Berkeley Political Review Fall 2013

Page 1

Berkeley Political Review volume xii, nO. 1 / FALL 2013




a change in obamacare dosage




Beginnings in a time of ambivalence


Dear Reader,


here exists an undeniable magic in the first days of college. The majestic columns of Doe Library, the breathtaking view from the top of the Campanile, Quidditch on Memorial Glade, and Sather Gate are but a few things that make up Berkeley’s unique fabric. As students, we spend four (or two, or five) years here, striving to take ownership of what Berkeley so generously provides us, hopefully leaving it a better place for those to follow in our footsteps. When I strolled down the long rows of tables covered in blue and golden paper at Calapalooza my freshman year, I was searching for an intellectual home outside of classes. What I found was a publication committed to providing a space for thoughtful student analysis from across the political spectrum. In 2011, the publication was on a steep trajectory of recovery after what would ominously become known as the crisis years. Today, I am proud to lead a publication fueled by an unprecedented number of exceptionally sharp and committed intellectuals. The Review now boasts quarterly speaker events, a beautiful new design, a vibrant website, and racks at notable cafés in the Berkeley campus area, to name just a few innovations. I hope you peruse this issue with the open mind of a freshman exploring UC Berkeley. These articles are like tables on Sproul, each representing a unique, mindful perspective on a pertinent issue. Abhik Pramanik’s article (page 17) precipitates us to reconsider the often-invoked narrative of American decline, arguing that “the U.S. looks set to rebrand itself as an energy juggernaut on the global stage.” The American government is not only looking to capitalize on its economic potential. As Woody Little (pages 11 - 12) points out, its “use of and cooperation with private industry in surveillance,” as evinced by the NSA/PRISM affair, leaves citizens around the globe pondering the limitations of privacy in the digital age. The civil war in Syria has once again foregrounded the conflict between human rights and state sovereignty. Ankit Aggarwal (page 19) and Erin Delaney (page 20) invite you to consider the limitations and contradictions of both global principles. However, while it is undoubtedly imperative to consider human rights violations abroad, a tough look at domestic grievances is just as crucial. The passing of AB 10 is but a “small step in addressing the ever-widening gap between the working poor and the elites in America, the land of inequality,” as Deborah Choi (page 8) argues, and California state prisons have yet to address the issue of overcrowding (Claire Kaufman, page 5). May the following pages serve you as food for thought in grappling with these issues in times of ambivalence. Yours,

Elena Kempf

BUSINESS MANAGER Tanay Kothari DEPUTY BUSINESS MANAGER Nikhil Kotecha BERKELEY EDITOR Shayna Howitt CALIFORNIA EDITOR Allison Arnold DEPUTY CALIFORNIA EDITOR Maria Buxton U.S. EDITOR Matthew Symonds DEPUTY U.S. EDITOR Viveka Jagadeesan WORLD EDITOR Ada Lin DEPUTY WORLD EDITOR Jessie Lau OPINION EDITOR Tina Parija DEPUTY OPINION EDITOR Carrie Yang ONLINE EDITOR Anna Bella Korbatav DEPUTY ONLINE EDITOR Maria Salamanca DESIGN DIRECTOR Ha Duong ADVISERS Susan Rasky Ethan Rarick STAFF Ankit Aggarwal, Jingwei Li Angel, Gabriella Armato, Efe Atli, Madeleine Ayer, Disha Banik, Rebecca Berman, Deborah Choi, Samhita Collur, Zac Commins, Felix Cruz, Erin Delaney, Alex Duran, Brenna Fitzpatrick, Lani Frazer, Peter Gao, Zachary Grimmett, Daniel Haidermota, Adeeba Hasan, Hilly Hess, Mekhala Hoskote, Ray Tang Hou, Angel Jennings, Edward Johnston, Claire Kaufman, Sophie Khan, Nicholas Kitchel, Elizabeth Lanier, Jae Ho Li, Woody Little, Lindsey Lohman, Alexander Mabanta, Priyana Mohanta, Stacey Nguyen, Eric Michael Oakley, Brendan Pinder, Abhik Kumar Pramanik, Harkaran Singh, Lucy Song, Giacomo Tognini, Varsha Venkatasubramanian, and Wendie Yeung. The content of this publication does not reflect the view of the University of California, Berkeley or the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). Advertisements appearing in the Berkeley Political Review reflect the views of the advertisers only, and are not an expression of the editorial opinion or views of the staff.


Berkeley Political Review Volume XII, No. 1 / Fall 2013

BERKELEY Angel Jennings


Priyanka Mohanty


Claire Kaufman


Rebecca Berman


Brenna Fitzpatrick


Deborah Choi


Nicholas Kitchel


Disha Banik


Woody Little


Eric Michael Oakley


Giacomo Tognini


Adeeba Hasan


Alex Durán


Abhik Kmar Pramanik


Lindsey Lohman Ankit Aggarwal Erin Delnaey Peter Gao

18 19 20 21


Reich: Champion for social change Reich on his college years, Inequality for All, Occupy, and social change. CALIFORNIA Small victories for immigrants in California California legislature grants an expansion of rights to noncitizens. Inhumanity or safety? On California’s unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons. When environmental laws go too far California’s effort to reform CEQA. Richmond vs. Goliath Bay Area city faces down wall street in battle over mortgages Stepping forward in the land of inequality California’s new minimum wage.

U.S. Rollout of the Affordable Care Act Destined for success or failure? Sexual assault in the military Are new measures adequate to address the crisis? (COVER STORY) Snowed-in by Woody Little A privacy winter in the digital age. Race to the autonomous car WORLD Scaling Everest: Nepal’s struggle for stability Tensions with neighbors exacerbate the constitutional crisis. The labor rollercoaster of a lifetime Tranquil and turmoil in the Bangladeshi garmenty industry. The mercurial case of Misuari The roots and causes of terror in the Philippines. United American Emirates, the new UAE? Will the American shale boom alter the global balance of power? OPINION A change in Obamacare dosage Is sovereignty a moral standard? Americans on Syria: Apathetic or afraid? War porn


Robert Reich: Champion for social change Reich on his college years, Inequality for All, the Occupy movement, and how to be a force for social change BY ANGEL JENNINGS


obert Reich grew up in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and expansion of women’s rights, voting rights, and other fundamental changes in American history—a hopeful intellectual who hungered for and saw the possibility of social change. Inspired by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Reich simply couldn’t imagine a life without some aspects of public service as a young adult. The tragic murder of Michael Schwerner, a friend and protector of Reich in his youth, who was killed by white supremacists while registering African-American voters, was a driving factor in Reich’s determination to protect the vulnerable and powerless in society. Reich interned for Robert Kennedy his junior year of college and was in awe of his staunch commitment to justice and social change. In his senior year, he got involved in Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid, in which he campaigned against the Vietnam War. Reich then became aware of the American youth’s eagerness for leadership and willingness to be mobilized in the face of injustice. Reich eventually served as Secretary of La-

3 | Berkeley Political Review

bor for Bill Clinton. Reich’s most recent endeavor is the film Inequality for All, which was released last month. The film is about the widening economic gap which has been increasing since the late 1970s, in which the gains from growth have gone to a smaller and smaller portion of the population at the top. “Without a large and growing middle class, there isn’t the purchasing power in the economy to buy all of the goods and services the economy is capable of producing, at full employment” Reich explains. “Our democracy suffers, because with income and wealth comes economic power, and if more and more income and wealth are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, economic power is going to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And that means instead of living in a democracy, we start living in something that is quite different. Call it an oligarchy or a plutocracy, or whatever you wish, it is not any longer a system of government that is responsive to the vast majority.” One of the important messages behind Inequality for All is that Americans have the power to do something about this growing problem. “If we wish and are mobilized and organized to do it, we can change the direction things are going in. I want people to feel inspired to do something about these trends. There’s no reason to be a fatalist about them or an economic determinist,” Reich says earnestly. When the Occupy Movement came to the UC Berkeley campus in 2011, Reich expressed strong support for the students involved in the on-campus protests and the movement itself. “It put the issue of inequality, of income and wealth, on the front page. It educated millions of Americans as to how out of whack the system is becoming and it mobilized and organized a lot of

people,” Reich believes. I think that the Occupy movement was successful in creating a broad coalition seeking economic justice but it needed some specific objectives as part of its strategy to gain traction,” says Reich. Students and young adults may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of getting involved in politics, but Reich advises: “You can seek to do a number of things: raise the minimum wage, expand the earned income tax credit, fight for a more progressive tax system, demand and get better and more investments in public education, including public higher education, make a ruckus about the overwhelming dominance of the financial sector and the lack, even to this day, of a clear requirement to separate commercial from investment banking. During his time in public service, Reich feels as though he was only able to accomplish a fraction of what he wanted to do. “Many of the trends that I’ve been most concerned about in terms of loss of our democracy and widening inequality are much worse now than they were thirty-odd years ago when I began, so I can’t really say that I’ve accomplished anything,” says Reich, though he will continue to write and teach. He does not plan to go into electoral politics, though he says that should a future president ask him to join his or her cabinet, he would do it in a heartbeat. “Not because I have this great hunger to do it again, but because, frankly, it’s important,” Reich says. Reich has always been impressed with Berkeley, as it is the best institution of public higher education in the world. Reich says, “I’m a great believer in public education and being here for two semesters convinced me that I really wanted to make this my home. Luckily, the Goldman School had a similar idea and I started here in 2006, permanently, and moved out here. And I couldn’t be happier.” ■


Small victories for immigrants in California California legislature grants an expansion of rights to noncitizens, but large challenges lie ahead BY PRIYANKA MOHANTY


Noncitizens have been fighting for immigration reform for over a decade. The California overhaul represents a small victory in the big fight for change. Reuters

s the 2013 session of the California State Congress concluded, legislators put forward a series of new bills that would expand the privileges of undocumented immigrants. These new rights range from the ability to practice law and protection from labor abuses as well as the extension of civic duties such as serving on juries and staff polling places. The most crucial aspect of this overhaul is the ability for noncitizens to now carry driver’s licenses marked with a small asterisk on the right corner of the license to indicate their immigration status—a privilege that had been an integral part of many immigrant advocacy organization’s platforms. With the passing of this legislation, California has become the leader of a national movement to fortify immigrant rights. For the past two years, the contentious issues of the bill have been debated throughout California, and this overhaul represents a major victory for the three million noncitizens across the state. The legislative push has the potential to set a positive precedent for the rest of the country’s legislatures; however, it does not create a long-term solution to the current immigration problems that exist in the country. Unless other state legislatures or Congress choose to follow in the footsteps of California and place an actual focus on immigration reform, the nation will never see a resolution to the country’s immigration problems. For the state of California, the law’s passage is unsurprising. Since 2007, the state of California has experienced a large demographic change with a dramatic increase in the Latino population. As a result of this, more congressional representatives are coming from immigrant backgrounds and take a broader perspective on the immigration problems that exist in the state. Critics of this approach say that the legislature has gone one step too far with this bill, overriding the distinction between citizen and illegal immigrant and providing benefits to noncitizens that are constitutionally reserved for those born in the United States. While this change has made some wary, many argue that this is not a negative shift. The law takes on a more inclusive approach to examining illegal immigration in a way that strays from the xenophobia and exclusion that has existed in some other state legislatures like Arizona’s SB1070 law or Georgia’s HB 87 law.

