Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lukashenka the Tightrope Walker: Belarus and the Ukraine Conflict

In 1991, fifteen countries emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union. Of those in Europe, most have at least tried to move towards the European Union. An important exception exists, however-the Republic of Belarus.

The Republic of Belarus is sometimes called "Europe's Last Dictatorship" by those in the West. Since 1994, Belarus has been under the control of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who continues many Soviet-era policies. Belarus's economy is still centrally planned, and the country has been closely allied with Russia since independence. President Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin have enjoyed a friendly relationship for most of their respective stays in power. Even Belarus's official national symbols are extremely similar to that of the old Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The flag has barely changed and the present national anthem uses the tune that was used when Belarus was a republic of the USSR with modified lyrics. Though Belarus has two official languages, Russian is used much more frequently than Belarusian.



Left: Flag of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic
Right: Flag of the Republic of Belarus 


As 2014 winds down, Belarus finds itself in a rut. The crisis in Ukraine has left Belarus to tread a tightrope between Russia and Ukraine and in a considerable economic quandary. The Belarusian economy, a quasi-socialist, collectivist setup, is heavily dependent on Russia, and sanctions have stung Belarus as well as Russia. The Belarusian rouble, already one of the least valuable currencies in the world, is depreciating along with its Russian counterpart and the Ukrainian hryvnia. 1 American dollar will buy you nearly 11,000 Belarusian roubles as of 28 December 2014, compared to less than 3000 in 2010. Inflation is through the roof.


Belarus has similar political divisions to Ukraine, but these divisions are not as pronounced in the former. Like in Ukraine, there are pro-Western and pro-Russian sects, but the pro-Russian camp is much stronger as it has the government's backing. Those who are opposed to President Lukashenka generally support closer ties to Europe, economic reform, and greater personal and press freedom. Those who are supportive of Lukashenka cite the general stability of his regime, the lack of oligarchic corruption as seen in Russia and Ukraine, and the lack of economic chaos that plagued Russia and Ukraine after the fall of communism. President Lukashenka recently reshuffled his cabinet and replaced Prime Minister  in an attempt to stabilize his country's faltering economy, but whether that will jolt the economy back to life is still yet to be seen. 


Up until recently, Belarus has been relatively effectively playing both sides of the Ukraine conflict. Lukashenka's government has said in the past that they support a "United Ukraine"and has offered support to Kiev, while staying mostly friendly with Moscow. The Belarusian capital, Minsk, has been the site of peace talks despite a lack of closure to the conflict so far. Relations have become strained, though, between Minsk and Moscow, and whether Belarus can continue its current economic setup has been called into question. Belarusians, though not all that supportive of the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine, have been slowly distancing themselves from the Kremlin and this new independence has been endorsed by the Lukashenka government.

The quicker the conflict in Ukraine is resolved, the better for Belarus's stability. If the Kremlin digs in against Kiev, the EU, and US, it'll get more and more difficult for the Belarusian economy to keep its stability.

An opposition to Lukashenka exists, and they may find a place in the spotlight in the new year, because Lukashenka is up for re-election in 2015. The presidential election in December 2010, which Lukashenka claims he won handily, saw protests in Minsk, though it wasn't long until Lukashenka's government decided to outlaw demonstrations in response.

During a Euro 2016 qualifier football match between Ukraine and Belarus in Minsk, nearly 100 fans were arrested when the whole stadium broke into a vulgar anti-Putin song.





At that same match, Belarusian fans chanted Ukrainian patriotic slogans like "Слава Україні, Героям слава!" ("Glory to Ukraine! And to her heroes, glory!") The Ukrainian fans responded by chanting "Жыве Беларусь!" (Long live Belarus!) Euromaidan demonstrations across Ukraine often saw the white-red-white banner of Belarusian opposition alongside Ukraine's blue and gold banner.



Photo credit to Wikipedia. 


However, uprising in Belarus may be more difficult than it was in Ukraine or Yugoslavia. Belarus is a stable and functioning country, and Lukashenka's regime, while authoritarian, has been much more stable than that of what Russia endured in the 1990s and Ukraine has endured for most of its time as an independent state. Lukashenka's approval rating, while not nearly as strong as Putin's, saw modest increases during the conflict in Ukraine, as Belarusians trust his legacy of stability over the turbulence Ukraine has endured. A majority of Belarusians consume Russian media through television and believe many narratives that it's pushed-namely, that the new Ukrainian government is fascist. Pro-European media, abundant in Ukraine even before Euromaidan, is extremely limited in Belarus.

Ukraine's conflict has aroused stronger feelings of independence from Russia in Minsk. President Lukashenka gave his Victory Day address in Belarusian for the first time, whereas in the past he always used Russian. If the conflict in Ukraine is resolved quickly, the status quo is likely to keep its hold on power.

Lukashenka's grip on power will remain strong unless two things happen. If the economy continues to hurt from Russian economic woes, popular discontent could hurt the government's support. Belarusian opposition is fractured, but this is not necessarily an insurmountable obstacle. In Yugoslavia, strictly nonpartisan Serbian opposition groups like Otpor! (Resistance!)  united political opposition to President Slobodan Milosevic and supported a coaltion of parties behind Vojislav Kostunica. Belarus does not have Yugoslavia's political party structure, but if Belarusian opposition is to influence ordinary Belarusians, it needs broad support like Kostunica had in Serbia.

Belarus is not a particularly rich nation, but it is considerably richer than Ukraine, and has a much smaller population (9 million Belarusians vs. 44 million Ukrainians). This would, in theory, make a transition to closer relations with the European Union easier than in Ukraine, but Belarusians would likely be wary of serious economic overhaul as they've seen the chaos that's plagued both Ukraine and Russia first-hand.

The regime currently in power in Belarus is repressive and authoritarian, but until a credible opposition that is able to smoothly transition between Belarus's planned economy to a modern, capitalist economic scenario, it will likely stay in power. A smooth transition is not impossible (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia are examples of successful transitions) but it will not be easy. 





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Kremlin's Next Step: Oil, the Rouble, and Ukraine



As Father Winter descends on the northern hemisphere, there are winds of change and uncertainty swirling around the proud steeples guarding the Kremlin. 

