Tag Archives: Politics

Batman as a Metaphor of America

Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace

Dr. Giuseppe Sacco brings his expertise in international politics and its relationship with cinema to campus.

Many a college kid is familiar with Batman and Joker, the superhero and supervillain; not so many with Batman and Joker, super cultural symbols of American politics.

And yet, that is precisely the argument Dr. Giuseppe Sacco, editor-in-chief of The European Journal of International Affairs and professor of political science at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, presented to students this past Monday, February 10 at a speech called “Batman as a Metaphor of America: a Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace.”

Sacco, who published a book in Italian about the political significance of Batman and Joker in all eight American Batman films — “Batman & the Joker: the Face and the Mask of America” (“Volti e Maschere dell’America”) — paralleled the ever-changing villains of the Batman movies (from Prince Daka to the Joker to Poison Ivy to Two Face) to personifications of the changing obstacles in American politics at the time the movies were made (from political corruption to environmental protection to theories of social good.)

He also analyzed Batman as a symbol of American heroism, and moreover, a symbol of the conservative and liberal divide in American politics.

“I’m not a movie critic,” Sacco said, “but I’ve seldom seen in a movie such deep political meaning.”

In the 1997 film “Batman & Robin,” Batman (George Clooney) faces two villains: Dr. Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzzeneger) and Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman). Sacco explained that Mr. Freeze, as a villain who stakes hold ups in effort to finance a search for a medicinal cure for his terminally ill wife, represents science as a social responsibility; while, Poison Ivy, as a villain who makes all plants either poisonous or carnivorous so that they may protect themselves from man, represents environmental responsibility.

At the time this film was made, Former President Bill Clinton was leading America in a time of very little war, said Sacco. “So the main concerns in American culture could be the environment, the revolt of nature, and science,” he said. “By choosing to help Mr. Freeze with a cure for his wife, but not Poison Ivy, Batman chooses to save the scientist, the medicine, but does not help the environment.”

“The way Batman acts towards the environment is very conservative,” said Sacco, continuing, “but the way he acts towards social science and medicine, very liberal. This is politically significant because it personifies the divide in American thought in this American superhero.”

Clarissa Marchia, a sophomore media studies student, attended the event for class. “It’s cool [Sacco] related something a lot of teens know about to something on a larger scale like politics,” she said.

“It’s important that we, as young people, are able to see these parallels between film and what’s going on in the government because reality is often reflected in the media we take in,” said Stephanie Castaneda, a senior media studies major.

Sacco will be presenting the speech for a second time today, Thursday February 13, in Kalmanovitz. For event details, contact Krislyn Tanka at ktanaka2@usfca.edu or 415-422-2802. 

USF Community Comments on President’s State of the Union Address

Foghorn staff asked, “What was most interesting to you about Obama’s State of the Union address last week?” 

Meagan Cuthill | Senior politics major

“I thought his address was very typical of how Obama’s speeches go. Very well presented, well balanced. I think he delivered a State of the Union that was expected, in a good way, and even so there will always be critics. Like oh, he didn’t comment on this issue as much as he should! Or that anecdote was inappropriate! For example. Anyways, all in all it was well-rounded and him addressing minimum wage and foreign affairs (despite some questionable wording) were the best for me.”

Robert Elias | Politics professor

“What become clear to me is that Obama feels as though congress has been an impediment to getting things done. He’s putting the burden, the blame, on congress… but at the same time, he’s kind of abducating responsibility. Yes, congress is horrible at getting things done, but Obama hasn’t been a good leader in terms of rallying and gaining support for what he wants to do.”

Students and professors had mixed reviews about Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, last Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Students and professors had mixed reviews about Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address, last Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Ian ScullionJunior politics major

“Some notable highlights, but largely an uninspired propaganda piece (which is historically characteristic of State of the Union Addresses in general mind you). President Obama touted his “all the above” energy strategy yet again—the argument being to ostensibly become “energy independent.”

While these euphemisms may sound agreeable to the masses, the actually existing policies behind the rhetoric are quite shocking. Part of his “all the above” energy strategy includes – if deemed “safe” for the climate – the building of the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would funnel tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2012, prominent American climate scientist James Hansen remarked that the exploitation of these tar sands would mean, ‘game over for the climate.’ Yet surprisingly, a recently released State Department report asserted that the building of the pipeline would not significantly exacerbate green house gas emissions in the United States. At the moment, Keystone XL looks relatively imminent. That is unless popular backlash, of which there is a remarkable amount, proves effective.”

