The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Nick Morgoshia

My Proposed Curriculum

It is that time of the year again. As March brings unwarranted hopes for a warm respite from Maine’s record-setting winter temperatures, the Registrar’s Office reminds us to sign up for fall classes. I always enjoy crafting my course schedule. But there is more to the process than casually lingering by our advisor’s office, scrolling through Garnet Gateway, and demonstrating our commitment to a perfect GPA by crashing Rate My Professor. Course registration is the ultimate exercise of our role as students: an opportunity to mull over our career goals and pursue our intellectual passions. I must confess every sign-up season leaves me yearning for more. Even as Bates consistently provides a rich menu of academic offerings, there is always that one class I wish I could take… that one issue area I have always dreamed of exploring further… that one subject that would allow me to draw from multiple disciplines. So I’ve taken it upon myself to create a list of courses I think our professors should consider teaching: ASTR 139: Exoplanets and the Future of Humanity. Following the launch of NASA’s Kepler telescope in 2009, scientists have identified over 50 exoplanets within the goldilocks zone: that is, neither too close nor too far from their star to sustain liquid water and atmosphere. According to an MIT professor Sara Seager, “We will [soon] be able to take children to a dark sky, point to a star, and say ‘that star has a planet with signs of life.’” Some researchers find an even greater reason of optimism in our neighboring Mars and Jupiter’s moon, Europa, claiming that a revolutionary announcement about life beyond earth is just a few decades away. Conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial beings, even at the molecular level, portends for social consequences of astronomical proportions. While ASTR 139 would predominantly be a science class – deconstructing the wobble detection method, calculation of celestial distances in light years, and planet-hunters’ interest in red dwarves – it would also turn to psychology, religious studies, and philosophy to ponder a variety of questions. How does the discovery of other habitable worlds shift our perception of earth as the center of the universe? Will finding life beyond our native planet amount to the ultimate theological conundrum?

ENG 211: The World of Accents. Per the old saying, “the only way not to have an accent is not to speak.” As a geographically diverse institution, Bates is teeming with both regional and global sounds. Students would dive into classical linguistics to explain how accents form, why most adults are good at hearing foreign accents but bad at losing their native ones, and how en masse presence of television sets in the nation’s households led to the evolution of a standard American accent in the 1940s. The second half of the course would commit to examining how accents affect our perceptions of national origin, race, socio-economic class, and intelligence.

PLTC 305: CapSTONE Seminar on the Politics of Marijuana Legalization. The tide of marijuana legalization is sweeping the nation, bringing joy to herb enthusiasts and case studies in American federalism to scholars of politics. The course would evaluate how state legislatures, ballot initiatives, and federal regulations interact on different cannabis-related issues. Special attention would be given to America’s judicial and penal systems, because even as weed knows only one color, the laws surrounding its consumption disproportionately affect African American and Hispanic communities. In light of the recent nationwide legalization of marijuana in Canada, as well as long-standing commercial practices of several Western European countries, there might even be a lecture or two in comparative government. Instead of a traditional discussion format characteristic to Bates seminars, students would play the roles of interest groups, politicians, and researchers to explore the world of policy-making. And should no Bates classroom be large enough to handle record-high (pun intended) enrollment in the course, Mount David is always an option.

Longest Shutdown in History: All for Nothing?

When I was settling upon my article topic on a late Thursday night, the most protracted partial government shutdown in US history appeared nowhere near resolution. Besides racking up at least $6 billion in cost to the economy, the 35-day showdown between President Trump and the Democrat-controlled House had resulted in sleepless nights across single-parent households worried about making rent payment, young professionals facing a new stumbling block to building their credit score, and chronically ill patients thinking twice about refilling a prescription. Luckily, the uncertainty for over 800,000 federal workers and their families came to an end on January 25, after Trump agreed to sign a stopgap bill to reopen the government and allow negotiations to continue. Yet, even as the lives of affected Americans start to fall back to normal, the future of DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients, H1B visa holders, and aspiring immigrants remains just as unpredictable.

