The Nation Must Back Gay Rights

By Kevin Levy, Executive Editor

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The 1964 Civil Rights Act broke barriers by providing landmark protections to minorities across all spectrums of American life. The now-renowned Title VII provision forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. Notably absent from this list is sexual orientation and gender identity. Homosexual, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had to fight for decades to be included this exhaustive list of protected classes under federal law to varying levels of success. While some have been able to find recourse in various state and local anti-discrimination laws, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been stonewalled (pun heavily intended) at the federal level.

In the late 1980s, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that a straight plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim was cognizable under Title VII since her claim was based on the fact that she did not conform to typical “gender stereotypes.” In that case, a female accountant acted “like a man” in order to further her own career interests. The late Justice Brennan wrote that “an employer who acts on the basis of a belief that a woman cannot be aggressive, or that she must not be, has acted on the basis of gender.” All of this lawyer mumbo jumbo essentially boils down to the legal theory that feminine men and masculine women are able to sue their employers for sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

In the years since Price Waterhouse, homosexual plaintiffs have had varying levels of success in federal court suing under Title VII following the gender stereotyping theory. Every single Circuit Court has refused to adopt the theory that homosexual plaintiffs are protected under the theory that one major “gender stereotype” is to have sex with the opposing gender. This would too easily include the entirety of homosexual plaintiffs within the umbrella of gender protections under Title VII (while simultaneously creating a huge gap for transgender employees). The Courts have refused to extend employment protections to LGBT employees for the simple reason that Congress has not authorized it.

And, unfortunately, they’ve made the right decision. The “gender stereotyping” theory has been based on shaky judicial activist grounds for decades. Since at least the late 2000s, the Congress has explicitly refused to extend employment protections under Title VII to LGBT plaintiffs. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was proposed in Congress by then-Rep. Barney Frank (MA-04), the first openly gay federal legislator in the United States in 2007 in order to make up for this obvious gap in the law. Since then, the law has effectively gone nowhere, reaching its legislative peak in 2013 when it passed in the Senate but was subsequently not considered by the House. With the turnover of the Congress in 2014, the ENDA died and LGBT employment rights were doomed to the nether.

Although the gender stereotyping theory is still effective in courts, it is incredibly difficult to prove. To win, homosexual plaintiffs must show that they were discriminated against because they didn’t live up to traditional gender stereotypes. This strictly excludes gay men who are perceived to be masculine and lesbian women who are perceived to be feminine. Where this leaves bisexual people is up in the air. Transgender protections are even further muddled throughout the courts. In fact, the only way for LGBT people to find protections at the federal level is to maneuver through crafty lawyer tricks to contravene the intentions of the federal government.

It seems rather strange that, in 2017, we continue to fight for civil rights protections for minorities in the United States. Of course, the fight for equality hasn’t yet been won for racial and religious minorities.  Since the Civil Rights movement, however, LGBT people have been largely ignored by federal legislators. Most of the major LGBT Rights achievements throughout the past few decades have been delivered by the Supreme Court, not by the legislative process. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the Court struck down sodomy laws that criminalized sexual relations between same-sex consenting adults. In U.S v. Windsor (2013), the Court struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and/or civil unions conducted by the states. And in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Court finally recognized that states were required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment Equal Protections Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Rights recognized by the Supreme Court are as surefire as those proposed by the Congress and signed into law by the President. However, the fact that LGBT people have to rely on the unelected judicial branch of government to receive those equal rights is demeaning to the hallowed phrase inscribed on the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.: Equal Justice Under the Law.

As a first-year law student, I am tasked with writing a brief defending a corporation charged with sexual harassment by a homosexual male plaintiff. The type of harassment that the plaintiff has alleged in this fictional problem are nothing short of atrocious; the plaintiff has been attacked for showing his face in public with his boyfriend, has been misgendered, and has been humiliated by his coworkers for being a gay man. Although he has been subjected to a terrible working environment, I have worked through over twenty pages and have legally reasoned why he should not be protected by federal law. Why? For the simple reason that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII. And as a gay man writing this assignment, the thing that hurts most is the thought that I can win.

In 2017, it is irreconcilable that LGBT individuals are not protected by federal employment law. LGBT people can serve in the military today due to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2010/2011.  After the election, then-President-elect Trump referred to the issue of national Marriage Equality as “settled” law (somewhat paradoxically, given that he said that the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision was not so settled). Following  his Inauguration, President Trump refused to sign a proposed executive order that would have done away with Obama-era protections for LGBT federal contractors. By measurable standards, President Trump has been the most LGBT-friendly Republican politician at the federal level in history (though, he leaves much to be desired).

Even though victories have been handed to LGBT people by the courts, there is still much work to be done. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed to the world in Geneva in 2011 that “Gay rights are human rights.” She confronted oppressive anti-LGBT regimes across the globe that criminalized homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Although the state of LGBT rights in the United States is better by every metric than in many developing countries, we can and must strive to improve our own record here, domestically.

For as long as there are legal problems, there will be crafty attorneys to try out the most profound and creative legal tactics to circumvent laws as they are written. “Gender stereotyping” is another one of those examples of legal gibberish that has enabled lawyers to fight for equal justice under the law where the legislature has let down the American people. As millennials and moderates, we have certainly come to know more people who identify within the LGBT spectrum than our parents. They are our friends, our brothers, sisters, our Executive Editors (wink, wink), our classmates, and our roommates. According to a recent Gallup poll, more Americans are identifying as LGBT than ever before, up to 7.3% of millennials.

 

As more LGBT Americans become more readily willing to “come out of the closet” and interact with their peers, friendly feelings towards LGBT rights have been on the rise. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For decades, those among us in the LGBT community have fought for the basic right to be treated as equals. We are now on the cusp of equality in the law, and our fellow Americans should act to ensure that basic employment protections are extended to their LGBT compatriots. Although it has not yet been introduced in the 115th Congress, Americans should rally behind the Equality Act that will extend employment protections to LGBT people when it is. Republicans like Senators John McCain, Pat Toomey, and Lisa Murkowski were able to endorse this proposition in 2013. Their example should shine Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan to once again consider the Equality Act/ENDA and extend federal protections to LGBT people. President Trump considered himself one of the most pro-LGBT politicians in the country when he spoke about protecting LGBT individuals at the Republican National Convention last summer. This may be the time for the LGBT community to push for equality laws, and we most not squander the opportunity while it presents itself.  Regardless of party affiliation, we  must coalesce behind the ideal of equality, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

When is Abortion Murder?

By Fairooz Adams, Outreach Director

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Few moral quandaries are vexing as the abortion question. Proponents of abortion rights view attempts to curb access to abortion as an assault on the fundamental right to bodily autonomy; made all the more egregious because it most directly affects the bodily autonomy of women. Meanwhile pro-life people, generally, believe life begins at conception and therefore the termination of a pregnancy is tantamount to murder.

This debate, however, is almost entirely devoid of any serious discussion over what actually constitutes the beginning of life. The pro-choice side has largely ceded this area of contention to the pro-life side; evidenced by the notable lack of an alternative vision for the beginning of life in pro-choice arguments, focusing almost exclusively on “a woman’s right to choose.”

Both sides of this argument have laudable goals: life must be protected as must bodily autonomy. The state’s first and foremost responsibility is to protect the life of its citizens, and the modern conception of the state adds improving living standards to that list. As a result, the state has a dual responsibility to be ruthless in the pursuit of the safety of its citizens from its foreign enemies, while at once going to extreme measures to protect the lives of its citizens at home. Because of this, the definition of life is a federal issue.

Others attempt to sidestep the question of the beginning of life by asserting this is a purely philosophical issue. Beyond the intellectually lazy moral relativism, this assertion has serious problems. While there is truth to the idea that not all perennial questions on existence can be tamed by logic – indeed, much of the physics at the level of atoms and elementary particles defies reason as logic only developed as an evolutionary adaption to navigate the world operating at a Newtonian level of physics – it is also true that logic and reason has unleashed humanity from a subsistence level of existence to making incredible advances that has allowed humanity to conquer nature in a growing number of ways. Science has ended fantastical mysteries in nature, and it would be a mistake to shirk away from trying to do the same on the mystery of life.

This philosophical question, like many philosophical questions before it, can be solved by utilizing science and reason. Unlike some other philosophical questions settled by science and reason, to a certain degree an intuitive sense of what is alive and what is not will need to inform the debate, and an intuitive sense of morality. As such, a definition of life which would allow the disposing of those who have been born with inconvenient birth defects strikes most as morally reprehensible, and thus must not be pursued. Whenever there is a question of whether something is alive or not, the strictest assumption must be made, and policy must err on the side of life but within reason so as not to extend the definition of life to endorse an absurd threshold.

Beforehand, there must be two assumptions that must be established to provide a framework for understanding the question. First, bodily autonomy is of absolute importance; it is an inviolable principle that the state must never tamper with an individual’s right to bodily autonomy so long as it does not infringe upon the bodily autonomy or fundamental rights of others. Second principle: bodily autonomy is only granted when life is achieved.

So, when does life start?

The biological definition of life asserts that matter that is able to replicate itself, metabolize, and reacts with its environment is alive. For this reason, viruses are considered at the edge of what is living and what is nonliving. Under such a definition sperm cells are alive, because sperm cells react to the environment, metabolize, and their existence is entirely for the purpose of reproduction, more than usual. Yet, most people would not consider that a satisfactory definition, for good reason. Such a standard for life becomes silly when it is considered that little regard is given to microbial life.

Obviously then, merely fulfilling a biological definition of life is insufficient. What we really want to preserve is human life, as distinctly as we know it. A more rationally consistent approach would be to save sentient life. A sperm and an egg cell, while possessing half of the genetic material necessary to produce a human, does not come close to qualifying as having a distinctly human life.

Then the next most obvious standard for life becomes conception, and the argument easily runs aground. Conception is one threshold which some religions believe mark the beginning of life, while other religions believe life begins several months after a pregnancy. Some believe life begins with the first breath, and in an extreme case there is a tribe which believes life begins only after the child is named. The United States cannot use a definition of life derived from religion and force all Americans to adhere to it, as doing so would violate the Constitution. Crafting policy based on the idea that life begins at conception would only be permissible if there was an independent secular reason to justify the belief that life begins at conception.

Such an argument would hinge on only two assumptions. One is that possession of human genetic material confers a special status to cells. The other is that the potential to become human life means the zygote must not be destroyed. As for the first argument, that one is easily dispatched. Had the possession of human genetic material been sufficient for preventing the destruction of a cell, then amputations are immoral. Yet, using a reasonable person standard, that is silly. A thought experiment would also be useful. Imagine a human body is born, but for some reason the cranium is completely hollow and there is no brain. Would that body have the same rights as any sentient being? Of course not. Cells’ possession of human genetic material alone is not sufficient reason to be classified as alive. This is not to say there is no virtue in discriminating in favor of cells with human genetic material. Indeed, a species’s success hinges on its ability to propagate its genetic material. What the aforementioned point does determine, however, is that human genetic material alone is not sufficient reason to prevent cells from being destroyed.

Potential to become a human being capable of being born and carrying out the bodily functions of an independent organism is also woefully inadequate. Sperm and egg cells have the potential to become a human being, but men’s bodies continually recycle sperm and most of a woman’s eggs are either destroyed or never used. A fifth of pregnancies are spontaneously aborted by the body of the mother. Indeed, biology cares very little for conception being the beginning of life, and even skews towards destroying male fetuses with greater regularity than female fetuses, demonstrating there is a biologically premeditated basis for abortion encoded in the human genome.

Of course the fact that the womb sometimes destroys developing human cells is itself not reason alone to determine life does not begin at conception. Biology is incredibly messy and it is not beyond nature to kill living organisms. What spontaneous abortion in humans does demonstrate is that there is no holy or sacred status conferred to a zygote by nature. Any argument that asserts science supports the idea that nature confers personhood at conception is extremely weak.

Another two arguments for the beginning of life often cited are when the heart begins to beat in a fetus and when the fetus is viable. Neither are satisfactory. For one, the heartbeat is largely symbolic but the heart has no special status that marks it as the beginning of life. The cardiovascular system is not the only one which has an enormously consequential role in supporting life; so are the respiratory and digestive systems, amongst others. While a heart is very important, it can be replaced without killing an individual. Many such transplants are made every year around the world. If the heartbeat determined when life begins, then why can hearts can be replaced and discarded? Something more must be what determines the beginning of life. Viability is not a good definition for the beginning of life either. Because of technology, the threshold for the viability has moved to earlier and earlier times. Unless the beginning of life cares for the technological limitations of humanity, that is a flimsy threshold.

Birth is a very strong argument for the beginning of life, but not entirely satisfactory. If physical separation from living being constitutes life, then what must be made of conjoined twins? What of fetuses born many months prematurely but incapable of surviving without the assistance of technology? Something other than the act of separation and birth itself must be what determines the beginning of life.

The following threshold would then become when a fetus become conscious and self-aware, but then again that also runs aground, because a reasonable person would argue that terminating the life of someone that is unconscious would be reprehensible, as would terminating the life of someone who is greatly mentally handicapped and possesses no self-awareness.

What would be a moderate answer to the beginning of life to guide law and public policy? Such an answer must be grounded in science and reason, and such an answer is the beginning of regular brain activity. Essentially, the cusp of this argument is that because brain death – when the human brain is irreversibly switched off, though that may change due to technology – is the definition of death. Then life begins when the brain starts to work. Sporadic brain activity which begins far earlier would not qualify because even those that have undergone brain death see occasional sparks.

Beginning of regular brain activity is a strong threshold. Personhood is contained entirely within the brain, which is why many organs in the body can be replaced, but the brain never can be without completely changing the person.