Ellis Act Marginalizes San Francisco Residents

On November 14th San Francisco City Hall heard testimonies from dozens of San Franciscans who were evicted from their homes during a hearing on the Ellis Act. Since the implementation of the the Ellis Act over twenty years ago, more than four thousand people have faced evictions. My friend received news in September that he had to vacate his studio apartment, he is one of many renters along the Market and 6th Street corridor evicted on the premise of the Ellis Act. His building on Market is one of the last remaining remnants of affordable housing in the city, particularly for low-income residents. Unfortunately, for many San Franciscans this story is becoming less uncommon. So what exactly is the Ellis Act, and why has it been so controversial?

The Ellis Act essentially undermines rent control and condominium laws in California by allowing property owners a loophole in evicting renters. The state act was created to supersede a 1984 California Supreme Court decision called Nash v. City of Santa Monica. The decision made it illegal for property owners to evict tenants on the basis of retirement without a permit by the city. The decision stated that permits would only be given if the property owner could not, “make a reasonable return on his or her investment.” The Ellis Act grants landlords the unconditional right to “go out of business” with only minor provisions. In San Francisco, the property owner is required to give an average renter a minimum of $5,105 dollars in relocation benefits and a maximum of $15,315 (this is the highest relocation fee in the state). In addition, the property owner must provide all renters proper notice and cannot lease out the property again for an extended amount of time. However, in a city where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $3,800 a month and renters are expected to pay first and last month rent along with a deposit, $5,000 is not a fair trade-off for most low-income residents.

Instead of retiring altogether, some landlords are simply enacting the Ellis Act to kick out their current tenants and rent to individuals willing to pay a higher rate, or turn their buildings into tenancies-in-common (TIC) to make a quick profit. The San Francisco Tenants Right Union, even warns of some property owners sending “advisories” notices to tenants of a possible Ellis Eviction to bluff tenants into moving out– or simply buying them out. Such abuses of the Ellis Act have occurred, resulting in less affordable housing and the exodus of low-income residents in favor of wealthier ones. The two areas that have been affected the most by Ellis Acts evictions are the Mission and Castro district, where many are long-term elderly residents. During the November City Hall meeting, budget and legislative analyst Fred Brousseau presented a study that showed a nearly 145% increase in Ellis Act evictions in the last twelve months alone.

Currently, two policies in the works aim to restrict the surge in Ellis Act evictions. One, set forth by Ed Lee’s office, makes evictions more expensive in order to encourage landlords from pursuing them. Lee plans to raise the costs of permits and limit the sale and resale of buildings after an Ellis Act eviction. The second proposal by Supervisor David Campos would bar property owners from raising rent post-eviction and a moratorium on evictions. Campos also suggested an increase in the relocation fees for current tenants and tracking buyouts along with formal Ellis evictions. Campos’ idea is particularly compelling as it addresses the rising costs for renters in San Francisco.

While both city proposals have the potential for change, all past modifications to the enactment have failed. Proponents of the Ellis Act say it allows property owners an option to remove tenants who have lived in the same unit long-term and have now become an economic burden. However, the Nash v. City of Santa Monica decision already protected property owners’ investments. The idea that property owners can evict long-term renters to make a greater profit is problematic, and a renter should not be at fault for remaining in a unit. Property owners enter into a contract willingly with the renter when they move in, and new owners know they are legally responsible for renters upon sale. It is important for us to not only know our rights as renters but also protect long-term residents of the city, by supporting legislation that will create more inclusive housing for San Francisco citizens.

Bryce Chiodo is a senior international studies major.

If You Don’t Have Haters, You’re Doing Something Wrong

Community Organizers Discuss Activism Principles 

If you don’t have haters, you’re doing something wrong.

This sentiment, speaking to the idea that there must be opposition to produce change, was a primary focus of Javier Reyes, Bay Area activist and hip hop producer, who spoke at last Thursday’s panel, “Activism: Then and Now.”

Reyes was one of three panelists that have been agents of change for numerous causes, joined by Shanell Williams, Student Trustee at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) and Phil Hutchings, who was involved in the Freedom movement of the 1960s and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Newark, New Jersey.

The evening’s speakers focused on topics including the accreditation conflicts at CCSF, the Occupy Movement, the “selfie movement,” and what we can learn from the Civil Rights Movement.

After the panelists explained their positions and gave insight into the workings of social movements, the evening progressed into an open forum where the audience asked questions. The event was moderated and organized by senior Victor Valle, who asked the speakers how they thought activism has shifted since the rise of technology.

“We can’t have success without successors, which essentially means we have to pass on these lessons and stories to the next generation, which now is us.”

Although all three speakers recognized some pros of rapidly developing technology, they agreed that there is less of a human connection now. “We need to get back to sitting around the table and having dinner together, that’s where the magic happens,” said Williams. Hutchings agreed, saying that we need to figure out the most effective way of using technology while “increas[ing] the human part,” he said.

