The Vassar ChroniCle

Vassar Alum’s Time in Egypt
by D.C. Mungo, Page 7

Vol. XIX, Issue 2

February 22, 2011

Vassar RetuRn to VassaR’s HistoRy: saVe Pink & GRay 3 Debate tHe CHinese HousinG BuBBle: tRouBle aHead 18

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tHe VassaR CHRoniCle

Table of ConTenTs
Vassar & Local Arts & Culture National & Foreign Affairs Debate & Discourse The Last Page ediTor-in-Chief
Steve Keller

3 6 7 14 20

senior ediTors
Wikimedia Commons

Jeremy Bright Matthew Brock

Fox News pundit Glenn Beck addresses a crowd at the “Rally to Restore Honor” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. ProduCTion & design CoPy & sTyle Vassar & loCal naTl. & frgn. affairs debaTe & disCourse researCher illusTraTors CoPy assisTanT William Serio Alaric Chinn Michelle Cantos Lane Kisonak Ethan Madore Michael Greene Jamee Bateau Tian-An Wong Andrew Bloom

sTaff ediTorial

Wanted: Higher class of American journalism


t is easy to pick on the media. MSNBC is too left-wing, Fox News is too right-wing, and CNN tries to straddle the middle, while liberals and conservatives both try to count CNN with their opponents whenever they do not like what they hear. Punditry has supplanted real journalism in many cases. Of course, it is difficult to completely extract bias from reporting— Walter Cronkite’s greatest moment was arguably the broadcast in which he declared the Vietnam War “lost,” a declaration which substantially shaped national opinion. But that was because Cronkite was by no means a member of the punditry corps—he was a newsman of titanic importance; he had no qualms about subjectivity. While opinions journalism is thus unavoidable and quite often laudable, punditry journalism distracts from the facts— choosing to focus on entertainment over substance. Today’s “entertainment media” chooses to focus on the irrelevant or the sensational—rarely the meaningful and never the big picture that connects the dots. Too often it reports its stories through a partisan lens. When it is fair and balanced, it sacrifices truth for a false idea—an idea of equality that breeds false legitimacy of all ideas, be it those of the reasoned Fareed Zakaria or the irrational Glenn Beck. Should journalists have provided “fair and balanced” coverage of the Cambodian Killing Fields? This past week on campus, we were fortunate enough to host the accomplished Ira Glass of “This American Life,” who made several cogent points

about the state of journalism in today’s world: That it is too frequently a performance—a farce concerned with attaining the perception of authority, often to the neglect of organic modes of human communication. The problem of entertainment media is not just one of substance; it’s equally a problem of presentation and attitude. Events these past two months seem to have already set a tone for the year, in particular the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the massive revolts against authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Each of these events is unprecedented, and they certainly received a worthy amount of news coverage at the time. The shooting in Tucson dominated discourse for a while, as did the nearuniversal cry for civility in our politics. But now we seem to be back to the typical, easy punditry style of demonization that, though it obviously did not cause Jared Lee Loughner to kill six Americans, certainly did not discourage him. Likewise, the media focused on Egypt when it was exciting, and when the pro-democracy protesters were in the throes of revolution. But now the hard part begins: The formation of a “government of the people” where there was none. This process will not get headlines, and the current exodus of reporters from Egypt does not bode well for continued journalistic attention on the country’s transition to democracy. Now pundits have found another animal to prey on; the violence in Libya is the new fodder for these “news”

outlets. It will become clear when the violence dies down that the media fails to understand their paramount importance—they are attracted to Libya merely because it makes a good headline. The media should not forget about important things just because they have become old news. Problems do not go away as quickly as the news media changes its focus. New Orleans has not been rebuilt; the Gulf Coast is still covered in tar balls. We have still not addressed the root causes of the financial collapse, and we have yet to have an adult conversation on the growing national debt. The political horse race is less important than these issues that plague us and are of paramount importance to our country’s continued strength and existence. We can only hope that the news media, perhaps driven by innovations such as Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere, will retain a better focus than what is currently allotted in the 30-minute evening news or the echo chamber of inanity that defines the 24hour news networks. Should the news media fail to reform, we hope that citizens of the world—especially Vassarions—will take it upon themselves to find accurate and meaningful information and use that knowledge to better their communities. —The Staff Editorial has been agreed upon by a two-thirds majority of the Chronicle’s Editorial Board.

Letters Policy: The Vassar Chronicle encourages its readers to voice their opinions by writing Letters to the Editor, several of which will be selected for publication in each issue without regard to the author’s race, religion, sex, gender, sexual identity, or ideology. Please address correspondence to Advertising Policy: All advertisements will be clearly demarcated as such. Contact for rates. All material is subject to editors’ discretion, without regard for race, religion, or sex. Nota bene: The opinions published in The Vassar Chronicle do not necessarily represent those of the editors, except for the Staff Editorial, which is supported by at least two thirds of the Editorial Board. M.I.C.A. is a student umbrella organization that aims to further moderate, independent, conservative, and libertarian thought on campus by sponsoring events designed to expand the breadth of Vassar’s political dialogue; to this end, M.I.C.A. produces The Vassar Chronicle. Contact to become involved with the club. ouR editoRs stand BeHind tHeiR PuBliCation.

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Pink & gray tradition should not be elided by homophobia
Michelle Cantos Vassar & Local Editor

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or the past 40 years, Vassar College has been suffering from an aesthetic identity crisis. To the unobservant eye, the move from the roseate pink and gray to maroon and pewter may seem trivial, but it signifies much more than simply a change in school colors. Although the change was justified for economic reasons, homophobia was the genuine social impetus that drove this color change. In a place where we no longer hold these prejudices, at a time when we look back on the last 150 years of our history with pride, shouldn’t Vassar ditch maroon and pewter and go back to our traditional colors? If you’ve ever been on a tour of campus you’ve most likely heard this story (no, not the one about Jane Fonda during tea time). I’m talking about Vassar’s move from pink and gray to maroon and pewter. The pink and gray combination has held a special place in the hearts of Brewers everywhere. These colors represented the “the rose light of the dawn of women’s education breaking through the gray of former years.” As one of the first colleges to be established for the purpose of educating women, Vassar College became a pioneer in

the world of academia. We took pride in this academic mission, and our traditional colors were a symbol of that pride. However, the level of emotional equity we invested into our colors, as well as the overall mood of the institution seemed to change in the early ’70s. According to Vassar’s own encyclopedia, the official justification for the color change from pink to maroon was based on fiscal needs. The Dean of Studies at this time, Colton Johnson, announced the change in colors was due to budget cuts because the pink uniforms were too expensive. Yet there exists an alternative motivation for the changing of our colors: Fueled by ignorance and insecurity, our color change was due to homophobia. I believe that there is a genuine corollary between the admittance of men into Vassar and the desire to move the institution’s colors from pink to maroon. Men touting homophobic sentiments pressured the institution to change their colors since they were not comfortable competing under the auspices of Vassar while sporting our traditional colors. Rather than defend the pink and gray and all that these colors represented, the administration buckled underneath the social pressures of a few students and changed the institution’s

colors to someting more masculine. There is no way to confirm whether or not this analysis of the social motivation for the change is accurate, but homophobic attitudes in the early ’70s are often touted as the “unofficial” genuine reason why the Brewers are now bedecked in maroon instead of pink when they step onto the field. Indeed this homophobia may have been part of Vassar’s past, but that does not mean that it should have the power to mar our institution’s current image. Walking around campus today, there is an air of acceptance; palpable tensions based on differences in gender, race, sexual orientation, and the like have, for the most part, subsided. Given our atmosphere of acceptance, why are we still using colors that symbolize our past prejudices? In addition to the evolution of the institution, the symbolism behind our pink and gray color scheme has also undergone a few changes. Pink and gray do not simply serve as symbolism solely for women anymore; rather these traditional colors act represent all of those who seek to challenge themselves both inside and outside the classroom. A liberal arts education creates versatile individuals; our level of academic fluidity allows individuals to challenge themselves in ways they never

thought possible. The pink and gray of today represents the dawn of academic exploration juxtaposed against the gray of a more singleminded education that is often observed at other institutions. Vassar has been given a unique opportunity to rectify the situation through the institution’s sesquicentennial. Unfathomable amounts of time, effort, and capital have been invested this year for the sole purpose of having us look back on our institution’s past with pride; why not use this time to change the school’s colors back to their traditional pink and gray? The administration should utilize this moment to pay homage to our past and simultaneously assert that the historic social consternation regarding homophobia no longer exists in the Vassar we have all come to know and love. Our jerseys should be a source of pride for athletes; they should be a reminder that that our institution was built upon pioneering ideals that emboldened women. Unfortunately, the current maroon jerseys are simply a reminder that, at one time, our school appeased the whims of the intolerant. Changing back to the traditional pink and gray would reassert Vassar’s founding principle of inclusion in higher education.

Vassar College needs to promote intellectual diversity Marginalized views must come to the forefront
Seth Warner Contributor


ne hundred seventy-six years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville published an in-depth study on democracy in America and, in so doing, discovered the most frequent shortcoming of democratic societies: “Tyranny in democratic republics” does not threaten the body, de Tocqueville wrote, but instead “goes straight for the soul.” In societies such as ours, you may differ from the group without being imprisoned or shot. All of your rights stay intact but they will be of no use, for if you dare to differ, according to de Tocqueville,“You will forfeit your rights to humanity.” You may run for office, but you will get no votes. You may ask merely for respect, but you will receive disgust. You will be shunned as impure, and even those who sympathize will avoid you, “lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.” Wait, death? Okay, perhaps de Tocqueville got carried away there. Nevertheless, the biggest trap into which democratic societ-

ies may fall is a cultural tyranny, one in which the centripetal forces of peer pressure create firm norms and ostracize outliers. Unfortunately, this is a trap into which Vassar College has also fallen. Take, for instance, this very publication: Concerned with the fallout of supporting a politically centrist outlet, six members of the VSA Council voted against initial funding of The Chronicle. Not one of them has made any attempt, however, to curtail funding for Squirm, Vassar’s erotica magazine—such idiosyncrasy caters to the stereotype that Vassarions are more offended by conservatism than by pornography. Of course, not all students fit into this stereotype, and those that do not often feel stifled. The Committee on Inclusion and Excellence’s Cultural Audit found an “assumed and controlling liberal secular viewpoint on campus,” which often silences honesty for fear of being “definitively labeled by others and ‘fixed’ into a static, limited, and limiting identity in the campus imagination.” Are these not clearly symptoms of the disease de Tocqueville describes?

However, hope is not lost. In my experience, Vassar students are generally friendly, smart, and reasonable. There is no reason we cannot also be tolerant and accepting. And it’s not as if we aren’t already; it’s merely that this attitude hasn’t yet been established. No threat to our community’s tolerance has been leveled, and we’ve not yet had the chance to respond in an understanding fashion.

“Our tyranny of the majority must fall, giving rise to a new system of mutual respect and understanding.”
With that, it’s time to open up. Marginalized demographics—conservatives, minorities, and theists—should avoid seclusion and seek integration. Students should not hide their affiliations, but view them as an important part of the College’s diversity. Groups should unabashedly host and promote events and speakers that may challenge our points of view.

All members of a community must seek to be moderate and understanding. Our gut reaction to passionately reject that which seems foreign—be it a laissez-faire view on a certain economic issue or a religiously-oriented opinion—will merely recreate de Tocqueville’s articulated problem. We may still, of course, disagree, but we should seek first to understand, not to dismiss. We may still find ideas flawed, surely, but we should not from the start of the discussion belittle them as repugnant. Instead, we must seek to make open, respectful dialogue the center of our campus culture. Such is the aim of the College in its mission statement: To create a “diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive college community where all members feel valued and are fully empowered to claim a place.” Indeed, let this be the face of Vassar College. Our tyranny of the majority must fall, giving rise to a new system of mutual respect and understanding. No democracy could be truer. —Seth Warner is a Freshman Representative on the Board of the Vassar College Democrats.

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150 years of history: A look at John Howard Raymond
the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. Raymond himself was a celebrated Baptist minister, whose faith colored his life: Particularly sensitive to obscenity, he bequeathed his copy of Shakespeare’s complete works to his daughter Mary as a wedding present—replete with offending lines and entire pages struck out by hand. Among the many items of interest in Mr. Gauthier’s collection is a 1900 “student handbook,” featuring several (defunct) clubs. Which would you join—or hope to be tapped for? Debating SocietieS (Qui Vivi and T and M)—Upper class debating societies. Every spring the Senior class hands over its society to the Sophomore class, which holds it for two years… The annual open debate between these societies is held some time in March. new englanD club—Composed of residents of New England. Its object is purely social. the Southern club—Students living in the South or who are descended from Southerners are invited to join this club. It is purely social in character. contemporary club—Membership is composed of upper classmen and Graduate Students. Twenty-five members are elected each year by the judicial board. Upon examination of original papers handed in by applicants. The club holds six meetings a semester at which the works of some contemporaneous author, which have been read previously by the members, are discussed. current topicS—This club is handed down from Seniors to Freshmen. At present, members of 1901 belong to it. Ten members from 1904 will be elected this fall and others later. Meetings are held weekly, at which current topics are discussed. The club posts a daily bulletin of news in the second corridor of the Main Building. wake robin club—Composed of all students who are interested in birds. The object is to learn the common birds. Meetings are held in the museum, where the stuffed birds are studied and the members are encouraged to observe the birds on campus. DaughterS of the american revolution— Composed of members of all classes who are entitled to join the Society. Meetings are held occasionally and the chapter makes several visits a year to places of historic interest. floral Society—Any student may join this society by paying the yearly dues of 50¢. Members are entitled to pick flowers in the flower garden.