In fact, California’s new legislation may be a precedent that other states should imitate. Laws like those seen in Arizona, Georgia, and an increasing number of other states promote the idea that immigrants deserve to be excluded from the country without being provided a chance to change their status. This dialogue does nothing to solve the problem of how to reform our immigration system, and, if anything, makes it worse. Keeping this in mind, it is fitting that one of the most diverse state in the union is leading the way to create tangible solutions to the problem at hand, even if they may just be short term. Advocates of the bill take this thinking one step further, pointing out that expanding the pool of those eligible to serve on juries and work at polls will benefit more than just immigrants. The law will, in fact, magnify the barriers of communication and provide opportunities for civic engagement to citizens and noncitizens alike. Ultimately, they argue, allowing noncitizens to participate in their community will foster a sense of involvement that will motivate them to move towards a path of citizenship. It is clear, at the very least, that on a statewide and even national basis the country needs to create a legitimate reform of its immigration policies. Even though California’s new laws only create a temporary solution to what is evidently a very deep-rooted, systemic issue, the act of passing such a bill is a step in the right direction. But where do we draw the line? How many privileges will the state government continue to extend to undocumented people before the nation focuses on a long-term solution? It is crucial to question whether these legislative actions will shift the national discourse from one of exclusion to inclusion. There is still a divisive line between immigrants and citizens and this xenophobia will continue to grow unless we begin to act and take the steps that California is taking to address the permeating issues of immigration that have existed for over a decade. If California continues to act the way it has been, will United States citizens ever really assimilate with the rapidly growing “illegal” population? Though California has now succeeded in providing driver’s licenses to the millions of noncitizens that live across the state, the small star on their ID cards is still an indication of the progress that is yet to be made. ■ Berkeley Political Review | 4


Inhumanity or safety? California’s unconstitutionally overcrowded prisons open the floodgates for debate on the best course of action BY CLAIRE KAUFMAN


ver the past 30 years, the number of inmates in California has increased by 750 percent to a peak of around 160,000 in 2006, double the prison design capacity of 80,000. Though this design capacity has not been expanded, spending on prisons has increased by 436 percent. These facilities were deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court for gross overcrowding and the lack of medical and mental care in 2011. California has since committed to reducing its prison population to 112,164 by the end of 2013. As of August 28th 2013, the inmate population has been reduced to 119,901; therefore, 7,700 more prisoners must be released in the next four months. Governor Jerry Brown has consistently opposed releasing prisoners, saying they will only further endanger public safety. Many argue “low-risk” prisoners, such as elderly prisoners or those who were convicted for nonserious, non-violent, or non-sex crimes, can and should be released. Overcrowding became a big issue for California in the 1970s when fear of crime spurred stringent and lengthy sentencing laws. From 1982 to 2000, California built 23 new prisons. Sparky Czifra, a 38-year-old UC Berkeley student and former inmate, explained how every space, even gymnasiums and hallways, was filled with threestory bunk beds before any prisoners arrived. California finally began reform in February 2009, when a three-judge federal court conducted an in-depth investigation of California’s criminal justice system in response to two ongoing

violations of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Their reports describe conditions where “up to 50 sick inmates may be held together in a 12-by 20-foot cage for up to five hours awaiting treatment,” as well as instances where prisoners have died because of delayed access to care. The panel found compelling evidence that “crowding is the primary cause of the violation” and “no other relief will remedy [the] violation.” They put forth a tentative ruling that California needed to reduce its prison population by 137.5 perce in a two-year time period – a reduction of between 38,000 and 46,000 inmates. Brown appealed this decision (Brown v. Marciano), but the US Supreme Court overturned his appeal in May 2011. The first leap towards this reduction was the two-year “realignment” package implemented October 2011. Realignment gave local county jails authority over non-serious, non-violent, and nonsex offenders. In June 2013, Brown appealed for a stay on the short-term ruling to release the final 9,600 prisoners, an appeal which the Supreme Court refused in a 6-3 vote. In August, Brown requested funds to expand capacity by moving inmates to alternative housing, such as private prisons or local jails. State Senator Darrell Steinberg emerged as the opposition leader to Brown’s plan, arguing that rehabilitation services, community programs, and commissions were needed to create systemic change and enhance public safety. The State Senate altogether rejected Brown’s proposal, preferring that he spend more energy and money on rehabilitation and care efforts. “The

Common areas in prisons, like this gymnasium, were set up as dorms. This made it possible for California to enlarge its prison population to double capacity. WikiMedia Commons

5 | Berkeley Political Review

public has already spoken,” said Czifra. “We want to start diverting these people from prison and into the community where they can get help and get rehabilitated.” So, on September 9, with the support of both houses in California, Brown requested a three-year delay on the end-of-the-year deadline so he could have time to expand rehabilitation programs and reduce reentry. The judges granted a one-month delay and said a long-term extension is still possible. “[If Brown is granted] that three year reprieve, there could be real efforts to have more programming behind bars . . . and perhaps incentivize early release,” said Professor Steven Raphael, expert in criminal justice at the Goldman School of Public Policy. The debate has posed a critical question: is it worth it to release inmates that could possibly pose a danger to the public so that the inmates remaining can enjoy their constitutionally guaranteed rights? Politicians have suggested a middle ground in which they can remedy these horrendous conditions without releasing additional prisoners. However, prisoners cannot be moved around indefinitely without eventually crowding all of California’s alternative facilities. While rehabilitation efforts are necessary, they will be slow to change the numbers of inmates and even more difficult to quantify. Overcrowding needs to be remedied by reassessing the way we evaluate and sentence inmates. Prop 36 from the November 2012 election modified the 1994 Three-Strikes Law so people are no longer sentenced to life in prison if their third-strike was non-serious or non-violent a step in the right direction. Since its enactment, about 900 prisoners have been released and an additional 2,500 are likely to be soon. Additionally, the length of certain sentences could be shortened “if we can create situations where [inmates can] somehow signal that [their crime] was a one-time thing and they’re going to move on,” said Raphael. “We don’t have to open the doors and let 7,700 people go.” California cannot wait another three years for effective reform and leave people in conditions that violate their most basic human rights. So far, the large numbers of prisoners released has not caused an increase in crime. “Denying that marginalized and fractured life, pushing them even further in that direction—how is that serving the community? It’s not,” said Czifra. “It harms the community, because the person reoffends, of course, and we’re still paying.” With structural change, consistency, and concrete evidence, California could better identify low-risk inmates, prevent incarceration in unnecessarily large numbers, and make sure the people California are releasing aren’t going to come back to prison. ■


When environmental laws go too far California’s effort to reform CEqa BY REBECCA BERMAN


o the surprise of many Californians, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is facing challenges from the state’s Democratic Party. CEQA was enacted in 1970, and remains one of the most significant environmental laws in the United States. This law is aimed at public agency projects that would initiate the construction of homes, businesses, or any other structures that may cause instant or future changes to the environment. Such public agencies must fully describe their project and have them evaluated under CEQA in order to begin work on their project. All projects must also meet a set of requirements that prevent them from impacting local driving times based on a “Level of Service” standard intended to reduce rush hour traffic and reduce pollution. According to CEQA, agencies’ reports must include “the environmental impact of the proposed action,” “any irreversible environmental changes” that the project would cause, and “mitigation measures” intended to minimize such impact. This law may have good intentions, but its application is seriously flawed—it has hindered several legitimate development projects in California. For example, the city of Newark attempted to use CEQA to block the creation of a Fremont garbage transfer station; although this attempt was eventually unsuccessful, it cost Fremont more than $100,000 in legal fees and delayed the project by more than two years. CEQA has been the cause of countless lawsuits, which have turned it into a costly burden for California’s citizens. In Sierra Club v. Gilroy City Council, the court of appeals held that an agency has the duty to minimize negative environmental effects, or else cite what overriding considerations make the effects necessary and legitimize the project. Although this seems like an obvious business standard, it has led to a continuous flood of litigations regarding confusion over what does or does not constitute an acceptable project. Thus, the development of projects has moved slowly, courts have become even more crowded with cases, and Californian tax dollars are being spent on environmental lawsuits that could be avoided with legal reform. For these reasons, the Golden State’s Democrats are taking a stand against the abuses of this law by proposing necessary reforms. A leader of this cause, state Senator Darrell Steinberg, asserts that with his proposed reforms Californian agencies’ projects will be evaluated based on their impact on air quality, noise, safety, and overall mobility, rather than simply of the Level of Service’s standard. Steinberg’s suggested set of reforms, included in bill SB743, are also targeted at improving smart infill developments in California, making sure projects in urban areas are not challenged based on issues with aesthetics and

parking impacts, and expediting judicial review of proposed large-scale projects. Other proposed reforms include State Senator Susan Eggman’s proposed programs for converting agricultural lands to land for nonagricultural uses (AB 823), as well as Senator Frazier’s proposition to temporarily exempt bicycle transportation plans from CEQA’s regulations (AB 417). Such reforms make the establishment of beneficial projects in the right locations easier and ensure review of all projects focused on environmental impact, rather than on other factors. As expected, environmental groups across the nation support such proposed reforms, since they will allow the law to serve its initially intended purpose. Steinberg considers his statute “that sweet spot between those who think [CEQA] is irrevocably broken and those who believe there’s nothing wrong with [it].” However, those who believe there is nothing wrong with the statute failure to recognize the “sweet spot” nature of Steinberg’s list of reforms. Among the biggest opponents to CEQA-reforms is the California Construction Industry LaborManagement Cooperation Trust, a union for the construction industry. Members of this group think that the proposed reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act would have a negative impact on construction businesses, and thus

negatively impact California’s economy even further. Unfortunately for such groups, both houses of the California Legislature passed Steinberg’s Senate Bill 743 and Jerry Brown is expected to sign these reforms into laws shortly. Although not all of the suggested reforms were passed during this legislative session, the reforms that did pass constitute a tremendous stride towards improving California’s environmental laws. These reforms are a necessary first step in the right direction for California. The state’s legislators should continue to amend such laws to ensure that they serve the purpose they were originally intended to serve. Because CEQA ended up affecting businesses much more than protecting the environment, other Californian laws may be creating similar problems in application. Thus, it is necessary for legislators to carefully review the state’s myriad of environmental laws to completely eliminate such issues. With such review and the reforms that consequently arise, California’s courts will become less crowded with the pointless legal battles that are tied to statutes such as CEQA, and legitimate developmental projects will flourish throughout the state. Additionally, with each reform, California will get closer to minimizing and reversing damage to west coast ecosystems. ■

