THE VASSAR CHRONICLE

Editorial Round Table: Constructing meaning from Osama bin Laden’s death. p. 10

Vol. XX, Issue 4

May 3, 2011

VASSAR BIG BROTHER WATCHING? THE VASSAR BOE. DEBATE SHOULD EURUOPE TAKE IN LIBYAN REFUGEES?

3 16

NATIONAL AFFAIRS PAGE 7

BIRTHER DEBATE: WASTE OF TIME

THE VASSAR CHRONICLE

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Vassar & Local Arts & Culture National Affairs Foreign Affairs Debate & Discourse The Last Page EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Alaric Chinn

3 6 7 12 16 20

SENIOR EDITORS
Jeremy Bright Matthew Brock
PRODUCTION & DESIGN COPY & STYLE VASSAR & LOCAL NATL. & FOREIGN AFFAIRS DEBATE & DISCOURSE PROD. & DESIGN ASST. DEBATE & DISC. ASST. RESEARCHER ILLUSTRATORS William Serio Stephen Loder Jessica Tarantine Tom Enering Ethan Madore Madeleine Morris Nathan Tauger Michael Greene Kris Adkins Jamee Bateau

STAFF EDITORIAL
s an institution of higher learning, Vassar has a duty to uphold a certain standard in regard to academics. Furthermore, being a college which has a strong reputation for academics, upholding this standard is tantamount to Vassar’s success as an institution by the very measure set out by the College itself. Unfortunately, we at The Vassar Chronicle feel that Vassar has failed to live up to this standard as of late. This inadequacy has made itself evident in number of ways, mainly in the inconsistent habit of grade inflation which has permeated the campus. Most problematic is the lack of a coherent standard of grading, which results in the effort required to achieve certain grades, which vary greatly by professor, class, and even major. The harms of this are twofold: First, the harms which pertain only to grade inflation, and second, the harms which occur from inconsistent implementation of grade inflation. First, the adverse effects may be seen from the disincentive inflated grades provide. Students may no longer be inclined to work at their fullest potential, if they may achieve desirable grades with less work. While a one-time incident may not necessarily be fundamentally problematic, the compounding of these types of experiences cause individuals to adopt the habit of settling for mere adequacy. But furthermore, on the campus level it creates a culture of

Madeleine Morris, Vassar Chronicle

Academics flawed at Vassar Editor’s Note

A

complacency, which we feel is antithetical to an academic environment endeavoring to distinction. The additional consequences may be seen in the inconsistent implementation of this standard. And insofar that we wish, as a college, to utilize grade point average as a meaningful tool for establishing a comparative measure of success at Vassar, we fail to do so, and inconsistent grade inflation becomes harmful. The adverse effects may be seen in the impact of this lack of a consistent standard. Because we often as individuals who profess ourselves to be lovers of learning, we are often swayed by less strenuous majors, a problem which is compounded by inconsistent and unbalanced standards across majors. At present, majors vary greatly in their requirements: Varying factors include number of classes necessary and existence of a thesis requirement. While autonomy on the part of individual departments is certainly laudable, it must not come at the cost of a high uniform standard. To correct these problems we only need to reaffirm a rigorous, comprehensive academic environment and culture, and critically address our success at achieving our professed goal in terms of academic standards. —The Staff Editorial is agreed upon by at least a 70 percent majority of the Editorial Board.

Dear Vassar, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Alaric Chinn ’13 and I will be serving as The Vassar Chronicle’s Editor-in-Chief. As a member of the Editorial Board this past year, I have had the privilege of working to develop The Chronicle from an experimental publication to a full-fledged student political journal. To this end, I would like to extend my thanks to the rest of the Editorial Board for electing me, and to you, the students of Vassar College, for providing the content that makes each Chronicle a unique and dynamic issue. As Editor-in-Chief, I hope to make The Chronicle more accessible to students from all political and cultural backgrounds. Through it, I hope for every student to enjoy broader sources of discourse so that all students can benefit from discussing differing points of view. In my opinion, the more voices from different backgrounds, the richer the conversation. This past year has seen momentous events within Vassar College. Aside from the resurrection of The Chronicle, we have celebrated our institution’s 150th birthday and we have seen the first referendum on proposed VSA constitutional amendments fail. As this year fades into the next, I hope that as new controversies and issues spring up, every student will use The Chronicle as a resource not only to gain knowledge, but also as a springboard to launch their opinions.

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 VassarChronicle@gmail.com. Advertising Policy: All advertisements will be clearly demarcated as such. Contact MICA.vsa@ vassar.edu 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 70 percent 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 MICA.vsa@vassar.edu to become involved with the club.

OUR EDITORS STAND BEHIND THEIR PUBLICATION.

WIN 10¢
FOR EACH MISTAKE FOUND IN

THE VASSAR CHRONICLE
MICA.VSA@VASSAR.EDU

PAGE 2

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

VASSAR & LOCAL
BoE actions subvert democracy, undermine constitution
Alaric Chinn Editor-in-Chief

n a representative democracy like the United States of America, voting is the cornerstone of political action. The right to vote is a right for which millions have fought and died. Indeed, when one peruses the amendments to the United States Constitution, four amendments are dedicated to civil rights and, by extension, the right to vote. Clearly, voting must be nearly sacrosanct to have such prominence in the document that serves as the supreme law of the land. At Vassar College, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) encourages us to exercise our rights to political activity be that through assembly, press, petition, or speech. Of all of the forms of political speech, voting should be the most accessible and the easiest to accomplish. For example, in order to vote in the recent referendum, all that a student needed to do was follow a link and click “yes” or “no.” More recently, the VSA, through the Board of Elections (BoE), conducted its annual, albeit delayed, spring elections. The spring elections serve as the most significant event among students aspiring to hold office within the student government or on college committees. It is during this time that students cover the College Center with colorful, fanciful, humorous, and serious posters that outline their positions, who they are and, sometimes, even why you should vote for them. These students then engage in Internet solicitation, door-to-door campaigning, and/ or publicized debates to outline their platforms and secure votes. Considering all the hard work that these individuals put into their campaigns and the importance of voting in the democratic process, I find it rather surprising that the BoE, in addition to running an embarrassingly inefficient election, decided to act under its own accord—nostra sponte, if you will—to eliminate votes, judge voters, and seemingly compromise the entirety of the spring elections. Let’s begin with an analysis of their conduct towards an individual student. Big Brother in Disguise? The VSA Constitution states that, “Elections shall be overseen by the Board of Elections and run in accordance with procedures as set forth in the VSA Bylaws (Constitution X.1.B).” However, even an intensive review of the VSA’s governing documents does not grant the BoE—or the Chairs, specifically—the right to judge a student based on how they vote (although Bylaws VII.7.F allows for “monitoring,” this was probably with paper ballots in mind). Unfortunately, the BoE decided that it was well under its purview to judge one voter in particular. One member of the class of 2013, who prefers to remain anonymous, utilized his freedom of choice in writing “someone else” for one race and “I don’t care” for a committee position—actions that the Board of Elections found intolerable. In an e-mailed statement, the student reveals, “I was told that my vote ‘indicates poor commitment and respect to [my] education here,’” by a member of the VSA operating under anonymity through the BoE e-mail. According to the statistics on voting released by the Board of Elections, an average of 59.26 percent of students engaged in elections. Considering that essentially every student had access to a link that would lead to voting (unlike the United States’ paper or electronic ballot systems), 59.26 percent is a far cry from optimal voter participation. In the sense that

I

President 43.57%

VP for Student Life VP for Operations 40.29% 39.13%

VP for Finance 39.05%

VP for Academics 38.93%

VP for Activities 40.13%
Madeleine Morris, Vassar Chronicle

Voter participation in the Spring 2011 elections for the VSA executive board positions.

more voices lead to better discourse, accusing students and insulting them based on their choices is perhaps the exact opposite way of increasing voter turnout. Although the student recognizes that the diction of the write-ins could have been better, he was surprised that the Board of Elections could initiate direct contact at all: “This is an issue because confidentiality is supposed to allow people the security to vote for whom they want to vote, free of harassment or repercussions.” Why should the institution that is tasked with regulating spring elections also serve as a moral authority when it comes to voting? This sets a precedent that no student can vote without fear of reprisal in the form of being reprimanded by the BoE. If a voter’s choice is motivated by fear, the vote is no longer valid. Secret ballots exist for the sole purpose of allowing individuals to support whomever they choose for any reason. Any system that enforces a voting mechanism less than this is at the least coercive, and at the most, dictatorial. Finally, in what was perhaps the most disturbing action on the part of the Board of Elections, the student was notified that his vote was changed from “someone else” to “no.” In the student’s words, “Basically, after I voted I received an email from [Terrace Apartment President and BoE Co-Chair] Samantha Allen’s ’11 personal email telling me she changed my write-in of “Someone Else” to “No.” Although in a later e-mail, Allen told him that his vote went unchanged, two possibilities stem from this action. One, the B0E can actually manipulate votes, thereby bringing the entirety of the spring elections into question—an action that is literally elections fraud. The second possibility is that, at the very least, Allen, in her capacity as a BoE Chair, believed that she could change the vote and had the intent to change the vote—an intent that reflects poorly on the BoE as a whole. The Case of the Shape-shifting Ballot When I personally began to choose whom to vote for at 12:01 P.M. on Saturday, Apr. 23, 2011, I, like many students who voted early, observed this strange box that said “write in” on it. Having no idea how write-ins worked or if

they would even have an effect on determining who won the elections, I stuck with the more conventional checking of boxes. By early afternoon on Easter, I was surprised to hear that “write in” candidates actually became part of the ballot, meaning that people who voted after someone “wrote in” a candidate, had a different ballot than those who voted before. In essence, the Board of Elections’ policies led to the creation of a mutating ballot that changed with every “write in” candidate. Imagine those students’ surprise when the BoE announced (after voting was closed) on April 25, 2011, that write-in candidates would simply be removed from voting! In the Board of Elections words, “There were floods of write-in votes for several positions. Initially we had posted them for open/unfilled positions. However, due to the very large influx of votes and the fact that many were not submitted by the person themselves, we are opening up the positions for application and appointment.” Ergo, despite a “large influx of votes,” the Board of Elections decided to throw out those votes and replace a democratic process with an appointment process. This makes sense for the positions in which candidates did not originally write themselves in, but what of the positions where they may have submitted their own names? In the Board of Elections’ own words: “Many were not submitted by the person themselves.” “Many” does not mean “all.” Without going back to the issue of the Board of Elections actually knowing who votes for who, insofar as there was a single person who wrote in their own name and was legitimately elected to that position, the Board of Elections essentially rejected the will of voters. How did they do this? By changing the rules of the game. Additionally, what about all of the write-in candidates who did not run in purely uncontested races? To my understanding, there were a number of candidates written in for contested races—candidates who received votes. However, the BoE decided to remove all writein candidates. The result can be described as election fraud: People who voted for write-ins could have voted for another candidate or even

“No.” As of this writing, if either of the currently tied races had write-in candidates that were removed, then potentially, had students known their votes would be discounted, they probably would’ve voted for one of the established candidates or “No.” Thus, the ties would have never occurred, and the VSA Council would not be choosing the respective winners. A Constitutional Challenge The VSA Bylaws clearly state, “No Board of Elections official may influence any voter or engage in any other activity that may unfairly affect the election (Bylaws X.7.E)” and “Once the voting period has begun, the ballot may not be altered in any way (Bylaws X.7.G).” Under both of these provisions, based on the actions of the Board of Elections, there was a distinct possibility that the spring elections could have been overturned. Although no student brought a complain to the Judicial Board within the allotted 24 hour period, a ruling against the Board of Elections may have resulted in special elections taking place during study week—a proposition that would fall unfavorably with a probable majority of the college population. The major question is not whether or not the Board of Elections would be found responsible for unfairly influencing the election and allowing ballots to be altered, but why did the Board of Elections even present the opportunity? The BoE is supposed to serve the role as a regulator and a facilitator to ensure fair elections, not serve as a pulpit from which a handful of students can dictate the outcome of student government elections. Of course, we must look towards future elections rather than wade in past events. Even if this year’s Board of Elections’ actions were deplorable from the viewpoint of representative democracy, VSA constitutionality, and basic manners, as Vassar students, we have to see how we can make next year’s elections better. While I agree that total transparency in elections and a 100 percent across-the-board voter turnout rate is nearly unattainable, I believe that the VSA and by extension, we the students, can advance in leaps and bounds from the actions of this year’s Board of Elections.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 3

VASSAR & LOCAL
The tragedy of the commons comes to Vassar College
Shared bikes destined to fail due to lack of private ownership
Jessica Tarrantine Vassar & Local Editor

s the Shared Bikes program reaches it end, the Vassar community can only lament a wonderful ideal ruined by harsh realities. The program was started in the memory of a Vassar student who died shortly after graduation, and offered the Vassar Community the chance to partake in a fleet of thirty bikes maintained by student volunteers for a small fee. It seemed like the program would be great chance for members of the school to get together as a community with a common interest and offer a low cost and sustainable program. The vision was quaint and picturesque. But in the long run, neither of these objectives occurred: Student interest has dwindled and costs have risen, causing the program to ask for decertification. While some may react in surprise and dismay at the decertification of a beloved Vassar tradition that arguably set us apart from other colleges, the decertification is, in reality, not as alarming when the results of other shared bike programs are considered. In fact, in context it appears to be inevitable and it appears that the quaint picture is not so quaint. In the recent article “Will Smart Bikes Succeed as Public Transportation in the United States,” written by Paul DeMaio and Jonathan Gifford in the Journal of Public Transportation, the authors reported that no shared bike program has ever been able to be finically sustainable, a shocking conclusion considering that a sustainable program only requires small monetary contributions from each member. What, then could be the cause of beloved programs breaking down on the side of the road? The cause, as with the failure of all idealistic programs, may be found in reality. Specifically, the problem with the fleet of pink bikes was in regard to personal responsibility, or in this case, the lack of accountability. When an individual chooses to partake in the program, he or

A

she has no incentive to take care of any one bike. If one bike fails as a result of one’s action, the rider may simply find another bike. Additionally, we see the free rider problem rather frequently in the program. Students who do not own a key can simply have a friend unlock the bike, or borrow the key, while other students can just dismantle the lock all together. The free rider principle is unable to be overcome. In historical terms, the problem is the “tragedy of the commons.” First coined by Garret Harding in 1968, the term refers to the problem that occurs when a resource is held communally by a group of people. Specifically, the problem of the tragedy of the commons often draws reference to the problem which occurred before the enclosure movement in England. Groups of citizens would allow their cattle to graze in the middle of the town in the “commons” or communal grazing pasture. Each citizen would want to allow his or her cattle to graze for as long as possible, and while one instance of this occurring would not cause problems, the compounding would ultimately lead to the overuse of the pastureland.

The pink bikes have fallen into disrepair over the past year, leading to their disbandment.

Matthew Brock, The Vassar Chronicle

“By having private property we remove any incentive for people to over-exploit their resources, because if the resources are privately owned they face direct consequences their actions.”
Simply put, people act in their individual best interest, not in the collective interest. Worse yet, people’s personal interests are often antithetical to the common interest, particularly when it comes to sharing resources. Consider the Georges Bank fishery off the coast of New England. Once the most populated fishery in the world, it is now closed due to fishing at higher levels than are sustainable. The calculations for maximum sustainable yield had been widely known but it was not in the short

term interest of the fisherman to follow the information. In short, what is missing, in the case of both the fishermen and the bike riders, is personal responsibility and accountability. It’s a common theme in regard to resources held in common that is often repeated and there is only one solution to fixing the problem: removing the resources from their communal ownership or privatization. This explains, among other things, the failure of systems of government where all property is held communally. If communal resources are to be understood as the root problem of exploitation, then communism, the system of communal resources, is fundamentally problematic. Resources are limited. However, having unlimited desires, we wish to acquire as much as possible. This explains why communism, just like the Shared Bikes program, has failed. In fact, the Vassar pink bike program is a case in point; we need look only to the proposed solutions to the shared

bike program. First we take it out of the hands of the students (the workers) and place in the hands of the administration (read: those who own the means of the production). Then, the ownership is no longer collective. The administration leases them out, or mandates what is in effect private property or at the very least mandates personal responsibility. A communistic paradise was achieved, but was unable to hold causing capitalistic measures to win out. By having private property we remove any incentive for people to over-exploit their resources, because if the resources are privately owned they face direct consequences their actions. As with the case of the Vassar Shared Bike Program, students are forced to care for their own bikes, without the ability to go find a new one if their bikes should fail. By taking advantage of people’s tendency to act in their own interest we see that the situation will work out for the best both in the case of Vassar Shared Bikes and governmental systems.

