Category CRITICISM

Book Review: Stories of Democracy

Stories of Democracy. Columbia University Press. 2000.

The term ‘democracy’ is hardly constant. The concept is fluid and shifting, meaning different things for different countries, and constantly progressing. Perhaps this is even more true for the idea of democracy in the Middle East, a region rife with dictators, oppression, and corruption, and yet one incredibly tumultuous, whose history is replete with stories of coups, revolt, and change.

The current Arab Awakening is better proof than any other that for a region incessantly labeled traditional, reactionary, and even primitive, the Middle East is hungry for democracy.

Mary Ann Tetreault, in Stories of Democracy: Politics and Society in Contemporary Kuwait (PDF), delves into one country’s idea of and struggle for democracy. The book is a descriptive, not prescriptive one, covering Kuwait’s essential moments and battles for power instead of laying didactic groundwork for Kuwait’s government and citizens to come. Then again, history can sometimes be the best blueprint, or guidebook, for the future. If Tetreault realized this more fully, she could have written an incredibly important book, instead of only an incredibly interesting one.

In her first two chapters, Tetreault speaks generally on concepts of democracy, emphasizing their variability and constructing the foundation for more specific discussions to come. She then introduces Kuwait, currently ruled by a constitutional monarchy, as a country whose stories, or ‘myths,’ of democracy are instructive, complex, and unique. She notes Kuwait’s interactions and role-playing in international diplomacy and geopolitics, but she makes clear she is far more interested in the “repeated clashes between would-be citizens demanding civil and political rights and what has become over the period a deeply entrenched albeit variably autocratic ‘traditional’ regime” (2).

Then she moves to Kuwait’s major political factions, key power-struggle events, and its massive national oil company, the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC). She only zooms in from there, never looking back, and never properly returning to the broader scope that affords useful analysis, reflection, and context.

Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

Tetreault’s fifth chapter, a discussion of the positive effects of the Iraqi invasion and ensuing American intervention on Kuwait’s democratic movements, best encapsulates the strengths and weaknesses that pervade the book.

Tetreault compellingly argues that the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, something we typically consider an affront to freedom and self-determination, actually empowered Kuwaitis struggling for democracy in several ways. For one, the invasion highlighted many failures of the autocratic regime. Most Kuwaitis blamed their own government for imprudent oil policies and inept diplomacy that incurred Iraq’s invasion. Furthermore, Kuwaiti military and police forces appeared entirely unprepared for the attack and unable to defend when it arrived.

Secondly, the occupation and subsequent liberation movement empowered Kuwaiti exiles, who used the fight for independence from Iraq to fight for independence from authoritarianism. Though the government reneged on several promises it made to dissidents, some tangible results prevailed: namely, a parliamentary election. The vote for the National Assembly, while still under dictatorial rule, reversed many gains of the unconstitutional coup two years prior.

Finally, Tetreault argues that the Iraqi occupation fundamentally changed the way many Kuwaitis thought about their nation and the prospect for democracy. “Within days” of the invasion, Tetreault writes, “groups of Kuwaitis coalesced into pockets of organized resistance. Women and men, Shi’a and Sunna, the not-so-rich and well-to-do, demonstrated, plotted, and engaged in commando operations…” (pg. 88). She continues to extensively document a people inspired to reject both occupiers and the repressive government that allowed them in, a people whose post-colonial philosophy was: “We aren’t afraid of the Sabah. We survived Saddam Hussein” (pg. 98). The chapter is thoughtful and in-depth, quoting at length from first-hand liberation fighters and conveying their sentiments with ease.

What it immediately lacks, though, is regional context. Upon finishing the Iraq invasion chapter, I hoped Tetreault would then compare Kuwait to other countries in the MENA, where colonialism and independence movements have run rampant. Instead, the book quickly moves along, examining the 1992 elections.

Kuwait and Algeria

Historical analysis shows how valuable such a comparison would be. Take Algeria, for example, and that nation’s struggle against more than a hundred years of French colonialism. Hundreds of thousands of Algerians spent eight grueling years battling both the French occupiers and a sizable band of French-loyalist Algerians, finally achieving independence in 1962. But instead of turning anti-colonialism into democracy, post-colonial Algerians supported Ahmed Ben Bella and a despotic constitution in 1963, banning opposition parties and only allowing the National Liberation Front (FLN). Ben Bella was thereafter removed and exiled, but Algeria remained a one-party state for decades.

Far worse, however, than the lack of multiple-party elections, was how Algerians treated opposition after ousting the French. Little dissent was tolerated. Algeria became jingoistic, marginalizing anyone who wasn’t Algerian, Arab, and Muslim, and repressing those who spoke out against the FLN.

The comparison isn’t perfect. For one, France colonized Algeria for more than a century, whereas Iraq was only in Kuwait for seven months. In Kuwait, the United States intervened and drove the Iraqis back to Baghdad, while Algeria fought entirely for itself. Both occupiers left in similar fashion though: as the French left Algeria, they burned vineyards, spitefully ruining whatever they could; in Kuwait, retreating Iraqis blew up nearly 800 oil wells, leaving behind an environmental and economic disaster that Kuwait wouldn’t recover from for more than a decade. The way these independence movements occurred has many obvious ramifications on the nature of politics and dissent following their major successes.

But the differences between them don’t obviate meaningful, if simple, lessons to be learned in contrasting how the two nations, or Kuwait and another previously occupied country, responded to independence. Kuwait’s post-occupation empowerment, especially immediately upon Saddam’s departure, was a vital turning point in Kuwait’s struggle for democracy that would signal progressive change much further down the line.

