Tag Archive: Politics

  1. What’s the (Political) Weather with Bill Ayers

    Leave a Comment

    Bill Ayers was once known for setting off bombs during his time with the revolutionary communist group, the Weather Underground, in protest against the U.S. government. Since then he’s become an established academic in the field of education theory. The divisive public figure visited campus on Monday to debate market-based school reform with the YPU, and sat down with WKND to talk politics and activism in America.

    Q: What are the biggest problems in the American education system?

    A: The biggest problem we’re facing in education mirrors the problems we’re facing in society — inequality, unequal access and a sense of despair among masses of people that their lives can be meaningful and purposeful. What we’re facing in education is a well-funded, corporate movement that is doing nothing to alleviate problems facing children of color and children of the poor. The corporate school reform movement is doubling down on all the features that have created the failing schools in the first place — an obsession with standardized testing and an obsession with obedience and conformity, rather than initiative, creativity and imagination.

    They have a sense that control is a way to get poor kids to learn rather than experience and a breadth of opportunities. I feel like we’re in a very backwards moment in schools right now. In spite of the fact that the corporate school reformers have had the big megaphone, much money and bipartisan support for 25 years, they still don’t have buy-in from parents, communities or educators.

    Q: What do you mean by “buy-in”?

    A: Across the country there’s a growing movement of parents involved in what’s called the opt-out movement. In New York state last spring, the largest civil disobedience in the history of history of the U.S. happened when 20% of parents kept their kids home rather than allow them to take standardized tests … I think people have had it. They feel that the privileged don’t do this to their kids, so why do the rest of us have to play this high-stakes, relentless game? People are fed up with it, and they should be.

    Q: In an interview with the media outlet “Truthout” you said, “We’re living in the darkest times for teachers that I’ve ever seen in my life.” Could you expand?

    A: What I mean is that teachers have come to represent all the problems of urban education in common discourse. It’s not only untrue and deeply unfair, but it drives people away from the profession. The assumption that teachers are causing the failure in urban schools is patently false and demonstrably false. It’s absurd. Any time a politician says, “We need to get the lazy, incompetent teachers out of the classroom,” everyone nods dully. But that’s the wrong frame [of mind].

    Q: I want to make a transition to talk explicitly about politics. How would you define your political views?

    A: As an educator, I’ve spent my whole life opposing labels. I’ve resisted any notion that you can sum me up with some of my politics in an easy way. If you were to insist on labeling me, when it comes to economics, I’m a socialist. When it comes to government, I’m a bit of an anarchist. When it comes to [the] First Amendment I’m a fundamentalist. I think labels are weak and lazy, and they don’t capture the complexity of what it means to be a First Amendment fundamentalist that is also a socialist, anarchist and communist. But I am all of those things. At 18 I thought of myself as an anarchist communist, and I still am, but that doesn’t tell you where I land.

    I’ve been very active not only in education reform but also in the peace movement. I think we live in a war nation and a militaristic nation. You can see it everywhere, except that we’ve become so accustomed to it. You don’t see it because you’re in it. All the pseudo-patriotism, the marching of military people in sporting events, the ROTC in high schools — this is all a terrible, terrible development for our country. The fact that you spend a trillion dollars on the military and pretend we cannot fund schools is a catastrophe.

    Q: What is your response to allegations that you committed terrorism?

    A: It’s not true. It’s interesting how that word gets bandied about in a way that covers a multitude of charges and sins. The kid who killed people in Charleston — the FBI couldn’t figure out how to charge him as a terrorist, but his act was pure terrorism. What we [Weather Underground] did was to destroy government property, commit acts of extreme vandalism without terrorizing anyone. We were trying to raise a screaming alarm about a terrorist war. Six-thousand people a week were being killed by our government, with no end in sight. How do you interrupt that? You go to demonstrations, you write letters, you get arrested, you create civil disobedience, you build a nonviolent peace movement. We did all of that and the war went on. What we did was to raise a screaming alarm. Our rhetoric was excessive, as was the rhetoric of many people. It was no different from what the Catholic Left or the Black Panthers were doing.

    While I regret many things in my life, I regret nothing about what I did to oppose the government’s genocide in Vietnam. That was a war of terror. John McCain and John Kerry committed acts of terrorism. John Kerry even came back and told the Senate “We commit war crimes every day as an act of policy, not choice.” That was a true reading of what was going on. How do you stop your country from committing genocide? No one really knows. That whole narrative blew up because no one could figure out how to run against Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton started it all by saying we don’t know who this guy is and he has sketchy friends (myself). I like to think that his association with me got him elected.

    Q: What do you think of President Obama’s term in office? In what ways has it disappointed you?

    A: Great men don’t change history; great movements change history. Barack Obama is exactly who he said he was when he ran for president. He said, “I’m a moderate, middle-of-the-road, pragmatic politician.” I did know him back then, and his record in Illinois reflects this. The right wing looked at him through 2008 and today as a secret Muslim and secret socialist with black nationalist tendencies, and the left saw him as winking in my direction. He wasn’t, and his record shows that. Many liberals were disappointed, but I’m neither a liberal nor disappointed.

    Q: What issues do you see with the American Left?

    A: I don’t see much of a left. I see the Democratic Party as one of the two greatest war parties that ever existed in history. Even calling them parties is in many ways misdirecting; they’re collections of factions that align and realign. What they all agree is that Wall Street should be mainly unfettered because that’s where wealth and prosperity come from. And they all agree that the Pentagon should call the shots when it comes to policy around war and resources.

    Q: What about with new left social movements?

    A: When it comes to movements, like Black Lives Matter or the queer rights movement, I think the difficult challenge is to create … a large social movement that can fundamentally transform society. Learning to talk together like this is a revolutionary act. I think that the Black Lives Matter people in conversation with [the] feminist movement in conversation with the queer upsurge are very hopeful. If you look at Black Lives Matter in Chicago, or Black Youth Project 100 or We Charge Genocide, they very much are composed of all kinds of people, but they’re driven by an ideology that is queer-informed black liberation. I think that’s a very hopeful thing. The queer movement has been so exciting because they’ve shown people a different way to organize, not hierarchical but much more horizontal. And the Black Lives Matter people take that very seriously. In Black Lives Matter, leadership is much more diffuse and the organization is leaderful, not leaderless.

    Q: Could you use one word to describe Republican presidential debates?

    A: Comical or tragic. Comatragic. It’s a rabid racist statement to the bottom.

    Q: One word to describe Donald trump?

    A: Megalomaniac.

    Q: Would you like to see Bernie Sanders as a new left candidate?

    A: I think it’s great that Bernie Sanders is exciting people. William Sapphire said the other day that Bernie Sanders is no more a socialist than George Bush, and he had a point. If by socialism you mean public works and social security, the whole government is socialist in that sense, but they’re not really socialist in asking to end exploitation of capitalism or share the wealth.

    Socialism is a common view, and the fact that Bernie Sanders is speaking about wage inequality and war and peace is good. I don’t think he’s clear on questions of race and racism. I don’t think he’s bringing that to the table nor excites a base that could be important to him.

    Q: Movements advocating fossil fuel divestment have arisen on many campuses. In April, 19 students at Yale were arrested after holding a sit-in that advocated divestment. What are your thoughts on fossil fuel divestment and what would you say to the Yale administration?

    A: I’m not close enough to it to be an interventionist, but I’m very supportive from afar of these students. There’s really a clash of ideas [as to] what the university should be. In this clash, there are always forces that say it’s an institution that has to raise money and have good business practices. Then there are these students, who tend to think the main things to emphasize about the university are intellectual freedom and high moral standing. If you want to be intellectually free and have moral standing, then investment in the war industry, the fossil fuel industry and apartheid is unjust. The world knows it’s unjust.

    How can Yale be a fair player or good place for students to be if it’s entangled with the worst aspects of our country? It’s easy to side with students, because there’s an expression wanting a free and moral space of learning. Students don’t want a business that’s invested in the bottom line and don’t think [Yale] should cash in on slave labor to make a nice building. If I said to the Yale administration, “If you could make extra money by investing in modern-day slavery, would you do it?” They would say, “Absolutely not.” Where do we draw the line? What won’t they invest in? I would like the university to be more moral, more honest, and more forthright, as well as a freer space for inquiry without being bothered by mobile oil or the rest of it.