DO YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD? THE VASSAR CHRONICLE ENCOURAGES YOU TO SUBMIT COLUMNS AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
CONTACT VASSARCHRONICLE@GMAIL.COM “SPEECH IS CIVILIZATION ITSELF.” - THOMAS MANN
PAGE 4 CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

VASSAR & LOCAL
ViCE pricing practices unfair to lower-income students High prices deter students from concerts, cause events to fail
Todd Densen Contributor

t isn’t much of a reach to say that if Vassar College Entertainment (ViCE) were a politician, they wouldn’t have a 100 percent approval rating, and it is no mystery why. One point of criticism has stemmed from the choice of bands ViCE has decided to bring to campus. Some have claimed that the bands represent what the tastes of only a small minority of students. In response to this criticism, ViCE has taken measures to try and combat this viewpoint. Last spring ViCE attempted to bring one of its biggest acts yet: The Flaming Lips. Such a big band meant that ViCE had to make a few changes. First the venue was moved to an off-campus location—the Mid-Hudson Civic Center—to hold a larger audience and for the first time in my tenure as a student tickets were not available for free. Because of the name recognition that comes with The Flaming Lips, the cost to bring the band in was much higher, thus necessitating the need to charge students for tickets to the show. Thankfully, the cost was subsidized by ViCE and students were able to pay significantly less than the general population. However, in the past, ViCE had sold tickets to the general population, but kept tickets free for students. In the end, the show ended up being quite popular and very successful. ViCE has tried to carry over some of that success to this year. Unfortunately, what has carried over has been none of the good and some of the bad. The big concert of the fall semester was Yeasayer, and while this author personally really enjoy the band, there were many students who were left asking “Whosayer?” To add insult to injury, off of the precedent set by The Flaming Lips show, tickets were once again sold, and not distributed, to paying students. In the end, the ticket price and obscurity of the band were enough to keep students away, the chapel was never more than half full. This spring, ViCE tried once again to combat complaints of only bringing obscure acts to campus by opening an online poll for students to vote on what act they wanted to bring to campus. Unfortunately the poll was highly unsecure, allowing people to vote multiple times, and was open up to the entire population of internet users, not just Vassar students—the poll received several votes from IP address in Florida and Connecticut. Despite these problems the poll winner, Wiz Kalifa, did seem to be the most popular choice. The results of the poll were largely fruitless though, because despite Wiz Kalifa’s willingness to perform on campus, ViCE’s managerial incompetence made it impossible for them to secure a contract, and once again another mid-level “indie” band,

I

Of Montreal, was contracted. And keeping true to recent form, ViCE once again imposed a $18 ticket fee for students. The Flaming Lips concert has set a very poor precedent for the concerts here at Vassar. In an attempt to bring a major band to campus, ViCE began a practice of selling tickets rather than distributing them to students on a first come first serve basis at no cost. While many students certainly appreciate the improved quality of acts, the price to attend a ViCE sponsored show is a significant deterrent and an inherently unfair practice that is antithetical to the College’s admissions philosophy. Vassar College is commended in the higher education community for not only being a need-blind institution in admissions, but we are one of the first and few institutions to also meet full demonstrated financial need. The money ViCE receives to fund these acts comes from a sizeable portion of every single student’s activities fee that they pay with their tuition. By charging students an additional fee to attend the concerts that ViCE organizes, students of lower financial status are denied the ability to enjoy the same activities as other students, even though a portion of their tuition has already gone to bringing the act to campus. Some may say that $18 is not very much to charge for a concert ticket, but there are student’s at this college to whom that is indeed a significant cost and are unable to attend due to financial constraints. Worse than the inequity created by this pricing system, however, is the fact that essentiall y every student pays for part of the concert, and only those who wish to and can afford to pay for the tickets actually get to enjoy those concerts. What we have is a system that is not only inequitable but exploitative to members of the community. What has happened is that a middle ground that fails to meet either of two criticisms has emerged. The Flaming Lips were successful because the band was a really big name act, and the ticket prices were paid and justified because of that. Similarly, in the year prior to The Flaming Lips, Broken Social Scene, Passion Pit, and Beirut were all successful because despite the small names these bands had, the concert was available for any student who wanted to go, so long as they waited in line for a free ticket. Now, instead, we bring bands with middle market recognition that cost a little bit more. Students are still unhappy with the headlining acts, and ticket prices keep those who would be moderately interested away. In the end, it is far better to bring the small acts to campus and make them available free to students. At least in this scenario the exclusion factor is left to musical taste and not financial ability. —Todd Densen ’12 is an economics major.

Courtesy of ViCE

This semester ViCE brought Of Montreal to Vassar, charging students $18 to see the band.

Keller’s criticism of MICA, Dems incorrect, unwarranted
Matthew Brock Senior Editor

n his column in the April 28 issue of The Miscellany News, “MICA, Dems should not be counterparts,” Steve Keller ’11 asserts that the Vassar College Democrats and the Moderate, Independent, and Conservative Alliance (MICA) are hampering political discourse and activism at Vassar by creating a false dichotomy between partisan Democrats and ideological conservatives, while leaving out ideological liberals and partisan conservatives. As his column was published in The Misc’s last issue of the year, I would like to take the time to address his remarks in The Chronicle. Keller based his analysis on a central, flawed assumption: That an organization cannot be both partisan and ideological. By being a partisan group, the Democrats do not provide an adequate place for general liberal discussion, which he then claims sends the liberal ideologues flocking to MICA, who then displace the conservatives and remove the possibility of Republican activism. However, contrary to Keller’s assumption, ideology and partisanship are not mutually exclusive. Since I am only a member of MICA, I cannot speak for the Democrats, although from what I have seen they tend to be fiercely partisan during the election season but take a break to focus on liberal discourse during the rest of the year. MICA tends to oscillate between these extremes as well. However, as Keller points out, we tend not to support political candidates as often as the Dems do.

I

This is why I, as a liberal democrat, am able to fully participate in MICA without compromising any of my partisan beliefs. However, MICA has not ceased its partisan activities due to people like me flooding its meetings. In 2008, MICA endorsed John McCain for president and tabled for him for weeks in the College Center, despite the frequent verbal assaults they were subject to from students and faculty members. As a maverick—a moderate conservative—McCain fit into MICA’s moderate-republican ideology, unlike his running mate Sarah Palin, who MICA specifically did not endorse. In 2010, MICA was ready, willing, and able to campaign on behalf of moderate Republican Rick Lazio ’80, but no sooner did we arrive back at Vassar than he was defeated by Tea Partier Carl Paladino—a man who supported throwing indigent individuals into prison to teach them personal hygiene. Due to his extremist policies, all of MICA’s moderates and most of its conservatives felt that it would be irresponsible of us, as human beings, to support Paladino’s candidacy. For that matter, most of the Tea Party candidates in 2010 proved to be too extreme to garner our support, so we were left with nothing to do but discuss the politics that do matter to us. This afternoon, MICA and the Dems will engage in their annual debate over national policy issues. True, we may not be polar opposites as Keller suggests—we did have some trouble finding a topic on which we were diametrically opposed—but together we encompass the entire spectrum of rational political thought from the communist left to the evangelical right and we look forward to advocating for the candidates that share our particular ideologies next year.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 5

ARTS & CULTURE
Vassar drinking culture focuses on quantity over quality
Jeremy Bright Senior Editor

he directions are simple: Into an ice-filled highball glass, pour oneand-a-half jiggers of Gosling’s Black Seal dark rum, top with Barritt’s ginger beer, and squeeze in a generous slice of lime. Stir thoroughly. That’s a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, Bermuda’s national drink. It’s a simple cocktail to prepare and rather apropos to sip while sheltering from the lightning, thunder, and rain of recent weeks. Yet, such libations are rarely if ever seen or enjoyed on the weekends at Vassar College. Indeed, it is a lamentable commentary on our drinking culture that many will ask “What’s a ‘highball’ glass?” “Why not my roommate’s white Bacardi?” and think “I’m pretty sure you can’t print the word jigger.” Come Mondays, recycling bins and Town House lawns are the exclusive province of seemingly infinite cans of Busch, Natty, and Pabst Blue Ribbon; cost-effective, yes, but hardly enjoyable. Worse, the “bar”—if one exists—is usually stocked with a few liters of Coca-Cola, cranberry, and orange juice, a handle of Crystal Palace, and a seemingly incongruous bottle of cut-rate tequila, sans salt, lime, or margarita mix. Worse still, it’s all room temperature, and since the bar is usually untended, partygoers are often left to their own concoctions as well as their impaired sense of how much is too much, with everyone under pressure to grab what they can before the thirty other people in the room—or the scores on their way—can gulp down the small cache. Ever try to kill the taste of neat Los Generales by adding equal parts vodka and Coke? Although our social life is a far cry from the Greek system at the University of Colorado in Boulder—consistently ranked as the U.S.’s number one party school—the quality of ingredients, the lack of care for their combination, and the haste with which they are consumed that mark our bacchanalia indicate the prioritization of the enjoyment of drunkenness over the enjoyment of drinking itself—qualities that need not be mutually exclusive. In this sense, Vassar’s drinking culture—representative of America’s as a whole—is impoverished. I am not saying that there is not a definite place for 30-racks, kegs, Ke$ha, and $3 shots from the well, just as there is a place for fast food and microwavable “instant” meals. However, when only the cheapest, quickest, and least appetizing options are available, the cultural imbalance of imbibition ought to be questioned.

T

Why is this status quo? Neither expense nor accessibility can justify the virtual absence of “high drinking” at Vassar. Arlington Wine & Liquor and Half-Time, for examples, are both nearby and offer an incredible variety of labels. You can make a gratifying gin and tonic without going broke, one that certainly packs more kick and flavor than a Bud Light. On that point, should pleasure not be the strongest incentive to imbibe? One receives the social benefits and harms of alcohol, as with too much of any good thing, irrespective of quality—as long as that benefit is simply a matter of finding the ideal blood alcohol content, should enjoyment of the drink itself, be it an Islay single malt or a Pina Colada, not be the paramount priority? One refrain I often hear—and contest—is that “Alcohol tastes bad.” That’s certainly true for such crimes as mixing cheap vodka, rum, and Franzia boxed wine together without ice, just one of the uncountable atrocities I’ve witnessed in the last four years. But I would challenge those who doubt me, even the most ardent teetotaler, to not appreciate the sublimity of a glass of St. Germain after trying it on the rocks with some flayed green grapes. Perhaps the strongest defense here is simple ignorance—though Prohibition largely ended in the 1930s, the stigmatization of alcohol has persisted throughout the United States, reenergized by the rise of health consciousness. Parents and schools fear the potential harms of alcohol and its abuse, seek to inculcate that same fear in children, and in doing so promote a culture wherein drinking is construed as a vice—one restricted de jure in 1984 to those who are over 21 in further deterrence. Of course, such an atmosphere doesn’t actually deter drinking—just as long prison sentences and D.A.R.E. has not made America drug free—especially once teenagers escape to the non-judgmental “safe zone” that is Vassar College; however, such attitudes decrease our knowledge of how to drink well and enjoy each sip. But perhaps alcohol shouldn’t taste good because enjoying it could contribute to addiction. It does not help that popular culture would have you think that one cannot drink responsibly— groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), in the pursuit of their honorable aims, have helped conflate alcohol with danger—for example, A.A. teaches that alcoholism (broadly defined) is a “disease,” one’s choices are beyond individual control, and that salvation can only be found through belief in a “higher power.”

Flickr.com

PBR is among the less savory beers frequently found littered accross campus.

While I don’t think even Kingsley Amis would contest that alcohol is decidedly less healthy and more risky than a spinach overdose, it takes substantial conscious abuse and still some degree of chance to destroy oneself even in the long term. In fact, a recent paper in the scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that even heavy drinkers outlive abstainers, and that drinking in moderation, defined as one-to-three drinks per day—and not just red wine—is possibly healthiest, given its ability to relieve stress. Moreover, while one should try to live healthily through exercise, eating right, et cetera, one ought to occasionally indulge in enjoyable choices over the healthiest, be it the occasional

ice cream cone, thick rare steak, or cold drink. Perhaps if parents would constructively teach their children about imbibing—passing on knowledge of recipes, an understanding of which spirits mix well, and awareness of individual tolerance— they could show that one can drink socially, enjoy its benefits, and with a modicum of thoughtfulness, a host can prepare a number of great drinks fit for personal preferences and different occasions. After all, context is important— who wants to drink hot coffee, with or without a shot of brandy, in equally hot weather? Instead, many are left to trial and error, without encouragement to learn more, and come late—if ever—to higher standards.

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU’RE READING? WANT TO JOIN THE STAFF OF THE VASSAR CHRONICLE? NATIONAL & FOREIGN AFFAIRS, ARTS & CULTURE, LAST PAGE, AND COPY EDITORS NEEDED.
VASSARCHRONICLE@GMAIL.COM
PAGE 6 CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

NATIONAL AFFAIRS
Obama releases birth certificate, caves to conspiracy theories
Madeleine Morris Asst. Production & Design Editor

resident Barack Obama recently released his long form birth certificate, which reveals that he was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961, and is therefore a natural born U.S. citizen. The controversy over Obama’s birthplace began during the 2008 presidential campaign, and, despite Obama’s issuance of a certification of live birth from Honolulu that was confirmed by Hawaii’s Department of Health, fringe conspiracy theorists known as “birthers” continue to deny that Obama was born in the U.S. These radicals insist that Obama was born in Kenya, his father’s native country, or even Indonesia, where Obama spent several years as child. Section 1, Article II of the Constitution requires the president to be a “natural born Citizen.” As such, birthers contend that Obama’s presidential campaign should have been constitutionally prohibited. The birther conspiracy theory made a grab for legitimacy when on April 15, 2011, the Arizona state legislature passed a bill requiring presidential candidates to submit birth certificates in order to be allowed on the state election ballot. However, on April 19, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, wishing to prevent politically motivated decisions at the hands of one “gatekeeper.” Donald Trump further contributed to this speculation by exploiting the birther theory to bolster his reputation as a potential Republican candidate. Still, anyone outside of the 11% of Americans who believe Obama was “definitely” born outside of America should reject this political posturing and acknowledge the absurdity of Mr. Trump’s claims. Those who alleged that Obama was not

P

a legitimate natural born citizen are a fringe minority, and the media’s consideration of their accusations imbues their cause with a validity that it does not deserve. Obama presented his birth certificate, and was deemed legitimate, won the election, and now serves as president. The debate should have stopped here. However, it remains extremely dubious that President Obama expresses the constant need to address such outlandish claims. If the accusation is so far-fetched, why did he even feel compelled to offer evidence in the first place? Indeed, Obama’s release of his birth certificate may provoke more questions than it answers. The timeline for this release may actually strengthen the birther movement. Only after two years did Obama finally release his birth certificate. Yet at this point, after Obama has been legally elected into office, it seems like overkill, even self-justification, to assure himself and the rest of the country that his position is legitimate. This need to validate his presidency after he has already been elected to office indicates a lack of confidence, a lack of ability to judge the importance of particular issues, and a lack of touch with the mindset of the people. There can be no doubt that Obama was born in the United States—the evidence provided is clear. However, Obama’s delayed reaction and preoccupation with his reputation highlights his tendency to privilege a conspiracy theory over more pressing national and international issues. Obama said that he wanted to remove the distraction from the media in order to enable the U.S. to focus on more crucial world events, but in giving any attention to the birther theory, he gave it credibility and in doing so, he may have actually further diverted national attention away

Madeleine Morris, Vassar Chronicle

from more substantial policy questions. Although Obama released his budget vision on February 14, 2011, he has either inadvertently or intentionally redirected media focus to the birth certificate and away from more pressing issues at hand.

