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International student enrollments at Swat rise while national numbers fall

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An Open Doors Report Survey done by the Institute of International Education showed that the number of new international students enrolled at higher education institutions in the U.S. decreased for the first time in six years by 3.3 percent, in part due to the new policies by the Trump administration. While there has been a trend of international student applications and enrollments stagnating and declining recently, the college’s numbers have done the opposite, according to Jim Bock ’90, vice president and dean of admissions.

“At Swarthmore, we have experienced a 39 percent increase in international applications over the last four years,” Bock wrote in an email.  “We have increased admissions slightly each year, and we have seen the number of matriculated international students increase about 8 percent over the same time.”

According to Bock, the increase in international applications at the college in contrast with national trends has been a result of the admissions office’s efforts to reach a wider platform and make applying to Swarthmore more accessible.

“We have done a better job of reaching a broader population with our print, email, and social media campaigns, and we have provided fee waivers to deserving students,” Bock said. “More broadly, there is a leveling off of the number of high school graduates on a national level, but those applying to selective schools are taking advantage of technology and submitting more applications to more schools.”

While the national statistics report a decline in international enrollments that are not reflected in the college’s enrollment numbers, the results of the survey highlight concerns of international students that apply to students at Swarthmore. Jennifer Marks-Gold, Director of International Student Services, discussed what her office does in order to support incoming and current international students who face the challenges that the survey reports.

According to Marks-Gold, the challenges discouraging people from applying to Swarthmore have generally not had a significant effect on international students at the college at this point because of the support provided. For instance, everyone who applied for visas in the class of 2021 was able to get them.

“I don’t think it has affected Swarthmore [applications] at this point,” she said.

The international students in the class of 2021 were in a unique position of deciding to go to a higher education institution in the U.S. as the new administration was putting in place its immigration policy.

Nana Quakyi ’21 is an international student who was in the process of deciding to go to a university in the U.S. when the current administration was coming into power.

“I was looking at how the administration’s immigration policy would affect how easy it was for me to move between Ghana and the States, and how policies would extend beyond immigration and affect academic or financial support for international students,” Quakyi said. “The new administration and its own set of policies did raise a few concerns for me.”

According to Quakyi, the new administration and its rhetoric on immigration raised concerns but did not do much in terms of swaying his decision to study in the U.S.. He also feels that  the Office of International Student Services is both helpful and reassuring.

“Jennifer Marks-Gold and her office, through a lot of what has been going on, have provided a lot of support and options for students who have been affected by what’s been happening nationally policy-wise,” he said. “Having her around definitely gives most international students a greater sense of security since she’s ready and willing to help out.”

In the Open Doors survey, university officials reported that the social and political climate in the U.S. especially in regards to immigration policy, the cost of education, visa denial/delays, and changes to scholarship programs in other countries have contributed to the decline in new international student enrollments. According to Marks-Gold, the changes in the vetting process and overall attitude towards immigration policy by the current administration have increased stress for international students in terms of obtaining visas.

“I think being a visitor adds an extra burden and stress on a student studying in a different country,” said Marks-Gold. “There is more of a worry now with thinking about the future and getting F1 or H-1B visas.”

Francisco Veron Ferreira ’19, an international student from Paraguay, chose to go to school in the U.S. after considering the U.K. He commented on the policy changes and new vetting process, which he feels will make it more difficult for students to stay and work in the U.S.

“It’s going to be harder for students who maybe want to pursue an H-1B visa or want to apply for grad school,” he said. “I would like to stay in the U.S. after graduating.”

While vetting and policy are causing students to worry about working in the U.S. after graduation, there is also concern that student visas will be negatively be affected. With the more recent changes in the vetting process, Marks-Gold is prioritizing enforcing deadlines for students to submit forms so that she can have enough time to work around any potential problems or delays with getting a student proper documentation.

“I guess the changes made by the U.S. administration have been scaring me a little bit,” she said. “I would like to get forms from students as early as possible just in case they get held up in administrative processing.”

On Marks-Gold’s invitation, immigration lawyer David Nachman spoke to a group of international students on Tuesday. Nachman discussed the pathways to stay and work in the U.S. available to international students and how the Trump administration has attempted to alter those pathways.

“What I tell you tonight, you’ll know more than the president does about immigration law,” Nachman said in his presentation.

In an interview with the Phoenix after his presentation, Nachman spoke more about how immigration policy and travel bans have affected students and international student officers at educational institutions.

“Well, I think that a lot of students fear that the international student officers may grant them I-20s and then find out that they are not necessarily going to be granted visas,” he said. “We’ve received an increase in the number of calls from international student officers who are gravely concerned that they may grant these I-20s that have gone to administrative processing and they’re just being held there.”