Russia’s economy is in trouble. Oil, the cornerstone of the Russian economy, has seen its prices free-fall in recent weeks. Sanctions bite at the economy because of Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, which the Kremlin continues to deny. Russia’s currency, the rouble, is rapidly losing value. Before the crisis in Ukraine, Russia’s rouble was stable, fluctuating modestly roughly between 28 and 35 per U.S. Dollar. Today, it takes more than 60 to receive a dollar in return. That number could continue to grow in the future. The stability that has gained President Putin so much popularity in the past may be starting to crack. 

Russia is under pressure from the United States and European Union to end its involvement in the crisis that has put Ukraine into a bind. An uneasy ceasefire seems to be holding, but a sliver of land in Ukraine’s Donets basin (often called the Donbass or Donbas) remains in pro-Russian separatist hands. 

The decisions the Kremlin decides to undertake in the next few months could have lasting ramifications for Russia’s future. If the Kremlin plays its cards right, it may be able to escape severe economic problems that could plague Russia in 2015 and beyond. 

Let’s examine some possibilities of choices the Kremlin can undertake in an attempt to restore stability. 

Scenario #1: Cooperate with the United States and European Union to end the crisis in Ukraine in exchange for a perceived return to economic stability

This is, understandably, the path that would sit the best with the west. Russia can agree to negotiations with Kiev, Brussels, and Washington to bring lasting peace to Eastern Ukraine. In a joint agreement, Russia, the European Union, and the United States can send resources to rebuild the Donbas from the damage it’s suffered in the war if it agrees to return to Ukrainian rule. In return, Russia’s economy would jolt back to life from the sanctions relief. The rouble would, in theory, regains some of its value and stability, and foreign investors may return to Russia. 

What about Crimea? 

Crimea is already integrated into Russia and it’s hard to dispute that many Crimeans are happy that Russia retook the peninsula earlier this year. Its economic situation, unfortunately, is not as rosy. Since Russia’s takeover, the transition from Ukraine to Russia has been rocky. Supermarkets and department stores have seen shortages, banks were woefully unprepared for the currency transition from hryvnia to rouble, and the tourism industry of the region has nosedived. 

A return to Kiev is not the fix-all solution to these problems. Ukraine is not exactly a golden example of economic development at the moment-the hryvnia is performing almost as bad as the rouble right now and the Ukrainian economy is in dire straits, perhaps even worse than Russia's. Ukraine may be able to convince Crimeans to consider returning if western powers promise economic investment, pension increase and stability, the assurance of broad autonomy and self-government for the mostly-Russian peninsula. That is indeed a daunting task for President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, but Ukraine can't be counted out yet. Like Russia, Ukraine and its people have endured far, far worse than a sinking economy. 

What would this mean for the Kremlin? 

Vladimir Putin’s popularity has been constant among Russians, barring a considerable lull between 2011 and 2013 when fraudulent legislative elections drove liberal opposition politicians into the streets of many Russian cities. The Kremlin’s response to the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine has seen President Putin’s popularity skyrocket, and despite fears over the economy, Putin’s approval rating is still over 80%. 

Despite the possible economic benefits that could come with concession, that avenue many not sit well with many Russians who were swept up in the patriotic fervor of Russia’s retaking Crimea and the possibility of the establishment of Novorossiya. Concession to the west could result in a large loss of popularity for President Putin and his government. This could energize liberal Russians (liberal in this case means “anti-Putin”) to start calling for further reforms and even Putin’s resignation. Russian nationalists could be angered by concession, feeling betrayed and angry after the promise of patriotic expansion. 

How long these feelings of dissatisfaction would linger would largely depend on the economic performance after concession. If the economy was to start growing again, frustration with the Kremlin could subside after some time, and Putin may yet weather the storm. 

Scenario #2: The Kremlin digs in its heels

On the other hand, the Kremlin could dig in its heels and try to weather the storm of sanctions and an unstable currency while saving its pride.  

The risks could be much more grave in this case. The United States just approved a broader sanctions bill, and it looks like the European Union is going to continue its own sanctions. If oil prices continue to fall, the rouble will further destabilize, and the Central Bank of Russia cannot realistically keep propping it up artificially. 

If the rouble continues to fall from its already low position, Russians will lose faith in their currency-as will foreign investors, further damaging Russia's already faltering economy. 

This could no doubt remind Russians of the chaotic 1990s, when a completely worthless rouble and a frozen economy forced Russians to barter for goods. 

The turbulence of the 1990s is commonly associated what some perceive as Russia's failed experiment with western-style democracy, and is a source for disdain towards both democracy and the west. Russians in general do not distrust democracy, but its initial experiment was one failure after another, and Putin's "sovereign democracy" did not come out of nowhere. 

If this is the conclusion Russians make, there are two roads to go, one liberal, one nationalist. 

If Russia's problems get severe enough, they could  turn against the Kremlin's recent policies in Ukraine and elsewhere, demanding reforms and a move towards the west. Or, if the negative perception of the west holds up, Russians may start to see Putin as a leader who caved under pressure and did not do enough to make Russia strong in the face of its adversaries. Both of these avenues are treacherous, but they may become inevitable if the Kremlin decides to stay the course. 


President Putin derives broad support for a few primary reasons-the economic stability under his time in politics, his patriotic method of governing, and his reigning in of the oligarch networks that ran rampant under Yeltsin. Now, his role in these three different things is up for debate. Some argue that Russia's economic upturn in the 2000s was more a result of oil prices than Kremlin, and that oligarchs still control more than they should in Russia. But if today's problems continue, then one of Putin's primary sources of popularity-economic stability-may severely diminish. 

It's true Russians have been through much, much worse than Vladimir Putin's government. Russians of nearly every generation have been to hell and back and lived to tell the tale, and there is merit in saying that Putin's regime is the most stable and open Russia has been for centuries. 

Is this the beginning of the end for Putin’s stay in power? It’s much too early to say, but it is clear that there will be consequences for the Kremlin's actions. And it's not entirely true that Russians are afraid to speak against Mr. Putin-they did, in massive numbers, between 2011 and 2012, and these problems may be the spark to ignite new protests against the Kremlin's course. Whether a credible leadership will rise to guide it is an entirely different story that only time can tell. In the meantime, Russia has some serious problems to address. 