Reyes recalls when the flipped camera feature on iPhones first came out, allowing “selfies.” “When did it become about the self and not about the we,” he wondered. He thinks technology should be used not to promote self-righteousness, but righteousness. Until then, “no one is moving together,” he said.

Williams commended USF for being an institution dedicated to getting out in the community, reminding students to use the heart. Reyes added, “don’t be academic without having the compassion of spirit. You think you’ve made it after getting a degree, you haven’t made a damn thing until people are free.”

The speakers left a lasting impression on Valle. “We can’t have success without successors, which essentially means we have to pass on these lessons and stories to the next generation, which now is us. I’ll definitely remember that one forever,” he said.

Another topic brought up throughout the evening was the Accrediting Commission for Junior and City Colleges taking away CCSF’s accreditation, which refers to “the quality of education or training provided by the institutions,” according to the U.S. Department of Education, but Williams said they were focusing more on financing governance than quality education. Williams explained that absence of accreditation basically means the school is one step away from shutting down completely. She spoke about the recent efforts of CCSF to appeal the decision of the Accrediting Commission for Junior and City Colleges.

She wants to preserve affordability because “we want to keep the community in community college” rather than conform to the agenda of their opposers -“a neoliberal agenda that says only a certain few can have the opportunity to education.”

Explaining how students are best positioned in any fight for change, as they are on the forefront of the job market, Williams gave students insight into how the Occupy Movement could have been better so as to create a framework for future causes. “There has to be a clear leadership and organization,” she said, adding that spirituality is essential in spurring change because “it is a part of the human condition. It’s all about changing people’s hearts and minds.”

These factors are part of what made the Civil Rights Movement so successful and could have made the Occupy Movement stronger, Williams explained.

Another important factor for successful social change, according to Williams, is for the marginalized communities to be at the forefront of the movement. This is one thing Occupy was lacking, she explained. The Civil Rights Movement had solidarity among marginalized communities, as well as a commitment to nonviolence. Whereas with Occupy, “There were individuals who were aggressive with the police, they thought radical mass action was all there is,” she said, adding, “that’s what killed the movement.”

Hutchings also outlined lessons for social change, all of which he learned through his involvement in events of social rebellion in the 60s.

“There are more people in the 21st century motivating for change than there were in the 60s, but the focus was stronger,” said Hutchings, explaining how the movements then were more specific, focusing on causes such as anti-draft, women’s liberation, anti-Vietnam, and civil rights, whereas Occupy was much too broad.

Hutchings also noticed how more recently, successful movements have been more to the political right, whereas in the past, movements that made significant changes had more of a liberal focus. As for where the left stands today, “the thrust now is trying to hold on,” said Hutchings.

But these activists have no intention of backing down. “We work better when we are in a conflict zone versus a comfort zone,” said Reyes. “It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters where you’re going and where you wind up.”

After starting his own theatre company at 19, Reyes eventually started teaching at UC Berkeley and later worked with youth. He recalled when he was a child, one of his teachers told the class, “you’ve got to be willing to die for what you have to say.”

He said that was when he knew his purpose, standing up for what you believe in.

This idea was of crucial importance among the speakers, as Williams quoted the words of MLK, “a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”

Big Brother Strains Sibling Relations

Kad Smith is a senior politics major.

Kad Smith is a senior politics major.

Over the last few months, we have witnessed the domestic reaction to the NSA probe revealed by the likes of fugitive turned celebrity Edward Snowden. Recently, the scale of the NSA monitoring has become increasingly exposed, with reports of NSA officials watching high-level officials of other nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Close allies have also raised concerns with the spying probe being illuminated, straining the Obama Administration’s relations with countries such as France, Brazil, and Mexico.

What was once more of a domestic case of privacy has now spiraled into a larger international problem. The possibility of conflict depends on how the Obama Administration will attempt to reduce tensions. So far, the administration seems to be sidestepping questions of how the President was not aware of such invasive practices being used to monitor high-level government officials in our allied nations.

Let’s face it: As George Orwell once imagined in his classic book, “1984,” it is not hard to conceptualize a United States run by a Big Brother-esque government. It is no secret — that with the increased reliance on technology and the interconnected world in which we live in via the web, the government’s capacity to spy on us is easier than ever.

We live in a country that has generally embraced an exceptionalist attitude and made it quite evident that we seldom answer to anything or anyone else.

I, for one, am not at all startled by the willingness of our government to go above and beyond in its strategies to collect “intel.” We live in a country that has generally embraced an exceptionalist attitude and made it quite evident that we seldom answer to anything or anyone else. Who cares how other countries feel about us spying on their foreign affairs? In our view, we seem to know what is best for them, even when they do not.

We monopolize the global economy and often times proudly accept that our nation is the policing power of the world. This mentality reminds me of an old mystery film in which a jaded detective is willing to break the rules in order to “pursue the greater good” — even if such a compromise involves illegally searching someone’s trash for clues, or slipping into a private office to look for incriminating evidence.