According to Nachman, the policy and rhetoric by the Trump administration concerning immigration is pushing away potential international students, who are instead going to places like Australia, Japan, and Canada.

“Immigration in the U.S. is too tight; why fight an uphill battle when you can go to other countries?” he said. “The U.S. is losing globally if we send people to other countries. Maybe we don’t feel it now, but in six years from now we’re definitely going to feel it.”

Nachman’s remark that the loss of international students in the U.S. is harmful to the country as a whole is also applicable to higher education institutions.

Marks-Gold remarked how important international students are to universities. She commented that the diversity within the international student population at Swarthmore prevented the number of international students from changing significantly.

“There are universities that take most of their international students from China, for instance. Swarthmore doesn’t do that, and I think that our diversity of international students is not only good for the students here, but also helped with keeping our numbers of international students stable,” she said.

While the college’s number of new international student enrollments don’t reflect the national trend to date, the current administration’s immigration policy still affects the international student population at the college. However, while policy changes persist, the college has systems set in place to allow for international students to continue their education in the U.S.

On the Pertinence of Public Service Under Trump

in Letter to the Editor by

[Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Wake Forest Newspaper, “Old Gold and Black” on January 19th.]

Last month, the “Washington Post” reported that the staffs of 12 of the 15 Cabinet departments shrank during the first year of the Trump administration. This net loss of 16,000 federal government workers during the first nine months of 2017 was largely driven by voluntary departures, perhaps because career government workers feel that the current administration’s priorities are out of sync with their public service ethos. Most public servants chose government work because they believe in the ability of government to create a more equitable nation, provide a safety net for people facing tough times, and generally make people’s lives better. As deep spending cuts to the bureaucracy are one of the signature priorities of his administration, the current president not only eschews this belief in the power of good governance but is also actively working against the government’s ability to function. For example, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, does not believe that the organization he was asked to lead should exist. Many positions that require Senate confirmation remain unfilled, causing Cabinet departments to lack the sense of mission and direction that top leadership provides.

 

Given the current administration’s disregard for public service, it is understandable that public servants want to leave the government for the private sector, where their education and experience would be valued. They might also feel that they can’t stomach working for a president who disdains experience and expertise and whose policies aim to make the country more unsafe and less equitable for a majority of its citizens. But now more than ever, it is essential that public servants resist joining the mass exodus from government employment. Career public servants are our last hope to retain some normalcy in the government as a check on the destructive policy aims of the Trump administration. To maintain people’s faith and trust in government, public servants should not actively sabotage Trump administration policies, however vehemently they disagree with them. Rather, public servants can insist that proper procedures and the law are followed. They can be an oasis of intellectual rigor and clear, rational thinking amidst the chaos and incompetence emanating from the West Wing. Even if public servants are powerless to change the outcome of Trump administration policies, the country will be better off for the thoughtfulness and good intentions they apply to policy making. In continuing to work in the federal government, public servants in no way implicitly endorse Trump administration policies. Instead, simply by bringing rationality and fact-based thinking into the executive branch, they are members of the Trump resistance.

 

Of course, the argument for public servants to keep working in the federal government has limits, and public servants have the right to decide what circumstances would constitute what they feel is a moral imperative to leave their jobs. But before they abandon the government for the private sector, public servants should consider that someone who is less experienced and less reasonable would likely take their place if they resigned. The Trump administration is already placing the ability of the government to function normally under assault, and it would be even worse if every thinking person refused to work in the government. Unless they have prominent positions, public servants probably do more good by staying in their jobs and trying their best to minimize the damage of the Trump agenda rather than resigning in protest. Public servants are justified in thinking that working for an organization that implements policies they profoundly disagree with is more than they signed up for. However, they are doing the nation a great service in trying to maintain some normalcy in government over the next three years.

 

Thailand, Trump, and Authoritarianism

in Columns/Opinions by

Last week, I overheard a conversation about Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns. Two people were arguing if President Trump would ever release them. The argument proceeded as follows: because American politics nowadays are too polarized and divisive, President Trump’s tax return would not affect public perception. For Trump supporters, if Trump’s antics, behavior, and lack of political experience could not dissuade them, his tax return probably will not. In contrast, for people who oppose him, they will never vote for him even if Trump releases his tax returns, period.

