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StudentNation

Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

NYU Law Trustee’s Company Hired Goons For The Protest Against Him

After first denying any connections to a group of protestors who threatened and harassed NYU students at a protest in September, CareOne/HealthBridge Management, a nursing home company owned by NYU Law School Trustee Daniel Straus, has now admitted to having hired “security” for the rally, The Villager reports.

On September 11, workers from Straus’ nursing homes along with student activists from NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) held a protest outside of NYU’s Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, aiming to bring attention to the ongoing labor dispute between CareOne/Healthbridge and SEIU 1199 NE, the union that represents the company’s striking workers.

But when the students and workers arrived, they were met by an unexpected addition to their rally: an opposing group of counter-protestors who claimed to be workers at Straus-owned nursing homes wanting to show their support for the company.

The problem was that some of these alleged workers were unable to give the name of the nursing homes at which they said they were employed. SLAM organizers immediately called fowl, saying that these were anti-union thugs hired by the company to intimidate students. But in a September 19 statement to The Villager, CareOne spokesman Tim Hodges wrote, “As to the absurd accusation that our company hired people to intimidate demonstrators at the Sept. 11 rally, nothing could be further from the truth.”

The students, however, continued their campaign against Straus, and the union searched for evidence of a connection between the counter-protestors and Straus’ company. They claimed to discover that the people posing as CareOne/HealthBridge employees had been hired by Mark Petrozzella, a former reality TV personality and friend of the CEO of National Labor Consultants, an anti-union consulting firm that CareOne hired earlier this year. On September 6, Petrozzella posted this ad on his Facebook page:

In response to these developments, Hodges told The Villager last week, “Our experience has been that strikers have been less than respectful to the neighborhoods in which they have picketed. Our concern that they would bring this behavior to NYU, coupled with uneasiness about the ongoing ruthless SEIU tactics and the actions of some within the SEIU, led us to believe that it was prudent to have security for the HealthBridge and CareOne employees exercising their right to free speech in a counter-protest.”

When approached for further comments, Lisa Crutchfield, Senior Vice President of Labor Relations at HealthBridge, provided the same statement that was given to The Villager, adding, “We, of course, fully respect the rights of students to protest on their campus, but also believe that when the union buses in protestors—strikers and others—to the campus, it is legitimate that those on all sides of the issue be allowed to express their point of view.”

She did not address why the company originally denied its ties to the counter-protestors, or that some of the counter-protestors were not workers but rather people hired by the company.

Prior to CareOne's admission about the counter-protesters, SLAM sent letters outlining what happened at the rally to Richard Revesz, Dean of the NYU School of Law; Joseph Weiler, Director of the Straus Institute; and NYU President John Sexton. The letters asked that they publicly repudiate the actions of the counter-protesters and publicly apologize to the students who were threatened. It also requested that they ask Straus to resign from the board of trustees, unless Straus issued a formal public apology and pledged to respect his workers' right to a fair contract.

Last week, on October 16, Revesz responded to SLAM via email. Although he maintained the university’s position that this is an issue between CareOne and SEIU and that NYU has no input, he did take a strong stance on the matter of NYU students’ right to protest: “One matter should certainly be uncontested: our students’ right to express their views peacefully and without fear of intimidation must be unambiguously respected.”

He explained that the university “does not have any say over who can protest on the public sidewalks near its campus or what views they choose to express. But the principle of peaceful and lawful protest is crucially important at NYU, and we caution all parties to take the steps necessary to ensure that it is upheld and to avoid any actions that might be seen to undermine it.”

Joseph Weiler, the director of the Straus institute (to which Straus donates $1.25 million annually), reiterated that students’ right to protest without fear of intimidation must be “unambiguously respected,” adding, “This has been made clear to all parties to this dispute and I trust it will be scrupulously followed.”

But Revesz’s letter raises questions about NYU’s responsibility to act in defense of its students’ right to protest. By hiring security who threatened students with homophobic slurs and physical harm—a video from the protest (above) shows one man saying to a NYU grad student Adaner Usmani, “When you leave here, I’ll find you,”—Straus and his company interfered with the students’ right to protest without fear of intimidation.

Trustees are meant to represent the university and its mission. As Revesz claims, part of that mission includes respecting students’ right to express their views peacefully. Straus is no longer living up to his responsibility as a trustee to accurately represent the university.

Revesz states that the university has no control over who protests on public sidewalks, but it does have control over whom it allows to hold positions of authority. So while NYU cannot prevent people from harassing its students in public spaces, it can prevent the man who is ultimately responsible for it from occupying a place of honor, power, and influence within the university.

For the Sake of Democracy, We Need Electoral Reform

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists, $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editors

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau commented that British citizens were truly free only on election day, when they were able to choose their masters. It follows then that they were in fact bound up in a system over which they possessed very little real control. This observation still holds, though. It forces us to examine the state of American democracy. Do elections ensure the continued realization of our democratic ideal by empowering citizens to check the excesses of elected officials? Or have elections themselves evolved into an institution that not only props up but also actively legitimizes minority rule by a modern-day propertied aristocracy? Are we limiting ourselves and our political power by operating solely within the Electoral College model of democratic action?