    Q: What is your advice to students interested in grassroots activism?

    A: I’m at the point in my life where I want to follow them rather than advise them. I don’t feel like I’m a wise elder. I’m so perfectly happy to go to Black Lives Matter protests and sit in the back and follow the kids. What I do know is that if you want to lead a politically engaged life, a moral life, or be an honest intellectual, you have to follow a certain rhythm. You have to be willing to open your eyes, not once or twice, but constantly, and try to make sense of everything in front of you. Since we live in an infinite and expanding world, you can never open your eyes enough. We should be astonished at the beauty of the world but also at the injustices. We should be outraged, and then we should act. The one thing I do regret about the 60s and 70s and my participation is the failure to rethink. If you go out and act, you have to judge what you learned from that and go back to the beginning.

  2. The Right to be Heard?

    Leave a Comment

    “We want to have diversity in everything except thought,” Jonathan Haidt ’85 said to a packed Harkness Hall classroom. Haidt, who was invited by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program to speak about political correctness on college campuses, was playing a satirical character: an admissions officer for Coddle University, Haidt’s allegory for modern universities’ tendency to shelter their students from uncomfortable ideas.

    With his September article in The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Haidt joined an ongoing conversation over what should and shouldn’t be said on college campuses. A liberal psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Haidt nonetheless sided with conservatives, criticizing colleges for “coddling” their students.

    Haidt’s visit coincided with a campus controversy about which he likely would have had something to say. On Sept. 12, Aryssa Damron ’18 appeared on Fox News, where she criticized the Divinity School’s decision to invite #BlackLivesMatter activist DeRay McKesson as a guest lecturer. During the interview, she also shared her experience of being a conservative on a largely liberal campus. After her interview was aired, some Yale students used social media outlets, such as the Facebook page Overheard at Yale, to make personal attacks on Damron, including asking her to stay away from campus.

    Damron’s views, as well as the subsequent backlash against her, raise questions about intellectual diversity at Yale and students’ openness, or lack thereof, to alternative perspectives — dilemmas that organizations like the Buckley program are trying to address.

    “The mission of the Buckley program is to promote intellectual debate at Yale,” Buckley president Zach Young ’17 said. “This stems from the belief that for ideas to flourish, we need to be exposed to a variety of views.”

    During his talk, Haidt described campus climates that force people to walk on eggshells and make students afraid to speak their minds. Yet some liberals might respond that students should be hesitant to say certain things — much of what we say, the argument goes, offends those around us even if we don’t mean it.

    Conservative and liberal Yalies disagree on a wide range of issues. But how do we decide when to engage with our intellectual opponents, and when to condemn them?

    * * *

    Engagement is the norm at a Yale Political Union debate — but that doesn’t mean people don’t disagree.

    Although the YPU aims to provide an intellectual forum where the best argument can win, members say that participants very rarely leave debates with their viewpoints changed. Instead, most members treat the debates and talks as an exercise in defending their own viewpoints. Amalia Halikias ’15, a former member of the YPU’s Tory Party, said that the vast majority of students and speakers view the debates as performative in nature, and that it is rare for people to leave with their minds changed.

    Indeed, some members say that YPU debates are set up to encourage a rivalry. William Strench ’18, secretary of the Conservative Party, noted that there is even a physical separation between debating parties. He added that when a very conservative or a very liberal speech is given on the floor, one can expect hisses from at least half of the room.

    “Of course each side will think the other side’s opinions are wrong and lead to bad moral outcomes,” he said.

    Despite their stubborn disagreements, members of the YPU made it clear that they respect one another’s opinions. Conservatives interviewed generally pointed to the Yale Political Union as a space where their views are not only shared, but also contested in a balanced fashion.

    “The Union is the only place I have found on campus where liberals and leftists will actively listen to the arguments being made by more conservative members at Yale,” chairman of the Federalist Party Eric DeVillier ’17 said.

    This sentiment is not surprising given that the Union was founded in 1934 to combat the insular political culture on campus at the time. The organization is also structurally bi-partisan, containing seven parties across the political spectrum, each with different and often opposing ideologies.

    Of these seven parties, four — the Federalist Party, the Conservative Party, the Tory Party and the Party of the Right — identify as conservative groups. Two more lean left, and one is independent. Yet despite the numerical imbalance, members of the union insist that the YPU is not simply a safe haven for conservatives to gather, but rather a place where both liberal and conservative viewpoints are defended and challenged in an academic fashion.

    Layla Treuhaft-Ali ’17, the chairman of the Party of the Left, said that her party considers members of the right “worthy opponents” who pose important challenges that must be addressed.

    And while the debate format brings disagreements to the fore, members from different parties said that respect and trust make for open and inclusive discussion.

    According to YPU president Simon Brewer ’16, a member of the Party of the Left, “We avoid the buzzwords and sloppy arguments that too often get tossed around in mainstream political discourse in the U.S., and instead ask for careful, nuanced conversation.”

    YPU members from parties on the right agreed. Helder Toste ’16, a member of the Tory Party, said he has always felt respected during YPU debates. And DeVillier said that loaded labels like “racist” and “classist”, frequently used by liberal students outside the YPU to describe conservatives, were less apt to be thrown around in a YPU debate.

    “These labels are often unproductive, wrong and quite stupidly applied and defended, but mostly everyone knows this and the Union does a good job keeping it at a minimum,” he said.

    By pushing members to respond intellectually rather than emotionally to controversial political issues, the YPU creates a space in which a variety of viewpoints can be heard. But some topics are too sensitive for such an approach.

    According to DeVillier, “Issues like marriage and abortion are many times off the table and will not be discussed, largely because they are very passionate issues that can be easily derailed in a debate.”

    * * *

    While the YPU can avoid touchy issues in its debates, some organizations on campus can’t avoid such ideological clashes.

    In April this year, on-campus pro-life advocacy group Choose Life At Yale was denied full membership status in Dwight Hall’s Social Justice Network after a year of provisional membership, as is required of all organizations petitioning for full membership. Evy Behling ’17, who is the Secretary of CLAY, described the group’s failed attempt to join Dwight Hall’s network as “marginalizing.”

    “The prevailing view among the cabinet was that what CLAY was doing was not social justice,” she said. “They didn’t accept our definition of social justice, which is disappointing.”

    According to a former Dwight Hall member who wished to remain anonymous, the vote among Dwight Hall’s 90-member cabinet was highly divisive and raised questions of how the organization could be more tolerant and engage groups with alternate viewpoints. The former member denied that CLAY was excluded due to ideological differences, instead saying that the deciding factor was CLAY’s involvement with the Crisis Pregnancy Center, which the former member said spreads false and harmful information to women.

    “It’s not untrue that Dwight Hall leans left and has many liberals, but that is not why we denied CLAY membership,” the former member said.

    Before this, CLAY had also been denied membership to the Women’s Center twice. And while the Dwight Hall member’s explanation for excluding CLAY refrained from overt moral claims, the Women’s Center directly challenged CLAY’s stance in explaining the decision to deny the group membership.

    A statement provided to the News by the Women’s Center noted that while the decision was not meant to “marginalize” CLAY, the two groups are at odds on fundamental moral issues.

    “The Women’s Center is proudly and unapologetically pro-choice,” the statement reads. “Anti-choice policies for which CLAY stands are undoubtedly harmful to women. This claim is supported by history, public health and the law.”

    Behling said that while the Women’s Center should be a resource for all women on campus, their official pro-choice stance meant that it is not welcoming to women with other viewpoints.

    Since its failed attempts to join the two umbrella groups, CLAY has continued to function as an independent organization, and will host its annual pro-life conference “Vita et Veritas” in early October. And although the goal of the conference is to share a pro-life perspective with the entire campus, Behling admits that it will be hard to attract liberals. She said that if CLAY had been admitted to Dwight Hall or the Women’s Center, the conference would have been more likely to attract a more diverse group.