 

The question is, why should we spare any thought to President Trump’s tax returns? Does the information about how Trump profits from his billionaire empire offer us any meaningful insight? Yes, it does. Be it his lucrative real estate properties in the United States, his golf courses in Scotland, or his Trump Grill in Trump Tower, the public deserves to know this information. Indeed, it is difficult to understand the importance of tax returns because no other president besides President Trump has ever refused to release theirs. Because the current situation in Thailand resembles that of the United States in several ways which I will explore later, this article will draw parallels between both countries to argue why citizens suffer if government authorities do not declare their assets.

To understand how the situation in Thailand resembles that of the U.S., it is crucial that one understands Thai politics first. Thailand is a Southeast Asian country fraught with corruption and political instability. The country experienced three military overthrows and 16 presidents in the past three decades. How does the military justify these coups? Eliminating corruption. Today, Thailand is governed by a military regime that seized power from the previous government in 2014 and has vowed to eradicate corruption from the country. The regime was led by General Prayut Chan-Ocha, who, like Trump, has minimal experience in politics. However, according to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index report by Transparency National, Thailand is ranked 77th out of 176 countries for corruption, climbing from 100th in 2015. This figure tells us that 100 countries enjoy more transparency than Thailand does. Also, we deduce two possibilities from this figure: corruption was either exacerbated so much within one year that the regime cannot tackle the issue, or the regime itself is corrupted.  

 

Now, we will draw the aforementioned parallel: both Thailand’s prime minister and Donald Trump ascended to power by denouncing the status quo. For Thailand, corruption is the culprit. For the United States, the dysfunctional economy is to be blamed. Moreover, recognize that Donald Trump has repeatedly derogated politicians with such words as “lyin” or “crooked,” promised to “drain the swamp,” and vowed to “make America great again.” During the campaign, he invoked his status as an outsider to appeal to his voters.

 

The second parallel is that leaders of both countries have actively discredited media, non-government organization, and independent agencies whenever these groups keep them in check. To elaborate, several months ago, a Facebook page called “CSI LA” published evidence that General Prawit Wongsuwan, the second-in-command of Thailand’s current military regime, had worn at least 25 extremely expensive watches, costing over $1 million in total. He owns so many expensive watches that the Daily Mail bestowed him the title “Rolex General.”

 

The problem is, Mr. Wongsuwan declared none of these assets before accepting his position. To fend off criticism, he invented several unreasonable explanations, claiming that his relatives and his friends let him borrow those expensive watches. Moreover, he requested that the media not publish “false” stories about his watches and claimed only the media care about this issue, implying ordinary people do not care about his wealth. Even if this excuse were true, Mr. Wongsuwan’s wealth indicates that he may have some conflict of interest with people outside of the government. Even worse, he might have abused his power to benefit himself.  It is virtually impossible for them to accrue such massive wealth within a short period of time because politicians earn $40,000 per year in Thailand. Once again, notice the similarity. Donald Trump has repeatedly undermined the credibility of news media by calling media “fake news,” “fake reports,” and so on. Whenever the media urge President Trump to release his tax returns, he shuts them down.

 

Why are these parallels problematic? Because they breed the idea that outside intervention solves every problem and thus detracts people from understanding how politics works. In reality, politicians do not run the country alone. They must cooperate with other government personnel and existing structures rather than disregard them totally in order to enact any meaningful change. The craze for one-man-fix-all solution teaches people to be passive with democracy. What should happen is that if people are discontent with how the government is functioning, they should protest and voice their opinions instead of waiting for some deus ex machina to fix their problem. Moreover, these parallels signal to us that government authorities are harming the media. In every democratic society, people’s trust in media prevents politicians from abusing their power for illegitimate purposes. Had American citizens not trusted Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, President Nixon would not have resigned and gotten away in the Watergate scandal. Therefore, because the media keep the government in check, we should protect them from false discredits by the government.

Right now the President of the United States, who supposedly serves as a beacon of democracy in the free world, is acting very similarly to an authoritarian regime in Thailand. The question we need to ask is how we should proceed. Despite the authoritarianism of the Thai government, we learn that journalism, social media, and the will to fight for transparency can inspire citizens to protest even against a military regime. The outcry against the regime and the demand that the regime return power to Thai citizens is happening at this very moment, all thanks to a few people behind a Facebook page. Also, we learn that when people notice blatant acts of corruption, many choose not to tolerate it. They demand explanations from those in power. With the stories of President Trump’s financial ties with Russia unfolding, we should demand some explanation as well.

New tax bill is harmful to many aspects of Swat life

in News by

Currently, the nation is engulfed in a political and economic debate about the new tax bill that the Senate passed at 2:00 a.m. last Saturday. Though there are still two different versions of this controversial bill in Congress, both have serious consequences that affect the college’s budget, students, employees, and alumni due to an excise tax, repeal of the college’s tax-exempt status, and a tax on graduate students’ stipends.

