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Yells of “Do you like science, even a little bit? Do you love to dance? Does translation interest you?” were echoed across the diag (or the center) of the University of Michigan’s (U of M) campus this past week. The event Festifall introduced various student organizations to new and returning students. This year’s Festifall saw the return and arrival of many of the 1300 organizations active on campus. Involvement in organizations is encouraged by staff and students alike as the university strives to develop leaders and active citizens. Students who have dedicated many hours of their time to their cause of choice are reaching out to new students so that their legacy may continue even as they become alumni.

Photo caption: University of Michigan student supporting Gretchen Driskell (D), member of the Michigan House of Representatives representing the 52nd District (photo credit: Emily Young)

As many university campuses in the United States do, U of M sponsors, hosts, and provides for a safe and open political dialogue. The First Amendment is upheld and publicity covers the surfaces of major buildings, bulletin boards, and surfaces spacious enough to be plastered with different thoughts and ideas.

   Student Democrats with their inspirational cardboard cutout

University of Michigan student assisting in voter registration and informing young voters about their civic rights at this year's Festifall (photo credit: Emily Young)

One of the most common questions raised at Festifall was “Are you registered to vote?” or “Would you like to register to vote?” Students assisting in voter registration informed prospective voters about their civic rights and passed out pamphlets from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. The pamphlets contained information concerning ages for voting, registration, the photo ID policy and how to avoid problems when entering the polls this upcoming Election Day, November 8th.  An entire section of the space was dedicated to various political entities that deal with issues and include organizations such as Students For Life or Students for Choice. These particular organizations deal with the issue of whether abortion should or should not be legal. College Republicans, College Democrats, and Michigan Political Union (an organization dedicated to bringing about discussion between students of all political views and affiliations) were also all present boasting a slew of events to get in gear for the upcoming election.

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Poster and campaign announcement by the Green Party on the U of M campus (photo: credit: Emily Young)

What I found to be relevant to the Ann Arbor student body however, was the presence of members of a campaign under the heading Students for Gretchento supportGretchen Driskell who is running for congress.  She was even scheduled to attend the upcoming Student Democratic meeting, that would also host congresswoman Debbie Dingell, the commissioner for Ann Arbor Yousef Rabhi (who is running for state representation of Michigan), and candidate Gretchen Driskell’s campaign manager Keenan Pontoni.

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At the Student Democratic mass meeting held on Sunday September 11th, current congresswoman Debbie Dingell,the representative of the 12th district in Michigan, spoke to the college democrats about the upcoming election. She disclosed how to be present on campus and hold conversations not only about the Presidential race, but all of the races that will be present on the ballot in November that affect communities on a federal, state and local level. Congresswoman Dingell proclaimed the election as “the most important of your lifetime” for millennials. She pronounced that individuals should vote first as Americans, second as party members. More specifically she addressed the rights endowed to Americans by the U.S. Constitution such as Freedom of Speech and Religion. Dingell endeared herself to the students by discussing education and her desire to see students leaving college debt-free by 2021 (by means of Hillary Clinton’s plan for education.

»This is going to be the most important election of your lifetime.«
Debbie Dingell, Representative of the 12th district in Michigan

According to Congresswoman Dingell, the generations of students voting this year are at ‘ground 0’ (the center of change) and especially in the state of Michigan, one of the most competitive states, she urged students to mobilize and ensure the turnover of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats.  In order for the House of Representatives to be a democratic majority for Michigan, six of the ten seats that are currently Republican would need to be won by Democrats in the upcoming election. For the entire House of Representatives to become a Democratic majority, thirty seats must turn blue nationwide come November.  As a battleground state, the elections are very competitive in the state of Michigan. The presence of young voters in the upcoming election will undoubtedly have an effect, as they make up twenty-five percent of the country and ‘100% of our future’ according to Dingell.

»Young voters make up twenty-five percent of the country and 100% of our future.«
Debbie Dingell, Representative of the 12th district in Michigan

Just as the dozens of political organizations set up on the diag this past Friday, so will Tim Kaine and student volunteers do again this upcoming week in an effort to encourage students not only to ‘go blue’ but to ‘vote blue.’ We will know by November 9 if they achieved their goal to encourage young voters to go to the polls!