If there was one silver lining in the whole shutdown debacle, it is that millions of Americans awoke to the following somber realization: our immigration system is convoluted, inefficient, and dangerously unprepared for the 21st century. Politicians across the aisle are all too happy to engage in pious grandstanding and name calling on immigration-related matters. In reality, however, Democrats and Republicans share copyright ownership for the current mess.

Over the years, Republicans have railed against America’s family-based immigration model and called for a more meritocratic approach. But actions speak louder than words: every time push comes to shove, the GOP shows itself unable or unwilling to tame the recalcitrant House Freedom Caucus. When the ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration bill––a bipartisan piece of legislation that would abolish the nonsensical visa lottery, put undocumented workers on a path to citizenship, and usher in a merit-based immigration system––passed the Senate in 2013, the Freedom Caucus refused to even consider it because they would not stand for a vote on so-called “amnesty.”

Democrats, on the other hand, have repeatedly made clear that they would much rather stick to the status quo. The current system, which generally does not account for professional qualifications in selecting immigrants and makes one eligible for social security benefits the day a Green Card arrives in the mail, serves as a reliable source of Democratic support by bringing fresh voters to the New Deal Coalition.

Then there is a burgeoning notion in the most liberal of circles that immigrating to the United States is a right, not a privilege. Lady Liberty should welcome anyone and everyone, the argument goes, even if doing so clashes with security and economic interests of American citizens. No wonder the majority of Democrats have been oblivious to the idea of transitioning to a points system that would prioritize individuals with English skills, higher education, and employment prospects––the idea championed at different times by senators as ideologically diverse as Tom Cotton, Jeff Flake, and Chuck Schumer.

Trump did not get funding for the border wall. Democrats failed to secure protections for DACA recipients. Was the shutdown all for nothing? It does not have to be. Now that everyone has been reminded of the scope of chaos even a partial shutdown is capable of wreaking, it is time to put our partisanship aside and come together. Republicans should work to remedy the metastasis of populism and nativism across the highest echelons of their party. Democrats, who are increasingly adamant about adopting Canadian-style single-payer healthcare, German-inspired free tuition at public colleges, and New Zealand’s maternity leave standards, would benefit from learning a lesson or two from those countries’ merit-based immigration systems.

When President Reagan was asked why he agreed to a 5 percent tax cut when he had originally proposed cutting taxes by twice as much, he responded: “Half a loaf is better than none.” February 15, the new deadline to strike a deal, offers nowhere enough time to overhaul our 60-year-old immigration system through a comprehensive reform package. However, there is room for small progress. Perhaps we could extend DACA for a few years, replace the Green Card lottery with a scheme that prioritizes immigrants already in the US, and expedite the issuance of H1B visas and employment-based permanent resident permits, all while exploring more profound changes that would bring our immigration system in line with the 21st century standards. Trump is no Ronald Reagan. Pelosi is no Tip O’Neill. But the “half-a-loaf” strategy remains the best and only way.

