of the Unites States overwhelmingly do not support a war with Syria, other nations do not support US intervention, and US military leaders/foreign policy experts have expressed their concerns against the Syrian strikes. Only time will tell what Congress and the Obama Administration decide to do, and if it comes to war, their decision will have an inevitable impact on the United States domestically. The US is walking on thin ice towards Syria, and as Norman Soloman has said, “War becomes perpetual when it is used as a rationale for peace.”

But what does this possible war mean for students? How can we possibly make a difference in such a complicated international question? You can call your representatives and voice your opinion on the subject and you can continue to pay attention to how the situation unfolds, keeping yourself informed. Don’t let your voice go unheard and don't be afraid to speak up. At the University of Texas, we all know "what starts here changes the world," and in this current time, it really can.

Posted on September 5, 2013 .

The Importance of the Student Vote in Texas

The Importance of the Student Vote in Texas

Written by: Jennifer Penny

The University of Texas Class of 2014 will be made up of more minority students than white students. Elected officials have a huge influence on UT, in everything from funding to admissions policies. Now is the time for UT students to become much more concerned about the minority vote in Texas and how it affects their future and that of the university. The fact that minority voter participation is steadily rising in Texas, is due to make a huge jump in the not-too-far-off future, and the recent Supreme Court decision to allow affirmative action admission policies to continue at UT makes this issue even more central for UT.

The Republican Party

Texas Republican Ken Emanuelson got himself in deep water in June when he said that the Republican Party did not want the black vote. He was referring to the black vote being nine-to-one for Democrats, but the clumsy way he constructed his statement meant that it was quickly taken out of context. The Republicans are under pressure to overhaul its relations with minorities, especially since the former Republican Party of Florida Minority Outreach Coordinator, Pablo Pantoja, switched parties. Pantoja justified the switch of allegiance by stating that he feels there is a deep-rooted acceptance of racism in the GOP. If this is true, it is hugely relevant to Texas, the largest and most Republican of all states.

Voting Rights Act (VRA)

The controversy over the VRA in Texas adds urgency to issues of minority voting in the state. The issue of how the lines of the election districts in Texas are drawn will have a clear affect on the minority vote, no matter if the Democrats or the Republicans win this battle. US Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that Texas was the next territory that the battle over VRA would be fought on makes the state the focus of the nation where the issue is concerned. Many of the issues center on Texas’ geography. The far-flung reaches of our huge state mean that many rural residents do not have access to offices where the identification cards required to vote are issued. There are those that say that this is not an issue that is specific to minority groups, but most agree that it is.

The future

Texas and America waits to see how things play out politically for this pivotal state in national political debates. The emergence of Battleground Texas, a grassroots Democratic effort, pushes the importance of the youth and minority vote central issues even further for the powerful Republican Party in Texas. The Republicans will have to figure out new strategies if they want to keep their hold on the state. Steve Murdock, the head of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, estimates that by 2040 69.9% of children under five in Texas will be Hispanic and only 17% will be white.

Where does UT come in?

The political factions of Texas as it was, as it is, and as it will be, come together in the halls of the University of Texas. UT is a major stimulant of both the economy and the culture in Austin. Dell sprouted from an ex-student of the university, and the highly successful music festival SXSW is aimed at the student base. Austin represents a different Texas than Dallas or Houston. With the expanding minority student base juxtaposed against the entrenched position of UT in the established landscape of the state, it becomes increasingly important for UT students to be entirely politically active and aware. Along with the usual voter recruitment and education strategies, maybe it is time to step things up following the corporate model that has been so successful at Austin events like SXSW, and woo students to become politically active with souvenirs and memorabila. These have been used by politicians in India and other places where the youth vote has been considered instrumental in setting the political tone and agenda.

There may well be other innovative ways to match vote recruitment at UT and the political engagement of UT students to all of the diverse political phenomenon swirling in the great state of Texas at the moment. The time is now to outline them constructively, creatively, and methodically.

Posted on August 14, 2013 .

University of Texas Unveil Plans for new Medical School

By Jennifer Maggs

Plans Announced

Plans for the creation of a new Medical School in Austin serving the University of Texas have this week been unveiled, with striking artists impressions of the proposed facility being accompanied by an almost imminent start date, Contumacy are proud to reveal.