One of the main parts of the bill that affects the college is the excise tax on college endowments. In the House version, the tax will apply to colleges that have an endowment of $250,000 or more per student. The Senate version has raised this to $500,000 per student, and according to vice president for finance and administration Greg Brown it applies to 27 colleges, including Swarthmore.

Economics professor John Caskey made some rough calculations of the financial effect of this tax. Since excise tax is 1.4 percent of the college’s earnings from the endowment — approximately $100 million per year — the college would have to pay $1.4 million every year. This money would be cut from the college’s operating budget, which is $163.3 million for 2017-2018. Over half of the college’s budget comes from endowment income.

Brown noted that one million dollars is about 20 scholarships, assuming they are $50,000 each. Caskey estimated that this kind of cut to the budget would be equivalent to letting about five professors go, which would also mean the loss of 16 courses per year.

“This would hurt students,” Caskey said. “Obviously, your selection of courses is smaller and the class size gets larger.”

According to Caskey, this could potentially affect prospective students’ college selections of colleges, but since the college’s competitors are facing the same tax, it will likely not make a difference. While the cuts to the budget would still be significant, Caskey said it is unlikely that the college would cut academics that severely.

The second part of the bill that would affect Swat is the removal of the tax-exempt status of colleges’ bonds, which is only present in the House version. This part of the tax plan would not only apply to wealthy, elite colleges but every college and university in the country. This means that if the college borrows money at an interest rate of 3.0 percent without tax exemption, it would effectively be borrowing at a rate of 3.5 percent due to the added tax premium it would have to pay. Because borrowing would become considerably more expensive, the college’s construction projects would be affected.

“That costs a lot of money,” Brown said, referring to the higher borrowing rate. “That’s serious for us.”

Unlike the excise tax, which would take effect immediately, the consequences of the change of the tax-exempt status would take effect gradually because it only applies to new debt that the college will acquire. According to Caskey, the college’s current debt is $250 million.

“If you assume [the debt level] continues, the loss of the tax-exempt status of the college’s bonds would probably raise the cost of the college’s borrowing by about half a percentage point … Over time, gradually, that would end up costing the college about $1.25 million per year,” Caskey said.

If the House bill passes, this cost would be in addition to the $1.4 million per year paid on the excise tax on the endowment.

The bill also increases the standard deduction, which is an amount of money that reduces a person’s taxed income if they donate money to charity. Caskey explained that currently, the standard deduction is $6,350 ($12,700 for a married couple), but under the new law, it would be raised to $12,000 per person ($24,000 for a married couple). Because of the higher standard deduction, people are less likely to itemize their donations when filing taxes. This reduces the incentive for people who would otherwise donate to give gifts to the college. Caskey noted that the college “is likely to see a decline in donations.”

Though he could not say for certain what the loss of money would be, he added that it is concerning to the college.

The combined effects of these parts of the bill would significantly impact the college’s finances. Over time, 10 to 12 years from now, with the combination of the excise tax and the loss of tax-exempt status together, there would be about $2.5 million cut from the budget each year. Caskey suggested that the college might have to cut from academics, libraries, sports teams, or the Dean’s office. Questions have also been raised about cutting financial aid from students.

“The college doesn’t want to do that, and they have a need-blind policy, but there are

other ways they could do it while maintaining need-blind,” Caskey said, though he added, “I don’t think the college is going to do that sort of thing … They could but they wouldn’t.”

However, it is still undecided where the cuts would apply.

Brown said, “I haven’t made any specific recommendations on that yet … If we’re looking at several million dollars a year on a $160 million a year budget, we would have to look to slow down some of the things that we’re doing. And based on our institutional priorities, make reductions in the budget … Right now, I think we’re running fairly lean, so any cuts I think will be seen and will hurt.”

According to Brown, Swat currently gives its employees benefits that includes money for their children’s or their own college education, but under the new bill, that money would be taxed.

“That becomes taxable income for [employees] instead of a benefit. The word I would use for that is unfair, and I think it goes against the values of our institution,” Brown said.

A highly controversial portion of the tax bill is the new tax on graduate students’ stipends, which has caused walkouts at universities across the country. This tax would affect recent Swat graduates who are pursuing their Ph.D.s or any current Swat student who would like to obtain a Ph.D. in the future.

Raehoon Jeung ’17, who is getting his Ph.D. in bioinformatics and integrative genomics at Harvard Medical School, said many graduate students are concerned about this change. Currently, graduate students receive a stipend for doing work, but it is not equivalent to a job because students don’t actually see the money and don’t get any significant savings from it.