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Jeremy Bright & Matthew Brock Senior Editors

Top-left: “The Christmas Song” written by Raymond, while at Vassar. Top-right: John Raymond, courtesy of the V.C. Encyclopedia. Mid-left: A drawing by Raymond of a Union soldier during the Civil War. Mid-right: A valentine to Raymond from his son Alpha Morse Raymond. Bottom-left: Raymond’s family tree. Bottom-right: Gauthier’s artifacts, including the 1900 Student Handbook.

he Vassar Chronicle managed to track down John Howard Raymond’s— Vassar’s second President—greatgreat grandson, Frank Raymond-Gauthier of Brooklyn, New York over break. Mr. Gauthier, who is documenting his family’s rich history, enthusiastically shared some historical anecdotes and artifacts with The Chronicle. For instance, so beloved was he by Matthew Vassar that when Mr. Raymond returned from a long trip, Vassar could not stop himself from hugging his friend, sweeping him into the air, and joyfully carrying him upstairs. While there is no doubt that Mr. Raymond was a vital element of Vassar College, Mr. Raymond’s accomplishments are not limited to his time at the College. At the age of 14 he matriculated to Columbia University, was expelled in his junior year, and graduated from Union College, ultimately earning his Doctorate of Law at the New Haven School. Prior to being offered a position on Vassar’s board for his “praxis and wise conservatism,” Raymond helped found Rochester University and served as President of the then-eminent Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute—a New York high school—where he instituted a novel pedagogical approach: Not using corporal punishment on students. Later, in an effort to avoid ensnarement in the Civil War, Raymond left Brooklyn to travel Europe with his close friend Henry Ward Beecher, a prominent Presbyterian clergyman, with whom Raymond went on to found

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NCAA status detrimental to the spirit of Quidditch
Kathryn Bauder Contributor

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arry Potter has become the phenomenon that defined our childhood. The books got children to read and attend midnight book releases while dressed as their favorite witch or wizard. In 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, putting an end to the series that released the first book 10 years before. This summer, we will line up to see the final installment of the movies. While this seems sad, some college students have found a new way to keep our inner child alive through the magic of these stories: Quidditch. In 2005, Middlebury College students adapted the game from the book to accommodate the “Muggle” world, and two years later, Vassar College followed by forming their own team and facing Middlebury in the first World Cup. This year the World Cup was in New York City with 46 teams. Moreover, hundreds of college and high school teams across the world are registered with the International Quidditch Association as either active or in formation. Some schools, such as the University of Maryland, are petitioning to get Quidditch NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) status, a movement that would take 50 college teams getting their school athletic directors to individually petition the association. While this could definitely help spread the sport, it is not necessarily the best move for keeping the origin and spirit of Quidditch alive. One thing must be made clear: Quidditch is a sport. Anyone who has had the chance to play knows that it not only involves teamwork to score points and “snatch the snitch” it is physically and mentally exhausting. Many teams take this sport so seriously it has been called “rugby on broomsticks.” Vassar,

naturally, plays the game strategically and efficiently, but more with cooperation and sportsmanship. The team of about 25 members take time outside of their twice a week practices to bond over “Quinner” and have “Bedtime Readings,” where they read a few chapters from the Harry Potter series. They recently invited the Vaasa Centaurs of Finland to come play with them and learn how to better form a team and play the game more effectively. The Vassar team embodies what makes Quidditch different from other sports. NCAA sports are the sports you normally think of that are sponsored by the athletic department: Swimming, rugby, basketball, soccer, etc. They are usually split into men’s and women’s teams, have practice almost every day and games every weekend. The athletes have usually been involved in the sport for several years and their sport is their life. Quidditch runs very differently. Quidditch is a co-ed sport that practices only a few times a week, and people are drawn to it by a love of the series, rather than any athletic experience. A Quidditch game is about much more than the game; the teams compete bracketstyle for the final trophy, but there is also side entertainment and vendors usually drawn from favorite activities from the books, and amusing commentators delight the audience like they do in the books. Quidditch is a sport, but it is so much more; it is an expression of the magical world that captivated us all as children. If Quidditch received NCAA status, there are a couple of clear advantages it would bring the sport. Funding is currently a major issue. As a club, Vassar Quidditch can only receive so much money, which mostly goes to reimbursement for transportation to the World Cup and what little is left over can go towards their annual “Butterbeer Classic” tournament that they host in April. With

By Tian-An Wong

funding from the athletic department as an official NCAA sport, the team could travel and play more often, host a more attractive tournament to bring other teams to campus, and maintain their equipment. Through NCAA regulation, they could have a regular schedule of teams to play within their athletic conference. Playing more games can help the team interact with others and help maintain their reputation as a great team (they placed fourth in the 2010 World Cup). This status does not come without a cost to the game. NCAA sports are generally not coed, and require a large time commitment that not all current players could make. It would make Quidditch more intense and exclusive, and place less importance on the fun and silliness that currently characterizes the sport. The NCAA would take over regulation of the sport, disregarding the efforts the IQA has made over the past few years to increase the prevalence of the sport.

The IQA is a nonprofit started up by the students of Middlebury who originally adapted the game, and has many roles in organizing Quidditch worldwide as a sport. Currently, they control the official rules of the game, encourage colleges and high schools to start up new teams, help nearby teams find each other to play, and run the popular World Cup in the fall. Because Quidditch is independently controlled, it can retain the “magic” that draws people to it in the first place. This allows people to join the sport for a love of the books rather than athletic ability, and creates an inclusive community of people who have found a fun new way to experience a favorite childhood book in a physical activity. The IQA currently fills the role that the NCAA would take, while respecting the unique aspects of this sport, because they created it. Asking them to serve under NCAA could turn Quidditch into an intense sport, causing it to lose its inclusivity and magical spirit.

Vassar Safety & Security ill-prepared for emergencies
Jeremy Bright Senior Editor


ug. 1, 1966. April 20, 1999. April 16, 2007. Mar. 11, 2009. These dates will likely not carry any significance for us, but for those affected by the traumas of the school shootings at U.T. Austin, Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Winnenden, respectively, they are difficult dates to forget. A school shooting is an exceptionally rare event; yet, when one occurs, it has the potential to be an exceptionally traumatic and deadly tragedy. Last year, there were 11 school shootings across the United States from the elementary to university levels; but regardless of age, students are a manifestly vulnerable group. All four of the above examples were described in the press as “massacres” for a reason: The victims were defenseless and there was no one present who could stop the carnage—just as the case would be if such a horror happened here. Clearly the administration is concerned: In the wake of Virginia Tech, Vassar installed an emergency siren designed to alert the campus to something like a shooting spree—or at least those who actually remember what its wail sounds like and

take it seriously. To improve its ambiguity and effectiveness, it’s coupled with an optin emergency text messaging system, and I assume an all-campus e-mail would be sent out once details are available. However, at best, these precautions would only prompt students to take cover—they would not stop a clever, determined, and mobile gunman. Therefore, I propose a policy that could save Vassarions’ lives in the event of such a horror occurring here: Train and arm an element of Vassar’s Security to respond in such an occasion with more than just a Maglite. I stress a part rather than the whole because I do not think that Vassar needs what would be tantamount to a police presence on campus. The stated primary role of Security is to ensure student safety, not enforce the law; and I doubt very much that any student wants to see armed officers breaking up parties, risking a momentary misjudgment on the part of either Security or a student who is as equally incensed as he is intoxicated. Moreover, arming Security in general— while potentially deterring crime on campus, such as when students were robbed by a shotgun-toting gunman near Chicago Hall two years ago—would upset the delicate

balance of liberty and safety, which Vassar laudably strives hard to maintain. The compromise that would preserve this balance and maximize campus safety—the paramount role of Security—would make arms accessible to only a handful of officers and kept in strategic, constantly-manned locations, for use in emergencies. These could include the New Hackensack office, the Campus Response Center in Main, and perhaps Main Gate—which might be more salient if Vassar actually attempted to control access to campus. The arms in question could consist of a number of handguns, scoped rifles, and shotguns to respond to a wide range of emergency scenarios, and kept in locked cabinets. Some might find this proposition alarming, and certainly it is not hoplophobic to be concerned about the dangers of firearms in contemporary society, which can be divided into two primary categories: Possessors’ intentions and mishaps. While the former is certainly more perilous, let me sidebar the issue of accidents. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, a subdivision of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 613 firearm-related accidental deaths and 5,045 hospitalizations in 2007,

the most recent year for which statistics are available. This is despite the fact that surveys suggest over 40 percent of U.S. households— approximately 50 million of them—legally own a gun. Statistically, it is incredibly more likely that any of us will sooner be injured or killed by an automobile, a random fall, a swimming pool, or poisoning—dangers we live amongst every day (have you eaten at All College Dining Center recently?). In order to further minimize the risk of accidents, the College could implement policies such as scheduling intensive firearm training courses for officers whose duty it would be to respond in emergency situations as well as prioritizing those officers who have considerable prior experience (i.e., those with military, police, or similar backgrounds). What is more, the ability to shoot accurately could be honed by perhaps mandating and subsidizing occasional trips to a local range for target practice. Financially, one would think that this proposal, with its costs of procurement and training, perhaps with the Poughkeepsie police, is feasible. Considering our endowment—and that we just squandered $15,000 on a sesquicentennial party that lasted three hours—this proposal is not just a drop in the bucket, but a worthy investment.

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New Palmer show highlights book of The monTh value of summer abroad Bunch investigates Tea Party Gives radicals a human face
Matthew Brock Senior Editor

aRts & CultuRe


Patrons view the photographs and artifacts by the Russian Studies Department. Matthew Brock Senior Editor

By Monica Church


new exhibit has opened at the James W. Palmer ’90 Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, that highlights one of Vassar’s most valuable assets: Study abroad. Vassar Abroad features photographs taken by students participating in Vassar’s last summer abroad programs—in 2009—to such diverse locations as France, Russia and Japan, among many others. Interspersed throughout the photographs are scrapbooks from the trips as well as historical artifacts from Vassar’s Library and Archives and Special Collections, to provide a historical context to the rich cultures that these students visited. From the photograph of two students participating in Japanese culture by donning kimonos to the one of Associate Professor Günter Klabes standing on a hotel room bed in Germany rocking out on his guitar, this exhibit presents a true portrait of these countries through the eyes of the student photographers. Viewing the show, one can almost imagine being in these exotic locales alongside the students: Taking in the beauty of the German countryside or sampling France’s rich artistic history at the Louvre. “The Palmer Gallery is a good venue for this show that was conceived of by the language faculty,” wrote Associate Director of the James W. Palmer ’90 Gallery Monica Church in an e-mailed statement; “It brings attention to their work beyond Vassar’s walls and brings it to the center of campus, allowing the community to see the richness that Summer Programs abroad once provided for students.” As Church pointed out, this celebration of Vassar students’ time abroad is bittersweet because just over a year ago the administration announced that all summer abroad programs would be cancelled forthwith, due to the immense expense associated with providing financial aid to the trips—they operated at a six-figure loss to the College. 2010 was the first year not to

feature these wonderful programs in recent history and their loss has certainly been felt at all levels of the Vassar community. One could say that the show, which is sponsored by the Russian Studies, Italian, French and Francophone Studies, German Studies, Hispanic Studies, and Chinese and Japanese Departments—which all lost trips due to the cut—was created as a final farewell to what once was. It is with some sadness that we look at these photos of these students’ incredible experiences and know that present students will not replicate them in the forseeable future, until the economy finally turns around. While the College of course had to cut costs in the face of the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars from its endowment, looking at these photographs helps a viewer see past the dollar value of the trips to the true educational and cultural value that these programs to foreign countries—that unfortunately the students may never again get to visit—truly brings to our school. At the same time, this exhibit sends a message to those students who will still travel abroad, either during their junior year or through a separate summer program: Don’t forget to bring something back with you. This exhibition was able to provide students and faculty who have not been fortunate enough to travel to these fascinating countries a glimpse—however small—into what the rest of the world has to offer. I truly hope that the Vassar Abroad exhibition sends a message to students, encouraging them to partake in Vassar’s wonderful study abroad programs as well as to the administration, letting the senior officers know that as soon as Vassar can loosen its belt, these programs must come back. I also encourage the language programs to host similar exhibitions in the future, to give the students who chose to go “JYStay” a chance to share in their colleagues’ experience, even if for just one brief moment. Vassar Abroad will be featured in the James W. Palmer ’90 Gallery through Mar. 3, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

he Tea Party. You’ve seen them on television, you’ve read about them in newspapers and on blogs, but do you really know what makes them tick? This is the question that Will Bunch seeks to answer in The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, HighDef Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. For students at Vassar College, these conservative activists seem far away and out of touch with mainstream American society, but Bunch shows us that these people are very real and have a very human face. They are convinced of their beliefs and they are not going to fade quietly into the night. Anyone who truly wants to understand one of the most enigmatic groups in modern politics would be well advised to read this book. Bunch traveled the country to write his book, interviewing Tea Partiers across the country. Bunch did not seek out the regular, vanilla Tea Party members, but interviewed only the most bizarre—the crazies. However, while his stories start out comical, they become progressively more serious over the course of the book. Bunch begins by interviewing paranoid-but-harmless Tea Partiers who believe that Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress of 2009-2010 is about to overturn the Constitution. For instance, he ventures to Kentucky for the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot, where libertarians gathered to celebrate their love for automatic weapons, and prepare for when the Democrats inevitably come to confiscate their weapons. Bunch then investigates the Oath Keepers, a group of soldiers, police officers, and public servants who have sworn an oath to stand down should their superiors order them to violate the Constitution. While these groups initially seem harmless, Bunch then shows the reader how these beliefs can be carried to the extreme. He investigates people who seek to profit off of the Tea Party by convincing people that Obama’s election is a sign that the world is about to end, which means that people have to stock up on survival gear, sold at a premium at Tea Party rallies. He interviews the friends of Richard Poplawski, a man who murdered several police officers who came to his home because he was convinced that Obama was instituting a police state. The raw hatred expressed by these right-wing radicals which Bunch details is shocking even to those who are relatively familiar with the Tea Party. In his penultimate chapter, he discusses the outrage caused by the passage of the Affordable Healthcare for America Act. He quotes libertarian activist Mike Vanderboegh: “If you wish to send a

message that [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW… Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.” The shocking thing about Vanderboegh and the rest of the activists that Bunch describes is that they are not lone voices that the rational masses quickly ignore; they are part of national movements. Vanderboegh’s call was answered across the country, with conservatives throwing bricks through Democratic congressmen’s office windows nationwide, with notes demanding that they oppose the healthcare bill. The book also demonstrates to the reader how what would have been considered radical views just a few years ago have now been given legitimacy though the national, partisan media— especially through the work of the book’s antagonist, Glenn Beck. While the entire country is currently railing against the evils of partisan media, Bunch takes the arguments a step further, showing us how dangerous people who take Beck’s message literally can become to society at large. Unfortunately, Bunch does not offer any prescription for how Americans can overcome this growing extremism and come together to stabilize our political system. In fact, his attitude towards the Tea Party movement seems to be as apocalyptic as conservatives’ views of Obama—he ends with an ominous quip about them mobilizing to go to war. However, the book is ultimately a compilation of some of the more bizarre world views that exist within the Tea Party movement and as a means of understanding this growing movement, Bunch’s book is invaluable and an entertaining—if not terrifying—read for anyone interested in contemporary American politics.

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Notes from abroad: Alum’s perspective on Egypt protests

national & foReiGn affaiRs

Left: A protester waves a flag on a rooftop. Top: Fire engines hose down protesters.