California is internationally renowned for its beautiful scenery, but in order to preserve its environment, the state will have to make tremendous strides in legislative reforms, just as it has started to do with the California Environmental Quality Act. National Park Service

Berkeley Political Review | 6


Richmond vs. Goliath Bay area city faces down wall stREET in battle over mortgages BY BRENNA FITZPATRICK


n what would be an unprecedented use of eminent domain, the city of Richmond is threatening to seize hundreds of underwater mortgages in order to aid struggling homeowners. But the city faces fierce opposition from the securities industry which argues this use of eminent domain is not only unconstitutional but will lead to severe financial repercussions. Almost half of homeowners in Richmond have underwater mortgages—mortgages worth more, often significantly more, than the current property value. The city fears that mass foreclosures, which could result from the unstable housing market, would cause an undue economic hardship on the entire city, lowering property values across the board and destabilizing neighborhoods. In order to shield itself from the financial repercussions promised by the securities industry, Richmond is attempting to encourage other cities to adopt the use of eminent domain to purchase underwater mortgages. However, most hope that cities will only have to use eminent domain as a last resort, and hope the securities industry will work with homeowners to help refinance their loans. So far, such a compromise looks unlikely. In a plan crafted by the firm Mortgage Resolution Partners

(MRP), Richmond offered to buy 624 underwater mortgages at discount prices from 32 banks and mortgage companies. All 624 offers were rejected, and now Richmond is threatening to seize the loans through eminent domain—the power of the government to seize private property against the owner’s wishes, while providing the owner with “just compensation”—to then restructure and refinance the loans to reflect current property values. Both the city and MRP stand to make a profit from the process. But the millions of dollars in legal fees spent battling financial institutions may negate any potential for profit. The securities industry argues this plan is unconstitutional, overstepping the intended use of eminent domain by using it to profit private individuals. Within the past decade, however, the appropriate use of eminent domain has been broadened to include projects that aid economic development, even if remaining in private hands. While eminent domain was traditionally used for projects which would entail “public use,” the 2005 Supreme Court decision Kelo vs City of New London expanded the use of eminent domain for any project which generally served “public benefit,” even if not for “public use.” Projects

of economic development—where new jobs are created, taxes and other city revenues are increased, or a depressed or blighted urban area is revitalized—qualify as public benefit. Whether or not seizing loans to prevent mass foreclosures can be considered economic development is up for debate, and the securities industry will inevitably challenge the use in court. Although, it seems difficult to justify forcing homeowners out of their homes to transfer their property to a private developer as economic development (as in Kelo, where the former neighborhood still stands undeveloped and was even briefly used as a dump), and not the prevention of mass-foreclosures. The securities industry has argued that MRP’s plan is not only unconstitutional, but that it will nullify valid existing contracts, hurt the housing market, and cause severe financial repercussions. Wells Fargo and Deutsch Bank have already requested an injunction to stop Richmond from pursuing its use of eminent domain, but a federal judge declared the lawsuit premature. Richmond began to feel the financial pressure from Wall Street in August, when their A-minus bonds worth $34 million went unsold (as other cities’ bonds with lower credit ratings sold). This unusual rejection


7 | Berkeley Political Review

of Richmond’s bonds suggests that the financial repercussions the security industry predicted will not be merely an organic response of the market, but rather a strategic blacklisting of Richmond to scare other cities from adopting similar measures. These economic repercussions will undoubtedly intensify as Richmond continues with the plan. In order to insulate itself from these financial repercussions, Richmond has created a Joint Powers Authority to encourage other cities to join in a partnership. Richmond is not the first city approached by MRP, but it is the only city to have advanced so far with the plan. Other cities ultimately backed out, citing a lack of public support, market risk, and blatant threats from financial institutions. Currently, El Monte is the only other California city that appears to be seriously considering the plan. Richmond’s proposed use of eminent domain is unorthodox. It is an understanding of economic development that aims to keep homeowners inside of their homes and communities, rather than forcing them out. Still, even advocates of the plan admit the use of eminent domain is not ideal. Bill Falik, one of the principals at MRP, explained that ultimately “our hope is that cities don’t have to use the power of eminent domain, that these financial institutions will meet with these cities, meet with these homeowners, and actually come to an agreement without the threat of eminent domain hanging over their heads. Unfortunately, we have not experienced that.” Until then, eminent domain appears to be one of the few tools available to cities to seriously address the foreclosure crisis, a crisis many cities have felt powerless against. If city governments care about keeping homeowners inside of their homes and stabilizing their communities more than they fear the threats of Wall Street, they should stand with Richmond. The small Bay Area city, with barely 100,000 residents, cannot take on the financial industry alone. ■


Stepping forward in the land of inequality What california’s new minimum wage says about our state and nation BY DEBORAH CHOI


nly two years ago, California was teetering on the edge of disaster with an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent (second in the nation), a $26 billion deficit, and an accumulated debt of $35 billion. In addition to Governor Jerry Brown’s success in diminishing the deficit and paying down the debt, the enactment of Assembly Bill 10 is proving yet again that “Left Coast” politics of the progressive western states (CA, OR, WA) can actually stimulate economic growth. On September 25, AB 10 was signed into law, making it the first minimum wage hike in California in more than 5 years. The law mandates a 25 percent increase in the minimum wage, which will put extra money in the pockets of an estimated 2.4 million Californians and increase the purchasing power of the working poor. The increase is five-fold, starting with $8.25 in 2014 and incrementally rising to $10.00 by 2018. Every following year the hourly minimum wage will be adjusted with the CPI to maintain employee purchasing power. However, even with this increase in the minimum wage, California still falls short of providing its workers with the “living wages” necessary to cover basic needs such as food and housing. With AB 10, California is beginning to address the paradox of citizens in the world’s wealthiest nation living in poverty despite working fulltime. The contradiction is apparent in a nation that boasts of its “rewarding” democratic ideals and free market as its workers are still struggling to survive day-to-day on minimum wage. According to “Working Hard, Left Behind,” a report commissioned by The Campaign for College Opportunity with the Working Poor Families Project, about a third of California’s working families qualify as low-income. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization focusing on racial equity in the restaurant industry, conducted a study in June that explored the effects of a $10.10 minimum wage on the working poor. They discovered that roughly 58 percent (about 6 million people) of the nation’s 10.4 million working poor would have been raised out of poverty if the minimum wage had been raised to $10.10 in 2011. The importance of AB 10 is highlighted by the fact that California has the highest number of working poor families in the country. But, to take

a broader perspective, what does this 2011 study mean in 2013? Is $10 still a reasonable minimum wage in 2016-2018, taking into account the rate of inflation? Despite the urgency for a higher minimum wage, most of California’s major employer organizations oppose AB 10 based on the fundamental conservative argument that the market should be left to itself and that government intervention would disrupt market forces. The California Chamber of Commerce, a large coalition of business organizations, labels the bill a “job killer” and insists that higher wages could raise the unemployment rate and jeopardize California’s economic recovery due to employers cutting back employees’ hours and reducing hiring. A specific case often presented in this debate by the rightwing Heritage Foundation is the crash of Samoa’s economy. By blaming the hike in minimum wage, the actual variables that caused the crash—an economic slump worldwide, lowered US tariff barriers, and decline in tourism—are largely overlooked. Essentially, there is no conclusive research to prove that raising the minimum wage leads to a crash in the economy or even contributes substantially to a rise in the unemployment rate. According to a 2010 study led by Berkeley economics professor and director of the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Michael Reich, “[The] findings indicate that an entire generation of previous minimum wage studies that found negative effects on jobs is fundamentally flawed.” The study provides evidence that in-

creasing the minimum wage does not lead to loss of low-paying jobs, either in the short- or longterm. Another strong case for the benefits of a high minimum wage is the San Francisco Bay Area’s booming economy. Despite having one of the nation’s highest minimum wages, San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties reported unemployment rates that did not exceed 5.4 percent in May as compared to the 7.5 percent unemployment rate of the nation. San Francisco’s minimum wage, $10.55, is the highest in the country. These economies are booming; minimum wage increases are spent almost entirely on consumption because people in the working and lower classes are more likely to spend the majority of their paychecks on necessities. As the biggest contributor to GDP, consumption has the potential to substantially stimulate the economy. With AB 10, California has taken a step towards improving the wellbeing and prosperity of its people. The apparent rewards of a high minimum wage make us question the inaction of the federal government, whose minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25. For a nation that boasts being number one, the US ranks eleventh in hourly minimum wages in developed economies, followed by countries such as Israel and Slovenia who have substantially smaller national economies and wealth. Although California has taken the step to raise the minimum wage, it is just a small step in addressing the ever-widening gap between the working poor and the elites in America, the land of inequality. ■ Berkeley Political Review | 8