This is clear in the results of the election that followed. More than half of those elected in the 1992 parliamentary vote had run opposing the government and promising reform (pg. 128). Even at the time, this was an incredible sign for democracy to come. Modern-day Kuwait, it should be noted, is not a paradigm for human rights and freedom. However, it has signed the several of the most important international human rights treaties (unlike, say, the United States). More importantly, Kuwait is now a country where the battle for democracy is a multifarious one, instead of a series of one-sided dictatorial repression.

In Algeria, it was Ben Bella’s rise to prominence and then to power that would symbolize the way it would respond to opposition for decades to come. It wasn’t until early 1992, three full decades after Algerian independence, that a worthy opposition movement began to take hold. And when it did, the Algerian government lashed back like never before. When the Islamic Salvation Front (SIF) made electoral gains, the military staged a violent coup that provoked ten bloody, vicious years of civil war, killing at least 100,000. The war disillusioned Algerians even further, spawning a mass of jaded, educated “hittistes,” who were then recruited to later opposition groups.

Had Algeria’s citizenry responded the way Kuwait’s did, inspired and active instead of embittered and hateful, they would have been far more prepared for the uphill battle against authoritarianism than they were. Perhaps the civil war could have been avoided. The Algerians’ independence fight was far more draining, economically and psychologically and otherwise, but the comparison still elucidates fateful differences.

Arab Awakening

This chapter’s failure to draw adequately on surrounding contextual and regional references is the book’s problem as well. Whole books could be written, and surely have, about the Iraqi invasion and the effects it had on Kuwaiti internal politics and democratic struggle. But by merely touching on the topic and then moving chronologically along, Tetreault leaves something to be desired. Perhaps, though, this criticism seems unfair, given Tetreault’s stated aims: to document the roller coaster of successes, pitfalls, and cumbersome drama that is the struggle for Kuwaiti democracy. She set out to cover internal politics and does just that.

However, especially in light of what has been called the Arab Spring, or the Jasmine Revolutions, a greater scope seems essential to understanding democracy. These have been democratic movements of people of all ages, religions, classes, and creeds. They have undoubtedly learned from and been inspired by each other as well: Tunisia’s ousting of dictator Ben Ali showed Egyptians what it took to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. Some of the most successful and influential struggles against autocrats are also rejections of nationalism and Islamic theocracy, problems that befall the MENA throughout. Widening the lens allows for these types of connections to be made and lessons to be learned. Tetreault is intent on readers understanding Kuwait’s uniqueness, but the sentiment feels myopic, or incomplete. For all their differences, these nations have a lot to learn from each other.

Still, for what it is, Tetreault’s Stories of Democracy remains a constructive glimpse into the history and character of a country’s struggle to free itself from the ever tightening binds of oppression. Context is ours to study, and ours to bring to what we read and see in the world. Maybe Tetrault understands this, even if she doesn’t quite act on it, for her story about Kuwait is, as she writes, “also one about how we understand social contracts in political systems from North America to Southeast Asia. … [a story] about citizenship and democracy anywhere and at any time” (pg. 13).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detention & Deception

The Guantanamo Files & American Human Rights Hypocrisy

“The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing” the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, President Obama declared in a 2008 campaign pamphlet, before promising to do just that. International leaders and an official United Nations report have called on the United States to close the prison, citing human rights abuses. Scores of GTMO detainees have been tortured, few made it to military tribunals, and almost none were awarded a civilian trial, let alone compensation after their eventual release.

Since its foundation in 2002, the Cuban-based detention camp has been an emblem of the War on Terror’s worst erosions of civil liberties, an icon of America’s moral degradation, and a crucial talking point for critics of American foreign policy around the world. So the international community generally lauded Obama’s election, and his promise to close the site, excited for a new era of justice and moral awakening. Three years later, however, the notorious prison is still open, still caging nearly 200 people who may never see a trial, and still a symbol of America’s disastrous disregard for human rights under the endless, sprawling War on Terror.

State Dept. Diplomat Silenced by Crowley’s Firing

On Wednesday, March 30, Thomas Armbruster, State Department Diplomat-in-Residence for the Greater New York Area, joined Secret Service Special Agent James Haines and federal government intern Michael Stallone on a panel at The College of New Jersey entitled “Jobs in Federal Government.”

Following the discussion, Armbruster was asked for his take on WikiLeaks’ cablegate document trove, which included one of his own cables, and alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning’s treatment. He discussed both advantages and problems with the leaked State Dept. logs, but was starkly silent regarding the imprisoned Army Private.

WikiLeaks, Part 2 – Media Analysis

How Free is our Press?

WikiLeaks promises their anonymous, whistle-blowing sources that they will work for “maximum political impact.” Like them or not, they keep their word. The transnational transparency-advocating journalists stormed American and international discourse by publishing secret diplomatic cables. America responded. Some consider WikiLeaks heroic, daring to speak truth to power, and some consider the organization terroristic, threatening to undermine American diplomacy worldwide.

Constitutional lawyer and civil liberties writer Glenn Greenwald, for Salon.com, finds public reactions quite disturbing.

WikiLeaks, Part 3 – Interview with FAIR

Interview with Steve Rendall, Senior Analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) on WikiLeaks and American reactions to the U.S. diplomatic cable release.

Is WikiLeaks a journalistic entity?
Well of course it is, because it receives information, it collects information, it publishes information, it edits it. If you look at its website, information is edited, it’s commented upon. Of course it’s a journalistic outfit.

INSIDERS CRITIQUE GREEK LIFE

Written by a TCNJ fraternity member and a TCNJ sorority member, who asked to remain anonymous.

The Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose legacy has survived since 270 BCE, believed that he had the secret to attaining and maintaining happiness. While volumes of Epicurus’ works have been lost over the years, his philosophies continue to influence the collective consciousness today, guiding people like ourselves who want nothing more from life than to be happy. Current TCNJ students who find themselves unhappy here often join one of the College’s Greek organizations. Although it is not acknowledged overtly, many people believe joining will bring them a few steps closer to the happiness we all seek. We may shed light on the pros and cons of fraternalism by comparing and contrasting it with Epicureanism, a school of thought in which Greek life may find its roots.

IN DEFENSE OF TENURE, FOR NOW

I understand why tenure is such a sore point when it comes to discussing educational reform. In what sensible system would a dysfunctional cog be not only preserved but guaranteed repeated raises and benefits? How does anyone, no matter the system, advocate for the oiling and reoiling of outdated, ill-fitted pieces? How could one possibly argue for tenure, especially with so many “bad teachers” ruining our kids and the future of America as we know it?

EDUCATION & RELIGIOSITY

A Michigan Institute for Social Research study found that education majors are the likeliest of any college demographic group to become more religious within six years of graduating high school. The institution determined religiosity based on rates of participation in religious services, as well as how important a role respondents said religion played in their lives.

JACKSONADER

 

Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson Photo by David Chapman

 

On a campus that has long had a reputation for students who cared little about the world around them, calls for collective action against the powerful were met with excitement, respect, and admiration.

“The people who are not organized become serfs of those who are organized,” said Ralph Nader, author, activist, and former Green Party Presidential candidate, to great applause during a talk in Kendall Hall.

ON PROTEST & POWER

Very recent memory has born witness to the eruption of fervent protests, in both our country and the Middle East. While the protests in the Middle East have been met with violence, suppression, and yet, revolutionary progress for some, those in the United States, which have incurred hardly any governmental reaction, have amounted to little consequence for the status quo. It is my belief that this dichotomy is rooted in a millennia-old mechanic of social order and control: the tolerance of free speech as a means to mitigate social change.

SPURLOCK CANCELS EVENT, PROTESTS SIGNAL

Reading the the Signal’s February 23 SFB column, I was excited to learn that Morgan Spurlock would be coming to campus this spring.  According to the article, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker was coming to campus to screen an exclusive sneak preview of his latest work before a lecture and Q & A session. As per the paper’s typical standards and content, the SFB column discussed the the event’s total cost, $17,400, and published its tentative date, with the only pending constraint being “…approval from building operators.”

GREEN & YELLOW, BLACK & BLUE

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

You might ask yourself, as one does from time to time, “What’s going on in the world right now?” I recommend you check out what’s going on in Bahrain and Libya especially because there are a lot of pictures of people burned to death or with their brains lying next to them and it’s super fucked up. There are, however, some pretty important things going on right here on the home-front, also; for instance, the shit going down right now in Wisconsin, where government employees are protesting the governor’s plan to fuck them over.

On face, this is a question of balancing the state budget in Wisconsin. The question is, “Should Wisconsin balance its budget by making state workers take a hit to their pensions and health care plans?”

Obama’s Occupations

In the 2010 midterm elections, Democrat Mike McIntyre won reelection over Tea Party Republican Ilario Pantano, who served in Iraq with the Marine Corps, in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. Second lieutenant Ilario Pantano openly admits and legitimizes his participation in the 2005 fatal point-blank shooting of two Iraqis, who on his campaign website he describes as “terrorists.”
Obama's War
The two Iraqis were executed at a detention point near Falluja, where Pantano emptied the clip of his M16A4 into these two men, then reloaded and emptied another fresh clip into their bodies — already corpses –totalling nearly 60 shots fired. A later search of the Iraqis’ truck revealed no weapons. Pantano adorned the corpses with a placard bearing the Marine Core motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.”

Military judges dropped all charges against Pantano due to “insufficient evidence,” despite witnesses claiming the two detainees were non-threats and were kneeling on the ground prior to the shooting.

Pantano was honorably discharged and proceeded to run for Congress. McIntyre avoided both the murders and Pantano’s belief that the Park51 community center planned for New York City represents Islamic “religious, ideological and territorial conquest” of the West.

These issues of murder and anti-Islamic hate were largely sidestepped in the election, downplayed in media coverage of the campaign.

The anti-war movement in the United States is lying dormant.

Pro-Life Radicals Compare Abortion to Genocide

The claim that abortion is “genocide” is rubbish. The term “genocide” was coined by an international lawyer and linguist named Raphael Lemkin in 1944. He combined the Greek root geno meaning race or tribe, with the Latin derivative cide which means to kill. He wanted a unique term to describe the Nazi’s systematic plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, which is the prototype of the phenomenon the term “genocide” is meant to describe.

Aborting Logic

The abortion debate is an old one; each side’s opinions and rationales have long been made public knowledge. Despite this, the pro-life argument was resurrected on this campus in the form of a several hour lecture-debate on September 15, in conjunction with an inflammatory display outside of the science complex which appeared shortly after.

College Policy on Free Speech

Support Liberty on Campus: FIRE

The College of New Jersey

is violating your First Amendment right to

freedom of expression –

right now, even as you read this.

SELF HATING WHO?!

In last month’s edition of The Perspective, I published a blurb which praised the Obama administration’s recent firm stance on Israeli settlement expansion. I did not explicitly criticize the State of Israel – but merely suggested the Obama administration’s relatively nuanced stance on Israel could have positive ramifications in the pursuit of Middle East peace.

After reading the quarter-page blurb, a key figure in the Jewish campus community believed he had adequate evidence to state, “There’s nothing worse than a self-hating Jew.”