By D.C. Mungo

dents of Cairo assembled in various spots around the city and then marched to the major square in downtown—Midan Tahrir (“Liberation Square”)—to face water cannons, tear gas, batons, rocks, rubber bullets and the threat of arrest––a fate much worse in Egypt than in the United States. For political dissidents in Mubarak’s Egypt, arrest could mean being driven out into the desert to be marooned, it could mean sodomy by a broomstick, or it could mean good old-fashioned torture in a solitary cell. With this merciless security apparatus, Mubarak has held onto power through a mixture of fear and complacency, and so on that first day of protests, I was still pessimistic about the protesters’ chances. My pessimism stemmed from seeing the collective resignation that fear caused on a daily basis.
By D.C. Mungo

D.C. Mungo International Correspondent


fter five months living and studying in Egypt, I left for Damascus on Jan. 26, 2011, but the Egypt I left was not the same one in which I arrived. As you all know by now, on Jan. 25, thousands of Egyptians gathered for the first day of protests that would soon engulf the whole country. After that first day, I’ll admit I was not ready to believe that this really could be as pivotal as the protests in Tunisia had been. Stuck in an old way of thinking, bedeviled by the same complacency and lack of foresight that has frozen so many expectations about Egypt’s future for so long, I had no idea even as I stood among the protesters that millions would come forth just days later. Jasmine on the Nile Despite news sources’––including Al Jazeera––remarkable silence regarding Egypt’s protests on their first day, it seems as though the details and causes of Egypt’s turbulence are common knowledge to anyone with a pulse by now. Just two months after blatantly rigged parliamentary elections turned out huge results for Mubarak’s party, Egyptians felt the reverberations of Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” and, as if woken by a splash of cold water, a group of young Egyptians sprung into action online to bring about the same kind

of protests that could lead to the ousting of their own multi-decade presidential dictator. Indeed one of the signs I saw most often on that first day of protests read, “In the beginning, Tunisia. Now, Egypt.” Undoubtedly, that is the order it will be remembered in, but with a population almost eight times the size of Tunisia’s, Egypt will be the one that changed everything in the region, a fact surely not lost on Egyptians. Egyptians chose Jan. 25, to begin their protests, deliberately choosing the national holiday known as “Police Day,” coming forth specifically to defy the ever-present symbol of the Egyptian government’s control that the day was intended to celebrate. Some news outlets reported for a while that the dissenters were protesting corruption, unemployment, bureaucratic incompetence, and the thirty-year-old emergency law allowing baseless arrests, but really the Egyptians that came out were protesting one thing and one thing only: Hosni Mubarak. The 82 year-old President has been serving since the Carter administration in no small part because his political party has stamped out any viable opposition and rigged the political mechanics of the country to keep it that way. Furthermore, he has systematically injected himself and his family into most of the country’s major industries, stuffing the Mubarak coffers in the process. And so, on Jan. 25, resi-

The way it was… There is an Arabic verb (and a noun in this case), istisalam, related to both the word salaam (“peace”) and islam (literally, “submission”), which would often pop into my head when pondering the state of Egyptian politics. When verbs in Arabic start with “ista-” it can imply both emphasis and a sort of personal involvement with the action, so this word is used to signify total surrender or capitulation. I often think of this word because, before the protests, every Egyptian you talked to could (and probably would) swiftly tally up the long list of ills afflicting their country, but they did so largely without anger or passion. Instead, there was only depressed resignation, like it was all too far-gone to even warrant their energy. Even the smallest aspects of their lives seemed touched by this submission to their country’s problems. During one of my first full conversations in (broken) Arabic I watched as an Egyptian carelessly threw the paper that covered his sandwich onto the street just minutes after he had complained that the appalling number of trash-piles around Cairo never seem to go away. I asked him about it, and he just shrugged. From my conversations with Egyptians, they seemed resigned in a similar manner to their country’s undemocratic government. When pressed about whether they thought Mubarak’s son, Gamal, would be the next President (most believed he was being groomed for higher office), the only

answer I ever got went something like what my good Egyptian friend once said to me: “Who else would Mubarak allow?” Similarly, a cab driver once said to me when I asked him if it was okay that Gamal might effectively inherit the executive office, “Of course this is not democracy, but it is just what we have in Egypt.” More troubling perhaps was how this sense of surrender seemed to penetrate some Egyptians so deeply that they felt there was actually no solution. The (very) few Egyptians I ever met that actually claimed to like Mubarak exonerated him based on their belief that he could not be blamed for Egypt’s problems because they are too big for anyone to handle. In conversations about their country’s ills, they would often cite the statistic that Egypt has a burgeoning population of over 80 million by itself as if it alone represented too high a number to ever be dealt with. Sometimes they would say 100 million, and one even tried to convince me that this was bigger than the United States, mistakes which are not only darkly comical but which only further seem to reflect how unmanageable they perceived this problem to be. Another occasional misconception held that recent deaths by shark attack near one of Egypt’s famous Red Sea beach destinations had been executed by Israel’s Mossad in order to damage Egyptian tourism. This somehow not-entirely-discredited theory was discarded by the majority of Egyptians, but that it managed to persist at all is less a reflection of Egyptians’ backwardness as much as it again shows how stacked they seem to feel the odds are against them. I even began to perceive a connection between this surrender and cynicism in the way that Egyptians think about their old age. On a few occasions when talking with middle-aged Egyptian professionals who are nearing what Americans would consider retirement age, they would tell me––proudly almost––of how they never bothered to save their money, as they would rather enjoy their lives. Though there are many other cultural factors that play into this––not the least of which are the stronger family support system present in Egyptian culture, and the appallingly low average daily wages for most Egyptians (about $2 a day according to the See EGYPT on page 8

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ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

Egypt faces uncertain future in light of recent upheaval
Continued from Egypt on page 7 New York Times)––I can’t help but feel there is at least a shade of a connection between the pessimism engendered in politically repressive systems like Egypt and the feeling that a higher value is placed on enjoying life in the certainty of the present rather than in hoping to do so in an uncertain future. Who shall lead… So where does that leave things in Egypt today (Feb. 4, at the time of this writing)? I have obsessively followed Twitter (finally it seems useful to me!) and all the major news sources putting out new information about the events there, so I am just as excited and awed as anybody at how decisively Egyptians have risen up, swelling from thousands to millions in just a week. But what I fear most of all is that this movement will remain without a leader or a unified idea for the Egypt they wish to achieve in a post-Mubarak world. Mohammad el-Baradei, though respected by many Egyptians for leading a mostly uncorrupted life and for amassing power and influence independent of Mubarak––no small feat––nonetheless elicits lukewarm support at best. One chant heard often in the streets of Egypt this week has been, “Not Mubarak, Not el-Baradei, Not [Muslim] Brotherhood; we want no leaders! We just want democracy.” It is undoubtedly a good thing that the protesters want democracy and, furthermore, that they resist the potentially extremist religious leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, but they also don’t want el-Baradei, or any leaders whatsoever for that matter. Egyptians are cynical and suspicious of outside interference, but is this anarchy? What DO they believe in, besides the need for Mubarak to go? Who is crafting the plan for what happens afterwards, and why will Egyptians be any more inclined to follow them than they were toward Mubarak? From what my friends in Egypt said, el-Baradei did gain some credibility and praise for coming out to the front lines on Friday, and even though his confinement under house arrest may have left Egyptians feeling again he was just playing it safe, he came back to the protests a few days later with little love lost. At this point he is quite well positioned to act as a representative on behalf of the people, especially in light of his apparent ability to draw allegiance from many of the different opposition groups, including the most organized of the groups, the Muslim Brotherhood. But then again, unless el-Baradei accrues much more respect from the people very quickly—which I’m not ruling out given his positioning as the chief representative for most of the organized opposition groups—the level of popularity he has right now is hardly enough to make him a shoe-in to succeed Mubarak. Recently an American University professor suggested in an Al Jazeera op-ed that today’s Egypt may be like Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1989 with their hugely popular first post-Soviet presidents, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa. The truth is that el-Baradei is not yet their equal in stature or popular respect. I think many Americans would like it if el-Baradei succeeded to the leadership of Egypt, because he is a known quantity of sorts, but that’s not how he’ll get the job. This all could change, but it is not guaranteed, no matter how much I think Americans would like it to be so. Burning history Today, Feb. 2, was the consecration of Egypt’s pro-democracy protests by fire. Watching masses of Egyptians literally burning and breaking up their capital city was actually heart wrenching for me in a way that I would never have predicted. Molotov cocktails that they would aim indiscriminately at the unarmed pro-democracy protesters camped out in Tahrir Square, as well as at the famous Egyptian Museum whose priceless antiquities the “pro-government” forces had most likely helped loot just a few nights prior. It may be impossible to prove Mubarak’s party was behind the sudden emergence of so-called “pro-government” supporters, but the discovery of numerous police and security force IDs on them, coupled with the ways they targeted foreign reporters, and the similarities to intimidation tactics implemented by the NDP around tion of Mubarak’s regime might threaten our relations with the other semi-benign dictatorships at best misses the point, and at worst blatantly misleads. Frankly, I think such allies should be a little spooked that we will renege on our support for them should literally millions, representing members from every cross-section of their population, stand up in protest to their autocratic, oppressive policies. I am totally comfortable with that being the line we draw in the sand. If that means slightly higher oil prices, so be it. Already, we have seen how Yemen, Libya, and Jordan, all suddenly feeling more accountable to their people, have promised to implement measures to help their populations (the actual merits of those measures themselves is another story, but I stand by my point). We have long claimed that this was essentially what we demand of our allies, and I think abandoning Mubarak can only reinforce such a righteous message. I know the people of Egypt would have appreciated such a message long ago. Pessimism justified? I don’t know what’s next for Egypt and my thoughts about whether the revolutions taking place in Tunisia and Egypt will spread to other countries in the Middle East are less fleshed out. The events in Iran just two years ago may raise the question of whether Mubarak will even step down, though I think Egypt’s security apparatus is not so pervasive as Iran’s. If it were, I think Mubarak would have used it already to squelch this movement. Furthermore, the demographics of Egypt’s pro-democracy protesters seem far more varied than those that participated in Iran. Protests have sprung up with gusto in nearly every major city in Egypt—not just its capital. The protests in Egypt are bigger than Iran’s. So, in a word, I am hopeful. Yet the pessimism displayed by the thousands that accepted the bribes—both ideological and monetary—from Mubarak’s ringleaders to come out and attack the protesters yesterday, reminded me of how istisalam seemed to define the mindset of the Egypt I lived in, even as I fell in love with its people and its capital. I don’t think Mubarak will succeed or be able to remain in power until the September elections, but I do worry that the next government will become co-opted by men possessed of the same cynicism that made megalomaniacs out of NDP’s leaders who felt no accountability to any but themselves. I fear they will throw the trash out onto the streets instead of where it belongs, shrugging it off because deep down they still believe that their country is doomed. On the other hand, there is another word that is even harder to avoid when walking around Egypt, and that is the Arabic name for Cairo, al-qahira, which means “victor.” I think the Egyptian people’s dedication and devotion over the past week carries within itself the recipe for an Egyptian future that will hold onto that optimistic idealism that induced them to keep their protests peaceful right up until the point they were attacked. Perhaps the cynicism of life under Mubarak need not persist. Perhaps the people will emerge the uncompromised victors of this revolution.

national & foReiGn affaiRs

Protesters rally against the Egyptian government in Cairo.

By D.C. Mungo

Dirty, crowded, confused, and often a little offensive, Cairo is beset by a whole host of problems to be sure, and if you had asked me even just two months ago, I would have told you I would be happy to leave it. But somewhere, sometime, my mind changed. Amidst Cairo’s craziness, there is a rhythm to the madness that you can find yourself falling into like you fall into stride with the people walking next to you. Cairo is one of the world’s truly organic metropolises, made up of 18 million people who accumulated there over the centuries because they wanted to live alongside its history and its energy. When you exit the city’s famous hilltop Mohammad Ali Mosque and see the Great Pyramids through the haze your gaze is still drawn down past the city’s infamous “thousand” minarets to the remarkable city of colorful Egyptian lives. There is something special about Cairo—and it’s saying something that I feel this way still as I sit in the heart of Damascus, probably the world’s oldest inhabited city. So, as a result, just as I became aware of this strange love for a city I had lived in for only five months, I had to watch as it tore itself apart thanks to the paid thugs of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. What had been perhaps most amazing about the protests up to that point had been their distinctly, purposefully nonviolent tactics—and then came Mubarak’s mercenaries, armed with machetes and

elections, seem about as convincing as anything else. Mubarak has knowingly and willingly committed violence against his countrymen behind closed doors for years, but now he has perpetrated it for the world to see. For whatever stability and continuity Mubarak previously lent to American affairs in the region, it should now be completely clear that he has forfeited whatever moral right to lead Egypt he ever had, and the U.S. should completely recant any support for his regime, regardless of the political consequences we may fear from our various other allies in the region. Consequences confused Some have probably argued that severing ties with Mubarak might make our other Arab allies in the region, like Saudi Arabia and Jordan (and arguably Lebanon and Syria), uneasy with the apparent fickleness of our allegiance. I am not so morally high-minded as to argue that we should avoid associating with such governments all together—for the sake of ending this piece, I’ll just say that foreign affairs are too complicated for such a blunt tact and leave it at that. But Mubarak’s actions, this open violence against his own people as they attempt to protest peacefully, has crossed a line, and we must react with more than vague statements about the need for “transition.” Moreover, the argument that a repudia-

ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

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Witnessing history in the making: An alumnus in Egypt
Damian Tomczik International Correspondent

national & foReiGn affaiRs
various kinds of unrest that Cairo has seen since Jan. 25, extended in an unexpected way, as witnessed by an Egyptian colleague who lives downtown, just blocks from Tahrir. She described the men of her neighborhood fighting pitched battles with the riot police, known for their violent crackdowns on any dissent against Hosni Mubarak’s regime. She was understandably terrified, remaining inside as rocks and Molotov came scared men––Egyptians. It is just a single anecdote, likely isolated, but amongst the violence of the early days of the protests, it stands out as a small totem of otherwise unpublicized generosity and mercy. When the police returned to most of the streets of Cairo on Jan. 28, the BBC reported that they were greeted with both anger, and with the supportive shaking of hands. Drawing back from my own experi-


find myself halting and insecure as I attempt to write something useful about the potentially monumental events that are unfolding in my new home. My experience with the news media has been disappointing. Initially, they seemed to be falling over themselves with hyperbolic coverage of Tunisia after missing the boat. So much of the dialogue has been without merit; I hope my own small addition has some. Without the safety net of a known conclusion, hindsight, or existing scholarship, I suppose I am a primary source myself. It is a peculiar feeling for a student of history, moreso as a liberal writing for a conservative journal. As part of the steadily dwindling expatriate population of Egypt, we have watched the events with obvious interest, on satellite television, on the Internet when available, on our streets, and from our rooftops. From these sources— our friends and colleagues, both Egyptian and foreign—we have tried to cobble together a more reliable understanding of the situation. My partner and I came to Egypt following her work in the archaeology sector. We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here, and we have had to gauge recent reports of looting, violence and arrests against our desire to remain in a city and country that we feel we are just beginning to get to know. We live in Zamalek, a relatively affluent community, popular with foreigners, on one of the islands on the Nile. Our flat is about a mile and a half from Midan Tahrir, the epicenter of the protests in Cairo. I highlight our proximity to show how close one can be to the heart of the events, and yet remain relatively safe. Our primary metric on whether or not to stay was our physical safety. From the beginning of Jan. 25, 2011, to the most recent edit of this piece, we have not felt unsafe—nervous and unsettled at times, but never unsafe. Shops have been open every day and even the familiar vendors selling flowers outside the supermarket and those selling roasted sweet potatoes from handcarts have not disappeared. There is an air of tension, but during the day life has carried on largely as usual in our neighborhood. I discussed a common thread with a friend here: That he and I both saw our respective neighborhoods drawing closer together amidst the instability. Chats with shopkeepers and food vendors have become more animated. All of our local haunts have made sure we’re hanging on; a reassuring smile and an “Anta kwayes [You ok]?” accompanying the change for a sack of groceries or tamiya. Like many others, during the brief period of looting on Jan. 26, and Jan. 27, our neighborhood banded together, barricaded roads and kept eyes peeled for trouble in the absence of the police, who had abandoned the streets citywide. This kind of unity in the face of the

By D.C. Mungo

Anti-government activists swarm the streets.