Earlier this week, President Obama argued, “we do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do.” It’s a shame that he used up media time and resources doing exactly what he said he wanted to avoid.

U.S. govt. shows true colors over latest Wikileaks scandal
Matthew Brock Senior Editor

This week, WikiLeaks is back in the news after releasing a cache of government documents pertaining to current prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and the reaction to the release has ranged from childish to absurd. WikiLeaks last made headlines when it released a series of U.S. diplomatic cables that revealed the shadier side of international diplomacy, such as attempts by U.S. officials to hack into United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s personal e-mail. The government handled this release with a surprising level of grace—it admitted that countries use questionable tactics in diplomacy and while the release is unfortunate, it had no tangible effect on U.S.’s diplomatic operations. However, the government’s reaction to the latest release has been to ignore it completely. As far as the government is concerned, the documents are still classified—they officially do not exist. Ignoring the issue may seem to be a good tactic for the government—after all, it did not change any of its practices in response to the diplomatic cables and now they are all but forgotten. Unfortunately for the

government, there is a group of people who are clamoring for these documents to be recognized in the public sphere: the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and their attorneys. At present, the courts, like the rest of the government, claim that these documents are classified and that detainees’ defense teams cannot have access to them; these documents, which anyone can access from their personal computer, cannot be discussed publicly because they are officially secret. The incongruity of this statement is ridiculous. This situation is made more absurd by the fact that these documents do not contain particularly damning evidence—there are no calendars that list exactly which torture techniques were used on the inmates each day. Instead, the documents mainly consist of lists of charges and testimony provided by the inmates which generally implicate them in terrorist plots. While the validity of this testimony is doubtful, especially if it was elicited under torture, there is certainly nothing in these documents that would suggest that the prisoners have been mistreated. Using these documents to show the exact timeline of detainees’ incarceration serves as the only way that these documents could possibly be used to support their defense attorney’s assertions. The defense could use these documents to

verify how long their clients have spent at Guantanamo without a trial or due process, as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. Granted, WikiLeaks points out that there are large gaps between when the inmates were first captured and when they were sent to Guantanamo, indicating that they likely spent time in foreign prisons undergoing even less savory modes of interrogation, but again they do not spell out exactly if and how specific inmates were tortured. One could suppose that it is also possible for a defense team to use the vast amounts of information that the military has already extracted as a justification for having their client removed to a less extreme facility—what more can they hope to get? However, as this evidence would implicate them in terrorist plots, it would not provide a strong incentive for their release. So given how little harm these documents could do to the government, why is their reaction so different than it was with the diplomatic cables? The issue here seems to be that no one ever attempted to use the diplomatic cables against the government in a formal setting. This seems like an obvious point to make, but the reality is that the government’s levelheaded façade shattered as soon as anyone mentions WikiLeaks in a public setting, even though the release has had no substantial effect on its day-to-day operations. This reality

is pathetic and highlights the childishly utilitarian nature of our government—that it can only be reasonable when it is getting its way. As a mere college student, I feel as though I may be overstepping my bounds, but I would like to suggest that the U.S. government could have easily sidestepped this entire debacle through a solid public relations campaign. To start, the government should acknowledge that the leaked documents exist and are publicly available, because continuing on with this charade of classified documents is simply making the government look more and more out of touch by the minute. Then, the government should go on the offensive and embrace the documents which essentially do nothing but demonstrate how the detainees helped to fund, train, arm, or otherwise facilitate Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. No matter how large the ideological divide has become in American politics, everyone can at least agree that terrorists are bad and deserve to be in prison. So while the U.S. government is busy sticking its head into the sand and trying to pretend that the latest WikiLeaks fiasco did not happen, it is missing out on a golden opportunity to turn this newly released evidence against its enemies and to dispel some of the rumors surrounding the alleged innocence of the Guantanamo detainees.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 7

NATIONAL AFFAIRS
Japanese crisis should not deter U.S. nuclear energy
Meg Mielke Contributor

he popular American cartoon series, The Simpsons, offers a perfect example of the fear that Americans feel towards the nuclear power industry. Homer Simpson plays the role of the bumbling nuclear power plant worker whose incompetence nearly triggers several nuclear meltdowns. The plant’s owner, Monty Burns, is the Scrooge-esque villain of the show whose evilness is solidified by his connections to the nuclear power industry. The nuclear power plant causes many of Springfield’s problems, including environmental degradation and the ugly aesthetic that the concrete cooling tower brings to the otherwise picturesque town. Americans have historically held winceworthy reactions to the thought of the expansion of nuclear power. In our society and popular culture, nuclear power is thought of as a social evil and anathema to the America that we want to create. The recent disaster in Japan and its relation to the global nuclear power issue is causing these long-held fears to resurface not only in America, but all around the globe. Some of Japan’s neighbors, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been prompted by the Japanese nuclear crisis to rethink their own nuclear situations. Nations such as the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia have taken the path of extra regulation, slowing the process of building more plants until proper safety features are tested and assured. Elsewhere, other nations began to express their concerns about the future of nuclear power. In the wake of the Japanese crisis, representative energy ministers from the twentyseven EU member states called an emergency meeting to evaluate current safety measures now in place across Europe. The member states’ nuclear regulators agreed to carry out safety tests on the 143 European nuclear power plants. These included risk assessments for possible damage caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, and other potential dangers. Other states have taken even further measures. Switzerland has frozen plans to build new reactors, while Germany, one of the EU’s heavyweights, suspended its plan to extend the life of its nuclear power plants. Germany also closed seven nuclear plants in the midst of the Japanese crisis, setting the trend for other nations’ fears. Spain and Portugal have echoed the concerns of environmental groups by proclaiming the desire for an eventual nuclearfree Europe. However, other governments are sticking with their preexisting nuclear policies. Russia, China, Poland and (earthquake prone) Chile are keeping to their plans to build more reactors. Japan’s nuclear crisis came at a time when the United States government was looking to expand the nuclear energy industry by offering companies billions of dollars in financial support. Following the disaster, the Obama administration maintained that it would support the expansion of nuclear power within the United States. Still, the government mandated new safety inspections on the aging reactors currently in operation. So the dilemma remains: should the United States rethink its nuclear energy policy in

T

Nuclear power has many potential advantages for the U.S.

Ecosprinter.eu

light of the crisis in Japan? The answer to this question is much more complex than what the media cycle’s current discussion on this issue has revealed. I wholeheartedly support the expansion of nuclear power, not only within the United States but throughout the world. However, I feel that the United States, in particular, is missing out on a fair amount of potential progress. France, a frequently cited example of nuclear prowess, has one of the highest proportions of energy needs met by nuclear energy. France generates about 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. 58 reactors generate this power across the country, constituting 16% of the world’s global nuclear production On the other hand, the United States relies on fossil fuels for 73 percent of its energy needs, while receiving less than 20 percent of its energy supply from nuclear sources. While the United receives substantially less of its power proportion from nuclear power, this power source is based in 65 power plants across the country, meaning that the US actually contains more nuclear power plants than France. Too much of the conversation has been focused on modeling the United States off a country such as France, which utilizes few fossil fuels because of its high consumption of nuclear energy. However, the different size, culture, and energy needs of France make the comparison a little less practical. Americans are scared of nuclear energy, despite our clean record on nuclear catastrophes. In the United States, not one death can be traced to nuclear power. Despite the negative publicity generated by the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, not a single person died as a result of this “meltdown.” Nuclear energy sounds a lot scarier than it is, and a popular culture phenomenon like

the Simpsons only exacerbates the fear factor. Our dependency on coal, as well as other fossil fuels, has caused significantly more damage than nuclear power has. Even beyond environmental degradation, coal is directly responsible for the loss of human life. The World Health Organization’s annual report on sustainable development stated that three million of the annual global deaths are a result of atmospheric pollutants released from the combustion of fossil fuels. Comparatively, the death rate for nuclear power is negligible. The WHO calculated the death rates per terawatt hour (THw) of the most popular energy sources. For coal, the global death rate is around 161 per THw, while the rate lies at a little below 0.04 for nuclear power. Obviously, these numbers are a little skewed by the prevalence of coal power versus nuclear power, both within the United States and around the globe. And it’s no secret that people are intrinsically more frightened by the threat of a nuclear meltdown or a terrorist attack on one of these reactors than they are by the idea of people being slowly killed by pollutants. That being said, should the United States give into the fear mongers? No. Should the United States be knowledgeable about its political capital and respectful toward these fears and work to alleviate them by taking the proper precautions? Most definitely. While I concur with the Obama Administration’s support of the expansion of nuclear power, I also feel that if the United States had announced the desire to instantaneously back commercial power plant builders in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster, it would have represented a squandering of U.S. political capital. The U.S. should focus on what has often been left aside in America and what has led to the decline of our competitive edge: research.

One potential way to sway the public toward the support of nuclear energy is by getting rid of the garbage and looking to cleaner alternatives. The “cleaner” alternative in this instance would be the use of thorium as a potential replacement for the uranium used in nuclear reactors. A 2005 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency communicated the potential benefits of thorium-based reactors. Thorium has a much higher abundance on earth, and one ton of thorium can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium or 3,500,000 tons of coal. In a thorium-based system, there is no possibility of a meltdown, the cost is lower, there is a way to burn up old radioactive waste, and it does not produce weapons grade nuclear material. The only problem with Thorium is the low level of knowledge and research pertaining to the substance. However, there are some signs of progress on this front. Last year, researchers from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York received a grant to develop a thorium-based, self-sustaining light water reactor. This progress could be immeasurably valuable to the United States in its pursuit of a sustainable energy system. Therefore, the United States should be prompted by the Japanese Crisis and aftermath to revaluate its nuclear policy. It should continue its policy of constant inspection of the aging nuclear plants, with the hope of getting rid of these in the future. Not so that we can be a nuclear-free America, but so that we can harness the most effective nuclear power possible with the most technologically advanced reactors using the most cutting edge material. Of course, Nuclear power will always have its naysayers, but we can effectively change the symbol of nuclear power from Homer Simpson to an image of progress.

PAGE 8

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

NATIONAL AFFAIRS
Legislators need to focus on deficit, cut spending
Kelly Shortridge Contributor

arlier this month, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) threatened downgrading its rating on U.S. sovereign debt and declared its outlook on the U.S.’s fiscal future as “negative.” It has been viewed as an attack on the U.S. government, which has done very little to tackle the rising deficit, agreeing only to minor spending cuts that have little effect on the U.S.’s $14 trillion debt. The media has unfortunately taken this event to herald the “end of the U.S.,” seemingly forgetting the overwhelming monetary supremacy that the United States has globally. It is incredibly unlikely that the U.S. will default on its debt, and improbable that investors will pull out of the U.S. – still considered a safe and highquality investment haven – anytime soon. The real issue is what will happen years down the line, and whether or not our government can defy typical human nature by considering the U.S.’s long-term economic health over short-term interests. The main two items in the budget that must be reformed at the very least and, preferably nearly eradicated, are Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. They currently equal 10 percent of GDP, and make up roughly half of all government spending. And this figure will only balloon in the future; these programs’ costs are expected to overtake tax revenues by 2049. Some may offer the “simple” solution of raising taxes; however, if taxes on citizens who make $100,000 or more were raised to 100 percent today, it would still not cover the U.S. deficit. Spending clearly has to be reigned in if there is hope of balancing the budget and the biggest programs need

E

to be the first to pay a visit to the budget undertaker. Paul Ryan, a representative of Wisconsin, offered a budget plan that would allegedly cut spending by around $6 trillion and, hopefully, eliminate the deficit in thirty years. Thirty years is an incredibly long period of time, and a multitude of events can happen that we cannot prepare for. As such, I think we need a solution that works more immediately, so we can feel prepared for the future rather than hoping things stay the same and all goes according to plan—a very unrealistic wish. Another flaw in Ryan’s plan is that his program does not actually significantly cut costs, but the responsibility is still shifted to the elderly. While I agree with this shift, it is not a solution that actually relieves the deficit, which is supposedly the goal of the plan. Ryan also wants tax cuts, which unfortunately are also not consistent with the goal of reducing the deficit. Significant and deep spending cuts plus at least maintenance of current tax rates will be necessary if we truly want to get the budget in check. And trust me, I am not one to oppose tax cuts unless there is no other choice. Looking at Obama’s proposal, spending will actually be increased from current levels and will not attempt to curb Medicare and Social Security spending. While there has been heavy criticism for Ryan’s plan from the left, there have been few counterproposals. The political reality is that politicians do not want to alienate elderly voters who have now relied on these programs to ensure a comfortable retirement, and do not want to cut any programs that affect their home state or district’s voter base. There are a few ideas that I find especially compelling that come from Jeffrey Miron, Director of Undergraduate Stud-

ies at Harvard’s Economics Department, that should be strongly considered by our current leaders. With food costs currently increasing, agricultural subsidies to farmers have (quite rightly) come under fire. Eliminating these would potentially save up to $20 billion per year, as well as reducing the costs of a range of products, such as soda and pork, which are heavily affected by corn prices. The “War on Drugs” is another program that could be cut, saving up to $20 billion. It is costly, inefficient, and has been shown to do much more harm than good. As Miron notes, taxation of drugs could be very lucrative, which would help increase government revenue. Miron also mentions cutting federal transportation (much of which is inefficient and benefits only a few states), and foreign aid (it often ends up in the hands of corrupt leaders), which would save another $60 billion. The bloated giants, Medicare and Social Security, must be overhauled in a few ways. First, the retirement age must be increased, as times have changed since the program was first designed and people are living and working much longer. While I personally think it should be an optional system, as I find it unfair that many individuals put in far more than they will ever receive, this is a start to reducing spending on Social Security. Medicare should cut many of its benefits, transferring costs to consumers. It has been noted many times that we, as health care consumers, overuse health care on a basic level, having the luxury of going in for visits for minor problems. I think consumption should be decided more heavily by the market, and that reducing consumption to more efficient levels (and thus having individuals only consume care they really need), will not only reduce Medicare spending but

make our health care system as a whole more efficient. There are also a few programs where I think spending should be increased and most certainly not cut, namely education and NASA. Education is vital to keeping income inequality in check, as well as to ensure that we have capable minds that can compete in the global labor market. I am personally very supportive of spending for NASA and other scientific exploration. It is not only the foundation for understanding the world we live in—a pursuit higher than the political level—but much of the technology developed at this level is eventually passed down to consumers, increasing our quality of life. Neither of these programs is a significant portion of our spending and therefore should not be sacrificed while there is so much “pork” that can be eliminated from the budget. Spending cuts are easier than they might seem given the rhetoric politicians on both sides have given us. Their motivation to receive votes inevitably taints their views of what sort of spending are necessary and what could, and should, be overhauled to help the deficit. If there was ever a bipartisan issue, reducing the deficit should be it, and both sides should work together to change the structure of the United States to ensure that we don’t simply have a temporary “fad diet” for our budget, but instead change our habits so that we have longterm economic health. While the United States won’t lose monetary dominance in the near future, by the time our generation is settling down and our parent’s age, we will have a crushing fiscal burden if nothing is changed. It is in our best interests to encourage radical overhaul of the current budget, so that we can enjoy the same prosperity as past generations.