In response to those who would label Jewish supporters of Obama’s Israel policy as “self-hating,” I would like to call your attention to a recent Haaretz poll. The poll, released on April 13, found that 73% of American Jews agree with Obama’s policy towards Israel – characterizing relations between Israel and the U.S. as “positive” or “very positive.” Do three out of four American Jews hate themselves?

I will not delve into the multitude of reasons why this individuals’ snarky comment about me is absurd, but will instead use it as an opportunity to elaborate on the message of last month’s blurb. Pejoratives like “self-hating Jew” or “anti-Semite” are representative of the exact issue I wished to address in the article.

Until it is acknowledged that an individual can oppose an Israeli government policy—which happens to be illegal under international law—and not be anti-Semitic, no substantive progress can be made in peace processes in the Middle East.

The dialogue surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is so crippled by taboo, it is impossible to hold any sort of meaningful discussion on the matter without being accused of either ignorance or hatred.

The blurb was intended to give credit to President Obama for not caving into the fear of being labeled an “anti-Semite” by some fringe hard-lined Zionists. I encourage others to follow suit, and not be afraid to stand openly against unjust Israeli policy.

Editor’s Note: Glenn Eisenberg is also known as Glenn Eisenblurb

Breaking News: No Free Will!

Wednesday, International Union of Sociochemistry representative Daryl Wayne announced that free will is merely an illusion. The president of the renown organization urged the public to remain calm, adding that people need not panic if they find they cannot control their response to this scientific breakthrough.

“Thoughts,” Wayne declared at the annual conference,“are simply chemical reactions in our brains, and humans have been acting out a predetermined chain of sociochemical events since they first came to be.”

According to the New Jersey State Police, since Wednesday’s announcement, incidents of criminal activity and tomfoolery have sharply risen.

“I was just walking down the street, when a man approached me, tore off his pants, and began to jump up and down in a humping motion,” one anonymous woman informed The Perspective. Reports also indicate that the man was saying “unntz unntz unntz” as he harassed at least a dozen other Ewing citizens late Wednesday evening.

Witness Sarah Smith incredulously added that there was no camera crew. Neither Johnny Knoxville nor Bam Margera could be reached for comment.

Riots have also broken out on two different fronts.

One group of demonstrators has formed near the entrance of the International Union of Sociochemistry headquarters in Trenton touting WWJD gear and signs reading messages such as “Helaman 14:30,” “Free My Will,” and “Your Mom is Predetermined”; one participant’s sign read caustically, “Did You Predetermine This, Asshole?”

One woman, incensed by the implications this news has on the existence of a Judeo-Christian God, captured the crowd’s sentiments with a pointed question, “Without free will where does peoples’ accountability go? What does this mean for good and evil?”

The other party of protesters, described as donning tie-dyed shirts and smelling of marijuana, has begun peaceful protests in front of the U.S. Department of Justice. The Perspective reporter on the field has reported rally cries such as, “Hell no, we can’t go!” and “Together we stand; together we fight; we have no choice but to demand our rights!”

One young man at the rally told our correspondent, “I knew I wasn’t to blame for my unemployment and drug habits; if we don’t have control over our actions, we shouldn’t be forced to suffer from their consequences.”
Others at the gathering demanded that relatives or loved ones be set free from jail, reasoning that, without free will, the prisoners couldn’t be blamed for their actions—they were merely victims of circumstance.

When asked about how he planned to respond to the International Union of Sociochemistry’s statement, which effectively decreed all human behavior inculpable, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder maintained that law will continue to be enforced as usual; Holder cited his own lack of volition as reason for deciding so.

As of now, the fate of mankind is uncertain: with doubt cast upon the existence of God and peoples’ newfound immunity to blame, some are desperately grasping at the straws of morality, seeking out the few morsels left untouched by this pivotal discovery. Based on the current rate of society’s disintegration, some sociologists project that by late 2012, society as we know it will collapse upon itself.

The Demise of DC++ (?)

DC++

A few week ago, College administrators finally disbanded the popular file-sharing program DC++, through which countless TCNJ students have happily uploaded and downloaded files for years. The death sentence closely followed the publication of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which quoted a current TCNJ student responsible for maintaining the “Hub,” as it is informally known.

The April 18 article, which referred to the Hub as a means of “illegal swapping of copyrighted media,” generated negative publicity for the College after it was posted on Slashdot.org, a popular technology news website.

Students who maintained the Hub this year allege that the College’s handling of the ensuing controversy has been sorely hypocritical. “Everyone in the Information Technology (IT) Department has known about the Hub for years,” said one of the program’s moderators, who asked to be identified by his alias, MrWhite. It was only after the College’s began to experience blowback from the Chronicle article that they decided to take action.

Nadine Stern, Vice President for Information Technology and Enrollment Services at TCNJ, initially told the Chronicle, “We’ve made the decision not to be detectives and not to look for it,” when asked about the presence of file-sharing on the campus network. Only four days later, however, her position changed drastically. In a sternly worded campus-wide email, she stated, “The College takes illegal file sharing seriously. Therefore, we will begin to take technological steps to block the DC++ application, and we will pursue disciplinary action as appropriate.”

The subject of that disciplinary action, a TCNJ senior who requested anonymity, said he received an email accusing him of copyright violation after the College’s IT team had traced the IP address of the Hub to his particular computer.

“The box was in my room,” said the former moderator, “but I don’t really think that constitutes any violation of copyright law.” He was summoned to meet with Ryan Farnkopf, Assistant Director of Student Conduct.

“‘The box is in your room,” Farnkopf reportedly said, “and files are being transferred through it.’” The moderator said he corrected him, responding, “No, no files were ever traveling through that computer. The computer is literally just a chat room where two people can connect directly to each other and share their files,” he explained.