While the most logical answer for when life distinctly as we know it – replete with the conscious human experiences of being a sentient being which separates Homo sapiens from lower life forms – is the beginning of consciousness, that is not an adequate safeguard to prevent those with severe mental disabilities and those in comas from being labelled as a nonliving burden.

When the neurological infrastructure is essentially formed and brain begins to function regularly, then that fetus has achieved personhood and his or her bodily autonomy becomes inviolable at twenty-three weeks.

Except for some cases.

When the life of the mother is threatened due to a pregnancy, then the priority must be the life of the mother. The rationale is fairly straightforward. Let us begin with the assumption that all human life is of equal value. Even for this reason the life of the mother has a greater cause for being saved. The destruction of the fetus may affect the pregnant mother and perhaps a few others, but not many. Meanwhile the death of the mother will affect all of her loved ones, friends and family. The death of the fetus will have a much more limited impact than the life of the mother. Thus even after a fetus achieves bodily autonomy, exceptions can still be made for the life of the mother.

While ultimately wrong to try to eliminate abortion entirely, the staunchest pro-life advocates are correct in one thing: there is a logical inconsistency in arguing life begins at conception yet the value of a life is diminished should it come about due to rape or incest. For that reason, pregnancies resulting as a consequence of rape or incest may be terminated in the first five or so months, but only the life of the mother will be sufficient reason to terminate a pregnancy once the fetus is alive.

Ultimately the twenty-three week threshold is the best threshold for designating the beginning of life and personhood and is the strongest foundation for the basis of policy. This utilizes the best medically understood definition of human life and is the most logically consistent. Such a threshold marries science and reason with an intuitive sense of what it means to be alive, choosing to err on the side of life without seeking to embrace unreasonable criteria for human life. Perhaps most consequentially, this threshold is very moderate and has the added benefit of preserving the inviolability of the bodily autonomy of all – including a fetus, with an exception for the life of the mother – and thus elegantly reconciles the pro life and pro choice stances.

There must be no illusions that this argument will be final, indeed similar arguments have been made in the past. Nevertheless, this is the most rational approach to answering the deepest and one of the most fraught questions that can be asked: what is the beginning of life?

Manning the Barricades

By Alexander Mollohan, Operations Director

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Donald Trump has been sworn in as President. For the first time since before the Great Depression, liberals must contend with overwhelming Republican majorities at state and federal levels. For many on the left, myself included, the GOP’s overwhelming victory last November was a total system shock. I was so sure of our victory, so certain that the Trump campaign would end in historic losses for the GOP, tearing it down  and leaving America a one-(Democratic) party state. In the end, my prophesying about a one-party state has come horribly, horribly, true. With the Trump presidency now official, the complacency and hubris which has come to dominate liberalism over the past few years has been shaken off. Over the inauguration weekend, three to four million people, about 1% of the United States population, marched in protest of  the Trump administration. These early stirrings clearly indicate that there will be intense liberal opposition and resistance to the Trump administration’s rightist agenda. Without a plan of action, however, this energy will disperse and go to waste. The progressive movement, the Democratic party which it supports, and the liberal citizens who form the ranks of both, must have a strategy to reclaim power from the Trump administration and the Republican party before they are allowed to irreversibly damage our nation.

The Vanguard

For at least the next two years (and realistically, given exactly how unfavorable the electoral map is for us in 2018, the next four years), the Democratic party will strictly be the party of opposition. We have less than a third of the states, minorities in the legislature and will likely lose the Supreme Court. For the foreseeable future, liberals will have very little practical influence over  the direction of government policy. At face value, this is utterly disheartening, but there is a silver lining in that we are insulated from any blowback caused by the Republican Party. This is not the GOP of George W. Bush, this is a GOP whose existence has been spent entirely in an insurgency, rendering their actual ability to govern properly questionable at best. Should they repeal the ACA without a viable alternative, millions will likely suffer, and there will be no one to blame for their suffering  but the Republicans. Being in the opposition presents a massive opportunity to the Democrats, as it allows us to score points simply by hounding the Republicans for everything that goes wrong. It is far easier to exact political profit from this position. We do not need to present any solutions, we simply need to hammer any and all policy failings home.

In order to implement such a strategy to its fullest potential, we need the right leadership. To that end, I strongly believe that moderate Democratic leaders need to stand aside and allow progressive warriors like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to act as the vanguard against Trumpism. I fully understand the irony of such a call, coming from a staffer of a stated moderate organization, but I nonetheless believe this to be the best course. While I may  not necessarily trust Sanders in a position of genuine power (many of his ideas are rather loopy), there is no doubt in my mind that the man has a real flair for pointing out very real flaws in our government and economy. While many in both The American Moderate and the Democratic party are wedded to more traditional liberal economics, the simple fact is that this is a time of populism. If we are not led by individuals with mass appeal who are capable of tapping into the deep vein of popular discontent, we will be left in the dust by that master of populist theater currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

Viva La Resistance

Part of placing power in the hands of the Bernie-Warren wing of the party would inherently mean embracing a more bellicose approach to the Republican party. As it stands, the Democrats have shown some interest in adopting such an approach, as Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer sent the same letter to Majority Leader McConnell that McConnell used to essentially declare war on the Democrats at the outset of the Obama administration. Unfortunately for the Democratic party, in order to advance any policy under the Obama administration, congressional Democrats were forced to pass legislation which blunted  the power of the filibuster, rendering it unusable against cabinet-level positions. While we may have weakened what would have been our strongest tool against Trump, the filibuster is far from impotent. On the contrary, it remains the strongest legislative weapon in the democratic toolkit, forcing Republicans to circumvent floor votes with parliamentary tricks such as budget reconciliation to implement their agenda. There is no doubt in my mind that I would like to see congressional Democrats show some spine in resisting the GOP’s regressive agenda. On the extent to which I would like to see this, however, I am conflicted. On the one hand, a large part of me would like to see the Democrats give the Republicans a taste of their own medicine, going full “Tea Party” on the GOP and gridlocking the government. While this would certainly be satisfying, I believe that such unthinking opposition would ultimately prove detrimental the Democratic Party and to the nation. There could be real opportunity to work with Trump, at the expense of the congressional GOP. Trump remains the most populist president ever, with views very out of sync with his own party. If Trump is serious about job programs and infrastructure development, then it would behoove the Democrats to work with him to make these happen. As a whole, I would say that Bernie Sanders nicely summed up what the Democrats’ approach to the next four years should look like when he released a statement:

“To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”

The Proper Platform

Any party on the receiving end of an electoral defeat as brutal as last November’s must take some time for self-reflection. After such a rebuke, Democrats have been left wondering what exactly they can do to take the country back. In order to regain power, the Democratic party really must do two things. First, it must come to embrace economic populism, and second, it must de-emphasize the identity politics it has come to lean so heavily on. Embracing economic populism is not the most popular prescription among the staff of this publication,, but I believe it is a thoroughly necessary one. Hillary Clinton’s defeat can be directly linked to the defection of solidly Democratic Rust Belt states to Trump. In both Michigan and Wisconsin, Bernie Sanders defeated Clinton, showing the popularity of his populist plank. At the height of its power, during the New Deal, the Democratic Party was, by today’s definition, solidly populist, using a base of organized labor to maintain power for much of the period from 1933 to 1968. After the Reagan revolution swept the Democrats out of power, the party largely embraced neoliberal capitalism, complete with all the societal disruption that came with it. When a candidate with decidedly non-neoliberal views came along, they were unprepared to answer for the damages it had wrought upon middle America. Populist economics is clearly a winning strategy in the age of Donald Trump, and the Democrats will be left out in the cold if they continue to try and hold a neoliberal line which he has smashed. In the 1992 elections, the Democrats evolved, embracing neoliberal economics and capturing the White House. If we wish to do so again, we must embrace populism and turn it to the left, so it may actually pay electoral dividends for us.

A second element of any Democratic strategy needs to be the de-emphasizing of identity politics. Identity politics are not a good groundwork for a coalition, as they inherently lead to fractiousness and infighting. Such a focus on identity alienates the majority of voters in this country and dedicates resources that should be spent fighting Trump and the GOP to fighting each other. These identity politics have traditionally been both the bane and base of the Democratic party. From Nixon to Obama, the Republican party has found electoral success  by portraying themselves as the party of Americans, and white voters have flocked to them. With the Democrats’ abandonment of organized labor, white voters have seen the Democrats as the party of minorities and special interests. This is not to say that identitarianism cannot work, but it does need an extremely charismatic political wizard, such as Barack Obama, to maintain it. Without a leader like Obama, the haranguing nature of identity politics simply cannot convince whites to vote Democratic. Hillary Clinton’s campaign leaned heavily on this identitarian rhetoric, and was duly punished by white voters in key swing states. Furthermore, identitarianism will inevitably create internecine fighting. Rather than unifying against a common enemy, left-leaning groups turn on each other. Just look at the backlash to the white feminism which powered the Women’s Marches across the country. Rather than uniting and harnessing this politically viable force, activists have taken to social media to attack the marches. This dulls the momentum of opposition movements and sidelines individuals otherwise disgusted by Trump who would like to be involved. The fact of the matter is that in order to lead this country, a party must have at least a plurality of white support. Left activists ignore this lesson at their own peril. This is not to say that the minorities’ struggle for justice should be ignored or sidelined; they will still form a key plank in the Democratic platform, but 2016 has more than proven that they cannot empower the party on its own.

Shoring up the Bench

In the long term, the prospects of the Democratic party look grim. We have lost the vast majority of states, whose Republican governments will get a free hand to gerrymander to their hearts’ content in the 2020 census, solidifying their political power. From these state-based organizations, the Republican party has developed an incredibly deep bench of future leaders. The same cannot be said of the Democrats. Most of our potential standard bearers in 2020 will be on the wrong side of 75. While we have many national stars, there is just no one to replace them. All of this comes despite the fact that the Democrats are far more popular among younger voters than the Republicans. We simply need to capture more Governors’ mansions and state legislatures. Perhaps here is where we should focus our resources. Give the GOP Washington and focus on building up the base which will one day allow us to storm the halls of power. In less than two election cycles, unless we make serious and painful change, we may be institutionally locked out of power. If we lose big in 2018, we could set ourselves up for another decade of painful defeats and irrelevance.

Addressing Inequality and Promoting Equitable Growth is in the Best Interest of Both Parties

By Brandon Colligan, Contributing Writer

Growing up in the midst of an economic collapse, the magnitude of which has been unseen for nearly seven decades, and the political backlash that followed, I was not surprised by the overall economic pessimism that took hold in my home state of Wisconsin during the presidential election season. This economic focus became a pivotal point for candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump who championed the message of failed trade policies and the overall disregard for working class America. While reigning victorious in the presidential election over the more pro-trade Hillary Clinton, large fractures still remain in the attitudes of right-leaning voters on their opinions on growth. Trump supporters, unlike more traditional Republicans that supported the likes of Ted Cruz, are more favorable towards the federal government playing a role in propping up infrastructure spending and community growth. While still generally pessimistic about the federal government, this pro-Trump demographic marks a notable departure from fiscal conservatism and the traditional party platform towards free markets and government.

This change in opinion on the right and the natural inclination on the left to support more policies to address inequality create a unique window to address the concerns of the working poor and slow community growth. Doing so would begin to heal the stark divides within partisan opinions and the lack of consensus on addressing community growth in the United States. In primarily conservative districts, communities are faced with the growing problem of young educated people leaving and slowing investment who are increasingly looking for ways to cultivate this growth. This gives incentive to those are the right who are hesitant to appropriate funds or authority to the federal government to address these issues. Democrats, faced with an increasingly urban/rural and education/non-educated electoral divide, should be more willing to support Republican initiatives to address increasing inequality particularly in the Midwest where they have seen a decline in electoral support.

here is a more practical public policy reasoning aside from electoral politics to advocate for such a bipartisan approach to addressing equitable growth, however. Inequality has contributed to lower consumer spending, small business growth, and overall GDP growth. Sluggish growth and greater inequality also has a variety of costly ‘snowball’ effects that dramatically increase the public costs on areas such as healthcare, government welfare programs, and job placement initiatives. This does not even consider the public tax dollars lost by lower productivity and less spending.

These factors all contribute to more systemic issues that communities face and lead to less investment into communities themselves that drive people to these communities and grow. This should be an area of concern for conservatives and liberals alike. For conservatives, loss of economic growth and a greater burden on taxpayers is troubling, especially considering the inevitability of using more public dollars to address these issues further down the road. For liberals, it should raise red flags that limited public resources and human capital that could be used to benefit public schools, universities and other essential community programs that cultivate growth are being allocated elsewhere. This should be seen as an area of focus and concern as both sides of the aisle are looking to address systemic issues that are a burden on their own budgets and the economy as a whole.

While the U.S economy has grown steadily since the 2008 economic crisis, overall labor force participation rate has steadily declined for the past few decades, while wage growth has growth sluggishly post-recession. This results in greater political instability and decreasingly fewer options for elected officials to address growth in their respective districts regardless of their political affiliation. This problem is compounded by large businesses facing an increasingly shareholder-dependent private sector that often shows large returns on paper, but does not increase the overall well being or the long-term economic stability for these communities. By many accounts, overall GDP growth is less and less a standard of community or societal well being, which is limiting the scope of our investment potential and it reflects in our public policy. As millennials become a larger share of the total electorate, there is an increasing demand for greater public, community investment to spur growth, but also support quality of living and long term living potential. This provides a window of opportunity to look beyond the traditional political discourse of how to address growth and find bipartisan solutions to accommodate to these other measures of economic success.  