Supreme Court limits consumers’ legal recourse
Alex Koren Contributor

he past year has been a milestone for civil rights—the rights of corporations, that is. In recent years, corporate conglomerates have been bailed out of debt, given record numbers of tax loopholes, and been exempted from caps on political contributions. Despite the monstrous size and rising power of corporations, however, consumers always wielded one weapon of last resort: The lawsuit. Legal action is to the consumer what the slingshot was to David–a tiny weapon that, when wielded correctly, is capable of bringing down the most powerful Goliath. On April 27, 2011, in the case AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court took away David’s slingshot. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court struck down a Californian law that prohibited contracts forbidding trial by jury and class action lawsuits. Just hours after the Supreme Court decision was reached, AT&T, the plaintiff, updated its terms of service agreement (the lengthy document you click “Agree” to without reading every time you sign something or install software) to contain the following clause:

T

“You agree that, by entering into this agreement, you and AT&T are each waiving the right to a trial by jury and to participate in a class action.” With this single sentence, hundreds of years of consumer rights and legal precedent were wiped away. Class action lawsuits are no longer always available to consumers as a form of legal recourse–consumers can be forced into arbitration systems designed to minimize corporate accountability and costs. While arbitration is not an inherently bad process–arbitrators can be more accessible than a court–it lacks the crucial benefits that class action lawsuits filed in a civil court possess. Consider the following scenario: A fictional corporation charges 500,000 of its customers an extra five dollar fee for using a credit card as payment, despite it being against state law to do so. Even if each customer is alerted that the corporation has engaged in illegal behavior, it is unlikely more than a microscopic fraction of them will take the time to file a case for arbitration. Filing a case takes money, effort, and time–something most consumers do not have, especially when the stakes are less than the cost of lunch at McDonalds. With a class action

lawsuit, however, a single litigant or group of litigants can sue the corporation on behalf of all 500,000 affected customers, and that five dollar complaint suddenly becomes a $2,500,000 one. This forces the corporation to be held accountable for all of its actions, not just the select few that are sent through arbitration. Class action lawsuits are not limited to small financial gains. Real-world examples of class action lawsuits include Duke v. WalMart Stores, Inc., a case regarding sexual discrimination against female employees of Wal-Mart, and Baker v. Exxon, the lawsuit that ensued following the Exon-Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. Class action lawsuits have also been historically popular in the case of securities or investment fraud, such as the Enron scandal, or consumer privacy issues. In all these cases, class action lawsuits were crucial to ensuring justice could be afforded to the maximum number of people possible, and that corporations were held fully accountable for their actions. One argument against class action lawsuits is that consumers who are too lazy to file for arbitration when wronged are not entitled to receive compensation. This, however, seems contradictory to 200 years of American jus-

tice. Brown v. Board of Education, a famous class action lawsuit, did not end segregation exclusively for the thirteen families filing the complaint—it applied to the entire American education system. Had an arbitration system been in place, each of the individual families would have been required to file their own grievance, and the arbitrator’s decision would apply only to each individual family. This system is laughably counterintuitive, and a fantastic example of why class action lawsuits are necessary to preserving justice nationwide. Class action lawsuits are a key tool consumers can use to protect themselves. Corporations have deep pockets and massive legal teams—they will happily throw a few hundred bucks at a consumer who files for arbitration in order to make a problem disappear. It is only when consumers rise up en masse and stand up to corporations through means such as the class action lawsuit that said corporations are held publically accountable for their misdeeds. AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion is another point for big business and one less tool in the little guy’s pocket. If we are not careful, consumers will soon be entirely unarmed, and helpless before the rising corporate conglomerate.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 9

NATIONAL AFFAIRS
Staff discusses the impact of bin Laden’s death on U.S.

Osama bin Laden, recently deceased leader of al-Qaeda.

flikr.com

laric Chinn: We’re here to discuss the momentous occasion that occurred in the Middle East. In fact it happened in the world. And that event was that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces in Pakistan on May 1, 2011. And he is dead. Confirmed dead. The issue at hand is that there are editors who are divided on this issue, and the point is to flesh out those discussions. Matthew Brock: This event is a momentous occasion. While obviously the death of one man isn’t going to cripple the entire terrorist organization of Al-Qaeda, it represents a major victory in that we’ve caught this man who we’ve been hunting all of these years. It answers the question, “Why are we fighting this war against terror that seemingly isn’t accomplishing anything?” It represents a major victory for the whole country. Ethan Madore: When I first heard about the death of bin Laden, it was via the Facebook. I saw that a friend of mine had posted a comment to the effect of, “Osama is dead. God bless America.” It spreads this mentality of “Aren’t we great? And now isn’t the war that we’ve been fighting justified now. Can’t we celebrate U.S. marshal prowess?” I don’t think this is a good death. One death is extraordinarily insignificant upon the deaths of thousands and thousands of people in the Middle East, many of them civilians. I don’t think it’s a

A

cause to celebrate. After ten years, a single death makes the American people satisfied. It’s a sad statement about American culture and values. Will Serio: I guess my main problem is that Ethan frames it as one random person. That’s it. One person versus 3,000 deaths. The problem is that this isn’t only a figurehead: He was the leader of Al-Qaeda, the orchestrator. He’s one of the largest massmurderers in American history. It does in a sense justify the last ten years. It justifies that we haven’t been able to do anything about it. We set one strict strategic goal, and haven’t been able to do it. Jeremy Bright: You say that our mission has now been accomplished. This is a grossly inadequate statement. And you just so flippantly said that we’ve been killing so many other top Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Yet people have not been celebrating those deaths with nearly the fanfare that this has elicited immediately. They have, arguably, been more important, and Osama has only been peripheral. He has been reduced to an impotent figurehead for years. Why are we suddenly hailing this as the greatest moment in the war on terror? Moreover, has killing Osama bin Laden elevated him to the sacrosanct pedestal of a martyr? Madeline Morris: I think Obama addressed this, and I kind of agree him. He wasn’t a hero among Muslims. He wasn’t

a hero among Americans…a hero among most Americans either. And I don’t think it humanizes him. We killed him in a firefight. Not a majestic death. Brock: This did serve to humanize him. He’s been this shady character who served as this boogeyman, lurking in the shadows, who’s been haunting Americans for years. Here, we can see he is human. He can bleed and he can die. In this way, Americans gained a psychological victory. He may not have been the most important actor here. But the perception among the Americans was that he was the most important figure, and his death gives them hope, and is of great political consequence to the president. Jessica Tarantine: I guess just in the regards of the idea of what his death represents overall. Whether the death represents in becoming a martyr. It really represents in the larger context that we are tying up loose ends—we’re ending this conflict that has been occurring since Sept. 11. Even in that framework, I don’t think it’s martyrdom when you’re cutting off loose ends. It’s a conclusion, fundamentally not a beginning. Madore: I think this whole discussion we’re having about whether or not he’ll be a martyr for some people or whether or not his death will help the people in the Middle East move on from whatever they’re doing is rather silly. People are saying this is a huge psychological victory for Americans. Why should we feel some psychological boost from this death? I would say we definitely should not. I would like someone to explain why like killing this single person has this level of symbolic values? Why should we give him this level of symbolic value? And, if you want to say that we’ve been at war for ten years and now we’re getting what we want—we’re getting one death. I don’t think anyone in their right mind should sign up for a ten-year bloody conflict in which hundreds of thousands of people have died just for a single death. I don’t think anyone can be worth that much. Serio: I don’t think anyone at this table is defending the last ten years in any way, because it should have happened sooner…

The thing is you make it and you frame it as if “ten years for this one things and now it’s done.” “Oh well, this is a great psychological victory.” That’s not how we’re trying to make it sound. The fact is that we have won a battle for freedom. this is a better outcome than had it not happened. You’re making it sound like “This isn’t going to do anything.” These do have long-term consequences It changes the dynamic, it changes morale… it changes a lot of things that are really important right now. Bright: Sartre said that freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you. In this case, talking about the “freedom” that’s been won from the global war on terror. What did we do with what was done to us? We now live in a pseudo-Orwellian society of endless war and growing surveillance, a war which—contrary to what some have asserted—does not end with the killing of Osama bin Laden. A society predicated on fear—fear of imminent attack, fear of clandestine enemies, fear permeating every aspect of American life and clamping down our essential liberties. I think that insofar as Osama bin Laden’s death is concerned, we have no cause to see the evaporation of any such fears. Osama bin Laden certainly was a figurehead for international terror, al-Qaeda— call him what you will. But he got to that position through action, through successful action, against those whom he and his cohorts identified as his enemies. By freeing up such a monumental space, a figurehead for this intentional movement, do you not think that you won’t see many others jocking for position to take that place by committing similar if not greater atrocities? Madore: I’m interested more of what people are saying in response to the murder of Osama bin Laden. And a lot of people seem to be celebrating his death, a lot of people in this past hour since this has been announced, and I’m sure the days since this was published. They’ve been calling him an “evil man,” like we’re celebrating the death of this “evil man.” I think it’s really swell for America that we can imagine our enemies as one-dimensional evil men one-dimensional evil men that we can celebrate the death of. I’m not going to say See bin Laden on page 11

PAGE 10

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

NATIONAL AFFAIRS
Is the U.S. justified in celebrating Osama’s death?
Continued from bin Laden on page 10 that he was definitely very bad but I think that there’s this black and white mentality that we get into when our enemies are evil, are inhuman, we celebrate their deaths and our friends and our own actions are blameless. Michael Greene: Alright, as far the Ethan’s point of this “black and white” thinking of whether he was evil man and if we should be onboard of celebrating his death, but quite frankly even if he was just a “very bad man,” there’s nothing wrong for celebrating the death of a “very bad man.” He doesn’t have to be completely evil for us to celebrate this, and you are denying Americans the catharsis they need. We need to remember back to Sept. 11. Anyone who saw on television or saw in person those towers fall understands that as a nation, America needs the moment knowing that the man responsible for this has been punished, that justice has been done. We’ve shown him and every terrorist left in the world. We can and we will get him, like when we pulled Saddam Hussein out of that hole we are showing these terrorists, quite frankly, they are nothing but worms in the ground and America will crush them. Madore: I want to address your point how I’m doing such a bad thing denying Americans catharsis. I don’t think catharsis is necessarily always a good thing, particularly when what causes that catharsis is someone’s death. I don’t like it when we go to war to achieve catharsis about something that happened ten years ago. Do I want an America who can think that no matter what we can get these “worms” in the ground—our enemies? I don’t want America to think that our enemies are subhuman, or that there is a certain class of people who are our “enemies.” I think there are complex situation we have to work through. Chinn: I’m willing to concede that maybe Greene’s point may have been too far in saying that enemies are “worms in the ground.” However, I think that the world should know that even if you go hide somewhere and it takes ten years to find you, eventually we will find you. This sets a very important precedent—that precedent being we can bring any person to justice that we need to bring. And it so how happened that in the firefight he was killed. That’s probably not the best way of going about finding our enemies but the very fact that we can find this person—who was responsible nonetheless for the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrates that Americans favor justice over killing. Brock: And just to clarify, before we go on. I really don’t think we should be conflating the death of Osama bin Laden with the Iraq Wars and Afghanistan. This death was the result of a concentrated strike in Pakistan—a country where we have no others ongoing operations. We’ve have not been fighting this war for ten years to kill Osama. We went to war in Afghanistan because its government was supporting terrorists and we went to war in Iraq under the mistaken belief that they had weapons of mass destruction and to defend oil interests, which, in all honesty, is not a defensible war. To say that the thousands of deaths from these wars is due to looking for Osama implies the two are related, which they simply are not Madore: So first of all, I love how your notion of justice is a CIA assassination squad. Sometimes trials, regardless of who they’re for, might be incorporated into this vision of justice. Brock: We have a videotaped confession where he admits to murdering thousands of people—what more could you possibly want? Greene: To address your point of due process—you look at the Nuremburg trials, Hitler was dead… The secretary of state compared the Nuremburg Trials to the Bible in saying how monumental they were to the human race… Did they prevent further genocide? No. It’s happened in Africa, it happened in Yugoslavia. What about Iraq? We tried Saddam Hussein; did it help the situation in Iraq at all? And I’m not even against due process. If we had been able to capture bin Laden and give him a Saddam Hussein-esque “show trial,” but he chose to die in a hail of gunfire… history has shown us we weren’t going to get anything out of a human rights tribunal anyway that we wouldn’t have gotten if he was dead. move Taliban officials who systematically infringed upon every human right imaginable. So, if Ethan wants to consider what’s better for civilians, he needs to provide a very compelling reason for why it was better to live under the Taliban than it was to live under NATO forces. Madore: Tom, I don’t think it’s necessarily a contradiction to say that all human life is valuable and then I also don’t like this because a huge loss in human life. There can be layered arguments to that, like first of all we need to respect the dignity of human right. I don’t think that’s a contradiction. Greene: All right I believe that we need to conclude this debate with the cathartic effect of this. This is something that is good. A bit of closure after what happened on Sept. 11. This is good for the Middle East because this is a moving on point from the dictators and the terrorists that have been defining the region thus far it is showing that they are human and that they can fall and that can never be bad. Morris: I don’t mean to be wishy-washy but I think you can see this from two sides at the same time. I’m glad he was killed; it was a victory for the U.S. But like Ethan any situation and the fact of the matter, no one here has ever killed anyone, or harmed them unless someone is keeping secrets. Also, no one here has definitely killed 3,000 people and no one has ever done that, and the fact that you can’t even come to terms with that and say—that you know that this is bad, and it’s probably better off that he is no longer around. We can say we are better off without him. Brock: I think the death of bin Laden gives us a chance to pause and look back over the last ten years. Some people like Ethan think that the entire thing has been a waste, but at the same time after ten years the American people need a victory. In the words of Vice President Biden “It’s a big f***ing deal.” Enering: There are two basic points I want to consider. The first one is pragmatic. The death of bin Laden finally silences critics who alleged that the most powerful nation in the world appeared incapable of finding one man. Soft power and diplomatic solutions should always be employed before resorting to military solutions. However, in an international system largely predicated upon the varying degrees of national power, soft power often depends upon the perception that it can be supported by hard power. The death of bin Laden affirms the U.S. military’s competence, and will make it easier to exercise soft power. The second point that I want to talk about touches on catharsis. It’s been suggested that Sept. 11 only affected the victims of the attack and their immediate family members. This perspective obscures the scope of this national tragedy and how it impacted millions of people. Many of these people will simply feel closure following his death, and will not necessarily embrace a hyper-nationalistic mentality. Some members here have suggested that we should not take pleasure in retribution, but, if the death of a human being who caused such profound misery gives so many people closure, I certainly won’t deprive them of this comfort. Bright: If I were an insurgent I would be shaking scared in my combat boots right now that in, say, ten or twenty years, perhaps out of chance, they may kill me in a fire fight from which I can’t escape. I think what we are really doing is granting such a degree of meaning to this occasion that I find questionable. I certainly have no pity for Osama bin Laden, but the problem is the inability of commentators to go beyond shallow notions of good and evil to the heart of the philosophy of “terrorism,” to who these people are as people, not as animals or worms, and actually gain insight from which we can collectively learn. Chinn: We’ve heard a lot of analysis on a lot of important issues. A lot of people have suffered and died—each side has agreed that. When it comes to the idea that people suffer and I think we agree, but when it comes to the idea of whether or not bin Laden is good or bad per se, here is the only place where people reach a disagreement. One side says that all death should be lamented while on the other hand we have on the other side that says he is equitable to worms. We’ve heard a lot of good analysis, and I’m proud to close.