    * * *

    “Almost every professor I’ve had bashes on conservative ideas and politicians,” said Toste.

    In his “Issues Approach to Biology” class, Toste said, his professor spent an entire class mocking creationists. Uncomfortable with this, Toste filed a complaint with his residential college dean, which made its way to the Biology Department. In future iterations of the same class, Toste said those specific slides about creationists were removed. He added that this example was indicative of his general experience of liberal professors mocking conservative ideas.

    In Toste’s case, Yale administrators and faculty consciously accommodated his conservative views. But no matter what the University or anyone else does, those views will remain underrepresented on campus for the foreseeable future.

    Political science lecturer John Stoehr, who teaches “Classics in Political Journalism,” said that it is reasonable for conservative students at Yale to feel marginalized among peers.

    “We are in a state that’s run by the Democratic Party, we are in a state where unions prevail and we are in a state where liberal issues are predominant in terms of social issues,” he said. “If you are an anti-abortionist, you might feel on the outside, just like a lot of traditional Catholics in New Haven and the state of Connecticut probably feel, as if they’re looking from the outside in.”

    Even so, the majority of conservative students interviewed said that Yale and its community is generally accepting of their viewpoints — at least more so than many similar institutions.

    “I am very grateful to be at Yale,” Behling said. “On some other campuses, students are not even allowed to start pro-life groups.”

    Strench echoed that sentiment. He said that he does not feel marginalized despite disagreeing with his friends on many important issues.

    “It would be easier if everyone agreed with me about everything, but Yale isn’t worth attending if I’m not going to be challenged intellectually,” he said. “So I’m okay with being disagreed with, and, in a little over a year, it seems like Yale has overall tolerated disagreeing with me.”

    History professor John Gaddis credits initiatives such as the Buckley Program with raising the profile of conservatives on campus, adding that discussions between liberal and conservative voices are reasonably well balanced now.

    And while some conservatives might feel that the deck is stacked against them at Yale, that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready for the fight.

    “The prevailing attitude is not condemning nor sympathetic,” Behling said. “The onus is on conservatives to speak up and defend their viewpoints.”

  3. Top 10 Books of the Year

    Leave a Comment

    For the past four years, I have been a staff book reviewer for WEEKEND, and for the past three years, I have written a “Top Ten Books of the Year” column as the school year comes to a close. This will be my third such list, and I’m only mentioning this because it is my final book review for the News. After this, on to the “real world.”

    Size matters. I’ve long believed that you can tell much about a person by the size of the stack of books on her bedside table. And so, in the interest of helping you pick a few additions to your stack, I will discuss a few from mine. These are my super subjective top ten books of the last year (in alphabetical order):

    1. “The Age of Acquiescence,” by Steve Fraser: In this searing fusion of history and criticism, Fraser — an accomplished muckraker — tells the story of America’s two “Gilded Ages,” times when there was an immense divide between the rich and the poor. The first spanned the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression; we are living through the second one today. Yet, as Fraser argues, in the first Gilded Age, Americans were not afraid to critique robber barons — and even capitalism itself. Today, the working class and bourgeois almost completely fail to call out the rich. For Fraser, there are few signs that we will emerge from our modern, gilded prison.

    2. “All the Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr: One of only two repeats from “Summer Reading Roundup” this past August, “All the Light” tells the dual tale of Marie-Laure, a blind, brilliant Parisian girl, and Werner, a German orphan with hair so blonde the Nazis call it “snow.” Across pages of beautiful, lyrical prose, Doerr chronicles Marie-Laure and Werner’s attempt to live through World War II — she from the exploding French countryside, and he from the unforgiving barracks of an elite Nazi military camp. For years, the two protagonists’ paths seem as if they will never cross, but, of course, they do — in an ending as cathartic as it is tragic.

    3. “Big Little Lies,” by Liane Moriarty: This charming novel paints a cynical and loving portrait of modern parenting, bourgeois society and murder in Australia. “Big Little Lies” tells the story of Madeline, Celeste and Jane, three mothers with children in kindergarten. It is an often a hilarious and jaded book, but it also delivers a nuanced, sensitive and important commentary on the realities of domestic abuse.

    4. “Days of Rage,” by Bryan Burrough: In this profoundly necessary book, Burrough weaves together the stories of groups like the Weathermen, the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army, among others, to explain the forgotten history of underground leftist revolutionary groups in the 1970s, and the FBI’s unrelenting war against them. Burrough explains how the FBI both enforced and subverted justice.

    5. “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee: This is the only book on this list that I haven’t actually read, but I promise I have good reasons to have neglected it and still to have included it. “Go Set a Watchman” has not yet been released, but it is a long-lost work by arguably the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century, the beloved and reclusive author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Long assumed to have been lost, “Watchman” will (apparently) tell the story of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and friends, many of whom return to the town of Maycomb, Alabama, some twenty years after “Mockingbird” ended. “Watchman” promises to be a distinctly American experience — one that weaves together race, age, nostalgia and humor.

    6. “The Good Lord Bird,” by James McBride: This brilliant and hilarious novel tells the story of Henry “Little Onion” Shackleford, a cross-dressing former slave who travels around with the legendary freedom fighter John Brown for a few years in the antebellum Midwest. Little Onion gives his own humorous spin to Brown’s iconic, and ultimately fatal, quest to destroy the institution of slavery.

    7. “The Invisible Bridge,” by Rick Perlstein: The second repeat from my summer list, this long-awaited third volume in Perlstein’s epic story of the rise of American conservatism does not disappoint. Though it is an unwieldy 880 pages and almost mind-numbingly comprehensive, critics have described it as “engrossing” and “ultimately irresistible” — perhaps much like Ronald Reagan himself. “The Invisible Bridge” doubles as a political biography, that of a nation in malaise, and an actual biography, that of the strange B-list movie actor who rose unstoppably to national prominence.

    8. “The Monopolists,” by Mary Pilon: I grew up playing Monopoly, and I always vaguely believed the old story that it had been invented by an unemployed Depression-era huckster who sold it to Parker Brothers and struck gold. In real life, apparently, Monopoly was intended to be a radical feminist, leftist critique, and it was invented by a fascinating woman named Lizzie Magie. “The Monopolists” tells her story, and that of the man who discovered her.

    9. “One Nation Under God,” by Kevin Kruse: In this authoritative history of mid-20th-century America, Kruse reveals that the whole concept of a “Christian America” is a pretty recent invention. Through breathtaking historical research, Kruse shows that this concept was packaged, promoted and sold by corporations like General Motors in order to convince the nation to embrace a bastardized version of the “Christian” idea of individual salvation and to reject “pagan statism.” It’s a disturbing tale that tells us quite a lot about the nation we may think we understand.

    10. “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” by Jill Lepore: I heard Lepore speak about this book a few weeks ago in an auditorium at the law school. And it struck me: she is the most exciting historian writing today. In “The Secret History,” Lepore does not disappoint. She tells three stories: one of first-wave American feminism, one of the superhero who played a small but crucial role in second-wave American feminism, and one of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Marston, the inventor of the lie detector, had a fascinating plural marriage and a close association with Margaret Sanger. The tale of how his life, and his interactions with founding feminists, influenced Wonder Woman is necessary and highly entertaining.

  4. What We Talk About When We Talk About Activism

    Leave a Comment

    Barbara Smith is a black feminist, scholar, writer and sociopolitical powerhouse who has spent decades advocating for marginalized communities. Yesterday she came to Yale to give a master’s tea in Pierson College, where she touched on issues of activism and intersectionality. WKND sat down with Ms. Smith to talk history, race relations, and LGBTQ issues in America.

    Q: In some of your past interviews, you mention how exposure to Black female literature greatly impacted your academic, political and social work. Could you explain more about that?