Too often in our current political environment do we look to hyper-partisan policy solutions to address complex, entangled economic issues and it does little to actually address the underlying causes of economic and community stagnation. Liberals often want to raise the minimum wage or increase taxes on the rich seeing them as  ‘fix all’ policy solutions. Conservatives tout tax breaks or simply deny systemic inequalities exist which are simplistic answers to the economic problems their constituents face. These approaches are often reactionary measures or are used simply to pander for votes. It holds true that certain tax breaks or wage increases can spur long term growth and consumer spending but don’t always address core issues facing communities. It is significant for both parties to look at ways to collectively address the reasons why communities are facing the problems that they are. There is no doubt that it is easy to state that both parties should take this issue seriously but few have confidence that there could be such compromise on the details of creating effective economic policy. There are however some solutions that have had bipartisan engagement and have had increasingly saliency in both the private and public spheres.

Initiatives that look to boost private sector impact investing that can address public needs and cultivate innovation are seen as a net good by both parties.  This kind of forward thinking development potential is also becoming an increasing area of interest for investors who see return potential in addressing inequalities such as gender workforce gaps or access to education for minorities. This is just one example of how combining essential motives and interests from both sides of the aisle can address key public concerns while still providing an economic incentive to do so.

This same approach can be applied with a variety of other budgetary and policy reforms as well. Whether it be finding ways to increase public dollars and private investment by discouraging offshore tax havens or creating bipartisan economic support legislation for small business growth, there can still be areas of cooperation in such a polarized political environment. Putting partisan politics to the side to finding these areas of cooperation and creating legislative consensus can ultimately be the solution for the problems of America’s future.

China’s Monopoly in American Agriculture and Food Markets

By Jordan Deschenes, Contributing Writer

 On January 26, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a pre-litigation hearing about Chinese investment in the United States. During the “Industry Case Studies” portion of the hearing, the concerns of panel members’ testimonies centered mainly China’s near-monopolistic grip on advanced American industries.  Notably, several of the panelists addressed growing Chinese authority over certain American food and agriculture practices such as farming and animal husbandry.

Patrick Woodall, the director of the Food and Water Watch, talked specifically about Chinese manipulation of the pork industry since the implementation of its most recent Five-Year Plan. He accused the Chinese government of setting up certain American farms as “export-platforms for agro-business” that will drive up pork prices on a global scale.

In his written testimony, Woodall revealed that “Chinese firms have made 34 food and agricultural acquisitions in the United States totalling $7.4 billion since 2000” and in 2012, owned “over 42,000 acres of U.S. farmland worth $900 million” according to U.S Department of Agriculture figures.

As his primary example, Woodall discussed last year’s buy-out of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion by Shuanghui Group, a government-sponsored pork processing company. In doing so, Shuanghui became the largest pork producer in the world, and according to Woodall, gave the Chinese government a monopoly on the “pig slaughter industry”.

 Shuanghui’s monopoly status certainly comes into question when accounting for the fact that Smithfield already had a monopoly on the American pork market before the purchase; the company was responsible for 97% of U.S. pork exports at the time, according to Woodall.

Woodall explained that Shuanghui will assume the subsidized tax benefits associated with Smithfield’s hundreds of acres of farmland. In doing so, the Chinese company will be able to beat bilateral agreements about FDA factory standards by allowing U.S. sellers to package Chinese-processed pork domestically.

By “taking a loss” in giving American sellers the ability to package their own product, Chinese companies actually benefit because they are able control the most profitable steps in the industry: slaughtering and processing.

In addition to Smithfield and pork exports, Woodall voiced even greater concerns about China’s potential to gain a global monopoly on GMO farming, bringing up China National Chemical Corporation’s ongoing $43 billion dollar purchase of Syngenta, a Swiss agrochemical and seed agribusiness.

A powerful U.S. antitrust panel overseen by representatives from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department has been investigating the legality of the purchase earlier this month, and amid a “few” minor concession settlements, have finally approved it. ChemChina is also being investigated by an E.U. antitrust panel, where most processes - aside from those in Brussels - have indicated signs of giving the go-ahead for approval.

To complicate matters, ChemChina filed individual lawsuits against Syngenta and licensed farmers who had priced Syngenta GMO-grown corn for global sale after November 11, 2013. The lawsuit claimed that the Chinese government lost billions as a result of the corn’s sale because the Syngenta seed type was not yet approved by for sale in China at the time.

Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation,  testified that some legal precedents set during the 1980s and 90s were not written at the time to fundamentally address today’s increase in global market competition. He further argued that at the time, competition was “good,” using the example of Xerox’s monopoly on the North American printing market.

Woodall provided a picture of the reality of the food industry in China today, one that has been shaped by decades of limited U.S. oversight, allowing Chinese companies to “cut corners” in order to skirt laws and litigations.

“I have seen truly horrifying stories in the past,” Woodall said in response to a question on food inspection by Byron Dorgan, the senior policy advisor at the Washington-based law firm, Arent Fox LLP, who mentioned a shocking New York Times article. In the story, Chinese inspectors had seized “nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of meat” across the country that “in some cases” had been frozen for over forty years.

Woodall argued that the FDA has had significant problems with keeping up on import alerts in past years, resulting in hundreds of recalls and food alerts. To make matters worse, the FDA employs a “tiny number of inspectors” in comparison to the number of factories that need to be covered in China.

According to Woodall, past visa access problems for U.S food inspectors are “better than they were six or seven years ago” in Chinese factories, but random spot-checks still cannot be conducted. Imported meat products are mostly packaged in the U.S., which has contributed to consumer ignorance about the quality of their products. “If it has a U.S. brand, people don’t know where it’s made, or processed,” Woodall commented.   

In light their individual criticisms of Chinese antitrust manipulation, the three panelists proposed their own opinions about solutions to the problem. Throughout his testimony, Woodall frequently suggested that food investment should be considered a “critical infrastructure” in America, with increased scrutiny over imported products.

Atkinson made a simple proposition: American business owners need to make sure that they fully comprehend deals proposed by Chinese investors. To facilitate this process, Atkinson advised that businesses standardize the practice of providing “simple translations” for non-speakers of foreign languages.

With regards to legally confronting Chinese wrongdoing, Jenevein implored that public access to China’s Treasury is essential to ensure fairness and complete transparency for “litigation purposes”.

Although a Chinese monopoly on GMO seed production will certainly affect the global market, it will not “starve us all” as suggested by co-chair Michael Wessel in a question to Woodall.

While downplaying the idea of massive world starvation, Woodall warned that the economic repercussions would have just as big of an impact on the free market, where consumer’s choices will be narrowed.

“China is dominant because of its ability to make the decision where people grow crops,” he explained. “Syngenta and ChemChina will take all the rights. This (deal) forces farmers to buy the Chinese-made Syngenta chemicals and fertilizers if they want to grow their GMO Syngenta seeds.”

Rogue Leadership and Steve Bannon

By Martin Maldonado, Contributing Writer

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The liberal bubbles on the coastal states reviled the selection of Steve Bannon as a top White House advisor soon after the November election. Bannon was notorious during and prior to the 2016 campaign as the king-pin of Breitbart News, the flagship alt-right website and blog. Bannon became a top advisor to Donald Trump during his campaign when it was faltering the most from gaffes and poor organization. Following the November election, Trump named Bannon as his “Chief Strategist,” a position in the West Wing which does not require congressional approval, bypassing the national legislature to become one of the most influential people in the US government. And now, Bannon has now been selected as a member of the national security council, a move by Bannon that the NY Times has called a “positioning as de facto president.”

All of this occurred during a complete reshaping of the National Security Council which will now include Bannon and be absent of the regular attendance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Intelligence Director. In essence, Bannon is entering a vacuum of power which commands the world’s strongest systems of destruction. As such, Bannon will likely be subject to congressional questioning, a golden opportunity for Democrats and the press to shine a light on Bannon’s radical views.

It is true that Steve Bannon’s racist and distasteful rhetoric is mostly a problem of personality and is not likely to influence domestic policy in a significant way from his seat as chief strategist - even if he is mostly to blame for Mr. Trump’s recent executive orders’ perversion in spirit and failure in execution. More troubling from a policy perspective, however, is that Bannon’s influence on foreign policy--including immigration policy--may become disturbingly detrimental to American economic and diplomatic standing in the world.

Steve Bannon’s main flaw is that he is a zealous protectionist; in his words an “economic nationalist.” While he is often associated with the alt-right movement and white supremacist elements which have received mainstream attention in recent month, he has disavowed explicitly racist and xenophobic elements of the Alt-right and yet has still embraced the idea that the United States economy is at direct odds with the rest of the world. This poses major conflicts with the current international order, particularly concerning military alliances, international economic networks, and diplomatic relations.

This is a mindset that should trouble traditional conservatives, liberals and moderates alike. With Bannon at the head of national security decisions, it is likely that the “America First” creed of the Trump campaign translates itself into aggressive assertions for political and economic dominance abroad--particularly in Asia and the Middle East. It also would not be so farfetched to expect distancing from the European Union, which the Trump crowd sees as a globalist project in its final form: nation states surrendering sovereignty for a more regional management of state bureaucracy and the economy. If this were the case, and a Trump administration looked to break down various trade agreements and military commitments, Europe would become vulnerable to a hostile Russia and administratively unable to manage the waves of refugees from the Middle East. Additionally, our mutual economic diversity would suffer, raising prices for European products such as food, cars, shipping containers, industrial products and medical goods.

At a certain point in the presidential campaign, Trump’s protectionism was largely a point of criticism from his primary challengers. Operating under the assumption that Bannon is advising Trump on matters that are directly related to his executive orders on Mexico, refugees, and sanctuary cities, one can assume that Bannon’s economic nationalism is having a substantial impact on the Administration’s policies. Now the government has the option of allowing him a say in military matters, or denying him that direct authority and say in NSC meetings.

Bannon’s radical political philosophy should be emphasized here. Bannon is a believer in a previous world order where states and their respective nations determined the government of geographic regions. This is what he hopes to implement for the United States domestically, but it can only be accomplished if the roots of internationalism are crippled and it would not be surprising if this is achieved by crippling the institutions which foster global trade and cooperation. With Bannon as a top domestic advisor, the buffer of Congress, the Supreme Court and the state governments will be required to protect the American people from the contempt that Bannon holds.. However, it is Bannon on the international stage which should worry conservatives the most. Conservatives, for economic reasons, have fought alongside liberals since the end of WWII for a more interconnected planet which has significantly benefited business, technological, medical and diplomatic development. The Trump/Bannon doctrine of “America First” may identify some true problems that exist in the globalized world. Of course, there must be reforms made to international monetary arrangements, manufacturing standards, state bureaucratic red tape with our trading partners, accountability, and significant changes to our own tax code. However, the course that the Trump administration is pursuing is a dangerous one which threatens to break the insurances against conflict between us and other world powers. It is naive to think that China and the US could have developed such close diplomatic ties without  bilateral trade. It is naive to think that Europe would have remained at peace for seventy years without a binding economic agreement. We should start to acknowledge this in order to avert violent conflict in the future. This begins with dumping Steve Bannon.

Make the Press Office Great Again

By Grace Hagerty 

There was a time when Press Secretaries were great. They tried to connect with the public and advocate on behalf of the president in new and innovative ways. In the “good ol’ days,” press secretaries did not butt tweet nor holler “alternative facts” at reporters, they worked with the press because they understood the value of a mutually beneficial relationship.  President Eisenhower’s Press Secretary James (Jim) C. Hagerty was a hugely transformational figure in the White House press office. Much like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Hagerty was tasked with navigating a changing media landscape. At his first press briefing in 1953, Hagerty said:

“When I say to you, 'I don't know,' I mean I don't know. When I say, 'No comment,' it means I'm not talking, but not necessarily any more than that. Aside from that, I'm here to help you get the news. I am also here to work for one man, who happens to be the President. And I will do that to the best of my ability.”

Unlike Spicer, Hagerty had a respect for the press coupled with a rich understanding of their profession. Hagerty’s father James A. Hagerty was the chief political correspondent for the New York Times. Prior to Jim’s time in the White House, he was a reporter for the New York Times and Press Secretary to New York Governor Dewey. Hagerty knew the press inside and out. This served him well as he entered the White House amidst a time of great transition within the media industry.

Hagerty managed the White House press office from 1953-1961. This was a time of unprecedented technological advancement. On January 19, 1955, he orchestrated the first televised presidential news conference, allowing President Eisenhower to speak directly to the people from the White House. During his tenure as the longest serving White House Press Secretary, Jim Hagerty was a household name. He was featured in Esquire, Time Magazine, Life, and many major media outlets. He was well known because he played an instrumental role in shaping a transparent and direct relationship between the White House and the American people in a way that had never before been possible. He also was the first Press Secretary to hold two press conferences a day, now a hallmark of the White House Press office. Perhaps most significantly, Hagerty abolished the rule that the president could not be directly quoted without permission. Under his leadership, for the first time, everything that the president said at a press conference could be printed word for word.

Eisenhower and Hagerty used their influence to get closer to the American people. Hagerty’s press office was designed to favor transparency and professionalism.  Spicer and the Trump team have taken the exact opposite approach and though they inherited a very similar technological landscape to that of their predecessor, they are using technology in a way that has never been done before. Essentially, they have eschewed substantive public addresses in favor of twitter rants.

Unlike Spicer, Hagerty understood that the central duty of the Press Secretary is to be the president’s advocate. Unfortunately, Spicer is doing a terrible job advocating for President Trump. In his conferences and press releases he is giving the press corps a lot to ridicule and very little to work with. Just look at the press release titled “Praise for President Trump.” This was both propaganda-esque and completely devoid of concrete facts. Spicer wrote a presidential press release that reads like a movie trailer.