Former President George W. Bush declares war on terror.

flikr.com

Enering: I think whether a trial would be appropriate or not is irrelevant, since we don’t know how he was obtained. Accepting the highly unlikely prospect that the American government would have turned him over, I would have loved to see him tried by the International Criminal Court, since it would have augmented international law. But we really don’t know if that was an option or not—whether they could make the conscious decision to kill him or arrest him. I think it is more of an academic point that doesn’t address the exact specification of what we’re debating here. Getting back to how Ethan has been framing this case, he simultaneously employs both a deontological standard and a consequentialist standard. He hasn’t really picked one. First, he claims that it’s intrinsically wrong to kill anyone. But then he transitions to a utilitarian justification for this position, claiming that our central aspiration should be to benefit civilians. If this is the standard we’re using, then we need to stop perceiving it as the U.S. killing thousands of civilians to justify killing Osama bin Laden. Rather, the effort to kill bin Laden was part of a larger effort to re-

said, he was a human, he was a complex thing. I think you can only celebrate his death in as much as you can revel in the death of a human. It’s a happy day with a grain of salt. Madore: At the end of the day, I don’t think that a large portion of the debate we’ve had today is going to be useful. Because, obviously, he has already been killed. I think the important question that we have to ask is how do we approach this death in the coming days. Do we consider it the “cherry on top” of American military dominance and a justification for what we’ve done in this string of unfortunate actions, all of which are lamentable. Regardless of this abstraction is evil, death is not something I want to celebrate as I wrap myself in a flag, bear a cross, and say “God Bless America.” I would continue to regret everything that has happened and just let other people get really excited about something they can maybe feel good about. Serio: The fact that Ethan can’t come to terms with even a relative kind of evil is problematic because if you don’t even have a realistic standard of evil, then there is just no meaning. It gives no morality to

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 11

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
ICC investigates Libya: Focus needed on domestic courts
million annually to supporting the ad hoc tribunal developed to prosecute the European war criminals of the Yugoslav wars. Yet these mitigating considerations fail to fully rebut the most powerful implication of skeptics’ critiques: the Court lacks the substantial moral authority required to promulgate a sense of justice truly considered international. Under the system’s current structure, the ICC may begin an investigation if the Security Council decides to refer the case (Libya), if the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, elects to submit a case before the Pre-trial Chamber of the ICC (Kenya), or if an individual state decides to refer itself to the Court (DRC, CAR, Uganda). This last notion of “selfreferral” proves particularly problematic, and risks augmenting the legitimacy of rulers who subvert democratic principles. In the most egregious case, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, exploited the ICC to gain influence over prominent rebel leaders. Museveni, a leader long accused of citing “tribal tensions” to justify suppressing the development of a pluralistic democracy, insisted that the ICC investigate Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerilla organization dedicated to transforming Uganda into a theocratic state. In addition to facilitating the Ugandan government’s efforts to divert international attention from its own repressive policies, this tactic also gave Museveni a powerful tool to force Kony to the bargaining table. In 2008, when Kony appeared willing to negotiate a peace, Museveni abruptly decided to privilege local trials over an ICC prosecution, and declared his refusal to turn Kony or his officers over to Ocampo. In this case, Museveni simply utilized the ICC as a cudgel against Kony to force him into negotiations, while simultaneously using his own ostensible compliance with the Court to present Uganda as a staunch proponent of accountability. As this case clearly shows, the notion of “self-referrals” frequently undermines the moral authority of the ICC, and threatens to transform the institution into a political tool used to advance the pragmatic concerns of dictators. Similarly, the structure of the ICC minimizes the possibility of ever holding a prominent superpower to the legal standards espoused by the international community. Nations possessing veto power ensure their invulnerability from Security Council initiated investigations, and Ocampo appears reluctant to test the extent of his office’s power. Under this unequal construction, weaker African states will remain the targets of international condemnation, while Russia remains free to carpet-bomb Chechnyan civilians. In the face of such serious challenges, the ICC must remember that it exists to ensure that perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity are held accountable for their appalling actions, even if the Court itself is not the institution meting out punishment. In failed states and nations refusing to use politically unbiased courts to investigate evident war crimes, the ICC proves essential to combating impunity and entrenching the importance of international law. For most other nations, however, the ICC needs to work closely with the United Nations to enhance individual countries’ judicial capacity. The Justice Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development already fund expansive projects devoted to helping other nations develop efficient domestic policing and non-partisan judicial systems. This technical support needs to also encompass projects that encourage states to remove venal policies that inhibit the prosecution of guilty government officials, and work towards situating laws explicitly forbidding genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity into domestic legal systems. The ICC must also coordinate with nonprofit organizations and other national governments to assist individual nation-states in prosecuting war criminals. Even though many states possess vibrant judicial systems, they frequently lack the financial resources necessary for conducting such massive investigations. For instance, the efficacy of both the ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia depended upon NATO countries providing satellite imagery of troop movements. These photographs proved vital to substantiating how paramilitary units selected their targets to maximize civilian casualties. Once a nation informs the international community that they intend to conduct the trials domestically, the ICC must embrace an expanded role that includes persuading intelligence agencies to provide satellite information and logistical support to local court systems. Indeed, efforts to empower domestic and regional courts counter the criticism that the ICC has failed to adequately incorporate notions of “restorative justice” into its judicial ideology. Primarily, the ICC strives to reinforce societal stability by punishing war criminals and providing an international forum for victims to articulate their experiences. Defenders of this model argue that the ICC provides a profoundly cathartic experience for victims of war crimes, and allows them to feel more secure back in their own nation. Ocampo posits that this increasing attention to victims represents the international community’s attempt to infuse the ICC with norms originating from an African-based sense of “victim’s justice.” Although this new model certainly differs from the purely punitive measures embraced by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials, the ICC’s favored retributive measures still subvert the notions of reconciliation embraced by many African states’ judicial philosophies. By providing for the creation of regional judicial bodies or simply strengthening domestic court systems, the ICC weakens claims referring to it as an imperialistic institution. Instead, the ICC illustrates its respect for local judicial customs, while still demonstrating its commitment to holding war criminals accountable. Most importantly, the ICC’s active prosecution of war criminals reconceptualizes the purpose of international law. Since the Hague Convention of 1907, legal scholars have professed their worry that international law lacks any “teeth” and it thereby remains virtually unenforceable. The central purpose of international law then became to articulate the global community’s overarching hopes for a more humane form of warfare, and, ideally, the gradual implementation of international norms. Yet the ICC’s rapid investigation into Libya invests international law with a new significance, and expands the role of international law far beyond its aspirational origins.

Flickr.com

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. Tom Enering National & Foreign Affairs Editor

he United Nations responded to Muammar Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy forces with stunning alacrity. On February 26th, the Security Council decided to refer the Libya situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), marking the first time that China and the United States agreed to empower the world’s permanent criminal tribunal to investigate crimes against humanity. This swift reaction reveals the international community’s refusal to tolerate systematic mass murder, and suggests the Court’s new role in preventing future war crimes. Lacking an independent police force, the ICC suffers from an inability to capture indicted suspects, and nations frequently refuse to enforce the Court’s arrest warrants. Given these limitations, many scholars contend that the ICC exercises a primarily symbolic power: arrest warrants convey the United Nations’ profound disapproval and inform the censured leader that their actions will fall under the global community’s intense scrutiny. Ideally, the fear of future prosecution reduces suspects’ willingness to commit mass atrocities and thereby mitigates the brutality of their future campaigns. Indeed, the 2008 election crisis in Kenya offers some support for this thesis. Following Mwai Kibaki’s claim that he won an extremely contentious presidential election, ethnic tensions flared and violent riots rocked the nation. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan quickly offered to mediate the crisis, and a team of international investigators accompanied him to catalogue examples of state administered violence. Although nearly 1,000 Kenyans died and hundreds of thousands lost their homes, activists at Human Rights Watch theorize that the presence of international observers and the subsequent threat of ICC prosecutions induced Kibaki and his supporters to restrain their actions. ICC advocates hope that the Court’s investigation into Libya already exerts a similar influence over Gaddafi’s field commanders and checks plans to target civilians in their counterinsurgency struggle. This potential for deterrence renders sup-

T

porting the ICC an important national interest for the United States of America. Both the dominant realist and liberal theories of international relations remain predicated upon the notion that a rational actor leads each nation-state and enacts policies in their nation’s material self-interest. Acts of genocide and war crimes shatter the political community underpinning each state, erode national stability by forcing one group to perpetually fear for their physical safety, and dramatically increase the likelihood that the nation will devolve into a “failed state.” Failed states lack the capacity to engage in international diplomacy in a meaningful fashion, and dangerous terrorist organizations frequently exploit political vacuums to augment their organizational power. Evidently, if the ICC minimizes intra-state violence and the resulting volatility, then it serves a crucial role in maintaining the international order’s stability. Moreover, given the Libyan judicial system’s refusal to punish either Gaddafi or his generals for extra-judicial murders, the implementation of ICC investigations appears particularly appropriate. Since its inception in 2002, the ICC has positioned itself as “the court of last resort,” and its foundational legal framework, the Rome Statute, enshrines the importance of state sovereignty in Article 17. The principle of complementarity affirms that the Court will only initiate an investigation when a national judicial body proves either unable or unwilling to undertake the prosecution itself. For Libya, an autocratic state that established its modern judicial structure following Gaddafi’s personal decree in 1973, it is evident that loyalist troops could commit mass atrocities with absolute impunity. Without the ICC’s intervention, it seemed unlikely that these men would ever be held accountable for their war crimes. However, the validity of employing the ICC in this specific case should not obscure the very legitimate concerns raised by the institution’s critics. Many detractors excoriate the ICC for focusing exclusively on the global south and, more specifically, Africa. Currently, the Court is formally investigating the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Kenya, and now Libya. Of course, the ICC lacks the power to consider war crimes committed prior to its creation in 2002, and the international community continues to devote $306

PAGE 12

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Food, nuclear fuel, and human rights in North Korea
Justin Chay International Correspondent

pring has at last come to Seoul. The weather here is usually balmy and mild, and the sun shines during the day. Though occasional bouts of cold weather and rain continue, the winter is, at last, over. The same cannot be said for the frosty political situation between North and South Korea, where a political reality with the distinctly wintery aura of the Cold War has settled in. Though North Korea this January suggested resuming talks with South Korea, South Korea rebuffed the offer as insincere, and repeated its demand for an apology for last year’s Cheonan and Yeongpyong Island attacks, which killed dozens of South Koreans, civilian and military. Now, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his “Elders,” an independent body of former state leaders who visited North Korea in April, have emerged as another factor in the situation. The Elders aim to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, but Carter has rattled some politicians already. On April 28th, he condemned the United States and South Korea for a “human rights violation.” The violation they committed? Carter’s words: “For America and South Korea deliberately to withhold food aid to North Korea because of unrelated political issues is really a human rights violation.” But would giving humanitarian aid to North Korea thaw the political deadlock, or merely feed North Korea’s military machine? And just how “unrelated” are the political issues surrounding the North’s food problem? The twin problems of malnutrition and starvation in North Korea are, by all accounts, widespread and severe, despite the U.S. and South Korean governments’ belief that North Korea is exaggerating the problem to garner international sympathy and aid. Many of the hundreds of thousands of North Korean defectors who arrived in South Korea mentioned food problems in the North, some saying hunger, rather than political oppression, was their primary reason for leaving in the first place. Samaritan’s Purse, a U.S.based humanitarian group that visited North Korea in February, said that a severe winter reduced crop yield by up to half and that some people were already eating grass, leaves, and tree bark. This is not surprising. Food production in North Korea has always been a struggle, given the mountainous terrain and consequent lack of arable land. The UN itself also appealed this March for 434,000 tons of food assistance for North Korea. For his part, Carter and his fellow Elders claimed a third of North Korean children are malnourished and suffering growth problems. Mrs. Mary Robinson, once president of Ireland and also a member of the Elders, cited a severe winter, foot-and-mouth disease, a cessation in aid from the U.S. and South Korea, and flooding as factors that have sharpened the situation into a “very serious crisis.” Carter’s remarks have already stirred political waters in Washington and Seoul. In Washington, President Obama now

S

faces another difficult foreign policy choice, not too long on the coattails of his reluctant decision to launch airstrikes on Libya. If Obama dispenses food aid to North Korea, you can expect his opponents to call him naïve for helping the rogue nation. If Obama stalls and says nothing, more conservatives will race to be the first to criticize his ineffectiveness. So far, Obama has merely said that the situation needs more monitoring, and that the U.S. would be willing to give aid, leaving politics aside. These are relatively warm words. Will North Korea reciprocate? If it does, Obama will have to decide how sincere he thinks they are, and even if he is willing to believe them, his ultimate response will hinge upon the thoughts of the South Korean government. In Seoul, South Korean conservative voices, including the Joongang Ilbo and Chosun Ilbo newspapers, have already lashed out at Carter, accusing him of being a supporter of North Korea, rather than merely a sidelined would-be diplomat, as the South Korean government has portrayed him. This is unfair, especially given that Carter’s intentions are noble. Carter has personal reasons to be invested in a resolution about the North Korean nuclear issue. Earlier in his career, he set up the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea would give up its nuclear program. While the Framework soon collapsed, Carter is to be commended for attempting to resolve the crisis years after his presidency ended. Still, Carter should be more skeptical of the North than he currently is if he is to win more respect in Seoul. According to South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek, North Korea’s food shortages now are no worse than they were previously, and he therefore believes that North Korea’s requests for international food aid are primarily political. That said, South Korea announced it is willing to grant aid if it goes to the starving commoners rather than North Korea’s elite. This stipulation is important. In the past, the U.S. and South Korea have suspended aid shipments to North Korea because that aid was being used largely to feed the army. The percentage of North Korean commoners who received foreign food aid is low, at an estimated 20%, according to a survey of 500 North Korean defectors by the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights. Other voices familiar with North Korea should give Carter pause if the dissenters in Washington and Seoul do not. In his article “Food for Thought,” Christopher Hill, former head of the U.S. delegation in the now-defunct Six Party talks, wrote that North Korea’s government has, in Hill’s words, “invested almost nothing” in agricultural infrastructure. Hill cites villages flooded because of unmanaged rivers and primitive irrigation systems ill equipped to utilize rainfall as evidence of this. In other words, enriching his citizens’ diets with essential vitamins was never Kim Jong-il’s priority. On the other hand, enriching uranium apparently was. Hill continues, describing

The Examiner

President Jimmy Carter traveled to North Korea to discuss human rights violations.

the North’s recently unveiled uranium enrichment facility: “According to the American scientist who was invited to see it, the facility…appeared to be stateof-the-art, thus reinforcing the suspicion that North Korea has no genuine interest whatsoever in fulfilling its nuclear-disarmament responsibilities. When asked why they failed to include this facility in their declaration of nuclear programs, North Korean officials responded cheerfully – and absurdly – that it had been built from scratch only after the collapse of the nuclear negotiations in 2008.” No one should be surprised. North Korea, of course, continues to pursue nuclear power because of its strategic importance. A rogue nation with nuclear power could threaten to destabilize the region, and then receive aid as a pacifier after threatening its neighbors—all of which North Korea has done, repeatedly, in the past. Food aid could potentially alleviate the food shortage in North Korea for several truly needy North Koreans, but is it wise to aid a regime that has devoted so much time and energy to attacking South Korea? Conventional political wisdom says no. In his statement about the U.S. and South Korean government violating “human rights,” Jimmy Carter has shown his preference for “human rights” over politics. The problem here is that Carter seems to ignore the very real human cost that could be incurred if North Korea uses food aid to feed its regime, and then starts firing on South Korea all over again. Let it not be forgotten that North Korea refused foreign food aid in the past, perhaps most notably in 2009. At the time, the World Food Program estimated around nine million North Koreans, or over a third of the North Korean populace, were suffering from extreme hunger. Despite this, North Korea expelled aid workers distributing food on behalf of the United States. After that unwise decision, the North Korean government is merely reaping now what it sowed then. I am all for aiding hungry North Korean citizens. But this situation calls for a practical approach in light of North Korea’s recent provocations and history of bullying the world for aid. If North