For me, the biggest issue of the 2012 election is neither a policy issue nor problematic party rhetoric. Perhaps radically, perhaps idealistically, I take issue with a more foundational element of the election: that many of us continue to see it—and the electoral system at large—as the only form of political expression, deliberation and change. I think that rather than view the election as the sole site of policy discussion in the coming year, we must create new spaces for deliberative dialogue that combat the corporatization of American politics, campaign fundraising that devalues individuals’ political voice and the lack of descriptive representation among officials.

To begin, it is already clear that the 2012 election will offer nothing new to the American electorate in terms of direct political engagement. While grassroots efforts may well register hordes of new voters or knock on a pre-set quota of doors, efforts to promote deliberative democratic discourse that truly advances the needs of average American citizens are missing.

With the rise in infotainment and exponential growth in corporate campaign spending, it is becoming increasingly easy, if not normal, for Americans to disengage from frequent political discourse and adopt heuristic markers of whom they ought to support. Likening candidates to ‘brand’ images is not befitting an “advanced” democracy.

Also, Congress itself is nowhere near representative of the United States as a whole. As a body of 535 individuals, Congress never served as a demographic microcosm of the American electorate. Gender equality is far from realized, with ninety-one female-bodied elected officials outnumbered by 448 male-bodied officials. Representation of communities of color within both houses is dismal; Latina officials represent approximately 5 percent of Congress, whereas the Latino community represents around 16 percent of the electorate. Shockingly, Congress also remains around 87 percent Christian, with next to no religiously unaffiliated members, at a time when upward of 16 percent of Americans self-identify as secular. While it is reasonable to assume that some of our elected officials no doubt act in the interests of these marginalized groups, it should be shocking that these groups continue to be kept out of the political process.

Additionally, the concentrated power of corporations within American politics is increasingly marginalizing the voices of low- and middle-income American, creating asymmetrical conceptions of political liberty determined by the size of one’s paycheck. 2010’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling in favor of corporate personhood opened the floodgates for corporations to donate to SuperPACs, advocate on behalf of politicians, which act in their regulatory interest, and orchestrate the victories of slates of candidates who agree to their terms. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a cooperative venture that brings together corporate lobbyists and conservative elected officials, used this windfall to author model state legislation that advanced Stand Your Ground gun laws, voter suppression bills, racist immigration policies and anti–collective bargaining measures.

Hence, the most significant problem I see facing the United States as we move toward the 2012 election is more than a policy prescription and encompasses the ways in which we as a demos relate to the politics. We cannot abandon electoral organizing in order to confront these issues; we must pursue democratic legitimacy alongside our electoral work this fall. Change must transcend electoral vote-gathering and expand into rational and respectful deliberative dialogue that builds bonds between participants, sows the seeds of community power and brings traditionally marginalized folks to the decision-making table. It must liberate queer folks, communities of color and differently abled, low-income and undocumented people. The challenge in 2012 is not for Democrats to elect a Democrat and for Republicans to elect a Republican but a collective challenge for us—Democrat, Republican or independent—to reclaim our political voice during all four years of a presidential term. We must choose to move towards a shared conception of justice and social solidarity that differentiates itself from Capitol Hill’s petty electoral games.

Romney's Recession Reaganomics

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays today. —The Editors

 

As I search for a part-time job this summer, I keep getting the same reply: sorry, we’re not hiring. Few places need workers, and a teenager with only one prior job is easily bypassed when competing with 30-, 40- and even 50-year-olds for minimum-wage jobs. Aren’t these jobs supposed to be easy to get? These places are usually on a constant lookout for new employees as others leave, but is no one leaving? Is the economy so bad that everyone is clinging to the lowest of jobs as tightly as they can?

In Obama’s three and half years as president, the economic recession has hardly improved. Housing prices are beginning to increase after continually decreasing. The GDP is slowly rising and the unemployment rate has been stable at 8.2 percent. But the economy isn’t improving fast enough and Romney is eying Obama’s job. Although he is impersonal, inconsistent and elitist, a majority of Americans think Romney would do a better job of improving the economy. I’m baffled by this, even as a 17-year-old who honestly feels guilty for not keeping up with politics as much as I think I should. How could people put their trust in someone who has laid off thousands of people, moved American businesses overseas and evaded millions in taxes? How can they support a presidential nominee who so clearly does not support them?

Most Americans want greater privacy from the government and to pay less taxes, but they also want the security provided by institutions like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. These two ideals are on opposite sides, and thus a compromise must be met, which Obama is trying hard to do. Filibustering is preventing anything from getting done. As Democrats offer stimulus packages and regulation, Republicans are delaying the voting process until there is no time left. Filibustering had once been used only rarely, but has now become constantly abused. Even bills that Republicans support are being delayed and expiring.