Feature Guest Article: When Prison and Mind Meet and Mesh


By Rodericka "Ro" Applewhaite




Over the course of the last few months, news stories regarding race have reached a new height of salience as families across America grapple with its prevalence in society and impact on the future. From mass incarceration, to affirmative action, to a community’s response to the perception of racially motivated assault, the events of 2014 have covered it all. This is not to suggest that the tension that arose through these happenings is a bridge not crossed by society before or disregarded by the academic community. In fact, so much has occurred to contribute to this ongoing national conversation that we can revisit past theories to both chart where race relations are headed, uncover which mechanisms of inequity have been made obsolete, and further the theories within to better understand the world around us. Loïc Wacquant’s “Deadly symbiosis: When ghetto and prison meet and mesh” has particular potential for the latter, as his analysis of the carceral institution’s race-making capabilities can be applied to anecdote of one family and the experiences of countless others. Lawrence Otis Graham’s account of the precautions his family takes to navigate through white society details the evolution of Wacquant’s theory from the prison being the physical ground zero of the color line to an idea that perpetually looms over the heads of Black Americans and dictates the way they must interact with their white counterparts.
Before delving deeper into the connection Wacquant has to Graham’s story, a deeper understanding of the father’s narrative must be achieved. The essay “I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would prevent them from discrimination. I was wrong.” details his son’s experience with being called a racial slur while attending a predominately white boarding school. Graham uses this instance to explain that though he and his wife grew up in a much more racially hostile time in American history, the cynicism his son developed towards social interaction as a result of the taunt undercut any progress that has been made. Furthermore, it justified the precautions made in Graham’s parenting skills crafted to remove the negative pretense of blackness in his kids as they navigate through the upper class. But most importantly, the incident exposed a reality that America’s minorities know all too well: the fact that race is not a harmless superficial characteristic, but the unwavering means by which society projects the potential, norms, and expectations of an individual.
“Deadly symbiosis” spends most of its time charting the timeline of institutional black suppression at the macro level, but the logical progression of Wacquant’s claims towards the ‘racial division of everything’ in the individual is clear. It is no longer (and has arguably never been) the case that someone must directly engage with the ghetto or the prison in order to experience the “civic death” associated with it. It is a practice of social exclusion so expertly perpetuated by the carceral system and the ‘peculiar institutions’ before it that the cycle is now self-maintaining. The presumption of its omnipresence regardless of socioeconomic and geographic standing, as evidenced by the racist remark casually directed at Graham’s son, is a clear establishment of the prison’s “contribut[ion] to the ongoing reconstruction…between praiseworthy ‘working families’…and the despicable ‘underclass’ of criminals, by definition dark-skinned and undeserving” (Wacquant, 120). Simply put, Wacquant’s and Graham’s pieces blend together so seamlessly because the former’s profound statement that “the massive over-incarceration of blacks has supplied a powerful common-sense warrant for using color as a proxy for dangerousness” is not directly reiterated in Graham’s article but the understood foundation for the 9 rules
 he’s driven into his children (Wacquant, 117). This is a burden that uniquely belongs to the black community, as Graham points out that instilling such principles aren’t a thought in the white community, regardless of status. Despite the number of ways blacks are seen as society’s proverbial ‘other,’ injustices are regarded as “a ‘one-off’ that demand no follow-up” and are quickly forgotten (Graham, 2014). It is the reason why Graham’s family feels the need to rally around the few blacks that have achieved the elite class to exchange suggestions “on how to minimize the likelihood of the adolescents being profiled…simply because their race makes them suspect,” a search for thicker insulation than flawless diction and polite behavior (2014).
The white privilege that Graham references is a two-tiered harm. It is a social mechanism that papers over the present-day remnants of slavery, Jim Crow, and the ghetto by using the institutions’ obsolete status on a whole to embolden the ‘get over it’ counterargument presented when blacks claim disenfranchisement. Simultaneously, this privilege draws on the legitimacy of the prison and legal system to back minorities into a logical bind where expressing contempt of hyperincarceration would “validate the very conflation of blackness and crime in public perception that fuels this crisis” (Wacquant, 118). On a smaller yet more astonishing scale, Graham’s young son is already aware of this. He initially did not want to report the incident to school officials and had to be coerced into doing so by his father as he prioritized “not wanting the white students and administrators to think of him as being ‘racial’…and thinking about race every time they see [him]” (Graham, 2014). Observing this sentiment through the lens of “Deadly symbiosis” exposes the argumentative extension inherent within. Not only has the prison contributed to the “solidification of the centuries-old association of blackness with criminality and devious violence,” it has also created a reality where self-reported harms to blackness has become synonymous with ‘playing the race card’ and looking into the color line with too much sensitivity (Wacquant, 118). A black person’s capacity for their account of injustice to be received by their white counterparts as objective analysis rather than emotional exaggeration is inextricably linked to their success in “forcefully communicat[ing]…that they have ‘absolutely no sympathy and no known connections with any black man who has committed a crime’” (Wacquant, 118). Black America can expect for the color line to be just as bold if this trend continues. 
The biggest indicator that the impacts of the prison now loom over the heads of all blacks, including those that have never interacted with the ghetto, is clear in the long-lasting effects of the racial slur on Graham’s son. This includes the fact that he no longer makes eye contact with pedestrians or drivers (the slur came from two men in a car), visits his local library after sundown, and is suspicious of cars that pass by him slowly (Graham, 2014). The author laments: 
“He asks us to bear with him because, as he explains, he knows that the experience is unlikely to happen again, but he doesn’t like the uncertainty. He says he now feels 
both vulnerable and resentful whenever he is required to walk unaccompanied” (Graham, 2014).
This negative feeling towards society in general was furthered by the fact that the school administrators that were notified “act[ed] with the same indifference that so many black parents have come to expect” (Graham, 2014). The uncertainty created proves a shift in the overarching argument posed by Wacquant, the idea that “to be a man of color of a certain economic class and milieu is equivalent in the public eye to being a criminal” (118). The economic class has been deemed irrelevant by white society. Simply looking like those that dominate the penal system is now “tantamount to being made [the inescapable negative connotation of] black” (Wacquant, 118). As Graham concedes, he made an error in assuming that the privilege he and his wife worked hard to secure for their children would in turn make them immune to discrimination.
In viewing Wacquant and Graham’s works side by side, a better understanding of how race is made, maintained, and received by all members of society is achieved. Wacquant’s argument was already upheld through the extensive amount of statistical data within it, but Graham’s story revitalized those claims into modernity. Conversely, the experiences of Graham’s son demanded the extension of Wacquant’s logic. It justified the importance of thinking about the relationship between the privileged and the suppressed, and the injustice that has stemmed from it as a result, as a timeline rather than random occurrences not founded in anything. Overall, the fact that neither author presented a means by which rampant inequality can be abated proves that America still has a long way to go.