Korea makes a humanitarian gesture, then it would make more sense for the U.S. or South Korea to discuss the possibility of giving aid. Perhaps North Korea could start by freeing Eddie Yong-su Jun (or “Jun Young-su” as he is called in Korean), a Korean-American businessman captured by the North in November 2010. But during Carter’s visit to North Korea this April, North Korea rebuffed Jimmy Carter’s appeal for Jun’s release (which Carter argued for on humanitarian grounds). Humanitarianism is not, it seems, going to triumph over realpolitik anytime soon in the Korean peninsula. This is unfortunate, but the United States, North Korea, and South Korea all have their reasons for their respective stances. There remains one possibility for a thaw in this Cold War situation: if North Korea suffered another famine as devastating as the one in the 1990s (which killed, in the highest estimate, around 2.5 million people), North Korea might well be forced to request aid from the U.S. and South Korea, a political concession that might open doors. Analysts hoping that hungry North Koreans will overthrow their government during a severe famine are likely to be disappointed. Food riots have occurred in North Korea before, according to defectors. But hunger is hardly likely to keep North Korean civilians strong enough to pose an actual threat to its iron-fisted regime, which has previously used famine for propaganda purposes. It declared the famine of the 90’s to be an “arduous march” under Kim Jong-il’s great leadership, and stated that South Korea was suffering even more from famine. In the case of a potential future famine, it is once again the average North Korean who will suffer, rather than the North Koreans’ irresponsible leader, who has always been rather well fed. Should the U.S. and South Korea give food aid to North Korea? Not at this time, however much we may pity starving North Korean citizens. The risk that North Korea will use food aid to fuel their military elite and gain credibility with their own populace is far too great.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 13

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Change desperately needed in burqa debate Greater emphasis on women’s rights necessary
Helen Haft Contributor

n 1989, 1994, and 2003 debates raged in France over the question of girls wearing headscarves to school. In 2010, the French government began the process of banning the burqa in all public places, and legally prohibited it on April 11, 2011. In theory, a woman caught wearing a burqa will incur a fine and a man who forces a woman to wear a burqa will spend time in prison. Combined with a law restricting girls from wearing headscarves to school, this legislative trend has enraged many Muslims, the international community, and human rights groups. Many Muslims view these laws as xenophobic, and many human rights groups contend that the ban will be a source of even more tension for women within their communities. Following the passage of the most recent law, Muslims staged defiant protests. The police have had an extremely difficult time enforcing the law. These problems may have a lot to do with the language and intent of the law. These laws also bring to the forefront the obvious question of a woman’s right to freely choose what she wears and to freely exercise her religion. This issue forces us to consider how to reconcile these two opposing rights. Religious freedom and freedom of expression have long been considered core human rights, but when these rights are used as an excuse to exclude a portion of society, then these rights are meaningless. Unfortunately the French government vacillates between speaking about the law with regard to national security and as a problem of women’s rights. They are afraid of appearing Islamophobic, so they have obscured the issue of women’s rights with language about the need for transparency within French society for security reasons. This allows the men who are abusing women to frame the issue around religious freedom and an oppressive French government, neglecting the vital issue of women’s rights. The absurdity of claiming that a ban on the burqa is essential for national security is evident to Muslim women who wish to wear the burqa. There are many women who legitimately feel that they need to wear the burqa or do not understand that being forced to wear a burqa is an abuse. The fact that the government has not made this primarily an issue of women’s rights does not provide an incentive for women to protest the burqa, but makes them feel that they are being persecuted for their religious customs. The public interpretation of the law has emphasized its fatal flaws. In a speech to Parliament, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated, “In our country we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity… The burqa is not a religious sign. It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.” Sarkozy is right to say that women are deprived of identity, but what obfuscates the point is his inclusion of an interpretation of the symbolic and religious nature of the

I

burqa. If the burqa were backed by the Koran, would it be acceptable? While people have the right to individually embrace religious customs, if it violates the well being of others or severely infringes upon human rights, then religious freedom must be modified. A clear line between what is acceptable in terms of religion must be drawn. The French would never tolerate public stoning, but because the veil keeps women silent and is a symbol of religion it is viewed as somewhat benign.

gynecologists to testify to their daughters’ virginity. Polygamy and forced marriages are commonplace. Many girls are banned from leaving the house at all.” According to French-government statistics, rapes in the housing projects have risen between 15 and 20 percent every year since 1999. In these neighborhoods, women have indeed begun veiling only to escape harassment and violence. In the suburb of La Courneuve, 77 percent of veiled women report that they wear the veil to avoid the

Huffington Post

Muslim women protest the burqa ban in France.

The burqa successfully hides not only women but also visible signs of their physical abuse. These women are invisible to French society. Their religion hides and isolates them from the French eye. When they venture out into the world, any physical harm incurred against them is hidden under the veil. This is problematic for two reasons. First, it conveniently allows the French to ignore signs of the physical abuse of women standing right in front of them. Secondly, it makes it almost impossible for these women to seek help. In 2006, Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, an Australian Muslim cleric, made this analogy about rape victims: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... without cover, and the cats come to eat it... whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.” These beliefs are in no way atypical of many in the Muslim community. Obviously this is not true of everyone, but the presence of this belief as a whole is so destructive that it must be addressed. In France, the issue of sexual violence in the banlieues—often referred to as Islamic ghettos—exemplifies this problem. The gang rapes which occur in these districts are suffered in silence, and many girls’ parents will beat them or kick them out of the house for coming forward. The police do not take the issue seriously nor do they provide much protection for women in these communities. According to the journalist Claire Berlinski, “Parents in these neighborhoods ask

wrath of Islamic morality patrols.” This dilemma makes it almost impossible for girls to escape or choose to wear a veil or not. The cycle of violence is perpetuated through the wearing of the veil. Rapes go unaccounted for, and women are forced to hide under the veil. This hiding protects the rapists while it endangers the victims. This unseen and silent crime can go on for as long as the perpetrator wants. The veil is a physical manifestation of the denial and silence that is common with regard to sexual crimes in every society. The burqa is so incredibly destructive not only to the women who wear it, but to the women who don’t, children, young boys and men as well. Boys grow up seeing their mothers abused often physically and psychologically through the veil. At a young age, these boys feel entitled and superior. Many of these boys grow up to abuse other women. But, in a sense, who can blame them? When cultural relativism is so acceptable and an intense indoctrination such as this is at play, it would be extremely difficult for boys and men to willingly give up power that they feel justified and entitled to. They don’t have the opportunity to learn to respect women and in some ways are destined to commit egregious acts in the future. This is not fair to them either. Fadela Amara, the leader of a movement called Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whore Nor Submissive) attempted to bring to light the abuse Muslim women face in the slums and described conversations she had with boys in these communities. She wrote, “We

even met boys who had participated in several collective rapes and who did not understand what was wrong with their behavior and why we were protesting. It was horrifying to see that these young men could not grasp the weight of their acts and how they had destroyed a young woman’s life. I understand that it might be difficult for a boy living in the projects to listen to a rebuke of violence when he constantly experiences feelings of injustice. And thus some of them move from the status of victim to that of persecutors.” The French government has ignored these neighborhoods and it makes sense that violence has erupted. The burqa ban does not get to the root of the problem in these communities. Truly tackling the issue would require extensive financial support including education, safe havens for women, and an acknowledgment and understanding in the Islamic community that there is a problem. The French government would need to work in conjunction with the Muslim community. The veil is clearly an abuse, but this abuse is so much a part of Islamic culture and women’s identities that merely banning the veil will not expel the problem. The feelings of shame and alienation that the burqa was designed to induce upon women have done their job well. These women are victims of abuse, and the French government has not set up a safe haven or a place for women to gain psychological and financial support when they are forced to shed the veil. The French government also has not set up a place to help men address their hostility toward women. Without psychological and educational restructuring and support for both women and men, these women will not be able to participate in society. The problem is too deeply ingrained. This dilemma cannot be solved by forcing grown women who are truly ashamed and humiliated without the veil to incorporate themselves into society. If the French are truly committed to women’s rights, then they need to take a more ardent stand for women and cannot include issues of national security in the debate. They also need to acknowledge Islam and be more inclusive of the Muslim population within their society. Forced veiling does not only affect women, it affects entire communities. Many Islamic communities in France have been left by the wayside. This continued isolation contributes to the continued oppression of Islamic women. The only remedy is to incorporate this group of people into French society, while protecting women by placing restrictions and safeguards onto the religion. Freedom of religion is not absolute and with the full acknowledgment of citizenship comes responsibility. The Islamic community should not be ostracized but they should also be held accountable for their misdeeds, and French society must be ready to fully engage with the community and spell out what they will and will not tolerate with regard to the treatment of all women. Only in this way will they be able to secure the rights of all French citizens, and achieve a cohesive and just society.

PAGE 14

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Privatization of water threatens Chilean citizens
Kaitlin Reed Contributor

hile is a complicated, beautiful, and incredibly unique country. In addition to being the second home to Robinson Crusoe, it is also the only Latin American country to fully privatize its urban water and sanitation sector. Because the majority of the Chilean people live in the capital city, Santiago, this is shaping up to be quite a problem. Chile has become a symbol of the power of the industrialized, capitalist nations that dependency theorists term “core” countries. This crisis also reveals the ability and desire of large corporations to prioritize wealth and profit above humanity. Ismail Serageldin, former Vice President of the World Bank, stated, “If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water.” While there is no doubt about the logistical validity of this statement, what Serageldin, as well as the rest of the core, seems to forget are the water wars occurring right now, in neighboring countries or continents. The Chilean people greatly oppose the privatization of water, which makes sense since one needs water not only to survive, but also to sustain any sense of livelihood. While most Chileans have shifted to urban centers, there is still a rural population, heavily depended upon by the rest of the country. Additionally, as the urbanization rate quickens, it will become even more important for agriculture and rural life to hold some sort of incentive. The privatization of water eliminates any incentive whatsoever. According to Business News Americas, “President Sebastian Piñera announced in December that state development agency Corfo would sell its minority stake in utilities Aguas Andinas, Essbio, Esval and Essal (in

C

other words fully privatizing water utilities) to fund the reconstruction of infrastructure damaged by the February 2010 earthquake.” Chileans are creating campaigns in protest of privatization. Edgardo Conteza, from the Movement for Consultation and Citizen Rights, plans to lead actions against total privatization by confronting international institutions and claiming it as a constitutional violation. Moreover, they posit that the greater difficulty in obtaining water represents an infringement upon their fundamental human rights. Unfortunately the privatization of water in Chile is painted as a rather pretty picture— with more commitment to the supply and sanitation of water and subsidies for needy families. The World Bank approximated Chile’s private sector investment around $5.7 billion. Wonderful, right? Not exactly. The World Bank actually requires, as a part of loan conditions, that many governments of developing countries privatize their water. Serageldin was right about water wars; he just forgot to mention that the organization he worked for is largely responsible. The truth about the private sector is much more dismal. In reality, people are not getting access to water. If you don’t believe me, just ask the thousands of protestors. But to make matters even bleaker for the Chilean people, Chile is enduring yet another severe drought – depleting resources for farmers and city dwellers alike. The Public Works Ministry declared a water emergency this January. “The latest figures from Chile’s National Water Board (DGA), part of the Public Works Ministry, show that the country’s reservoirs were at just one third of their total capacity with water levels 45 percent below their historic average,” according to an article in Business Magazine Chile. Of course, water shortages in Chile do not

The New York Times

The Chilean water system has fallen into disrepair.

affect us. We’re Americans. Does anyone even remember how many free bottles of water he or she had this Saturday? We like to think we are taking a proactive stance toward resource crises, but unfortunately that is far from the truth. Nonprofits and government organizations alike provide both water and sanitation services for the third world, but the desire to combat resource wars and shortages seems to fall short. In determining whether the U.S. is on the sustainable side of the resource war, we must not only look at how the U.S. helps the third world, but also at the water priorities within our own borders. On March 23, 2011, I sat through an hour and half hydrofracking panel discussion. For those of you that do not attend geography/ earth science lectures for fun, hydrofracking is the drilling and creation of fractures in rock to extract resources, such as natural gas. While hydrofracking is extremely controversial and a focus in its own right, that was not what intrigued me. It requires about four million gallons of

fresh water per well to hydrofrack in the Marcellus Shale, located in New York and Pennsylvania. However, not only will the four million gallons never be usable again, the hydrofracking process contaminates already established ground water systems, leaving American families without access to clean water. In addition to the harm it creates right here, as well as abroad, companies continue to do it, and worse still, the government continues to allow it. Hydrofracking is proof of the U.S.’s disregard for global problems. Can the United States really claim to attempt to alleviate the water crisis in any area of the world when our water priorities are working toward our own agenda and self-interest? Living without sanitary water, or hardly any water at all, is a reality in which millions of families suffer throughout the Third World. Fortunately, Americans can rid their guilt and mentally assuage the conditions of the periphery, a living hell for the unlucky majority, by donating to anti-water bottle campaigns or water sanitation NGOs.

Libya, Bretton Woods, and budget deficits interrelated
Chenxi Cai Contributor

ow do these three seemingly separate things relate to one another? A (somewhat) short answer: They are part of a doomed effort to maintain the spendthrift ways of the federal government without substantially increasing taxes or cutting spending by keeping the U.S. dollar’s international reserve currency status. Domestically, it has long been a taboo for politicians to raise taxes. Americans’ anti-tax sentiments have ideological roots and have possibly gone beyond what is considered rational behavior by economists, especially when we consider the astronomical deficit. Experimental evidence has revealed that even in settings where there are unambiguous gains in individual income if one opts for increased taxes, as long as people see the phrase “tax increase,” they will tend to automatically reject the proposal. Some may argue that Americans’ anti-tax sentiments arise from their distrust of the government to spend the revenue efficiently. However, if such is the case, we would have seen a similar outcry against deficit spending, but there is much less noise made about this issue.

