Tag Archives: Nick White

GOP Obnoxious, But Unions Need Discipline

Newly elected Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s attempts to strip his state’s public service unions of their collective bargaining powers pale in comparison to the terrible and inspiring scenes of revolution from abroad. Nonetheless, the recent turmoil in Wisconsin might well be the dawn of a new age in American politics.

I find Scott Walker’s barefaced attempts to destroy these unions disgraceful and dishonest (if the Gov. truly believed state employees must sacrifice their place at the negotiating table, then why did he exclude the law enforcement and fire-fighting unions that endorsed him in last fall’s election?). Yet, despite the many reasons I should find common cause with hardworking people standing up to free-market fundamentalism, I cannot help but wonder if the trickle-down-theory fanatics might be on to something.

Extreme cases of unions abusing their power are illustrated when the government, who is supposed to be the neutral mediator between ownership and labor, gives in on either side of that barricade. Our own state of California reveals how corrupt this process can become. No power in California compares to that wielded by the state’s corrections officers unions. They have utilized both the proposition system and traditional lobbying to ensure not only generous salaries and benefits for themselves, but that the jails they run are supplied by a steady stream of drug users, three-strikers, and other unfortunates caught up in a system both parties agree is in need of serious reform. The unfounded worry that inmates will be running the asylum doesn’t begin to justify the inherent injustice of corrections officers supplanting their pay by cynically campaigning to ensure more of their neighbors lose their freedom.

An example of an immovable force opposing positive labor reform is teachers’ unions. In a piece from last year, The New Yorker tracked the efforts of Michael Bloomberg to reform his city’s schools by utilizing the novel tactic of removing bad teachers from the classroom. The intense and unyielding opposition of the educators’ union meant that the Mayor could not fire even the most ineffectual of employees without a glacially slow system of appeals and hearings. So, in order to prevent them from doing any more damage while their terminations were processed, he stuck the bad apples in a place called the “rubber room” where they spent weeks, months, even years earning full salaries, benefits, and pensions for literally doing nothing.

With that said, unions can and have been powerful forces for progress in America. Walter Reuther and his United Autoworkers and George Meany and his AFL-CIO helped build momentum for some of the great social advances in the twentieth century. It was the Pullman Porters lead by Asa Phillip Randolph who funded and found men like Martin Luther King Jr., to lead the long and torturous battle for civil rights.

I hope the Wisconsin protestors and their fugitive state senators defeat their  governor’s shallow attempts to return their state to the days of “robber barons”. But if Governor Walker does succeed in breaking the power of the public service unions, what happens in the land of milk and incalculable obesity might well be an inspiration to thinkers on both sides of the aisle.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta

Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino

Egypt and the American Dilemma

The fall of Hosni Mubarak is justice by any estimation. I must admit, the skepticism I carried throughout the waves of protest melted at the scenes of ecstatic triumph from Cairo. Now, nearly a month after the events that have forever changed the calculus of the Middle East began, those concerns and worries cannot be ignored for much longer. What will this “New-Egypt” become?

Liberalism has many enemies in the modern world. Amongst these foes, none carries the violent energy and psychological momentum now embodied by Islamic fundamentalism. By the actions of the secular, repressive regimes that have stifled much of the Muslim world for the last half century, and by our own nation’s arrogance and cynical indifference, radicals calling for a government firmly founded in religious dogma have emerged as the main voices of dissent across the region. The ridiculous campaign against the Cordoba House in New York, and the ban on Sharia law in Oklahoma display both an ignorance and bigotry out of place in the flagship of the free world. That said, as disciples of freedom, we cannot allow our own extremists to temper our opposition to the reactionary forces intent on removing the so-called “decadence” of western philosophy.

Thirty years ago, the world watched the hopes and dreams Iranian Revolution slip into the hands of the faithful, never to be seen again. However, at this moment, there is no evidence that events in Egypt will follow the example of Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest opposition party in the country and star of Glen Beck’s latest nightmares, have promised not to field a candidate for president in the coming elections. Assurances have been made that the treaty with Israel will not be broken. With the army providing a degree of stability and continuity in this transition period, there is good reason to believe our greatest fears might not come to pass.

Democracy has little or no precedence in the Arab world. The victory of Hamas in Palestine’s last elections, followed by the disgraceful attempts by Egypt, Israel, and the US to overturn the result through blockade and selective empowerment of Fatah, means that neither the West, nor the Egyptians embark on this new frontier with mutual trust. The Obama administration now must now decide how this country will behave as the post-American age dawns in the Middle East. The regimes and kleptocracies supported for decades by US guns and money can see their day of reckoning on the horizon.  This being an opinion piece, tradition requires that I offer a solution to the problems presented. What road will Egypt take? As inspiring and cathartic as the scenes from Cairo may be, we cannot shut our eyes with childlike belief that good triumphs over evil. I remain deeply conflicted by what has happened and what is still to come. But for all my fears and reservations, I still have faith. Faith in the people who risked so much in the face of stubborn repression. Faith in the emerging leaders seeking to build meaningful institutions that will breed a civic culture of accountability and accesability. But most of all, I have faith in the inevitability of freedom’s victory over oppression. Let the joyous cry of the multitudes in Tahrir Square echo in the halls of Pyonyang, Beijing, Khartoum and Washington. Let us pray that no tyrant will ever feel safe again.

Nick White is a sophomore history major.