    A: After attending Mount Holyoke College, I entered graduate school. My motivation for going to grad school was that I wanted to teach African-American literature, which was virtually not taught in universities in those days. Not even in historically Black colleges and universities. One of the first courses that I took was a seminar in Women’s literature. And just like African-American literature and studies, Women’s studies and literature was barely available. The person who taught the course was obviously innovative, but there were no women of color in the entire syllabus. Later, I had found out that Alice Walker was teaching a course on Black Women’s Literature at Wellesley College because I was a subscriber to Ms. Magazine. So I wrote to Alice Walker and asked if I could audit her course. That was the opportunity to be exposed to more Black women writers. People mostly associate me with helping to establish Black women’s studies in the U.S. and to build [the] Black feminist movement in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. I went to become the co-founder of the Kitchen Table Press, a major publisher of stories by women of color.

    Q: What about your activism during the Civil Rights Movement? And the changes and issues within it? What were your feelings at that moment?

    A: It was exciting to come of age during the most dynamic periods — socially and politically — in U.S. history. As Black people living in the North [Ms. Smith was born in Cleveland], it was all impacting us. Especially the focus on Selma in the spring of 1965. I had graduated from high school with my twin sister, Beverly. We were anticipating going to college, but due to my age I was fully aware of the activism in the South. We were also paying attention to what was going on there because our family had moved from Georgia. When we began building the black women’s movement, we were exhilarated to find and work with other people who also thought that Black women were of value, were capable and that there was no need for us to be afterthoughts. There was a lot of sexism in the Civil Rights Movement and even more in the Black Power and Black Nationalist movements. For very alert, young Black women, that wasn’t working for us.

    Q: What were the results of challenging those movements’ sexism?

    A: We experienced a large amount of pushback, defamation and marginalization from the mainstream. There were people who were so radical about confronting racism, yet they saw us as race traitors for talking about sexism. We worked on a variety of women’s health issues, particularly sterilization abuse, which mostly affects Black, Latina and indigenous women. And women who had cognitive disabilities. The state thought they could control their reproductive capacities and rights. We also brought attention to violence towards women. And you can still see that attention to violence against women in newspapers right now, with what’s going on in these campus fraternities. The more things change, the more these issues are out in the open.

    Q: Has there been any radical change in feminist thought and advocacy since the 1960s and 1970s, from your perspective?

    A: There have always been different strains of politics. Everyone who says that they’re a feminist doesn’t necessarily believe the same things and have the same values as another person. There are mainstream and bourgeois feminists whose major concern is that they need to get paid the same as a man, they need to have as much power as a man and do things that men do. And then there are people who say that we need to look at the intersection of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity, then figure out how our politics are based on those things. I was one of the first people who began to talk about an intersectional perspective and how we understand our political and personal lives. I was a part of an organization, the Combahee River Collective, and we wrote a statement in 1977 that was one of the first, strongest and most analytical articulations of intersectional politics. A lot of people use the word, but not many know where it came from.

    Q: This mainstream brand of feminism, as you call it, could be seen as not enough.

    A: It’s still quite popular. We have that term “lean in,” and the book which became a mega-bestseller for Sheryl Sandberg. That is a way of understanding what women’s position is that doesn’t necessarily have depth. What if you are simultaneously a person of color, a woman and you don’t have economic or class privilege? This conversation occurred at this year’s Academy Awards when Patricia Arquette — an actor I love — talked about pay equity. But she went on to say that White women had done so much for people of color and gay people, so it was time they help them in return. Hello! Has she never thought that there are people who are simultaneously [all of] those things? It made no sense. Besides, pay equity mostly affects women who don’t earn a lot of money. It’s not people who are the top of the pay pyramids most affected by pay equity. The vast majority of people who make minimum wage are women, and that’s where pay equity hits.

    Some people are articulating these narrow thoughts of feminism, as opposed to a deeper understanding of feminism and politics from an intersectional perspective. But I will say that it’s much more acceptable for women of color to be out as feminists now than back then. Now, Beyoncé can perform at the music awards and have “feminist” in sky-high letters behind her and still be the queen of us all. I think she’s made statements about her understanding of feminism and I think that she has more depth than some of the other manifestations we’ve been talking about. That’s interesting and unique. And the fact that “Selma” was directed by a black woman [Ava DuVernay] — that was powerful. In her film, the women are visible. There were women portrayed in that film that I didn’t even know about. Like the local women from Selma — I didn’t know about them.

    Q: And what of activism today? Are we more active now, or more apathetic?

    A: The majority of people of my generation were not involved in making dynamic political and social change. People who have that level of commitment and courage have never been the majority. So, don’t think that in the 1960s and 1970s that on an entire campus like Yale’s everybody was out supporting the Black Panthers or something. As far as today, I feel encouraged and impressed that the demonstrations around the verdicts in Ferguson and Long Island are happening. They seem more inclusive, when before there were such strict lines and lanes. People are more willing to be more accepting of diversity. Although I do know that the women who started “Black Lives Matter” feel that their work has been appropriated and have spoken out about that. But as someone who is an elder, I feel very inspired by young people speaking out. And people working across generations. I don’t know about the nuts and bolts of what could be done better. I’ve heard from younger activists that there needs to be more specific demands. Like, what besides “Don’t Shoot” or “Black Lives Matter”? What else are you demanding from the power structure?

    Q: You’ve never shied away from presenting yourself as not just a Black feminist, but as a lesbian Black feminist. What sort of positive changes have you seen in regard to LGBTQ support, and what else can be improved upon?

    A: One change I’ve seen is how President Obama and his views have evolved. Of course, I heard that he was never opposed to lesbian and gay marriage, but, politically, he couldn’t come out with that. That the first black president is also the first president of any race to openly support gay, lesbian and transgender people is wonderful. And then we see in “Empire,” my favorite show these days, a character is gay and his mother is fiercely supportive of him. I see the changes. For me, being visibly out in this country during the 1970s — well, I’ve paid a lot of dues for that. But I’ve seen results.

    One of the things that can be improved upon, I would say, is that we should see the intersectionality in LGBTQ issues. When you look at class, race, gender in relation to LGBTQ identity you begin to see the complexity of what true freedom and justice look like. There was a report issued from the Center of American Progress late last year. It looks at housing discrimination, employment discrimination, poverty, health care discrimination, and on and on. it’s a nuanced and thoroughly researched document about what besides and above marriage we need to be concerned about. We need to understand that the LGBTQ community isn’t just about White, affluent, gay men on TV or in magazines. They’re a part of the community, too, but their experience does not subsume those of us who have multiple identities. The fact is that trans women of color are the most likely to be living poverty, to be incarcerated, to be the subject of hate crimes including murders. Marriages aren’t going to solve hate crimes, transphobia and homophobia. There’s more to LGBTQ freedom than marriage. We must continue to keep plugging away. Still it’s remarkable for me, coming out a few years after Stonewall, that a majority of the states now have marriage equality. We weren’t even thinking about that then. We were trying to stop Anita Bryant!

  5. The Politics of Pop Music: Slava Vakarchuk

    Leave a Comment

    Slava Vakarchuk is a modern ‘renaissance man.’ Frequently called Ukraine’s #1 pop star, he is the lead singer and front-man of Okean Elzy, Ukraine’s most successful post-Soviet rock band. He has also had political influence in his country, participating in both the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2013-14’s Maidan Movement. He has worked as a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s Development Programme, and served in the Ukrainian parliament briefly from 2007-08 (he resigned because of qualms with the political system). He also has a Ph.D in theoretical physic, and donated his earnings to charity after winning the Ukrainian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

    In between stadium concerts for his band’s world tour, Vakarchuk visited campus to lead the discussion “Physics, Revolution, and Rock & Roll: Reflections on Today’s Ukraine.” WKND caught him for a few minutes before he jetted off: presumably to perform to another sold-out crowd, write another album, or save the world.

    Q: What made you pursue rock music professionally, since you also have a background in physics and politics?

    A: When I was 19 and a student, I just kind of popped up in a recording room. And that was it — I got hooked. While I was a physics student, I began singing, but I wasn’t thinking, just yet, of treating it as a career. It was as I was doing my Ph.D work that we started to get more success. But I decided to continue with my work, and I got my Ph.D; by the time I finally got it, I was already famous, and then I stopped. I don’t know if I’d say I needed the physics — well, that’s not true. I think it has helped me to think. I think that training does help me think through matters logically.