The former moderator was accused of violating the College’s Computing Access Agreement, though he asserted that “nowhere in the Computing Access Agreement does it say anything specifically about file-sharing.”

Further, MrWhite said the Chronicle article “grossly distorted what the Hub is… They made it seem as if it’s like a big mysterious box, chock-full of copyrighted files that we all surreptitiously move around.” But in reality, he said, there is nothing inherently illegal about the Hub, which at its essence merely is a chat room through which users can access shared files on other computers throughout the campus network. “Because all file transfers are handled directly between the uploading and downloading computers,” he continued, “the Hub itself cannot see what files are being transferred. So there is no way for the Hub operator to know whether or not any users are using it for copyright infringement.”

Indignant, the anonymous senior said he knows of several individuals currently working for the College’s IT department who themselves actively used the Hub. And it was these same people who were apparently involved in locating the current moderator for disciplining. “It’s hypocritical that they’re going after a couple of students when full-time employees were using it,” he said.

He also said that some IT employees “spend so much time on the school computers playing video games” – in particular, Team Fortress 2 – which unlike the Hub represents an actual violation of the College’s Computing Access Agreement: “Use of College computing resources by College employees for personal use without the approval of the department in which the resource is located.”

The former moderator declined to participate in a formal disciplinary hearing, saying that it would have been a “waste of a day” because he felt he was preemptively deemed guilty. “I’m being used as a scapegoat,” he added.

Luckily, this debacle will not appear on any transcripts for the senior, but it will stay on his disciplinary record for about five years after he graduates.

FIGHTBACK TCNJ

We all know, cuts abound: money continues to be surreptitiously funneled away from public education reserves, putting desperate strain on K-12 school districts throughout the state, as well as on our own college. So where has all the aid gone? Yes, everything is being cut – ostensibly because New Jersey is trying to close an $11 billion budget deficit.

Troublesome economic times call for more careful prioritization of public funds, not aimless dismantling of any conceivable program. Education – an indispensable investment in the future – should be the last stock from which to divest.

In this spirit, a coalition of students, faculty, union leaders, college staff, and parents have joined to form FIGHT BACK TCNJ, an advocacy group aiming to build a democratic, grassroots, activist movement in defense of public education and in opposition to Governor Chris Christie’s budget cuts. Awareness, discussion and support is mediated largely through its interactive web site, FIGHTBACKTCNJ.org.

Their first major initiative was a “teach-in” on April 21, an educational event intended to increase awareness of ongoing class-oriented struggles that have culminated in Gov. Christie’s unprecedented withdrawal of state education funding.

Why care? To assume that everything will be accounted for would be naïve; to assume we can have no impact on the policy-making process is only more so. Having money is the only way to make our values correspond with concrete services and activities – whether we like or not, money is the privilege to do things.

Many of the College’s programs will inevitably have to go, and student groups face a voting process to determine what TCNJ can afford to keep. This may not be the worst of all consequences,and college students may not feel the full force of the financial burden now, but the old strategy of divide and conquer is at work.

The reality is that this burden is merely being paddled back and forth; right now high schools face the deepest cuts, but in years past higher education bore the brunt of the burden. Rather than disregard the severity and relevance of current cuts for K-12 schools and playing into the government’s stratagem, it is imperative that New Jerseyans unite to defend public education. A strong showing of elementary and secondary education majors attended the sessions, but they should not be the only ones to care about the welfare of the future. April 21 was an all-day kickoff of five sessions and an evening plenary designed to understand current budget woes within the context of a broader social narrative.

First session speaker, Trina Scordo, introduced us to the theoretical and historical basis for the existence of unions. I’ll admit I never allotted much thought to or care for unions. As far as I was concerned, they simply exist; you join a profession, you join the corresponding union – standard operating procedure. However, many people are rightfully suspicious of unions. Scordo addressed this distrust and how it came about when the bargaining process was formalized. In stuffing the working class into suits and setting them opposite the table from business officials, the working class should expect the unfortunate results – no concessions from higher-ups. Once union representatives enmesh themselves too deeply in the process, they become removed from the constituents they are supposed to represent.

But she asked us instead why, rather than being angry at government employees who receive good benefits and pensions, as Christie is encouraging the public to do, we don’t make demands and work for ourselves: for better education and better benefits? A striking point, she made. Truth is, we are tentative to make demands; the concept of “to each his due” comes under fire. What one deserves by right (as opposed to what one is entitled to by merit) conflicts with the individualism and capitalist ethic, which America holds by the claws. It is not something I could easily let go, but working from an agreed rather than decreed baseline is an attractive idea.

Students have the right to demand the highest quality teachers and professors; however, it is difficult to reform a system that does not take student complaints seriously. The session revealed the relevance of unions and how students can harness their voices. The process of how we are allowed to make change says just as much, if not more, about how much leverage we really have.

One of the second session pairs was a throwback to the 1960s: lessons from movements. One student brought up the hippie culture associated with the activism of which we tend to think – what came first, the culture or the reform? Second opinions emerged from faculty as to which historical organizations best represent the current situation and if they failed, how and why. Here’s an easy SparkNotes version: activism spreads when people who care about one issue are apt to see the struggles of another group. Every issue relates in some way to nearly every other issue, and the synergy created by individuals and groups working collaboratively makes for substantial accomplishments on all fronts. No lecture attendance necessary.

Students don’t have the power to shut anything down in order to prove a point, but they have always been the passion behind a tired work force that can do so. Even there we may be proving them wrong with recent high school walkouts – hello, empowerment.