H

Therefore, politicians in this country have an overwhelming preference to finance their spending by borrowing instead of raising taxes. Yet the federal government’s ability to borrow is being curtailed. Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded its outlook on the U.S. credit rating from stable to negative. Their revision emphasized the size of the national debt and lack of credible political efforts to address it. This report actually still underestimates the risks faced by the federal government because it fails to evaluate the full damages incurred on creditor confidence by the Fed’s second round of quantitative easing (QE2). Since its start in Nov. 2010, the effect of QE2 on commodity prices and exchange rates has been tremendous. The U.S. dollar lost ground against most major currencies over this period. Gold prices skyrocketed to an unprecedented $1,500 an ounce, while silver climbed from $25 to over $40, reflecting a general loss of confidence in the U.S. dollar. Treasury bond holders suffer the biggest loss from the devaluation of the U.S. dollar. While many of these consequences are actually intended because they help to reduce the debt burden and stabilize employment in some sectors of the economy, the biggest

threat is that the dollar will lose its reserve currency status because sovereign creditors will seek another currency that guarantees the value of their investment. The reserve currency status of the U.S. dollar is crucial to the ability of the federal government to borrow from overseas. The most important pillar bolstering its reserve currency status since the establishment of the Bretton Woods system of fiat money and floating exchange rates has been oil payment accounts, or petrodollars. The U.S. has been on amicable terms with repressive regimes in the Middle East primarily because they have agreed to settle oil payments with all counterparties in U.S. dollars and then use the proceeds to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds, which essentially means that they export oil to the U.S. and lend to the federal government with the proceeds at the same time. Once an oil producing country decides that it will accept payment in a currency other than the U.S. dollar, other countries will tend to follow suit because they actually have many other trading partners with whom they would like to settle trade in their own currency, and it will threaten to disrupt the recycling of petrodollars and therefore the ability of the

federal government to continue on a debt splurge. This is the reason why the West intervened in Libya out of all the oil-producing despotic regimes of the world, as well as why France, which vehemently opposed the War in Iraq, decided to lead the charge. The true motive is not so much about oil interests per se in both cases. In fact, foreign competitors such as PetroChina shared a large piece of the pie in the post-war oil field development contracts in Iraq. The real reason is that Libya had a few-of-its-kind state-owned central bank that not only issued its own currency, the Libyan Dinar, but also had the power to demand oil payments in its domestic currency. This explains why Libyan rebels set up a central bank only weeks after the popular uprising, in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. Similarly, the 2003 war in Iraq was fought because the country decided to switch its oil payment to Euros in Nov. 2000, and this was exactly the reason why the French vehemently opposed the war. The French led the charge on Libya because they believe that they have a good chance of establishing a monetary system based on Euros there, given Libya’s colonial history and close ties to France.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 15

DEBATE & DISCOURSE
Should European countries accept North African refugees?
Matthew Brock, Senior Editor Ethan Madore, Debate and Discourse Editor

than Madore: With a humanitarian crisis like we see in Libya, there is inevitably going to be a flood of refugees into neighboring states, both those directly next to Libya in North Africa and European nations across the Mediterranean. Displaced persons have had a mixed welcome in an already economically strained Italy and other EU members, such as France, have taken measures to slow the flow of refugees across the rest of Europe. Regardless of the economic cost, I believe that these states would be acting in severe disregard of moral duty were they to turn away refugees or treat them in a way that ignored their innate human dignity. Matthew Brock: Ethan, governments exist to protect their citizens and, were these countries to allow refugees to flock across their borders they would be failing in their moral obligation to protect their own people. To start with, other North African nations cannot be expected to take in these refugees. These countries have a very fragile infrastructure which would be destroyed if they faced a substantial increase in population. Their economies are barely large enough to support their own citizens; they most definitely cannot sustain thousands more people who will start competing with their citizens for such scarce resources as food, shelter and jobs. The European nations face similar constraints. As you admit, Italy’s economy is under a lot of pressure at the moment—it is at constant risk of losing its membership in the European Union. At this point in time, its obligation is to continue to provide a consistent level of services to its own people and to maintain its standing in the international community, not to shelter displaced Libyans. France would likely face a similar problem if the refugees started swarming into its cities. While it is not in as dire financial straits as Italy, it has one of the more generous welfare states in the world and as a result is facing a sizable deficit. Each refugee would place an additional strain on France’s social welfare system and would serve to drive the entire program further into debt because these refugees will likely not contribute much to the government in the way of tax revenue. Furthermore, France is already facing harsh tensions between North African immigrants and the native Europeans, with both groups rallying against one another in the streets. While these tensions cannot be blamed solely on the North Africans, a large influx of refugees from that part of the world would doubtless stir up these underlying tensions and lead to further violence in public spaces. It is incumbent upon France to protect its citizens, both from financial crises and physical harm, and you cannot ask it to betray the people whom it has sworn to protect. Madore: I could respond to you on the grounds of your pragmatic arguments—that the couple thousand refugees that end up in France and Italy really aren’t enough to dramatically affect the whole of that nation’s economy, but I don’t think that addresses the core of my concern. I would say that even if it is true that by taking in refugees a nation would significantly endanger its citizens’ quality of life, it still ought to. It’s that proposed role of government—only to protect its citizens, that I find troubling. By launching a no-fly zone in Libya, an effort both France and Italy have been heavily

E

Refugees flee the civil war in Libya, many turning to Europe as a possible safe harbor.

Huffington Post

involved in, they have already bought into the notion of a responsibility to protect endangered peoples in other countries at the potential expense of their own blood and treasure. If these nations were willing to disregard national sovereignty in order to launch a violent defense of Libyans, how would it be morally consistent for France to now say that these displaced persons are “not its problem.” The world community can tolerate a bloody and destructive defense of civilians so long as they remain across a sea, but they are unwilling to care for those who actually end up in their borders. Brock: To address your first point, bringing in thousands of refugees who have neither the skills nor the education to function in developed society would most certainly have an adverse effect on the citizens of these countries, especially when you consider that their lack of qualifications for legal employment will likely drive them to crime. Also, once France and Italy allow some refugees into the country, more are soon to follow as more Libyans flee the war in Libya and seek safety with family and friends who already fled to Europe, so the issue is not simply a few thousand Libyans entering the country. Your second assertion is that the role of government is not, in fact, to protect its own citizens, and you support this claim by writing that the no-fly zone over Libya is an example of France and Italy protecting Libyan civilians out of the goodness of their own hearts, but this is simply not the case. France and Italy went into Libya because their governments’ believed that such intervention was better for the country. As two of the four largest consumers of Libyan oil, these nations entered the conflict in an attempt to secure Libya’s oil reserves from the unpredictable Muammar alGaddafi and ensure that their countries have access to fuel for years to come. Furthermore, it is in the interest of France and Italy to stabilize North Africa, because as we clearly see, conflict in Africa can quickly spread across the Mediterranean in the form of refugees who

will serve as a drain on European economies. Finally, if you do not believe that the purpose of government is to protect its people Ethan, then what exactly do you believe that governments’ should do? Why do they exist? Madore: I don’t think you can look at the actions of France and Italy from a primarily economic standpoint. I don’t think that the current state of civil war is actually conducive to the smooth operation of Libyan oil companies. The fact is, there probably would not be a long, drawn out conflict if NATO hadn’t gotten involved—the fastest route to a stabilized Libya was probably to allow Gadaffi to crush opposition through whatever brutal means he wanted. And if regime change in Libya was really the end goal, why just a no-fly zone? It seems like this middle-of-the-road approach is only actually effective at protecting against mass killings of civilians. I don’t want to talk about the role of government; we shouldn’t really think about government as the primary moral actor in a society, it’s more of an apparatus of the people. What is relevant is the individual moral duty of people within that system. While a citizen of France might not have any duty to a Libyan refugee that emanates from his standing as a citizen, he could still have a moral imperative, as a man, to act in a way that exceeds civic study. I think this is true at every level of society. While the office of the President of France might not have any duty to welcome refugees, Nicolas Sarkozy may. Insofar that we recognize that there is inherent value in human life, I don’t think that we can say that there are reasons to categorically preference some human lives over others. A sense of nationalism or homophily should not be essential in a person’s moral consideration. I don’t think that the harms incurred upon Europeans through taking in refugees could even approach outweighing the benefits to those displaced persons, and until it did, I think there is a moral duty. To preference avoiding negligible harms to your own group over greatly helping another relies

upon an in-egalitarian sense of self worth. Brock: France and Italy are indeed acting in an effort to advance their economic standing, as are all actors in this conflict. Gaddafi is attempting to maintain his power in the position that has allowed him to accrue a considerable fortune of $70 billion. The rebels are attempting to overthrow his regime because while his rule was profitable to those residing in and around the capitol of Tripoli, it has forced large portions of the population into destitution, and those portions are now rebelling to get their fair share. Returning to France and Italy, yes, the current civil war does destabilize the region and disrupts oil production. However, it does so on France and Italy’s terms, whereas Gaddafi—a notorious unpredictable leader with a history of supporting terrorism—could have chosen to disrupt the supply of oil whenever it would be most politically advantageous to Libya, and when it could do the most damage to France or Italy. As for your assertion that human beings have a moral duty to help others, I agree with you that in a post-scarcity world, it would behoove us as moral actors if we all helped the less fortunate. However, we have to operate within the framework that is given to us, and unfortunately we live in a world that is not able to maintain a high standard of living for its entire population, and those individuals who are able to maintain their quality of life have an incentive to keep what scarce resources they have for themselves and their family. You say that humans have some inherent right to a certain standard of living. However, what meaning does that right have if it can be taken away at any time? The right to property is one of the most fundamental human rights, and as the people of France and Italy are in no way responsible for the conditions in North Africa, so no moral actor can justify depriving them of this right by reducing their standard of living through admitting refugees into the country.

PAGE 16

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

DEBATE & DISCOURSE
Should the New York Times be subscription based?
Lane Kisonak, Contributor Nathan Tauger, Asst. Deb. & Disc. Editor

he New York Times recently changed the subscription format of its online newspaper. Once allowing unlimited access to online content with a free account, The Times now requires a paid subscription if a user is interested in viewing more than twenty articles per month. Lane Kisonak ’13 and Nathan Tauger ’14 debate whether online newspapers, specifically The New York Times, should pursue this kind of model. Nathan Tauger: The New York Times made the right decision in implementing a subscription model to its online newspaper. Two reasons why: Online newspapers require more content and subsequently more revenue to pay content producers, and lower physical newspaper subscription rates occur when online paper becomes free therefore causing a reduction in paper quality. Lane Kisonak: Your argument hinges on the assumption that The New York Times should want to preserve its readership base that consumes the paper edition. Packaging the online subscription package with its physical subscription suggests that the Times continues to prioritize preserving its place on the newsstand, which seems to be a rather misplaced desire whose costs are passed on to online consumers who lack access to the print edition or simply never had the budget to subscribe to it. Tauger: The Times should want to preserve its original readership base. The paper owes the people that made it successful continued service and quality. Kisonak: If we’re talking about readership bases, then I think it’s important to compare print and online numbers, and determine where the Times is going wrong with its approach; while the Times’ circulation hovers a bit below a million on the average day, it attracts an average of one million unique visitors daily to its website. Some of these people are heavy users, some are light, and some are directed to the website through search engines such as Google. The plan the Times is currently pursuing charges the heaviest users which, I will concede, likely has little effect on their demand for the Times‘ reporting. But it will do more to affect the attitude of potential readers who are just discov-

T

DO YOU ENJOY THIS KIND OF DEBATE? JOIN THE VASSAR DEBATE SOCIETY, VASSAR ’S MOST SOPHISTICATED SPORT.
DEBATE.VSA@VASSAR.EDU

ering what the Times has to offer. For example, it limits to five the number of articles viewed per day by means of search engine redirect; while this might seem generous, it doesn’t take into account people who use the newspaper of record as a means of research, and do it infrequently, but a lot in one sitting– –such as the average college student. Unless this subset of users wants to take out $15 a month for a subscription, their use is limited. And it’s all kinds of users––not just these––that made the Times’s website the most visited newspaper website in the world. Tauger: I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a newspaper with more than 150 years of history to suddenly make the jump exclusively to an online format. That would be like expecting Vassar to get rid of its physical campus and switch to a completely online model. It might be better for the environment, student accessibility, and funding but it is unrealistic when we still have the physical good being demanded. There are over 800,000 papers still being bought every day and an efficient infrastructure designed for these papers. The Times would be making a terrible business decision to completely ignore a market at least 75% the size of its online readership. Kisonak: The comparison between a physical campus and the print edition of a paper is misleading. The real unreasonable request we are considering here has been made by the Times in asking a huge chunk of its readership base to begin paying admission for something which for its entire life has been free. $15 for four weeks comes out to just shy of $200 a year, which is not a negligible sum for the average reader. Whereas a physical campus is integral to the networking aspects of social and academic life of a college such as Vassar, the lifeblood of a publication is what it publishes. Tauger: You’re right that the format of an online paper requires a different outlook on how access should work, but the cost of supply should not be ignored. Maintaining servers and exclusively online content through producers like video editors and bloggers requires more funding than we think about. And when we look at the specific plan the Times is pursuing we see a direct correlation between people that put the most stress on the server and people that have to pay. Kisonak: I think it’s fair to argue that the costs of distributing a million copies per day of a thick broadsheet newspaper are fairly sizable, both in terms of the company’s bottom line and when it comes to the environment. Almost two thirds of the paper in a copy of the Times will come from felled trees, and must be processed at great cost before it ends up in the hands of a reader. If the Times were to get rid of its paper edition entirely, it could channel the savings from production into quality reporting and accessibility for all consumers. The Times has long been the U.S.’s newspaper of record, and in the world of journalism is instantly associated with prestige. With the ascendancy of the In-

By Jamee Bateau

ternet and the almost universal accessibility that comes with it, the Times lost the need years ago for a print edition. The Times’s efforts should be focused on making the transition to an onlineonly format to which it would find ways to direct traffic, not restrict it. Tauger: I agree with your claim that the Times needs to maintain its place as the United States’s newspaper of record. But in order for the paper to maintain the high level of journalistic integrity it promotes, it needs to be properly funded. The Times website already has numerous advertisements, some of which are pretty annoying. If content was to be entirely subsidized by ad revenue, we may as well accept non-stop commercials in articles or even more annoying pop-up ads. The Times had online advertisements and free access for a long period of time. It was not producing the required amount of revenue for the quality of work the paper puts out. Kisonak: The plan the Times is currently pursuing charges the heaviest users which, I will concede, likely has little effect on their demand for the Times‘ reporting. But it will do more to affect the attitude of potential readers who are just discovering what the Times has to offer. For example, it limits to five the number of articles viewed per day by means of search engine redirect; while this might seem generous, it doesn’t take into account people who use the newspaper of record as a means of research, and do it infrequently, but a lot in one sitting––such as the average college student. Unless this subset of users wants to take out $15 a month for a subscription, their use is limited. And it’s all kinds of users––not ju¬¬st these––that made the Times’s website the most visited newspaper website in the world. The Times could refer to online advertising strategies used by companies such as Google, which has managed to become one of the most powerful companies in the world based solely off ad revenue, and over time it could devise

a sustainable way to preserve the quality of its reporting while ensuring the greatest and freest possible access. Tauger: Comparing the Times to Google is not a fair comparison because they represent two entirely different final products. Google is simply a compiler, a search engine. The Times is a completely different type of service that requires more compensation for its employees. Apart from the prestige, journalists work for the Times because of monetary compensation. If the newspaper was having problems maintaining the best journalists because of lack of compensation it made the right decision in moving to subscription based format. As my final remarks, online newspapers are a nascent genre for which we are still developing guidelines and usage policies. If the New York Times sees the need to charge users in order to maintain its high level of journalistic integrity, the only thing we can do to oppose it is to stop reading the Times. It’s up to the competitors of the Times to deliver a viable free alternative if we really think that newspapers ought not charge for online service. Kisonak: The next logical step for a renowned paper such as the Times is not to continue awkwardly straddling the line between print and online journalism, but to invest more of its resources into making its journalistic imperative toward quality reconcilable with the goal of minimizing costs. The best way to do this is not to limit thirdparty traffic to its website––far from it. Nor is it to saddle everyone with costs associated with the heaviest users. With the print newspaper industry sagging year after year under the weight of its unavoidable costs, the New York Times stands to gain from forging ahead with a business model such as a free and exclusively online publication. By making the first move it could set the rules for the industry as a whole, and in the long-run benefit immensely in reputation, readership, and returns.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 17