Republicans are deliberately doing this to kick Obama out of the presidency with little being accomplished, and this immature trick has cheated the whole country out of what could have been an economic recovery already. Romney wants a business-centered government, much like in the Roaring Twenties. He believes in the “trickle-down” theory, as espoused by Reagan, which puts money in the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent that, theoretically, will slowly but steadily trickle down to all parts of society. Of course, this has not worked in the past, and there is no reason to think it will work now.

As in the Great Depression, what our country now needs is an alphabet of reforms. Roosevelt’s New Deal put millions of people to work. Though unable to pay workers a great salary, it helped otherwise unemployed people by feeding them and raising their spirits. This Keynesian Theory of economics helps the greatest number of people, the middle class, which surely needs it as the gap between the wealthy and poor is continually growing. What Obama needs to push for now is raising the minimum wage to inflation levels, which would help not only teens like me but also plenty of adults and even parents, and raising taxes on the top 1 percent. With this, our country could begin to reduce its huge deficit and bridge the income inequality gap.

Common wisdom says that the economy is always the most important issue in a presidential election, and I think that it is especially true this time around. I’m scared of what will happen to the American and global economies if Mitt Romney becomes president. I know other people are scared, too, but I hope that they will look at the facts and realize that a candidate beloved by the corporations is not the solution. I hope that President Obama can convince people that he is the best choice for fixing the economy. If people can work together and decrease the income gap between the rich and the poor, then we still have a chance to be a great country. This is my country. I want to work for it, and for it to work for everyone.

What I Owe to Radical Feminism

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here. —The Editors

 

In 1895, civil rights leader Susan B. Anthony said, “No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent.” Despite gaining equal rights to men, it is ironic that almost 120 years later a congressional hearing to discuss women’s issues was convened, but no women were allowed to speak. Within recent months, women’s rights to equal pay and birth control are being debated and women are being admonished for defending those rights.

In his book, Rick Santorum wrote:

What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else—or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon—find themselves more affirmed by society? Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism.

One hundred and twenty years ago, Susan B. Anthony was considered a “radical feminist.” Without this radical feminism, the push for women’s rights wouldn’t have occurred. Although Rick Santorum did not win the Republican nomination, his beliefs resonated with a shockingly large number of people. Within recent years, regressive stances on women’s issues have permeated the political scene. This retrogression in the way women are treated, and the deterioration of women’s rights, will be the biggest issue in the 2012 Election.

For some reason, issues that we thought were resolved over thirty years ago are now resurfacing. One of the biggest accomplishments in the fight for women’s rights, Roe v. Wade, is being questioned. Planned Parenthood is being threatened and criticized as an abortion provider, even though only 3 percent of its services go towards providing women with abortions. Since they are unable to completely outlaw abortion, some states have begun instituting laws that create great obstacles for a woman to obtain one. Seven states require that a woman seeking an abortion must first have and pay for an ultrasound. In addition to this, many states are proposing requiring women to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound. These intrusive new requirements have been heavily debated over the past months.

In April, President Obama rightly responded to these attempts by saying “I’m always puzzled by this. These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government influence and meddling, but it doesn’t seem to bother them when it comes to women’s health.”

The women’s issues that have resurfaced are not just social but economic as well. The “radical feminists” of the 1960s pushed to give women opportunities in the workplace and, because of their efforts, women can now be found working in all professions. However, vast wage disparities still exist between men and women. Significant progress was made in 1963, when women were earning just fifty-nine cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned, with the passage of the Equal Pay Act. Over the course of almost fifty years, that gap has narrowed by only eighteen cents. In an attempt to close existing loopholes that prevent women from earning as much as their male counterparts, the Paycheck Fairness Act was proposed to the Senate in early June. After being heavily debated, the bill failed. Despite this, the idea of paycheck equality caught the public’s attention and brought women’s issues to the forefront of the 2012 election.

President Obama stated, “We’ve got to realize that they are not just women’s issues, they are family issues, they are economic issues, they are growth issues, they are issues about American competitiveness. They are issues that impact all of us.” The Reuters Center for American Women and Politics reported that women have surpassed men in voter turnout in every presidential election since 1980. Recognizing that women have become a key demographic to appeal to in the 2012 Election, President Obama launched a campaign on his website called “The Life of Julia” in which he outlines how Obama policies would benefit the average women throughout her life. This led Mitt Romney to criticize the Obama administration for allowing women to be at an economic disadvantage in the first place. Mitt Romney said, “The real war upon women has been waged by [Obama’s] economic policies.”

Contrary to Rick Santorum, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to radical feminists. They paved the way for my grandmother to vote when she turned 18 and for my mother to follow her dream and become a lawyer. They’ve made it possible for me to have choices about the direction of my life and for that, I am eternally grateful. We cannot afford the backward slide of the advances in women’s issues that were made during the last century. For that reason, issues affecting women must be in the forefront of the debates of the 2012 presidential election.