    Q: If you were already famous, what made you decide to go back and follow through with that degree?

    A: It made me uneasy! The idea of not completing something I’d started — that’s who I am. I finish things out, and I follow through. I wasn’t going to leave something undone.

    Q: What kind of political power do you find in music?

    A: You know, I don’t try to spin out political messages with my music. Some of our fans have extremely different views on politics than I do, and they still like listening to our music. Other people feel just the same way about politics as I do, and they’ve never heard one of our songs. These things don’t have to go together. But I will say that most of our listeners seem to care about what’s going on in our country, and I’ll connect that back to what’s happening with our society more generally. It’s important to me to be engaged politically, but that’s more related to who I am as a person. You can be political and make political statements without being a politician, and that’s especially true of celebrities. When I make good music, I’m making myself happy. The songs themselves aren’t sending these same political messages that I talk about outside of my music. I find both of those things to be important to me, extremely important to me. But they are different, and they should be.

    Q: So Okean Elzy has been together for 20 years. Over that time, what have been the biggest changes in Ukrainian music and politics that you all have witnessed or experienced?

    A: When we started, the music scene lined up with the Soviet scene. We as a band have definitely evolved: We got more experimental for a while, had an album with dance elements, sort of ‘cleaned up’ our sound for a couple of albums, and most recently we’ve gone for a more ‘natural’ sound. It’s always an exploration, I think. And then [regarding changes in] politics: Well, it goes to the leadership. For years — if you look at the years of our band, and the political leaders at that very same time, you can see it: Ukraine has not had the best leadership, to put it mildly [laughs]. As we talked about earlier today, Ukraine is like the Israelites and we’ve been wandering in the desert for years. There’s almost a generational turnover that hasn’t quite materialized yet. But, as I said, it’s up to Ukrainian society to deal with this. Getting frustrated is not the answer, without individual action. And, with the Maidan, that’s what’s been happening: people taking action.

    Q: Related to that action — you mentioned, earlier today, the daily violence going on in Ukraine. How do you think that physical violence has changed the way Ukrainians feel about their nation and civic engagement?

    A: I think it’s really defined three camps: people who care a little, people who care a lot, and people who don’t care at all. And that last camp has gotten so much smaller, necessarily. Of course, some people will always be indifferent, but there are far fewer of them now. And then the number of those people who really care, who are standing up and making noise and trying to make change, that number is really growing.

    Q: And that’s a good thing, yes?

    A: Yes, certainly, of course. There is no other way for a country to change, except through those people. You know, it’s interesting, and I think hard for some other nations to understand: what we’re going through now, you guys went through 250 years ago. It’s a revolution towards our independence.

    Q: If it were up to you, what would you say ought to be the next step in creating positive political change in Ukraine?

    A: There needs to be movements from the bottom-up and the top-down. You need society to make an effort to change itself, and you need strong, authoritative leaders who will really make things happen even when there’s resistance. I think the first way — bottom-up — has already started happening. When you see something like the Maidan, you see [the bottom up movement]. And that came from a place of being pushed, you know? That was after a series of decisions — and, like I said, reporters ask me all the time to logically explain why those decisions were made, and I honestly can’t do it — and it just brought this disappointment to the surface, and that disappointment evolved into something more like frustration, and has caused people to really make changes they want to see. We’ve been improving the way we engage with politics. Society has been improving itself. The second way, top-down, is tougher. I think we have a ways to go, there. It’s harder to achieve. And, honestly, I’m not sure I can say for sure what the very next step is, for us to get to that kind of authority.

    Q: You spoke earlier about Western engagement, and said something a little controversial: You don’t think the West has any obligation whatsoever to engage in, or even care about, the Ukraine crisis.

    A: Yeah, I know that’s not always the most expected or popular stance. But it’s important to me: I don’t expect anything from anybody. It would be, as I said, humiliating to travel the world and almost, you know, beg for help, or whine. I so strongly believe that any change that has to happen in Ukraine must come from within Ukraine itself. I got to where I am on my own — no European Union, no American weapons, no NATO. People in Ukraine have been waiting for a “messiah” figure to come and fix everything, and to them I say, “Make your own contribution.” No one can or should fix things for you but you. It’s possible, I say, to make happen whatever it is that you want to make happen. But you have to do it. You can’t just wait for someone else to come do it for you. Help yourself first. Now, as I also said — and this is cynical, but here you are — helping Ukraine is helpful to everyone. “Tipping point” really is a great phrase for it. The powers that are pushing up against each other in Ukraine affect many nations and societies. So, in that sense, it’s worth getting engaged: Get engaged for yourself, not for other people.

    Q: So what, then, has made you get so engaged in politics over time?

    A: I feel I’m paying my dues to my country; and it’s not because I have to, it’s because I want to. It’s the place where I was born and raised and I want the best for it.

  6. The YCC Candidates Who Really Matter

    Leave a Comment

    Which of these candidates will lead us through our Most Important Bright College Years? We are the company of scholars, the mighty Bulldog! We deserve a leader — heck, we deserve several. One who speaks our language. One who joins the numbers. One who understands true beauty. Polls close tonight at 9 p.m: quick, let it go, the aesthetic character of Cross Campus is at stake!

    Screen shot 2014-04-18 at 2.32.57 AM[media-credit id=11498 align=”aligncenter” width=”949″]

     

  7. Who Pays?

    Leave a Comment

    This is a story about numbers. The first number is 1978.

    A story, with dateline New Haven, ran on page seven of The New York Times on May 29, 1978, with the headline, “Connecticut to Reimburse Cities for Tax Lost on Exempt Property.”

    Explaining that, for the first time, a state government would make payments to municipalities as partial compensation for the presence of nontaxable nonprofit organizations, the story opened with an anecdote evocative of the Elm City’s property tax predicament.

    “From his 13th-floor office window, Mayor Frank Logue [’48 LAW ’51] looked down at the Yale-New Haven Hospital and then at the hills beyond the city line — and beyond the city’s tax grasp — where most of the patients come from,” Matthew L. Wald, special to the Times, wrote.

    He then quoted Logue, who governed the city from 1976 to 1979: “Only one in five patients in the hospital over there comes from New Haven, but its tax exemption hits us.”

    The very same statement could come today from the mouth of Mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78, perhaps looking from her second-floor office window past the New Haven Green and beyond Center Church at Yale’s Old Campus.

    After representing New Haven for 21 years in the Connecticut State Senate, Harp took the city’s helm this January, nearly 36 years after Logue reflected on what remains one of New Haven’s thorniest problems. Roughly 47 percent of the city’s grand list — the enumeration of its properties — is nontaxable, either in the hands of the government or of nonprofit institutions exempt from paying property taxes.

    In recognition of the revenue problems tax exemptions create — most harmful, though certainly not unique, to New Haven — the state elected in 1978 to lend a hand. A $10-million hand. Of that sum, New Haven would get roughly $2.9 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Times story reported.

    A 100 percent reimbursement was not sought, the article said, in recognition for the benefits towns and cities receive from playing host to institutions such as Yale.

    So they settled for a 25 percent in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), as the program is called. The state was already doling out $7.2 million in compensation for state-owned property through a program dating back to the 1930s. In total, the state would give $17.2 million that year.

    In 2014, the numbers are larger — much larger. Under a formula laid down in 1999, towns and cities are supposed to get 77 cents back from the state for every dollar they lose from tax-exempt colleges and hospitals. For nontaxable state buildings, the reimbursement is 45 cents on the dollar.

    In New Haven, the payment should sum to $105.3 million, more than 20 percent of the city’s current operating budget for fiscal year 2013-’14.

    Harp, who ran for mayor touting her clout in Hartford, put the matter succinctly.

    “The state of Connecticut is a lifeline to New Haven,” Harp said.

    THE COFFER HALF FULL

    In recent years, that line has frayed. In 2014, New Haven is slated to receive $43.6 million in PILOT, well under half the amount it is owed: Just 29 percent of lost funds from colleges and hospitals and 33 percent from state-owned properties.