By D.C. Mungo

cocktails made from tea glasses were thrown from the roof of her building. The next night, the police found themselves overwhelmed in many areas and fled the streets—the police, fearing for their lives, were tearing off their recognizable uniforms as they ran. The same men who had been throwing Molotov cocktails, recognizing the helplessness of the policemen, changed their tack. Instead of another volley of missiles, the policemen were ushered inside and given shirts and shoes, facilitating their escape home. As they cast off their uniforms, the police simply be-

ences, the future of the Egyptian people as yet remains far from decided. President Mubarak has promised not to run for re-election in September, reshuffled his government, and promised constitutional reforms. The anti-government protesters remain unsatisfied, repeating their consistent demand that Mubarak resign immediately. After a day of violence between armed Mubarak supporters—whom, some assert, were conscripted by the government—and peaceful protesters on Jan. 2, something of a stalemate has ensued. Neither the protesters in Tahrir nor the President seem

willing to budge. Western powers—the United States, United Kingdom and Germany among them—have called for a swift transition to a democratically elected government, stopping only precariously short of officially calling for Mubarak’s immediate resignation. Yet Mubarak’s Egypt has been a useful ally to the West. Despite their numerous conflicts, Egypt has an active peace treaty with Israel, one of only two such treaties in the region. Moreover, the U.S. has cemented its relationship with Egypt with $1.3 billion in annual military aid. This figure, alongside the Obama administration’s seeming abandonment of Mubarak, has come under scrutiny. A few vitally important factors must be noted here. First, the role and reputation of the army are entirely different from the situation of the hated police, and the army seemingly keeps a distance from Mubarak himself despite his military background. When tanks rolled onto the streets of Alexandria and Cairo, they were greeted with cheers from the antit-government protesters. The Army installed itself as neutral protection for the protesters. According to a military spokesperson on state television, the Army recognized their right to protest, as well as the legitimacy of their demands. After the night of ugly fighting between the two camps of protesters, veteran BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson noted what may have been a significant symbolic gesture, as the tanks swung their barrels outwards, pointing out of the square instead of toward the anti-government protesters inside. Even if the army’s stance was calculated throughout by Mubarak’s regime, the initial cheers from the crowds would be difficult to engineer. “The Army and the people are one,” rang out through the crowd as members of the tank battalions were hoisted on the shoulders of the anti-government protesters. The second factor is the United States’ direct relationship with the Egyptian military, one which might be used to circumvent Mubarak himself and shape the Egyptian army’s reaction to any possible power vacuum should Mubarak step down. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen noted in a recent interview that the U.S. has trained, on American soil, a sizable portion of Egypt’s rising military officers. Beyond essential financial support, the U.S. has fostered a personal relationship with the Egyptian military. In his words, “It’s an easy call to make,” should the U.S. need to communicate directly with the Egyptian military. In the absence of Mubarak, it seems that both the U.S. and the Egyptian people will still have an ally in the Egyptian military. For national and regional stability, this is comforting indeed. As for the democratic and human rights aspirations of the Egyptian people, it remains to be seen how neutral the army will remain, and how the relationship of both the army and the people with the police, secret police, and state media apparatus will evolve.

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ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

Palin’s public persona produces political problems
Ryan Martin-Patterson Contributor

national & foReiGn affaiRs


et me start by being clear: Hate is not a word I use lightly when I am talking about a human being. I hate different aspects of people all the time: Tom Brady’s hair, Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, and George W. Bush’s Presidency are all perfect examples. But I do not hate these three people, and there are things about each of them that I actually like (Brady’s work ethic, Gaga’s music, Bush’s… family). Even the worst people usually have some redeemable feature, and hating another human being is usually beyond the level of anger I am willing to sustain for long periods of time. So I can’t say that I hate Sarah Palin. I just hate almost everything about her public persona. I should probably explain what I mean by that. By public persona, I mean the things she says and does in the public eye as part of her job, and the way she says and does them. Some examples to illustrate: I hate the way she thinks shooting animals from a helicopter is good clean All-American fun; I hate the way she portrays “living in California or New York” and “loving America” as being mutually exclusive; and I hate the way she titled her autobiography Going Rogue, as if running for elected office as a conservative Republican who preaches family values is blazing a new trail in this country (ask our last President; he did it all the way back in 2004). I actually do not hate her policies. I disagree with many of them, but that does not mean I hate them. We live in a democracy. We are not supposed to agree on everything, and the fact that we have forums to debate and resolve disagreements is a good thing. It is healthy, probably. I do, however, hate the way she presents her opinions. I could rant about that for thousands of words, but I will refrain. Instead, I will illustrate my point with an example. As most of you probably know, on Jan. 8, 2011, an armed gunman outside of Tuscon, Arizona, shot 19 people, killing six of them. One of the injured was Gabrielle Giffords, a Congresswoman representing the 8th District of Arizona. Immediately following the attack, there were many who publicly expressed their beliefs that the heightened angry and confrontational rhetoric used by many politicians, especially those affiliated with Tea Party movements, was to blame. The most famous of these critics was the sheriff of the investigation: “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” The sheriff did later admit that there is no evidence the suspect was influenced by Tea Party rhetoric. On Jan. 12, Sarah Palin issued a response to these critics in the form of a video, where she flatly rejected the notion that anyone but the gunman was

By Jamee Bateau

responsible for the shootings. She called on the political rhetoric to be toned down, and reaffirmed her commitment to the democratic process. Her statement also contained a fairly inflammatory term often associated with the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe. Now, no one is saying Sarah Palin directly caused the shooting. No one believes that she handed someone a gun and told them to shoot a political enemy of hers (and if they do, they probably deserve to be slapped with an open hand). Going further, no one has any evidence that anything specific was said by a public figure that triggered this specific attack. However, the movement she represents (the various Tea Party organizations) is largely responsible for creating a climate that made an incident like this more likely.

“What did you think was going to happen, Sarah? That millions of angry people with guns would just never fire them?”
Here is how: She told people to get mad at the government; she told them to get mad at their representatives; she told them to get really, really mad at the Democrats, for what I mostly understand is the horrible crime of trying to make sure everyone in the country can afford to see a doctor when they are sick (the cretins!). Then she said it was okay for them to have guns, and it was actually preferable for them to have guns without background checks (even if they have mental illnesses that might, and this is just a random example, make them more likely to shoot their congresswoman). What did you think was going to happen, Sarah? That millions of angry people with guns would just never fire them at the people you were telling them to direct their anger at? That the people whom you told to literally “take up arms” would never do anything more than yell?

Then there is the response to the backlash. The statement itself was okay, even if it sounded so manufactured I could almost hear the arguments in the writers’ meeting the night before. But then she said it. You know. (Gulp. Here I go.) “Blood Libel.” There is so much to hate about dropping that phrase in her statement. First, why do it? To stir up drama, helping her piggyback this disgusting tragedy to more fame and political presence? If that is the reason, she might be a worse person than I thought she was. I understand her responding to the accusations, but she did not have to do it in such an inflammatory way. The manufactured nature of the statement leads me to believe she (or her handlers; it is getting hard to tell the difference) intended it to be controversial. If she did, then congratulations to her. I hope she makes a speech on an aircraft carrier with a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner behind her. Second, there is the Anti-Semitism issue. Politicians are really not supposed to make a slur like that. Oh, they technically can. To my knowledge, it is not punishable under any specific law. People can say anything they want. The term “blood libel” is particularly wellchosen, because it has other uses that do not involve Jews, and is semi-obscure enough to the average American that people might believe you weren’t talking about people blaming Jews for killing children and using their blood in Passover celebrations (if you did not know, that is what “blood libel” traditionally refers to). On the other hand, I could make a Holocaust joke and later pretend I was not talking about Germans persecuting Jews. But I would be lying, and everyone would know it. People would call me racist and anti-Semitic, and I would deserve it. Just like Sarah Palin deserves it now. Although I tangentially joked about the conservative nature of her policies above, they are not what bother me about her. To be fair, there are a great many things we would disagree on (were we to meet and have a discussion

without me accidentally making a reference to Katie Couric or the proper use of birth control). But as we saw above, her policies are not the problem. It is okay to want no gun control; it is not okay to suggest, even metaphorically, that we shoot people who do want some. It is okay to defend yourself; it is not okay to defend yourself by employing racial slurs, and suggesting that you are somehow being persecuted for your beliefs, and going further to suggest that your persecution is equivalent to the persecution formerly faced by the group of people you just slurred. It is even less okay to then express outrage when people call you racist. If I start throwing around the word “fag” like how Eminem throws around the word “fag,” I should probably expect to be called homophobic every so often. Finally, the statement sounded so rehearsed and mechanical, I wonder if she actually believed the things she was saying, which raises the possibility that maybe she did not even write it; which makes me think she just reads everything her advisers spoonfeed her; which makes me think her opinions and persona are about as real as the meat at Taco Bell. So she panders, she yells, she insults, she refuses to listen or compromise, and she does it because the people behind her think this is how you can win votes in America. And it works. Awesome. What a terrific country. It probably is not a good idea to hate people because you disagree with them. You end up like Keith Olbermann—only four cats and six figures of Twitter followers to keep you company. But if you must hate someone, feel free to hate a politician who makes her arguments by yelling angry catchphrases as loudly as possible, who has handlers and speechwriters come up with every statement because they are not capable of forming well-reasoned, coherent opinions, and who makes racial slurs because they either do not understand what they mean, or do not care. In other words, even if you agree with her opinions, feel free to hate Sarah Palin.

ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

PaGe 10

Bush war crimes trial would be unproductive
Steve Keller Editor-in-Chief

national & foReiGn affaiRs

Prosecution would be retributive, carry societal costs


e all know that in the United States, our rights are very personal things. Talk about community and you’ll hear crickets, or worse, McCarthyist oratory. Talk about someone trying to take away your liberty and you’ll get everyone riled up—it’s an issue that the grassroots left and the Astroturf right both can agree upon. Americans hate seeing their liberties infringed upon—in a real way, like the Patriot Act, or in a fictional way, like Obamacare. So when an administration treats human rights about as respectfully as Bill O’Reilly treated President Barack Obama in his Superbowl interview, it’s going to produce some extreme reactions. Karl Rove has faced attempts at citizen’s arrest, but this idea of people’s power against presidents—likely accelerated by Hosni Mubarak’s recent ouster in Egypt— came to a head when President Bush cancelled a trip to Switzerland, allegedly out of fear of arrest. Shortly after, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued an indictment for the former President for “war crimes.” Let me be clear: George Bush was one of the worst presidents ever. The invasion of Iraq was, in my opinion, unjustified. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians was a tragedy and unnecessary; it should never have happened. The instability that George Bush’s incompetence caused in the Middle East was a catastrophe in itself. His administration was one of the worst in the history of the United States and set our country back decades, if not centuries. How were we set back centuries? Talk to Fox News anchor Shepard Smith. In response to absurd defenses of Bush administration overreaches of principle, if not law, he orated, “We’re America. We do not fucking torture!” Unfortunately, we did use torture under a fancy name, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” We sleep-deprived. We waterboarded. We sent people to secret CIA prisons. Many of the methods used against detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere are abhorrent and are against what America stands for. For these and other crimes, ideally, George W. Bush would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Since the Magna Carta, the philosophy that leaders are not above the law has defined the better manifestations of Western civilization. However, arresting, prosecuting, and punishing Bush and his administration would, from a pragmatic standpoint, not prevent these crimes from happening again and it would not do very much to reform the system. Let’s be honest. We have bigger issues to deal with right now. It is outrageous that these crimes occurred in the first place. But unlike in post-Nazi Germany, the rebuilding of our economy has very little to do with the prosecution of the previous administration for crimes against humanity. Barack Obama does not need the legitimacy of hanging George W. Bush to be considered President, despite the fact that

Then-President George W. Bush delivers his 2005 State of the Union address.

Wikimedia Commons

according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, half of Republicans do not believe Obama is an American citizen. And, unlike the Nuremberg trials, a trial of George W. Bush would turn into a circus. The former President of the United States—hated throughout much of country and despised across the world—being put on trial? Unthinkable. Just try to imagine it. Then imagine the news coverage. Then imagine the Fox News coverage. In the media’s imagination, it would be one of the biggest stories—ever.

“More than just the cost to our political system and our public well-being, trying a former Commander-in-Chief could set a dangerous precedent.”
And, naturally, it would turn into a partisan affair. You think the obstruction is bad now? Remember, the Lewinsky affair essentially wrote off Clinton’s agenda for the last two years of his presidency. In a critical economic time like this, it would be foolish to create a diversion like this, in the process sacrificing political capital, at a time when bipartisanship is the only way that America will get back on its feet. More than just the cost to our political system and our public well-being, trying a former Commander-in-Chief could set a dangerous precedent. Outgoing executives, fearful of retribution, would seek to cover up not just evidence of torture or other abuses, but also all records and in-

formation about their presidency for fear that radicals might abuse the precedent of prosecution. Administrations may focus on self-preservation and in the process become paranoid and actually dictatorial. Come with me on a thought experiment: If one assumes the Bush administration to be so evil and so dictatorial, what would the “regime” have done had they reason to believe that once they gave up power, they would have faced the threat of prosecution? Obviously, the answer is that they would not have given up power. If the Obama campaign had made a pledge to prosecute Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for perceived crimes, the administration would have done everything in its power to prevent the Obama administration from taking office. If you are George Bush, what’s the difference if you’re going to be handed over to the Hague? The difference is clear: Relinquish power and on Jan. 21, you are a former president and a fugitive. Hold onto power, or fix the election, and you are a free man. This would lead to a break in two of the most important features of American democracy—continuity between administrations and, superseding that, the peaceful transfer of power between executives. Now, if there’s one thing I know about America, it’s that this is the land where good ideas get perverted by imbeciles and radicals. One must remember that 20 percent of Americans do not believe President Obama is a Christian. 51 percent of GOP primary voters are “birthers.” Our country has a lot of people who are just plain asinine—those are the imbeciles. But we have radicals too, and those radicals on the right actually

tend to hold office. If your constituency is a bunch of birthers, what’s to say that, once Barack Obama leaves office in 2013 or 2017, you won’t push for prosecution of the illegitimate Presidency? Even if revenge for the indignity of George Bush’s trial isn’t on the forefront of your mind, the radical left will have opened a Pandora’s box of trials and counter-trials. Even if you don’t have a constituency—if you are a member of the judiciary—you might find it in your purview to take action, given the massive shock to the executive branch’s authority such a trial would engender. The trial is one thing, but what bothers me most is the very action of a citizen’s arrest—which in this case is being grossly misunderstood by the radical fringe. The precedent being set by far-left groups who are seeking to “citizen’s arrest” George W. Bush and other neoconservatives is equally alarming. Tack on the Center for Constitutional Rights’ recent “indictment” of the former President and we enter a world so far left even the Paulists would call it anarchy. The opposite of a tyrannical government is vigilante justice: Tarringand-feathering public officials we disagree with—or worse. Civil society is in the middle—it is not an extreme. And our government, as a democracy, is a reflection of that civil society. It is by no means ideal to not seek the prosecution of George W. Bush that justice demands, but stability and the political health of our country demand that we let this one go. —Steve Keller ’11 is Co-Vice President of MICA and Editor-in-Chief of The Vassar Chronicle.

