Rachel Fazio ’14
The names of sports teams have long been a source of pride, spirit, and even a way for the country to unite as a whole. But what happens when the name of a beloved sports team, rooted in the nation’s capital, is causes Native Americans to step forward and voice their anger? The Native American community has largely been oppressed and silenced throughout US history, beginning with colonization. When 104 settlers arrived in America it changed the lives of millions of Native Americans. This group of people has since faced racism, oppression, and violence which would continue for generations. Today American Indians are calling for a stop to the racism toward an entire ethnic group. “Our heritage, our culture, traditions and skin color are all being taunted” Charlene Teters, a Native American activist says. “If you saw a caricature of an African American you would be appalled. Yet the same type of horror is not expressed when one hears the name redskins or look upon other mascots or names of equally harmful or derogatory natures” says Teters.
President Obama, self-proclaimed sports fan, has publicly said that if he were the owner of the Redskins he would “seriously consider changing their name”. This lack of conviction from the leader of the United States provoked a heated debate among politicians across the nation, but even more notable are the reactions from people on both sides of the argument. “If they change the Redskin’s name, I won’t be a fan anymore,” John Meccner proclaimed at a rally held before a Redskins game to promote keeping the name and all of the branding that accompanies it. Similarly, many Americans share a sense of bewilderment and confusion over the movement and the pressures to change sports teams’ names. Although over eighty percent of Native Americans support changing the name of the Redskins, as well as offensive names of other teams across the country, only twenty-three percent of Americans agree. Perhaps the confusion, or want of desire to change the name, stems from a lack of understanding and historical context.
There are so many misconceptions about Native Americans that continue to perpetrate in present day society. Many Americans believe that Native American’s do not pay taxes, do not follow United States laws, have been adequately repatriated for their losses, and have been largely accepted into mainstream society. Would we ever use other racist slurs as the name of a sports team? No we would not. The outcry would be widespread, and justifiably so. “Maybe the name didn’t start out to be derogatory or hurtful. But that’s what it’s doing now. Isn’t that enough reason to change it?” Teters asked at a rally in 2012. The Native American population has been subjected to racism and oppression, and deserves the right to not have to experience such racism on a day to day basis.
The film In Whose Honor was created by Native American activists who wanted to speak out against racism and appeal to the US government to advocate for changing the name. The film illustrates how it is still acceptable in American society to be racist toward Native Americans. The stereotyping, and subsequent capitalization in the wake of it, has been described by the Native American community as “appalling and unjust”.Only time will tell how this controversy will resolve itself, but maybe both sides need to closely examine how a name can be so much more than a name, and how what we call our sports team is a larger reflection of American society and identity as a whole.
Chris Lasek ’15
On December 5 a new report in Fox News stated that the NSA collects an astounding five billion phone records, per day, for analysis. Alarmingly, details in these records include the location of the caller. The NSA claims this is to track individuals interacting with targeted suspects. The data collection is said to further inform the NSA of suspicious activity, particularly intelligence from foreign targets. With this data, trends in movement are built, allowing the NSA to view a group or cell’s interactions with other actors. Highlighted in the report is the fact that most of the data collected is not relevant to the NSA purposes. While there is no information on as to what extent this process is efficient, analyzing and collecting mainly useless information gives reason for constitutional concern.
The amount of data the NSA is collecting for “national security” purposes is astounding. There exists a constitutional right protecting against unreasonable search and seizure, and with the improvements in and blessings of technology, the boundary lines drawn by the founding fathers are becoming harder to see. According to the news report, most of the data collected is not relevant to matters of national security, giving the impression the NSA’s procedures go against the constitution. Reform of these procedures should be enacted to bring about greater efficiency of data collection.
The method in which the information is collected should be questioned. Collecting a mountain of ‘dirt’ only to find a few pieces of gold is less efficient than collecting a smaller, more targeted heap of ‘dirt’. The latter method strikes me as a lot more efficient than the former and constitutionally compliant as well.