 


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and  has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
#Election2016

 

 

Photocredit: CBS News

Although for the past two weeks, my German Media class has discussed Oktoberfest and the War in  Syria, the theme selected this past week was the  Presidential Debate. Not only does it play a large  role in shaping how voters view the presidential candidates; the debate is also one of the primary examples of how the media affects results of the election. The first in a series of three, this debate has racked up the largest number of TV viewers in the history of U.S. elections.  The topics of the debate included “America’s Direction”, “Achieving Prosperity”, and “Securing America”. The issues addressed included those relevant to jobs in America, minimum wage, taxation, trade and racism.

Ann-Arbor_Emily.pngThe responses leading up to and following the debate could be heard across dorm rooms, classrooms and sport venues. Yet, despite the performance and responses of the two nominees, the overwhelming majority of students don't feel more inclined towards one candidate or the other.  Students feel that instead of providing the clarification and addressing what is important for voting in this upcoming election (many for the first time), the debate has ignited more controversy than coherence on campus. Combining the three questions of competence (die Kompetenzfrage), trust (die Vertrauensfrage), and popularity (die Sympathiefrage) many watchers of the debate could not elicit a clear winner.

German-turkish author Selim Özdogen, currently residing in Ann Arbor, shared his input on the debate with German classes at U of M. Selim declared  “das ist keine Demokratie” (It is not a democracy), when a debate does not answer the question of the people, and instead becomes a platform to advance one’s own ideals. Dylan Gooch, a neuroscience major here at the U of M, stated this same problem to be true. Gooch shared that for him “there are so many dissenting opinions on U.S. issues, such as whether NAFTA was or was not a good U.S. policy, making it difficult for young adults to make decisions”.  

College Republican’s president Enrique Zalamea described how an event screening the debate to all students interested, was disrupted by protesters: “We were met with protesters who disrupted our peaceful non-partisan event with hateful comments. Everyone is entitled to their own political opinions, but it’s disappointing to see such animosity from a liberal population that ironically advocates acceptance, tolerance, and personal freedoms”.

What will happen during the next debate is controversial, but what can be predicted is that students will prioritize watching it in the hopes of becoming informed on the possible directions for America’s future.

If you missed the debate you can find a link below and other interesting articles addressing the issues and content of the debate

For articles addressing the debate and what was discussed:

Links to the Debate and other Helpful Debate Videos:

German Responses to the Debate:

 


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
#Election2016

 

 

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Last week the third and final presidential debate between Secretary Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump took place at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was also viewed on the screens of millions of homes across the country. Citizens awaited the final words of the two candidates in a debate that continues to make waves in a sea of predictable responses.

You missed the debate? Watch the most talked-about moments in this 3-minute summary.

Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace moderated, and according to viewers has arguably done the best in upholding unbiased (or at least equal) dialogue with the two candidates. The debate focused on issues like debt, entitlement reform, immigration, economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and fitness to be president. Differences in opinion on issues such as abortion came through as Trump claimed “I am pro life, I am going to defend pro life” while Clinton stated that she would defend Roe v. Wade, supported a woman’s right to an abortion and Planned Parenthood.  Other topics of dissidence consisted of the US’s relationship with Russia and how that would be affected by a presidency by either candidate. Although the effects were arbitrary, Clinton noted Trumps affiliation with a toxic and ruthless Putin (to her) as Trump proclaimed that an allegiance with Russia would contribute to the defeat of ISIS.

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At my university, the University of Michigan, students gathered in Angell Hall and attended different watch parties hosted by College Democrats, College Republicans and Students for Hillary.  The College Republican party hosted republican candidate for state representative in Michigan’s 52nd district Randy Clark who encouraged students to vote. “Everybody wants to run and hide under a rock because they can’t stand this mess that’s going on, but you really have to get involved, you have to make a difference,” he explained.