State of the Union a Disappointment

First he wasn’t angry enough. Now someone has apparently decided that President Obama needs to be more likable. When speaking of shrinking government: “Then there’s my favorite example: The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. (Laughter.) I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.” Maybe the genial façade was there to soften the inevitable disappointment that the President’s liberal base felt after this year’s State of the Union.

My own disappointment was to be expected. I cannot recall one State of the Union speech in the modern era worth remembering. I was surprised, however, by the negative reaction of those sitting around me in Parina Lounge. One friend was especially frustrated by the exclusion of recent developments in Egypt in the President’s blessings of the Tunisian uprising. The student understood the diplomatic wisdom behind the omission, but as has been the case for the last two years, remained convinced this administration was built for better things. Ever since the revelation that was the 2004 Convention speech, and the quite perfection of his speech on race, the left has been waiting for the moment when Barack Obama elevates his game on the biggest stage. The sad truth is that no speech written, vetted and ripped apart by a division of ambitious eyes eager to have their fingers stained with the fresh ink of history, can rise above the superficial setting of the annual message. For once in his life, Chief Justice Roberts was in the right when he called the event a glorified pep rally.

Perhaps the events in Tucson forced the West Wing speechwriters to produce a milder tone to match the bipartisan fad sweeping through the halls of power, complete with matching ribbons and grade-school style seating. Besides the president’s firm (but good natured) defense of health care, this was a speech to seize the mythic middle position in American politics. Behind the bluster of our supposed “Sputnik” moment, with its lollipop dreams of high-speed trains and schools that work, was the tough meat of austerity, freezes, and sacrifice. Five years of no increases in discretionary spending will be touted as the coup de grace of the administration’s new battle plan. Like Clinton before him, Obama destroys the opposition by stealing their best ideas right from under them. The Republicans will hem and haw, pretending to be upset by this blatant act of plagiarism. This is how Liberalism in America dies, not with a shout, but with a whimper. Just weeks after the absolute absurdity of this nation’s gun policy was reflected in the blood of statesmen and children, Tort Reform is this president’s idea of “winning the future.” This President will concede the war of ideas, confident that we are, and shall remain, a center-right nation.

Despite all the labored laughter, insufferable commentary, and the never ending procession of obligatory ovations, I did find one moment of real power within this speech. The shout-out, pioneered by none other than Ronald Reagan, included a woman from North Carolina named Kathy Procter. As the President sung her praises, cameras zoomed in on what was supposed to be a moment of quiet humility. Instead, the nation watched as Ms. Procter turned to the people around her, telling them “that’s me” as the most powerful man on earth quoted her words upon the alter of liberal democracy. That image — a woman bursting with a mixture of pride and disbelief at where she was and who was talking about her — will be what I keep from the 2011 State of the Union. One moment of truth, of honesty, in two hours did more than all the President’s platitudes to make me believe that “our journey goes forward.” As long as the Kathy Procters can propel their wisdom into the stratospheric heights of political decision-making, than the cause of eternally unsatisfied progress cannot die in America.

Nick White is a sophomore history major.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta

Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino

Founding Fathers’ Values Are Irrelevant

I’ve been watching the rise of the Tea Party Movement with a great deal of amusement over the last year. Protesting doesn’t come naturally to these people, and why would it? What have they had to be really angry about for the last 234 years? However, there is one particular habit of this fledgling force on the American experiment that does irritate me to no end. These people love the founding fathers. They love to carry pictures of them, hold signs with quotes by them, and generally worship them in every way possible. They think it is impossible to run a country without adhering to the strictly defined vision these “great” men had of America. Here’s my problem with this theory: The founders weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were way ahead of their time by the standards of the eighteenth century world. They did some truly amazing things and gave us ideas about freedom and liberty that echo through the ages. But what about the other things (slavery, the electoral college, Syphilis) they passed down? These men never saw a train, much less imagined a world where China was less than a day away by air travel. Why then, do so many Americans think men from the age where healthcare consisted of bleeding and leeches could offer any meaningful advice?

The America of the founding fathers’ dreams is not a place you or I would want to live in. It is place absent of all but the most basic of government protections or services, where honor is defended to the point of needless death, and more than half the people lack any political rights whatsoever. To think the Founders would like anything about modern America is to ignore the very nature of the men. In their angry little minds, I think the Tea Party members see the Founding Fathers as a composite of Atticus Finch, John the Baptist, and Ronald Reagan. I doubt they know or believe anything beyond the grade school versions of these very human individuals. In the moral arithmetic of those who think our society is on the brink of collapsing, there is only good and evil. Either the people leading us now are all good, or they are all evil, just as the men who came before were either all good, or all evil. Anyone living who is held up to this unyielding standard is bound to fall short, leaving only the sainted dead to show us the way forward.

Nothing makes me happier than to think of the nation’s founders, rolling over in their graves at knowing what their country has become. We live in a world beyond the understanding of those of the last half-century, much less the end of the eighteenth century. The word progress has become, like liberal before it, a slur on the name of anyone attached to it. Those who oppose progress on the basis that it is any change that goes against the wishes of our nation’s saints, are ignorant of all the great achievements our people have managed by doing just that. We destroyed slavery, expanded basic human rights, and relegated racism to the darkest dungeons of our national life by ignoring the very men who gave us a country where such things were possible. The Founders and their ideas must never be forgotten, but as a nation, we must accept that the time has come to accept the mortality of some of their beliefs, and move forward towards our own vision.