The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Nick Morgoshia

Fake News, Real Consequences

 

In an impassioned address to a joint meeting of Congress last week, French President Emmanuel Macron railed against “the ever-growing virus of fake news, which exposes our people to irrational fear and imaginary risks.” That tabloid journalism stirs public passions and tills the soil for erratic, knee-jerk political behavior is nothing new. Look no further than the explosion of the USS Maine, an American naval ship, in the port of Havana in 1898. Even as the sinking remained a mystery – if anything, the evidence suggested a technical malfunction – the 19th century yellow press hastened to spill an ink of blame on Spain, using unverified facts and scandalous headlines to catapult Washington into the Spanish-American War.

At its core, fake news of today is no different from the older iteration; unmoored from reality, fake news sows seeds of disinformation and begets chaos. What has changed is the scope of impact. With the advent of internet and social media, fake news – as well as hostile groups and states perpetrating it – have gained a new platform, making the need to fight against the virus of “irrational fear and imaginary risks” ever more acute on our end. Yet, the West is not prepared to wage a winning battle against fake news… At least not now, when the only question we find ourselves, our leaders, and fellow consumers of media asking is how to stop the flow of fake news. By obsessing over the ‘how’, we all too often fail to ponder why fake news is able to find so much resonance in the first place.

Do not get me wrong, going after the means and ways fake news uses to penetrate our social fabric is important. This means clamping down on illicit foreign funding that makes dissemination of falsehood possible; holding Western-based social media and telecommunication corporations to the loftiest security standard to ensure that cases of identity impersonation and bots are outliers rather than the new normal; and identifying government-backed propaganda bullhorns, such as Russia Today and Sputnik News, accordingly.

The ultimate solution, however, lies in recognizing that although news might be fake, issues and problems that lead people to believe them are very real. These issues include an education system that does not prepare citizens to be skeptical towards media and double-check sources. The world where people are so tired of uncertainty, that is is simply easier for them to buy into the black or white narrative of fake news where blame is most often levelled against one person. The best way to stemming the flow of fake news is through addressing these issues at home.

 

“Just Arm The Teachers”

We have all heard someone say it. At a time when our nation continues to ruminate on the debilitating legacy of the Parkland shooting – and the memories from Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and countless other tragedies have returned to haunt the American psyche yet again – the president, congressmen, and NRA-apologists hold their heads high and say confidently, as if it is a cure for all societal ills, “Just arm the teachers!” Police are often slow to arrive, the logic has it, and allowing educators to act as first responders could save lives. Hence green light to guns in school classrooms, cafeterias, and gyms? Not so fast.

Worryingly yet unsurprisingly, tragedies like Parkland stoke human impulses – prodding the most well-intentioned among us to opt for radical solutions. As a conservative, I am appalled at the deluge of hostility towards the Second Amendment: the nonsensical lumping of law-abiding citizens, whose right to bear arms the Constitution vouchsafes, together with assault rifle-wielding thugs. At the same time, I must confess the proposal to arm educators gives off the same stench of extremism; so much so that one might struggle to decide which aspects of it are most odious.

First and foremost, investing in the concept of “teachers with guns” would reorient schools from their primary purpose: education. If the federal government mandated that every school employ teachers proficient at using firearms, the schools would inevitably start to prioritize gun-adept candidates in their hiring procedures, overlooking their qualification as educators. And, from a purely fiscal standpoint, that would make sense: when public school funding is extremely scarce, why not open doors to teachers who are already experienced gun users – even if they are not the cream of the crop education professionals – to save on training?

According to The Washington Post, arming 718,000 teachers could cost upwards of $251 million (and that is only if we assume the cheapest instruction and discounted Glock). If we instead take into account the full-price, more expensive firearm and advanced training, the cost could go well beyond $1 billion. At a time when thousands of public school teachers work two jobs to make ends meet, pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket, and still struggle to surmount the achievement gap between low-income and financially secure students, I cannot help but ask: would not the same money be better spent on improving learning methods and outcomes? As Parkland senior Ryan Deitsch aptly put it, “We need to arm our teachers… but with pencils, pens, paper, and the money they need.”