Appendix: Graham’s Rules for Reference
1. Never run while in the view of a police officer or security person unless it is apparent that you are jogging for exercise, because a cynical observer might think you are fleeing a crime or about to assault someone.
2. Carry a small tape recorder in the car, and when you are the driver or passenger (even in the back seat) and the vehicle has been stopped by the police, keep your hands high where they can be seen, and maintain a friendly and non-questioning demeanor.
3. Always zip your backpack firmly closed or leave it in the car or with the cashier so that you will not be suspected of shoplifting.
4. Never leave a shop without a receipt, no matter how small the purchase, so that you can’t be accused unfairly of theft.
5. If going separate ways after a get-together with friends and you are using taxis, ask your white friend to hail your cab first, so that you will not be left stranded without transportation.
6. When unsure about the proper attire for a play date or party, err on the side of being more formal in your clothing selection.
7. Do not go for pleasure walks in any residential neighborhood after sundown, and never carry any dark-colored or metallic object that could be mistaken as a weapon, even a non-illuminated flashlight.
8. If you must wear a T-shirt to an outdoor play event or on a public street, it should have the name of a respected and recognizable school emblazoned on its front.
9. When entering a small store of any type, immediately make friendly eye contact with the shopkeeper or cashier, smile, and say “good morning” or “good afternoon.”







Works Cited
Graham, L. O. (2014, November 6). I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would 
protect them from discrimination. I was wrong. In The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Wacquant, L. Deadly symbiosis: When ghetto and prison meet and mesh. Punishment and Society, 3(1), 95-134.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Los 43: Mexico's Missing Students

The 43: An interview with a student about the crisis in Mexico





The Mexican national anthem begins with the words


"Mexicanos, al grito de guerra, el acero aprestad y el bridón, y retiemble en sus centros la tierra, al sonoro rugir del cañon!"


In English, this translates to 

Mexicans, at the cry of war, make ready the steel and the bridle, and may the Earth tremble at its centers, at the resounding roar of the cannon!

The cry of war has sounded in the state of Guererro, a state south of Mexico City on the Pacific Coast. The people have made ready the steel and the bridle, and the earth trembles beneath their feet, even if there are no cannons around today. 

43 Mexican university students are missing.  Many fear they are dead, kidnapped and massacred by a drug cartel. 

To shed light on this crisis is Javier, a native of Mexico and former president of George Washington University's Mexican Student Organization.




Javier, can you describe the circumstances of how these students went missing? What happened?



The students went missing on September 26th, 2014, around 9 in the evening.  They were ‘normalistas’ (students aspiring to become professors for rural, impoverished areas) who were traveling by bus to Iguala. The municipal police attacked and chased them. After they were taken to their main facilities (cuartel),  Cocula police (Cocula is a town close to Iguala) moved them to Pueblo Viejo, where they were handed over to the Guerreros Unidos, a drug gang. 


So was this a random disappearance? Or did these students anger some entity to cause their disappearance?



The students wanted to protest and boycott the annual DIF governance report (informe anual) of María de los Ángeles Pineda. She's the wife of the mayor of Iguala.  Last year they had boycotted the same event, but this year, she tried to prevent protests by deploying policemen in streets around the event’s venue. Pineda wields considerable influence concerning the  everyday work of the Iguala municipality, and her family had a criminal history.  She is facing a criminal prosecution, accusing her as the main operator in government of the Guerreros Unidos gang. This is a website you can go to to learn more. 


What's the consensus among people you know, either in Mexico or in the United States, about the fate of these students? What do people think happened to them?


The consensus is that the students are dead, but we have the underlying hope that they could still be found alive. People think that certain municipal governments and their police forces are corrupt and allegedly work closely with gangs and/or drug cartels.


I've read that some seem to believe the state, or actors linked to the state, were responsible for this crisis, and possibly the death of these students. Why would the Mexican government, or people linked to the Mexican government, kill a few dozen college students?  What motivation would they have?

The Mexican government has three levels, namely federal (1), state (32) and municipal (2,438). Its structure is similar to the US-the country's official name is United Mexican States.  Some municipalities, such as Iguala, have close ties with gangs and drug cartels.  Public servants like them have become ‘caciques’ (power-tyrants) who are corrupt and nepotistic. They act and feel immune to law enforcement. 

Admittedly, I don't know much about the Mexican government. I know Enrique Pena Nieto is president, and before him was Felipe Calderon. From my limited perspective, it seems as if Mexico is a generally democratic country that struggles with corruption. Feel free to correct me if I'm making any incorrect assumptions.


Democracy in Mexico is present, even mature, but imperfect, much like most other democracies. Corruption is a problem, though, and because of corruption, government institutions are not strong enough, the rule of law is not fully enforced, and not everybody is equal before law.

What role do the Mexican Armed Forces play in this crisis?


The role of the Armed Forces is minimal when talking about Ayotzinapa. The only tangible role they've played is  providing security in different municipalities of Guerrero in recent weeks. 

Is the government trying to prevent these protests or are they allowing them to proceed?

I would argue that all protests are uncomfortable for the government, but the protests have proceeded.  The population does not trust the government.  The government puts a lot of effort on planning, but now that the situation has become less controlled, the handling of the crisis has been clumsy and reaction has been very slow.  Instead of been more publicly available in media, Peña Nieto has isolated himself.

Are the protests peaceful?

Yes, they are generally peaceful. Violence has occurred, but it's isolated and uncommon.  There have been some events such as the burning of buses and buildings-two buses have been burned in Mexico City and these actions haves been linked to revolutionary groups, who are not usually very active.  Suspicion exists primarily on professional agitators or infiltrated people.  In regards to the building burning, that only happened in the state of Guerrero and were targeted against parties and public servants’ facilities.




If the president was to resign, what would be the next step?


Long story short, if the President resigns before December (before two years of government), a new interim President would be appointed by Congress and new elections would be eventually summoned for next year.  If the president resigns later, Congress would designate a new President that would finish this term.
The President's probably not going to resign, though.  The next month will be very important to see if his position improves or worsens, and every Mexican president since 1934 has completed their six-year term, despite all sorts of crises.

Are any political entities or parties calling for reform? Or is this discontent directed at all of Mexico's political establishment?