Set to be located equidistant from the Universities world renowned Frank Erwin Center and the existing medical center at Brackenbridge, in the heart of the cities UT campus- the announcement of the medical school, work upon which is scheduled to commence next year and to be completed and functional by 2017, has marked itself as a celebration worthy matter throughout the University of Texas as a whole.

Community Contribution

Aside from the value the inclusion of such a state of the art facility will undoubtedly add to the University of Texas, not to mention its already rather esteemed national and international reputation, much excitement is being drawn from the fact that the center and the subsequent process of its creation, will supply an area of the state which is currently struggling financially with an abundance of workable roles.

On top of the multiple thousand hands-on construction roles created by the announcement, it is currently estimated that 15,000 new jobs will become available at the eventual teaching hospital and medical school combined. With this, one of the USA’s currently most impoverished metropolitan areas is set to receive a much needed and long overdue economic boost.

The Dell Foundation

Contributing a staggering amount of $50 million to the establishment of the new medical school facility, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation have in effect launched the process entirely.

Established in 1999, the foundation operates solely off of the profits of multinational computer conglomerate Dell and has to date contributed in excess of $650 million to causes supportive of outlying youth issues and community in its native United States, as well as India and South Africa.

As well as this $50 million direct injection into the scheme, the foundation have vowed to contribute a further sum of $10 million over the course of the next decade in support of community health quality and access programs in the Austin area, an act sure to provide even further prosperity for the region during the approaching years.

A Merger

Given the sheer scale of the proposed new medical school, the eventual facility and its operations will note a merger between two southern Texas universities, namely Texas-Pan American and Texas-Brownsville, with the seminary set to become the first of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley.

This area of southern Texas lies right on the border with Mexico, and is subsequently considered to be one of the fastest growing, yet more impoverished areas of the entire United States of America. Incorporating four counties (Starr County, Hidalgo County, Willacy County and Cameron County), the new University here will hope to immediately gain the nationally coveted ‘emerging research University’ status, which would open it up to the possibility of an entire array of monetary grants, both research based and private.

The Projections

While it is fair to predict that the enrollment vacancy numbers of the medical complex will be reflective of the eventual amount of students who ultimately opt to study there, several other factors must first be taken into account. For example, given the current economic state of Rio Grande Valley, which is comparatively subpar even when taking into account the amount of growth taking place there currently, can it legitimately be expected that all of the students who require paid working roles in order to supplement their studies will be provided for? Everything from accommodation and all of the obligations therein, such as utility bills and even internet and communication packages, to the appropriation and maintenance of academic materials and other necessities, must in fact be considered. With this, it may prove necessary to look far beyond the projected enrolled student figure of 28,000 and instead weigh up some contingent eventualities.

On a far more positive note, the facility is estimated to generate some $11 million in research expenditures, a figure which will undoubtedly prove invaluable towards the countless American medical research programs it acts to fund over the coming decades. As well as this, the Rio Grande Valley is surely set to receive what Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville described as ‘new opportunities for commerce and scientific research’, which one may expect can only lead to an economic transformation of immeasurable proportions for the struggling area.

Posted on July 15, 2013 .

Open Carry Law (HB 700) Left Pending in Texas Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee

The last day of the Texas Legislative session is a little more than a month away and once again an Open Carry Law for the state of Texas has been left in Committee. Texans across the state have spoke in support of the bill. Let your voice be heard and call the representatives on the Committee and tell them you support HB 700.

  • Representative Joe Pickett, Chair: (512) 463-0596
  • Representative Allen Fletcher, Vice-Chair: (512) 463-0661
  • Representative Philip Cortez: (512) 463-0269
  • Representative Tony Dale: (512) 463-0696

  • Representative Dan Flynn: (512) 463-0880

  • Representative Tim Kleinschmidt: (512) 463-0682
  • Representative George Lavender: (512) 463-0692
  • Representative Kenneth Sheets: (512) 463-0244

  • Representative Ron Simmons: (512) 463-0478

You can also contact all of the Representatives using email through this site-

Texas AG Greg Abbott's Letter Regarding the UN Arms Treaty

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter to President Obama this week urging him not to sign the United Nations' latest arms treaty. The full text of the letter follows.