Joblessness Is the Most Important Issue of the Election

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and ten finalists total. The winners are Tess Saperstein of Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, and Andrew Giambrone of Yale University. The winners receive a cash award of $1,000 and the finalists $200 each. All receive Nation subscriptions. Read all the winning essays here.—The Editors

 

The shivering mass of blankets sat silently on the sidewalk as taxis and private cars passed by on Park Avenue. It was the winter of my senior year of high school and I was rushing to get out of the cold. A small piece of cardboard next to him read: “Lost house, construction job, family. Any winter provisions greatly appreciated.” When I absorbed the content of the homeless man’s message, my heart sank; two months earlier, my father—also a construction worker—had been laid off.

In my younger days, my father used to say not having a job sometimes was “part of working construction.” This contradiction puzzled me. How could a man who worked so hard to support his family not have a job to go to some mornings? And was I the only person among my friends whose Dad stayed home during the day?

Now, two and a half years later, I still find myself asking these same questions. Though my father has returned to work on and off again since my senior year, the majority of his jobs have been temporary and have lasted little more than a few weeks. His chronic unemployment has caused my family some financial difficulties, including paying the bills on time, keeping up with the mortgage and financing my college education. There is also the added insecurity of not knowing how our situation will change—for better or for worse—in the coming months.

Yet I know we are not alone: Since the beginning of the recession, millions of Americans have been disconnected from the work force. In 2010, for example, long-term unemployment—which is defined as looking for work for more than six months—accounted for 4.2 percent of the entire labor force, compared to just 0.8 percent in 2007. According to a May 2012 article in The New York Times, these statistics also disproportionately affect the young, the old, the less educated and minority workers. If these individuals are not reconnected to the work force soon, the costs to them and to society will be grim.

This is why I believe the unemployment is the most important issue of the 2012 presidential election.

As a student at Yale College, I am constantly surrounded by privilege. The university boasts the second-largest endowment of any school in the world, worth $19.4 billion as of 2011. In addition, many of my friends have parents who occupy high positions in law, government, and business. I do not mean to generalize, but many of my peers spend money like it’s going out of style, often on things my family would never dream of buying. It’s no wonder, then, that some of my friends are a little surprised when I tell them my father is a construction worker, not to mention laid-off. They simply cannot relate.

Though we are fortunate to receive generous financial aid from Yale, paying for college each semester has not been easy; my family has had to make countless personal and financial sacrifices to make my education possible. Still, I wonder how they will be able to afford sending my younger brother to college once he graduates from high school in a year’s time.

I am eminently aware of these matters this year—the first in my life that I will be able to vote in a national election. With the Republican candidates continuously attacking President Obama and his administration for failing on the economy, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of his successes: reforming healthcare, beginning the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, getting Osama bin Laden killed and repairing our image abroad, just to name a few. But unless the president can reassure middle-class Americans like my family that he has done and will continue to do his best to combat long-term unemployment, I believe he will be hard-pressed to win a second election.

Every day my father goes without work, I am reminded of both the economic and human costs of unemployment. Indeed, for my father and for many others, occupation constitutes identity.

Growing up in our house, almost everything was about work. Dinner conversations always related to work—what building Dad was working on, when his next union meeting would be and how his long day at work was. I didn’t realize it then but I gradually learned that what one does for a living forms a large part of who one is.

More than a matter of money, I now fear that joblessness is causing my father to lose his personal identity. This is why unemployment in the United States is not just an economic crisis—it is also an existential one. Any sensible candidate in today’s presidential race should recognize and seek to address this.

I guarantee that voters like me will be watching. Closely.

 

The author would like to express his gratitude and indebtedness to his father, mother and younger brother, without whom this piece would not be possible.

Interns' Favorite Reads of the Week (10/17/2012)

This week, while the mainstream media shined the spotlight on a spacediver, Nation interns looked elsewhere. From shady billboards in Cleveland to a young hero in Pakistan, here's what you might've missed.

Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.

Government releases ‘Red Lines’ document detailing Gaza food restrictions,” by Mya Guarnieri. +972, October 17, 2012.

An Israeli NGO has won a legal case that allowes it to obtain documents about Israel's blockade policy towards Gaza between 2007 and 2010. These documents show to what extent the Israeli government controlled Gaza, revealing that Israel calculated the minimum caloric needs of Palestinians before malnutrition would occur. Although Israel claims that it ceased to be an occupying power in Gaza after its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the control it has over residents in Gaza, including control over movement in and out of the strip and the amount of food they consume, suggests otherwise.

Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.

Washington group asks for Clear Channel to remove voter fraud billboards,” by Stan Donaldson. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 10, 2012.

Two weeks ago, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on billboards that had begun to appear in predominantly black neighborhoods in the Cleveland area declaring "VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY: UP TO 3 1/2 YRS & $10,000 Fine." The sponsor of the ads, which reportedly have been spotted in similar neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, requested and received anonymity from Clear Channel Outdoor, the company that owns the billboards. Now civil rights advocates are demanding that the communications company remove the signs, which they say aim to intimidate black voters in a bid to influence the outcome of the 2012 elections in hotly contested battle ground states.

Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the Presidency, and China.