Backing Down From Our Own Demands: President Obama’s Acceptance of Iran’s Uranium Enrichment Program
Alan Osborn ’15
Early Sunday, November 24th, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders from France, Britain, Germany, China, and Russia reached a deal with The Islamic Republic of Iran on its nuclear energy program. According to the White House it stipulates that Iran will commit to halting the enrichment of uranium above the 5% mark, as well as neutralize its stockpile of near-20% enriched uranium. Iran has also pledged to cease progress on its enrichment capacity. It will also halt work at its plutonium reactor and provide full access to nuclear inspectors. In return the U.S. and its allies have agreed to “modest relief” from economic sanctions. The easing of sanctions, which President Obama refers tough, are $6-$7 billion. Not very modest when you consider that Iran’s GDP in 2011 was $514.1 billion. Further still, President Obama and the rest of the P6 delegation seem to be the only ones who see this deal as a win for international security. In Congress, both sides of the aisle, as well as staunch regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, see this deal as a “historic mistake.” When the United Nations and President Obama agreed to implement certain economic sanctions on Iran for their nuclear enrichment program it was highly criticized for not being tough enough, and not able to enact change quick enough. However, President Obama and proponents of the plan insist that a red line had been drawn; Iran will comply with the agreement or face severe economic punishment. As it turns out President Obama was right: economic sanctions brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. But according to former CIA head Gen. Michael Hayden, (USA Ret.) the deal President Obama struck was nothing sort of an “acceptance of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.”
The fact that the Western powers were able to sit down with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and begin meaningful nuclear program discussions is remarkable. However, the following deal was nothing short of extremely disappointing. Iranian enrichment has been accepted as part of the endgame; the clock on the uranium and plutonium programs continues to tick, albeit at a slower pace. Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium -enough for at least five bombs- remains intact. The Iranian concessions are all reversible, while International Atomic Energy Agency concerns about the military dimensions of the program have not been addressed. The P6 nations had the bargaining power to take a hard line against Iran and force them to halt their uranium enrichment program; instead they chose to cut it a break. As New York Senator Chuck Schumer points out, “It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders that brought Iran to the table. And any reduction relieves the pressure of sanctions and gives them the hope that they will be able to obtain a nuclear weapon.” The sanctions finally worked and yet instead of sticking to the original plan of demanding that Iran halt uranium enrichment the U.S. gave in.
Iran views this deal as a window of opportunity to negotiate with an administration that has shown that it really doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude of other administrations. If President Obama and our European allies are serious about stopping the countries uranium enrichment they will have to stop compromising with Iran. Yes there is a lot at stake. Iran could launch a military strike or try to start a war, but at some point their bluff will have to be called. President Obama and the U.N. put the world into this position by taking such a hard, uncompromising tone with Iran when the sanctions were implemented. Now it is time to follow through with our demands instead of compromising. This impasse was inevitable. At some point the decision was going to have to be made of what to do when Iran finally asks for sanction relief. Instead of doing what he promised, President Obama took a soft compromising approach in giving Iran economic relief and continued uranium enrichment capabilities.
Jesse Siegel ’16
Republicans have been up in arms this week over the Obama Administration’s decision to give small businesses another year before requiring them to sign-up for healthcare insurance through the insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. The primary charge is that the executive branch is circumventing the original deadline set by Congress in the law. In a Washington Post opinion piece Charles Krauthammer went so far as to call the move an example of “the president lawlessly trying to [change the law] by executive fiat,” in breach of Articles I and II of the Constitution, and part of a broader “outbreak of authoritative lawlessness.”
These criticisms would all bear weight except that Congress had itself already ceded such authority to the White House. While Krauthammer is correct in saying that the “regulations of governing the law remain unchanged,” the agencies that are charged with implementing ACA were granted “basic administrative discretion” by Congress. This means that while the agencies are prohibited from not enforcing the law, they are given discretion in deciding when to implement the law.
This argument comes to the crux of a broader and growing problem in American government: the decline in influence of the American public on the regulation of federal agencies. Of the nearly 1,300 federal agencies, the vast majority fall under the purview of the executive branch, such as the massive Department of Defense and the tiny Trade and Development Agency. Agencies have had broad powers since the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 laid out the guidelines for how a government department may make rules. Up to the time agencies followed direction from congressional committee reports and were open to public comment. The public could also challenge the agency directly through the courts or indirectly through the legislative route. The right of public access to the process even expanded under the Rule-making Act of 1990, requiring agencies to consider the option of negotiated rule making whereby federal and public negotiators attempt to hammer out unanimously agreed upon provisions.
Still even these safeguards for public influence gave the agencies broad powers. The agencies have to follow congressional committee reports, but public to comments given on proposed rules can be ignored. The negotiated rule making process allows the public to negotiate directly with federal bureaucrats, but it would be the prerogative of the agency’s representatives to reach consensus yet nothing binds the agency to issuing a proposal unless there is a consensus in negotiations. Failure of the negotiators to agree leaves the public with only the courts and Congress for recourse. The public, in such instances, is an interest group, and not private individuals.
