American government

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Panelists discussed the current state of American government and the influence of  extreme partisan divides at the "Can the Center Hold?" keynote discussion at the 2014 Tribune Festival on Saturday.

Former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley; Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China and Utah governor; former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison; Ron Kirk, former U.S. trade representative and Dallas mayor; and Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta spoke on the panel, moderated by Evan Smith, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The Texas Tribune.

While the panelists have varying backgrounds and levels of experience in politics, they all agreed the current system of government is broken.

Bradley said the problem with today’s government is the partisan division in Congress.

“I don’t know a president who isn’t thinking like an executive,” Bradley said. “They want to get things done. The problem is Congress. You will never defeat power except by power.”

According to Hutchison, who currently serves as president of the Texas Exes alumni association, the party division in the Senate poses a problem.

“I think it is the polarization and the toxicity,” Hutchison said. “I think the Senate, which was very carefully crafted to be the adult in the room in the whole balance of powers, has lost that role. One of the things that protected that was, and this is a different issue, was the two-thirds rule and the 60 percent rules, where you really couldn’t do anything without a supermajority.”

Advocating for an open primary system in Texas, Hutchison also said she thinks the existing primary system in America is broken and contributes to the heavy party divide in Congress.

“If we are going to have the primaries the way they are today, in Texas especially, you do have the appeal to the very narrow primary voters,” Hutchison said. “People who want a different track need to vote in the primaries. Look at the competitive races you care about. You need to vote in that primary so you can ask for a broader appeal.”

According to Reed, the national division that exists between parties is not as prevalent on smaller governmental levels, making city government positions ideal for individuals who want to see action.

“The kind of hyper-partisanship that goes on nationally is not happening in cities, thank goodness,”  Reed said. “Because of that, you’re going to see more highly talented people put their energy and their passion into cities.”

According to Huntsman, who ran for president in the 2012 race but said he has no presidential aspirations for 2016, Congress' mentality needs to mirror that of city government.

“I would say part of our longer term fix is how do you change the culture, the ethos on capitol hill from anger, animosity and acrimony to problem solving?” Huntsman said. “In order to do that, you have to infuse in people who believe in problem solving and then give them something to do.”

Kirk said he thinks the rise in prominence of social media has caused a shift in political culture.

“I think the explosion of social media changes everything,” Kirk said. “We now all get a peek behind the curtains that we didn’t get before – giving more strength to those who are villains.”

Kirk also said the country ought to have a third, moderate party. 

Reed said he is optimistic that change will come.

“Just about every great revolution in the world was started by someone in their 20s or 30s,” Kirk said. “It wasn’t a bunch of 60-year-olds sitting around pontificating about how life used to be.”

Psychology professors James Pennebaker (left) and Samuel Gosling deliver a video lecture for an online psychology course. Students who took the online course were found to perform better on tests than past students who were taught using a conventional approach.

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts has expanded its synchronous massive online course offerings for the fall semester by an additional course for fall semester.
 
The SMOC format was launched in fall 2013 by psychology professors Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker. Gosling and Pennebaker co-taught an “Introduction to Psychology” SMOC, which they named “Psychology LIVE.” The college also offered an “American Government” course in the SMOC format the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters.
 
SMOCs, or synchronous massive online courses, are live-streamed online-courses that require students to log in at specific times to watch live lectures, take quizzes and exercises, and participate in chat room discussions.
 
According to Pennebaker, students participating in SMOCs are able to engage in more social online interaction than they would be able to in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which do not require live participation from students.
 
“Online education is revolutionizing education as we know it. The benefits far outweigh the downsides,” Pennebaker said. “Depending on the quality of the online course, students can learn more efficiently at a fraction of the price compared to traditional classes.”
 
In addition to offering “Psychology LIVE” and “American Government” again for the fall semester, the College of Liberal Arts is including “U.S. Foreign Policy.”
 