Professor Stephen Shortell, expert on healthcare implementation, speaks on the Affordable Care Act April 1st, 2009. UC Berkeley News



pen enrollment for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has officially begun. If successful, this policy could change the way millions of Americans interact with the healthcare market, meanwhile helping grow the economy. One of the main goals of the law is to expand healthcare coverage. Since the Oct. 1 launch, Americans have been able to purchase health insurance coverage via state and federal marketplaces. Despite constant criticism from many Republicans, initial enrollment numbers exceeded expectations. The White House reported that 4.7 million people visited the website and 190,000 called the federal hotline on the first day of enrollment. In California, the first state to create an exchange, the online app received over five million visits and the hotline received over 17,000 calls. With such high numbers, it looks like the policy is on track to meet its goal of expanding coverage. Nonetheless, a number of states and the federal exchange have experienced technical glitches and heavy traffic that created delays. Professor Stephen Shortell, former dean of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and a former adviser to the Obama administration on health care reform, said, “Any time you implement a complex piece of legislation like this, there are going to be hiccups.” Shortell went on to explain that most states will be able to work through the bugs within three to six months and that he

9 | Berkeley Political Review

believes the actual mechanics of the exchanges will be working very well within one year. For at least the first year, 34 states have defaulted to the federal government exchanges. The other 16 states have established their own exchanges; although it is important to note that implementation will vary from state to state. “Some states, like California, are much better prepared than a number of other states because of our early decision to invest in the necessary resources, and the talent we have working on it,” said Shortell. For states that are less prepared, individuals can still opt to participate in the federal exchanges. Liberal states like California have reacted to the ACA by praising it and encouraging people to sign up. On the other end of the spectrum, conservative states like Texas have reacted by calling it a failure, Governor Rick Perry notably deeming the bill a “criminal act.” Coverage won’t actually begin until Jan. 1, 2014, which is also when the individual mandate will be implemented. Most people will be required to purchase health insurance via marketplaces or pay a tax penalty. One of the challenges facing the ACA is encouraging young, healthy Americans to participate, rather than pay a $95 fine (which increases over time to the maximum of $695 or 2.5 percent of their income, whichever is greater). If too many people choose to pay the fine over purchasing insurance, the cost to those who are paying for coverage will increase. In enrolling young people, Shortell said, “This [enrolling young people] has to do with outreach to the group, instilling a sense of civic pride.” He explained that their decision to opt-in would also benefit their friends and family. Similar to the individual mandate, the ACA also includes an employer mandate, which requires employers who have at least 50 employees to provide healthcare. However, in July, President Obama announced this component of the law

will not be implemented during the first year. According to a Congressional Budget Office report, delaying the employer mandate will actually cost the federal government $12 billion in tax revenues and additional costs associated with increased subsidization of healthcare workers who would have received it from their employers. Even considering the costs, the Obama Administration decided the benefit of giving employers more time to adjust to the system was more important. Still, many Republicans argue that the ACA will be bad for the economy. During his 21-hour speech on Sept. 25, Texas Senator Ted Cruz blasted the law, claiming that, “Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country.” Other Republicans argue that the employer mandate will cause businesses to cut employee hours and hire fewer workers as a way around the employer mandate. However, Laurel Lucia, a policy analyst at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, maintains that in reality the ACA will actually benefit the economy. “The Affordable Care Act will actually create jobs,” said Lucia. According to a Bay Area

the ACA will create over 100,000 jobs in California alone. These new jobs will create a multiplier effect on the economy.

Council analysis, the ACA will create over 100,000 jobs in California alone with spending generated by new customers in the healthcare market. These new jobs will create a multiplier effect on the economy. As new healthcare workers enter the workforce, they will make more money, spend more money, and other sectors of the economy will thereby experience growth as well. Many economists, Ms. Lucia included, agree that the Republican arguments that the ACA would harm the economy are inaccurate. Since 97 percent of small businesses are exempt from the employer mandate (those with fifty employees or fewer), and most large businesses offer healthcare already, it is unlikely the employer mandate will harm the economy. Why, then, did the Obama Administration decide to delay the employer mandate, especially at such a cost? Rolling out the mandate on time would have been more pragmatic. However, political calculations surely factored into the president’s ultimate decision. Given a successful open enrollment launch and the fact that the ACA will likely help, not hurt, the economy, it appears the policy is on a prosperous track toward expanding coverage and changing how Americans purchase health insurance. However, not until well after January 1, when coverage and the individual mandate take effect, will we really know whether President Obama’s signature legislation can be considered a success. ■


Anu Bhagawati, who experienced sexual assault in the military and co-founded the Service Women’s Action Network, gives evidence at a hearing of Sen. Gillibrand’s Personnel Subcommittee in March. Win McNamee/Getty Images




n August 15th, 2013 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved seven new orders to address sexual assault in the military, many of which were originally introduced in Congress or are already in practice. The orders include the implementation of (1) a legal advocacy program to provide legal representation to those pressing charges, (2) pre-trial investigative hearings conducted by Judge Advocate General officers, (3) mechanisms to reassign those accused of sexual assault, (4) timely follow-ups, (5) reevaluations of closed sexual assault investigations, (6) standardized rules for inappropriate behavior between trainers and trainees, and (7) permission for those pressing allegations to provide input on sentencing of those convicted. The Department of Defense also created an independent panel in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, to review and assess the systems to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate sexual assault crimes and related offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Sexual assault victim advocates applaud such reforms, but stress that they fail to address the most critical problem in military sexual assault policies: the current system of prosecuting sexual assault within the chain of command leaves victims fearful of retaliation and reluctant to report crimes. According to the DOD’s 2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) Report, 25 percent of women and 27 percent of men who received unwanted sexual contact indicated the offender was someone in their military chain of command. Among those who responded they had been victims of Unwanted Sexual Contact (USC) in the DOD SAPRO survey, 62 percent say they have already experienced retaliation. Of the Active Duty women who experienced USC and did not report it, 47 percent indicated fear of retaliation or reprisal as the reason for not reporting. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) addressed this issues earlier in May when she introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). The MJIA would remove the decision-making authority for prosecuting serious crimes such as sexual assault from the accused’s chain of command, and place it in the hands of trained military prosecutors. It would also prohibit a service member’s military service record from being used as evidence to prove reasonable doubt when deciding whether a case has enough merit to

proceed to trial. “When any single victim of sexual assault is forced to salute her attacker,” Gillibrand stated, “clearly our system is broken.” This bipartisan legislation is backed by advocates of sexual assault reform, who argue that it would make the judicial process more objective and remove any bias that may exist between a commander and his or her troops. Australia, Canada, Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom, and most of our NATO allies already prohibit unit commanders from determining the prosecution of sexual assault cases. Despite support from victim advocates and NATO allies, both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Senate Committee on Armed Services unanimously struck down the MIJA. This strike, along with Secretary Hagel’s admission of authority replacement in his orders post-strike, reflects a pattern of military leaders pledging “zero tolerance” and then not following through. From the Tailhook Scandal in 1991 to the ongoing Lackland Air Force Base scandal, military leaders have repeatedly claimed that commanders need the decision-making authority on sexual assault crimes to maintain good order and discipline. In several cases, these commanders are the perpetrators of sexual assault. In May Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the man leading a U.S. Air Force program responsible for preventing sexual violence was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Virginia. In that same week, a sergeant first class assigned to an assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, went under investigation for sexual assault. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, Lt. Krusinksi, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Hagel, and other military leaders perpetuate sexual assault in the military by refusing to undermine their own power or their institution’s power because there is inadequate social and cultural urgency and accountability to do so. As seen in Secretary Hagel’s modest reforms and the strike down of the MJIA, substantial sexual violence prevention in the military cannot be legislated. The outlook and culture of the entire military and related institutions, if not the nation, regarding sexual assault, must fundamentally shift from that of mild condemnation to outrage. To do so requires public education and grassroots mobilization on sexual assault violations in and outside of the military in the American public. ■ Berkeley Political Review | 10


Snowed-in a privacy winter in the digital age BY WOODY LITTLE


ormer NSA contractor Edward Snowden has revealed some of the most important information regarding secretive government activity since the Pentagon Papers, uncovering the extreme intrusion of the National Security Administration into everyday life. Snowden’s revelations are wide ranging, but an underlying theme is the government’s use of and cooperation with private industry in surveillance. Snowden’s first leak was a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order requiring Verizon to hand over metadata–information about calls such as the sender, receiver, and duration–of its customers daily to the NSA. Later leaks revealed that this order was simply a re-authorization of an ongoing program involving all major telephone companies in the country. Another program, code-named PRISM, gives the NSA direct access to the servers of Facebook, Google, Skype, Yahoo, PalTalk, YouTube, Apple, and AOL, including all written messages, audio, and video passing through or stored by these companies. This public-private cooperation is important precisely because it is not new. The Senate’s Church Committee, brought together in 1975 in the wake of the Watergate scandal and a string of revelations similar to Snowden’s, discovered a government partnership with telegraph and phone companies to collect communications records. Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which works to protect the digital rights of consumers, calls it “similar in shape if not magnitude” to the PRISM program. Deeply connected as it is to the surveillances activity of the government, private sector data collection demands scrutiny in its own right. John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, describes how companies like Google and Facebook track, aggregate, and sell users’ behavioral data to third parties which compile and distribute so-called “digital dossiers” to insurance companies and large businesses to shape rate-setting and hiring decisions. “The problem,” he says, “is that all these data are gathered without your consent and are used to make decisions about you that you have no control over.” This intricate market for information has emerged from the dramatic technological changes of the past few decades, resulting in what Simpson terms a loss of “privacy by obscurity.” As we have transitioned from limited physical public records to aggregated data with search capabilities, it has become much harder for past mistakes or private activity to be hidden or forgotten. As Tien puts it, “the real weakness is our reliance for everything we do on intermediaries.” These intermediaries, such as telephone companies, ISPs, and financial institutions, have become “hubs through which our activities are recorded.” He points to voicemail’s transition from the tape-recorder to the service provider and the novel tracking capabilities of cell phones, observing that the “amount of information available has only grown.” Tien does not advocate eliminating intermediaries. “They’re here,” he says. However, he does think that technology can mitigate privacy concerns through improved data encryption and other measures to protect anonymity. Similarly, Simpson advocates for increased “privacy by design,” arguing that companies are duty-bound to build privacy protections into the product development process. Despite its “Don’t be evil” motto, Google has become the poster child for the penetration of private industry into personal life. In recent class action lawsuit, a group of Gmail users alleged that Google intercepts and reads email for ad tailoring and other purposes, without their consent. Google argues that after agreeing to its terms and conditions, Gmail users “have no legitimate expectation of privacy.” A federal judge ruled September 26 in favor of the plaintiffs, arguing that Google did “not establish sufficient consent” due to a lack of clarity and the application of federal anti-wiretapping statutes. Another suit has been building since German newspapers first reported in 2010 that Google Street View vehicles had vacuumed up personal data – including email, passwords, and images– from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks as they drove around photographing the inhabited world. A federal appeals