Over the past fifteen years Congress has become the least reliable branch. When Congress issues law they tend -as they did in the ACA- to cede more authority to the agency on how it may be implemented. This abrogation of power by Congress is written into the law because Congressmen lack expert knowledge on the issue or the congressional committee issues weak reports for the law. The congressional report is to tell the affected agency how Congress interprets the law it has just passed. As cooperation between congressional staffs has broken down due to partisan politics, the language of committee reports has become less specific, leaving an agency more latitude to interpret the law to fit its own policies. It also leaves the public less leverage in negotiated rule making. Without clear and articulated opinions on how these laws are to be interpreted, the discussion now revolves around the opinions of the public and those of the agency, thus giving the agency more power as they can disregard public opinion.
Congress’s surrender of power extends beyond the lessening in influence of congressional committee reports. Frustrated by a divided and gridlocked Congress, President Obama has been pushing through his agenda via executive action over the past few years. Such action is due in part to the power of agencies to issue new regulations. Congress could re-assume control and either approve or halt the President’s efforts, but to do so would require passing new laws. As the Senate refuses to take up for vote most bills passed by the House and the House refuses to take up the Senate immigration bill, it seems unlikely that it will occur in the near future. The only alternative for such inaction is in court decisions and congressional elections. The furor over Obamacare in the federal court system and then in the general election last year shows just how important these decisions have become in the absence of congressional action.
What we are witnessing is not the dictatorial anarchy that Krauthammer bemoans. No dictatorship would be answerable to an antagonistic Supreme Court. Nor does one make a fuss about appointing judges to a lower court. What we are instead seeing is the re-balancing of power in the absence of the legislative branch. Congress is still able to exert power, as the passing of the budget attests. But because Congress so rarely exercises its power the executive branch has used the regulatory agencies to alter the enforcement of law. Now the court system has become the main conduit through which the public can change law. Congress certainly is able to re-assume it’s authority to reign in regulators and give greater direction to the enforcement of laws, but it will only come with greater cooperation from within the branch itself.
Louis Gentilucci ’15
An effective tool in political campaigns is the reference to, and reverence of history. You will be warned that “this has happened before,” and that “history repeats itself.” While it is true that history can provide great insight into modern problems, this insight rarely follows such remarks.
History does not repeat itself: it doesn’t. You will never, in the history of humanity -past and present- find two separate moments that are truly identical. You cannot do it. It is impossible.
Case in point: a number of commentators have compared Obama’s Syria policy to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. One commentator in particular caught my attention. Below is a link to the program ‘AFTERBURNER W/ BILL WHITTLE: Umbrella Men: Neville Chamberlain and Barrack Obama’, which I will be talking about’
Go ahead, watch it. I’ll wait.
In his show, Bill Wittle slowly builds a case for the comparison of President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Neville Chanmberlain circa 1939. Citing Winston Churchill’s autobiographies, Wittle explains how Chamberlain, and those like him, thought that personal charm and charisma could overcome the machinations of men like Hitler. He expounds the moral weakness of men like Chamberlain for failing to stand up to the evil staring them in the face. Finally, the commentator draws the comparison of Chamberlain to Nazi Germany, leaving the viewer to decide the case, as if there was any doubt.
Here is what I, as a history student, found difficult to accept about his analysis:
His sources. There is only one source cited: Winston Churchill’s autobiographies. Autobiographies can be tricky beasts. While they do provide excellent firsthand accounts of historical events, they are prone to bias in favor of the author. To use an autobiography completely on its own is a serious error.
His use of the source. Not only is Mr. Whittle’s one source an autobiography, but the biographer was both his political rival and successor as Prime Minister. To put this into perspective, imagine if, years from now, a pundit used the autobiography of Barack Obama to critique George W. Bush’s presidency. Mr. Obama would hardly be considered an unbiased observer of his predecessor. Such a source can be useful, but only when combined with other sources, used to counter or corroborate its claims. As such, this source, by itself, is unsatisfactory in an historical sense.
The historical context. While the pundit may correctly critique the actions of Neville Chamberlain leading up to World War II, he excludes all actions the Prime Minister took to rectify his mistakes as well as all factors Chamberlain had to consider leading up to the Munich Agreement. He forgets Chamberlain’s failed attempt to forge an Eastern European alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler’s Germany. And while he claims that Mr. Chamberlain commanded the most powerful empire in human history, neglecting the fact that most of that empire wants to leave the Empire. India, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and many other territories wanted, in some way or another, to escape British dominion. Anti-colonial rebellions were a serious threat during World War II, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. And there was the continuing tension in the Far East with Japan to be considered.