Discontent is directed at Mexico’s entire political establishment.  Iguala’s major was a member of the leftist PRD.  Guerrero’s governor, who resigned weeks ago, was of a coalition between the leftist PRD and the rightist PAN, but was a lifetime member of the PRI.  The President of Mexico is form the centrist PRI.

You mentioned you were born and raised in Mexico. Have you noticed a change in recent years as to how the situation has deteriorated? How do your relatives and family feel about this crisis?

Mexico’s a large country, the situation has improved in some areas and deteriorated in others.  For example, higher education has improved while basic education has deteriorated.  

Focusing on security, the problem has worsened throughout the years.  Please look here: 
Focusing on economics, economic growth has decelerated in the past two years (Peña Nieto’s government) and the lack of money is felt in most homes.  Reforms were promised as drivers of economic growth, but there has not been a significant effectInterestingly, Querétaro (my state) has kept is growing pace.  Please look at this note that was written more than one year ago.  Prosperity keeps increasing. 

Who is Jesús Murillo Karam and what was the significance of his remark of "Enough, I'm tired"/"Ya me canse"?

Jesús Murillo Karam is the Attorney General and main prosecutor of the Ayotzinapa case since the PGR (Procuraduría General de la República = Attorney General) relinquished the case from the Guerrero State Attorney.
The "Ya Me Cansé" phrase was a great phrase that Murillo crafted after the information conference about the state of investigations. He said it on camera when the press was asking him questions about the crisis, so in turn,  the population has turned it around and used it to say they are tired of the Mexican political system and the Ayotzinapa situation.  It was a global trending topic at the time and has been a trending topic for one week.


Do you know anyone living in Guerrero? Are they involved in the protests? 



I know people of Guerrero, not from Ayotzinapa or Iguala.  They are not involved in protests.  But on the other hand, people I know in Mexico City have attended the protests.



Have the protests spread to other large cities in Mexico? Have their been protests among Mexican-

Americans in the United States?


Probably not.  Mexico is a very centralized country, so protests escalate from the focal source to Mexico City, and that’s it.
Mexican-Americans have not protested directly as one voice.  But those who are interested attend protests organized by Mexican students not only in US Universities but around the world.

Have similar problems been epidemic in other Central American countries? 


The closest may be Brazil.  The spark that started the protests was different but the underlying issues are similar: corruption, overspending, small economic growth, violence and inequality.







Friday, November 14, 2014

GW Basketball: Season Preview 2014-2015





On Friday, 22nd Street will be bustling under the flourescent blue light emanating from the Charles E. Smith Center. That's right, folks, GW Colonials basketball is coming back to the Nation's Capital. Barbecue will be sizzling, the beer will be flowing, and the seats will be packed.

Last year, Foggy Bottom hoops had a resurgence of attention. The Colonials finished the season 3rd in the Atlantic 10 Conference with a 24-9 record overall and an 11-5 record in the conference, snagged a revenge win against UMass in the A-10 playoffs, and a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a heartbreaker at the PNC Arena in Raleigh to the Tigers of Memphis.

It's time to restart and end the hibernation. Time to tip off a new century of basketball.

GW already played their exhibition match, an 89-47 blowout of Bloomsburg. Since Bloomsburg is a Division II squad, this was expected. The main takeaway from this game is it was a team effort. Six different Colonials (Patricio Garino, Kevin Larsen, Kethan Savage, John Kopriva, Darian Bryant, and Yuta Watanabe) scored ten or more points. Two of those players are freshmen. Yuta Watanabe is the reason you'll see the Japanese Rising Sun flag instead of the Serbian tricolor hanging off the front of student section bleachers. (Side note: Nemanja Mikic's graduated, so the "Kosovo is Serbia" signs are likely a thing of the past)


Let's look at each game one-by-one.

Grambling State

Grambling State finished a dismal 5-24 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, with only 3 wins in the conference. GW would look absolutely terrible if they were to lose at home. Expect a fast and early lead for GW to develop and a good amount of playing time for the freshmen.

Rutgers

GW beat Rutgers at home. It'll be an intimidating building with Rutgers' home opener taking place for this game, but considering Rutgers' 12-21 record last year, it shouldn't be hard for GW to win this one. And GW will need as much momentum as they can get for the next matchup.

#9 Virginia

Yep, we're headed to Charlottesville this year to take on the Cavaliers in their barn. Last year, GW suffered an early loss to a ranked team last year as well when Marquette handled the Colonials in Anaheim at the Wooden Legacy, but the Colonials also managed to pick up an upset in the same circuit when they shut down Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays. Virginia's strength is in their defense, and playing on the road at a large state school. Despite GW's improvement over the last few seasons, it'll be a major upset if the Colonials walk out of Charlottesville victorious.


Longwood

Same as Grambling State and Rutgers, Longwood had a dismal record last year (8-24) in a smaller conference. This is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so expect a smaller crowd than usual at the Smith Center.

Seton Hall

Seton Hall raised some eyebrows when they beat Villanova last year on a buzzer-beater shot, but their final record was 17-17 and they finished with a 6-12 record in the conference. To be fair to the Pirates, the Big East is extremely difficult to compete in with powerhouses like Villanova, Creighton, and Providence.


UMBC

Expect a win, GW plays well against UMBC, beating them convincingly last year.


Charlotte

Two years ago, a young GW team showed a harbinger of what was to come when Charlotte, widely expected to handle the Colonials in DC, got thrashed by a final score of 82-54, back when the teams were both in the A-10. Charlotte has since moved to Conference USA, where they finished 7-9 in conference play and 17-14 overall. This is the BB&T classic game, played at the Verizon Center, where Maurice "Mo" Creek put away Maryland with a buzzer-beater nothing-but-net shot.


DePaul

DePaul was dead last in the Big East conference last year, at 12-21, winning only 3 games in conference play.


Penn State

Penn State's not usually known as a basketball school, but the Nittany Lions boast tremendous home-court advantage and they swept Ohio State (ranked #20 this year) as well. If the Colonials are unable to quiet down the crowd early, it could be difficult to come back, but GW stacks up well and should hold their own in hostile territory.

Ohio U.

Don't overlook this game just because it's the "lesser" Ohio state university. The Ohio Bobcats were 25-12 last year, and 11-7 in conference play.