It is no secret that public high schools, especially in low-income areas awash in poverty and crime, are hotbeds of violence. While teachers designated to carry firearms would supposedly have to pass background and mental health checks, flooding schools with guns only increases the likelihood they would fall into the wrong hands – those of students, non-teaching staff members, and outside intruders.

Last but not least, there is an issue of state-chartered militarization of our schools. Many of America’s public schools already conjure up images of warzone bases rather than educational institutions, and arming teachers would only make matters worse. According to The Atlantic, school police in several Colorado and California districts regularly wear AR-15 rifles and have even stocked up on grenade launchers and armored personnel carrier. Even the unabashedly bizzare suggestion of Newsmax host Wayne Roote to equip schools with armed drones does not seem too detached from reality anymore.

Perhaps, instead of rehashing ideological arguments, we should draw upon empirical evidence. Look no further than America’s police forces: militarized to a point where shooting of unarmed civilians – a disproportionate number of them minority individuals from low-income neighborhoods – surprises no more. Applying the same failed practice to schools, institutions tasked with providing inclusive and nurturing environments, advances the calamitous reasoning that the only way to keep citizens out of harm’s way is an ever-militarized state.

 

More Than Dessert: How Wedding Cakes Could Redefine Free Speech

Few things stir the American blood as much as the First Amendment. Almost as old as the U.S. Constitution itself, the First Amendment vouchsafes our continued existence as a marketplace of ideas by barring Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, and religion.” Throughout history, this rather generic language has given rise to conflicting interpretations – prompting the Supreme Court to examine whether the realm of the First Amendment extends to nontraditional forms of self-expression. In Buckley v. Valeo, the eight justices wrapped their gavels around the issue of campaign spending; more specifically, whether the quantity of money determines the quality of expression. In Texas v. Johnson, the Court tried to decide whether prohibitions on desecrating the American flag violated the First Amendment; that is, if symbolic acts constitute speech. In the pending Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court will render its verdict on one of the most consequential questions facing our generation: whether cakes – and, by extension, artistic creations in their many graphic and culinary forms – amount to free speech.

Same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins’ trip to Masterpiece Cakeshop, a local bakery, started in a small Colorado town of Lakewood in 2012 and continues on the steps of the United States Supreme Court to the present day. Masterpiece’s owner Jack Phillips declined the couple’s request for a wedding cake, stating that although they were welcome to purchase any other baked goods in the store, he would not cater to an event that ran counter to his deeply held Christian beliefs. Alleging violation of the state’s public accommodation law, Craig and Mullins filed a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The complaint quickly morphed into a lawsuit and brought favorable rulings for the plaintiffs by both Colorado district and appellate courts.

Per Mr. Phillips’s logic, custom cakes convey messages – for example, having two grooms on a wedding cake inherently purports the idea that non-heterosexual unions are acceptable – and forcing bakers to go against their personal convictions impinges on their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court decided Mr. Phillips might indeed have a point and agreed to proceed with the case in 2017. Oral arguments have been heard, and a decision is expected by the end of this summer.

The Colorado public accommodation law, pertinent to restaurants, bakeries, hotels, and all other places generally open to the public, prohibits discrimination on the basis of “marital status or actual or perceived sexual orientation”; just as it does in the cases of “race, ethnicity, and national origin.” Unsurprisingly, Phillips’ opponents argue that his refusal to make the cake out of religious beliefs is no different from the restaurants in the Jim Crow South refusing to serve African American customers. After all, one could always claim that their religious convictions advise against racial integration. Refusing to serve someone for who they are – black or white; gay or straight – is most certainly illegal. However, Mr. Phillips by no means refused to serve Craig and Mullins. In fact, he offered to sell them any product available at his store. Declining to comply with customers’ special requests – and given that Mr. Phillips is a painter focusing on custom cakes, every cake has a unique design and constitutes a special request in and of itself – is bad business, not discrimination. Therefore, the case at hand has more to do with the state-mandated interference in Mr. Phillips’s artistic expression rather than his violation of public accommodation laws.