Perhaps the most important difference between Spicer and Hagerty is that Hagerty respected and understood the multidimensional nature of the press; therefore he was able to be incredibly effective at his job. I am proud to say that I, Grace Hagerty, am his great-granddaughter and in my opinion, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is fumbling bigly.

Spicer appears to have no understanding of journalists nor does he seem willing to work with them in any capacity. He was never a journalist; rather, he was the communications chair for the RNC. There have been successful Press Secretaries that had virtually the same exact experience as Spicer. However, his predecessors, who also happened to be political partisans, made some effort to understand America’s fourth estate. Spicer’s lack of understanding and apparent contempt for the press make him both incredibly unlikeable and an ineffective advocate for President Trump who, frankly, needs all the help he can get when it comes to public perception. Journalists will not write balanced articles about President Trump if his Press Secretary is screaming at them; that’s common sense.

Either Spicer is completely unfit to hold this position or his temperament is a calculated strategic move to divert public attention from the unconstitutional policies Trump wishes to enact. The Trump Administration should meet the press halfway by creating workable conditions for the press to do its job. It’s in our national interest for them to do so. However, that does not seem to be their political strategy. The Trump team appears to be on a mission to create a feud with the press as a diversionary tactic so they can steamroll their political agenda with minimal public commentary. My great-grandfather is spinning in his urn.

Spicer is championing Trump’s anti-media message. To team Trump, there are only two palatable media figures. Naturally, the first one is Sean Hannity who epitomizes President Trump’s view of journalistic ethics and integrity. And then we have Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. His far right website Breitbart looms large in Trump’s heart. On Wednesday, January 25th, Bannon contacted the New York Times himself in order to berate them. He said: “I want you to quote this: the media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” This ludicrous interview continues as Bannon says: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut.” As the head of press relations for team Trump, Spicer was complicit with Bannon’s remarks at best and orchestrated them at worst. Bannon’s rant is further evidence that these four years will likely be an all-out war with the White House and the press. This is literally the exact opposite strategy my great-grandfather took.

Jim Hagerty realized that the White House and the media could benefit from a cordial relationship and he shaped the White House Press office around that notion. However, the philosophy of my great-grandfather seems completely lost on Sean Spicer. His several shortcomings and apparent inability to adhere to traditional Press Secretary decorum minimizes the significance of an office that means so much to me, my family, and most importantly our national identity. It’s in our best interest as a nation to hope for the success of Sean Spicer as he encounters the challenges associated with running the press office. However, Spicer is at the helm of Trump’s war on the press and this feud will ultimately hurt the American people. All can say is “sad.”

The Power of Symbolism

By Matthew Hines, Contributing Writer

In the past few weeks, in the flurry and frenzy of the new Trump Administration, a smaller news story emerged from The Hill that was ignored by most of the media. This story probably tells more about the new president and his thinking than the combined actions he has taken so far.

Upon taking office, every president discovers that they can borrow works of art or other national treasures from landmarks such as the National Gallery of Art to adorn the Oval Office or Cabinet Room. Some presidents use this to choose portraits or busts of figures they admire; Gerald Ford adorned his Cabinet Room with a painting of Eisenhower and Truman, Reagan chose Calvin Coolidge, and George W. Bush chose Winston Churchill’s bust for his Oval Office. President Trump, of all the figures he had available to him, chose a portrait of Andrew Jackson, our seventh president and the first populist.

In a way, this makes sense. If you read our history around the time of Jackson, his election was considered a sea change in U.S. politics and fundamentally altered our country in both good and bad ways. His election was the first in which a widespread voting franchise had been extended to all free males. Before, it had been restricted to those who owned property. His was the first presidency to eschew tradition. Consider a few things from his presidency for which he is known:

  1. He ignored the precedent set by all of his predecessors when it came to appointing people to office. It was said of his philosophy: “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy,” giving rise to the infamous Spoils System. He tended to appoint his supporters to office over qualified applicants, and it led to a vast turnover in federal personnel whenever a new administration took office.

  2. He was the first president to use the veto as a political weapon. His twelve vetoes, while considered few in number compared to modern presidents, was more than any of the presidents before him combined. Before Jackson, the veto was considered as a last resort to stop laws the president felt were unconstitutional, such as Madison’s veto of internal improvements because he felt the constitution did not give Congress such power. Jackson used the veto to shape policy and insert the president as a key player in forming legislation.

  3. He famously battled the Supreme Court over the removal of the Cherokee People from Georgia to the West in what we know of as The Trail of Tears. SCOTUS - led by the legendary John Marshall - declared this action by the Jackson Administration to be illegal. Jackson flouted the political nicety of honoring a Supreme Court decision by retorting, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

  4. He famously hated and killed the Bank of the United States, which acted as a moderating and stabilizing force to the U.S. economy and for the issuance of currency. Its existence was anathema to Western interests, as it restricted easy money and credit some felt was needed to expand the country. Jackson vetoed the reauthorization charter for the bank. Later, because too much credit and easy money was in circulation, Jackson issued an executive order known as The Specie Circular which restricted all sales of public lands to those who only held gold in payment. As you can imagine, the demand for gold skyrocketed but banks only had limited supply to exchange for bank notes. The law of supply and demand caught up with the economically-illiterate Jackson, and caused the Panic of 1837.

  5. Although Jackson was for state’s rights, he also recognized the need for the federal government to assert itself in its constitutional powers. During the Nullification Crisis when South Carolina threatened to secede over a high tariff, Jackson went to Congress and asked for unprecedented power to “force” collection of tariffs by sending in the U.S. Army, if needed. While the constitution - and the subsequent Militia Act of 1792 - allows for military action to enforce the law, Jackson threatened martial law on South Carolina to assert federal authority.

Already, there are parallels between what the new Trump Administration has done that has precedent in the Jackson Administration. Like Jackson, he has instituted a form of a “spoils system” where political appointees who have no idea how to run a government agency, or have had any experience in government, are running federal departments. Like Jackson’s removal of the Cherokee, Trump has issued an order to stop refugees from the Middle East because of their religion. Like Jackson, I can imagine his reaction when the Supreme Court or any other federal court declares his actions to be unconstitutional will be to dare them to enforce it. Like Jackson, he wants to upend an economic order that has worked for the most Americans by disrupting the Bretton Woods system and imposing tariffs once again. Like Jackson battled the elites that had controlled the presidency and the government before him, Trump claims to be the champion of the “forgotten man” over the elites.

The symbolism is uncanny, and could add to a bit of angst as we see the opening act of a new, populist era. Symbols matter, and this is a symbol that should inform and alarm Americans. It could also add clarity moving forward.

Embracing Change in Massachusetts

By Morgan Dawicki, Staff Writer

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Over the past year, I poured my heart out for Hillary Rodham Clinton, proudly defending her motives and all the positive change that I believed she stood for. I was excited to vote for her in my first presidential election and to continue President Obama’s legacy. I vehemently opposed a Trump presidency, viewing his campaign as one of bigotry, hatred, and fear. And then it happened: Donald J. Trump won the election. Yet in the weeks following, I, a 20-year-old liberal, found optimism. Trump’s victory highlighted, in my opinion, the biggest issue liberal democracy faces: a changing labor market. There are many factors at play, but what we recognize we can address. Doing so, I think, will be a net gain for us all.

I attend college in Washington, DC, and I will be the first to admit that I forgot about the people living outside of urban areas as this election neared. It’s an easy bias to share in the nation’s capital. Our modern economy centers around intellectual urbanization. It will continue to do so; that is the trend of civilization. As we move increasingly towards automated labor and as office jobs become more prominent, millions will be left without the traditional jobs and lives they once knew. How do we, not just as a country, but as a civilization, address this issue? How will wealth be distributed evenly enough so that more can benefit?

I am not convinced that industrial, blue-collar jobs will ever exist in the same ways they used to in America. With each technological boom, America has adapted its labor market. There was the cotton gin, which drove slave labor and agrarianism. There was the steam engine, which enabled us to move faster and transport ourselves across an entire continent. There was the assembly line, which marked the start of mass manufacturing and urbanization. And most recently the Internet, which at the stroke of a key or click of a button has given our most precious - and most heinous - thoughts and ideas an instantaneous platform.

Though I live, study, and work in DC during the school year, I come from a small blue-collar town in southeastern Massachusetts. Our neighbor is the Port of New Bedford, the largest fishing port in the United States. New Bedford was arguably the richest city in the United States—twice. New Bedford first rose to prominence through whaling - some may recognize it as the whaling port in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Many of the mansions rich whaling captains used to live in still exist today, remnants of a golden era for New Bedford. As technology advanced, the need for whale oil declined, and a once booming city lost its way. It rose out of the ashes when the textiles industry came to prominence. Mills in New Bedford owned by Hathaway Manufacturing Company were later acquired and heavily invested in by finance wizard Warren Buffet and provided many jobs and opportunities for people living in the area. Sadly, this industry too came crashing down.

Today, New Bedford prides itself as a fishing port, and rightfully so. Though New Bedford has faced financial and economic adversity the past several decades, the ocean has served as salvation. My family has fought to advance maritime interests in the area for decades, providing not just advocacy but practical education and certification programs that lead to gainful employment and a safer sea. I am proud of that fact. With climate change and overfishing, earning a living has not been made any easier for these New Bedford fishermen in search of better lives. Perhaps I, more than some of my fellow liberals, have recognized the truth that echoes in the cries of many disillusioned Trump supporters who feel their world is coming out from under them. My advice is this: look to New Bedford.

What makes me most proud of this area of Massachusetts is its profound resilience in the face of economic adversity. Massachusetts, known as “The Spirit of America” is host to thoroughbred Americans. When the going gets tough, these people know how to get going. People are driven by a sense of duty and hard work, rooted heavily in Protestant foundations.

The key factor in their success is their adaptation to an ever-changing and ever-evolving world. With each technological and environmental change, they have rediscovered themselves, sought out new industries and new labor markets; redefining their successes and accepting the change as a way to grow. Today, they are investing heavily in port infrastructure to increase vessel capacities and are seeking to become a hub for imports and exports within the regional fishing industry. Small businesses have also become abundant, creating commerce, jobs, and tourism. New Bedford is increasingly host to many great restaurants and art galleries, all of which are helping to drive the local economy.

These adaptations are also due in part to smart governance on the local level. The administrations in New Bedford have done an exemplary job with budgets and spending to help push the city in a direction that can benefit everyone. Overlooking the importance of governance on the local level would create discredit where much credit is due. Many Americans look to the federal government as the answer to all of their problems. This is simply not a healthy, nor realistic practice.

Citizens and government officials alike are all responsible for finding solutions to the problems plaguing our society today. In the words of President Bill Clinton, “We must do what America does best: offer more opportunity to all and demand responsibility from all.”

In countering the negative effects of the changing labor market, the U.S. government must do all it can to ensure fair wealth distribution and more opportunities for the working class. This begins with cutting tax evasion loopholes, eliminating offshore banking, reducing the number of jobs shipped overseas - or allowing those who’ve lost their jobs to directly benefit from changes, improving infrastructure, and reforming our long broken education system.

Citizens must also recognize their duty to innovate and embrace change like the people of New Bedford have. To start, Americans can work to re-educate themselves (which admittedly, is much easier said than done), lobby the government with ideas for solutions, start small businesses than can grow into centers of employment for local communities, run for local or state office, join school boards to share innovative ideas that can shape future generations, and most importantly—be hopeful.

An Unending Vacancy: A Casualty of Senate Partisanship

By Dante Bucci, Contributing Writer

For almost an entire year, the United States Supreme Court has not been filled to capacity. Since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the highest judicial body in the country has been unable to hear cases and offer rulings with the interpretation of nine separate Justices. It was also on that date, February 13, 2016, that the Court became the latest victim of the growing trend of partisan senatorial gamesmanship.

Though the delay was considered unprecedented from the very beginning, the (in)action of Republican Senate leadership was not surprising. For about fourteen years now, this supposed august body of legislators has descended from the epitome of gentlemanly clubbiness to become a focal point for partisan kneejerk decisions. Now of course, politics is not a game of courtesy. There was a time though when the Senate operated under a system built on decorum and mutual respect. Members of Leadership once publicly complimented each other. Bob Dole even described his one-time Leadership counterpart Bob Byrd as a “friend.” This seems unheard-of today.

A recent string of “firsts” in regards to rules, procedures, and traditions within the body is worth noting. Decisions made by Senate Leadership, going all the way back to 2004, have contributed greatly to this increase in beltway partisanship. And now, after the Merrick Garland situation last year, a “nuclear option” might be on the table for Senate Republicans. Just as then-Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to gut the procedures on appointments, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might be pressured to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees as well.

The untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year changed the makeup of the Supreme Court. The Justice was truly a larger than life character, so it is only fitting that his death sparked a larger than life battle between a “lame-duck President” and the U.S. Senate. In a rather unique method of paying his respects, Mitch McConnell announced that the Senate would not take up anyone President Obama might appoint to fill the Scalia vacancy. This was not just a call to vote against the President’s nominee nor was it an organized effort to fail this person in committee. McConnell simply rejected Obama’s ability to appoint a new Justice to the Supreme Court.

McConnell rationalized that because the 44th President’s term was nearly complete and the election of the next Commander-in-Chief was underway, the Senate should remain in a holding pattern so the next President could fill the vacancy. Actually Obama’s term was 343 days away from ending, but I guess that’s just semantics. This was a tremendous gamble for the Majority Leader, as he bet the farm that a Republican was going to retake the White House. He lucked out.

The legislative path Mitch McConnell took in order to reach this point was a difficult one. He had to convince his caucus that a duly elected President with the Constitutional right to appoint a new Justice forfeited that right because his expiration date was coming up. When President Obama called the GOP bluff last March and nominated Judge Merrick Garland, Senate leadership held firm. Even though some Republican members of Congress said Garland should at least get a hearing in committee, McConnell categorically refused and Merrick Garland has faded into political oblivion.