court ruled September 10 that this practice, known as “wardriving,” also violated the federal Wiretap Law, allowing the suit to continue. Simpson, whose organization supports the plaintiffs of both cases, calls them “landmark decisions” that extend privacy law to the Internet. Moreover, participation in society today virtually demands the use of cell phones and email. We may have tacitly given consent to data collection as a collective, but we have not as individuals. If every large corporation made Google’s argument and the courts accepted it, we would have “no legitimate expectation of privacy” left. The Google cases expose a company that has developed a role in our lives and an access to personal information similar in scope to that of the government. However, NSA programs at least ostensibly exist to serve a public interest: national security. Privacy advocates like Simpson believe the actual activities of these programs create an unjustified intrusion on privacy. “The idea that 9/11 changed everything…is an untenable position,” he says. Still, with exiles like Snowden as notable exceptions, government surveillance has a less tangible effect on most Americans than the corporate surveillance that makes it possible. Digital dossiers and their effects are the product of market forces, not the NSA or SEAL Team Six. Federal encroachment on our right to privacy is real. However, selective outrage at the government plays into unjustified American double standards for state and corporate power. The scope of Snowden’s leaks reveal not only how much the U.S. government spies on its citizens, but also how much of activity it keeps secret. Tien views the ease with which the government classifies material as a “very, very big problem.” First, it risks concealing governmental abuses of power by shielding them from public scrutiny. Second, it creates an institutional culture of secrecy. Tien makes an economic metaphor, claiming that regularly classifying information “creates an environment of scarcity,” which gives information high value. This in turn, he says, leads to greed and hoarding beyond the legitimate interests of national security, making even less information public and leaks like Snowden’s more rare. External pressure on security institutions is also important. Tien draws special attention to Snowden’s revelation of an NSA program, code-named BULLRUN, designed to weaken encryption standards, influence cryptographic software design, and lobby for international encryption standards the NSA could break. Tien cautions that this introduction of “weakness into the technology infrastructure” should not be underestimated. History reveals that challenges to privacy can be addressed through inquiry and legislation. The Church Committee came together in 1975 to address similar revelations, leading to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Congressional investigation also led to the Wiretap Law in 1968. It also shows that reform is a continuing process. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved most of the programs Snowden revealed, was created by FISA. Its secretive and nonadversarial nature has largely created the current crisis of overclassification. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate to add a constitutional advocate to the FISC that would argue against the government’s case would be a start. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s work to develop encryption code that would be more NSAresilient is also welcome. Still, more must be done to change the culture of informational scarcity. Private industry is also part of the problem and reforms must come there as well. As Simpson says, “people ought to have the right to say whether data about them is collected and how it’s used,” without having it resold or preserved longer than they agree to. In addition, terms and conditions should be clarified and simplified so that people know which rights are waived when they agree to them. Snowden’s revelations have reenergized public discourse about state and corporation sponsored surveillance programs, but a new Church Committee is in order to ascertain the full extent of their intrusions. As Tien puts it, “you don’t operate on a patient until you’re pretty sure what’s wrong.” ■ Berkeley Political Review | 12


California Governor Jerry Brown signs legislation meant to promote autonomous vehicles at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA Sept. 27th, 2012. AP Photo

Race to the autonomous car BY ERIC MICHAEL OAKLEY


n September 25, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown rode in a Google autonomous car to sign a bill that would legalize the vehicle and others like it to operate on California public roads. California became the third state to pass such a law, joining Nevada, Florida, and the District of Columbia. States that have not legalized autonomous cars do not explicitly preclude them, but current laws often do not consider that a car could be operated without a human driver. For instance, most states have laws prohibiting tailgating; however, the requisite safe driving distance between vehicles will decrease as a computer can react to changes in traffic patterns exponentially faster than a human. According to a report by the Berkeley’s Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, “a freeway operating at maximum efficiency has automobiles on only 5% of its surface.” Allowing self-driving cars to drive only inches away from each other would significantly improve both fuel efficiency, by decreasing air resistance for tailing vehicles, and road use efficiency. When and how this technology will integrate into the current traf-

13 | Berkeley Political Review

fic grid is undetermined, but some insiders are very optimistic about the imminence of autonomous cars. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors, has stated that Tesla will produce a car in the next three years that can drive autonomously for 90% of the miles driven by the car. Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google, predicted in 2012 that Google would have the technology available for the mass market within five years. Additionally, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicts that 75% of cars will be autonomous by 2040. Google has been a major proponent of autonomous car technology by encouraging legislation that considers vehicles without human drivers. It currently has a fleet of cars, including the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h, fitted with self-driving capabilities, and this fleet has logged more than 500,000 miles driving autonomously without accident. Data on Google’s investment in lobbying for autonomous cars is not publicly available, but Google’s overall budget for lobbying the federal government in 2012 (the year the driverless car bills were passed in CA, NV, and FL) was $18,220,000, which is up from $9,680,000 in

2011, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. This signals a significant increase in lobbying expenditures across the board, including a potential increase in lobbying of the federal Department of Transportation. Many other major auto manufacturers have tested prototypes or predicted they will integrate autonomous functionality. In addition to Google and Tesla, these manufacturers include Audi, BMW, GM, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. While these companies realize the imminence and value of this technology, they are entering the new market cautiously and attempting to shape related legislation. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes all of the above companies, other than Google and Tesla, supported the Florida law regulating autonomous cars, but opposed the California law due to an insufficient resolution of related policy issues. Chief among the concerns of automobile manufacturers is the question of who is liable in the case of an accident where an autonomous vehicle is at fault. The answer will be determined by how much of the driving process the autonomous car can reasonably be responsible for in its early stages as a consumer vehicle. Each state’s

law has a provision requiring a licensed driver be ready and able to take control of the vehicle should it be necessary. Currently there are a myriad of factors that the software cannot account for, such as temporary changes in traffic laws and road conditions, such as near road construction. In these instances, the car will hand over control to a licensed human driver. Therefore, in the short term, the use of autonomous vehicles will likely be a shared driving experience between a computer and a human. States must define what the licensed driver may and may not do while the vehicle is operating autonomously. Currently, Florida and Nevada have made it legal for the human “backup” driver to use wireless communication devices while a vehicle is operating autonomously, but not while the human is in control of the vehicle (consistent with prior state law that assumes a human driver). Still, this only addresses some of the distractions available to a human on the road, and further refinement of the legislation is required to determine the rights and responsibilities of a human in the driver seat while the vehicle drives itself. There are potentially three groups that can be held liable for an autonomous vehicle accident: the manufacturer of the automobile, the manufacturer of the self-driving software, and the human driver. A simple interpretation would say that the manufacturer of the self-driving technology is responsible while the vehicle is acting autonomously and the human driver is at fault while he or she is in control of the vehicle, but this fails to consider operational and technological details. What if the accident occurs during the process of transitioning from autonomous to human driver or vice versa? What if the accident is due to a failure of the hardware of the car and not the software? Further refinement of the legislation will attempt to answer some of these questions, but it is likely that many of the uncertainties will have to be resolved by the judiciary as cases arise. Autonomous car technology has the potential to revolutionize modern transportation, but exactly how autonomous cars manifest themselves in our society will be largely determined by the way we write laws governing their use in the coming years. ■


Scaling Everest: Nepal’s struggle for stability Tensions with neighbors exacerbate the constitutional crisis BY GIACOMO TOGNINI


t has been seven years since Nepal’s decadelong civil war led to the overthrow of the world’s third-longest-lasting absolute monarchy and the victory of former Maoist rebels at the polls. Today, Nepal is undergoing a dramatic political crisis that shows no signs of abating before the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in two months. Beset with daily strikes, the country faces a tide of rising interethnic violence. The CA has an unspecified amount of time to produce a new constitution amenable to all parties, but in a field of over 20, three stand out: the center-left Nepali Congress, its traditional ally the “communists-inname-only” Marxist-Leninists (UML), and the hard-left Maoists (UCPN[M]). The country has now failed to produce a constitution in five years – the 2007 interim constitution only set a framework for cooperation, yet mistrust and egotistic ambitions have derailed the process. A legion of smaller parties represents geographic areas or ethnicities, such as the Madhesi people. “Federalism is going to be very chaotic and violent,” remarks Mahima Himalaya Poudel, a Nepali citizen. “We are one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world – federalism for a small country like Nepal would be pointless.” Violence is already spreading, according to Jitman Basnet, a prominent Nepalese human rights lawyer. “Nepal is being used more and more often as a haven for criminal gains that are behind sex trafficking, money counterfeiting, illegal gun trading and training fighters for regional gangs and insurgents.” A greater regional problem also hampers efforts toward compromise. India and China have long jostled for influence over Nepal to indirectly counter one another. “Nepal is not fully independent itself economically which is one of the reasons for strong external influence in domestic