    New Haven does not suffer alone. Statewide, the payments have not hit statutory levels in years. In the wake of the recession, Connecticut has had to tighten its budget, relying on a clause of a 1999 statute specifying that the payments to each municipality can be reduced based on fiscal constraints.

    “As a former [New Haven] alderman, I always used to read it as ‘You should give us 77 percent,’” said Connecticut State Rep. Roland Lemar, who represents portions of New Haven and East Haven in the body that help decides New Haven’s fiscal future. “Most of my colleagues see it as, ‘We fund PILOT based on however much we’re lucky to have.’”

    As New Haven’s budget dealings loom — and as it grapples with a major hole in state aid — some in city government are ready to do battle in Hartford for increased funding.

    Harp promised a lighter touch.

    “I’m going to go with my hat in hand,” she said, adding that budgetary requests from city department heads warn of a potential $19-million hole in the general fund. “If the state does find a surplus, they should give it back to the cities.”

    Lurking behind the fragile relationship between the city and the state is a third player: Yale University, the largest employer in New Haven and a multi-billion dollar institution that pays virtually no property taxes on its prominent downtown footprint.

    The property taxes the University does pay — more than $4.3 million for the golf course and University Properties retail locations — make Yale one of the five largest taxpayers in the city, according to Lauren Zucker, Yale’s assistant director for New Haven and state affairs. Those payments, combined with Yale’s vast voluntary contributions to the city, have put the question of Yale’s tax-exempt status to bed, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s deputy chief communications officer, insisted.

    “What’s notable now … is that taxation of colleges and universities is not part of the conversation here because PILOT and the University’s voluntary payment have created a context where it’s not an issue and the focus can be on cooperation…,” said Morand, whose experience at Yale and in New Haven also includes a stint as a city alder in the early 1990s.

    MORE, PLEASE

    Taxation, however, is part of the conversation; lawmakers both in New Haven and across the state are making sure of that. As New Haven stares down its fiscal future — budget negotiations begin in March — city leaders are sending a message to Hartford: Give us what we deserve.

    New Haven’s Board of Alders unanimously endorsed a resolution in early February calling on Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly to fully fund PILOT. More than a dozen alders co-sponsored the resolution, drafted by freshman alder Mike Stratton, who represents Prospect Hill and Newhallville,

    “This is not charity for the city of New Haven — this is our right,” Stratton said before the Monday evening vote. “Just give us our money.”

    Stratton said the state has sought to substitute PILOT payments for piecemeal “pet projects,” putting cash into programs of its choice rather than giving autonomy to New Haven. The city is best situated to allocate its own money, he said.

    New Haven is taking the hit for all of Connecticut, Stratton added. Nonprofit institutions — including universities, hospitals, museums and churches — benefit the entire state, indeed the region, but cripple New Haven’s ability to raise revenue, he said, echoing Logue’s logic from 1978.

    “The whole region is freeriding on the backs of our taxpayers,” Stratton said. The city’s mill rate — which determines property taxes based on assessed value — is 41.88, one of the highest statewide. Under the current rate, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay $8,376 in property taxes. Harp has said she does not want to raise taxes in the budget she presents to city alders by March 1.

    The Board’s statement is largely symbolic, Stratton acknowledged. But it represents just one piece of the alder’s plan to convince the state to send more money to New Haven.

    Stratton has also devised a lobbying strategy, which he has hired Bob Shea, a West Hartford lawyer, to execute.

    “Bobby [Shea] is helping us navigate where the power is,” Stratton said. Shea did not return multiple requests for comment.

    One idea Shea will float with state lawmakers is creating a board with regional oversight over the allocation of PILOT funds.

    If the 77 percent and 45 percent thresholds were met, Stratton said, New Haven could lower its tax rate by a full 20 percent.

    Nancy Wyman, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor, said reaching full PILOT funding this year is not possible. The state lacks the necessary funds, she said.

    Harp made a more modest ask in the legislative agenda she laid out the same week the Board passed its resolution. She requested a $5-million increase in PILOT payments to New Haven, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney called “reasonable” at the time. Anything more, he said, would be difficult given the city’s financial constraints.

    In his budget proposals — presented Feb. 6 at the opening of the legislative session — Malloy called for an $8-million statewide increase in PILOT for colleges and hospitals. If approved, the increase would mean just over $2 million more for New Haven, less than half of Harp’s stated goal and a fraction of the Board’s.

    Stratton said he is after more than one-time upticks in funding. A small increase does little to “change the culture in Hartford” surrounding PILOT, he said. He called on New Haven’s state delegation to fight harder for city. Right now, “They’re taking the easiest road to compromise,” he said.

    State lawmakers interviewed said more drastic alterations to PILOT funding this year are highly unlikely. The biennial budget is already in place. Legislative sessions during even calendar years rarely see new appropriations but rather amendments to the current budget.

    “A radical redetermination of our entire budget is not likely in the 90 days that we’ve got,” said Roland Lemar, House vice-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

    Further, state spending is capped at roughly $21 billion per year, Lemar said. To fully fund PILOT, the state would have to “blow through that cap.”

    Still, Lemar said, full statutory reimbursement is a worthy goal, one he has to figure out how to pitch as an urban legislator to his suburban counterparts.

    AN EVER-SHRINKING PIE

    PILOT funding is like a pie, said Connecticut State Sen. Len Fasano ’81, a Republican who represents parts of Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford — suburbs surrounding New Haven. As the number of nontaxable nonprofits balloons, and as their footprints expand, different municipalities demand a bigger share of the pie. If funding is static, one town’s increase has to mean another town’s loss.

    Many cities get themselves into their own revenue crises, Fasano added, pointing to New Haven’s courting of Gateway Community College in 2012.

    “The legislature doesn’t have control over the expansion that municipalities themselves are pushing for,” he said.

    Rather than increasing PILOT funding, the state should clarify the process by which a nonprofit moves into a city and takes the property off the tax rolls, said Fasano, who sits on the Planning and Development committee. When Quinnipiac University took over the site of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in North Haven in 2007, the acquisition cost the city a fortune by making the property tax-exempt.

    As the PILOT law stands, he said, the state overpromises and underperforms every year.

    Fasano said problems of tax exemptions are not unique to New Haven — and the state already sends vastly more money to cities than to suburban towns. For every dollar New Haven sends to the state in taxes, it gets back nearly two dollars, he estimated; North Haven retrieves roughly 12 cents on the dollar.

    “Don’t make it sound like you’re doing all these great services for the state, and we’re starving the city,” Fasano said. “If that much is coming from all of our pockets, you need to tell us what you’re doing with the money. And let us review it.”

    Former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said moving toward fully funded PILOT is important, but additional revenue should not change the need to control expenditures. He said the debate highlights the need to diversify the tax base.

    An ability to levy a sales tax or to charge user fees would free New Haven from its exclusive reliance on property taxes, he said, which inevitably skyrocket when state aid falls.

    “Right now, we’re fundamentally attached to the state’s economic wellbeing,” DeStefano said. “When the state catches a cold, the city of New Haven gets pneumonia.”

    The best time to reopen the issue of the tax base would be when the economy is on firm footing, he added.

    What seem like upward trends in the state’s current economic forecast might loosen up funds to at least address municipal budget needs this year, Harp suggested.

    “If the [state] economy improves and the surplus deepens, that creates an opportunity to get more resources,” Harp said. Upgrades to information technology and more trucks for the Public Works Department are one-time payments that could be covered by isolated, single-year state contributions. Rebecca Bombero, a legislative liaison, said that following the passage of the Board’s resolution, the mayor’s office is putting consistent pressure on the state to up the payments. The mayor’s relationship with the governor is strong, Bombero added.

    U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 also pointed to the state’s budget surplus — of $500 million, not counting delayed bond repayments — as an avenue to redress New Haven’s revenue woes. Connecticut as a whole, Blumenthal said, is uniquely dependent on property taxes in funding education and other local needs.

    Partially in recognition of that fact, Connecticut is one of just two states to compensate municipalities for tax-exempt property. Rhode Island also furnishes its cities and towns with PILOT.