Allow me to be clear: What I think the NSA has done, both domestically and internationally, is unethical and wrong. However, I do not find it unprecedented or surprising. In fact, I believe the American people allow this intrusion to occur; they may even subconsciously encourage and support it. People are often willing to sacrifice privacy for the sake of security, liberty, and comfort. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this issue is that it has come to light. Our intelligence agencies have done a good job of classifying their collected information. Considering the extent to which we are willing to monitor the world, perhaps it is in our best interest as a nation to continue to do so.

North African Football and Politics: A Love Story

The power of sports is internationally undeniable, able to make or break morale and relations on both a personal and national scale. In the Middle East and North Africa, soccer has become the unofficial language spoken by the inhabitants of all 22 countries across the region. While game results have incited riots and put international relations on edge, the positive impact “football” (as it is called in these three regions) has made cannot be ignored.

If neither politics nor religion can unite a whole nation, football definitely can. For Egyptians, the Pharaohs—what the national team is known as—hold more value than simply a few players out to win a title or an honorable rank. Winning one of the 32 berths (meaning a sports team has guaranteed a spot in the playoffs) in the 2014 Cup could rally Egyptians who seem to be tearing at the seams with more than 1,000 people dead since July 3 over political disputes.

Since former-President Morsi’s removal, there has been much political strain between friends and relative, with a divide more apparent than usual. As of now, citizens are gladly setting aside their differences in anticipation of hopefully seeing Bob Bradley coach the Egyptian national soccer team into its third FIFA World Cup qualification in 80 years. Excitement is tangible in the streets of a country with talk surrounding the chances of the team beating Ghana on both Oct. 15 and Nov. 15.

Just as there is hardcore competition in Spain between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and in the United Kingdom between Manchester United and Liverpool, there is a strong rivalry between al-Ahly and al-Zamalek in Egypt—red versus white. While this might create tensions between their supporters, it is also a common ground for conversation and dialogue that blurs socio-economic class lines. People swarm to street cafés and smoke shisha to watch friendly matches between the two teams and discuss the odds while unwaveringly standing behind their team and players. Sportsgoers set aside religious and political differences in the spirit of the game. In a sense, football is a religion to those in Egypt, as well as in Tunisia and Algeria. When the realities of their everyday struggles become too much, they turn to football and allow the possibility of victory to uplift their spirits. Football in North Africa is one of few developed institutions that has created an alternative public forum to let out frustration at the government and its stagnancy.

Since 2011, the beginning of the wave of the Arab Spring, football fans have been a large portion of the protestors that felled totalitarian regimes. Five years ago, a group of diehard fans in Egypt established themselves as the Green Eagles, a branch of the original European fan club movement, the Ultras. Behind them, they have rallied supporters across the nation in allegiance to the national team, and their capacity for influence is well-known. This year, the Associated Press named the Ultras network as one of the most organized movements in Egypt. Because of them, many were inspired to take to the streets and call for change. The members that join forge bonds of friendship and all support one another to express themselves as politicized football fans through patriotic music, art, and poetry. One Ultras’ song, “Horaya”, meaning “freedom”, was played across Egypt to remind the protestors what they were working towards.

While the Ultras are known for some violent altercations with the Egyptian police, overall their trend for positive impact is evident. They are everyday Egyptians passionate about their country and loyal to their team; all citizens cannot help but relate to their movement and their message. When they turned against the Mubarak regime, most football lovers followed. There is no doubt in my mind that without the strength of love for this game and the revered players who lead the way by example, the first wave of the Egyptian revolution in Jan. 2011 would have been defeated early on. Beyond that, there is a bond of trust with their supporters formed as a result of the Ultras’ tacit promise to not get sucked into the political game and become a puppet of any current or future leadership.

This worship of football is also mirrored in neighboring North African countries, Tunisia and Algeria. Tunisia will be facing Cameroon and Algeria will be against Burkina Faso in order to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. With the current transitional governments in these countries reforming their constitutions and policies, the hope for a better future and standard of living has been coupled with the stress of the unknown ahead. Simply qualifying for the World Cup 2014 is not only a matter of honor for these countries, but a boot of morale. The display of street celebrations at such an accomplishment would rival the San Francisco Giants riots that followed the World Series win last year—but on a national scale. And I predict that these economies will grow, even for just a bit, by a potential spike in sales of national flags, football apparel and gear, and other symbols of pride.

As sports columnist for Al Ahram newspaper, Hassan Almstkawy, so eloquently said to The Guardian, “It’s not just a game. Apart from war, only two things can bring millions and millions of people on the streets: revolution and football. Now we have both at the same time.”