matters,” explains Basnet. “India adopted a twin pillar policy towards Nepal, on one side supporting the monarchy and behind the scenes giving support to a democratic movement.” China, instead, has narrower interests and is “most concerned with the Tibetan issue, rather than economic control.” Several issues characterize Nepal’s status as a proxy for the greater Sino-Indian rivalry: the problem of Tibetan refugees, the future of Nepali federalism, and economic investment opportunities. It is no secret that India is a supporter of Tibetan self-determination, but China’s growing influence has persuaded Nepal — which once viewed itself as inextricably linked with its oppressed northern neighbors — to harden its stance against Tibetan immigration and protests. Indian politicians rely on the Nepali Congress-UML government’s traditional support base of well-connected high-caste Hindus. India has encouraged dividing Nepal into eleven languagebased states — enough to grant autonomy to the key region of Madhesi-inhabited Terai, which it depends on for industry, but not enough to dilute their power base. China, fearing that granting autonomy to ethnic minorities would encourage rebellion among its Tibetan subjects, is slowly succeeding in changing the Maoist’s historical popular commitment to ethnic federalism to a more Chinese-friendly structure of states based on economically contiguous units. Now, “The Maoists [have] convinced people excluded from the mainstream Kathmandu-centered system that they would provide a system with autonomous federal states based on ethnic identity,” states Basnet. Nepal’s citizens deserve a constitution that secures the existence of a secular, democratic, and federal republic. But faith is low in an electorate that has become all too used to political inaction and wrangling over personal interests. “It is infuriating to think that all our resourc-

es are wasted on these selfish, incompetent politicians,” says Poudel. “I have no faith in them.” She, like many of her fellow Nepalese, stresses the importance of a strong, stable constitution rather than the wishes of every interest group in the country. It remains to be seen how each party will interpret the seemingly benign ideas of democracy, secularism, and federalism. While nominally secular, the Nepali Congress clearly favors rights of Hindus, especially those of higher castes. True democratic values are difficult to reconcile with the UCPN(M)’s stated Maoist ideology. Federalism will be faced with considerable problems: significant cultural diversity, geographical complexity, a traditionalist mindset, and centuries of history as a unified country. “The Nepali social structure was not as easy to change as the Maoists thought,” explains Basnet. “The basis of economic and social inequality in Nepal is not caste or ethnicity as many argue, but the class structure whereby a few elites in each ethnic community and caste have power through owning the majority of the land and the business interests in the country and therefore most influence in the political system.” He adds that all castes and ethnic groups, even the “upper caste” Chhetri and Brahmin, are oppressed. A strong constitution is in the best interests of both regional giants. “India-China relations are secondary,” explains Kush Berry, an Indian citizen. “The ultimate goal that each nation should shoot for is stability in Nepal.” How Nepalese parties resolve internal instability and play power politics internationally will determine what kind of constitution they will produce and what kind of legacy they will leave for future generations of Nepali citizens. It is more than political fortunes that are at stake — it is the unity of an entire nation and the stability of Asia as a whole. ■ Berkeley Political Review | 14

WORLD Workers rally in the streets as they demand an increase in minimum wage. Andrew Biraj/ Reuters

The labor rollercoaster of a lifetime How the players of the Bangladeshi garment industry rock between tranquil and turmoil BY ADEEBA HASAN


hat began as a factory fire months ago has turned into turmoil through Bangladesh. In April of 2013, Rana Plaza in Bangladesh toppled down, killing 1,129 people and injuring 1,900. This was the deadliest factory accident in all of history, topping the eight-story Spectrum factory collapse (also in Bangladesh) eight years earlier. As a result, companies met in Geneva in an effort to calculate the amount of compensation owed to the families of those injured in the Rana Plaza disaster. Fueled by this meeting’s failure to come to any realistic or even helpful conclusion, the people of Bangladesh fled to the streets to take what should be their rights to compensation and higher wages. In this country, the second largest garment exporter in the world after China, the people wait as the government, factory owners and labor organizers meet and discuss an increase in the minimum wage. At the time of publication the country still awaits a verdict on a new minimum wage. However, whatever the outcome, it is important to understand what caused much of this turmoil in the first place. For one, a fair amount of the protestors’ anger stems for the view that the large companies who come to their factories with unrealistically high demands refuse to take the blame for the lack of workers’ rights. This is perhaps most evident in the failure of the conference in Geneva. Organized by the global labor union IndustriALL with the International Labour Organization functioning as a neutral chair, this meeting was meant to improve industry safety and to attempt 15 | Berkeley Political Review

to figure out how to recompense the Bangladeshi workers and families affected by the Rana Plaza collapse. IndustriALL calculated that a total due compensation of $74,571,101 should be rewarded to Dhaka retailers, factory owners and government. However, many of the Western companies involved did not even show up. Only one brand, the United Kingdom’s retailer Primark, provided any compensation to its workers. Larger companies such as Wal-Mart and Mango did not, at the time of the conference, want to take a share of the blame. These companies’ lack of interest in helping out the Bangladeshi workers helped motivate the protests on the streets. The roots of the problem of that conference in Geneva can be even traced further back. A lot of the problem is based on how business is done in Bangladesh. A large issue is that Western retailers have larger demands than a factory can possibly meet. This causes the factory owners to send some of their work to smaller producers. Often times those smaller producers own smaller, uninspected factories with workers who are now put at risk by the influx of orders. Though the Bangladeshi factory owners’ are partly to blame, Western clothing companies are not free of guilt either. Western retailers award contracts to manufactures even when they know the company does not have enough machines or employees to do the job, thus encouraging such outsourcing of orders. Now we can understand that it is because of both the failure of the conference in Geneva and the weakness in how business is transacted that

20,000 workers took to the streets to protest for an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $100. Factory owners were at first unwilling to increase the monthly wage past $45, claiming that it would inflate their construction costs and drive away business. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets while workers responded by throwing broken bricks. Three hundred factories in the Gazipur and Savar Industrial Zones (on the outskirts of Dhaka) closed down and those which remained open were attacked. In response, a governmental panel has formed to determine that it would increase wages greatly and manufactures say they will raise wages by as much as the panel decides despite their earlier objections. Although this may ultimately end up being only the eye of the storm, there are hopes that this will bring a conclusion to the issue of Bangladeshi minimum wage for now. In fact, the government has already stated that it will increase the wages by November, a month earlier than the previous deadline. From the factory fires to the conference in Geneva to the rights in the streets and now to the tranquil of the city, it seems that the Bangladeshi garment industry has experienced the labor roller coaster of a lifetime in under a year. Yet on this ride, much of this conflict has brought to light other underlying issues. Is even a $100 monthly minimum wage enough? Why did the factory fires happen in the first place? What can we do to keep the people who make our most basic necessity, our clothes, safe? ■


The mercurial case of Misuari The roots and causes of terror in the philippines BY ALEX DURÁN


he Bangsamoro region of the Southern Philippines has seen a great deal of turmoil over the past few decades as Muslims fight for greater autonomy and independence. The Southern Philippines has seen houses burn and cities terrorized in a decadeslong struggle for independence. More recently military might has resurged in a high profile way. On September 9th, armed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) insurgents took to the streets of the Philippines town of Zamboanga. Largely eclipsed by the international news media’s coverage of the Syrian Civil War, the conflict that ensued over the following weeks claimed the lives of 100 and displaced an estimated 112,000 people. More recently the conflict has tapered off as government forces have been able to rescue hostages and disarm MNLF rebels. The Philippines Department of Justice is already preparing legal charges against Nur Misuari, the leader of the MNLF. Despite a relatively quick resolution, the question as to why Misuari decided to mobilize violence still remains. Although some observers might attribute the use of violence in this case to the recent economic downturn or religious ideology, the particulars of this incident indicate elite interests, Misuari’s political interests specifically, has caused the MNLF to engage in acts of terror over civilian populations. Over the past few decades, the Philippines government saw the MNLF and Misuari as the most important force in negotiations with Muslim separatists. Although separatist sentiments were widespread, the organization of these sentiments into a unified social movement was elusive. What set the MNLF apart was Nur Misuari’s ability to marshal violence to gain the attention and respect of the Marcos regime. Funding from international actors, like Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi, allowed the MNLF to establish a paramilitary strong enough to counter the state through a decade of martial law. Those who study the area have argued that it was ability

of the MNLF to respond to the imposition of martial law that gave it legitimacy. The high cost nature of conflict with the MNLF made the Philippines government open to talks for increased autonomy and incorporation of the MNLF into government. However, discussions through the late 70s and early 80s yielded mixed success; even though autonomy was not realized and the MNLF ultimately was unhappy with the outcome, there were prolonged periods of peace and stability. An agreement between Misuari and the Ramos government in 1996 gave observers a great deal of hope. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was given a greater degree of independence, and Nur Misuari was appointed governor of the region. Furthermore, the MNLF paramilitary was incorporated into the Philippines Armed Forces as a regional branch in an attempt to prevent future violence from being employed. But despite a great deal of idealism and excitement, Misuari failed to bring an end to violence by

other Muslim separatist groups vying for power, and quickly lost favor after the Ramos government’s tenure ended. Misuari was removed from office in 2001 and has been embroiled in a protracted legal war with the Philippines government. Misuari’s tarnished reputation, coupled with a drying up of international funds has relegated the MNLF further and further into irrelevance from the popular political discourse. The MNLF’s downfall as a legitimate political actor reached an all-time low recently with a tentative agreement struck between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group that formed as an offshoot of the MNLF. If Misuari was truly primarily concerned with autonomy, he should be pleased with the agreement. But for elites like Misuari, politics is often a game of maximizing privilege and power. Misuari enjoyed the power that he had, obtained by terror and violence. Of course ethnoreligious and economic rhetoric are important tools for Misuari to use to mobilize mass discontent,

but Misuari isn’t quite as interested in the ideals he espouses as he is in political power. Research by Martha Crenshaw, a pioneer in terrorism studies, suggests this is typical of a variety of terrorist groups. Crenshaw argues that, “More often [terrorism] represents the disaffection of a fragment of the elite, who may take it upon themselves to act on behalf of the majority unaware of its plight.” Perhaps then, this case is not atypical. The use of violence for political purposes is not a product of irrational religious motivations, or even disaffection by have-nots with the political economic system, but rather a mass mobilization for elite interests. Prior to this September, there was a strong case for any of these causes, but the unwillingness of Misuari to relent while on the precipice of an agreement that would achieve the ideals he espouses indicates that he is merely a self-interested elite using popular concerns to legitimize his use of violence and claim to power. ■