VMI

VMI played to a very respectable 22-13 record last year but play in a relatively weak conference. GW should be favored in this game but must play carefully in order to avoid an upset. The game is at home, which should help the Colonials massively-they were 14-1 at the Smith Center last year.

St. Joe's

This will be the first conference game for GW and it's a challenge. St. Joe's started slow last year but looked very dangerous in the later parts of the season. GW played and beat St. Joe's in the one meeting of the teams, but it was a narrow win.


St. Louis

The Bilikens are rebuilding after losing a handful of seniors and GW came very close to beating last year's fantastic squad, which went into the A-10 tournament as the first seed.

La Salle

Last season, GW split the series with a mediocre La Salle team. This was a considerable disappointment because La Salle was a team that was beatable and the game ended on a questionable call.

Richmond

Richmond is a consistently good team, but not a consistently great team. GW narrowly won out against them last year on the road, and it was a much-needed win coming in the middle of the most difficult part of the season.

George Mason/Fordham

GW swept the Patriots and Rams last year, both of which were at the bottom of the conference in 2013-2014. These games are winnable and important to bolster GW's record.


Duquesne

Duquesne is slowly improving but should not pose a serious threat to GW as long as GW stays healthy and


#15 VCU

VCU was the unanimous favorite to win the Atlantic 10 this year and runs a devastating press. Coupled with a strong home court advantage, this is a team to be feared. Last year the Smith Center hosted a rocking win for the Colonials, but then GW got routed in Richmond later in the season.

URI

The last time GW played URI, the Colonials jumped out to a 35-9 lead early. They proceeded to go on cruise control after that and still won the game convincingly.


Dayton

Last year, GW lost badly to Dayton in Ohio, but that game saw three of GW's most important players absent from the court in McDonald, Savage, and Creek. Dayton started slow last year but then proceeded to go on a tear and into the Elite Eight, effectively becoming the Cinderella team in last year's tournament. Dayton will give us a fight but if we assume a healthy Colonials side, a win is definitely possible.

Davidson/St. Bonaventure

Davidson, the newcomer to the conference, is not expected to do much this year. St. Bona is still a solid team, but the home court they had in the close game against GW last year won't be there to help them

UMass

UMass is a consistent force in the A-10 but it's yet to be seen whether the team will have the same fire they did against the Colonials last year-star player Chaz Williams is no longer with the Minutemen.

Likely Wins: 
Davidson (2)
St. Bonaventure
URI
Duquesne (2)
Mason (2)
Fordham (2)
Grambling State
Rutgers
Longwood
UMBC
Charlotte
VMI
St. Louis
Ohio


Toss-Ups

Penn State
Dayton
Seton Hall
St. Joe's
UMass
Richmond

Tough Match-Ups: 

UVA
VCU (2)


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ukraine: New Rada, New Era

Check out my previous work on Ukraine below! Like Mind of Menyhert on Facebook

Two interviews with a student in Lviv


A guide to Ukraine's Presidential Election


A rebuttal to an article in The Nation



Yesterday, Ukrainians headed to the polls to elect a new Verkhovna Rada, or Parliament.

The country finds itself tired and bandaged since the War in the Donbas, which still sees occasional flare-ups after a ceasefire was declared on September 5th.

The election may not unite the divided country after the tumult of the EuroMaidan Revolution and the War in the Donbas, but it could substantially change the political landscape in Ukraine. Exit polls point to a much different Verkhovna Rada than the one that took office in the 2012 elections

In the east, two breakaway pro-Russian republics find themselves relatively independent of Kiev. The Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic are intact, but are unlikely to get formal recognition from the west, meaning the two republics may end up like the frozen states of Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, the products of conflicts on or near the Russian border since the fall of communism. None of these states have significant international recognition, but they are more or less de facto countries today. 

The disputed region, called "Novorossiya" (New Russia) is a far cry from its original namesake, which stretched from Odessa to Luhansk when it was part of the Russian Empire. It is small in area, but holds nearly three million people. If we add Crimea into this equation, Ukraine has effectively lost around four million people, from a previous population of about 44 million. Before the war, Donetsk was home to nearly a million people, and Luhansk about 450,000. Elections for the Verkhovna Rada will not be held in rebel-controlled areas, meaning the size of the Verkhovna Rada will be effectively decreased by 27 seats out of a previous 450.

The two states that make up "Novorossiya" are planning their own elections for the 2nd of November, and they will effectively have to start from scratch, though it's fairly likely pro-Kremlin parties will win elections since the breakaway republics are founded on being pro-Kremlin instead of pro-Europe and pro-Russia parties like the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and Fmr. President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions were popular in past elections.

Exit Polls indicate the voting in the rest of Ukraine is shaping up to look as such:  

Petro Poroshenko Bloc: 23.1%
People's Front Party: 21.2%
Self-Reliance Party: 13.4%
Opposition Bloc 7.6%
Radical Party 6.4%
Svoboda/Freedom Party: 6.3%
Fatherland Party: 5.6%

Data from Radio Svoboda. 

Meet the Parties


The Petro Poroshenko Bloc is fairly self-explanatory. The current president of Ukraine is Petro Poroshenko, a rich businessman who made millions in the chocolate industry. His pragmatic, pro-European views received widespread support from Ukrainians in May when he was elected in the first round of voting, easily beating the 2nd-place candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko. His allies include Vitaly Klitschko, the former boxer and founder of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, usually shortened to UDAR ("Strike") and present mayor of Kiev. 

The party's platform includes, as outlined on their website (in Ukrainian)

Promotion of open list elections
Decentralization of the Ukrainian state
Creating a public television network
Bringing attention to the plight of the Crimean Tatars
Ensuring language rights for Russian speakers while maintaining Ukrainian as the sole official language
Full membership of Ukraine in the European Union
Welfare and social protection for poor citizens
Law enforcement reform and creation of an independent judiciary
Ending corruption
Ensuring Ukraine's territorial integrity

Energy independence for Ukraine





Photo credit to Mikola Lazarenko of RIA Novosti. 

Photo credit to Wikipedia. 


People's Front 




The People's Front performed surprisingly well in exit polls considering previous polling data. A recent poll conducted by Gorshenin earlier this month had the party winning 7.9% of the vote. The Party won three times that according to exit polls coming in at 21.2%. This party is only a few months old, created in March by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Expect the People's Front to be part of a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc, as Yatsenyuk and Turchynov were important players during and after the February Revolution. 