April 2, 2013

Sent via facsimile and U.S. mail

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The Arms Trade Treaty agreed to today by the United Nations (UN) is a threat to Americans’ Constitutional liberty. I urge you to reject that treaty. If you sign it, and if the U.S. Senate ratifies the treaty, Texas will lead the charge to have the treaty overturned in court as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

America is exceptional in part because our Constitution safeguards our individual liberties – including the right to keep and bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment. During your reelection campaign, you consistently claimed to support Second Amendment rights. Yet the day after you won reelection, you announced your support for the Arms Trade Treaty, a UN agreement on firearms restrictions. That treaty:

  • Fails to recognize the fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms or the right to defend one’s family, person, and property;

  • Empowers a new UN bureaucracy focused on firearms restrictions that will be run by international bureaucrats who are not accountable to the people of the United States;

  • Employs vague and sweeping language that could be used for any number of future restrictions on Second Amendment rights; and

  • Places no defined limits on the UN’s power to interfere with Second Amendment rights.

The UN has concluded its negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty. It is now up to you to sign it - or reject it. Do not sign this treaty.

Agreeing to the treaty does more than trample Second Amendment rights. It also threatens to erode all liberties guaranteed to Americans in the Constitution by establishing the precedent that the UN has some level of authority to govern our lives. The very reason we fought for independence was to free ourselves from dictates by leaders in other lands. This treaty contradicts the underpinning philosophy of our country.

I recognize that the ostensible purpose of the treaty is to combat the illegal international trade of weapons into third-world war zones. The treaty could, however, draw law-abiding gun owners and gun store operators into a complex web of bureaucratic red tape created by a new department at the UN devoted to overseeing the treaty. For instance, the treaty appears to lay the groundwork for an international gun registry overseen by the bureaucrats at the UN.

The treaty also contains a vague and open-ended call for heightened domestic regulation of imported firearms, which make up a large percentage of the market for new firearms in this country. Indeed, the most troubling aspect of the treaty is the vagueness of its language. As with most so-called international-law documents promulgated by the UN, the draft treaty is not written using the precise, unambiguous language required of a good legal document. Instead, the treaty employs sweeping rhetoric and imprecise terminology that could be used by those who seek to undermine our liberties to impose any number of restrictions on the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.

Treaties do not trump constitutional liberties. Even if you, as the President, signed and the Senate ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty, our Constitution remains the Supreme Law of the Land and would supersede any treaty provision that violated Second Amendment rights. When the Constitution says, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” it means no one—including the UN—can infringe that right.

These principles have long been recognized by the United States Supreme Court. In Reid v. Covert, 354 U.S. 1, (1957), the Supreme Court ruled that the United States cannot use its treaty power to violate Constitutional rights. In that case, an international agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom provided that dependents of American service members stationed in the UK would be tried for crimes by military tribunal and thus deprived of certain Sixth Amendment rights, including the right to trial by jury. When the wife of an American serviceman was accused of murder and convicted by a military court, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction. The Court rightly concluded that “no agreement with a foreign nation can confer power on the Congress, or on any other branch of Government, which is free from the restraints of the Constitution.” Id. at 16. In a passage that should be required reading in our public schools, the Supreme Court affirmed that “The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution. Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution.” Id. at 5-6. For that reason, the Supreme Court “has regularly and uniformly recognized the supremacy of the Constitution over a treaty.” Id. at 17.

As Reid v. Covert demonstrates, the Second Amendment is by no means the only constitutional right that can be threatened by international agreements. Regardless of their position on gun rights, all Americans should oppose any treaty that does not adequately protect our constitutional rights. If the Second Amendment can be trusted to international organizations that do not share our constitutional traditions, then why not the First Amendment? Why not the Fourth Amendment or the Fifth Amendment?

Our Nation’s Bill of Rights is a rare and precious thing. It does not exist anywhere else in the world. And the UN cannot be trusted with it. The UN includes foreign governments that have shown hostility to the kinds of constitutional liberties guaranteed to Americans. All Americans are harmed when unaccountable international bodies like the UN are empowered to interfere with our protected freedoms.

If the Arms Trade Treaty is ratified or applied in a way that violates the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms, it will be null and void. That will be little comfort, however, to law-abiding gun owners who would no doubt wonder why the United States entered into a treaty that empowers the UN to interfere with their Second Amendment rights. Rather than reach that point, the better course is to stop the treaty before the Senate can even consider it.

If the Arms Trade Treaty is not stopped at the federal level, I – and my fellow state attorneys general – will take up the fight to preserve the Constitution. Ratification of this treaty would compel immediate legal action to enforce the Constitution’s guarantee that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.


Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

Posted on April 5, 2013 .