Government forces fighting MNLF rebels in Zamboanga. Erik de Castro/Reuters

Berkeley Political Review | 16


United American Emirates, the new UAE? Will the American Shale boom alter the global balance of power BY ABHIK KUMAR PRAMANIK


s recently as five years ago, energy analysts were in agreement the US would need to begin importing natural gas to keep up with rising consumption amidst depleting domestic reserves. Fast-forward half a decade and the US sits atop one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, looking to break into the lucrative global energy market. As US supplies have multiplied almost overnight, US gas prices have tumbled to near-record lows. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average domestic price of natural gas hovers around $3-4 per one million BTU; overseas, the same volume of gas can run as high as 400 percent more. Thus, domestic producers, hoping to capitalize on regional price fluctuations in the global market, are looking to quickly sign long-term contracts with gas-hungry countries. With more than two-dozen liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications filed at the DOE to date, the US looks set to rebrand itself as an energy juggernaut on the global stage. If the Energy Department allows the domestic industry to reach its full potential, America could have the ability to curtail the international weight of Iran and Russia as both nations rely heavily on funds from natural gas exports and the threat of cutting them off to conduct their foreign policy. With respect to Iran, American exports would pose an economic danger to the Ayatollah’s regime and provide substantial “buy-in” for continued international pressure on the “rogue” nation. This combined threat would likely increase the efficacy of sanctions against

Tehran; consequently reducing the likelihood of Iranian nuclearization as the regime would have less in its coffers to spend on defense. First, exports would provide Ankara, which receives 20 percent of its natural gas from Tehran, with a means of weaning itself off Iranian gas. With 90 percent of Iran’s shale headed to Turkey, cutting off Turkish demand would prove disastrous for the Iranian economy in the shortterm. In addition, according to Sanjay Puri, CEO of the Alliance for US-India Business, India has been forced into talks with Iran and Pakistan over a shale pipeline to meet its growing energy needs. However, if the US were to boost its shale exports to the sub-continent, it would most likely jettison these talks, thus mitigating Iran’s long-term prospects for growth. Second, it is much more likely the international community would be willing to continue with intense economic sanctions if powerful nations do not need to rely on Iran to meet their energy needs. For example, India would be more willing to participate in putting pressure on Tehran, though it has been reluctant to do so in the past, if a US-India LNG pact were struck. On the other hand, if the US were to delay its LNG exports for at least another decade, Iran could potentially use its gas resources to “drive a wedge” in the powers aligned against it. If Iran used its shale reserves to finance the completion of its nuclear weapons program, it could spark a dangerous round of proliferation throughout the Middle East and exacerbate the sectarian tensions in the region. A

nuclear Middle East combined with the asymmetric threat posed by proxy organizations, such as Hezbollah, would provide a recipe for disaster that could trigger outside intervention. One nation likely to intervene in such a conflict is Russia, which still holds sway throughout the Middle East, as well as in Eastern Europe. According to the Baker Institute for Public Policy, European dependence on Russian LNG has left the continent at the mercy of Moscow’s influence. As it stands, Europe imports 34 percent of its natural gas from Russia. In January 2009, gas supplies to all of Southeastern Europe were cut off as a result of a price dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine. In recent years, European leaders have found it difficult to object to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and to throw their support behind Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western Ukrainian President, for fear of Moscow’s disapproval. If European dependence on Russian gas, offset by American shale, began to wane, it would have considerable geopolitical ramifications. First, Russia would lose most of its leverage over continental European powers, which could subsequently assist the Balkans and Eastern Europe in resisting Moscow’s clout. Second, an “energy-independent” Europe would be much more willing to support the US in its global peacekeeping initiatives, without Russia’s blessing. Such activities include the enforcement of the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in countries like Libya and Syria as well as the assistance of American counter-terrorism operations. Finally, stronger economic ties between the US and Europe would help repair overall EUUS relations, which have been damaged in the wake of the summer’s intelligence revelations. Though much has been made of the current transition from a unipolar to multipolar global order, natural gas exports may prove the catalyst that propels the US ahead in the international rat race. Specifically, LNG would provide America with a valuable “energy weapon” that could be used to mitigate the influence of its “enemies” and deepen its engagement with its allies. ■ References documented online at

A natural gas processing facility in the US and a oil refinery in the United Arab Emirates, can you tell which is which? Eduardo Contreras/UT San Diego and Safin Hamed/ Getty Images

17 | Berkeley Political Review


A change in Obamacare dosage BY LINDSEY LOHMAN


ore than three years ago, Obamacare took its first victory when the Senate and the House both passed the Affordable Care Act. Yet despite the initial optimism for proponents of the bill, the hard-won achievements of Obamacare in its first round with Congress are only the start of a steep uphill battle in Washington. Today, even after the Supreme Court has ruled it legal, Obama’s treasured public health care plan has found its future resting in the hands of the rather antagonistic Republican Party. Given a Republican controlled House in a deeply polarized political environment, Obama lacks the leverage to get the program its necessary supplies and funding. Thus, Obamacare’s greatest chance of success is contingent on a gradual state by state implementation rather than a national policy. From the start, Obama’s health care reform met a significant amount of opposition; Democrats barely pushed it through both houses in 2010. And although the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act legal this summer (within certain limitations that disallow the government from withholding funding from states that do not participate), the Republican Party stands resolutely against appropriating any funds at all to Obamacare. That’s not to say that Obamacare’s passage and the Supreme Court ruling do nothing for the bill; despite the government shutdown that erupted from Republican aversion to Obamacare, the transition to public health care has already begun. Health care is available to millions more than ever before in American history. Nonetheless, the fact that many far-right Republicans control a good number of state governments presents an enormous problem to Obamacare. Especially in the South, where a large percentage of the nation’s poor lives, Obamacare is deeply restricted–-to the point where approximately eight million impoverished Americans are ineligible for help, according to a data analysis study performed by the New York Times, because they do not have high enough incomes to receive federal subsidies on the new health exchanges, and are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Nationally, the Democratic Party too has begun to lose faith in President Obama, especially after his views on Syria and the NSA spying scandal became public earlier this year. In the end, not every Democrat will look to support the president, and nearly every Republican will vow to vote against any policy he proposes. With a

dearth of Democratic support and such strong Republican opposition, it will be nearly impossible for Obama to garner enough votes to extend Obamacare funding to cover those who are not currently eligible. In summary, Obamacare faces outstanding obstacles on the national level. But the program is not out of options: the Affordable Care Act has a far greater chance of success if it focuses instead on individual states. A state by state implementation plan can work in favor of Obamacare the same way that Republicans’ use of “states’ rights” have worked against it. Just as some conservative states have already implemented laws that restrict Obamacare within their own boundaries, Obamacare itself can work state by state, a plan that requires less funding nationally. Unlike national implementation, funding for health care state by state can be supplemented with state taxes. It still requires a small compromise within the House of Representatives for a significantly smaller appropriation of funding than current demands. Starting with small, more liberal Eastern states like Delaware, Rhode Island, and Vermont, then moving to larger states like Oregon and Washington can prove to skeptics that nationalized health care can indeed work in the United States outside of Massachusetts. People are very often motivated by what they don’t have; if these small liberal states can prove that health care as Obamacare intended works, at least in small areas at a time, more people will be open to accept and even want the same policies they were indifferent or opposed to before. And those who already wanted the reform and cannot

receive it due to state laws will push harder for the same coverage as others in different states. Hearing about one’s grandparent, or an uncle, or that friend of a friend who was better able to afford an expensive heart medicine prescription or a much-needed surgery makes all the difference. The implementation state by state gives voters a local, more personal connection to the benefits of public health care, something that hearing about it in other countries cannot provide. Looking back through American history, we can see similar state approaches in the 1980s to pass national drinking age laws, and earlier in the 1930s for minimum wage. In both cases, popularity for the national implementation of state laws grew as voters saw first-hand how successful they were in neighboring states. Minimum wage especially was debated fiercely on the national scale, yet once a few states proved that the policy was effective, it became something that everyone wanted. Thus, a new national policy was born. The same can be done for our modern Obamacare, and it may be Obamacare’s only shot at survival left. With stark partisan lines dividing the House, any of Obama’s policies, let alone one as large as this, has little chance of making it out alive. A unilateral approach will almost certainly fail, but implementation state by state gives public health care much-needed support, especially from voters who previously knew little about how it would work. Obamacare can easily be very effective, and very successful, but prescribing it to the entire country at once in this political climate would indeed be fatal. ■

Berkeley Political Review | 18


Is sovereignty a moral standard? BY ANKIT AGGARWAL









ational sovereignty has long been a mainstay of international relations. Historically, it has espoused a live-andlet live mentality between nation-states that did not wish to be embroiled in constant warfare, allowing states to direct their energies inward toward peacetime political and social development. Importantly, it has also revealed a measure of begrudging respect for adversary states. For example, as European countries during the 19th century famously had no qualms colonizing areas they perceived to be weak or inferior, like Asia and Africa, they went to great lengths to attempt a “balance of power” within Europe itself. No moral person would argue today that colonialism was a good thing, and there is constant criticism of neoconservatives who demonstrate a colonialist mindset in their desire to “project American power overseas.” Nevertheless, we do have to question whether sovereignty as a concept is sacrosanct. Sovereignty’s hold over the world’s consciousness can and should often be broken to serve a greater good. According to the US’s own Declaration of Independence, a government’s legitimacy is derived from “the consent of the governed.” That principle itself has been re-affirmed, at least in lip service, within various nationalist movements

19 | Berkeley Political Review


around the world. These nations, however, are often far too comfortable using sovereignty as an excuse to depart from the international norm of providing “negative rights” for their people— that is, default rights like freedom of speech and religion—and impose tyranny upon their populace. When a government becomes despotic and employs force instead of citizen approval to enforce its reign, shouldn’t other international players then make an example of the oppressive government to prevent other instances? Even more pertinently, should leaders who have popular support, like Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic, be permitted by the international community to target and persecute minorities? Clearly, these are not questions with straightforward answers, and in the aforementioned cases we do have the benefit of hindsight. These questions also stem from the same moral sphere as an emerging body of thought, known as the “responsibility to protect,” that dictates that nation-states be viewed as institutions whose ultimate responsibilities are in securing the negative rights of those within their borders, and considers intervention an open option for states that fail to fulfill those criteria. This has not been true for most of history. The British and French only declared war on Nazi Germany once it infringed upon Poland’s territory. Joseph