Prime Minister Yatsenyuk(left, photo by Sergei Supinsky of AFP) and Fmr. President Turchynov (photo from Wikipedia)


Samopomich/Self-Reliance




Another surprise out of the exit polls was the success of the Self-Reliance Party, headed by L'viv mayor Andriy Sandovyi. The party was created in 2012, but this is the first time it's been seen in Ukrainian national politics. The party aims to join "Christian morality and common sense", and will likely be allied with the Poroshenko Bloc and the People's Front. Second on the party's list is Syemen Semenchenko, a native of Donetsk and the head of the volunteer Donbas Battalion which fought the separatists.  Speaking of politicians directly involved in the Donbas War...

Radical Party of Ukraine



Oleh Lyashko


The Radical Party of Ukraine, led by Oleh Lyashko, received around 6.4% of the vote in exit polling, slightly less than that of Gorshenin's estimate. It is a left-wing party that has taken a strong stance against the oligarchs that wield considerable influence in Ukraine. The party has nationalist and populist overtones to it, and Lyashko himself has been influential in establishing volunteer battalions in eastern Ukraine to fight against the pro-Russian separatists, even taking part in the fighting himself. He was a member of Batkivshchyna until 2012, but received one seat in the 2012 elections to the Rada. His party wants to restore Ukraine's nuclear status and "end the War in Donbas by force". Lyashko received 8.32% of the vote in the May presidential election, a distant third to Poroshenko, and the party's continued influence will likely depend on Lyashko himself. This may be the party Poroshenko chooses to consult when dealing with the corruption that plagues the country. 

Opposition Bloc




Led by Yuriy Boyko, this imaginatively-named party is a coalition of members of previous parties that did not endorse the Euromaidan Revolution. It received 7.6% of the vote according to exit polling, and is populated by some former members of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, including Boyko himself, who ran for president earlier in the year. The party received substantial support in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, not far from the separatist fighting, which raised some eyebrows. It will wield some influence despite the heavily pro-European parliament as its constituents are largely Eastern Ukrainians, and Poroshenko may seek its help in compromising in future deals to ensure legitimacy with voters in eastern regions. 


Svoboda/Right Sector




Oleh Tyhanybok, leader of Svoboda/Freedom. 
Picture from David Mdzinarshvili, Reuters. 


Svoboda means "freedom" in Ukrainian (and many other Slavic languages), and is Ukraine's nationalist party, led by the wild-eyed and oftentimes crass Oleh Tyhanybok, whose party is commonly accused of being fascist. 
Like the more moderate Fatherland party, Svoboda and by extension its cousin Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) lost considerable power. Svoboda won 35 seats and  slightly more than 10% of the popular vote in 2012, but only 6.3% of the vote this time around. 

Right Sector, another nationalist organization in Ukraine and a favorite target of Russian state media smear campaigns, is barely more than an afterthought at this point if we are to take the numerous polls at face value. The Gorshenin poll had Right Sector winning barely more than 1% of the vote. It's important to remember that Right Sector is against integration with Europe, an odd outlier of a revolution commonly referred to as "EuroMaidan". 



Batkivshchyna 



Yulia Tymoshenko, photo from Reuters.



A surprising loser in these elections, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) barely scraped past the 5% threshold. By contrast, Fatherland was the 2nd largest party to win seats in the 2012 Parliamentary election, winning more than 25% of the vote and over 100 seats in the Rada. Perhaps it is the party's outdated image and leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is partially responsible for this change. Tymoshenko made an emotional speech to Maidan protestors after President Yanukovych was ousted and her release from prison generated considerable fanfare, but some Ukrainians, as I learned in an interview (link at the top of the page) that Tymoshenko is considered excessively proud and a symbol of the old guard by some Ukrainians, despite her pro-European views. Fatherland's party platform may still enable it to join a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc and People's Front, but the party has severely declined since 2012.


http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/231167.html

UPDATE: 


"With 45.03% of electronic voting reports processed, the People's Front has 21.62% of the vote, while the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko has 21.47% of the vote in Ukraine's early parliamentary elections.
The Samopomich Union received 11.13% of the vote, the Opposition Bloc got 9.76%, Oleh Liashko's Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna All-Ukrainian Union 5.71%, according to the information board at the Central Election Commission's (CEC) press center.
The Svoboda Party is close to the 5% election threshold, having scored 4.68% of the vote at the moment."

UPDATE 2: (From Interfax Ukraine)


"The results of processing 60.69% of the protocols obtained by the Central Election Commission (CEC) from elections commissions have shown People's Front winning 21.59% and Petro Poroshenko Bloc 21.41% of the votes in the parliamentary elections held last Sunday.
The Samopomich Union has mustered 11.16% of the votes, the Opposition Bloc 9.91%, the Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna 5.64% of the votes, according to information posted on an interactive display at the CEC press center.
The results so far show the remaining parties and blocs falling short of the 5% election threshold, with the Svoboda all-Ukrainian Union coming closest with 4.7% of the votes."





Sunday, October 19, 2014

Somalia May be rising from the ashes (SCARR Article)


When one hears “Somalia”, people usually think of the movie “Black Hawk Down”, pirates, countless sides of violence and strife, and Islamic fundamentalism. The country still suffers from poverty and violence in other areas, but the capital of Mogadishu, once a war-torn shell of a city plagued by hatred and arbitrary blood-spilling, is starting to rise from its painful past.  Earlier this month, a new airport and seaport started construction with help and investment from Turkey. The Somali government started their first postal service in twenty years, devising a postal code system for the East African nation-the first they've ever had. 
To an outsider, this probably sounds extremely basic, almost primitive. After twenty years of religious and clan-instigated conflict, Somalia has nowhere to go but up. The Civil War and Islamic fundamentalism ravaged the already impoverished country into anarchy and utter disarray. The economy wasn’t just hurt, it was wiped out. What was left of Mogadishu was terrorized by wild-eyed groups of thugs with Kalashnikovs slung over their backs. These are basic infrastructural needs, but they are vital to functioning society, and are the first step to developing a country that desperately needs it.

Somalis that have moved elsewhere are also returning to their homeland to help, assisting new businesses and recruiting skilled laborers for further development. The national currency, the shilling, has been regaining its value, shooting up from an exchange rate of 15,000 shillings to the dollar in May of 2013 to just over 1,000 to the dollar in March of 2014. Right now it’s dipped under 800.  This is excellent news for a people desiring to invest-it will inspire confidence, and for the first time, Somalis in Mogadishu can withdraw shillings from an ATM in their capital city. Progress is being made in resolving the territorial dispute with Puntland with international observers standing by.