This was a dangerous strategy, and it harmed the integrity of the Senate and the Court. Going a year plus without a member of the Supreme Court has only occurred one time in the past 140 years. But the fact remains that Mitch McConnell’s thinking directly stems from a recent trend of outward partisanship that culminated in this prolonged vacancy. This has been growing for some time.

The first act in this recent string of unnecessarily partisan breaches of tradition can be traced back to 2004. Bill Frist was Majority Leader of the Senate at the time. In that election year, then Minority Leader Tom Daschle was seeking his fourth Senate term. In a highly unusual breach of tradition, Bill Frist went to South Dakota to campaign for the candidate running against his leadership colleague. Yes, this may seem like a non-issue today, but this action by Frist was taboo. Opposing members of Senate leadership tended to stay away from their counterpart’s elections out of respect. Daschle lost in a tight race, and the damage was done. The seeds of disrespect were planted and this breach of tradition started the unraveling. These actions were not forgotten by their successors.

More recently, since Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell took over their respective Leadership posts, the respect has completely disappeared and reached a boiling point. Both men have talked a big game in regards to upholding Senate traditions, but then conveniently forget about them when they stand in their way. In 2013, in a historic and devastating change of Senate procedure, Harry Reid pushed through a measure to nullify the filibuster for all Presidential appointees except for ones to the Supreme Court. In layman's terms, there no longer needed to be bipartisan support for Presidential appointments. Only a simple majority was needed to confirm nominees. Convenient, but debilitating for future attempts at compromise. Reid was thinking in the short term: let’s just get whomever President Obama wants in there. However, Senate Democrats are paying the price for this kneejerk decision currently as President Trump has the opportunity to appoint whomever he pleases to whatever position he wants. Qualifications and compromise has given way to a partisan appointment process that only further deepens the Washington political chasm we currently live in.

Now, with President Trump nominating Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado to fill this unending SCOTUS vacancy, the partisan infighting has the capacity to go nuclear. Before Trump’s announcement of Gorsuch, Senate Democrats were threatening to filibuster any Trump appointment to the Court. Newly minted Minority Leader Chuck Schumer decided to play McConnell’s game and indicated he would not support anyone the President would nominate. Because of the opposition, McConnell has the opportunity to change the rules just as Reid did. This would be short sighted and convenient in the moment but very costly, as we are learning now through the Trump Cabinet appointment process. So, the question is, how far will Leadership go in order to pursue short-term victories in replace of long-term success? Not only that, but these procedural changes further poison another branch of the federal government with partisan infighting.   

By all accounts, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals checks off all the boxes President Trump searched for in a nominee. When Trump was running for the Presidency, he indicated he would appoint someone in the mold of Justice Scalia in an attempt to preserve a conservative legacy. As a Republican, I am rather excited about this possibility. But at what costs did we reach this point? Even though McConnell’s strategy worked, the ends do not justify the means. It seems that Neil Gorsuch will be successfully appointed with the Senate’s blessing, but what about future Supreme Court appointments? What about when a Democratic President joins with a Democratic Senate with a bare majority to appoint a new justice in the mold of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? This threat is not going away, as the precedent has been set. Will Mitch McConnell, or future members of Senate Leadership, further ruin the Madisonian ideal of a strong minority party by again changing the 60 vote threshold? In a body that once prided itself on arduously hashing out quality decisions with mutual understanding, the current crop of leaders have tarnished this legacy for the sake of political convenience.

Trump’s Potential Republican Enemies

By Jonah Ullendorff, Contributing Writer


A few noteworthy Republicans may be the only hope for the Senate to keep Donald Trump in check.

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It is no secret that many Republicans were unhappy with Donald Trump as their nominee for the 2016 election. Many spoke out against him, assuming that his loss to Hillary Clinton was inevitable. Now that Trump is President, though, will these Republicans continue their opposition or will they simply toe the party line? While some Republicans who had been previously critical of Trump, like Ben Sasse of Nebraska, will not be much of a concern to the Trump administration, some Republicans are likely not done opposing him.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine)

Collins would have been a thorn in the side of Republican whips even if Trump was not a controversial figure. Collins is the most moderate Republican in the Senate by a long shot; she may even be the most moderate Senator in the history of the United States. Collins, according to the voting record site On The Issues, is so moderate that her voting record is actually indicative of her leaning slightly to the left. Furthermore, Collins comes from the light blue state of Maine and will be up for reelection in 2018. Given that voters in Maine voted for Hillary Clinton by 48% to 45%, Collins would likely gain more support if she stood up to Trump instead of rubber stamping his policies.

While Collins may, therefore, vote against many Trump policies, her soft-spoken demeanor suggests that she will unlikely be a “loud” opponent of Trump, as apparent in her recent speech to the Senate that she would vote no on the Devos nomination. Thus, she will probably not become a standard-bearer of anti-Trump Republican sentiment. Still, as a Republican senator in a senate held by a slim Republican majority, her vote could make a difference on many key issues.

Sen. John McCain (Arizona)

John McCain and Donald Trump do not get along. Simply put, McCain’s no frills military attitude does not mesh well with Trump’s rich guy act. Many actually had predicted that Trump’s first clash with McCain back in July of 2015 would be Trump’s downfall. For those of us that cannot keep track of Trump’s gaffes, that was when Trump insulted McCain saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain also is well known in Washington as being a man who is willing to put aside his personal differences and party loyalties. McCain was chief sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, a bipartisan bill that intended to regulate the influence of money in campaigns. Although some of this act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2010 under Citizens United, John McCain is in part responsible for candidates saying, “I’m ________ and I approve this message,” after their ads. Through McCain-Feingold, McCain cemented his reputation as a man willing to promote bipartisanship.

Furthermore, McCain’s strong stance against torture may prove to be a major obstacle to Trump, who has said multiple times that he would be open to engaging in torture. In fact this clash has already been shown, on January 25th McCain resisted Trump potentially bringing back torture by saying, “[t]he President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law.”

What makes McCain the biggest threat to Trump is his charisma and experience. McCain is an American hero with decades of political experience. McCain commands massive media attention and garners respect from his peers on both sides of the aisle. Trump would have been wise to attempt to gain McCain as a friend. The time for friendship has passed, and Trump is not one to mend fences, so he may be compelled to stay out of McCain’s way.

Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky)

Rand Paul deserves admiration. He may be the only Republican who actually stands for a fiscally small government, no exceptions. Paul’s libertarian values have long been a thorn in the side of Republicans who are unwilling to cut spending in politically sensitive areas. For example, Paul refused to cut social safety nets until corporate welfare was cut as well. Heis also staunchly opposed to U.S. military intervention abroad and has showed numerous times that, unlike his Republican colleagues, he is perfectly fine with cutting the military budget.  Given Trump’s stated desire to increase government spending, Paul will almost certainly become an opponent of Trump and his spending in the coming years.

Also, to no one’s surprise, Paul and Trump  have had their fair share of personal fights. For those who do not remember, Trump went so far as to insult Paul’s looks at the second GOP debate saying, “I never attacked him on his looks and believe me: There is plenty of subject matter right there.” In conclusion, Paul and Trump are not friends, and Paul will likely be on the receiving end of numerous Trump twitter insults.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina)

Though Graham is not a moderate (his voting record clearly indicates him as a far-right conservative), he may prove to be a nuisance to Trump for a few reasons.

Graham has repeatedly been insulted and belittled by Trump, straining their relationship. Not holding anything back, Trump told supporters in Graham’s home state of South Carolina, “I think Lindsey Graham is a disgrace, and I think you [the people of South Carolina] have one of the worst representatives in the United States, and I don’t think he should run. I don’t think he could run for dogcatcher in this state and win again. I really don’t. Other than that, I think he’s wonderful.”

Besides Trump’s insults against Graham, the senior Palmetto State senator will prove to be an enemy of Trump due to his common sense approach to politics. Even though Graham is a far-right Republican, he does not willfully ignore the truth, even to benefit his own party. For example, while Graham does not support many EPA environmental regulations, he still admits that climate change is real. This common sense approach to the world has already come into conflict with Trump in the context of Russian interference in the election. McCain and Graham recently came together with other Republican leaders to call for an investigation into potential Russian hacking. Trump of course did not take this lightly and mocked Graham saying: “He is going to crack that one percent barrier one day [in reference to Graham not being able to get 1% of the vote in the 2016 Republican primaries]. I didn’t realize Lindsey Graham is still at it. Clearly Trump and Graham are not on good professional terms, a bad sign for relations in the future.

And now recently Graham, along with his friend McCain, has come out against Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from many Muslim dominated countries. In a joint statement, the two senators said they believed this order will only make terrorism worse and not make the American people any safer.

Graham and Trump clashed heads yet again when Trump floated a possible 20% tax on Mexican imports. Graham, famous for his humor, tweeted his opposition to the proposed tariff: “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad,” Graham told his twitter followers.

Despite Graham’s conservative ideology, he will likely continue to exchange barbs with Trump moving forward. Graham humorously described the situation well. “I don’t know if I’m on the [Trump’s] kill list or not, that would be good to know,” Graham told CBS.

Conclusion

If Trump’s executive power is going to be checked, it will most likely be done by the Senate. The House of Representatives has a larger Republican majority of 240-193 and the Supreme Court will soon have its members filled with Trump appointees. The Senate, though, is barely controlled by Republicans 52-48. Since Vice President Pence would cast a deciding vote in a tie, a unified Democratic opposition would need to switch only 3 Republicans to their side to oppose Trump. As it has been outlined above, getting some Republicans to vote against their party is by no means impossible. Simply put, the future of opposition to Trump lies in Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats’ ability to convince Republicans to vote with them.

Separating Immigration Facts from Fiction

By Nikitha Rai, Senior Editor

 

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President Trump recently announced an executive order suspending refugees entering the U.S. for at least 120 days and immigration from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia—predominantly Muslim countries—for the next 90 days. The ban has been widely condemned by world leaders and drawn protests around the country. The Muslim ban is anti-American and denies the positive spirit of American immigration. It unfairly criminalizes immigrants from these seven countries without evidence and bars Syrian refugees who have undergone the rigorous vetting process from entering the country.

The U.S. has seen immigration bans before—In 1882, President Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, preventing Chinese from entering the country for 10 years. During World War II, President Roosevelt argued that refugees were a security threat and turned away an ocean liner filled with Jewish passengers. Nearly a quarter of the 937 passengers on board are believed to have been killed in the Holocaust. These are just a few of the immigration bans we have had over the past 130 years, and they have all been considered mistakes. Each time afterwards, we have said “never again” and yet here we are in 2017.

President Trump claims that this executive order is about keeping our country safe. However, his ban would not have stopped the 9/11 hijackers, the San Bernardino shooters, the Fort Hood shooter, or the Boston marathon bombers. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute notes, “Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.” President Trump has defended his ban, stating that it is not a “Muslim ban” and yet, his measure provides an exemption for religious minorities and he has also extensively discussed Christian persecution in Syria. It provides no similar exemption for Muslim refugees fleeing their country, like the thousands of Syrians that are seeking shelter around the world.

The ban also perpetuates the false idea that immigrants do not help the U.S. Instead, immigrants contribute greatly to the country. In 2013, nearly 18% of business owners in the U.S. were foreign born, and immigrant entrepreneurs make up 28.5% of all new entrepreneurs in the country. In 2012, the Cato Institute concluded that immigrants boost productivity and income gains and that less educated native workers are more likely to gain on average from immigration. Low- and high-skilled immigrants help U.S. companies have a competitive advantage through their talents and help our country grow.

President Trump’s ban does not keep Americans safe from terrorist threats and does not protect American jobs. It instead promotes a xenophobic message that immigrants from these seven countries should be feared, unfairly criminalizing these citizens without any evidence. Refugees and citizens from the seven countries on the ban list deserve the right to come to the U.S. after undergoing the arduous immigration process. To oppose this policy is not only good for the country, but a moral obligation.

Like many Americans, I was horrified by the executive order. Not only because of the inhumane nature of it, but also because I understand intimately how much immigrants contribute to our country. In the past 30 years, my entire family has immigrated to the U.S. in hopes of achieving the American Dream. They have treated patients in need of critical care as doctors, created jobs in their communities as entrepreneurs, and helped create new technology as engineers. As a daughter, granddaughter, and niece of immigrants, I stand against President Trump’s senseless ban.

To Protect Civilians From Police Brutality, Turn Off Police Body Cameras?

by Kevin Levy, Executive Editor

Problem: Instances of police brutality have cropped up in all corners of the country leading to public distrust in our nation's law enforcement.  

Solution: Require police officers to turn off their body cameras before working a massive event until something "goes down."

You read that right.

Recently, a ruckus was made in police media circles that the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department would require their officers to deactivate their body cameras at the Inauguration until some sort of "police action" arose, allegedly at the demand of the American Civil Liberties Union (but in reality in accordance with DC Municipal law). This behemoth band of lawyers has been at the forefront of many of the nation's civil rights issues over the past hundred years, especially on Freedom of Speech issues.

The legal powerhouse believes that the citizenry must be able to express its many diverse views in order to promote democratic values.  They've also ardently disagreed with the government's ability to maintain surveillance programs Muslim Americans and on the entire American citizenship. It is this fear of government 'spying' and record collecting that led opponents of government surveillance to require law enforcement officers deactivate their body cameras until they were necessary to record interactions with civilians. The ACLU is now playing defense with their support of that law.

But there seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance between the idea that police interactions should be filmed in order to protect protesters, and the idea that the police should not record their interactions with civilians until something "goes down."