PaGe 11

ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

Public campaign finance necessary for democracy
Tim McCormick Contributor

national & foReiGn affaiRs


here’s been a lot of disappointment lately about how our government is working. People on the right have been protesting wasteful spending since the day Barack Obama took office; the protests in Wisconsin show that their counterparts on the left are just as, if not more, unhappy with the way their local, state, and federal governments are acting. Coupled with these protests and unhappiness is a lot of populist rhetoric, again on both sides. Everyone seems preoccupied with making sure that “we the people” continue to maintain control over the democratic institutions that have made the United States of America the country we know and love today. What threat are these people worried about? Who is it that threatens the very ideals that America was founded on and that we hold near and dear to hearts? Why is it that a wide variety of issues—from the environment to workers’ rights and beyond—go ignored in our government despite the fact that many, if not most citizens, are demanding that the very same government take immediate action on these problems? The answer, while hardly shocking, is important to figuring out the problems in our political system: Money, and more particularly, the special interests and corporations who wield that money, simply hold too much sway in American politics today. Consider, for a moment, a few of the largest contributing industry sectors to political campaigns: Finance and real estate, health care (both insurance and pharmaceuticals), and energy companies. Think about the sorts of issues that have been affecting the country in the last few years: The sub-prime mortgage crisis, the BP oil spill, and the debate over health care. Can we really expect politicians to listen to their constituents or decide what’s best for the country regarding those issues when the very corporations who are most connected to those issues are funding their campaigns? No matter how good the intentions of a legislator, he or she will ultimately be bound to those campaign contributions, because those contributions will go to their opponent if he or she backs down from those corporations. Because of this, special interest groups and corporations with lots of

John McCain (left) and Russ Feingold (right), co-wrote major campaign finance reform legislation in 2002.

money have the ability to drown out the voices and concerns of common citizens. Even more unfortunate is the fact that such contributions are unlikely to go away any time soon. For example, the Supreme Court announced it was siding with corporations when it decided that money constituted free speech in its landmark decision FEC v. Citizens United. This means that any attempt at limiting contributions to politicians is bound to fail; the law has been construed such that corporations and special interests win. We can see, however, a glimmer of hope in this struggle. There exist a number of organizations dedicated to bringing elections back to the voters. Instead of constraining the money corporations can give, they intend to make elections fair again through campaign finance reform. Among the proposed reforms is a law which would open up state or federal funding to any candidate who campaigns in his own district and collects a number of small contributions ($5-$100) from their own constituents. The money would come from a variety of sourc-

es, such as revenue from the selling of public airwaves or fines from criminals, so taxpayers would be hardly burdened by campaign finance reform, if at all. Moreover, this system of campaign finance turns politicians’ ears away from special interests, and directly toward the stories, concerns, and needs of their constituents. This lets the politician spend more time doing the thing they (hopefully) like to do most: Making a difference in their community. Now, on the federal level, there has been a bill floating around for some time called the Fair Elections Now Act. Unfortunately, the Act did not make it all the way through the legislative process, and thus was not signed into law. Although I would hope that the new Congress would come to its senses, coalesce across party lines, and pass the bill, such an outcome does not look likely. That does not mean, however, that the battle for voter-owned elections is lost. For the people of Vassar College, and indeed New York, it is just beginning. While the desire for comprehensive campaign finance reform at the federal level exists,

several states, such as Connecticut and Maine, have already enacted some sort of state funding for their candidates. Many politicians use these sources of funding, go out into the community, learn the issues their constituents care about, get elected, and act on those issues. In his last State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a bill that would give New York the same kind of assistance to candidates running for office. Moving toward voter-owned elections would be a big step away from the political gridlock and corruption in Albany and bring us closer to making New York a state with a government truly of the people once again. This issue can’t wait; voter-owned elections provide the first step for solving many major and urgent issues in the state. That said, it is possible that Cuomo may not act quickly enough on his promise to get the ball rolling on campaign finance reform, if at all. For this reason, if you agree, write letters to Governor Cuomo and your representatives. Hopefully, they will listen and take steps towards truly bringing democracy back to New York.

do you Want to make youR VoiCe HeaRd? The Vassar ChroniCle enCouRaGes you to suBmit Columns and letteRs to tHe editoR.
ContaCt miCa.Vsa@ “sPeeCH is CiVilization itself.” - tHomas mann
ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011 PaGe 12

Nation needs source of unity other than mourning
Lane Kisonak National & Foreign Affairs Editor

national & foReiGn affaiRs
and soon enough we were back to the distasteful business of sausage-making and mud-slinging. After two months punctuated by a fruitful lame duck session and the start of the 112th Congress, it looked as though things would inexorably heat up as the race for 2012 took off, but then a deranged gunman tore through the crowd at a Tucson supermarket, six decent and innocent people died, and the rest of us were all left cold inside. Many, including this author, clung to the crosshair canard as a way to make sense of what happened and find an ideology to blame. But those of us who sought truth in scapegoating could find none, and the tastelessness of the pursuit began to emerge as more constructive discussions moved forward. From a bill keeping firearms out of range of public officials introduced by Republican Peter T. King, to a bill proposed by Democrat Carolyn McCarthy which would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, elected officials began considering ways in which to prevent more people from dying rather than casting blame for those who already had passed away. Finally we found some solace in Obama’s address on Jan. 12; the President reminded us that night that we are “an American family, 300 million strong” (a point he reiterated in his State of the Union address). He celebrated the lives of those prematurely taken, casting Phyllis Schneck as an enduring figure of maternity, and Gabe Zimmerman a “brother or son” whom we would all be proud to call our own, no matter the ideology of the politician he worked for. In one of his most moving oratory moments, Obama called for us to contemplate the death of young Christina-Taylor Green as an opportunity to re-instill in ourselves the resolve to work with each other according to our best values. Most importantly, Obama put forth a complete rejection of politics by dehumanization; indeed, he made sure we knew that those who were killed were nothing less than kin. John B. Judis, in a 2007 essay for The New Republic, discussed the work of three psychologists who sought to analyze the connection between politics and the fear of death. Experiments conducted during the 2004 election season found that the re-election of George W. Bush, as well as the rising primacy of religiosity and family values, could be connected to evocations of the 9/11 attacks. The psychologists concluded that voters, confronted with the possibility of another terror attack, embraced the candidate with the most leadership (read: charisma) and simultaneously mounted a defense of traditional values—heterosexual marriage, a decisive wedge issue that year, for example. The Republican campaign apparatus saw the opportunity to tap into the same vulnerability that had emerged after 9/11 and led to a massive jump in Bush’s approval ratings. It is likely that this strategy was crucial in winning Bush his second term. Judis notes in a recent article that the same sort of rallying effect could be seen, albeit to a lesser extent, after Tucson; Obama’s Arizona speech, universally praised, coincided with a rise in his approval rating and arguably helped to


little over a month ago, as the nation began to comprehend the tragedy which occurred in Tucson, a great number of commentators tried to conjure a causal link between Sarah Palin’s now notorious crosshair-dotted map and suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner’s targeting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Left-wing commentators at the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos alike jumped to the conclusion that Loughner had been influenced by the violent, gun-happy rhetoric of Palin and her far-right colleagues. The body of evidence did not bear out this easy non sequitur, and Americans were left with what is simply—as President Barack Obama said to a public in shock—a senseless act of violence which transformed an innocuous meet-and-greet into a jarring reminder that at all times, even at the supermarket, we are mortal. As people began to pick up the pieces in Tucson, elements of the national conversation grew even more poisonous than they had been before, with Palin going so far as to declare that criticism of her rhetoric was tantamount to “blood libel,” while Fox News analysts accused liberals of using Tucson for political gain. In the lead-up to Obama’s address during a memorial service at the University of Arizona, however, the dialogue began to develop strains of concern for more actionable issues; mental health, gun safety, public access to elected officials, and other topics thankfully began to supplant the caustic bickering. Why did this shift occur? To someone observing the United States’ political climate from the outside, the transition might seem counterintuitive. Before Jan. 8, 2011, one would have seen a transnational battlefield, each side coming dangerously close to dehumanizing the other. Of course, this trend wasn’t a recent development; “liberal” had been turned into a curse word by the early 2000s— nearly all economic and political senses of the term disregarded—and the possibility of common ground between negotiators thus reduced. Somewhere around 2009 the unhinged and spurious vitriol of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and a cadre of others gradually came to be equated with the right in general. By the 2010 midterms it was obvious to each party’s base that the other group threatened to unravel the basic fabric of our society. Mass media helped to derail thoughtful policy conversations and was content to simply drum up the horse race—or, as it has increasingly become, a total war of ideologies, in which many members of society look upon their compatriots, in the immortal words of Jon Stewart, as “pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monsters” who are not worthy of participation in humane discourse. When Stewart uttered those words at his rally last fall, he was reflecting on a climate similar to the one that hung over us prior to Tucson. Unfortunately, his speech provided only fleeting inspiration,

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) speaks at a campaign rally.

Wikimedia Commons

solidify his political comeback. Despite doubts held by large segments of society concerning Obama’s legitimacy as president and unceasing attacks on his policy, people flocked to him in a time of fear, much as they did with Bush in the months after 9/11. Having looked at the effects of the rhetoric of two presidents in the aftermaths of crises, it is interesting to consider the reactions of the man who tried to restore sanity on a cold October day last year; in his Daily Show monologues following both 9/11 and Tucson, Jon Stewart set aside all pretense of comedy and in an uplifting way shared the impact the events had on him (“The view from my apartment was the World Trade Center, and now it’s gone…but you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty… You can’t beat that”). Both times he finished by promising to get back to the meat and potatoes of his routine—rooting out the absurd and bringing liars into the light, all with a smirk and the occasional worldweary gaze. Why does America find solace not only in the words of leaders but also those of satirists in times of loss? Perhaps it is because jesters like Stewart, who for the most part distance themselves from the fray and are happy to “sit in the back and…throw spitballs,” are invested no less than the rest of us in providing comfort during processes of grieving. Taken together with Obama’s speech, Stewart’s injection of dignity, reason, and solidarity with his audience casts Sarah Palin’s petty pleas for absolution, justified perhaps but grossly worded, in the least dignified light possible. Now over a month removed from Obama’s speech in Arizona, we have turned our attention to a host of other weighty issues, from the bloom of revolution spreading across the Arab world to the coming budget battle to be waged in Congress. The palpable sense of vulnerability we felt has faded and the sense of nobility with which we strove to frame our discourse has receded from the front of our minds. A speech given at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington this February may provide evidence that this is indeed the case. Wayne LaPierre,

Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, took to the floor to pronounce to all who would listen that, “if Tucson tells us anything at all, it tells us this––government has failed.” To LaPierre and others who speak like him, it must be made clear that the shooting in itself told us nothing about the nature of our nation’s public life. Our response in the last seven weeks, on the other hand, has cast an unflattering light on the way the American people as a whole respond to moments of national sorrow. Only when we are faced with the unexpected loss of life and the incomplete insurability of our physical security do we vow to address our shortcomings. But when these problems are pushed aside by new ones we lose track of what we’ve resolved to change, and the window of opportunity for progress is shut once more. We try to find a cause, but some seek to blame. Some of us reflect on the occasion to change ourselves, but others seize the opportunity to score political points. The chief problem of the American culture of mourning is its ability to become politicized and thus diminish the process of catharsis for the nation and the individual citizen. It is of course a blessing that, due to medical advances and increases in the standard of living, death is a far less visible presence in our society than in previous centuries. When death rears its ugly head in unexpected ways in the modern age, it triggers a profound reaction––one that can be used by clever strategists for purposes both honorable and cynical. Unfortunately, it seems that we witness the latter more often than the former. “We should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations,” Obama declared at the climax of his Arizona address. A poignant rhetorical flourish, certainly, but as a goal probably a bit beyond our means. It is often said that one should speak no ill of the dead. Perhaps a more reasonable goal would be for us to speak less ill of each other and refrain from using tragedy for material gain.

PaGe 13

ChroniCle, feBRuaRy 2011

Should America lend more support to current protest movements?
Steve Keller, Editor-in-Chief Ethan Madore, Debate & Discourse Editor

deBate & disCouRse


ollowing recent demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, the world has witnessed a host of protests in Libya, Iran, Bahrain, Jordan, and other nations. These protests, often against leaders the United States considered allies, demand reevaluating certain aspects of America’s foreign policy. Steve Keller and Ethan Madore discuss the potential of American support to protest movements. Steve Keller: The United States should use its diplomatic influence to bolster recent Middle Eastern pro-democracy protests. We should give the protesters moral support, and pressure oppressive governments to open up society and governance. Should the protesters be left out to dry, it may be cause for them to view the United States as anti-democratic. They will perceive America to have abandoned them in their hour of need. This could cause anti-American governments to replace the Mubaraks of the region. And if the protests are squashed, the movements will have less of a motivation to try again and may go back to accepting the status quo. Ethan Madore: My primary objection to American democracy advocacy is to how it presents current events. In the popular media’s narrative, a spark of pro-democracy sentiments started in Tunisia, spread to Egypt, and now is sweeping across Libya, Iran, and a host of other nations. The problem here is that it gives too much credit to this imagined “spirit of democracy” that swoops in and causes people to act, rather than recognizing that the protests in Tunisia are probably very different from those in Egypt which are different from those in Iran because they are fueled by internal, perhaps less flashy or easy to understand, factors. The United States, pictured to be some divine defender of democracy in the world, might be suited to combating what the media views as the unifying factor of the protests, but I doubt that America can do much to make the hard, complicated policy choices that will actually bring solvency to the issues. Steve, do you feel like America’s moral obligations are to make symbolic actions in favor of democracy or to actually affect conditions on the ground? Keller: I believe our obligation is to do both. In certain countries like Yemen, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, those in charge are dependent on us for military aid, and their economies are highly intertwined with ours. For example, we can hold the new Egyptian military administration accountable by tying continued military and economic support to democratization. This could set an example for other regimes. In other nations like Iran or Syria, who are our adversaries in the region, we have very little soft-power options. This is where we can engage in symbolic actions; for example the State Department’s recent creation of a Farsi-language Twitter site to help galvanize protests in Iran could provide impetus for change in a nation that was largely left out to dry by the United States two years ago, and would have the more important effect of showing the Iranian people the clear break from the antagonistic attitude of the past administration and current rightwing of our own country; we could show the Iranian people that we understand the dis-

Egyptians protest President Hosni Mubarak. Sign reads “The scientists of Al-Awqaf are with the people against the regime.”