In his many interviews, Mr. Phillips has repeatedly emphasized that it is not just gay wedding cakes he refuses to make; he has continuously turned down customers asking for Halloween, anti-American, and adult-themed cakes as well. That said, I cannot help but ask: if it is decided that the state can indeed force Mr. Phillips to make a cake for Craig and Mullins, does it mean it can also force him to cater to Halloween and bachelorette parties? The scope of implications only keeps getting broader. Would private architects no longer be able to decline projects they believe to be inconsistent with their architectural preferences? Would painters no longer be able to choose who to paint?

Like most people, I sympathize with the Craig and Mullins situation. A wedding is a truly special occasion, and no one deserves unpleasant surprises in preparation for their big day. Yet, undermine the First Amendment rights of one baker, and you set a precedent potent enough to influence constitutional freedoms of millions of Americans.

 

The Trump-Bannon Feud Becomes the Battle for the Republican Party

On July 31, 2017, John F. Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as the White House Chief of Staff. In the days that followed, Kelly ushered in the Administration’s first major leadership reshuffle. Estranged Republicans, disenchanted with the trajectory of the party under Trump, were simmering with hope yet again. Some found reason for optimism in the removal of Bannon. Others – even those of us who have followed Trump long enough to know the President’s flamboyance and impulsiveness were too great for any one person to tame – looked to Kelly to bring cold and rigor to the Oval Office.

Trump will be Trump but perhaps, our naive reasoning had it, new cabinet members would manage to brew a conservative antidote to the populo-nationalist fantasia taking over the GOP.

Today, the specter of Bannon continues to haunt Trump’s presidency. So what that the insurgent political operative has been out for close to six months and that Trump blissfully assures that he “lost his mind” and “has nothing to do with me or my presidency”? Trump’s actions, endorsements, and statements are indistinguishable from the Bannon playbook – the ultimate testament that their recent feud is rooted in self-aggrandizing personalities rather than ideologies.

In the U.S. Senate special election in Alabama in 2017, Trump briefly had Luther Strange’s back in the primary before shifting his support to Roy Moore in the general election. Judge Moore, a Bannon favorite and an omnipresent name in Breitbart editorials, established himself as an unabashed critic of the political class. Moore has repeatedly made inflammatory statements antithetical to the core national, conservative, and human decency ideals.

In his infamous interview with The Guardian that likely had President Reagan spinning in his grave, Moore contended that the declaration about the Soviet Union being “the focus of evil in the modern world” can be applied to the US for “promoting a lot of bad things in the world” – an addendum to his statements that “homosexuality should probably be illegal”; “Muslims cannot hold office in the United States”; and “9/11 might have happened because we distanced ourselves from God.” The toxic attacks put aside, Moore has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women – allegations that Trump, unlike many of his fellow Republicans, was much too willing to overlook.

Not only did Trump officially endorse Moore, but he was generous enough to record robocalls enticing Alabamians to cast their vote for the judge. At the time of the election, Trump and Bannon no longer worked together; yet the two, it seems, did not fall far from the same ideological tree. To Trump – just as to Bannon – the fact that Moore was riding the same tide of firebrand populism that had brought them to power in 2016 mattered more than the candidate’s record and fitness for office.

The president’s recent “shithole countries” remark at a White House meeting with lawmakers also reeks of Bannonism. Instead of approaching the all-important immigration question with tact and grace, Trump combined his usual vitriol with Bannon’s fierce anti-immigrant sentiment to spew out the generalized, highly insensitive, and offensive comment. There is a distinction between proposing to cut immigration levels and transition to a more merit-based system – the issue most of we Republicans feel strongly about – and denigrating a whole group of countries because of their unfortunate geopolitical fate and economic standing.