If what you're worried about is police brutality, then why would you entrust the police to turn on their cameras before they start attacking protesters?  If the police are so nefarious, in fact, wouldn’t they purposefully deactivate their cameras just before committing civil rights violations?  Shouldn’t you require law enforcement officers to constantly record every waking hour of the day to prevent them from selectively deciding when to be held accountable and be transparent?

This, of course, assumes that body cameras exist solely to protect civilians from interactions with the police, when it could also work in the reverse.  Body cameras could work to protect law enforcement officers from one sided media coverage that attempts to paint them as aggressors. Take, for example, this 2015 incident in Kansas caught on a bystander’s camera and later posted to YouTube titled Lenexa Police Department Brutality. The thirty-six second clip showed police officers wrestling on the ground with an unarmed suspect, ending with the videographer shouting to the suspect “They're gonna fucking kill you bro, quit moving.”

This incident, like many involving allegations of police brutality, went viral on social media sites. Luckily for the police officers involved, their body cameras (and patrol car dashboard camera) were operative and caught the videographer with his pants down by showing the suspect throwing a punch at the officers before being taken down.

At massive occasions like the Women’s March and Inauguration events, one should expect all parties involved to be on their best behavior. That includes police, attendees, and protesters.

In December of last year, the ACLU released a policy paper that encouraged courts and juries to disregard police officers’ testimonies if they “unjustifiably [fail] to record an interaction with a civilian.”  The mandate to require police officers to record their interactions with civilians is directly challenged by their support of a policy that prevents police officers to record their interactions with civilians unless something “goes down.”

Following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Obama Administration began working with law enforcement agencies across the country to better equip them with body cameras.  Fox News reported in 2014 that President Obama was “pushing a three-year, $263 million program to expand training and resources for local police departments -- the biggest component would be a $75 million fund during that period to help purchase 50,000 body cameras.”  Body cameras have the ability to improve police interactions with civilians, and vice versa, according to at least one California police chief.

When shots are fired, first responders rush towards the commotion. Police are trained to neutralize a threat and to protect civilians simultaneously. It seems almost axiomatic that police shouldn’t be concerned with fiddling with the body camera device on their chests first and foremost. Why, then, would the ACLU adopt a policy that puts civilian safety at risk?

Their primary reason for supporting the “Do Not Record” policy is based on fear of a J. Edgar Hoover-esque policing program of compiling information on civilians. “There is a long history of law enforcement compiling dossiers on peaceful activists exercising their First Amendment rights in public marches and protests, and using cameras to send an intimidating message to such protesters,” writes ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley. He also points to instances of when the police filmed their interactions with civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as examples of abusive police power.

 

The ACLU staff is mortified with the possibility that the Metropolitan Police Department would film protesters for the sake of compiling secretive files on protesters to potentially blackball them farther down the line all in an attempt to enforce a larger police state. Now, reality TV star Donald Trump was just inaugurated as President of the United States, so clearly stranger things have happened in 2017. But this seems absurd.

 

In order to protect civilians from police brutality, the ACLU has long encouraged ordinary people to become citizen-journalists and to film their interactions with the police. They’ve even developed an iPhone app called Mobile Justice that would send a video directly to the ACLU. Americans should feel safe in their communities, and having the ability to film law enforcement officers can certainly aid in that effort. Without violating legal standards and impairing the efforts of the police to do their job safely, people should be able to record their own interactions with the police.

But police should be able to film their interactions with the general public as well. The notion that police will worry primarily with turning on their cameras before intervening in a violent altercation between protesters is unlikely at best and simply silly at worst.  Their inability to do that fails to protect law enforcement officers from false allegations of brutality, and neither does it protect civilians in future suits of actual brutality. In a life-or-death situation, cameras should already be recording by the time something “goes down” in order to get a sense of the entire situation rather than another thirty-second clip that gets just a blip of the event.

Body cameras only work when they’re operational. The ACLU’s discombobulated ideology when it comes to police body cameras is bewildering and, frankly, quite disturbing. Requiring police to keep cameras off until there's a "police action" protects neither protesters, the police, nor the greater American public.

Keep on Marching: A Letter

By Joe Bergeon, Staff Writer

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Dear Marchers,

Over the course of a year, I placed tens of thousands of calls to accomplish what we all thought was more than possible: getting people to the polls, to volunteer, and to be energized. As a volunteer, you’re lucky to reach one out of ten, but that didn’t dissuade any of us from doing what we could to help elect the first female president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.

In the winter, we called into every county in Iowa, the smallest towns in New Hampshire, and the suburbs of Las Vegas and Charleston. In the spring, we called into the Super Tuesday states, the “Acela Primary” states, and the Rust Belt. Before the summer, seeing the finish line, we called into the biggest prize of all: California. We weathered the storms of angry Bernie supporters, angry Trump supporters, and the folks who ‘just don’t like’ Hillary Clinton. We weren’t discouraged when the Bernie supporters told us that she was a corporate hack, an ally of Wall Street, a DINO who only cared about preserving the political establishment and the power of Debbie Wasserman Schultz; when the Trump supporters told us that she was a criminal, a liar, and a bitch; and when everyone else complained about the emails. Even after all that, we still remained confident. How could America elect such a radical? How could America turn its back on the values we hold so dear?

I woke up on November 8th, ready to see the hard work pay off and the dawn of a new era in American society, when the barriers would be broken and the bridges would be built. Throughout the morning and the afternoon, I, like many others, stayed glued to the television, and spent a few hours at the polls to greet voters and thank them for turning out on behalf of local candidates. When the polls closed, we went to our victory party at a restaurant on the marina in Kennebunkport, the traditional bastion of the Bush Republicans.

We felt good. At 8:30, we were playing pool, eating and drinking, chatting and chanting as results began to roll in. By 9:30, we began to watch more closely as we saw the margins in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio begin to move in favor of the other side. At 10:00, the prayers started to become audible. At 11:00, a freight train hit us, and we began to fathom the unfathomable: we failed.

Never in my short life had I ever felt such a tempest of emotion. In these past several months, we’ve watched with little surprise a transition beset with chaos and a lack of professionalism. We’ve read about spikes in hate crimes and harassment at the hands of the white-nationalist right. And it all culminated in the inauguration of President Trump. With this, knowing that it could have been different and we could have done more, I’ve been exhausted and exasperated.

That agony was on my mind today, as I marched on Main Street in a small town in Maine. Temperatures didn’t crack 40 degrees, nor did the sun make itself visible. In spite of the weather, over 750 people showed up to protest the President and to voice their concerns about the potential for a reversal of women’s rights, civil rights, and the ability to obtain affordable health care. They arrived with signs alluding to Hillary Clinton's remarks at the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women, the rhetoric of the new President, and the rallying cries of protesters before them. This sister stand-in coincided with the others on this day in cities and towns across the country.

But there was one moment that stabbed me in the heart: as we stood there, a large pickup truck with a Confederate flag drove by, the occupants yelling obscenities out the window, taunting those standing on the sidewalks. A little girl, standing in front of the parish church, began to cry as she heard this, and turned to her mother behind her. A look of frustration passed over the mother’s face, with small glimmers of both anger and defiance. “Don’t worry, honey,” she said softly. “You see all these people standing here with us? They believe that women are equal to men, and they’re going to fight to make sure that those bad people won’t make you feel less important. Don’t worry, honey.”

But the thing is: I didn’t see 750 people making calls. I didn’t see 750 people knocking on doors, registering young people to vote, making sure the elderly received absentee ballots, or providing transportation for those who couldn’t make it to the polls on their own. I didn’t hear the voices of equality in the streets, or witness the energy, the hard work, and the organization. I sure didn’t see 750 people fighting to make sure that those bad people won’t make that little girl feel less important. Yet I stood alongside them, speaking to them, encouraging them to get involved. I watched them stand with signs reading, “Yes We Can,” “Love Trumps Hate,” “My Country, My Voice,” and my favorite, “Men of Quality Don’t Fear Equality.” I saw the passion of their hearts, the forcefulness of their convictions, and the determination in their eyes.

Now, marchers, I hope that you join with me on a fight that will never cease and a journey that has no end. If you can get on a plane to go to Washington D.C., you can make five calls or knock on five doors. If you can stand in the cold for hours on end, you can get your friends and family to vote. It doesn’t start one month before a presidential election, it starts the day after. Don’t leave it to someone else; do it yourself. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on.

So, marchers: show the world what democracy looks like.

Respectfully,

An organizer

 

The Art of the Deal Comes to Japan: Why the US-Japan Relationship is Going to Get a Whole Lot Closer

By Phil McLaughlin, Contributing Writer

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In December of 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an immensely symbolic visit to the United States, visiting Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was bitterly poignant as he came as a friend, one of America’s chief allies.  This in stark contrast to the Japanese attack that came there in 1941. The world now is very different from the era that ended with World War II, and Japan has quickly become one of the most important allies for the United States in the crucial Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific region has become one of the most important global areas in the 21st century, and as America has tried to demonstrate its own Pacific power, it has grown increasingly closer to Japan. Prime Minister Abe and President Obama had a good relationship, and ties under their administrations have deepened but with the election of Donald Trump, the world order stands at an uncertain precipice.

Increasingly in East Asia, security challenges from North Korea, China, and Russia have brought the United States and Japan closer together. There are about 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan, a presence that evolved out of the occupation force that was there at the end of the Second World War into a forward deployed force ready at a moment's notice to defend Japan or respond to a threat in Asia. President Trump has made military power a centerpiece of his campaign, and much has been made over his commitment to US allies. Commentators have wondered what his plans are for existing international security structures like NATO or the UN, but not much fuss has been made about his plans for Japan.

It is well known that President Trump has serious qualms about the current balance of the US-China relationship. Spectators worry about his seriousness in labelling China a ‘currency manipulator’ or imposing high tariffs on their products. They are concerned that this could lead to a trade war and a loss of Chinese investment into the US economy. By the same token, some are emboldened by his hawkish stance vis-a-vis the Chinese, loving his unpredictability in foreign policy, which does nothing to assuage Chinese concerns. As tensions between our nations slowly simmer and disputes between US allies like the Philippines or Japan continue with China, Trump is sure to hold to his guns in backing key US allies in the region, especially as they contain or undermine a resurgent China.

During the campaign, Trump advocated for a US defense policy that was robust and able to face down any threat from a peer or near-peer competitor (read: China). A key part of this policy will have to rely on allies in East Asia that can provide the basing and infrastructure for large volumes of US troops and naval vessels, including the specialized accommodations for our fleet of supercarriers. Japan is one of the few Asian nations that can support this, and as a treaty-bound US ally, it may be prudent to deepen our relationship with them to counter threats in Northeast Asia.

Trump has made many calls for European allies to carry their own weight, claiming that they get the better end of the deal while the US pays for their security. He would be pleased to know that Japan has just increased its defense budget for the fifth year in a row, to an all time record high. As Japanese and Chinese ships circle each other around the Senkaku Islands, Russian planes encounter their Japanese counterparts over the Kuril Islands, and North Korea keeps launching missiles, there is no shortage of opportunities for the US and Japan to deepen their relationship. Under Obama, Japan and the United States have committed to holding military and disaster exercises together. Japan even went so far as to change its Constitution in order to make it possible to defend the United States just as the United States would defend Japan. Trump, who wants to see strong US allies taking command of their own security, needs look no further than Japan.

    There are no shortage of areas where Japan and the United States could look to increase collaboration. As Japan returns to the world stage as a military power, albeit one limited to defense, it can continue its trend of holding exercises with the United States. Of course, as the US bases so many troops and even the US 7th Fleet in Japan, military to military contacts are a paramount feature of the relationship. The Malabar Exercises between the US, Japan, and India, are a good example of where the US could deepen contacts. Bringing in other Asian maritime powers such as the Philippines or Australia, both of which are also Japanese allies, the US could look to embolden the existing security framework of East Asia. The US Army even has an Australian as its Deputy Commander for Operations in the Pacific, something they could look to do with Japanese counterparts by integrating them deeper into the organizational framework of the US military.

Japan is also a major economic partner of the United States, with trade between the two countries valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars. They are the largest holder of US sovereign debt, showing just how deep the economic ties between the countries truly are. Trump, though he has professed to be averse to bad trade deals, could look to negotiate a free-trade agreement or resurrect the Structural Impediments Initiative to analyze areas where Japan and the US can work together to address foundational issues in economic relations. Skilled in the art of the deal, this might be an area of importance for Trump as he could look to counter economic uncertainties in the Chinese relationship with a Japanese one.

We have come a long way in 75 years, years marked by the most vicious war the world has known but that beget one of the deepest international friendships. Looking to the future, the relationship with Japan will become increasingly important as we look to contain or counter a rising China, undermine a North Korea hellbent on achieving nuclear status, and maintain our dominance in the Asia-Pacific for years to come. Under President Trump, this relationship has the opportunity to deepen and develop in order to fulfill that goal, but it requires that we turn out to the world rather than inward unto ourselves.

 

Playing God With Genetic Engineering

By Fairooz Adams, Outreach Director

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In recent years, there has been one incredible scientific breakthrough; a feat of technological wonder that is scarcely matched, greater than the detonation of the first atomic weapon and is rivaled perhaps only by the advent of modern computer science. Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR-Cas9, revolutionizes genetic engineering.

CRISPR-Cas9 technology utilizes a process that has been instrumental in the most ancient wars since the beginning of life on Earth and continues to the present day: the one between viruses and bacteria. When a virus invades a microbe, the latter has limited time to fight before it is hijacked and destroyed. This is where the CRISPR system comes in: microbes have acquired a mechanism to identify and destroy viral genetic material. The same mechanism is capable of inexpensively and relatively quickly being utilized to re-engineer the human genome with perfect precision. CRISPR opens up a plethora of opportunities: ending certain diseases and genetic defects, the elimination of entire species that inconvenience us, and even stopping aging and death – a process which has genetic components – are possibilities that seem more realistic today.