While UT students can sign up for the courses during registration, non-admitted students can also take the classes for credit through University Extension. However, only Gosling and Pennebaker’s psychology course is being offered to non-admitted students as a SMOC. The government courses will only be available to non-admitted students in an “on-demand” format similar to that of a MOOC.
 
The college is also offering four other for-credit courses exclusively through University Extension with the “on-demand” model.
 
Government professor Robert Moser, who will be co-teaching his first SMOC, “U.S. Foreign Policy,” believes that the format can provide an attractive and valuable alternative for students planning on taking introductory courses.
 
“As an instructor, the online format provides opportunities to introduce technologies such as video clips, online surveys, live chat, and simulations that I could not easily integrate in a traditional in-person course,” said Moser, who is also the chair of the government department. “Since I was going to ask my colleagues in the government department to consider this new technology in their introductory courses, I thought I better try it myself.”
 
Government professor Eric McDaniel, who will be co-teaching the “American Government” SMOC, said there are both pros and cons to the format, like any other type of class.
 
“A significant gain in these online courses is that I have more time to deliver more content material. I spend less time repeating myself in the SMOC than I do in the traditional lecture setting,” McDaniel said. “Of course, with online courses, I lose the ability to assess students’ understandings with eye contact.”
 
The SMOCs are priced for non-admitted students at either $200 or $350, with an additional $10 library fee to access online material. Registration closes for the courses on Sept. 15, but a $60 late fee will be charged to those who sign up after Aug. 15.
 

UT graduate student Omid Kokabee is scheduled to face espionage charges Tuesday in his native Iran. Kokabee, who had been studying optics as a first-year graduate student in the UT physics department, stands accused of leaking Iranian nuclear secrets to the American government. The UT community shamefully has remained silent on Kokabee’s ordeal, and this silence has serious implications for international students throughout the United States.

The 29-year-old Kokabee traveled to Iran during winter break. After failing to return and not responding to e-mails, many of Kokabee’s faculty members became worried about him. Word eventually leaked out that Kokabee was arrested by Iranian authorities upon landing at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, and he was transferred to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison sometime in early February.

Since his incarceration, Kokabee has been charged by the Iranian government of “communicating with a hostile government” and “illegitimate/illegal earnings.” According to the ScienceInsider magazine, the government has accused Kokabee of selling off intelligence on Iran’s nuclear technology and actively colluding with the CIA. Under Iran’s penal code, charges related to espionage can carry the death penalty.

These allegations against our fellow Longhorn would be laughably ludicrous if Kokabee’s situation weren’t so grave. The American Physical Society, our nation’s largest organization of physicists, recently published a letter calling for his release that said, “Mr. Kokabee has no training in nuclear physics, is not politically active and is not associated with any political movement in Iran. Rather, his primary concerns were his science studies in the field of optics. This area of physics has essentially no overlap with nuclear technology.”

Our campus certainly attracts top-notch students from around the globe, but our departments aren’t geared for recruiting and cultivating potential spies on foreign nuclear programs. Moreover, Kokabee’s extensive research on optics both in his previous academic career and here at UT lacks even a tangential relationship to nuclear physics. His UT webpage lists impressive research, conferences and educational background in optical laser technology.

There are some theories abound as to why Kokabee was arrested. Iran’s theocratic Shiite government may have sought to suppress ethnic and religious minorities from entering the ranks of the academic elite, as Kokabee is from the mostly Sunni Turkmen ethnic group. More likely, Tehran may have sought to try Kokabee as a warning to its diaspora and students abroad as a chilling effect on pro-democracy advocacy against the regime.

In any case, UT’s failure to generate public awareness of Kokabee’s condition will embolden other authoritarian regimes to muzzle their international students. If UT administrators can’t advocate for the release of a strictly non-political Iranian student, could we really expect them to defend a UT student arrested in China or Burma or Belarus?

It could be argued that since Kokabee isn’t American, he doesn’t deserve the support of UT. But the University’s non-discrimination policy states our students should be treated equally regardless of citizenship. UT student groups can similarly find comfort in espousing generalities on supporting international justice and human rights, but Kokabee gives us a face of a fellow member of our community in need of our open support.

