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re: Berkeley

Excusing Berkeley
by Bethany Stotts

The Berkeley City Council's decision to declare its local U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office "unwelcome and uninvited intruders" has sparked considerable controversy throughout the nation. With S. 2596, also known as the Semper Fi Act, now in the Senate and with 12 cosponsors, this controversy seems to have intensified, prompting news articles critical of Senator Jim DeMint's (R-SC) proposed "retaliation." Should the legislation pass, the city of Berkeley would lose $2.3 million in earmarks.

The threatened loss of $975,000 (a subset of the total amount) for the University of California Berkeley's Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service likely prompted Chancellor Birgeneau's letter to his local Congressman, John Campbell (R-CA), which noted that the campus is a "completely separate entity" from the city. "All branches of the Armed Forces, including the Marines, are welcome to recruit on the Berkeley campus and I have defended vigorously our policy when various groups have objected to it," writes Birgeneau. UC Berkeley supports Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC Units on the campus.

Representative Campbell also introduced a House companion bill, H.R. 5222, on February 6. It currently has 81 cosponsors.

Enter an openly biased article by Bay Area News Group Writer Doug Oakley which characterizes the new legislation as an attempt by "six Republican senators" to "retaliate" against the Berkeley City Council. "Several Republicans in Congress are attempting to strip Berkeley institutions of federal funds in retaliation for last week"s City Council vote telling the U.S. Marines that their recruiting station is not welcome in the city," reads the opening line of Oakley's article.

The author, clearly critical of the legislation, characterizes the earmarks as essential humanitarian aid, funds which "are designated for school lunches, Bay ferry service, disability organizations, UC Berkeley and public safety." While technically true, Oakley carefully omits the opinions of supporters of the Semper Fi Act, listing only DeMint's declaration that the city must be held accountable for its insulting actions.

Immediately following DeMint's statement supporting the Act, Oakley belies objectivity and writes that "Bates and others wondered why the legislators would want to punish institutions that have nothing to do with the city government." He then goes on to quote representatives from the affected organizations, including UC Berkeley, the Berkeley Unified School District, and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates"all of whom are uniformly critical of the Act, labeling it "absurd," arbitrary, making "no sense," and "unfortunate."

The article, published by the Contra Costa Times, also mentions local Democratic congressional opposition to the bill as led by two members: Representative Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). "A spokesman for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she would 'vigorously fight any effort to cut funding to these programs,' " writes Oakley. Both of the representatives mentioned in favor of stopping the legislation (and thereby saving the city from reprisal) are Democrats, and the retaliatory figures within the article are all Republicans.

This seems to evince a Republicans-bad, Democrats-good spin within the article, although, arguably, many congressional members from this area happen to be Democrats. The stigma lies with Oakley's implication that Republicans are "retaliating" against Berkeley, going to "strip" it of funding, engaged in an ideological war against earmarks, and "punishing" the city's unrelated organizations.

To compound this characterization, Oakley devotes one additional line to elucidating Senator DeMint's platform, writing, "A spokesman for DeMint said that the senator has been a longtime opponent of earmarks because they are hidden in spending bills and not debated." He also lists the names of each Congressional member that introduced the House and Senate bills.

Not until over 700 words down the page, in what appears to be a separate article written with co-author Shelly Meron, does Oakley directly confront the insulting events inspiring the Semper Fi Act. Instead, he mentions Mayor Bates' apology twice within the first 270 words.

The Mercury Times combines and shortens the two articles into a single piece, which does discuss the City Council's original inflammatory actions. It attributes the condensed article to both Oakley and Meron.

Oakley ignores an important aspect of the Act's inception when he insinuates that the Semper Fi Act has the end goal of reducing earmarks. Rather, the Act is likely another attempt by legislators to extend the powers of the Solomon Amendment.

The Solomon Amendment finds its roots in the 1996 Pombo Amendment, which was attached to President Bill Clinton's 1996 Defense Appropriations Act. It allows the government to rescind federal appropriations for institutions of higher education which prevent the ROTC from establishing chapters on campus or refuse to allow their students to enroll in ROTC chapters. The law stipulates that "no funds appropriated or otherwise available to the Department of Defense may be made obligated by contract or by grant (including a grant of funds to be available for student aid) to any institution of higher education that, as determined by the Secretary of Defense, has an anti-ROTC policy," with some additional conditions. The Amendment was later strengthened to include non-DoD federal funds and was upheld in 2006 by the Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. FAIR. The final version of the law, established in 2005, provides three exemptions for colleges and universities:

  • When "the institution of higher education involved has a longstanding policy of pacifism based on historical religious affiliation," or

  • "The covered educational entity has ceased the policy or practice,"

  • Or "if the institution of higher education involved is prohibited by the law of any State, or by the order of any State court...except that this paragraph shall apply only during the one-year period beginning on the effective date of this section."

However, as Young America's Foundation Director of Military Outreach, Flagg Youngblood, notes in a January 16th press release, this legislation remains largely unenforced. Among the colleges not hosting ROTC chapters on campus"yet still receiving federal funding" are Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Caltech, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, he asserts. "Since Vietnam, these schools have constantly sought ways to say 'NO!' to the military," writes Youngblood, a former ROTC cadet at Yale.

H.R. 5222 echoes the Solomon Amendment in its call for a "rescission" of the city of Berkeley's 2008 earmarks, which would then be reappropriated for the DoD office of Operations and Maintenance, Marine Corps for "recruiting purposes." Should the legislation pass, it could effectively extend the federal government's ability to repeal appropriations beyond the narrow jurisdiction of universities and into a broader scope: other, non-academic entities receiving federal funding. This extension, if enforced, could have wide-ranging implications for American society. CRO

Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer for Accuracy in Academia.


copyright 2008 Accruacy in Academia



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