Wikimedia Commons

tinction between their government and their people. This would have the broader effect of signaling to the rest of the Middle East that we are on the side of people power. In response to your claim that the “spirit of democracy” is imagined, I would argue that we cannot compartmentalize each of these protests. They are linked by a common thread: Dictatorial regimes that have in many cases been propped up by the United States. We are in a unique position here in that we are the premier country based on an ideal—freedom—and have major influence in the region. Madore: I disagree. I would suggest that we operate on a framework that action should be taken when we know that it will positively affect peoples’ lives. There are several things in the way of this. First, I believe any protest to be much more complicated than a homogeneous group of democracylovers working to overthrow a tyrant. I think we’ve seen in Egypt that vastly different segments of the population can be mobilized for different reasons and that while people may be united in disapproval of a regime, it does not mean that it is the primary way in which to understand conflicts. I don’t always think that American foreign policy has the analytic depth or foresight to understand the consequences of its actions. Second, while you maintain that America is an idealistic state, I think that political realism has often clouded the pursuit of those ideals. Why else would the United States have supported so many dictators like Hosni Mubarak? Our leaders will do more to support perceived “allies in the region” than any actual idea of freedom. Even isolationism would be preferable. Third, American support often does more to delegitimize protesters than to aid them. We saw this in Barack Obama’s hesitance to give verbal support to Iranian protesters in the summer of 2009. Authoritarian regimes will always try to blame foreign intervention rather than their own policies for dissent. Keller: It’s fair to say that we should be careful. Being an active player in the Middle East doesn’t mean taking a blanket approach

as the Newt Gingriches and the John Boltons of the world wish to do. I also do not claim that America is an idealist nation, nor should always be. In cases like Pakistan, where there are nuclear weapons and a real threat of Islamist takeover, a strongman is preferable to anarchy. However, when I say we are a nation based on an ideal, I mean that the United States was not founded by a definite ethnicity or racial group. Quite obviously, we have failed that ideal many times. Still, we should stand up for our ideals—advocate for them—or they mean nothing at all. I do not believe in American exceptionalism per se, but I believe in the exceptionalism of democracy and the eternal desire of people to have self-government. America does not have the patent for democracy and we certainly don’t have a one-size-fits-all blueprint. But we have a unique role to play and I strongly disagree that America’s support for democratic movements delegitimizes them. After the collapse of the Mubarak regime, protesters were reported to be chanting praises for America. Some say President Obama’s Cairo speech was the equivalent of Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech— not the impetus for change in the region, but one of many factors that led to a change in perspective in the Middle East. And I do not think that simply because hated leaders would try to delegitimize protesters because of their possible American support that it would actually damage these movements. That line of thinking didn’t work when Omar Suleiman used it in Egypt. Support even in the form of a strong moral stand from the United States will galvanize protesters; going too far means putting troops on the ground or gunships in the air, and reverting back to the neoconservative foreign policy that helped to create anti-Americanism in the Middle East. Madore: I think the claim that America has a lot of potential to galvanize protesters is fairly dubious. I don’t understand why the words of a foreign leader would be that influential in a protest that is motivated by more concrete issues. Protesters are calling for

their leaders to step down—to listen to them; they are not calling out for further American intervention. The idea that protest movements need an American stamp of approval in order to succeed is outdated and relies too heavily on notions of American exceptionalism. I think that we agree on a lot of things, that we would like to see changes to more democratic governments in autocratic nations, that the United States should never again back someone like Mubarak out of some misguided attempt to save the world from a perceived ideological enemy. This is really a debate about American efficacy and I maintain that in many countries America’s poor reputation is more of a hindrance to its allies than an aid, that Obama was wise to not follow the advice of many Republicans and take a stronger role in supporting Iranian protests two years ago. If what you’re proposing is truly just advocacy, then I would say that any minor benefit conferred by American support is outweighed by the potential harms of that support. The belief that America must take up a special role as the advocate of democracy resonates with the mistakes of our past. We should recognize that these are domestic protests that have domestic causes and domestic solutions. They are not tied into some universal struggle of the American imagination. Keller: The words of a foreign leader are influential if that leader is in charge of the most powerful economy and military in the world, and if that leader has soft and hard influence over the nation in question. Barack Obama’s diplomatic corps put the pressure on Egypt and showed that it was unsatisfied with Mubarak’s slow exit, and the army responded. I take issue with the claim that there is no universal struggle for human rights, and also the idea that this struggle is in the American imagination only. I think the academic scholarship tends to overreact to neoconservatism and Fox News-style Jingoism masquerading as patriotism and as a result discredits those who do not believe in isolation See PROTEST on page 15

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Would American support help or hinder protests?
Continued from PROTEST on page 14 from the world and its problems. Helping out pro-democracy movements doesn’t have to mean we’re setting agendas, and it doesn’t have to mean we’re meddling in affairs that should remain indigenous. If I live next door to someone who is suffering from domestic abuse and I do something to stop it, does that overstep my bounds? Am I making a mistake, getting involved in a matter that does not directly affect me? Should I shy away from normative ideas that people should not abuse their power over each other? Again, I do not want to misconstrue engagement with the rest of the world as Jingoism, Orientalism, or neoconservative interventionism. I simply believe that if we don’t stand up for our values, no one will. These are universal struggles—the struggle for the oppressed against the power-hungry. It may have a different flavor in Egypt than in the United States, and their problems can best be handled by their own solutions; but democracy and the right of people to selfgovernance are universal values—not simply Western ones. America doesn’t own the idea of democracy, and indeed Egyptian or Arab democracy does not need to take the same form as ours, which tends more often than not towards corrosive corporatism. But we should at least advocate whenever possible for self-government. Madore: If there was a button I could press that would create a lasting, stable, equitable democracy in every country, I would. We don’t have that opportunity. You make a very strong case for symbolic action, though ultimately I feel we need to turn our attention to actual capacity to change. You say that the United States has a host of tools to bring to these situations, though what specific measures should America take? Economic sanctions often do more harm to a nation’s people than its leaders. I don’t think you’re prepared to advocate for military action. “Diplomatic pressure” is ambiguous and implies the threat of other not necessarily beneficial actions. Spreading democracy works well in a theoretical vacuum, though whenever its applied to a real situation its flaws become apparent. You’ve fallen back to just supporting democracy promotion in terms of speeches and public statements. These are actions that mean a lot to Americans because they reassure us that we live under some sort of moral order, suggest that our leaders empathize with protest movements, and seek to lacquer over a disappointing humanitarian record. Whether or not they have any significant meaning to the course of a protest movement, whether to embolden or delegitimize, is hard to determine and given the risk involved I think that discretion is the greater part of support. Your claim, that if we don’t stand up for ideals then no one will, is problematic on two accounts. First, the United States is very selective about where it stands up for what it holds to be its ideals. I agree that we shouldn’t support a dictatorship in Egypt, no more so than we should support any autocratic regime out of convenience. Until the United States completely withdraws support for all oppressive regimes, how can selectively supporting protest movements be read in any way other than in the terms of calculated geopolitical movement? Second, you seem to conflate what you see as an essential American system of ideas with what you call universal ideals. In that respect, saying that no one will stand up for those ideals if we do not is a contradiction. If these ideas are not uniquely American then it is not a uniquely American duty to carry them out. To believe so only denies agency to the actual protesters and forces the United States into actions that are purely symbolic, unspecific, and demonstrative of a lack of understanding of complexity. Keller: We need to largely withdraw our support for oppressive regimes, because American interests are furthered when we are a champion of democracy. Why is there anti-Americanism in the Middle East? It’s not because we take away their agency, it’s because we support dictators and ignore our principles. “They” don’t hate us for our freedom, as neoconservatives think. “They” hate us because we disregard theirs. I conflate American ideals with universal ideals because I am not a moral relativist. Just because the idea of free elections, human rights, and individual liberty are something espoused by the United States does not mean that these are exclusively American. To separate the two in fact denies agency to the very people who are crying out for more freedom. Protesters in Bahrain are risking their lives at this very moment, and doctors in overcrowded hospitals are pleading with the world to provide help and assistance. I say that no one will stand up for universal values because I see a dangerous current of isolationism in other free democracies around the world. I don’t see the will or the means of other powerful states to stand up for principles. I believe the United States is the best advocate for freedom— when it does not act contradictorily. A man or woman is on the ground with the boot heel of

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a dictator on his or her face. I see them being denied agency in that way. And I don’t see my helping my fellow human beings as denying them agency. Ethan, if there was a button I could press that would help come up with the best solution to an individual case of freedom versus tyranny, I would. So I think that this argument that my position disregards complexity is fallacious, because I am actually arguing for engagement with the situation on the ground, and for our policymakers to understand the facts instead of burying our heads in the sand every time, which appears to be the solution isolationism provides us. What I can do is argue that the United States and other nations should not be afraid to advocate for freedom abroad, because it is a universal struggle. Should we engage in economic sanctions of oppressive regimes? I’m not sure that always works. Should we engage in diplomatic pressure, and should we have ties and a presence in the region? Absent a major power like us in the region, I worry that the fractured region might fall under the sway of Russia or China in the coming years and decades. Should we engage in military action? Only in the worst possible situations. I have had little faith in the ability of our leaders to make the right calls and do things for the right motivations. But if America holds true to its principles, perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to support freedom - thereby supporting ourselves as we help out our fellow human beings. We can have a new generation of American leadership that understands complexity and doesn’t muddy the waters with either isolationist moral relativism or dispassionate international realism.

How to survive the daunting world of political rhetoric

Branden Densmore Contributor


he critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators ... They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery. Education in the critical faculty is the only education of which it can be truly said that it makes good citizens” —William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906 I am extremely suspicious of political rhetoric. When I say political rhetoric, I mean politicized messages delivered to mass society, or “the people,” by various politicians and media professionals specifically geared to persuade. I do not trust televised political debates, presidential broadcasts, mainstream news networks like Fox News and the Cable News Network (CNN), or popular prints like newspapers and political magazines as many well educated politicians and media professionals routinely mislead the people of this nation. Yes, there are exceptions, but these

are all too often in the minority. My distrust of political rhetoric is nonpartisan—this is where I differ from those who only blame the “other guys” for dishonest discourse. Political rhetoric in itself is not the problem—it is a neutral tool that can be used to persuade people in positive ways. For example, a politician can use tricks of rhetoric to bring in funding for a vital project in an impoverished city. A father may persuade his son to adopt the healthy habit of brushing his teeth every night by reasoning with him about the health benefits. A psychologist may persuade her frantic patient not to commit suicide. All in all, my suspicion comes from my observation that political rhetoric in many cases, as delivered by politicians and media professionals, is specifically and intentionally designed to mislead the public. This kind of rhetoric is shameful and makes a mockery of our great republic. Concerns over political rhetoric are not new; over 2000 years ago, Plato expressed his concern about political rhetoric in his dialog Gorgias—he believed that rhetoric was essentially the persuasion of the “ignorant masses.” He thought that political rhetoric is merely flattery, aimed at telling the people of Greece what they wanted to hear. Such sophistry is still alive in the world. The fact that politicians and media professionals utilize crowd psychology, propaganda, sensationalized media spectacles, and wellcrafted logical fallacies is only part of the problem. Perhaps more of the blame should be on

the “ignorant masses,” which allow their own manipulation. I am not saying that the people are stupid; I’m saying that the people are uneducated; they have not learned how to think independently. It’s a problem of education. In school, students are taught basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic. However, students also get a lot of practice memorizing and regurgitating facts only for a test. Students are rewarded for conformity; they are taught to obey, unquestioningly, the authority of their teachers. Now, I am not denying that the basic skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, and test taking are useful; they are, I admit, essential. Nor is respecting authority always wrong. There is, however, something lacking.

“Political rhetoric in itself is not the problem—it is a neutral tool that can be used to persuade people in positive ways.”
Public education does not teach students how to think independently—the basics of critical thinking, nor the principles of reason and logic. Overwhelmingly, public education neglects to teach students the basics of argumentation (unless they have a debate team or philosophy club), and they never take a class on deceptive manipulative rhetoric. This is not to say that students could not learn these

subjects, they are simply not given the opportunity. Due to this lack of cognitive defenses, it’s no surprise that political orators and media professionals are able to deceive the people. I have three recommendations for the Vassar College community. The first is obvious: be wary of televised political debates, presidential broadcasts, mainstream news networks like Fox and CNN, or popular prints like newspapers and political magazines. These mediums for political information are used to deceive the people and so too may deceive you. Second, as Vassar students, we should all learn the tricks of the trade so to speak—we should educate ourselves in political rhetoric, methods of deception, crowd psychology, propaganda and all the various species of logical fallacies. Every Vassar student should think independently. This means being critical of even those sources that seem to agree with you. As future members of the elite, it is vital that we be able to cut through the sophistry and make intelligent decisions. Third, we must do something about public education. The current skills we teach are invaluable, but these skills are not sufficient for a citizen who must take an active role in politics. Public education should teach people how to think, not what to think, if the political climate of the nation is to come close to what our great Republic needs. —Branden Densmore ’11 studies Philosophy and Political Science at Vassar.