“From what I’ve heard, we would be paying around $10,000 extra tax per year if the bill passes. Then, I will no longer be self-sufficient … If the analysis that I read in articles are accurate, the impact is very severe. We would go from being barely self-sufficient to being reliant on loans or help from parents as in college,” Jeung said in an email.

Jeung also said that had he known about the tax bill before attending graduate school, it would likely have changed his mind about getting a Ph.D., and he believes that it will influence students who would have otherwise attended graduate school.

“With this new plan in effect, the opportunity cost for choosing to go to graduate school [for a Ph.D.] is too high. During the 5-6 years, we are foregoing chances to earn more money, and now we would also be accumulating debt,” he continued.

This development is concerning to the college’s administration as well.

“For our government to basically say that furthering your education and furthering our ability to create the scholars who are going to come up with the solutions for future problems is very short-sighted,” said Brown. “It will discourage smart people from going to graduate school, who should go to graduate school. And it will discourage creativity and entrepreneurship.”

The college administration views the new tax bill as a serious threat to the college’s educational mission. On Nov. 13, President Valerie Smith sent out an e-mail to students outlining the damages that the new bill would inflict upon the college.

In the letter to politicians in Washington that she added to the e-mail, President Smith wrote:

The cumulative result of these tax changes will be losses in jobs and national economic health; educational access and quality; innovation and discovery; and American global competitiveness … This will directly harm students and their families.”

For many students on campus, the larger aspects of the bill would affect their family’s finances. According to Brown, about one-third of students from the class of 2021 who receive financial aid — 56% of the class — come from families who earn $60,000 or less per year.

“Almost a third of our financial aid students come from families who are in that lowest income bracket. And yes, I think they would be harmed by this bill,” said Brown.

He also cited another part of the House version of the bill that is damaging to Swarthmore students’ ability to pay back loans.

“Student interest is no longer deductible, so if you borrow for your education, you currently get a tax deduction for paying back that loan. Under this proposal, you wouldn’t get that,” he said.

Within student political groups on campus, there is also opposition the bill, particularly on the part of the Swarthmore Democrats, which held a flash phone bank on Tuesday to contact Pennsylvania representatives in Washington.

“The tax plan is ridiculous,” Abby Diebold ’20,  “Basically the entire Democratic party is aligned with Swat Dems in this instance.”

Diebold also said that while she wouldn’t characterize the parts of the bill such as the excise tax that target wealthy, elite schools like Swat as “anti-intellectual,” the effects on higher education are a problem.

“I think that our biggest issue with [the bill] is that academic institutions are the only corporate-type organization that is not having their taxes cut … taxes on the endowment and higher institutions are going up, and that doesn’t make any sense,” Diebold said.

Jorge Tello ’19, the new president of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, said that though there has not been a formal meeting to discuss the club’s position on the bill, opinion among the members seems to be mixed. Some, like Tello, oppose elements of the bill such as the excise tax while some support it in its entirety. Tello said that he doesn’t see enough strong arguments for the excise tax.

“Personally I’m against it as well,” he said. “I think my main concern with it is that I don’t understand what the main purpose of taxing endowments is because … I think there’s better ways to achieve [helping low income students], like possibly setting a percentage of the endowment that they have to spend on [those students]. Because that was one of the main arguments for it, that it would use more of its endowment on helping low income students.”

Caskey said that though he is personally against the excise tax, which specifically targets wealthy schools, he can’t find a strong enough argument against it.

“We’re an extremely privileged place … Is it unfair that we have to reduce our privilege?” he said.

Though it is true that the college is a privileged institution and will remain privileged compared to other colleges, there are other elements of the bill, particularly the House version, that will have a significant effect on the college’s finances as well as on current students and alumni. If the bill passes with any of these changes to the taxation of higher education, Swarthmore and its students will likely have to face financial problems, whether they are personal or in the college’s budget.

Why the president should take Introduction to Economics

in Columns/Opinions/Uncategorized by

One of President Trump’s favorite activities is bragging about how great his administration has been for the economy. While the economy is currently on an overall upswing, Trump has no business taking credit for all of the gains he and his administration claim were due solely to their takeover of the executive branch.  In addition, these gains aren’t nearly as great as he makes them out to be, and anyone who has taken Introduction to Economics would quickly realize these claims are not entirely grounded in fact.

In September, Trump tweeted that “virtually no President has accomplished what we have accomplished in the first 9 months,” describing the economy—his economy—to be “roaring.”  

Claiming that the, at the time, nine month duration of his presidency saw the highest stock market growth in history, Trump hit a wall. Market Watch claims the best nine-month period for stock market growth was actually between April and December 2009, when the S&P soared 46.7 percent.  