Underlying the carelessness of Trump’s statement is another Bannonian belief that how other countries feel about the United States is unimportant. So what if small, poor, and less powerful states are offended? And offended they are – Botswana, for example, summoned the U.S. ambassador to express its dismay at the comments made by the leader of the free world.

The Trump-Bannon thinking contrasts sharply with the mainstream conservative view that if our country is to remain the world superpower – one that enemies fear, allies respect, and freedom-loving people look up to as the greatest source of hope and inspiration – we should act prudently and diplomatically.

The Trump-Bannon feud is by no means an ideological disagreement over the future of our party – the party of Lincoln and Reagan. We are witnessing a standoff between the two men with the same ideology whose groundless ambition and self-serving desires outpace each other.

Shane Bouchard for Mayor

The Bates Republicans are proud to endorse Shane Bouchard ahead of Lewiston’s mayoral runoff on December 12. We — as conservatives, Lewiston residents, and Americans — are fortunate to have a man of Mr. Bouchard’s experience, unwavering commitment, and exemplary integrity working towards a better future of the city our community calls home.

Shane Bouchard is a dedicated husband, father, businessman, and public servant. A sixth-generation native of Lewiston, Bouchard is a graduate of Dirigo High School and Central Maine Community College. Owners of Bouchard Lawncare & Landscaping and Maine Home Recreation — two highly successful local enterprises — Shane and his wife, Allison, recently signed a lease to expand operations. Mr. Bouchard proudly represents Ward Four at the Lewiston City Council, putting his managerial acumen and municipal government know-how to living out the responsibility of being the closest government official to citizens’ wallets. In these times of bitter partisanship across our country, Bouchard aspires to the office of mayor to serve all residents regardless of ideology and to continue giving back to his hometown in “a better, more profound way.” Although we have Mr. Bouchard’s back for many reasons, it is primarily his succinct, well-thought-out positions on the most pressing issues facing Lewiston that afford us faith in his candidacy.

Repairing the Image of Lewiston: According to FBI data put together by Bangor Daily News, Lewiston is one of Maine’s safest cities — an especially impressive standing given that we are the state’s second largest metropolitan area. As mayor, Mr. Bouchard will work to dispel false stereotypes taking a toll on the city’s investment and social climate. At the same time, he will cooperate with local and state law enforcement agencies to further improve public safety. Mr. Bouchard also pledges to visit trade shows across the country at his own expense to promote “our city and the assets we have to offer.”

Rebuilding and Renewing Infrastructure: A successful businessman, Mr. Bouchard understands better than anyone that safe, modern, and aesthetically pleasing infrastructure is the key to fostering tourism and encouraging young people to make Lewiston their home. Bouchard plans to take advantage of the vast space across Lewiston to catalyze change, focusing on the untapped potential of Exit 80 and Riverfront Island. While inspired by the recently revitalized Lisbon Street, Mr. Bouchard thinks there is still work to be done with upper levels of the buildings and façade grants. Bouchard plans to invest in shoring up single-family housing and creating new office and commercial spaces by revisiting zoning laws. As someone who has contributed to the creation of a recycling committee, Mr. Bouchard is in a unique position to ensure that our city becomes more environmentally friendly and its residents — particularly inner-city folks — lead more sustainable lifestyles.

Combating Opioid Epidemic: As a city amidst America’s calamitous addiction crisis, we look to Mr. Bouchard’s innovative, out-of-box proposals for a potential remedy. Bouchard’s plan consists of beefing up cooperation with the police chief and examining zoning laws to locate counselling, treatment, and prevention facilities at locations where they can have the most impact.

Even more importantly, Mr. Bouchard pledges to revisit the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) formula to provide more funds to local non-profits specializing in tackling addiction. That is to say, Bouchard views highly adept agents within civil society as a vehicle of bringing about change.