And all of this ignores the domestic side of Mr. Chamberlain’s thinking. Britain was still trying to pay for World War One. Britain was still struggling through the Depression and had no stomach for a new war with Germany. When Mr. Chamberlain returned, he was hailed as a hero, applauded for returning with peace in hand. Had he come home with war, the British people might not have been so welcoming.
The narrative. Whittle already knows the whole story. He knows what Adolf Hitler wanted. Not because he had watched Hitler’s political career unfold, or distilled his core beliefs and ambitions through hard research, analysis and review, but because society has crafted a handy equation for him: Hitler = Evil. With this it doesn’t matter what factors might be involved, or what else might need to be considered. Hitler is Evil: anything short of unyielding resistance to this Evil is seen as giving in to it. There is no room for disagreement or debate. This drains history of possibility and chance. History, on every level, is disagreement. There are facts history, but the realities of them are never truly black or white, right or wrong. Hitler’s actions were wrong, but the proper response to those actions was not nearly so clear cut.
History is made as the present happens. It is not preplanned. The conquistador Herman Cortes believed his siege of Tenochtitlan would succeed. The defenders believed they could defeat him. Neither of them knew how obvious Cortes’ victory was until it had already transpired.
So too it was with Chamberlain. The British Prime Minister believed Hitler could be reasoned with. Churchill did not. Chamberlain had his evidence, Churchill his own. They couldn’t know how Chamberlain was so obviously wrong until after Hitler betrayed him.
The modern comparison. The pundit-using bad analysis- is trying to connect two vastly disparate events and combine their message. Here we see the return of that handy formula: Hitler = Evil. Given this, if Assad is remotely evil, then he must be, if not like, Hitler, and so not going to war makes you arrogant and weak-willed, a la Neville Chamberlain. This narrative structure was used to sell the Iraq War, the support for the Libyan rebels, and the Afghan War. Any conflict where we cherry-pick “evil dictators” who must be stopped, uses this narrative structure.
This is not about protecting the name of Chamberlain nor defend his decisions. I would like to transform him from a cardboard cutout into the historical player he was. This is about pundit’s, such as Bill Whittle, use history and exemplify our media’s misuse of history.
The work of online commentators is not equitable to academic scholarship, no matter the content or quality of the work. As well it is recognized that Whittle’s is a small example with a small audience. At the same time, the lack of standards allows for sloppy work and poor historiography to permeate our culture. There is little critique of such work, because its purpose is to reach a small, specific audience that will eat it up without a second thought. Anyone in this audience with an ax to grind about President Obama will make the connection quickly and have their understanding of history distorted. Instead of truly debating and questioning history, we simply get ‘liberal history’ and ‘conservative history’. What is needed is a history that honestly shows what we as a nation have done and the results of our actions. Today, we get a history that serves our political bias rather than our country’s needs instead.
Sam Blum ’15
To put it lightly, the past week has not been kind to President Obama and his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ‘Obamacare’. For the past month the website where citizens could sign up for the health insurance exchanges, Healthcare.gov, has been plagued by technical errors. These errors quickly became the topic of late night talk shows, as well as mainstream news channels. Even Jon Stewart, typically seen as a media ally of the administration, heavily criticized the rollout of the website. Mr. Obama was universally panned for not having known about the problems with the website prior to its release. People found it ridiculous that an undertaking of this magnitude – literally years in the making- was not fully tested before being rolled out. As a result of these major technical errors only 106,000 Americans were able to sign up for Obamacare in its first month of activity. Of those who did sign up, less than 27,000 were able to do so through the Healthcare.gov website. Additionally, only five people in the entire District of Columbia signed up for the program despite the fact that local officials spent over 133 million dollars to setup the Washington D.C. exchange.