    “I CALL IT REVERSE PILOT”

    Simply increasing PILOT does little to address underlying inequities in revenue, said Speaker of the Connecticut House Brendan Sharkey.

    In a proposal that he said will take the form of a bill later this year, Sharkey said he wants to scrap the PILOT law altogether and impose property taxes on nonprofit institutions. Colleges and hospitals will then have to apply to the state for reimbursement, he said, but cities and towns will be guaranteed the revenue.

    “I call it ‘Reverse PILOT,’” Sharkey said. “We will have substantial discussion and debate about this. It will be heard in committee this year. I can’t say whether we’ll be able to work out all of the details by the end of the session.”

    The logic behind the proposed change is two-fold, Sharkey said. First, cash-strapped municipalities should not be subsidizing private institutions, some of which have endowments that dwarf local budgets. Second, the designation of “nonprofit” does not account for the ways in which major universities are involved in generating profit, Sharkey said.

    Sharkey said he thinks there is unique political will behind shifting the onus of taxation back onto nonprofits, namely because the process of haggling over PILOT funds has become acrimonious.

    Stratton said the law could be worked out to set a certain exemption level after which nonprofits have to chip in. The first $1 million of property value could remain exempt, he said.

    “A small church in Newhallville might still not pay any taxes,” Stratton said of the “Reverse PILOT” proposal. “It’s aimed at the bigger guys.”

    Harp said Yale may have a legal claim against such a move. The University’s tax-exempt status is unique; it is written into Connecticut’s constitution, immutable by simple statute.

    Sharkey said another possible loophole could exist for municipalities and nonprofits that can independently work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement. He pointed specifically to Yale as a model of how universities should orient themselves to their home communities.

    When asked if Yale should up its payments, both Harp and DeStefano — who presided over a renaissance in town-gown relations along with former Yale President Richard Levin — said the University already contributes immensely. Voluntarily, Yale will give New Haven more than $8 million this year alone. Since 1991, when Yale’s payments began, the University has bestowed more than $82 million in voluntary contributions on New Haven. Now it also gives money to West Haven and Orange, owing to the expansion of West Campus.

    Yale’s footprint, much of which occupies prime downtown real estate, constitutes no more than 6 percent of New Haven’s total acreage, Morand estimated.

    But Yale’s tax-exempt property is immensely valuable — and would generate substantial revenue for the city if it were taxed. This property totals roughly $2.44 billion in value, according to Michael Condon, a municipal assessor for the city of New Haven.

    Under that estimate, Yale would owe more than $102 million in property taxes. Yale-New Haven Hospital is worth roughly $748 million, which would generate another $31 million.

    James Pascarella, the president of Hamden’s Legislative Council, said the perception of exempting Yale from an otherwise statewide change would be disastrous. Pascarella called the “Reverse PILOT” idea a “last-ditch response” to a decades-old problem of “people who are barely able to make ends meet essentially subsidizing huge corporate nonprofits.”

    Quinnipiac gives Hamden an annual stipend of $100,000, which goes to various charities, not the municipal budget, Pascarella said. Unlike Yale, Quinnipiac does not have its own police force; when a fight breaks out on campus, the Hamden Police are called.

    “We want a partnership,” Pascarella said. The single Quinnipiac official authorized to discuss relations with the town is away until March.

    Sharkey said Quinnipiac has defended its actions — or inaction — by pointing to its federal nonprofit status. Though nonprofit designation is federal, Sharkey said, tax exemptions are all granted at the state level.

    Sharkey and other proponents say they are prepared for substantial blowback from colleges and hospitals.

    “I approach this fully aware that the proposal would impose a substantial burden on [nonprofits] in the short-term, which is why we should begin the conversation now,” Sharkey said. “Nobody likes to pay taxes. But we’re talking about equity.”

    Lemar said the item would be “really, really politically challenging to pull off in 90 days.”

    Connecticut State Rep. Pat Widlitz, House chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said she would have “great difficulty” supporting such a bill. Finding the money to put into PILOT would be more politically palatable, she added.

    Fasano simply said no.

    “This would not be a party line vote. Democrats and Republicans would be against it, urban and suburban legislators would be against it,” he said. “In an election year, when you have the governor’s office at stake and legislators up for reelection, I doubt the bill ever gets debated on the floor of the House or Senate. It would be a hugely unpopular vote to have.”

    BENEFICENCE OR BUST

    Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said the “Reverse PILOT” proposal is bad policy — its legal complications aside.

    She said reversing tax exemptions would “upend town-gown relations at a time that towns and non-profits that are major employers need to be working even closer together.” Further, she said, the change would hurt students, because it would likely increase the cost of college.

    From Yale’s perspective, Morand said the change would disrupt an effective partnership between Yale and New Haven, one that has become a “poster child for how to get along,” he said.

    “One should not mess with longstanding policies in that way,” Morand said in response to Sharkey’s proposal. “This has proven to work.”

    The system — whether it is the fault of the state, the nonprofits or just bad economic times — does not work, according to city, state and national leaders. Yale and other nonprofits enjoy the services and benefits of New Haven, Blumenthal said — why should they not pay into them?

    Morand countered that Yale does not call on most municipal services. By and large, students do not have school-age children who attend the New Haven public schools. The city’s public works department does not pick up trash in Yale dormitories. Morand said the University’s net budgetary impact on New Haven is “actually quite salutary.”

    Fasano, who was born and raised in New Haven, agreed, putting the dynamic bluntly: “Without Yale, New Haven would perhaps be more like Bridgeport in terms of economic growth.”

    Blumenthal said it is also a question of equity: New Haven is at a disadvantage, while Yale has immense resources at its disposal. Under Levin and now under Yale President Peter Salovey, the University has advanced “lightyears in helping New Haven,” Blumenthal said. But the future is uncertain.

    “Do we want to rely on beneficence?” Blumenthal said. “Do we want to rely on the wisdom of really good leaders, like Levin?”

    He answered his own question: “At some point, there may be a need to revisit the principle that nonprofits pay no local property tax.”

    Voluntary payments are just that — voluntary. Yale’s payment formula has built-in growth: It is a calculation of the percent of fire services the University uses plus a figure tied to the number of employees and students on campus. When hundreds of new students arrive and begin to populate the two new residential colleges, Yale’s payments will likely increase.

    When asked if the formula itself is static — or subject to discussion and debate — Morand said the current method works.

    “Your University makes the single largest payment to any municipality … it’s already the single largest, and it has a built-in growth” he said. “It’s a question that need not be asked.”

    But that did not answer the initial question: Could the formula itself be revised to reflect changes in the city and perhaps growing need on the part of New Haven?

    “The University’s willingness is established,” Morand said.

    The question was put a third time: Is the amount the University pays up for discussion or revision?

    “The voluntary payment formula works extremely well and ties the University’s growth to growth in the payment,” Morand said.

    WHO PAYS?

    In the authoritativeWho Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City,” the late Yale political scientist Robert Dahl turned to New Haven to explore a mammoth question about power and governance: In America— indeed wherever popular government exists — who actually controls political decision-making? He theorized that power in New Haven was dispersed among many groups, not concentrated in the hands of the business elite. No single group held all the cards.

    In a new preface to the book’s second edition, Dahl dwelled on the complexity of his initial question.

    “The absence of satisfactory ways of measuring power and influence, and thus describing them accurately, presents a huge challenge,” he wrote.

    In 1978, power aligned in Connecticut to reimburse the state’s towns and cities for a portion of the money they lose every year to tax-exempt properties. The Times story noted an unusual coalition of municipalities and tax-exempt institutions, “two traditional adversaries.”

    Unlike power, money is an easy calculus. It adds up. Except when it doesn’t.

    Money is zero-sum — and not just for Connecticut municipalities competing in 2014 over shrinking PILOT funds.

    “Someone has to pay,” Stratton said. “For years, it’s been the taxpayers of New Haven. Maybe it’s time someone else pitches in.”

  8. Latest poll puts Murphy in lead

    Leave a Comment

    Democrat Chris Murphy has pulled decisively ahead of Republican Linda McMahon in the ongoing U.S. Senate race, according to the latest poll conducted by the University of Connecticut and the Hartford Courant.