Additionally, according to MarketWatch, “the market was better than it is now about 46 percent of the time while Bill Clinton was president, 34 percent under Barack Obama, and 14 percent under George W. Bush.”

Over the summer, Trump announced that “we have our most jobs ever in our country” and that “we have the highest employment numbers we’ve ever had in the history of our country.” Both of these claims are meaningless due to the fact that population has more than doubled in size since 1950.

Instead of expounding statistics that can be explained away by population growth, economists would rather consider the ratio of employment to population.

As the population continues to increase, the labor force does as well. However, the labor force is actually growing more slowly than it in the recent past due to the lack of baby boomers in the workforce. According to the Washington Post, “In 2016 the labor force participation rate for Americans ages 25 to 54 hovered around 81 percent, but it peaked in 1997 at 84 percent. Economists frequently analyze this rate as an indicator of the health of the job market. The higher the number, the healthier the market.”

There are many nuances the Trump administration chooses to ignore when referencing statistics related to employment. For example, one could choose to analyze the labor force participation rate for people ages 25 to 54, which measures the number of people who are both employed and unemployed against the entire U.S. population. There is also an overall labor force participation rate. This includes all Americans ages 16 and up while also incorporating both people who might be unemployed while in school and people aging out of the labor force.

Recently, Vice President Pence has been taking his cues from Trump, regurgitating his boss’ statements, and claiming the transfer of power to their leadership to be the cause of some unprecedented economic upswing.

During a speech at the Tax Foundation on Nov. 16, Pence, as evidence for his braggart statements about the Trump administration’s supposed great economic success, claimed that “there are more Americans working today than ever before in American history.”  

The American economy has been recovering from the Great Recession since 2009, yet Trump and Pence enjoy publicizing the idea that their administration has single handedly turned it all around.  Additionally, instead of acknowledging the Federal Reserve’s role in getting the economy out of the recession, spurring the highest period of economic growth in history, Trump chooses to criticize the organization and its leader. During the campaign, Trump claimed that “the Fed [created] a ‘very false economy,’” whatever that means. However, now that this “false economy” is having some success, he is now claiming it to be his own, taking credit for the effects of Fed policies and those of the Obama administration which he relentlessly mocked and attempted to refute.

There are two possible scenarios at play here. The first is that Trump, despite his continuous boasts about being an expert in the field of business, needs to brush up on his Economics 001 and should enroll in an introductory course at a local university; DC has plenty of options. The second, and admittedly more likely, option considering our President’s impeccable and proven track record as a liar, is that he comprehends the basic economic concepts that his statements clearly violate, and is operating under the impression that the American public does not, that he believes only a very small percentage of the words coming out of his mouth, and refuses to admit otherwise.

Mueller Monday: A new national pastime?

in Opinions/Words of Wagner by

This Monday, Paul Manafort was indicted on twelved counts, including conspiracy against the United States. This, of course, is part of the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government to influence the election in favor of the Republican candidate. The indictment along with George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to lying to the FBI signal that Robert Mueller’s investigation is gaining steam, a good sign for those, including myself, who think that it is likely that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to take down former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

My own reaction to speculation from news sources that an indictment was coming on Monday morning made me feel like the question of “who is getting indicted” better fit on the title of a game show. It felt fun, despite the fact that the very sovereignty of the United States is at stake in the investigation. After making a few great jokes on Twitter, including one encouraging Special Prosecutor Mueller to release indictments on days that were more fit for popping bottles of champagne, I wonder if my reaction to the news is problematic for the democratic institutions and norms that I hold dear, especially since it can be argued that making light of Donald Trump contributed to his election. I remember laughing incredibly hard at Trump while watching one of the presidential debates in LPAC, and I shudder at how naive we all were. In laughing off then-candidate Trump, we underestimated Trump’s insidious potential. Could we be laughing away the very freedom to vote a president out of office by joking about the investigation that we hope will take him down?

Or, is laughing at Trump and company flounder in the face of the serious allegations they face a kind of retribution for the stupidity of this presidency? Or is it useful as a coping method in these troubled and uncertain times? Or is Sarah Huckabee Sanders just too roastable for us to not make fun of her blatant lies and even worse metaphors for tax reform?

To answer these questions, I want to start with the fact that there is no good metaphor for tax reform. I almost feel bad for making fun of Huckabee Sanders until I remember that she chooses to peddle the daily lies coming out of the Trump administration despite being qualified for several other jobs, like director of communications for Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated or as a press director for Satan. Laughing at the fools running our country makes it hurt less, and helps the anger not overcome my rational senses. Sending pointed tweets at the press secretary makes me feel better when I want to scream into an abyss.

