Excusing Berkeley

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

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 the 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.

Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer for Accuracy in Academia.

 

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