Stalin did not at all care for the welfare of his people, but he viewed the Germans’ invasion of the Soviet Union—not its treatment of the Poles or Slavic subject peoples—as the red line that drove him to mobilize against the Nazis. We should be mindful that sovereignty often represents not self-determination, but a literal ownership of land and the people within state borders. If citizens do not perceive sufficient benefit in that relationship, then the claim to sovereignty is illegitimate. Sovereignty’s utility lies only in its ability to maintain peace between nation-states, which is a good thing only because it does not bring about the loss of life a war would entail. Sovereignty is hardly applicable as a moral standard by itself. However, it is nearly impossible to enforce the legitimacy of sovereignty claims internationally unless we appoint a moral arbiter and determine the bright line for enforcing breaches of international law, neither of which are easy nor popular actions to take. There seems to be utilitarian motivation for keeping the notion of sovereignty around, as it seems to ensure some degree of peace among states, if not within states themselves. However, we should not view sovereignty as the intrinsic right of a given government or territory to rule its people; domestic rebellions should not be the only legitimate means by which an oppressive government may be replaced. If anything, regarding only homegrown rebellions as legitimate creates a perverse incentive for a tyrannical state to be even more oppressive; if it perceives that international sentiment is unreservedly opposed to sovereign encroachment, then the only threat to a regime is from within a country’s borders. Under such circumstances, an oppressive regime will be encouraged to crack down harder on current dissenters as well as potential ones. If violating the sovereignty of a state is a lesser evil for the international community, then that should be considered a possible and legitimate option (note that I do not advocate any specific interventions prior to a calculation of the costs, both human and economic, that would be incurred for all parties involved, and also considerations of whether the people being “helped” are ready for self-government that will uphold human rights). In principle, according to Yale philosophy professor Thomas Pogge in his paper Cosmopolitan and Sovereignty, “the ultimate units of concern are human beings. . . [nations or states] may be units on concern only indirectly, in virtue of their individual members or citizens.” Any decision made by external nation-states to intervene militarily (or through sanctions) in another should obviously be motivated by a genuine desire to help the subjected peoples—not as a pretext to consolidate one’s own power, as has so often been the unfortunate case in colonial history and military adventurism. Violating sovereignty, even if it is illegitimate, thus carries historical baggage that is taken advantage of by pernicious forces. Accordingly, when making weighty decisions on whether to intervene, sovereignty should not be taken into account unless its absence directly undermines the well-being of the people. ■


Americans on Syria: Apathetic or afraid? BY ERIN DELANEY



mericans are known for being anything but apathetic. Sometimes accused of arrogance,--or more politely, confidence-the stereotypes range from impulsive cowboy to decisive businessman. So why do the American people suddenly find themselves feeling unsure about intervention in the Syrian civil war? It’s not the fear of making a decision with too little information--that’s never stopped us before. This time, it’s the fear of rushing back into the Middle East after our last quick jaunt turned into a neverending marathon of dictator-displacing and nation building. This is a valid concern, but is the potential US intervention in Syria actually similar to the US invasion of Iraq? No, not in several key ways. The Obama administration sought a slow, bipartisan, and international path before ultimately converting Secretary of State Kerry’s offhand comment about a diplomatic option into an actual policy. While this diplomatic course to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons is endorsed by both the US and Russia, until Syria’s President Assad agrees, it may only be a stopgap before we need to thoroughly consider intervention once again. While US intervention in the Middle East has been an uncomfortably constant theme in our history, we can parse out the differences between the situation that led us into Iraq and our current situation regarding Syria. Going back about a decade to the era of Bush Jr., we can remember how September 11th scared everyone in America into jumping on the “patriotic” bandwagon of an ill-defined and ill-conceived “war on terror”. After pursuing Bin Laden into his home base of Afghanistan we also somehow ended up in Iraq.

The connection? A false claim that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” (did a Bush-era shiver just creep down your spine too?) and that these WMDs might, at some point, be used against the United States. This prompted us to topple an entire government and cripple the country for at least a few decades, further eroding its historical trajectory. In other words, we entered into a military conflict in which we had no stated immediate interest or concern based off of faulty intelligence with the anticipation that we would be greeted as liberators and be in and out in a jiffy. You don’t need me to remind you how wrong we were and how long we have been there as a result. So how is the Syria situation different? First, the US is not drawing some tenuous, unverifiable connection to Syria. The connection between the US and the civil war in Syria is that the US, and the 171 other countries which have signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have banned the use of biological and chemical weapons after WWI. The UN has confirmed the use of sarin gas in Syria, meaning that whoever used it - more than likely President Assad - knowingly committed crimes against humanity as defined by the Geneva Conventions. Obama promised that this would be the “red line” where the US would interfere, not because we have some secret reason for wanting to be in Syria, but because letting human rights abuses go unfettered degrades the international community’s agreement not to slaughter anyone, both within and outside country borders, with those weapons. Intriguingly, rather than use his constitutionally vague war powers to engage in military ac-

tion without anyone’s consent like past presidents have, Obama decided to ask for Congress’ support before acting. Given how incredibly ineffective Congress is at, well everything, this was a surprising and unnecessary step to take, but one that sought to unify the country before involving the US in foreign affairs. Congress’ hesitancy to approve a short, largely unmanned attack in Syria, signals a drastic turn away from the Bush era, when effective fear-mongering led to the passage of a joint resolution enabling the president to use sweeping war powers. The Bush administration sites this as its justification for entering Afghanistan, wire-tapping US citizens without warrants, and adding the infamous detention center to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. But lax and speedy decision-making in 2001 is no excuse for inaction now. Obama’s request to Congress has since been withdrawn pending the outcome of the diplomatic path. But this issue has raised the specter of the most recent of our past foibles in the Middle East and should instead cause Americans to reevaluate their gut instincts on the issue and look at the stakes in Syria Right now. There is a civil war between a government actively oppressing its people, and rebels who have become so violent that no one in the armed conflict maintains a moral high ground. In a bloody, two-years old conflict, we now see civilians–-men, women, and children –-dying painfully and en masse due to sarin gas. Rather than worrying about rushing into the mistakes of the past, we as a nation need to decide if we get involved when human rights are at stake, or only when we are scared and acting in a desperate attempt to ward off a nebulous threat. ■ Berkeley Political Review | 20


War porn




he video begins with the camera pointed in the air. A panicked voice screams, “I’M BLEEDING” amid the sharp staccatos of gunfire and explosions. The footage is from a helmet camera of a Marine fighting in Afghanistan. One of the men has been wounded, and his comrades attempt to help him while insurgent bullets crack perilously close to their heads. They scream at each other. They swear. They shoot back. They laugh. The wounded man survives, and nobody else is hurt. Today, increasingly cheap cameras and the internet provide a wealth of easily accessible raw video documentation of modern conflicts. Fighters in Syria post videos of their car-bombings to the soundtrack of Islamic chants. Police in Brazil record themselves riddling a drug kingpin’s car with hundreds of machine gun bullets. Helicopter pilots share gun camera footage of people literally being blown apart with explosive anti-tank rounds. There are people killed violently and suddenly. There are people who should be dead: people who are set on fire or shot to ribbons or cut in half, but, against all odds, are still alive and screaming in pain. The footage is horrifying but at the same time gruesomely riveting. To some people, it is simply raw combat footage. To others, it is War Porn. War Porn is graphic and painful and horrible, but it is valuable. War Porn has the capacity to inform the American public of the reality of human conflict. Currently, Americans’ perception of violence is informed almost entirely through Call of Duty and Rambo. The military is a far off, isolated part of society that most citizens don’t see, and the wars that America wages are far from home. People pay their taxes when they’re due but don’t see the toll in broken bodies and broken minds that their money enables. Americans are almost completely disconnected from the effects of their government’s foreign policy. War Porn solves this problem because it is truthful in a way that no other form of media can be. Raw combat footage is the closest that most people can get to the reality of what is happening on the ground in a conflict zone. This footage is outside of the influence of generals, public-relations officers, and the mainstream media because it is published by the same people who record it. The increasing availability of raw combat footage can show Americans the reality of warzones across the globe and help them make more educated decisions regarding American foreign policy. And War Porn is persuasive. It has the emotional effect of punching 21 | Berkeley Political Review

viewers in the gut. When people get shot in video games, they fall down and their bodies fade away. They don’t roll around screaming in pain and pleading for their lives. Their comrades don’t cry because they just lost their best buddy. They don’t respawn when they die. Shoot up a suspicious van and find that instead of there being a bunch of gangsters or soldiers or suicide bombers inside, there’s a dead family who had been traveling ten miles an hour above the speed limit. No other medium has nearly the same way of conveying the visceral mix of terror, excitement, and horror that is an inextricable part of human conflict, and that is why War Porn is so emotionally compelling. The Syrian conflict has been an important example of how War Porn can shape policy. Americans were first informed of the uprising in Syria from raw footage of the Syrian army units shooting at protesters. War Porn documented the fight between the burgeoning Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Arab Army from Aleppo to Damascus, documenting atrocities committed by both sides: government air attacks on civilians in rebel-held areas and rebel suicide bombings of crowded civilian areas in government-held areas alike. It was amateur cell-phone footage that showed the use of chemical weapons in Syria, graphically illustrated by heartwrenching images of civilians spasming in agony after exposure to sarin gas. This footage captured the attention of the world and almost triggered US military intervention in Syria. At the same time, combat footage produced by Syria’s opposition groups began to become more and more disturbing, showcasing their poor military preparedness, increasingly radical religious rhetoric, and significant human right violations, including a video of a rebel commander eating the lung of a fallen government soldier. These videos helped convince American citizens and policymakers that a costly intervention to help such a morally questionable ally would have been unwise, leading to a political rather than military resolution on chemical weapons. War Porn, then, is not only a tool to educate the American public on the realities of war, but also a means of indirectly changing American foreign policy. As cameras become cheaper and internet connectivity spreads to more of the third world, expect the wars of the future to be live-streamed. So open a new tab. Pull up a comfortable chair, go to YouTube or Liveleak, and start watching. There’s enough combat footage to keep you busy for years, because in spite of all the horrors of war being laid bare, there always seems to be something worth fighting for. ■

You consider Comic Sans a crime against humanity. Bad kerning makes you twitch. You have dreams about Adobe InDesign.


Join Berkeley Political Review’s Art & Design team today.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.