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Demarcating the border between abortion and infanticide
that claim one is unreasonable to deny that the fetus is from conception a person. “Has this been done?” you ask. I guess the answer I would give is that we cannot be sure. However, it is precisely because of this sort of answer that I consider the claim “a fetus from conception is a person” to be in fact essentially contestable. Honestly, I think the difficulty in answering your question and others like it only supports my position on this point. Norma: Fair enough, John, though I think there might be more to be said on this matter. Let me ask you then, what part or parts of the claim “the fetus from conception is a person” explain why such a claim is essentially contestable such that one can reasonably reject it? John: The notion of “a fetus from the moment of conception” strikes me as a scientific notion and is therefore not something essentially contestable—surely both sides understand what is, on a biological level, the entity we are talking about. The real question, it seems to me, is whether or not this biological entity is a person. I would say then that it is with respect to this notion of personhood that one can reasonably reject the claim “the fetus from conception is a person.” Norma: Can I ask what you think of laws banning infanticide, John? John: I think that we should have them, Norma, as I think you do as well. Norma: I do. But do you think that those who claim that infants are not persons—eminent figures like Peter Singer and Michael Tooley—put forth reasonable views to defend their claims? John: I certainly do not agree with them. But sure, suppose I grant you that they are reasonable. Norma: Would you say then that in the same way that the claim “the fetus from conception is a person” is essentially contestable, given that people can reasonably reject it, that the claim “infants are persons”—because one can too reasonably reject it—is in the same way essentially contestable given that, like a fetus from conception, we can also know what an infant is? John: That does seem to follow, Norma. Norma: And because the notion that “the fetus from conception is a person” was essentially contestable implied that laws banning abortion were unjust in restricting a woman’s liberty, should we not also say that because the claim “infants are persons” is essentially contestable as well, that laws banning infanticide are unjust in that they restrict a parent’s right to kill his or her infant? Cannot one both reasonably object to laws not only banning abortion but also infanticide? John: I think I see where you are going here, Norma, but I would argue that the two cases are different. Although the contestability of the claim “the fetus from conception is a person” implies that laws banning abortion are unjust, I do not think that the contestability of the claim “infants are persons” implies laws banning infanticide are unjust. Here we need to consider the other important moral consideration in the case of abortion: the mother whose bodily autonomy stands to be violated in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. It seems to me that in the case of infanticide, no similar consideration is present such that we could say that liberty is restricted in that instance. Norma: But, John, how do you know that no other consideration is present? Is bodily autonomy the only liberty that deserves consideration? Doesn’t that sound a little arbitrary given that the need to provide for a child doesn’t end once the child is born? John: Come now, Norma, people do have obligations. We have laws banning infanticide because people have an obligation not to kill infants. Of course, infants still need to be provided for, but after birth an infant does not need to live directly off their mother’s body as it does in pregnancy with fetuses. Norma: So your claim seems to be that, despite the essential contestability of both the claim “the fetus from conception is a person” and the claim “infants are persons,” society can consistently justify laws banning infanticide but permit abortion on the grounds that the obligations involved are different? John: That’s a fair way to put it, Norma. Norma: Can I ask, then, whether or not such a distinction between obligations is the sort of thing that is required by reason for us to accept? Couldn’t someone reasonably reject your claim that they are so different? I mean, in the same way it was reasonable to reject the notion of the sanctity of human life with respect to one’s obligations, why could it not be reasonable to reject what seems to be a sanctity of bodily autonomy doctrine? John: What’s your point, Norma? Norma: My point is that it seems like one could reasonably reject the means by which you distinguish the obligations involved with infanticide and abortion such that the former is banned and the latter permitted. If that is the case, then by legalizing one—because any distinction between the two obligations is not required by reason for us to accept—you must necessarily legalize the other. On the other hand, if you wished to ban infanticide, you would also have to ban abortion. John: But, Norma, this time you would be reasonably rejecting a question regarding what one’s obligations to a person are whereas in the former what was reasonably rejected was a question of what is a person. They are different questions. Norma: They surely are, John, but are they not both essentially contestable? Or does reason require us to have a certain understanding of what one’s obligations are? Has there not been reasonable disagreement on this question just like there has been on the question of personhood? John: But, Norma, the difficulties seemed to have started by granting that a view like Singer’s or Tooley’s was reasonable. You mentioned that you disagree with their view. Do you think it is unreasonable? Norma: I do, John. John: So then I will simply claim, by your rationale, that their view is unreasonable and I will have avoided what seems to be a mess regarding these issues. Norma: But, John, if you used my rationale to claim that their view was in fact unreasonable, the same rationale would entail that it was unreasonable to deny that the fetus from conception is a person. In your logic alone then, since you cannot distinguish between the two cases—I cannot either––you seem to be forced to choose between two alternatives: that both infanticide and abortion are permissible or that both abortion and infanticide are impermissible. Which one will you choose? —Joseph Coniglio is the Co-Vice President of MICA

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The 2010 “March for Life” in front of the Supreme Court. Joseph Coniglio Contributor

Wikimedia Commons


t is the stated mission of the Debate & Discourse Section to expand the variety of ways that we express opinion and seek truth. This is Joe Coniglio’s rendering of a conversation on abortion between two characters. The topic of abortion rights is inclined towards controversy and conventional arguments have often only entrenched opinions. Perhaps this dialogue will open up new avenues by which to have engaging, rather than embattling, conversations on the topic. John: Looking back on Roe v. Wade, nearly forty years later, it is quite interesting in my opinion to notice how the social discourse about abortion has evolved and how I have become hopeful that as a nation we can finally come to some sort of resolution about the abortion issue. When Roe came out, I can recall having heated arguments about the personhood of the fetus, particularly with a Catholic friend. Yet he now takes a more moderate stance on abortion which he says he would have never considered when Roe was decided. Norma: How would you say your friend’s view on the abortion issue has changed? John: He was the sort of person who was adamantly against the idea of legalized abortion. He seemed convinced about the personhood of the fetus and it was at times hard to argue with him. However, when I spoke with him on the phone recently, he has since adopted what I consider to be a much more enlightened view on the issue. Of course, he is still very morally opposed to abortion in almost all cases, but believes that it should still be a woman’s legal right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. He mentioned some potential shifts in the Catholic Church’s views on contraception, and he was likewise quite optimistic that in his children’s lifetime, the Church might actually refine its views on abortion. Norma: I believe I have heard similar views expressed regarding abortion but I am not sure how convinced I am by them. How could a person—like your friend—be really so opposed to abortion but still think that a

woman should have a legal right to an abortion? Isn’t he morally opposed to abortion because he thinks that abortion kills an innocent person? If that is the case, how could he think that a woman should have a legal right to kill an innocent person? John: Norma, this is in fact the sort of question that I think is the root of so much division with respect to the abortion issue. Even if one has strong moral views against abortion, the reasons with which one supports those views might not be reasons that are sufficient by themselves for one to prevent by law someone who wished to have an abortion. Here is what I mean: I do not deny that the conclusions of many who oppose abortion might be true, nor do I deny that they can even be arrived at reasonably. That being said, the claim that the fetus from conception is a person can be disputed from reasonable grounds as well. In other words, the idea that a fetus is a person from conception is not the sort of claim that is required by reason for us to accept. As I see it then, we have no basis to restrict a woman’s bodily autonomy given that the claim “a fetus from conception is a person” is essentially contestable in this way. Claims regarding the sanctity of human life may very well be true, but one can still reasonably disagree, and it is this reasonable disagreement that makes restrictions on abortion an unjust violation of a woman’s liberty. Norma: I suppose that is the sort of thought that would give your friend reason to think that he could think the way he does about abortion. However, the view you presented regarding the legality of abortion seems to me unsettling. Your argument seems to rest on the notion that one can reasonably deny that a fetus is a person from conception. For you to be justified in saying this, it seems to me that you would have to rebut all the arguments put forward by those who believe that it is in fact unreasonable to deny that the fetus from conception is a person. Has this been done by anyone? The fact that disagreement may exist on such a question does not seem to me to be sufficient to say that the question itself is essentially contestable. John: Well, Norma, I am certainly not in a position to rebut all arguments put forth

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Taxes: Just redistribution of wealth or theft of property?
Jonathan Bix, Contributor Jessica Tarantine, Asst. Vassar & Local Editor

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n the debate surrounding the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts many Americans seemed to express an outright rejection of the government’s position as tax collector. How did taxes come to cause such outrage within American society? Might they deserve less hostility? Jonathan Bix and Jessica Tarantine discuss American tax culture. Jonathan Bix: The majority of Americans view taxes in one of two ways. The dominant conservative view is that taxes are unfair because they take money rightfully earned and redistribute to people who didn’t earn it. The dominant liberal view is that taxes are fair because they demand only sacrifice of personal luxury for the betterment of society as a whole. I argue that the conservative view is morally wrong and the liberal view is morally right, because society as a whole is more important than any individual. The political right prides itself on patriotism, which could be described as loyalty and devotion to one’s country. Part of patriotism, however, is caring for the other people who are fellow citizens. The United States was the world’s first large-scale representative democracy. While one of the premises of democracy is that its citizens are supposed to be equal, the United States has a long history of inequality—African-Americans and women have been considered unequal to white men for the majority of our nation’s existence. However, the biggest current inequality is socioeconomic inequality, a gap between the resources of the top and bottom of the income structure. Part of the way to work towards decreasing this inequality is to use taxes to improve the life circumstances of those at the bottom of the income hierarchy who do not enjoy equality of opportunity. When society is left to the market and the market’s profit and competition principles, without the intervention of public policy, wealth begets wealth and poverty begets poverty. Taxes help even the playing field. Taxation aims to improve the quality of life of individual citizens and public life as a whole. Progressive taxes, in which the percentage increases the more the citizen earns, do not deprive anyone of the opportunity to live a comfortable life, while providing the necessities everybody needs but could not otherwise obtain. One person’s potential yacht is another person’s potential governmentfunded college tuition. Jessica Tarantine: The conservative view of taxes is a little more complicated. Most would consider the correcting of externalities—the correction of market failures—as a justifiable reason to tax. Moreover, a rational individual would support a program that has a large positive externality, such as public schooling. We have a right to what we produce; prominent thinkers from Karl Marx to

Ayn Rand, and of course our own Constitution, maintain this. When I work in a job, I have a right to that income; I am willing to give up a percentage to receive benefits—it’s in my rational selfinterest. I am fine with taxation as long as it is voluntary, but at the point that it ceases to be so it becomes theft. It’s immoral for the government to tax me for something I don’t support. Yes, in a democracy majority rules, but why should a minority pay for something they do not support? If they perceive that it is not a worthy cause, why should the money they worked for be taken from them? A system of private charities would allow those who support a program to pay for it without forcing others to give. Consider that many of the household names of philanthropists came from the late 19th century, a time with minimal government regulation and taxes. The time of Andrew Carnegie

neighbor came to me and explained that he lost his job, I would help him. I’d care for the members of my community, but helping those on the other side of our country is removed and impersonal. If every community was in fact a community, caring for your fellow man could be done. The government is not the only way to help fellow citizens, just one which is often inefficient. You claim that taxes are necessary to correct inequality, though couldn’t that be achieved through private charity? If it were truly an interest of the American people, private donations would be given. When the government stops being an entity that imposes “moral” edicts on us which we wouldn’t do ourselves, the system is far more democratic and in line with our values. Bix: A minority should have to pay for something it does not want in the form of taxes if the majority of society

A depiction of the Boston Tea Party.

Wikimedia Commons

and John Rockefeller saw such a unprecedented level of giving that the first foundations were formed. Today, there is little incentive to give with the common notion that the government provides for the needs of its people. I disagree with your willingness to sacrifice one for the many. You state that sacrifice is patriotic, but it is not patriotic when it is fundamentally diametrically opposed to the founding principles of this country. Giving up your safety and life is patriotic, but giving up freedoms and rights does not lead to better conditions. Giving up what makes your country great to keep it great is contradictory. Would you ask that I give up my freedom of speech if it contributed to society? My freedom of religion? My right to a trial? I am patriotic because I believe the United States guarantees rights and freedoms. But without those rights and freedom I cease to have a reason to support my country. Therefore I will maintain that I have a right to the product of my labor, and that taking it to support programs that I do not support violates that right. You cannot violate rights for the sake of social utility. You say that patriotism is caring for a fellow man. I would say that if my

and the government deem it necessary. The government’s policies are necessary for the market to exist for all of society, including this minority, to make their money. Thus, they have an obligation to pay the government a sum the government deems necessary in order to enact the programs it believes our country needs. This is a duty we accept as citizens. It’s great for people to donate to private programs or charities, but plenty of people do not donate. With taxes, the government ensures that everybody gives their fair share. If this means people donate less so be it. The founding principles of our country include the Sixteenth Amendment, which states that “Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” There is no such thing as the freedom or right to refuse to pay your taxes. Thus your comparisons to freedom of speech and religion are invalid. Yes, social utility is an unfit goal when it justifies killing one to save five, but it is not an unfit goal when it justifies one person who makes $1,000,000 paying a much higher tax than one who makes $50,000. What our taxes are specifically used for is up to the government to decide. Our obligation to pay remains. No person’s

rights are denied through doing the duty of paying necessary taxes. Social utility is a valid way for the government to justify taxes, because the government is what provides the infrastructure needed for people to make the income they do. Thus as citizens who benefit from this infrastructure we are bound to follow government law. We may not have a specific obligation to social utility, but we have specific obligations as citizens, which include the obligation to pay taxes. Tarantine: Yes the government creates the necessary structures for the free market to flourish. But these structures are things like courts, a system of law, and a way to enforce said law. I do not see how it follows from this that people should then pay for whatever else the government deems necessary as some act of gratitude. The Sixteenth Amendment can hardly be considered a founding principle of our government. It was only ratified in 1913, and the original framers would have been adamantly against such an amendment. For example, in stark contrast, we see James Madison writing Federalist Paper No. 10, warning against majority factions. That they would inherently use their powers to infringe on the rights of the few for what would be their best interest. Specifically, many of the Founders were fearful of leveling or redistribution of wealth that could occur if there was a large faction of the propertyless calling for radical distribution of wealth. I’m not arguing against the Sixteenth Amendment. I think it has a place for creating revenue for things like national defense and public education, but its place is not giving the government free reign over the incomes of its constituents. Where does it say that we can redistribute wealth? We should use a moral system that can be universally applied. Picking and choosing when to endeavor toward social utility seems inconsistent and therefore a poor basis for a system of government. My second response to your social utility argument—in addition to the questioning of it as a valid moral system— is to question if taxes really do create more social utility. Economically speaking, taxes on goods almost always lead to dead weight losses—tax incidence is almost impossible to predict and result in less of a product being produced at a higher cost to the consumer. Additionally, income taxes at least to some degree disincentivize working hard. A company owner could work more and make more money but if it’s going to be taxed at a high rate why should they work more? The opportunity cost of staying home has just decreased. By disincentivizing working hard, the overall economy suffers as productivity falls. Taxing takes money from the consumer, resulting in less demand for goods, which is bad for the economy, as fewer goods are then produced and less people are employed. With social utility clouded, why should people not just keep their hard-earned money?