Further advances in the technology will be required before humanity can genetically transform itself and the world with a historically unmatched level of purpose and precision, and CRISPR-Cas9 places humanity closer to that than ever before.

In this Pandora’s Box of near-godlike power, we find an endless labyrinth of moral questions. Is it moral to eliminate an entire species? Is it moral to permanently alter the genetic code of humanity? This technology makes designer babies more affordable; is that moral? And these questions bring legal and regulatory questions.

Registering high on the list of potential problems is the possibility that genetic modification might create a bifurcated American society – those that have the means or choose to genetically modify their children may create a class of people that enjoy far greater intelligence and health than those that do not. The decision may not be exclusively confined to the United States. One can easily imagine a nation such as North Korea may choose to genetically engineer their population to create docile and compliant people. China may engineer their children to create a citizenry with greater intellectual gifts to establish an insurmountable lead on innovation and thus dominate the world economy in perpetuity. An anti-American regime may choose to create a class of super soldiers.

All of this seems as though it is in the very distant future. Twenty years ago few people had access to the internet and personal computers and smartphones would not exist for roughly another decade. Given the monumental technological advances in just the last two decades, the future that genetic engineering promises certainly seems plausible and highly likely to occur within the lifetime of today’s millennial generation. This debate, therefore, cannot be had too early. Confronting the moral and ethical questions today is paramount to creating some sort of consensus in mapping our future and shaping our destiny.

The only limitations are technological. For that reason I propose that this technology must be zealously guarded by the United States and other states that possess this capability to slow the transfer of CRISPR and successive technologies to foreign countries in much the same way that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is strongly discouraged by the United States. Much as nuclear technology is permitted for the production of energy but severely restricted for the purposes of producing weapons, a similar multitiered system of acceptable use should be created and agreed upon in the international community.

Even then, it is inevitable unfriendly states will develop the same technology if they do not steal it outright. Unlike nuclear weapons, there is no obvious threat of mutually assured destruction, but there is a guarantee that states which fail to embrace this technology will lose critical ground economically and on security. Pressure is then in favor of the acquisition and use of this technology, and thus its spread is inevitable. Genetic engineering will then pose a great dilemma: how should the United States proceed?

If the United States is able to force the stringent regulation of the use of this technology, then America will prevent bifurcation for the time being but eventually lose out economically and militarily on a global scale as genetic engineering is inevitably used by other states to enhance their own prospects. On the other hand if the United States leaves the technology unregulated, there’s the risk of, over successive generations, creating two vastly different peoples.

Restricting access to this technology in the international community should be the short term objective. The long term objective, however, must be different. Finding a middle ground between two undesirable extremes, between banning and unrestricted use, will be a challenging one. There should be two separate categories of genetic modification: those that are chiefly cosmetic and those that lead to improved intelligence and health.

Parents should be free to choose to genetically modify their children for cosmetic reasons, but within reason, and there must be a wide range of available options. For example, it will likely be popular to make male children taller, but then over successive generations the definition of “tall” will evolve, and rapidly. Setting limits on how much taller, shorter, or a range of other physical characteristics a child may possess is for the best. As an adult, that person may choose to genetically modify certain characteristics on his or herself.

Another range of characteristics that will diminish disease, make Americans healthier, live longer, more intelligent, and more economically competitive against foreign nations is something that may become an imperative. The most plausible middle ground between banning use and leaving the technology to be used selectively is to have a certain set of characteristics applied to all Americans. Just as vaccines are required of parents, there should be certain health and intelligence traits that all Americans should have and in bringing this technology within reach some government subsidies may be required. In that way, it is possible to simultaneously avoid bifurcation and losing economically to foreign nations. Genetic engineering may indeed become an imperative, as the global population ages and governments the world over are increasingly saddled with healthcare expenses, drastically improving a citizenry’s health begins to make great pragmatic sense.

Should parents refuse, that is fine. The child still has the option to undergo those genetic changes as an adult. Nevertheless, such a decision on the part of the parents may diminish a child’s performance in school and later their prospects in life.

All of this probably will sound alien to many readers. The promise of genetic engineering is, in the public imagination, probably as magical as the concept of handheld devices capable of accessing limitless information and technology would have seemed merely twenty years ago. In fact, this very article was written in Texas and instantaneously updated online, to be edited by people spread across four time zones; something that was probably inconceivable to much of the world when today’s college students were being born.

Some opposition will undoubtedly manifest itself on the argument that doing such a thing is “unnatural”. What is natural is not objectively good. Living to be thirty and dying in a hunting accident is natural. Farming and living to see one’s grandchildren grow up is not. Dying in a heatwave or freezing to death is natural. Having a system of satellites and weather stations to detect atmospheric changes is not. Dying from communicable diseases is natural. Vaccination and relegating communicable diseases to be so insignificant as to make non-communicable disease the leading causes of death is not.

What is natural is not an unalloyed good, and humanity has been engaged in a constant onslaught against the natural world for millennia. We play god by breeding animals, farming, and creating structures that have lasted thousands of years. Without these advancements in the “unnatural”, humanity would not have survived nearly as long as it has. This is a lesson not just on the question of potentially genetically modifying humans on a large scale, but also genetic modification in general – particularly food.

The applications do not end on Earth, and indeed if humanity will one day colonize Mars or other planets and engage in long term space travel some sort of genetic modification may be necessary to in order to survive the intense cosmic radiation that penetrates spacecraft far outside of Earth’s magnetic field and a whole host of other dangers.

CRISPR-Cas9 and its subsequent improved versions will radically transform the future of humanity. The technology, for better or for worse, is not going anywhere. The question is not whether it will be used, but rather how to use CRISPR strategically, equitably, and responsibly. We must do the work to find a reasonable pathway between a government enforced ban and entirely unregulated use. We must avoid creating a gulf between segments of a bifurcated America. Such a revolution between humankind and nature will be terrifying, but ultimately remember: genetic modification presents a golden opportunity - we would be wise to use it.

The Practical Wisdom of General James Mattis

By Sarah Telle, Staff Writer

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General James Mattis was confirmed as the new Secretary of Defense on Friday, January 20. During his 44 years of service, General Mattis acquired an impressive list of accomplishments, earning the respect of service members, civilians, and most certainly enemies. We need someone like Mattis heading up one of the most bureaucratically bloated departments in our government. He understands the ins and outs of the military and is dedicated to working towards its goals. Known for more than just military prowess, Mattis often drops pithy quotes, which are filled with controversially packed wisdom. In order better understand our new Secretary of Defense, why don’t we let Mattis’ words of wisdom explain why he is the best person for the job.

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

The U.S. Military is the most elite fighting force in the history of the world. While diplomacy has a crucial and important role to play in world events, sometimes words are not enough. Words must be coupled with the ability to act decisively. More importantly, your enemies or would-be enemies must have no doubts that you can and will act. General Mattis knows this. He understands that there are people in the world who want to and will kill, not just soldiers, but civilians, without a thought. He understands the value of thinking proactively. No, he doesn’t want to kill everyone he meets, but he’s prepared for the worst-case scenario. This kind of thinking is foreign to many Americans. Most of us will never face the enemy on a battlefield. We will never have to choose between our life and the life of someone else and we have people like General Mattis who are willing to think like this to thank for that.

"You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon."

It is important that the Secretary of Defense exhibit restraint in times of crisis. As SOD, General Mattis will be one of many advisors to President Trump. He realizes that just because you have the biggest stick, doesn’t mean that you should actually use it. Prudence and moderation are something that both sides of the aisle struggle with these days. With his military background and strategic genius, Mattis brings to the president’s counsel the type of leadership and experience lacking in D.C

The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

This quote can be taken two different ways. First, like the second quote, it can refer to the fact that a soldier’s most valuable tool isn’t the weapon he wields, but the mind, carefully trained and prepared by the military. U.S. soldiers are trained to not merely be sheep. They are trained as a unit, but to a certain extent, each unit has a certain level of autonomy. General Mattis understands this. You don’t become a Four Star General without recognizing that the greatest asset is the men and women under your command. Second, it shows that Mattis values human life, especially the lives of his soldiers. General Mattis might be candid. He might be blunt. He might occasionally say things that cross a line. However, one can never doubt that he respects, honors, and cares very deeply for the men and women who voluntarily put their lives on the line to protect us.

PowerPoint makes us stupid

General Mattis said this after enduring a very lengthy PowerPoint presentation about the War in Iraq. Mattis will be a breath of fresh air in the Pentagon. Earl Long, a former governor of Louisiana, stated, “Don’t write anything you can phone. Don’t phone anything you can talk. Don’t talk anything you can whisper. Don’t whisper anything you can smile. Don’t smile anything you can nod. Don’t nod anything you can wink.” Mattis would probably have no problem adding, “Don’t make a PowerPoint for anything you can write” to the beginning of that particular quote. PowerPoint presentations have a time and place, but when efficiency and clarity is lost in the presenting, their usefulness is limited. Additionally, simply being exposed to information or ideas does not mean that you are learning how to apply them.  Finally, just because it is new technology or even the habitual way of doing things doesn’t automatically make it an effective choice.

Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it often lights what is often a dark path ahead.”

 Okay, this is not exactly a Mattisism, but it comes from a letter by Mattis about the importance of reading. General Mattis has a personal library of over 6,000 books. Upon taking over U.S. Central Command, Mattis sent out a required reading list for all Marines and Sailors under his command. The list included Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, The Soviet Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost by Russian General Staff, The Crusade Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf, and The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History by Peter Bergen. Mattis is a leader who seeks to understand the world and, more importantly, the people around him. He reads. He thinks. He leads. He expects and demands that those around him do the same.

If a man has ever been prepared to be the Secretary of Defense, it is General Mattis. He has a deep understanding of war, the capacity and needs of our military, the world situation and its players, and the wisdom evaluate how they all interact. While instilling a newly retired general into the traditionally civilian-held Cabinet position has only been done once before, we need General Mattis’ non-civilian background to advise and assist a true civilian Commander-in-Chief. SInce Secretary Mattis was confirmed in a 98-1 vote, the Senate obviously agrees

 

Obamacare, its Repeal, and the Importance of Coalition Building

By Matthew O'Keefe                                                                                                                       Guest Writer

This week, as we continue to move through the post-election, pre-inaugural purgatory that we call “January”, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, has re-entered the national conversation. The President, in his final address to the nation before yielding his office to his successor later this week, touted his namesake universal health care law as one of the hallmark achievements of his presidency. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans, preparing to make full use of their outright majorities in the legislative and executive branches, have begun conversations about how quickly to repeal the law and what system to put in its place.

Unsurprisingly, political observers and commentators across the nation have developed their talking points: Republicans harping on “broken promises” – a reference to the President’s (in)famous “if you like your doctor, you can keep them” gaffe – and increased healthcare premiums, while Democrats defend the law’s granting of healthcare to millions of previously uninsured individuals, claiming that Republicans want to “Make America Sick Again”. While each side of the aisle will likely continue to cling to their cherry picked statistics about the merits of the ACA, it’s important to remember how we got to this point of bitter contention and what it says about our elected officials.

Like it or not, Obamacare has been the law of the land for long enough now to substantially impact people’s lives. Families across the country who count on federal subsidies for their medical and financial safety have budgeted with Obamacare in mind, pursued treatment options compliant with their specific plans and have come to expect that health insurance is something on which they can depend. Lives depend on the medical treatment they receive. Now, many of these individuals risk losing that treatment. Congressional Republicans are far from alone in their fault on this matter: Democrats are equally to blame.

The main problem with the ACA’s repeal or continued existence is not one of substance; it’s about process. Congress has every right to enact laws, and an equal right to repeal those laws down the road. That prospect, coupled with a democratic system of ousting lawmakers in favor of their opponents on a regular basis, is designed to breed compromise. In a system of 535 lawmakers, you’ll never get everyone to agree on anything substantial, but our elected officials should constantly aim to produce legislation that gains support from members of both major parties. Otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves in our present situation: a cycle of partisan gamesmanship marked by casual passage and repeal of major laws without bipartisan support.

While Democrats were rushing Obamacare through Congress and signing it into law, Republicans were vocal about their intention to dismantle the law at the earliest opportunity. Frequent attempts at repeals were seen as futile and petty in the eyes of the Democratic leadership. They were, in fact, warning signs; these shots across the bow should have come as serious red flags to legislators seeking true, long term appeal, as it became a clear and constant signal that the ACA would last only as long as the Democratic majority (and history tells us that no party ever remains dominant for long). Instead of taking the concerns of GOP legislators into account to build a coalition reform bill – the type that each side of the aisle could show off to constituents in hopes of reelection, Democrats seized the opportunity to push forward with their own agenda, allowing their nearsightedness to keep them from building a real legacy.

Republicans, meanwhile, did not make it easy to build a compromise; employing no-holds-barred, non negotiating tactics to keep a bill from ratification while operating as a minority party is a bold if foolish strategy, and one that likely will not prove beneficial in the eyes of history. While they may now see their opportunity to dismantle the President’s healthcare law, every majority is always only two years from risking a return to the minority.

We can’t continuously play politics with people’s medical coverage. Now is not the time for Democrats to cry foul and take a hard line against negotiating, nor is it time for Republicans to abuse their might and tout their “electoral mandate” to rip the bill to shreds. Politicians will never regain public confidence while working toward their partisan agendas. Public trust comes from results – long-term, real results that make life better for everyday citizens. When congress inevitably repeals and replaces Obamacare, they should be working to build a broad coalition of Republicans and Democrats in order to establish a bill that will stand the test of time, and become both a crowning achievement of a proud majority party and a strong indication that the minority party continues to wield influence in Washington. Compromise makes us stronger. Brute force makes us shortsighted.