As for making a difference, the effect of presidential debates on voter opinion is a debatable point, depending on where you get your information. The Washington Monthly for example, asserts that presidential debates are game changers in the opinions of strategists. According to Political Scientists researching data on electoral changes after the debates however, presidential debates have “rarely if ever, mattered”.  The Washington Monthly goes on to say that in very close elections, new information is not likely to change the minds of voters.  Because debates do occur late in the campaign of the candidates, decisions are usually reached by a majority of voters before the debates occur. The demographic of debate watchers typically consists of those who have an interest in politics and/or already have loyalties to a party.  Rather than focusing on how the debate will affect whom they vote for, it atypically aligns voters more closely with the candidate they believe won (and usually that is the member of their party).

Due to the improbability of the election and indecision of voters however, this election year could be different in regards to the influence of debates on voter opinion; especially in the face of Trump’s allegations entailing the corruption of the polls.

According to a poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, one third of Clinton’s and Trump’s supporters were undecided as to whether they were definitely voting for their candidate. Clinton’s evident rise in percentage points, going from three in the first debate to ten in the last week, show how the debate can have a polarizing effect. An argument for this is that Clinton has also not been in the spotlight of mass media for the past few weeks. Due to scandals involving Trump and his mistreatment of women, Clinton’s scandalous emails have moved away from the limelight, allowing for more media outlets to call Trump’s character into question (especially as women come forth and attest to his alleged abuse). Trump's decline in the polls can also be attributed to his perceived performance in the debates.

In a poll by ABC News, Clinton was found to have reached her highest percentage of support while Trump had sunk to his lowest the day after the debate. Other interesting voting trends show Trump’s popularity among white voters, men, non-whites, and women, declining. Clinton on the other hand has reached her highest percentage of male voters ever.  The poll also found that the number of registered republicans likely to vote has dropped in response to Trump’s campaign against the media.

SurveyMonkey's chief research officer Jon Cohen contributed his thoughts on the efficacy of polls and surveys such as those that are conducted by his company. While explaining the difficulty in predicting an election across fifty states, Cohen affirmed that the polls have stayed relatively stable within the past five weeks and that according to their predictions and data, there is more than a ninety percent chance that Clinton will take the election. He supports his argument by referring to the 307 electoral votes Clinton has already ‘locked up’.

Real Clear Politics show Clinton leading by eleven percentage points in Michigan, but voters supporting Trump strongly believe in his victory and continue to point to his “understanding of how trade deals affect Michigan’s economy negatively and his fight against voter fraud”. Whether the 90% chance likelihood will come to fruition is not clear, as many voters remain undecided. In less than fourteen days we will find out if Cohen was right.

 

Useful resources

If you missed the third and last debate, you can watch the entire video below:

Now, one question that remains is how much of what both candidates said on stage last week was actually true and factual. Several media outlets focused on this and produced 'fact checks' on both candidates' performances. One interesting example comes from the staff at National Public Radio who annotated the entire script of the debate.

 
Finally, how much did the debate impact on voters? USA Today undertook an interesting experiment and interviewed students across swing states on their perception of the debate.

USA Today: What college students in 5 swing states thought of the 3rd debate

 


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
#Election2016
 

I opened Facebook on my computer last week expecting to find more news articles regarding changes in government over the past few months, and videos claiming their opinions as fact. I ended up watching a strange and amusing video of a man strapped to a windmill, riding it in amusement park fashion. Who was this guy riding a windmill and why? It was easy to tell that the video was from the Netherlands, as it was in Dutch and shared by my former neighbor living in Limburg. I learned that the man riding the windmill, Roger van Boxtel, is well known in the Netherlands for his career as a Parliamentarian. These days however, Roger van Boxtel is the interim president of the Dutch Railways and this past month he has been celebrating that all the Dutch electric passenger trains are 100% wind-powered!

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The Dutch case  is a particularly interesting one in regards to the role of transportation, and much of it has to do with the country's geography. The Netherlands is a comparatively small and flat country. Consider this: It is less than twice the size of the state of New Jersey and only about 50% of its land exceeds one meter above sea level; you will only find some hilly areas in the south, with the highest elevation of only 321 meters.