Reactions are proof; Michael Drewniak, Gov. Christie’s press secretary, hoped to dismiss the walkouts as “motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever – and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey,” and said students “belong in the classroom.”

Governor Chris Christie was no more pleased: “The schools did a lousy job in really permitting…students to walk out in the middle of the school day. Their parents send them there not to protest.; they send them there to learn. And I have no problem with students protesting. They have absolutely every right to exercise their first amendment rights. But they should exercise their first amendment rights either before school or right after school.”

Drewniak wasn’t wrong, and said himself, “Students would be better served if they were given a full, impartial understanding of the problems that got us here in the first place.” Why are the details of the budget cuts, then, not more public than they are?

Gov. Christie has a point, students are sent to school to learn; but what drove scores of high school students to walk out on their classes? One might consider that they saw walkouts during the school day as more effective than before or after-school rallies. Regardless, having to demand an explanation for the budget cuts is as good as hiding it, and protesting in such a manner casts doubt on the willingness of school systems to listen.

Drewniak seemed to suspect students were motivated by a biased, narrow-minded understanding, and it feels that students have somehow been pitted against the rest of the state. Yet the 15 sheer scope of the budget crisis should be regarded as the real problem.

The remaining attendees gathered in the Social Science Atrium after dinner for a small but powerful rally cry to close the divide between students, faculty, and legislators. Nearing the end of the night, senior Matt Hoke made an interesting point: colleges and other institutions churn students out to replace the infrastructure of the country as we know it.

We as students are both customers and products of schools; then why are we paying so much money – money we have no power over – if the stability of the work world depends on us equally as we do on it?

The origin of unions may not appear relevant, yet as one of the last session speakers, Nagesh Rao, said, “You can’t take a snapshot of how things are today without looking at where things are and how they got there.” We may just be in the same predicament as those workers today. It may not be a comfortable thought, but there is a lesson to be learned: stagnant apathy is no way to work toward a better status quo.

I noticed during this finale, a few onlookers leaning over the second floor balcony with cool removal, crossed feet and suited, presumably for another event. I became aware of the disconnect, and it took me out of the teach-in’s warm enclave. I am sure that they only heard something about unions and students among the echoes of shouts. I am not even sure if the thought that the ensuing noise pertained to them, had even crossed their minds. Whatever your views, watch your allocation of funds, and you may be able to return to business as usual.

Trial and Error: A Solution Four Thousand Years in the Making

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls.”
–Thomas Paine

Having written so on the eve of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was right – those were times that tried men’s souls. Nevertheless, when you consider the almighty, objectively infallible bigger picture, his words are misleading. Peoples’ souls have always been tried; they’re being tried right now. All of the times are the times that try men’s souls.

The astounding fact of the matter is that, in this modern age, we’re not so much being tried by a callous and indecisive nature – we’re being tried by our own embittered and faltering peers.

So if you should still desire happiness, gender-neutral reader, you would do well to go live in a box. Best to be alone in the truest sense – sitting blindfolded, with earplugs in, duct tape over your mouth, and naught but your pulse to play with.

Of course, that’s just the ideal solution – it’s fairly impractical, when you get right down to the heart of it. If ever you had to remove the duct tape – and you would have to – it would more than likely flay your skin. The earplugs would chafe your ear canals. The blindfold would keep you from seeing the time. Your box would eventually rot away, and then what would you do? Get another box? Nice boxes are not so easy to come by.

The more pragmatic solution – on pain of death, we should stop smiling. We’re already on our way.

If you take even a cursory glance at human history, it would soon become clear that, while we have had our momentary successes, on the whole, we have not gotten along all too well – in fact, success itself has been at times the very instrument of our undoing. At the risk of belaboring Aesop’s fable, as a species, we are wolves; as individuals, we are wolves in poorly tailored, unconvincing
sheep costumes.

You’re a wolf, and I’m a wolf. We both know it, but neither of us will admit it. So we dance until one of us eats the other, only to realize that sheep costumes don’t make wolf meat taste like flanks of lamb. We are shrewd and unhappy rogues.

But it’s not all bad.

A closer look at human history will reveal a stark dichotomy.
Compared to the present, the past is a lame piece of soggy bread. We’re good – at least compared to the thousands of years of brutal butchery, artless oppression, and spilled milk. Trying times indeed.

Apparently, then, we’ve done something right. Regardless of what atrocities have happened in the past, then, this gives us a definitive solution to the problem of strife: Stay the course.

In the interest of tomorrow, keep your jollies to yourself.

We ought to continue to stigmatize and ignore our peers – their friendliness must only be a front for poison and guile. We should persist in provoking drama, fanning the flames with an acid breath, watching the sparks catch. Indeed, lets judge away; the world is our domain to define, discriminate, denounce. Let no man, woman, or child be safe from our cold and arbitrary antagonisms. Melodrama, the plague of the prosperous, must ferment and burst out as an inflammatory plague, turning social life political. Bitchiness must continue to break life down into a fetid mire of stagnant sludge.

We must take everything with the utmost Siberian seriousness, asserting beliefs as positive truths, opinions as facts; no mistake is forgivable, no transgression forgettable.

More than anything, heed the following:
It is imperative that we take everything personally. It’s raining on our parade; poor drainage was put in place by cosmic forces to unmake our hubris in some small way. We should all just go lay facedown in the mud.

Let us not smile too much, lest we change our strategy and ruin our good fortune.

Let us not laugh too much, lest we enjoy life too much to continue the struggle.

Let us continue, ultimately, to be wolves.