The unfortunate website fiasco (which President Obama had promised from the very beginning would never happen) has happened. Several million Americans who previously had health insurance have suddenly found themselves without it. Their coverage was unexpectedly canceled because their plans did not meet minimum standards under Obamacare regulations. This has led to widespread outrage by citizens who now feel the president has been lying to them all along. Mr. Obama has promised to fix the problem of already insured Americans losing their coverage by allowing them to keep their plans for an additional year. It is doubtful whether this can actually happen without serious changes to the law. In response to the website problems and unexpected cancellations President Obama’s approval rating has sharply fallen. In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, the president’s approval rating sits at 39%, the lowest it has been throughout his time in office. Additionally, the poll asked what Americans thought about Mr. Obama’s trustworthiness and honesty; unsurprisingly just over half of respondents, 52% to be precise, said they do not believe him to be trustworthy. The president claims he was not aware of the enrollment website issues prior to the rollout, but it is hard to believe he would not be informed of a problem in what is essentially his signature program.
There is some worry among Democrats that the failed implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act could spell doom for those up for reelection in 2014. Despite these fears House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has pledged that the party will continue to support the Obamacare program and that it will not be a major issue in the midterm elections. Although Pelosi vowed to remain in support of the program, she does not seem to have complete control over her party considering the fact that only a few days ago close to 40 House Democrats voted in favor of a Republican bill that would extend coverage for those who had previously lost their health insurance. This bill, entitled “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013”, essentially allows insurance companies to continue to sell policies that do not meet Obamacare standards for coverage. If the bill becomes law it would undermine much of what the Affordable Care Act was created to fix. Many have suggested that this ‘revolt’ by House Dems is an attempt to placate the constituents of fellow Democratic congressmen up for reelection next year. Thus any suggestion by an opponent that the incumbent failed to vote in favor of a measure which could have helped members of their district could prove disastrous come Election Day.
No one expected the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would be a perfectly smooth process, but no one expected it to turn out as badly as it has. Although there are currently a lot of problems with the system, it is possible they could be fixed in the next few months. However, if the problems are not addressed soon, it could make it easier for the Republican Party to have a serious discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act in the near future. Only time will tell as to what the legacy of Obamacare will be. The American public may look back ten years from now and see it as a miserable failure that caused endless partisan bickering, or as a success that allowed millions of Americans to gain access to quality healthcare at an affordable price.
Sarah Kaboly ’16
On August 7, 2013, the nation’s first law providing equality for transgender students was passed by the California State Senate by a 21-9 vote. Transgender activists viewed the passage of the law as a long sought after victory in the fight for equal rights. Most widely known at Assembly Bill 1266, the law provides that a student can participate in sex-segregated activities, such as team sports, in accordance with their own gender identity, even if that is in conflict with the gender they are formally recognized as. Certain areas of California, notably San Francisco and Los Angeles, have already adopted policies similar to this.
The law has received strong criticism from the right. A spokesman for the conservative Family Research Council called the law “extreme” and said that it aimed to “include the two most controversial and explosive aspects” of any laws that had tried to pass previously. Those against the law complain of its broadness and ability to be applied in a way not originally intended. Frank Schubert, an activist with the Proposition 8 effort to ban gay marriage, said that under the new law any student who claimed to be a girl “can go into the girls’ showers and bathroom and the locker room.” Shubert believes this is harmful to the safety and interests of other students. He and others contend that the bill allows a way for a male student to declare ‘to be’ a she, thus being permitted use of the girl’s locker room and so invading the privacy of the female students. Although a case like this has never been documented, the law is still being implemented. Other opponents of the bill hold that the law protects the interests of a minority of students rather than the majority. In addition, The Huffington Post reported that some opponents of the bill, including California pastor Jack Hibbs, have called the law “an affront on God.” Pastor Hibbs spoke out against the bill on a weekly podcast, calling it “the most aggressive, the most dangerous bit of legislation against the child and against family.”
Conservative activists plan to submit a petition to the State of California which could lead to the law being overturned. A Time Magazine article entitled “California’s Battle Over Transgender Student Rights,” is centered on the potential overturn of the law. On November 11th, Frank Schubert and other opponents plan to turn in a petition with over 700,000 signatures collected over three months. In order for a referendum on the law to be granted only 505,000 signatures would need to be submitted or roughly 5% of those who voted in the most recent governor’s race.
The backlash comes after a recent string of legislation passed in favor of transgender students. Over the summer the Department of Justice ruled that a transgender student’s school district was required to give him access to the men’s facilities. Last year first grader Cory Mathis won a similar case in which she was granted access to the women’s restroom. While transgender activists are happy to see these laws being passed, Geoff Kors, an activist for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, argues that the debate and reaction against these laws only further hurt transgender students these laws aim to protect. With many falling on both sides of the issue this law, and others like it, will continue to be front page news in the months and years to come.