Abraham Lincoln: The Great Campaigner,” by Sidney Blumenthal. Newsweek, October 15, 2012.

This article takes a little too long to get going but Blumenthal marshals some nice, lesser-known examples of how Lincoln was "a master of political ruthlessness—for the sake of the highest ideals." The author shows the types of deals Lincoln was willing (not to mention able) to make in order to swing support for the proposed 13th Amendment, even from some of its staunchest opponents. Judgeships and ambassadorships were offered and given, sympathetic journalists were deployed as de facto spies and Lincoln was absolutely comfortable in utilizing the presidential bully pulpit. It’s a great look at the non-hagiographic histories of Abraham Lincoln, which all-too-often seem to take the approach of "Oh, and Lincoln did some politicking, too." I hope Blumenthal expands on this article and writes more on this.

Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media, and East Asian affairs.

What an Academic Who Wrote Her Dissertation on Trolls Thinks of Violentacrez,” by Whitney Phillips. The Atlantic, October 15, 2012.

Last week, Gawker outted Violentacrez, Reddit's most notorious troll, depraved pornographer, and perversely celebrated moderator. In light of this exposure, digital folklorist Whitney Phillips ruminates on the subculture of trolls that bred and fed Violentacrez, and gained mainstream recognition in the past couple years. Citing her own dissertation, Phillips defines trolls as "cultural scavengers" who exploit "existing sensitivities" to lure emotional reactions. She observes that trolls almost always stand on a platform of privilege when they spew their racist or misogynistic shock bait. Perhaps most profoundly, Phillips connects troll subculture with the sensationalist mainstream media's exploitative tactics. The first trades in the currency of "lulz"—the latter, in profits.

Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.

Anatomy of the US Targeted Killing Policy,” by Lisa Hajjar. Jadaliyya, August 27, 2012.

During this asinine election, there's one issue you probably won't hear about—targeted killing. Professor Lisa Hajjar, of University of California at Santa Barbara, details how targeted killing replaced torture as the favored counterterrorism policy of the United States. While Bush practiced targeted killing, Obama expanded it to new heights. The Obama administration arrogated the right, unto the president, to kill anyone, including US citizens, anywhere, at any time, by drone strike or other means—and these "suspected terrorists" are all on a list designating them for death. He uses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to carry these killings out, which adds multiple layers of secrecy. 

Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence, and regulatory capture.

Why The Keystone Pipeline Won't Lower Gas Prices Here But Might In Europe,” by Matthew Yglesias. Slate, October 17, 2012.

It is depressingly probable that a re-elected President Obama will ditch his statement that “we've built enough pipeline to wrap around the entire earth once,” as he put it in Tuesday’s debate, and approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Canada’s US Ambassador Gary Doer even took the interesting step last month of betting a six-pack of beer that the pipeline would be given the go-ahead. Much of that probability can be attributed to the fact that local protestors, who led the temporarily successful fight last fall, have been gobbled up by election campaigns leading up to November. Still, protests are heating up in East Texas, where parts of the southern portion of the pipeline—which Obama did approve—are already being built. In this brief blog post, Matt Yglesias debunks Mitt Romney’s claim that Keystone XL would even fulfill the main purpose he attributes to it: lowering gas prices for Americans.  

Annum Marsoor focuses on the draw down of the Afghanistan War and how it will shape Afghanistan's own future and that of its neighbors.

Can Malala Bring Peace to Pakistan and Afghanistan?” by Ahmed Rashid. The New Yorker, October 15, 2012.

Last week, as 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai traveled home in a van full of classmates, two members of the Pakistani Taliban shot her in the head and neck. Since the tender age of 11, Malala has been an outspoken critic of the Taliban and its medieval interpretation of Islam, and is arguably Pakistan's strongest advocate for girls' education. Today she is fighting for her life in a Birmingham hospital in the United Kingdom, and Pakistan watches her hopeful recovery with shock and sadness. Malala shook the country out of its drone-induced stupor, a national attitude that was distracted by US warfare within its borders. By attacking a 14-year-old schoolgirl, the Taliban have made clear their vision for Pakistan's future. The people of Pakistan have responded in turn: there is now unprecedented domestic pressure on the military to definitively fight the Taliban. For Rashid, this provides the US and Afghanistan the cooperation they have publicly longed for, and the three countries have an opportunity to together forge a decisive effort against the Taliban.

Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.

Candy Crowley’s weird dismissal of climate change,” by Philip Bump. Grist, October 17, 2012.

Candy Crowley, the moderator for 2012’s second presidential debate, apparently had a question on climate change lined up but chose not to ask it in favor of focusing on the economy. But, as anybody who watched can probably attest, every topic asked of the candidates ended up being tied to the economy. Instead of calling Crowley out for setting the facts straight on Libya—you know, for doing her job as a journalist—there ought to be more talk about the questions she chose not to ask. We’ve all got a stake in issues like climate change and deserve to hear how the candidates’ solutions might interact with the nation’s economic policy.

Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.