Trump and the Squandering of US Soft Power

Superpowers come and go. They conceive their political hegemony through violence, assert their dominance with military braggadocio, and fight for survival until their last breath. But the United States, I have always thought, is a different kind of superpower –– gentle, persuasive, and more likely to endure the tide of history that unforgivingly washed away the Roman, British, and Soviet empires. Even with the rise of China and repeated muscle-flexing by Russia, the United States remains the world’s foremost economic and military actor. American nominal GDP of $19.39 trillion is greater than that of the bottom eight of the world’s ten largest economies combined. Constituting less than five percent of the global population, Americans generate and earn over 20 percent of the world’s total income. With an unrivaled annual defense budget of $716 billion, over 6000 nuclear warheads, and an extensive network of allies and strategic partners, the American military is consistently ranked as the most powerful and logistically prepared in the world. Though quantitative indicators are certainly worthy of consideration, we should also acknowledge that they are incomplete. American influence operates in much more subtle and sophisticated ways: captivating minds of people around the world in a way that cannot be quantified or fully documented on paper. Even in the most socially conservative of countries, teenagers are voracious consumers of Hollywood productions and pop music. Chinese and Russian elites tirelessly decry Uncle Sam’s actions but send their children to American schools and universities; for one, Xi Jinping’s only daughter is a Harvard graduate. Every time there is a major political or humanitarian crisis, the world eagerly awaits what American politicians and experts have to say. The US standing on the global arena is thus as reliant on values, culture, and the ingenuity of the American people as it is on our fiscal-military prowess. Unfortunately, President Trump has repeatedly made clear that he is willing to practice the latter but not the former component of American global leadership. He has repeatedly suggested that the US should leverage its economic and political dominance to craft more beneficial trade deals, cajole Mexico’s government into paying for the wall, and get our NATO allies to meet their spending commitments. In light of this Trumpian diplomacy, I cannot help but ask: why not use some of the most persuasive tools in our arsenal –– America’s historic commitment to human rights, freedom of the press, and representative democracy –– to encourage nations of the world to embrace better versions of themselves?

The Murder That Shook the World

Does the “lesser of two evils” principle apply when the most fundamental of American values — freedom of the press—comes under assault? Are Middle Eastern geopolitics worth overlooking a heinous crime? Do the end results of cooperating with our so-called ally justify the means? Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, which the CIA and Turkish intelligence agencies have traced directly to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, leaves American policymakers with no easy answers.

Khashoggi, a US-based Saudi journalist and a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist, was reportedly targeted due to his anti-government rhetoric. In self-imposed exile since 2017, Khashoggi made a living lambasting Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy maneuvers and calling for the freedom of expression and gender equality in the hermetic kingdom. Utilizing the global bully pulpit that is Western media, Khashoggi even went so far as to repeatedly attack the crown prince by name, blaming him for suppressing dissent, arresting reform-seeking female activists, and “advancing a new form of radicalism.”

In light of Khashoggi’s assassination, many have proposed directing a full arsenal of America’s socio-political and economic weapons towards disciplining Saudi Arabia. National security expert Max Boot argued the US does not need to live with Mohammed bin Salman, cautioning the foreign policy establishment against the “he may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.” ideology. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has since softened his tone, suggested we should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

In a recent interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Trump observed that it would be “foolish” to punish Saudi Arabia by cancelling arms deals with the kingdom. Hailed as a critical counterbalance to the Iranian influence and a significant expansion of US-Saudi relations, the said deal entails $350 billion in tanks, combat ships, radar, and cyber technology purchases over 10 years. Abandoning the agreement augurs to be a boon to Russian and Chinese defense manufacturers.

Just as other actors are all but guaranteed to fill the arms supply void left behind by the US, a rupture of ties with Saudi Arabia would embolden a ménage of hostile forces to replace American influence in the Middle East. The US-Saudi alliance is, after all, one of the critical sustaining pillars of that influence. Putin’s Russia, leveraging its newfound success in Syria and strong ties with Iran, already rivals American standing in the region. Sacrificing ties with Saudi Arabia only stands to complicate matters further.

Then there is Yemen’s devastating civil war between Saudi-backed President Hadi and Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Continued US partnership with Saudi Arabia is critical to ensuring that Yemen does not become another Lebanon, which Iran is known to have used as a base for training terrorists, projecting influence into Palestine, and funding Hezbollah and related groups.

Unfortunately, the geopolitical chessboard rewards pragmatism over idealism. Allying with Joseph Stalin during WWII might have been an affront to America’s self-proclaimed commitment to freedom and human dignity… and yet, Uncle Sam’s pact with the devil was likely the only way of rolling back an even greater threat posed by Nazi Germany.

There can be little doubt that Saudi Arabia is ruled by a ruthless, power-hungry regime that values nothing and no one above its survival. Crown Prince bin Salman and his cronies should be called out for what they are by independent human rights organizations, activists, and reformers. However, as far as strategic relationship is concerned, realpolitik dictates that US-Saudi partnership remains the most favorable option.