The Netherlands

Photo caption: Only about 50% of the Netherlands exceeds one meter above sea level, making the country predestined for an effective mass transportation system. (c) AHN, www.ahn.nl

At the same time, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with a population of almost 17 million. In addition, the country is located in central Europe, sharing land borders with Belgium and Germany, and maritime borders with the UK. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.  It seems that the country is predestined for a close meshed and highly efficient system of public transportation due to the absence of natural barriers, its dense population, and the high demand for transport of goods. This is evident in their early history.
The Netherlands has set the standard for public transportation since the 17th century, beginning with their establishment of a network of waterways. In more recent decades the NL became the first country with a symmetric rail service in 1970, and in 1980 the first country with a ticket system for transport. In 1991 they developed a system to provide cheaper transport for students, and in 1992 were the first European public transportation system to create a national telephone number to receive travel information. Although there is efficiency, comfort, and ease of access afforded by public transportation, 25% of the Dutch population travel by cycling. Depending on the region, as many as 50% of the journeys made in the Netherlands are made by transport or bicycles. Dutch Railway systems are organized entirely by the government authorities in their region and (NS) or Dutch Railways is the largest passenger carrier in the country, linking out internationally as far as Belgium, France and Germany. The policy goal of the NS is to shift movement from cars to public transportation. As the costs of owning cars continue to rise, the railways plan on phasing away from fossil fuels through the implementation of environmental zones where there would be restrictions on driving cars. The movement to natural gas and biofuels has gained momentum in public transportation and as such will continue to play an influence in increasing the number of stations that would fuel electric or bio powered cars.

Electric Locomotive from 1992 from Railway news.com

Two current Dutch Railways InterCity trains: a refurbished ICM train in the foreground, and the front of a VIRM double decker behind it, at Rotterdam Central Station. © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

The NS set a goal in 2015 to switch over entirely to wind power, expecting to realize it in 2018. Due to the addition of more wind farms off coast, inland, and in Denmark they were able to make the switch a year early. Partnering with the energy company Enesco the NS can cater to 600,000 passengers daily, using wind turbines to generate electricity. One windmill running for an hour can power a train for 200 km, or 120 miles. Although trains (even without wind power) seem like they are energy efficient, the Dutch fleet alone consumes 1.2 billion kWh of wind energy a year (equivalent to all the electricity powering the houses in Amsterdam for a year) and 20% of CO2 emissions are caused by modes of transport, whether it be train, car, or bus. Wind energy also contributes to the electricity supplied approximately 473,000 households in the Netherlands. The use of wind for energy isn’t unique to the Netherlands.

How a Hydrogen Powered Train Works from EcoWatch.com

Alstom's 'Coradia iLint' train is the world’s first zero-emissions hydrogen train. It is using fuel cells which produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen to water and is set to go into service in northern Germany in December 2017. © Alstom

Countries like Denmark receive 42% of their electricity from wind power. Germany produced more electricity from wind turbines than from power plants for the first time ever in 2015, producing 11.98 Terawatt hours of electricity (a terawatt is millions of megawatts). In recent months German Railways has begun experimentation with hydrogen powered trains. In December of 2017 the country plans on launching the first ever passenger rail service powered by hydrogen. The motor will gain power from the hydrogen tank, and the hydrogen energy will be converted with a fuel cell that could move the train at speeds up to 87 mph. The only by-product of the hydrogen train would be steam and the source for the hydrogen is the waste product of various chemical industries (which is normally burned anyway). A supporter of this initiative is Energiewende, a German government sponsored program seeking to transform the energy system and phase out nuclear power and fossil fuel.


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
#GoingGreen
 

How would you feel if you were riding a bus powered by the leftover scraps you threw away from dinner last night? If the heating in your house was produced within the house itself? If you didn’t have to pay an electric bill because your city is creating your electricity? Maybe you feel like none of that would be possible? Think again because renewable initiatives such as these are taking place in cities across Europe.