    The poll surveyed more than 500 likely Connecticut voters, 44 percent of whom said they would support Murphy and 38 percent of whom said they supported McMahon.

    The six-point margin falls outside of the poll’s four-point margin of error.

    Part of Murphy’s growing advantage can be linked to his increasing body of support among women. Fifty percent of women in the poll said they would support Murphy, while 32 percent said they would support McMahon.

    Still, 17 percent of the polled electorate remains undecided, leaving room for large swings in either direction during the last few weeks of the race.

  9. What the Nobel Peace Prize Means for the EU

    Leave a Comment

    This is the first piece in Kiki Ochieng’s new WEEKEND Blog column, “Beyond Polls & Borders.” Watch her introduction to her writing series and focus here.

    Last Friday, in what some may have perceived as a curious choice, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union (EU) “for over six decades contribut[ing] to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.” Despite the fact that the EU has been rumored to be a contender for the award in the past, some responded to the announcement with shock and confusion, as the union’s ongoing economic crisis has recently overshadowed its peacekeeping accomplishments.

    Although the 27-member union has seen major political and ideological shifts among its member states due to the debt crisis, the EU still persists as one of the strongest multilateral organizations in the world. Founded after World War II as a model for economic and political unity, the EU has always held peace at the core of its mission. Because economic security and a single market facilitate interstate cooperation, the organization paved the way for countries that formerly considered themselves enemies (i.e. France and Germany) to form close alliances. Through its attempt to integrate Eastern European nations, the union has also helped to end the ethnically-motivated conflicts that plagued the region in the early 90s.

    Still, while these political accomplishments are largely unquestioned, it’s worth asking how relevant the EU’s role remains as the continent now grapples with financial woes — and if there could be a political motivation behind the committee’s choice. At the award announcement ceremony in Oslo, Thorbjørn Jagland, the head of the Nobel committee, said: “the main message is that we need to keep in mind what we have achieved on this continent, and not let the continent go into disintegration again.” In what looks like a direct response to growing Euroscepticism, the Nobel committee appears to believe that the European Union is in need of a reminder of its triumphs and ongoing mission in order to reinvigorate itself. (Ironically, though, the prize has been presented in a country that is not itself a member of the Union.)

    For the Norwegian Nobel Committee, at least, the EU’s benefits far outweigh its purported costs.

    The Committee thus recognizes a larger truth about the Union, one Eurosceptics have come to ignore in their narrative about the last four years. In response to the award, French President François Hollande told the press that the EU must prove itself “worthy” of such recognition. He hit the nail on the head — the Nobel Committee is silently imploring the EU to remember what its true goals are. And that means recognizing that this award is not only for political leaders and bureaucrats; it is an award for the 500 million citizens of the European Union. It is a clarion call for patience and humility. It is a message asking us to realize that, despite the current hardship and painful institutional reform that many EU member states are facing, the ideals of the organization override these concerns in the long term.

    The EU has helped significantly curb the over-zealous nationalism that has, in the not-so-distant past of the continent, led to devastating genocides and inequality. If it dissolves, we may see countries like Greece and Spain, already in the midst of downward spirals, succumb to failures in the rule of law and good governance. We may see nations like France, the originator of liberté, egalité and fraternité, no longer feeling held to a standard by their peers — and, as they desperately search for scapegoats on whom to blame their economic troubles in a time of global recession, turn on their immigrant communities or wealthier segments of society. We require mediators, in the form of EU structures, to help member states avoid the dangers of giving into extremist segments of their respective governments at times when their states are most vulnerable.

    Rather than trying to “save” the euro or making a sardonic statement about the region’s financial difficulty through the prize money, the Nobel Committee has simply chosen to focus on the ways in which the European Union has positively contributed to European and general world vision as well as the ways in which it still has the potential to do so. As Jagland stated to the committee in his remarks, “this historic empathy still remains in the heads of so many Europeans.” Moments like this remind us that giving up on an organization that has shaped the peace processes, general enrichment and lives of millions for over half a century is simply not an option today.

  10. First Reactions: Second Presidential Debate

    Leave a Comment

    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney squared off in their second of three debates at Hofstra University in New York on Tuesday. After the debate, student political leaders around campus shared their thoughts on the event. Read their reactions below:

    Ella Wood ’15, Vice Chairwoman of the Independent Party

    Supporters of the President have cause for celebration, or at least relief, after the debate. It may have seemed that Governor Romney had the advantage leading into tonight, but fact-checking from the last debate has had time to catch up with him, so viewers were primed to listen for falsehoods in what Romney was saying. Obama did a much better job tonight of pointing out Romney’s half-truths, which was something sorely lacking from his performance at the first debate.

    Romney did hammer home some of the strongest themes from the first debate, particularly his case that the Obama administration has failed to resuscitate the economy, which he delivers with conviction every time. He, however, had several moments that will set some voters’ teeth on edge: For example, his discussion of fair pay for women not only was meme-worthy, but also revealed a narrative of women’s lives that will irk many female voters — and it was only made worse by his self-congratulatory stories about his corporate experience. Obama had a few missteps, too, and it took him a while to hit his stride; neither campaign was served by the bickering that sometimes threatened to erupt.

    Ultimately, though it wasn’t the decisive victory Romney delivered last week, Obama’s performance gave his campaign plenty of material to use in the spin room, and should be enough to reassure and re-energize his supporters.

    Zak Newman, President of the Yale College Democrats

    Wow. The President hit it out of the park tonight. He reminded voters of all he has accomplished in the last four years and laid out specific plans for how we will continue to rebuild our economy in the next four. His closing statements defined the choice voters will make in a few weeks: between a man who may (or may not) dismiss a near majority of Americans and one who believes that the key to economic growth lies in the middle class — not at the very top income bracket.

    But it was when the candidates fell flat that we could best measure each man. When the President struggled on a tough question, he was careful and referred back to his campaign’s themes of empowerment and interdependence. Romney’s fumbles were surprising and offensive, relegating the work of sexual equality to quotas, suggesting that he leads on policy only when private interests agree, and trying to corner the President with factual inaccuracies on the sensitive situation in Libya.

    The crowd at Hofstra — myself included — couldn’t help but cheer when Romney was put in his place.

    Nicholas Sas ’14, Chairman of the Tory Party

    Alas, Obama decided to show up to this debate. Unfortunately, he spent the entire night running from his own failures and trying to distort Romney’s plan. As much as he smeared Romney’s plan, he utterly failed to offer a vision of his own. Exchanging “hope” and “change” to “forward” as his slogan, Obama tacitly admitted to his disaster of a presidency, yet what he proposes for the next four years remains a mystery.

    Madelaine Taft-Ferguson ’13, Chair of the Party of the Left

    [The debate is] either hilarious or they’re both being childish, and Romney is whining. But it’s more fun to watch and they’re both doing slightly better; it seems to just be an effect of the format.

    Alexander Crutchfield ’15, Floor Leader of the Right for the Yale Political Union

    Although Barack Obama’s new aggressive demeanor might come of to some as victorious, it merely served as a guise to hide his multiple factual errors. Most egregious was his claim that he always stated the attacks in Benghazi were acts of terror. Although Obama references the attacks as acts of terror, this was merely in reference the terror involved in random violence. The administration’s unclear story on what actually occurred in Benghazi stole the show tonight.

    Correction: October 17, 2012

    A previous version of this article misidentified Madelaine Taft-Ferguson’s title as “Chairwoman.” In fact, her title is “Chair.”

  11. Malloy ranked among top 10 in cannabis debate

    Leave a Comment

    Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy may not have been on the cover of Rolling Stone this month, but the magazine just named him one of the country’s top 10 politicians “on the right side” of the medical marijuana debate.

    Last year, Malloy approved a bill that decriminalized medical marijuana and reduced penalties for people found with the drug. Instead of facing a $1,000 fine and possible jail time, cannabis offenders now have to pay $250 for their first offense and up to $500 for subsequent violations.

    But some have questioned the Governor’s motivations in his recent legislation — his son has allegedly been arrested twice for unlawful marijuana possession, including once in 2007.