Kentucky Judge Rules that the Matthew Shepherd and James Bird Hate Crime Prevention Act is Constitutional: First Federal Sexual Orientation-Based Hate Crime Trial Begins,” by Katherine Franke. Columbia Law School’s Gender and Sexuality Blog, October 17, 2012.

Following news that earlier this week a federal trial court in Kentucky upheld the constitutionality of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Professor Franke looks more closely at United States vs. Jenkins, which is set to become the first federal sexual orientation-based case under this law to go to trial. It is worth noting here that considering the already harsh penalties for violent crimes, those critical of America's system of mass incarceration are questioning the efficacy of hate crimes legislation and closely watching these laws' disproportionate impact on youth and people of color. United States vs. Jenkins will certainly be a case to watch.

Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.

Collateral Damage in the War on Women,” by Akiba Solomon. Colorlines, October 11, 2012.

Only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services are abortions—not 90 percent, as Republican legislators want voters to believe. The number that really matters is the 76 percent of Planned Parenthood's clients that live on less than $33,000 a year for a family of four. In order to restrict that small sliver of services, right-wing ideologues are cutting off millions of low-income women from vital reproductive health care. As Solomon writes, "It’s unclear how defunding conveniently located sources of free birth control, STI testing, Pap smears, clinical breast exams and other women’s health care is a pro-life activity. But this is what counts as logic in today’s abortion wars."

Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.

Las autoridades de Río darán nombre a las calles de las favelas pacificadas,” by Juan Arias. El País, October 15, 2012. (English translation available here.)

The Rio de Janeiro favela streets are in the process of being named. The previously unnamed streets prevented people from receiving basic things such as mail, which the city did not see as a problem, due to the lack of a need to pay bills (the favela infrastructure is so weak that the use of electricity is rare). The naming of the streets to some may seem banal, but to many of the favela residents it is a symbol of social inclusion and of being recognized as a citizen of Brazil.

Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.

100% Right 0% of the Time,” by Micah Zenko. Foreign Policy, October 16, 2012.

Despite an insistence on preventative tactics, the US has been consistently unable to predict the location of the next war. To help account for this poor strategic planning, the US has dramatically oversized its defense budget to more than 11 times the budget of the State Department and all other foreign assistance combined. As this Foreign Policy piece touches on, this massive juxtaposition in allotments is what frequently leads the US to militarize its foreign policy. What it fails to mention, however, is that this militarization is what leads to many of our national security threats to begin with.

Global Student Leaders Join Forces in New York


Chilean youth leader Camila Vallejo. Courtesy Flickr user Eneas De Troya

The Student Uprisings panel at the CUNY Graduate Center on October 15 represented a continuation of cross-cultural exchanges of knowledge of social movement building in the spirit of the World Social Forum. To the excitement of New York City activists, students and educators, the event focused on how students can shape, lead and participate in social movements that advocate for democratic and accessible education for all.

From #YoSoy132 in Mexico City to the anti-austerity movement in Chile to the student strike in Quebec, student uprisings have been ubiquitous in 2012. Now eyes are on the United States as the missing piece of the student movement in the Americas. While we may be far from the kind of mass mobilizations of our neighbors, young people across the country are experimenting with different kinds of organizational structures and tactical approaches to achieve structural change, not just single issue organizing campaigns.

This event brought together some of the best and brightest that the continental student movement has to offer as mentors to budding activists: Conor Tomas Reed, coordinator of the CUNY Adjunct Project and a PhD student at the Graduate Center and Denise Romero Franco, organizer with Students United for a Free CUNY, New York Students Rising and a student at Baruch College; Jamie Bernett, a McGill University strike organizer and Irmak Bahar, a Concordia University strike organizer in Quebec; and finally, Noam Titelman, president of Confederation of Students of Chile and Camila Vallejo, Vice President of the Universidad de Chile Student Federation from the Chilean student movement.

Speaking first, Romero Franco began the event with the history of student activism in New York City, which included frequent and numerous protests and occupations largely un=noted in the media. Romero employed this narrative to discuss what a contemporary mass movement in the United States must include. “Our student movement must be anti-oppressive in its means and in its masses,” said Romero Franco, analyzing how oppression and privilege are inextricably tied, are experienced simultaneously, and are often reproduced in movements. She linked struggles of undocumented youth and students of color who are frequently targeted by police, and emphasized that a mass CUNY student movement must be inclusive by addressing all the issues of all CUNY students, both on campus and in their communities.

Conor Tomas Reed buttressed Romero Franco’s analysis by speaking to the internal tensions he has witnessed in New York student activism since 2006. He located the origin of these ruptures in the uncompromising ideological attitudes that are commonplace in activist communities. He observed how the heavy weight often put on ideology can imbalance practical goals, such as “consensus decision-making,” which he argued can lead to overplayed lip-service to process, and “autonomy,” which may result in a kind of combative individualism.

The two Canadian speakers told the inspiring story of how their movement achieved repeal of the proposed Canadian tuition increases by the new Quebec government as a direct result of mass mobilizations of students.  They also touched upon an important point regarding the anglophone and francophone student strike organizing and explained the structure of Quebecois student unions, a crucial organizing vehicle in Canada.