 

Undocumented Immigration is Cheating

On October 2, a few dozen Bates students from Professor Longaker’s Social Movements in Latin America class congregated near Commons to stake out a claim for themselves in the nationwide immigration debate. While the rally was ostensibly organized in opposition to President Trump’s family separation policy, tide of protest quickly shifted from the administration’s ham-handed response to the US-Mexico border crisis. Amid a flurry of chants, you could hear “no one is illegal,” “fight ignorance, not immigrants,” and “education not deportation” – as if the issue at hand is less about incarcerated toddlers than the wholehearted acceptance of undocumented immigration at large.

I have no doubt that the protesting students commit to living by Bates’ academic integrity ideals. That is why I implore them and all like-minded members of our community to think about undocumented immigration as a variation of cheating. Yes, you read it right: unauthorized immigration is as much a challenge to our border security… as big a threat to the financial well-being of working class Americans (while most mainstream economists agree that all types of immigration foster economic growth, there is also a widespread consensus that the influx of low-skilled labor hurts similarly positioned native workers. See the Specifics-Factor Model)… as it is an act of cheating.

Early Monday morning. You have spent the entire weekend preparing for that notorious midterm exam. Worn out by a series of all-nighters, you trudge into the lecture hall ready to put all your hard work to good use. Then it comes to your attention that one of your classmates cheated. Theoretically, it makes little sense to be upset. Cheating is not a zero-sum game: your classmate’s behavior did not prevent you from doing well. And yet, most of us recoil at the very idea of academic dishonesty. Why? Because we are taught to understand, correctly, that cheating is fundamentally unfair to those playing by the rules.

If you think your classmate’s behavior is morally unjustifiable, then put yourself in the shoes of someone trying to immigrate to the United States legally. According to the Department of State Visa Bulletin, citizens of several Asian and Latin American countries should plan to wait upwards of two years before scheduling a consular appointment. And if spending two years of your life trying to get a visa already seems like too much, that is only the start.

Merely entering the United States legally does not make you eligible for citizenship. Before even dreaming of the coveted blue passport, one has to obtain a permanent resident permit, commonly known as a Green Card. Depending on whether one is coming to reunite with family or pursue employment, the process of obtaining a Green Card can lag for years. There are quotas. There are legal fees. There are immigration officers willing to deny your application because of an unintentional error. One may be in the country on a valid visa for decades, but before procuring Green Card, there can be no switching jobs before prior authorization, no in-state tuition benefits, and no easy time getting approved for a mortgage or even a credit card.

Many immigrants ultimately fail in their quest for a Green Card. Those who are successful have to wait at least five more years before proceeding with the naturalization application. A minute mistake on the US civics test can prevent you from finally being able to call yourself “American.” The journey from a dream to immigrate to the United States to the day when you take the oath of citizenship can thus stretch for decades; for some, it is the journey that lasts a lifetime.

Undocumented immigration corrupts the spirit of that journey. It is an act of cheating not solely vis-à-vis our nation’s laws, but all those foreign-born Americans who have sacrificed the time, energy, and material and emotional capital to make this country their very own. Chants like “no one is illegal” and “immigrants are welcome here” suggest there ought to be no distinction between those who played by the rules and those who did not. They do not do justice to an elderly mother waiting for hours in the consulate line to reunite with her daughter… to an international Bates student trying to settle down in the United States after graduation… to an immigrant soldier serving our country overseas.

Of course no human being is illegal. Plagiarizing on a test does not make one an “illegal human being,” yet the behavior they are engaging in is every bit as immoral as it is illegal.

Advocating for those whose immigration status is none of their fault – minors currently detained on the US-Mexico border and DACA recipients, individuals brought to the United States as children – is an empathetic, timely undertaking. The same could not be said about unapologetically embracing all types of unauthorized immigration. Just as there is no room for cheating in academia, undocumented immigration should have no place in the United States.

 

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