»How would you feel if you were riding a bus powered by the leftover scraps you threw away from dinner last night?«

Växjö, Sweden (the potato peel city, as I like to call it) has been a frontrunner in sustaining itself since the 1990s. Motivated by the pollution in their lakes caused by fossil fuel emitting industrial complexes, local Swedish government officials decided it was time to make a change.  They chose to abandon fossil fuels and half their carbon emissions. Today carbon emissions are historically low at 2.7 tons per person (nothing compared to the 19.78 tons emitted by Americans, or the 6.36 Swedish national average!).

Global Carbon Footprint  

Total carbon emissions by nation and region. The image of a footprint is composed of circles sized relative to the carbon emissions of each nation and color coded according to region. (Photo credit: Stanford Kay)

Växjö governs its own energy policy and resources independently. They manage their own biomass plants, produce electricity heating and cooling. The source of their heating? Leftovers from the forest industry such as twigs, leaves, and branches.  The plant supplies energy to 90% of the city’s 60,000 inhabitants. The plant also supplies 40% of the electricity needs. Recycling in Växjö has reached high levels as compost and organic waste is not only separated by the residents but is taken and re-used to make bio-gas that fuels public transport. Sewage is also used to power the green bio-gas busses.

Ann-Arbor_Emily.pngCities in Germany are also making progress independently, and decentralizing the energy sector. Heidelberg, Germany, a city renowned for Science and the acclaimed Universität Heidelberg, boasts numerous scientific institutions. It’s no surprise that 56 Nobel Prize winners have worked and lived in this research hub. The city at large has its own energy company, as many other German towns and communities do, and manages its gas, heating, water and sewage systems.  By 2050 they aspire to be free of fossil fuels motivating their fast switch over to renewable energy.

Heidelberg’s largest step towards reducing emissions is their 116 hector Bahnstadt district.  Originally a freight train terminal, this plot of land has truly been transformed. The district is 100% free of CO2 emissions and is entirely constructed of passive houses. These structures are anything but passive when it comes to saving energy. They allow for heating and cooling and use less than 1.5 liters of heating oil per square meter per year. The heating comes from internal sources such as solar heat or body heat and the ventilation system is what allows for the transmission of energy throughout the building. Surprisingly affordable the passive houses’ higher quality is mitigated by eliminating expensive heating and cooling systems.

Science of the Passive House

Passive houses harness the energy of the sun light and the enrvironment to drastically reduce the energy consumption of home owners.(Photo credit: primex)

(This database lists over 4,000 passive houses around the world.)

Vertical garden buildings are set to open in Bahnstadt this year, an architectural product of eco-friendly Wolfgang Frey. Based on his ‘five finger principle’ buildings must be ecological, affordable, innovative, integrative and profitable.  These garden structures create oxygen in the atmosphere and have facades covered in solar modules to generate energy. Frey has also established vertical gardens in Freiburg. In countries like the US and China vertical farm buildings are popping up as well!

Feldheim, Germany, located in the province of Brandenburg provides its own power 100%. Creating their own bio-gas from corn, manure and rye produced by the city they power the electricity and water systems. Heating comes from the woodchip plant, electricity is produced by the wind park, and an energy storage plant stores what is produced extra in times of low power supply.

Feldheim, Germany, (pop. 660) is an “Energieautarker Ortsteil,” or an energy self-sufficient district. In 2010, Feldheim became one of the first villages in Germany to supply all of its own electricity and heat. (Photo credit: Andrew Dey/snapshotsofberlin)

Although Feldheim is small, with a population of 660, their initiative has inspired people from many different countries and their ability to provide entirely for themselves based on what they already produce shows how little it takes to be sustainable. Although decentralization of large sectors in the economy is difficult these cities show it is possible and efficient on many levels. Moving towards solar panels and using recyclable material instead of fossil fuels, cities could power the electric grid, reduce emissions, and decrease costs to large electric companies. In America especially, I believe local initiatives could be implemented faster and more effectively than federal initiatives.

 


Emily Young is a student in International Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. She grew up in the tri-border region of Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium and  has a serious interest in US and EU Relations. Emily loves photography and will contribute a photo series.
 #GoingGreen