Jumping directly into the story of Chilean student and youth participation in social movements, Titelman explained how neoliberal austerity measures have been used to dismantle the Chilean social service system for decades and how one cannot just fight the education system divorced from the larger political-economic system -- an important point for US student activists as ours is the only country in which students spend more time attacking our administrators around education issues than the federal government. He also emphasized how in Chile, young pepople are fighting a pervasive logic, which for him was the neoliberal privatization strategy that “tried to treat education like any other good on the market.”

Vallejo--whose charisma and natural leadership are undoubtable--referred to the Chilean movement as part of a historical process, “The media is always attempting to take the historical context away and present the social movement that is something that is more spontaneous.” Similarly, to what we experience as US students as our administrators seek to erase the history of struggle on our own campuses, in Chile, this happens on a much larger scale. “We demanded a paradigm shift on the part of the government. The shift would be that education can transform society...” said Vallejo, “...not just reproduce it."

Significantly, the only question of the entire panel was asked by Vallejo of Romero Franco about whether repression against students had been codified in law in the US. Romero Franco responded fiercely, explaining how the practice of police repression and surveillance of student organizing has been rampant at CUNY and other universities nationwide. Romero Franco also cited Stop and Frisk, the Arizona “Show Me Your Papers” laws that profile people under suspicion that they are undocumented, and surveillance of Muslim Student Associations and the broader Muslim community as legal forms of criminalization of communities of color.

Vallejo had the last word as she calmly described the systemic violence that the United States has inflicted on Latin America for the past fifty years including supporting Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Inclosing, Vallejo implored the attendees to pressure our own government to remove military presence from Chile once and for all.

In reflection, student organizer at Hunter College and a member of Students United for a Free CUNY, Sharmin Hossain, was enthusiastic about what steps the student movement in New York City will take next. “I learned a lot from the multiple perspectives, and the framing of issues and how pivotal student unionism and student coalitions are is definitely a key takeaway,” she said, “The need to organize our student bodies into a collective space with participatory democracy and intersectionality of issues, while redefining and re-evaluating our normative ways of thinking was a big idea spread throughout the panel.”

This sentiment seemed to be shared by the majority of attendees.

As Titelman stated “I think there are things that unite all, but I think it’s important to recognize the differences in these realities. There are different realities that may have some common grounds. Our history defines the moment we are living right now.” Our continuous fights against cuts to higher education, police profiling of communities of color and LGBTQI people, and the deportation of undocumented Americans are inextricably linked but too often we do not work together. Looking to the future, the New York City student movement needs to echo Titelman’s call for a movement that acknowledges all of these struggles as a part of a structural  problem in order to transform our “beautiful, noble, naïve movement to a beautiful, noble, effective movement”.  

Camila Vallejo's Call

Protagonists from the student movements that have swept the hemisphere from the Chilean Winter to Quebec’s Maple Spring gathered in New York at CUNY Graduate Center on October 15 to discuss the tactics that have raised the political stakes of educational reform and to seek common ground in addressing the challenges that lie ahead.

Chilean student leader and President of the Universidad Católica Student Federation Noam Titelman opened his remarks by describing the decades-long march of neoliberal deregulation implemented in Chile under the US-backed Pinochet dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s which led directly to privatization, and the cutback of social services, reshaping state institutions from industry to defense to education.

As Camila Vallejo—Vice President of the Universidad de Chile Student Federation and media darling of the country’s student movement—later added, “we resolved the problem of the dictatorship but we have not resolved the models and structures that the dictatorship left in place.” These structures have contributed to a university system that proportionally ranks as one of the most expensive in the world. The country's average college tuition is $3,400 in a nation where the average salary comes to $8,500. Oppressive student debt and the proliferation of what Titelman dubbed “fast food universities,” or private online institutions “that promise a lot, but deliver very little” revealed that “something wasn’t working in this story where education could work like any other market.”

Demanding what Vallejo termed “the recuperation of public education,” Chilean students at both the high school and university level launched mass protests and demonstrations, joined teachers and workers on strike, and did substantial damage to right-wing president Sebastián Piñera’s approval ratings over the past year. Referencing Chile’s concentrated wealth and high level of income inequality, Vallejo explained that “education models may either transform society’s social structures or serve to reproduce them.” She views Chile’s system as perpetuating class divisions, and emphasized efforts beyond privatization to “diminish and dismantle the public system” to its “ minimum possible expression” in an attempt to dampen dissent. 

While the student leaders participating in the panel recognized the radically different historical contexts that shaped the systems they are engaged with, patterns of criticism emerged. Denise Romero Franco of Bottom Up Baruch and Students United for a Free CUNY brought up CUNY’s controversial Pathways program, enacted by the Board of Trustees, which students and faculty fear will dilute educational opportunities in an effort to facilitate transfer between CUNY campuses. “We see it as an attack on programs that are not prioritized,” Romero Franco said. “We see it as the reduction of important departments like ethnic studies, women’s studies, and gender studies,” or programs critical to combating inequality.