The Trump circus deserves to be ridiculed, because honestly, they suck. They’re bad people with bad political views who are actively trying to make this country worse for poor people and marginalized group in order to appeal to a mythical silent majority and improve profits for CEOs and pharma bros. I realized that my initial fear regarding using humor to attack the Trump administration was too cautious, now that Trump holds the most powerful position in the world, the only way out is down. While America certainly has a lot left to lose, Trump can be taken down from the tallest tower. Laughing at him makes him angry, and an angry Trump is even easier to take down. As the investigation ramps up, the Trump family will likely keep their inner circle tighter as their world crumbles around them. In the meantime, laughing at them will be the best medicine.

Using humor in the face of the monstrosity that is the Republican president will show the Grand Old Party that the American people do not take their president seriously, which will  make it even harder for them to get their agenda through Congress. As long as moderate Republicans think that the President is to laughable to be associated with, their agenda will continue screeching to a halt in one of the world’s most revered legislative bodies. Making jokes about the president will distract him from advancing his poisonous agenda, and can bring us the joy we deserve after surviving every painful day of a Trump presidency.

I’m looking forward to the next Mueller Monday. I have several drafts of Tweets for each potential indictee, because all eight of my active Twitter followers and I deserve a good laugh.

Stephen Walt: Foreign policy-wise, Trump is much of the same

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Phi Beta Kappa lecturer and foreign policy expert Stephen Walt offered harsh criticism of the American foreign policy establishment last Thursday, Oct. 26. In his talk, titled “Where is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?” Walt argued that foreign policy under president Trump is still commandeered by the pre-existing bipartisan foreign policy establishment; the administration now pursues long-standing, already flawed policies in an erratic and incompetent manner pursued by Trump.

Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He authored three books, including The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which created a media storm. The New York Times called it “ruthlessly realistic,” while others accused it of anti-semitism.  

In his talk, Walt argued that the foreign policy establishment — or the ‘blob,’ as he refers to it — is to blame for decades of failure in global affairs. He referenced the US policy of ‘liberal hegemony,’ defining it as a foreign policy that actively tries to promote the basic principles and ideals of liberal democracy. The policy assumes the US is an indispensable nation, and that it should try to use its power to spread democracy, whether peacefully or by force.

Walt outlined changes in international power dynamics over the past thirty years. China’s power has steadily increased, the relationship between the US and Russia is at its worst since the Cold War, and the Middle East is in turmoil largely due to US efforts at regime change.

According to Walt, the election of Donald Trump, whose policies represent a repudiation of the grand strategy pursued since the Cold War, proves that the American people want change. However, the change in his foreign policy is in how Trump himself acts, not in policy.

Walt blames the establishment for the state of US foreign policy. Although Trump ran on the premise that foreign policy in the US is “a complete and total disaster,” he doesn’t follow through on the policies he supported during the election. McMaster replaced Flynn, Trump said in an interview that NATO is no longer obsolete, he ordered a cruise missile strike in Syria After Assad uses chemical weapons, and he announced 5,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. According to Walt, these are many of the same actions Hillary Clinton would have taken if she was president.

“In a competition between Donald and the establishment, the establishment is winning,” he said.

Apart from criticizing the policies in place, Walt also listed the policies the US should pursue. The US should reduce or eliminate its military role in Eastern Europe, since Russia isn’t an existential threat to either the EU or the US. Trump should take a harder line with China to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon and let Russia take the lead in Syria. The US shouldn’t have special relationships with any Middle Eastern powers, and should refrain from pursuing nation-building experiments.

Student reactions to these ideas were mixed.

“[Walt] underestimates Russia’s willingness to take risks given the threat it perceives from NATO and its declining global influence,” said Irina Bukharin ’18. “Although Professor Walt’s views most likely differed from the average Swattie’s, it was really encouraging to see so many people come out to hear his views.”

Frank Kenny ’20 was also unsure about one of Walt’s stances.

“I was surprised to hear him argue for a more interventionist approach when it comes to foreign policy dealing with China,” Kenny said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney offered a different analysis of post-Cold War US policy. He questioned Walt’s harsh criticism of the establishment, considering the failure of Trump’s anti-establishment agenda. The Trump administration and all its missteps don’t seem to endear Walt to the establishment, like they do with many Americans.

“Instead, [Walt] seems to be sticking to his guns,” said Tierney. “While I think a lot of people look at the Trump administration and think that the establishment is looking better every day, by comparison to some of the blunders that we’ve seen.”

The failure of US foreign policy over the past thirty years, said Tierney, doesn’t have it’s roots in the establishment, although they have blundered.