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is not willing to incorporate China into the dialogue. That kind of anxiety fuels China’s defense spending. They felt they needed to assert their interests so the U.S. is willing to listen. In the case of Taiwan and North Korea, the U.S. was not willing to accommodate; Taiwan is a core interest for China. On the American side, it appears there’s a large structural shift. The U.S. was the sole hegemon. It could set all the rules and do whatever it wanted. Now it looks like the rise of China is inevitable. How do you adjust the system to accommodate and incorporate China into the existing system? And this isn’t just happening now. Anytime you try to put a rising power into the existing system, this kind of clash is always there. The rising power will face the constraints and challenges from the existing power. And if the rising power feels that it’s not a just system, they may feel willing to use more offensive qualities to challenge. I think this is a good time to find a compromise. We can find another kind of system—a multi-polar or bi-polar system. Otherwise it can be dangerous, but I’m not saying inevitable. Brock: Do you think the economic ties between the U.S. and China might prevent them from going to war? Su: My big hope is that the economies are tied together. Even the cultural exchanges will lead to people understanding each other. Like it or not the economic system is based on trade. The Chinese strategy is export and their biggest market is America. As a result, China gets the trade surplus. And to make use of that surplus, they have to buy American debt. So we’re tied together. Without the U.S., Chinese development is doubtful. Without China financing our spending, our current mode of lifestyle will be affected. We’re linked together, but our problems are the same. The U.S.’s problem is the Chinese currency manipulation, which they’re using to gain an advantage in trade, so they can dump a lot of goods on us and we can’t sell things to them. On the Chinese side, the U.S. still has a lot of political and market power that we can use to force China to give up its interests. Both sides are linked to each other, but fundamentally this imbalance must be addressed. China is facing its limit in terms of growth and markets. This limitation will trigger protectionism worldwide. Nobody will tolerate this forever. In order to export, there’s a race to the bottom. They have to cut labor costs, environmental protections, and human rights to make cheap products. This model is not sustainable. On each side there’s a desire to adjust the imbalance. China needs to somehow spend the manipulated currency and allow the market to adjust and stop damaging the environment. The United States needs to export more to Chinese markets. That this whole economic interdependence is based off huge imbalance is not a good thing. Instead of providing a solid foundation it could become a cause for future political or military conflict. I think Obama has already sent a strong signal to Hu Jintao. I think China realizes this and a lot of scholars are critical of the government. I hope this will be an area that both countries will find common ground, and the economic foundation will lead to a political relationship. Brock: Do you think that human rights will improve as China develops, or will it maintain its stratified class system? Su: I think that almost 20 years ago China had an ultra-right wing government. Society is very friendly to business and capitalism, and ignores a lot of lower class issues in society. With political reform, I can’t think of any major progress under Hu Jintao. In some areas it’s getting worse. Even though Hu acknowledged that he accepts these basic desires for human rights. So far I don’t see a strong urge to reform politics from within. In 2012 a new leadership will replace Hu Jintao, this is the time most leaders will be cautious. You might have read that Premier Weng Jiabao did a public interview in which he said a lot about human rights and other reforms. His speech was actually banned in China. That says something about that there are people who are reform-minded in China. But I doubt there is major impetus for the leadership to make changes. They want to maintain the status quo and keep the economy growing to have legitimacy. Unless there’s a major crisis to force them to change. But I’m not optimistic. Some people were impressed that the president openly accepted, acknowledged it, I wouldn’t give it too much credit. I would of course say that we don’t know a lot about the younger generation, and what looks like the old revolutionary guard coming into play. A major old revolutionary is now the mayor of a city in southwestern China, and there and singing old revolutionary songs. I don’t know if that’s the direction it should go but it’s gaining a lot of popularity. Right now they need something that is justice. They believe that the constitution is not just. The old revolution still resonates because it is a great kind of ideology, but I am not sure if it is the right way to go, but I do not see a major political reform coming. I hope there will be no backlash against the reform and liberalization. But I do feel a strong sense of discontent among the lower class. That may give some leaders the excuse to go back; that may be a good option. Serio: Is there any truth to the rumors that China is overheating? Su: The Chinese model cannot be sustained. It’s based on a race to the bottom— ignoring environmental and health costs. Also the labor wages are way too low. Not a lot of people benefit from the process. However, the most imminent issue is land-based growth. In the past we all know that Chinese growth is largely based on export. Another thing is land. Growth is largely a sign of sacrificing consumption, and that is not smart. A worrisome sign is that all cities are engaging in land development—taking land from farmers at low price and selling it to real estate firms. At the same time, government is getting involved in developing land to sell. How do you do this? They take this land to banks, and get mortgages, or loans. Then they use money to develop. But here, because there is no incentive for the government to drive up the price so they can sell the land to real estate developers... A large part of the economy is based on this cheap land and huge loans from banks. What if it stops See SU on page 19

Su discusses Obama’s plans for future of Sino-American relations

Fubing Su, Assistant Professor of Political Science. Matthew Brock, Senior Editor Will Serio, Production & Design Editor

Steve Keller, Vassar Chronicle


att Brock: In his State of the Union, Barack Obama talked about improving education and industry in the United States—ostensibly to keep up with China. What are they doing that the U.S. isn’t doing and what can we learn from it? Fubing Su: I’m really glad Obama talked a lot about education in his State of the Union address, and of course we all know in the last few weeks there has been a lot of debate in the public media, comparing China with the United States. The first thing is that should be careful about what we read about China because it’s always half true. There’s certainly some exaggeration in the interpretation. It’s true that China has spent of a lot of resources in improving their education but that’s not the whole picture. Half of Obama’s address was that we need to compete with Chinese students and workers, but we also need to look forward to the future—not just competing with engineers who can manufacture shirts or shoes or simple machinery tools. If we keep our eyes on that, it’s wrong. We need to look to the future and think about what kinds of new skills we can train our students with to create more innovation. I don’t see this as head to head competition. We are past the industrial way of life. If we go back and try to compete with this industrializing country, then that is totally wrong-headed. Brock: So how do you think we should go forward to maintain the U.S. economy? Su: I’ve been reading a lot in The New York Times about this—David Brooks—I agree that some other scholars say we need to improve our ability to manufacture again. We need those bases. I don’t agree with them. I think we need to look forward: What is the future? He has this idea of crossroads for America. We need to become a magnet for talent. People who are smart from across the world will come here to get educated in colleges, and create some new ideas. People come here for ideas, not for America’s abil-

ity to manufacture this or that. Of course, that will require our education to adapt and change. The Chinese model so far is very much fact-based, knowledgebased. We need to solve this problem. Americans should not focus on that. We need to come up with new ideas. We need to increase the ability to interact with the most talented people. America has done great with that in the past and can do even more. That’s my vision. Will Serio: It seems you disagree with Obama. Should we be focusing more on education and, if so, in what areas? Su: I agree with the mainstream belief we need to pay more attention to education. That’s the only place that will create these new ideas and innovative human beings. We should not aim for the same model as India or China with science and math. That’s why they’re doing so good. We should obviously improve our primary education in science and math. But with higher education you should do more than just that. Instead of trying to catch up, we should take a new direction and take leadership. I think in colleges and universities we need to take this route. Brock: Do you think war between the U.S. and China is possible, especially given their new stealth fighter? Su: About the stealth fighter. China has the J-20 and they had the J-10 three or four years ago. And it caught people by surprise. This was a huge leap in military technology. In a way many people expected something because China has invested resources into military technology, but nobody expected so much. This sent a strong signal to America— that China is willing and capable of catching up to US military technology, not just with subs but with missiles and aircraft carriers. So it looks like China’s became a more offensive power. They’re pushing the line through the American bases in the Pacific. But that doesn’t mean a war or conflict is inevitable. It depends on how both sides manage. Their areas of strategic interest involve the energy they need and securing market access. At the same time, the U.S.

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Su addresses Is it time to do away with the filibuster? future Chinese housing crisis W
Lane Kisonak, National & Foreign Editor Nathan Tauger, Contributor

deBate & disCouRse

Continued from SU on page 18 growing or even falls? Their land prices will drop and the government will no longer be able to pay back banks. Then banks will be saddled with this debt. Then, that will be a collapse. This moment the housing crisis in China is the opposite. Everyone is worried that this cannot go on forever. America showed us it cannot. If it stops, immediately, a lot of local governments will go bankrupt. And the banks will go bankrupt. If that happens there may be a big social crisis, because a lot of people bought into this idea land will go up forever, houses will go up forever. They put a lot of their investment into this, then they just wipe out the investments overnight, just imagine the reactions. But now it’s like several rounds of stabilization policy. They’ve placed a lot of financial incentives—tax incentives—to help people save. It’s not worthwhile, don’t put your money into this real estate, but it’s inevitable. This year it just rolled out another round of stabilizing policy: One family can only buy one house or apartment. And the real estate developer will be responsible for the price; it can’t go too high. And there is a policy that the mortgage for the second apartment is a 60 percent down payment. All these are designed to cool down the market for the central government. Local governments have no incentive because all of their revenues are based off of land lease and land auctions so they all actively fought back. So it’s quite a scary type of development. All of them wanted to get more revenue from this real estate development and from land, so I would say, if there is a major financial crisis in the next four or five years, then it will come from the real estate sector—very much like the American economy. Serio: Is such a crisis imminent? Su: Last year I was more optimistic. I wrote a few papers on this. We worked with the Ministry of Land and Resources and Housing Development. The fundamental issue with this is land financing for local governments— you need to address this issue. To address this issue you need to open up land markets. Once you allow people into markets without local governments you can control land price. We worked with our projections to change local financing and for farmers to bring their land to the market directly. At the same time we need to give local governments the power to tax those real estate. Right now they don’t have that power—it’s all central. Interestingly, this year the government just started experimenting with a real estate tax in places like Shanghai. That may be a good direction. But we need to address these issues: First of all how do governments finance themselves? And second we need to open up land markets. In both cases there is a lot of resistance in dealing with these problems. Last year I was more optimistic these changes would occur. This year I am less so. But we will see. China always surprises me.

ith the House of Representatives changing hands and the waning of the Democrats’ power in the Senate, new legislation seems ever more distant to the United States’ bitterly divided government. Lane Kisnoak and Nathan Tauger discuss the potential harms and benefits of drastically reducing the power of the filibuster—sapping the ability of a minority of legislators to indefinitely stall Senate debates. Lane Kisonak: Now that the filibuster reform battle has fizzled to a close, the only real achievements are the elimination of secret holds—the ability for a single Senator to make an anonymous threat to filibuster, the banning of amendment readings as a stalling tactic, and a small decrease in the Senate’s stranglehold over presidential appointments. These gains are minute compared to what could have been realized had Democrats pursued the “constitutional option” of voting on comprehensive Senate rule changes at the beginning of the 112th Congress and done away with the filibuster for good. Nathan Tauger: Not eliminating the filibuster and keeping cloture at 60 votes was the right option. Maintaining the filibuster slows the Senate down, preventing it from possible erratic legislative behavior like that of the House. Imagine if one or two more Republican or anti-health care Senators had won and the filibuster had been done away with. Repealing health care in less than three years after it’s been in effect would be terrible for the nation economically— even if you don’t support health care. When American public opinion drastically changes in extreme ways, like electing 60 senators from the same party who are then able to invoke cloture, we can have radical legislation. When public opinion has swayed only slightly beyond one party’s holding we shouldn’t try to make sweeping changes. Kisonak: Your argument that without the filibuster the Senate would fall into the trap of over-reaching is false. The filibuster used to be an option of last resort, employed far less frequently than it has been in the last few years, according to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. In regard to your hypothetical Republican majority scenario in which the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Barack Obama would retain veto power, and would thus be safe from an override. That aside, we can both agree that partisan rancor in Washington has built up to shameful levels since 2009. Might not the all-frustrating power of the filibuster be a root cause? Tauger: Suggesting first that the filibuster was at one time a decent process and that because of it for some reason now we have partisan problems is illogical. If it worked well for so many years, and now we have extremely polarized parties, why would the filibuster be one

of the causes? Something else—or host of other factors—would be more likely. Kisonak: The proof is in the pudding; stonewalling tactics such as the filibuster and peripheral tools only serve to discourage levelheaded, bipartisan negotiation among Senators as was once practiced. Tauger: When was bipartisan negotiation among senators ever practiced? Should we aspire to return to Preston Brooks’ method of “levelheaded, bipartisan” discourse—at the end of a cane? The changes you are suggesting are not returning the Senate to some golden age; they would take it into an entirely alien and unpredictable direction. With the country facing countless economic and social problems, a comprehensive change to the way our government works is not the right way to go. Kisonak: Can it not be said that current use of the filibuster is more “erratic” behavior than whatever the House sends out? Tauger: Erratically making legislation wait is much different than erratically making legislation go forward. Waiting a little longer for worthy legislation is the sacrifice we must make to properly think through potentially radical and wasteful legislation. Kisonak: It seems rather irrational that a single rogue Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman can trigger a process to negate a bill passed in the name of a represented majority of the U.S. population—especially if a simple majority already exists in the Senate—don’t you think? Tauger: The ability to have one senator start a process that can halt the entire legislation process is part of the beauty of the Senate. If I’m not correct, tell me, but at least forty other senators must have agreed or not supported the bill being passed. That a bill should represent the majority of the U.S. population seems like a good concept but is it really accurate? According to James Madison, the Senate is a check on the majority opinion. Suggesting that we should get rid of one of the Senate’s primary ways to fulfill this purpose is suggesting in effect that we get rid of the Senate, an argument I’m not sure you want to make. Kisonak: The purpose of the Senate was to act as a counterweight of equal representation to the House’s scheme of proportional representation; there is nothing in the Constitution that suggests that a supermajority is necessary to achieve this end—it only requires supermajorities for veto overrides, constitutional amendments, and treaty ratifications. The filibuster has evolved over time into the sledgehammer it is today due to a long process of manipulation of the Standing Rules of the Senate. Even the threat of a filibuster today is enough to turn the laws of arithmetic upside down and give fortyone senators absolute power over the other 59—a tyranny of the minority. Returning to the purpose of the Senate, equal representation among the states, the filibuster seems to work directly against the spirit of the body, no?

Wikimedia Commons

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Furthermore, I stand by the connection between the new pervasiveness of the filibuster and partisan animosity; according to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, whereas in the 1960s about eight percent of major bills encountered a filibuster, this past decade saw that percentage reach an astounding 70 percent. Perhaps once the filibuster had a useful function, but now in the hands of megalomaniacs such as Mitch McConnell, whose primary goal is for Barack Obama to “be a one-term president,” the filibuster has become a weapon against the exercise of representative democracy and a deterrent from bipartisan negotiation. Tauger: Tyranny of the minority is a fault of the times, not the filibuster. Would eliminating the filibuster and allowing legislation to go unchecked with a simple majority magically stop partisan bickering or just provide more fuel for lawmakers to report back to their constituents? Let’s return to the possible health care example; imagine the entire package, less than three years after its inception, being immediately repealed as soon as the wind of political backlash blows slightly in the wrong direction. Adhering to this majority for every decision’ way of thinking is denying the importance of the voice of the minority. The filibuster, though slightly abused today, is one of the only ways for a strongly felt minority opinion to be represented. Imagine a Republicancontrolled Senate with a vacancy in the Supreme Court and a radical Clarence Thomas-esque appointee. Accepting that a simple majority would be able to approve an intensely disliked justice goes against the Madisonian ideal that the voice of the minority should be protected. In response to your last few points I would like to conclude that there are certainly problems regarding the rampant use of the filibuster and the increasingly polarized nature of federal politics. But eliminating the filibuster would not fix these problems and would create a slew of new issues and inconsistencies for the American system to deal with.

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“buT whaT is The differenCe beTween liTeraTure and journalism? journalism is unreadable and liTeraTure is noT read. ThaT is all.” –osCar wilde

The LasT Page

Justin Bieber’s widely-read interview with Rolling Stone was not the only segment the magazine intended to run featuring the teen idol. Rolling Stone had also set up a celebrity panel to discuss the political issues of the day, but as the following makes obvious, the panel was unprintable. Here are some snippets.