Conor Tomás Reed, a CUNY Graduate Center organizer and Adjunct Project Coordinator, described education as “in a profound crisis…basically the last major social sphere that’s being privatized.” He brought up a widely read blog post by Debra Leigh Scott that he found particularly insightful, entitled “How the American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps.” After listing the withdrawal of public funding, the deprofessionalization and impoverishment of professors, the administrative takeover, the flood of corporate money, and the ruining of students through uncritical curricula and debt burdens, he looked out to the audience—“Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.”

Representatives from the movement in Quebec—Jamie Burnett, a McGill strike organizer and former AUS councillor and Irmak Bahar, a Concordia strike organizer and CSU councillor—described how sustained strikes against the government’s plan to increase tuition fees prompted the defeat of provincial premier, Jean Charest, and pforced cancellation of the hike and repeal of the legislation enacted to crack down on demonstrators. Noting the singular aims of the movement, Burnett advocated next steps of “opening up the university” and “challenging what actually gets taught, what the point of education is.”

For Vallejo, recuperating public education likewise involves challenging the fundamental underpinnings of the system. Beyond increased state funding, Chilean students demand “sense and meaning in public institutions,” that is, disentanglement from corporate governance to ensure access and representation reflective of national diversity, and “democratized knowledge production” designed to meet the needs of students. Throughout the protest process, she explained, student leaders caught up on civic education lessons decades absent from the university system.

As both Vallejo and Titelman made clear, Chile’s educational system is symptomatic of the country’s “impoverished democracy,” and student protests have sparked calls for deeper structural change, a call that is today resonating with young people all over the world.

Nation Student Writing Contest Winners, 2012


Reuters/Brian Snyder 

We’re delighted to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest!

This year we asked students to send us an original, unpublished, 800-word essay detailing what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. We received close to 1,000 submissions from high school and college students in forty-two states. We chose one college and one high school winner and five finalists from each category. The contest was open to all matriculating high school students and undergraduates at American schools, colleges and universities.

Congratulations to the winners, Andrew Giambrone, an undergraduate at Yale University who wrote about the human costs of unemployment and argued that the economic crisis is also an existential catastrophe, and Tess Saperstein, a junior at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, who elegantly limned Susan B. Anthony’s contemporary legacy. The winners each receive a cash award of $1,000; the finalists receive $200 each. All receive lifetime Nation subscriptions.

Many thanks to all of our applicants and the many people who encouraged their participation. Please read and share the winning essays. The two winners will be excerpted in an upcoming issue of The Nation magazine and all finalists are published at StudentNation.

Winners
Andrew Giambrone, Yale University
Tess Saperstein, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, Boca Raton, Florida

College Finalists
Guido Girgenti, Occidental College
Erik Lampmann, University of Richmond
Alex Ritter, Baylor University
Gabriel Schivone, Pima Community College
Helen Yang, Princeton University

High-School Finalists
Nikolas Angelopoulos, Polytechnic High School, Pasadena, California
Kathryn Davis, Claremont High School, Claremont, California
Ethan Evans, South Warren High School, Bowling Green, Kentucky
Kristy Hong, Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts
Audrey Yu, Booker T. Washington High School, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Meet last year’s winners!

Fisher v Texas Update

This post was originally published by the invaluable Studentactivist.net. Follow @studentactivism on Twitter.

The transcript of Wednesday’s oral argument was released that afternoon, and it’s fascinating reading. So fascinating, in fact, that I think I’m going to make a project of writing about it next week — a series of posts excerpting and discussing the most interesting exchanges.

In the meantime, I wanted to just highlight a couple of things.

First, the justices were clearly paying attention to the “standing” issue — the question of whether Abigail Fisher has a case she’s properly situated to bring before the Court. You can’t just decide to sue the government because you don’t like something they did. (If you could, everybody would be suing all the time, and the court system would collapse.) You have to show that you’ve been harmed in a way that the courts can fix, and the standards for what kinds of harm count in which circumstances are narrow and complicated.

I’ll go into this in a little more detail next week, but given the way I broke down the case’s possible outcomes in my last post, it’s worth underscoring that the Supremes may just rule that Fisher wasn’t harmed, or can’t be made whole, and show her the door. If that happens, we’ll go through all this again with another lawsuit brought by a better plaintiff at some point in the next few years — possibly with a different lineup of justices on the Court, and almost certainly with Elena Kagan able to participate fully.

Second, Justice Sotomayor was a pretty strong questioner in this, her first campus affirmative action case. Given that she got into Princeton as an affirmative action admit, and that she once described herself as “a perfect affirmative action baby,” that’s perhaps not surprising. But it seems to me that the impact of Sotomayor’s advocacy, and her life experience, may be felt more in the next phases of the process than it was in oral arguments. Sonia Sotomayor would not be sitting on the Supreme Court today if affirmative action didn’t exist, and that fact renders the Court’s dilemma in this case more concrete than it otherwise might be.

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