Iran’s government has a storied history of arresting both its own citizens as well as foreigners on trumped-up charges of espionage. Freelance journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested for espionage in 2009, and three American hikers who accidentally wandered into Iran from the Iraqi border were convicted of the same charge two years ago. In each case, the respective detainees were freed after widespread international attention and strong pressure from foreign governments for their release.

But sadly, Kokabee’s case has garnered very little media attention. To their credit, the American Physical Society has joined the international optics society SPIE, the Optical Society of America, the European Optical Society and other reputable scientific organizations in writing open letters to Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, imploring his release.

Ironically, Khamenei himself personally honored Kokabee for the latter’s academic achievements. The two met years earlier at a meeting of Iran’s National Elite Foundation, and Kokabee had demonstrated his intellectual and academic prowess by ranking as 29th in that country’s nationwide entrance exams.

UT administrators, faculty and students alike need to break the silence on Kokabee’s condition. Denied of a fair trial, and forced to confess under interrogation, a UT student risks becoming a symbol of selective injustice worldwide. As his trial gets underway, UT needs to raise awareness and activism for his freedom.


Quazi is a nursing graduate student.

Cries of “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Mubarak’s crimes,” rang across the lawn in front of the Capitol on Saturday as protesters waved Egyptian flags and chanted to support the Egyptian uprising for democracy. Austinites carried anti-Mubarak signs in support of the Egyptian people’s fight to end President Hosni Mubarak’s rule of nearly 30 years. The International Socialist Organization and the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a UT organization, organized the rally to express their discontent with the American government’s military funding to Egyptian officials. Egyptian citizens began protesting Tuesday to fight against growing poverty, lack of democracy and overbearing government rule. American protesters are echoing Egyptian discontent and urging the American government to take a stand against Mubarak’s regime, said Karen Burke, spokeswoman for the International Socialist Organization. “The point of the protest was to say that the American people stand with the Egyptians in their fight for democracy and to encourage the government and our elected officials to withdraw funding to the Mubarak regime,” Burke said. According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. has given $2 billion — most of which supports the military — to Egypt for more than 30 years. Daryl Harris, an Arabic studies graduate student, said he came to the protest to show support for the Egyptian people’s efforts and to express discontent with America’s role in Egyptian affairs. “The corruption in the Egyptian regime is appalling, and the fact that the U.S. does not take a deliberate stance in accordance with its democratic values upsets me as a [U.S.] citizen,” he said. Harris’ voice rang above the other protesters as he stood out in the crowd, shouting for protesters to “get loud” and to “get angry.” “I would like to see people yelling; I would like to see people visibly upset about this,” he said. “If militancy isn’t an alternative, than peace is taken for granted.” The mass Egyptian protests stemmed from the successful protest and overthrow of long-time ruler El Abidine Ben Ali by the Tunisians. The protests in Tunisia and Egypt are a testament to the power citizens can have to demand control over their government, said Snehal Shingavi, a UT assistant English professor. “We should take incredible inspiration from what is happening in the Middle East,” he said. “It shows what ordinary people are capable of doing when they demand democratic rights for themselves in protest of the conditions they live in.” Shingavi told the crowd that the Egyptian people are “heroes” who are empowering themselves and taking their freedom from their government. “Never let it be uttered again that the only way the Arab people will get democracy is with American soldiers coming in and invading their countries,” he said. “Let it never again be uttered that Egypt is not ready for democracy. The people on the streets are demonstrating just how ready for democracy they are.” Coptic Students of Texas, an Egyptian student religious group, expressed less political sentiment for Egyptian citizens in regard to overturning the government. Erene Attia, the group’s president, said their main concern is what will happen to the people in the midst of chaos. Attia said no one is obeying the curfew in spite of all the crime. “There is no sense of order there right now, and I feel like every step the government takes is just adding fuel to the fire,” Attia said.