The Propaganda of Propaganda

By Caitlin Rueden, Staff Writer

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In a nation that holds free speech and expression so dearly, calling something propaganda is a sure fire way to suck the air out of a room. Propaganda violates all of our notions of the importance of free media: the independent ‘fourth estate’ that strives to report the truth and nothing but the truth. Our faith in the media has become rocky over the years, but we still vehemently protect the First Amendment and the conviction that the media adheres to certain ethical principles. The reports we read and the programs we watch are reliable, credible, and factually sound. That is, until someone says something with which we disagree.

 

Take a moment to think about why you like certain media outlets and not others. Why do you get uncomfortable when Fox News is playing in a waiting room but not CNN? Why do you scoff at people repeating Rush Limbaugh when half of your opinions derive from John Oliver? Why do you defend the Huffington Post but lambast Breitbart in your political posts on Facebook? How can you be the well-read intellectual you pretend to be if you only read one half of an argument? The answer is because of the propaganda of propaganda.

 

‘Propaganda’ is a loaded term. It brings with it many negative connotations that calls to mind images of Nazi chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels, shadowy government leaders, and giant political machines churning out lies in the form of flowery rhetoric and colorful posters. Propaganda in this form surely still exists, but the popular use of the term has become greatly watered down. It has become what we yell out as a knee jerk reaction to information that we don’t agree with from outlets that we have been taught - whether by our peers, political party, school, or family - to distrust (and thus this article is three levels deep in meta-irony). This propaganda of propaganda is consistent and pervasive. A conservative is quick to ignore anything published through NPR with the same swiftness as a liberal and a The American Conservative article. In attempting to avoid the other side’s “propaganda,” both sides fall victim to their own.

 

The innate reaction to disagree with something and label it propaganda and subsequently deem it unworthy of one’s attention solely because of its source is a tactic used by those who wear their righteousness as a badge of honor. They’re the political equivalent of that guy at the party who gets a kick out of telling people that Gandhi supported apartheid in South Africa. In the same way that people are apparently unable to have a mix of good and bad beliefs, media outlets are apparently polarized into either the groups True or False. Legitimate theories, facts, and experiences that come from these outlets become guilty by association, their intellectual merits tainted by a skewed reputation.

 

The ability to discern and label propaganda no longer comes with a heavy burden of proof. Instead, it has become a cheap and easy way to end legitimate political discussions. If you don’t like what someone else is saying, claim that their facts or sources are just propaganda. If someone’s understanding of an issue is different than yours, make sure to tell them that they’ve been brainwashed by The Mass Media (which either caters to the Liberal Elites or the Republican Pundits depending on what argument you’re trying to make).

 

When we believe information has been swayed or distorted to fit an agenda we don’t like, we tend to disregard it. We are more likely to see the bias, understand that the prejudicial nature outweighs the substantial value of the information, and critique it until we tire of it and throw it aside. Meanwhile, we refuse to engage with information that we see through the lenses of the agendas with which we wholeheartedly agree. While opposing opinions are merely engineered political agendas, our thoughts and opinions are instead the product of logical analysis and objectivity. We constantly demand that others critically engage with the propaganda they insist on buying into while lazily consuming its counterpart, patting ourselves on the back for being so aware and savvy.

 

Political conspiracies about propaganda are no longer reserved for college dropouts living in their parents’ basements or the Fox Mulders of the world. Instead, they circulate in lecture halls and online forums, modern echo chambers that regurgitate the same old questions and the same old answers. These are the places where Stephen Colbert is the end-all, be-all source of knowledge and “Republican” is said with a sneer. Claiming propaganda not only allows people to justify why they aren’t reading something that clashes with their beliefs, but also provides ample opportunities to show-off that they have the “Correct Facts” and the correct opinions that are supported purely by objective logic, grayscale line graphs, and thirty page academic articles that no one ever reads.

 

Disregarding blatantly false information is a cornerstone of a well-educated society. Ideally, we want to solely rely on objective logic and sources to come to our conclusions. The issue, however, is that we tend to forget that there is no way to measure objectivity. It is such a flexible and nebulous concept that there are schools of philosophies dedicated to discerning what “truth” even means. Readers of The New York Times will quickly point to the publication’s 117 Pulitzer Prizes as a sign of quality and objectivity. But where does the Pulitzer Prize’s standards come from? Who decides what is and isn’t good journalism? The organization has been criticized time and time again as having a “liberal legacy”, openly condemning and mocking conservative journalists and opinions. If the Pulitzer Prize Board comes into deliberation with preconceived notions of what is and isn’t “right”, then they are not objective. If there is a clear and underlying bias, then they are not objective. If you only read what has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, then your reading list is not objective. Claiming objectivity while simultaneously never questioning why you believe what you believe is the mark of someone who can’t entertain the notion that maybe their understanding and experience of the world isn’t the only valid one.

 

Some could argue that reporting should be based on numbers and to let the numbers speak for themselves. Facts and figures might be black or white, but our interpretations of the information they present to us are much more colorful. Truth to someone subscribed to The New Yorker is different than truth to someone subscribed to Townhall.The facts revolving around NAFTA means two different things to a liberal elite in New England and a working class farmer in Oklahoma. A young black man in Louisiana and I, a young white woman, might be given the same data on police shootings, but our understanding of that information can vary widely. Our notions of what is true, accurate, and right are personal; it derives from our experiences and our upbringing. When we are presented with information that doesn’t fit with our personal brand of Truth, we disregard it. We claim media outlets are conduits for propaganda and refuse to listen to whatever legitimate thoughts they might have. We see a bias (a bias against our own beliefs, of course), understand that the prejudicial nature outweighs the substantial value of the information, critique it until we tire of it and throw it aside. Meanwhile, we either refuse to or are unable to question the information that fits our own political beliefs. While we consider the other side’s opinions to be meticulously engineered agendas crafted by the Liberal Elites or the Republican Pundits, our thoughts and opinions are instead the product of logical analysis and objectivity. We constantly demand that others critically engage with the propaganda they are fed while we lazily consume its counterpart, patting ourselves on the back for being so aware and savvy.

 

Can we dismantle the propaganda of propaganda? Probably not. It will be likely impossible  as long as humans act like humans. It is in our nature to pick a belief and hold on for dear life through thick and thin (ironically, for example, my own belief on propaganda). However, this isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to better ourselves. Question your own beliefs. Self-reflection is painful and awkward, but it’s worth it. Deviate from your normal routine and read articles from a publisher you vehemently disagree with. Question the validity of that one zinger on Last Week Tonight that made your friends laugh. It most likely won’t change any of your opinions. It might, instead, get you to think about how ingrained our own biases are and how they color the information we consume to the point where we don’t even know our vision is distorted. If everyone is a sheep, what makes you any different?

The Siren Song of New Media

By Alexander Mollohan, Operations Director

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The internet is truly a marvel of communication technology. Not since the invention of the movable type printing press over five centuries ago has humankind seen such a tremendous leap forward. With the Internet, you can immediately communicate with anyone, anywhere. In the two or so decades since the Internet became broadly accessible, the Internet has reshaped the way we engage in almost everything, from discourse to commerce to entertainment; it is the collective mind of humanity. Everything we think goes on the Internet, painting a comprehensive tapestry of the human condition. But, for all the good the Internet has fostered, it has also provided a space for the darker tendencies of humanity. Our minds are full of dark places, and many dangerous thoughts have been made manifest, and then carefully curated and cultivated, on the Internet.

For radical voices across the political spectrum, the Internet has proven to be a godsend. Radicals no longer need to scour their areas to converse, proselytize, and organize. The Internet has given them a global audience, and millions have flocked to their various banners. This wave of internet-induced radicalization follows historical trends. Radicals have often used new mediums to promote their disruptive agendas. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the devastating European Religious Wars were fueled by pamphlets flying off the new printing presses. In the early twentieth century, film and radio were the mightiest propaganda tools of fascism and communism. Now, with the dawn of globalized online platforms, we see radical ideologies from Islamism to the Alt-Right adroitly maneuvering through the channels of the Internet, effectively and efficiently spreading their message and the chaos that accompanies it.

In 1453, a Mainz blacksmith named Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press to Europe. Little did he know that his invention would alter the face of history, to the point where Time Magazine proclaimed Gutenberg to be the most important man of his century. With the invention of the press and moveable type, a major barrier to accessing information dropped sharply, and written works proliferated across European society. The press led to a revolutionary upsurge in literacy, as easy access to the written word made a skill once restricted to the clergy and nobility accessible to the masses. It is no coincidence that, in the centuries following this upswing of mass literacy, European powers rose to global supremacy. Before the positive impact of the printing press could be felt for Europeans, however, the continent underwent a far darker chapter in its history. In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, sparking the Protestant reformation, a massive theological, ideological, and political upheaval that tore the Christian West in two. The differences between Catholic Europe and Protestant Europe proved irreconcilable, and violence soon broke out. For nearly a century, Europe convulsed in a brutal sectarian conflict. At the center of the ideological battle stood the printing press, as extremists on both the Catholic and Protestant sides published increasingly radical pamphlets. The violence escalated and escalated, finally culminating in the Thirty Years War, which raged from 1618 to 1648. The war devastated Europe, leaving millions dead and much of the continent in ruin. Out of the war came a truce between Catholic and Protestant forces, as the nations of Europe rebuilt, and began to exert their influence on the global stage. Not for three centuries would the world see the degree of devastation wrought by the European wars of religion.

Much like the European religious wars, the World Wars started as seeds in the hearts and minds of people. A new age had dawned entering the twentieth century: an age of industry and nationalism. Accompanying the dawn of this new age came a rise in new methods of mass communications, the most important of which were film and radio. Now, nations could be stitched together, as radio and film had far fewer geographic barriers than traditional forms of communication. In the aftermath of the First World War, it was totalitarian dictators who truly realized the potential of these mediums as propaganda tools. In 1922, Benito Mussolini ordered his march on Rome via the radio, a march that would put him in power as the first fascist dictator. In the Soviet Union, the Stalinist state co-opted many great Russian artists, most notably Sergei Eisenstein, to create potent communist propaganda. In Germany, the Nazi Party’s grasp of the power of film proved vital to their seizure of power, as they awed German audiences with dazzling spectacles like the Triumph of the Will. Even in America, a bastion of democracy in these dark times, film and radio were used to promote dark agendas. In 1915, D.W Griffith released his magnum opus Birth of a Nation, a starkly racist film which can be directly credited with sparking the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. It was the first film screened at the White House, and sitting President Woodrow Wilson described it as “history written in lightning.” In the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin in Detroit used his radio pulpit to spread a message of anti-semitism and isolationism, helping place America in a stupor which would slow our intervention in the Second World War. More so than any other form of media, film and radio aided and abetted the rise of the forces which would kill millions in the first half of the twentieth century. The mass media radicalized nations en masse as they marched forward to destruction.

Like the other revolutionary forms of new media which preceded it, the Internet has proven to be a powerful tool for the promotion of a radical agenda. No radical ideology has been quite as effective in their use of the Internet as jihadists. Using the Internet, jihadist groups can tap into a worldwide network of young, disillusioned Muslims. ISIS quickly grasped the power of the Internet as a recruitment tool, using it to build an army of fighters from all over the world. For those who cannot get to the caliphate, ISIS’s online presence serves to radicalize them enough to carry out lone wolf attacks wherever they are or have access to. They have been deadly successful in this regard, with their zealous followers launching attacks from Nice, France, to Orlando to San Bernardino in the United States. Thus far, efforts by governments to counteract internet radicalization have fallen flat, and the risk of lone wolf Islamic terror has become omnipresent across the west. This fear has played no small role in the empowerment of Donald Trump and the other right wing populists who have made such great strides in 2016.

While discussions of online radicalization tend to center around jihadists, they are by no means the only players in the world of online radicalization. The young and disillusioned have been taking up the banner of radical ideologies across the political and identity spectrums. Another prominent example of such an ideology would be the American “alt-right,” a loose collective of far-rightists whose ultra-reactionary ideas on gender and race have gotten them exiled to the political fringes. Before the Internet, people who held these views were generally isolated, rendering it virtually impossible to effectively network beyond local regions. The Internet thus proved to be a game changer for hate-peddlers, as they could now meet on sites such as Stormfront, or 4Chan’s /Pol/ board. The alt-right has been greatly empowered over the last year, and its enthusiasm has been directly tied to populist victories across the globe, from Brexit to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, spurred and supported in large part by extensive and virulent, independent and organized internet propaganda campaigns. The rise of the alt-right would not have been possible without their counterpart, the regressive left. The regressive left is the bizarro-world equivalent of the alt-right, calling for identitarian policies aimed at benefiting traditionally disenfranchised minorities at the expense of the broader white population. This is said to be in the name of social justice, but the hostile rhetoric and combative approach of the regressive left make it difficult to take their claims seriously. Like the alt-right, the regressive left used to be a marginal force in society, largely contained to academia. The Internet gave the highly literate proponents of regressive leftism a powerful outlet to spread their ideas. On Tumblr boards, Twitter, and across much of the mainstream media, the ideology of evangelical social justice progressivism proved ubiquitous. This far-left ideology prompted a massive growth spurt for the alt right, as the behavior of social justice warriors horrified many (particularly young white men), driving them into the hands of the alt-right (a process known as “redpilling normies” in alt-right circles).

History is repeating itself, and together, the regressive left and alt-right produce a downwards spiral, where the excesses of one drive many into the camp of the other, further entrenching the partisan divide. With the election of Trump and the victory of populists across the globe, we may be rapidly moving towards the point where our differences become irreconcilable.