DEBATE & DISCOURSE
OFFICE HOURS WITH CATHARINE BOND HILL

Hill discusses Vassar plans, financial aid, economics
Jeremy Bright, Senior Editor Matthew Brock, Senior Editor

atthew Brock: One of the things I’ve noticed a lot this year is that a lot of students don’t know what you do on this campus. So, in your own words, what is your job as president? Hill: I have a multifaceted job, but I guess ultimately my job is to be thinking about the institution and the future of the institution and where we want to take it. And then also make sure we’re running on a day-to-day basis, I have a lot of people who work for me but ultimately I need to know what’s going on and make sure things are happening. Brock: So how is Vassar doing this year? I know last year things might have been a little shaky but have we gotten better? Hill: I think we’re in good shape. You know, 2008 was a very unexpected negative event in terms of the financial markets and the economy and all the intuitions institutions of the private system were hit. Basically it was the largest down turn since the Great Depression. We needed to respond and I think it took about 18 months to think it through but I think the last year has been going fairly well. It’s not like we can return to normal because things haven’t fully returned to normal. But I think we have thought about what we need to do and are on track to do that but I think this year has clearly been better. It has certainly been more fun with the celebration of the sesquicentennial. Jeremy Bright: I know that your administration has prized need-blind financial aid. How do you see the college a maintaining that policy given the economic downturn? Hill: I really see need blind admissions as a means, although it has some attributes of something that is inherently valuable. But when we think about who we admit people to the college we want to think about their merits, not their ability to pay. We want to get the most interesting group of students from all over the country based on merit and extracurricular talents, not on their ability to pay. Bright: But with the College’s financial hit, do you feel like it’s something the college can continue? Hill: Yes, it’s a policy that achieves a benefit for us, though it costs resources in terms of financial aid. But we have the resources and spending on finanicial aid is a way of ensuring that we get the type of student body we want to have. Now, if it turned out that financial aid continued to grow at 10 percent a year forever and was eating up 100 percent of the budget that obviously would mean we couldn’t do it. But that’s not the case. Brock: And so, in some way, it is tied to a hope of an economic turn around? Hill: If you go back and look at the data at the beginning of this last decade, when we were need sensitive, the share of financial aid had a very large jump when our economy moved into a recession because we meet all of demonstrated need regardless of changes in family situations. So, I think a lot of the run-up in our financial aid spending in the past two years has not just been due to our need blind policy but in fact the state of the economy and returning students that had greater financial need. Brock: Going off of that I know you teach a course on the economics of higher educa-

M

tion. What’s the most interesting issue in that? Hill: I think there are a ton of interesting issues there. I teach the classes by thinking about what kind of institution we are. What is our mission? How to do we accomplish it? What kind of issues are there? So we start off with the question of why is it true in the United States that historically a lot of higher education takes place in the non-profit, private sector? And yet interestingly a for-profit sector has risen as a very dynamic player in the higher education space. What do we expect to happen as a result of that growth? So, interesting questions like that. We then go on to looking at issues like why do we have endowments? Why do some institutions not have endowments? Once you have one how do you go about investing it? Brock: Are there many institutions that are now for-profit these days? Hill: So there’s a rising for-profit sector. University of Phoenix is one of them that you may know of. They started out competing in a space that is not directly competitive with four year BA programs—offering more direct job training and competing more with community colleges. But they’re extending their reach. Currently they actually account for twenty percent of Pell Grant receivers and ten percent of enrollments in higher education. Brock: Is this affecting us at all? Hill: I do not think they’re directly competing with the 4-year selective non-profits, yet. But it’s something on the horizon and I think people are wondering if this is something we should be doing in the for-profit sector rather in the non-profit sector. I think it’s probably affecting schools by competing for Pell Grants though. Bright: Speaking of horizons, in the next four years, what will your top priorities be for the college? In terms of change, new projects, aspirations… Hill: Well, I think that we went through a planning process before the recession and then we went through a lot of thinking of what our priories were when we were adjusting to the shocks of the economy and I think we have a pretty clear vision of what we want to do going forward and it’s continuing to make sure that we’re continuing to be committed to recruiting interesting students from all over the country and world, talented students. It’s supporting our faculty and the curriculum, and it’s continuing to invest in the physical plant, our place. Right now there are two priorities in that regard: one is investment in the sciences, if you look back to see what we’ve done in the last 15 to 20 years, it’s the library, the museum, Drama and Film, and Kenyon. There was certainly a sense when I came here that the sciences were next in terms of needed investment in physical space. So we have the science project moving into design and development. We’re hoping to break ground in 2013. That would involve renovation of three buildings plus aplus a new building addition called the Bridge Building off Olmsted. And then continuing to make sure we maintain our existing buildings. We should be going into our physical plant every year and making sure we’re up keeping up all of our existing buildings and our grounds as well. We’re also moving into a phase now with all of that in the works, that we’re continu-

Chronogram.com

Catharine Bond Hill, President and Professor of Economics at Vassar College.

ing to think about the curriculum and I know that Dean Kitzinger is doing quite a lot of work with the Curriculum Committee. Brock: I’m curious about the new science center. Since Vassar has always been strong in the Arts and Humanities, are you trying to gain a new demographic by updating our facilities? Hill: I would say that’s actually not true. Vassar has always been strong in the sciences. Really through its history I think it’s just hard to compete with Meryl Streep and Lisa Kudrow when you think about our alumna body. But the first professor hired was actually Maria Mitchel, an astronomer. The first building finished was the Observatory, before Main. We have three McCarthy Genius awardees among the alumna body and they are all in the sciences and we have a very strong curriculum in the sciences. We also do very well in terms of getting students into graduate school for things like medical school. We have always been very strong in the sciences—it’s just not as apparent. Bright: There was a lot of talk of going through the quad dorms and giving renovations, as well as moving the book stores to another location before the recession hit. I know there have been a lot of complaints in regard to student life being given the short end of the staff. Would With the spending projects on the new science center and other major projects, how’s the administration trying to balance major projects and creature comforts for students? Hill: My understanding is that [Dean of the College] Chris Roelke has done a lot of talking with the students of what could be done to improve the dorms without a complete overhaul from top to bottom that would increase the quality of Residential Life. I also think it’s important to realize that the science building is for the students as well. 90 percent of percent of our students take at least one science class. Half take three science classes, and about one quarter major in the science. So it’s a significant number. Brock: How do you see the sesquicentennial changing things at Vassar right now? Hill: I really have enjoyed it. Vassar Voices has been really wonderful, it involves two videos, one at the beginning which is the sesqui and is currently on YouTube and then a second which is a retrospective of life at Vas-

sar which goes through the school year starting with students being dropped off through reunion and its done with both video and photographs from all of Vassar’s 150 years. So for example, it starts from the gates of main opening and students arriving and includes a clip of young women in the ’30s arriving in a taxi from the train station, all dressed up in twin sets and pearls with leather suitcases and then also pans to students last year greeting students at move in wearing t-shirts. So it’s wonderfully creative and playful. But then the middle part of it is what we’re calling Vassar Voices and it’s a stage reading of things from the archives, newspapers, and letters home. It’s just a wonderful celebration of the place—it’s funny, it’s poignant. We are trying to offer it one more time in the spring and I hope that comes. I guess the presentations in the spring were really early in the semester and it was right after that two day snow storm, it was really hard to get to. We’ve gotten in touch with about 3,000 alums with 500 people in Washington D.C. alone. I think it’s really great connecting with those alums. And of course we have our fundraising campaign that we went public for with the sesquicentennial. It’s been going great; we’re at $270 million for a $400 million campaign. Bright: Fantastic. On a different topic, I was eating at ACDC this past weekend. Gladly, because it was parent’s weekend and it seems that every parent’s weekend the food suddenly becomes top class. Ever since Aramark got its contract renewed and enhanced, the “Deece Food Makes Me Cry” Facebook group has only continued to grow. What are your thoughts on Campus Dining in general, specifically with the contract with Aramark coming up for renewal in the foreseeable future? I don’t know how much feedback you get, but in the student world it’s a great concern. Hill: I know that Chris is really thinking long and hard about this. It does seem to be an area of student unhappiness and we do care about that. So we really like to see what’s going on and what we can do to fix it. Bright: Well, I know that Aramark caters many New York state prisons… Brock: It does a lot of schools, too. See Hill on page 19

PAGE 18

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

DEBATE & DISCOURSE
Hill explains Questioning political apathy: Justified or not? intracacies of meal plan O
Ethan Madore, Deb. & Disc. Editor Will Serio, Production & Design Editor

Continued from Hill on page 18 Bright: It does a lot of New York State prisons. And so I wonder if the quality of their food is much different than ours. Brock: It’s actually rated slightly lower. Hill: I think Chris is working on it and thinking about it. What do you think we can do? What could be changed to make it better? I think what we’re struggling with is that when we ask aof bunch of students we get completely different responses from the students, in the same way with how the meal plan worked. When we changed it we got a lot of complains but at the same time, we changed it because of student complaints. Bright: As an aside, since you were asking, I think using fewer pre-frozen foods could improve the taste, also varying the recipes from day to day. But it’s still revolves around the same central ingredients just in slightly novel ways. And while there has been a push to use more local produce into the Decece, I wonder if a local company couldn’t do it better at a lower cost. Because every Tasty Tuesday, for seven dollars I’m able to get a big plate from Kismat with a lot of different Indian food but for thirteen dollars can get food at the Deece that’s no where as filling or appetizing. And the fact that the ACDC can’t do the same thing as a local independent restaurant—something is wrong there, especially when they get millions of dollars from the government in subsidies, just to keep afloat, because I think that sounds like a managerial problem and one I think the College should seriously consider. Hill: Well, we went through the reviews for the proposals. Moust schools don’t do it themselves. Most make the move for efficiency reasons, and even for quality reasons. But you know, we hear you. Bright: It just seems like even Kismat could do the job better. Brock: Well, that one little guy in the kitchen might have a little trouble… Cappy: With two thousand students. I mean it’s partly variety. Some students might not want to eat that at all. Never. Bright: But Tasty Tuesday is variety. Cappy: Right. I’m always excited when it’s Tuesday. I think we need help from the students to see how to make things better because to the extent I’ve talked to students it’s almost like when you get feedback for a course, you hear I love this section and hated that section, while others love that section and hate that section. We could change things, and it could just be a whole new set of students who don’t like it anymore. So we somehow have to figure out how to make it flexible to make the most number of students happy, without increasing the costs. Brock: To conclude, what’s the next big project, personally, for the upcoming year? Cappy: I think it’s actually continuing what we’ve started: we’ve got the science planning going on. We’re always thinking about Admissions and Financial Aid. We’re always making sure all of the financing makes sense. I think it will be interesting to shift discussions back to the curriculum.

n May 1, 2011, MEChA, in conjunction with other local groups, staged a rally on behalf of the rights of immigrant workers. In a satirical debate, Ethan Madore ’12 and William Serio ’13 discuss the importance of political activism and specifically, if political activity is actually productive. Madore takes the stance that political apathy can be beneficial while Serio takes the opposite stance and argues that apathy is generally negative.

Ethan Madore: First of all, I think a lot of people who take political science or who are really involved in politics would describe political apathy as something that is really bad. How do you feel about apathy as a political science major? William Serio: I think generally it’s not okay in that it affects a lot of people in a lot of ways and just about everyone can be affected by it, so the politically apathetic should at least be aware of what their apathy entails. Madore: I think that 80-90 percent of political decisions are largely irrelevant to my life. And I think that oftentimes people turn to politics as a means of obtaining moral satisfaction for achieving a world that they want to see and I don’t really feel the need to do that. I think that personal moral agency is more important in involvement in formal politics and that acting as a good person is probably better. But you disagree? Serio: You say that 80-90 percent of political decisions aren’t relevant to you. It’s a basic assumption that this will affect you. You pay into a system that affects you—budgeting, et cetera. Madore: How has any political decision impacted my happiness in the last five years? Serio: If you didn’t pay taxes, that would be a few hundred dollars you’d have every year and that could get you an Xbox. Madore: So should I care about politics in that it will get me an Xbox? Serio: If the government taxed everyone 100 percent, it would be a system of slave labor. If that pays for marginal consumption, then it’s kind of important. Madore: I think this will come down to what I “should” care about. I don’t think my happiness will necessarily come from having—there are probably studies that show that my happiness has nothing to do with wealth. Serio: Actually, if you make $70,000 and $200,000—if you’re above, it won’t really change, but if you are below that, your happiness does change. But your taxes also go to state parks and tourism, things that the government does that will increase your happiness. Madore: Decreasing my happiness will occur by taking part in political discourse by increasing my blood pressure as it does for everyone involved in it. I think there’s a certain way that society’s going to go regardless of my own political actions, whether or not I really care. I think there’s a difference when I’m talking about political apathy between like if I’m faced with a political decision and buying into a culture of divisive and omnipresent politics. Serio: I think you’re straw-manning partisan politics and thus you’re saying that all politics is partisan. At local and state levels,

Flikr.com

Factory workers’ protest labor conditions in Bolivia, exercising political activism.

there’s less partisan politics. Decreasing happiness is just a superficial argument at that. Madore: Now it will come down to how to live a good life. I don’t think being politically apathetic necessarily means that I can’t, when presented with a choice, inform myself and make a decision. But, in turns of like, being involved in the politics of the time—going to rallies, etc—while I don’t see the efficacy of the actions, but even if I did, a certain level of human happiness can be achieved without doing those things. Serio: You’re saying that you can have a tiny little portion of yourself that doesn’t do these things and that’s fine. You have such a low bar for political apathetic in that you’re saying that you’re only apathetic part of the time. Madore: I think you can be politically apathetic, but you can also care about ethical problems that occasionally come up in politics. I don’t know the names of people in Congress or in the President’s Cabinet. I think when I view politics as the best way to talk about them, I’m liming myself and I’m assigning too much moral agency to politics. I’m waiting for government to solve problems, that they probably won’t end up doing. The last time I cared about politics was about health care, because I’m from a family where that is hard to come by, but I think that insofar that positive change is far away or that I can affect it a great deal, it’s much healthier for me to just try to live without those changes. It’s like I could either care a lot about the government not doing anything to fight poverty, or I could do things to improve the lives of my friends and neighbors. Where do I start? It’s not in signing petitions. Serio: You just have the worst had possible. If you say that it’s generally good to be politically apathetic, then government fails, because no one fails—you don’t have a government that provides basic social services. Just because you don’t want to run around in rallies—that’s fine, but when you get interested and get active in something, then that’s not apathy, that’s political activism. It’s okay to not want to do everything, but most people don’t want to be apathetic to the point of doing nothing. Madore: Insofar that I am able to be politically apathetic in a situation, I can guarantee that if society was collapsing, then I would be able to rally myself. If I live in a society where concerns are nebulous, and if I can afford political apathy, then I think it’s a good

investment. Serio: You live in a world where you have no change where you can affect change in a large level. You cede all power to someone else and you limit yourself to live comfortably. Madore: I think that’s a strawman of my argument. Are you still in French? I’m not saying we should be vegetables regardless, but I can say that right now, it’s okay to be a vegetable and it feels good. If something were to happen and Nazis were to happen in America, I would be politically active in being an anti-Nazi, presumably. But that’s not what we’re talking about—we’re talking about people telling me you don’t care enough about politics. I think a lot of your compatriots think that it’s ridiculous that there’s a large swathe of people who don’t care about politics. If people have to actually tell me, but I’m not aware that my apathy is causing general harms—I think it’s kind of moot. This only really holds when I choose to hold them out in the light—my radical political views. Serio: If God was to give you eyes and you choose not to use them, but take them for granted… Madore: A bear just ate your argument. Serio: You live in a world of darkness. Madore: You live in a world of bears. I hope I’ve done a good job debating this in the most apathetic way possible, but I want to end on the belief, which I don’t really care about, but you can respond if you want. Government can certainly hinder human happiness, but I don’t think it can create it. Government can destroy human happiness, but it can’t create it. Insofar that I think that our government can inhibit human happiness, if falls to the individual to create the means in which they can become happy. In fact, the more people… My being politically active will just outweigh their value. Putting faith in human interaction and general self-actualization is better for leading a good life then waiting for some outside force. Serio: I can prove to you that government can create human happiness. Let’s do a thought experiment. You live in Hobbes’ state of nature. A big, stronger man comes with a blunt object and takes your land from you. A government creates a world where you can be safe and you can bring such a complaint to court, and no one can take that from you. Through more politically active people, you create a greater government and create more happiness.

CHRONICLE, MAY 2011

PAGE 19

THE LAST PAGE
“FOOLS ARE MY THEME, LET SATIRE BE MY SONG.” — LORD BYRON

Kris Adkins, Vassar Chronicle

Madeleine Morris, Vassar Chronicle