“If you look at the bigger story of American foreign policy, it’s actually been fairly successful over the centuries and even since WWII, so I’m not sure that the American establishment is the fundamental problem here … that suspicion has been reinforced by the trump administration because it is explicitly anti-establishment and has made very serious mistakes,” he said.

According to Tierney, the deeper reason for these foreign policy gaffes is that America has no one to challenge its power like it did during the Cold War.

“Countries the with kind of power that the US has had since the end of the Cold War in history have rarely acted in restrained and measured ways,” he said.

Despite having controversial views, Walt filled the room with students engaged in

meaningful deliberation, and encouraged reexamining widely-accepted points of view.

College Title IX Policy to Remain in Effect

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In an email sent on Sept. 22, President Valerie Smith assured students, faculty and staff that college IX policy would remain in effect despite the rescission of Obama-era guidelines for college investigations of sexual misconduct, which was announced earlier that day by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

New interim guidelines will let colleges and universities set the standard of evidence in student sexual assault investigations, according to U.S. News. Smith emphasized that while the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter and 2014 Q&A will be nullified — policies that require colleges to use the lowest standard of proof when adjudicating sexual assault cases — Title IX itself will remain in full effect. She affirmed that Swarthmore policies will continue to demonstrate the principles of the college and will not be altered to match the shift in national policy.

“Swarthmore College remains wholly committed to upholding equality and freedom from all forms of discrimination and harassment. Our college policies … are based on our own values and reflective of law, guidance, and best practice,” Smith wrote.

Violence Prevention Educator and Survivor Advocate Nina Harris echoed Smith’s statement, asserting that Swarthmore would not change its standard of evidence required to find an accused student guilty of sexual assault and that the college makes policy decisions according to its own values.

“What you may see change is the level of commitment and investment at some institutions [that] were only acting under government pressure. This has never been the impetus nor basis for our work here at Swarthmore,” said Harris.

According to Title IX coordinator Kaaren Williamsen, the Title IX office reviews its policies routinely every summer. The Sexual Harassment/Assault Resources and Education (SHARE) website, on which the Sexual Assault and Harassment Policy is outlined, states that over 30 adjustments have been made since 2013.

“Swarthmore is committed to providing a fair investigation and adjudication process and our annual reviews provide an opportunity to assure that we are staying current with any new laws, Department of Education guidance, best practice, and community feedback,” Williamsen said.

One 2013 adjustment Williamsen highlighted was a shift in the college’s model for adjudicating student-student sexual assault cases to one that is overseen by an external adjudicator. According to the SHARE site, one adjudicator is a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice who has experience in cases involving sexual violence.

“The external adjudicators are well trained and experienced, and the college felt that the use of an external adjudicator … provided more privacy for the parties since the case would not be heard by a panel ​comprised ​of campus community members,” Williamsen said.

Janice Luo ’19 suggested that the Title IX office respond to the changes to national guidance by being more transparent and visible.

“I think that a lot of students aren’t actually informed on how Title IX works or how it is utilized at colleges … maybe the first step of the office is to clarify to the students what their role has been and what their values are,” she said.

Luo, who is a member of the recently appointed Ad Hoc Committee on Wellbeing, Belonging, and Social Life, described the committee as one of several spaces on campus that seeks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students despite potential threats incurred by changes to national policies.

“I think it’s fitting … that we’re creating this extra measure for students and faculty to make our space safe, sort of like a countermeasure to the Trump administration and things like Title IX [changes],” Luo said.

Interim Title IX Fellow Raven Bennett works closely with Harris to organize workshops, events, and training sessions on topics such as bystander intervention and supporting survivors. She said that the Title IX staff will continue to plan and host these events in spite of changes to national policy.

“We are always organizing these events with the aim to prevent sexual violence or support survivors. Regardless of any changes in Title IX, we will continue to provide programming with that aim,” Bennett said.

She urged members of the community to attend a new training series centered on sexual health and violence prevention topics called Training Tuesdays.

“I highly recommend that community members attend these trainings because it is on all of us to strive to make this community a safer, more inclusive place,” Bennett said.

In her email, Smith summarized the college’s commitment to violence prevention, safety, and inclusion.

“The college recognizes that all who live, work, and learn on our campus are responsible for ensuring that the community is free from discrimination based on sex or gender, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct. These behaviors threaten our learning, living, and work environments; we are actively working towards fostering a violence-free community,” she wrote.

The Title IX office will inform community members of any additional changes to national Title IX guidance or policy.

While the future of Title IX on college campuses is uncertain, Swarthmore says it will continue to enact policies that reflect principles such as equality and fairness.

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