But then, there are some who would joy to see a world recreated from only the bones of this one: their world would be a beautiful sphere of ornamented cubicles, each cradling a peaceful package of one – one person, content in isolation, satisfied in solitude, soaking in the balmy darkness, absolved of everything emotional. An intemperate light would no longer betray our faults, reveal the dust of our imperfect existences. Nothing need be said, written, or thought. This is the ideal solution – living in a box. But it’s bullshit.

We’re social creatures. It will never work.

Nevertheless, it’s altogether senseless to expect each other to be reasonable, let alone sympathetic to our peers; we are obviously incapable, and, more often than not, our beliefs dictate that we be unflinching, unmovable, unshakeable in our foolishness. At the least, we have proven ourselves unwilling. So let us continue to live alone among the masses.

One can feel the stony and lifeless glances of others. It brings a refreshing chill to the soul – a relief from the heated drama elsewhere. Apathy and escapism cushion the hardest, sharpest beds of reality. One can sense the transitory nature of our laughter. It is a wheeze in company of laughter at its best.

Unlike Thomas Paine, we are not in the midst of a political
revolution, but we might here and now revolutionize the idea of revolution. We shall protect the status quo from aberrant developments and stay the course.

In the interest of tomorrow, keep your jollies to yourself.

This Land is My Land!

Arizona’s recent passage of a new law that enables police officers to act as immigration control agents has sparked racially charged activism and debate around the country about who has the right to exist on this land. However, despite arguments over the constitutionality or cost-benefits of the law, very little has been said about the root causes of human migration. If the proponents of this bill truly want to halt undocumented immigration, it will not be through a law criminalizing movement; they need to critically examine the effects of foreign policy, particularly the economic policies between the United States and Mexico that leave many Mexicans no better option than to make the dangerous trek into the American Southwest.

Recent global adherence to free-market capitalism has not led to the prosperity of all people, as promised. In fact, the opposite has occurred–in countries with weaker economies, the dismantling of borders and opening of markets to foreign investment and ownership by way of lowered or absent tariffs effectively killed domestic businesses which cannot compete with large multinational corporations.

Mexican farmers who are unable to offer prices lower than American and Canadian agro-corporations are forced out of agriculture and aren’t able to move to another sector. Mexican peasants and working class, increasingly unemployed as foreign industry’s advantageous position outcompetes domestic industry, are forced to contribute to the plight of their countrymen as they buy the cheaper, foreign produced products and foodstuffs. In Mexico, where there is now little opportunity for work or sustainable wages, those negatively affected by free-market economics move into the ranks of the permanently unemployed, many times in rapidly urbanizing areas, or to the migratory life of a seasonal worker. Or they attempt the move to America where there exists some semblance of an opportunity to carve out a life for themselves.

Despite Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s assessment of the Arizona bill, which he says will “open the door to racial discrimination,” he has not addressed the conditions or unequal trade agreements like NAFTA that leave Mexican citizens little choice but to emigrate. Mexican immigration to the U.S. would seriously halt if opportunity within their homeland existed for impoverished people, but under the present conditions, the development of a viable Mexican economic infrastructure is hampered by competition with the U.S. and Canada as established by free-market economics and structural adjustment policies. Both the U.S. and Canada could work to dismantle free-market agreements like NAFTA, but why would they if they benefit from the terms of the agreement? The daily comforts and low prices American and Canadian citizens enjoy come at a heavy price – one that is implicitly Third World, and in this case Mexican.

If we seek a considerate response to immigration, we as United States citizens need to look at the effects of our actions on people around the world. We cannot allow jingoistic, anti-immigrant Americans to monopolize the debate about immigration around “protecting what is ours” or “keeping this an English-speaking country.” I don’t feel most Mexicans are enthusiastic about leaving their families and native homeland to travel to a country where they will experience language barriers, social segregation, and in most cases little job security and illegally low wages. It is not acceptable to turn a blind eye to the plight of these courageous people because they’re willing to work for cheap; that’s monstrously inhumane and casts Mexicans as more important as workers than they are as human beings.

What is necessary is a disavowal of privilege from First World nations to dictate the terms of other nation’s economies. When we can begin to identify as human beings–and not along borders of socially constructed nationalities–we can begin to acknowledge that we are all members of the human race deserved of equal treatment and opportunity, regardless of our country of origin.

We need to critically examine the effects of free-market economic policies disseminated by the U.S. abroad and understand that all of us, through our purchasing power and democratic right to demand action by our government, are part of the process contributing to undocumented immigration.

SGA Presidential Election ’10

Solebo, right, and Brian Block

The Perspective editorial board interviewed both candidates for the SGA presidency about a week and a half before Olaniyi Solebo, the current Senator of Legal and Governmental Affairs, was handily elected to that office by a margin of 58% to 41%. We congratulate him on the victory, but we also issue this warning: unlike in the past, our elected officials will be held accountable for their action or inaction. Next year, Mr. Solebo will not receive a free ride from The Perspective.

On why he sought perhaps the most influential student position on campus, Solebo said, “It’s not because I have some vision of grandeur… it’s not for my ego, it’s not for my resumé. It’s simply because I think I’m the right person to fight the fights worth fighting.”

Whether he will truly “fight those fights” remains to be seen, and his rhetoric may prove to be empty campaign-speak. We contemplated issuing an endorsement prior to the election, but our Board could not come to a unified decision; both candidates, Solebo and Senator of Administration and Finance Brian Block, demonstrated an aptitude for navigating the process of student government, and both are by all accounts genuine in their desire to do well for our campus. But it was not clear to us that either individual was truly interested in transforming the SGA into something more than an unresponsive, hazily-defined institution to which most students feel no real connection.