Some credit is definitely due to the work of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in September 2012, and promised strong anti-corruption measures. However, security isn’t perfect; only two days ago a bomb went off near a popular cafe killing six, and the UN has condemned what they described as a possible escalating crisis. Al-Shabaab is a very real threat, and the government still lacks strong authority outside the capital. The country is severely underdeveloped, with a GDP per capita of $600, and the northern section of the country considers itself independent. Somalia’s got a very long way to go. But every journey begins with one step. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tunisia Tests Democracy





In early 2011, a fruit vendor in Tunisia lit himself ablaze, provoking mass anger in the small North African state. This act of desperation started the Arab Spring, which ended the regimes of dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. In Tunisia, Former President Ben Ali is living out his days in exile. But Tunisia has a claim most of the other Arab Spring nations can attest to. They’ve weathered the storm well and seem to be on an imperfect but determined path to true representative democracy, while Libya is a lawless mess, and Egypt seems to have come full circle by electing Abdel Fateh el-Sisi
Tunisia faces an important test this year with Presidential and legislative elections quickly approaching. Scuffles between Islamists and liberals are still a very real threat and the country is still plagued by terrorist attacks and assassinations. Elections are scheduled for October and November of this year. Four parties, along with a sizable contingent of independents, make up Tunisia’s parliament. The Islamist party Ennahda is the largest party in Tunisia’s constituent assembly, but the interim president is a liberal nationalist who has worked as a human rights activist.

Islamism could be a very real threat to democracy in Tunisia, especially with the problems in next-door Libya and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Tunisia’s economy is still sputteringfrom the revolution-budget deficit that has risen sharply since the revolution. However, if Tunisia is able to have a peaceful and free election, their economy will likely get a boost. The country also has a considerable tourism industry due to the ancient city of Carthage, Roman ruins, and affordability compared to Europe. While Tunisia does depend on oil, it is far less attached to black gold than other Arab nations, which is rare. Some within Tunisia have complained that none of the present parties have a solution to the economy, but perhaps a clean election will be the boost the country needs.

On September 30, the news broke that 27 candidates will be running in Tunisia’s presidential election, and that the polls are currently led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an elderly secular candidate with background in the previous regime who wants to lead Tunisia in a step-by-step fashion. He is quoted in the New York Times, claiming the transition will be a slow one: “When someone is hungry asking for food, you only give him what he needs...You don’t give him more, or else he might die, so we offer a step-by-step approach.”

Essebsi has a reputation of trying to change the old dictatorship from within but has dealt with protesters in questionable ways as interim prime minister, but one could wager that it’s not who wins, but the process of the election that matters. If Tunisia pulls these elections off fairly, cleanly, and quickly, whoever wins could gain legitimacy among the electorate even if they voted for another.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Zimmermann's no-no: A first-hand account

"How can you not get romantic about baseball?" Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane in Moneyball

On Sunday afternoon, at around 1:00 pm in row F of section 222 of Nationals Park, a Reds fan, a Yankees fan, and two Red Sox fans sat down, stadium grub in hand, to see the final game of the season between the Washington Nationals and the Miami Marlins. It was a sunny, breezy day in the Nation's capital, a perfect way to end the summer.
None of us were expecting what happened next.
As I stood in line to buy a lemonade in the second inning, I heard the crack of the bat, followed by that familiar hopeful "OHHHH" of 35,000 hopeful fans who knew that Ian Desmond had put good wood on the ball. I quickly ducked out of line to see the ball sail into the Marlins' bullpen. 1-0 Nationals.
A few innings passed by. As I sat there lounging in the right field nosebleeds shooting the breeze with my friends, I looked at the scoreboard.
I leaned over "Hey, J.R., Zimmermann's got a no-hitter through 5." I observed.
"Yeah, he's doing really well so far. Very efficient!" my friend replied.
Two more innings passed, and a debate broke out between us whether Zimmermann would be taken out with a no-hitter going on 6 2/3 innings.
"It's only 1-0...one swing of the bat and it's all over. Alvarez has pitched very well too."
"They need to rest him for the playoffs."
"I don't know man...they can have Strasburg and Gonzalez pitch, Zim can come in for Game 3..."
"His pitch count's really good, he doesn't look tired at all."
"Has he walked anyone?" "Yeah, two innings ago, and he had that wild pitch too."
Every recorded out was becoming more and more exciting. An intangible buzz could be felt among the fans.
"This has really been an awesome performance by Zimmermann..."
So began the 8th inning. Zimmermann recorded two strikes on the batter, and I noticed a few people standing and cheering. A dull roar of cheering followed. Every out it became louder and louder.
I noticed my heart was beating faster and faster.
Up stepped Ryan Yelich. No runs, no hits, no errors. Only two baserunners. Ten strikeouts for Zimmermann. All of Nationals Park on its feet, the loudest I've ever heard it.
Ball. Outside.
The next few minutes felt like an eternity. Zimmermann got the sign. Into the set. The two-one.
It looked good, and Yelich swung. Fly ball.
"OH NO". I thought. It wasn't enough for a home run but it was heading towards the gap in left-center. Steven Souza was running...running...he was close...
"Could he-"
Souza lunged.
"He-"
The ball found his glove. Souza flopped to the ground, and tumbled over. But the ball stayed put. It was over.
"OH MY GOD HE CAUGHT IT! HE HELD ON TO IT! NO HITTER! NO WAY!"
Thirty-five thousand exhilarated fans shot their arms into the sky in victory. I promptly high-fived and hugged everyone I could reach.  I just witnessed a feat that has happened less than 300 times in Major League Baseball since the 19th Century. Live. An enormous toothy smile had formed across my face, where it stayed for the next half-hour at least.  I felt like I was in love. And with baseball, let's face it, I am definitely in love.

As far as sports go, baseball was my first love. Growing up in the Boston area probably had a lot to do with that. Over the years I did find other passions...football, hockey, soccer, even college basketball. The Olympic Games.
But through it all, baseball has been a constant. I always try to catch the playoffs, regardless if one of my teams made it. There's nothing more perfect than a hot summer day at the ballpark with a hot dog and a beer. I'll remember this game for the rest of my life, and it will become a story I'll tell and re-tell for years to come. Thanks, Nats.