Encouraging Economic Growth: At a time when there is no shortage of chatter around lowering the mill rate, Mr. Bouchard understands that the fastest and most practical way to lower the mill rate is through accelerating economic growth. Instead of pursuing the Lewiston-Auburn merger — which, according to the Sun Journal can cost as much as $5 million (although government efficiency fund might help, some of that money will inevitably have to come from the cities’ budgets) — Bouchard has his eyes set on ambitious projects such as port authority around the Lewiston-Auburn Airport, historic rail-trail through the city, and outdoor venue near Exit 80. These developments will, in turn, create a positive feedback loop: better infrastructure means more tourists and young professionals in Lewiston, which will further reinvigorate the city.

Shane Bouchard understands that local politics is a people, not a left or right, issue. In Mr. Bouchard, citizens of Lewiston will have an unrivaled champion both locally and in Augusta.

In Mr. Bouchard, our students will have a leader who believes in the potential of young people and an even bigger role for Bates in the city’s daily life.

Rethinking the Visa Lottery

Following the harrowing October 31 attack on Lower Manhattan, Donald Trump vowed to dismantle the Diversity Visa Lottery after learning that Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov – an Uzbek émigré and the confirmed perpetrator – had benefitted from the scheme. In a series of tweets overflowing with his usual vitriol, President Trump blasted the program as a “Chuck Schumer beauty” and promised to “[fight] hard for merit based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems.”

Trump’s statements have gotten would-be immigrants worried, diversity advocates furious, and Americans the country over questioning. What is the Diversity Visa Lottery program anyway? The Diversity Immigrant Visa Lottery, also known as the Green Card Lottery, refers to a congressionally-mandated program that allows natives of historically underrepresented countries to obtain permanent residency and ultimately apply for U.S. citizenship. Since being shepherded through the Senate by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and signed into law by George H.W. Bush, the Immigration Act of 1990 has benefitted up to 50,000 people per fiscal year. Every fall, high school graduates (or, in some cases, professionals whose experience is considered equivalent to an American secondary school diploma) born in a country with low immigration rates to the U.S. – India, China, Mexico, Canada, the UK and a few other nations in Latin America are not eligible – have a chance to enter the State Department-chartered lottery. The lottery is indeed a one-of-a-kind selection process, and leaves one’s possibility of moving to the U.S. and becoming part of its political, cultural, and social fabric to chance.

The multi-million pool of people taking a shot at the American dream by entering the lottery is as unique and dynamic as the U.S.      immigration story itself.

When the program first started, it mainly benefitted persons of Irish and Italian ancestry. Then, as Eastern Europeans and Central Asians could finally start travelling internationally, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the program abounded with new entrants. Today, according to the Department of State, most submissions come from Eastern Europe, Africa, and South Asia.

Although Trump’s announcement about bidding adieu to the Diversity Visa Lottery might be nothing short of scoring political points, the President is right in that relegating 50,000 immigration decisions a year to a fiat of luck is neither prudent nor just. Becoming a U.S. permanent resident is a long and painstaking process, and allowing certain individuals to take a shortcut is antithetical to our efforts of sustaining a fair and meritocratic immigration system. Every year, thousands of international students, H1-B workers, and investors – people who are already in the U.S., speak English, and promise to benefit the country given their record of accomplishment at our universities and companies – are denied green cards on quota grounds. At the same time, the Diversity Visa Lottery confers permanent residency on individuals who may or may not be qualified to succeed in the U.S.. Consider this: given that the Diversity Visa Lottery is a lottery by definition, we might be inadvertently prioritizing high school dropouts over much-needed chemical engineers; people with limited English capabilities over those who are fluent; and individuals who have never been in America over ones who have called this country home for years. In light of recent discussion about DACA and the Dreamers’ Act, I cannot help but wonder: would not it make more sense to allocate the same 50,000 permanent resident visas to people brought to the U.S. as children, through no fault of their own?

John F. Kennedy once said: “Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” Abolishing the Diversity Visa Lottery is a first step in the right direction.

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