“I have to say, that’s crap,” Block said when he was asked why so many perceive SGA as ineffectual and rather pointless. Nevertheless, he recognized that most of us have little idea of the body’s actual duties or functions. But he may have a point; we, as a student body, have some degree of responsibility to familiarize ourselves with the workings of our government. It is hard to find the motivation to do so, however, when that government seems to serve no real purpose other than to pad its members’ resumés. Whether this widespread perception is justified or not, it without question exists, which is itself a problem in need of a remedy.

As incoming president, Solebo must make it a top priority to explain in clear and relatable terms what the SGA actually does, and why students should be interested in its inner workings.

It should take steps to actually address student concerns in a meaningful way, rather than simply decree the occasional non-binding resolution. Especially with devastating budget cuts looming on the horizon, the SGA must become a fierce and proactive advocate for student interests, rather than a passive receptor of cues from the College administration. It should not shy away from addressing politically sensitive issues when doing so is in our best interests.

As a rising junior, Solebo may well serve two full terms as president, and thus has the ability to remake what our government apparatus is capable of accomplishing.

He certainly has the charisma and eloquence to enact real change, but he is also liable to fall into a familiar trap: becoming so insulated and accustomed to the power of the presidency that he loses sight of delivering for the campus.

Solebo made a number of campaign pledges during his interview with The Perspective, and next year we intend to hold him accountable for fulfilling them. “If you don’t know how something works for you,” Solebo said of SGA’s reputation, “how can it work for you?” He must take tangible and measurable steps to increase the legitimacy of the institution over which he now presides. Outreach does not mean putting up fliers or sending out Facebook messages. Outreach means establishing a genuine connection with students, addressing their concerns in a timely manner, and increasing transparency and accountability.

Solebo and Vice President-elect Cory Dwyer

Racial Tension in the Campus Police
As a community advisor, Solebo said he maintains a cordial relationship with all the security personnel named in the lawsuit discussed in last month’s Perspective.

Out of a desire not to pre-judge the litigants, Solebo said he would essentially take a hands-off approach. But if the lawsuit goes to trial, as the plaintiffs’ lawyer predicted it would, Solebo must be more proactive in pushing the administration to discipline and perhaps remove those officers who are clearly responsible for perpetuating racial animosity within the force. Otherwise, the safety of our community may be compromised. Though he said he was “troubled” by the allegations of racism, actions from Solebo would speak much louder than words.

Transparency within SGA
There has long been speculation that the closed-door SGA election process leaves room for manipulation of votes, according to former members. Solebo promised to introduce legislation that would reform the penalties for “elections violations”; within the current system, candidates for election can lose votes based on their own personal violations of campus conduct codes, including minor alcohol infractions. This process lacks transparency and is inherently undemocratic, or as Solebo said, “disenfranchising.” “It’s not something that any legitimate organization should be practicing,” he said. There needs to be “more sunlight on those dark spots within SGA,” Solebo said, and he is in a perfect condition to do just that.

Drug and Alcohol policy
Solebo said he was opposed to the legalization of marijuana,
but in favor of reducing the drinking age to 18. Solebo should take proactive steps to ensure that drug and alcohol violations are handled on campus in a less draconian manner. Using his leverage, he should advocate that such violations be the lowest priority for law enforcement.

The Signal bailout
“It’s worrisome that part of the money I pay every year is going to bail out The Signal,” Solebo said. As a result of The Signal management’s financial indiscretions over the years, students are now forced to pay out of their own pockets to ensure that we continue to have a weekly newspaper.

However, this funding must come with strings attached. According to Brian Block, The Signal had been paying its employees before their own printing costs. With this infusion of money from our tuitions, Solebo must ensure that The Signal is managing its finances appropriately.

Sponsoring Political Speakers
Solebo was involved in controversy this year when he spearheaded efforts to bring both Newark mayor Cory Booker and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to campus. Though his efforts to heighten TCNJ’s prestige by inviting these prominent figures is admirable, Solebo must be more scrupulous in the procedure of doing so in the future. The Perspective reported that Booker accepted $11,000 from TCNJ for giving a speech that was essentially identical to one he delivered at Rider University the day before – without charge. Solebo must exhaust all possible avenues to bring speakers at as little cost as possible to students, especially with the dire financial predicament in which the College now finds itself. Further, SGA’s decision to bring Mike Huckabee to campus preempted efforts from both the College Republicans and Democrats to invite speakers of their own. In short, Solebo must make sure that the SGA is not overstepping its bounds.

Conclusion
To conclude, we congratulate Solebo on his victory; but with our congratulations also come high expectations. The Perspective intends to hold him and the SGA at large responsible for the duties they are entrusted with performing. We are optimistic about his tenure and hope to support the reformative measures he promised to introduce. Our student body president must be bold and assertive in his or her advocacy for TCNJ’s interests, and we will accept no less from the newly-elected Solebo.

The State of Our ‘Public Ivy’

When a contentious journalist and social critic spoke at the College in early March, few could have anticipated the reaction that would ensue. Ours is a decrepit, dying culture, Chris Hedges insisted, shackled by corporate titans who profit from our endless, gullible consumerism. Our infatuation with celebrity, lack of critical self-awareness, and blind deference to institutional structures have systemically lulled us into a complacent malaise, thereby allowing the privileged elite to maintain their tyrannical grip on power.

We are being fed illusions, Hedges charged, which serve only to distract us from what truly demands our attention, including economic injustice, political corruption, and imperialist conflict. The once mighty vessel that is America, Hedges prognosticated, is accelerating on its inevitable descent into watery oblivion.

BOYCOTT METRO PCS

MetroPCS, a wireless communications company, is currently running a multi-commercial racist advertisement campaign. One of these commercials aired during the Super Bowl.