Department of State

On March 3, news broke of unconfirmed 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of private email over her four years as Secretary of State. Both Americans and the media are stuck between Clinton’s insistence her actions were empty of impropriety and conservative conspiracy theories about her decision’s implications. What I now regard as a non-issue is still fuel for Republican fodder weeks later.  

I cannot deny that there was substance to the initial outrage over Clinton’s decision to opt out of using a State Department email address. As critics have pointed out, the location of Clinton’s private server in Chappaqua, New York, did not put it under the protection of Clinton’s security detail or her direct control. It was also against State Department policy: A 2005 order instructed employees not to use their personal emails even for “normal day-to-day operations,” and a 2011 cable from Clinton’s office reiterated the prohibition on using personal emails for any official state business. Finally, government officials were terminated for not complying with those orders during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, lending her slip the stench of hypocrisy. In her March 10 press conference, Clinton offered mere convenience as her only excuse. 

Yet Clinton rectified her fault when she submitted over 55,000 documents  to the State Department in an effort to clear her name. Later, when the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi subpoenaed Clinton and several members of her office, it was all but guaranteed that the Republican-led committee would unearth any hint of misconduct. Clinton appeared free from further suspicion. 

Clinton’s decision to operate exclusively from a private email on a personal server was irresponsible. It was also without precedent: Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice said they both had private emails, but only conducted state business over state-protected servers. Perhaps Clinton’s decision was also arrogant; the chief diplomat of the United States excusing themselves from department-wide rules seems indicative of some measure of frayed everyday workplace ethics, in addition to an obvious lapse in common sense. 

But Clinton is not the menace to national security conservative circles have suggested. In an official statement on his congressional office’s website, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), a member of the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, compared the Clinton emails to Nixon’s self-edited responses in the Watergate proceedings, which was an act of treason. 

In the House Republicans’ Weekly Republican Address on March 14, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-IN, ludicrously suggested Clinton’s emails lay the blame for the Benghazi attack at Clinton’s feet, shamelessly rewriting history after Clinton confirmed she received no soluble security requests prior to the Benghazi attack when she testified before Congress on Jan. 23, 2013; in any case, such requests likely would have been denied because Republicans slashed $300 million from the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program. Finally, though Rand Paul may insist otherwise, I am not of the belief that the communication of Clinton’s yoga schedule specifically over a private server was, in and of itself, a threat to national security. 

Though it took Clinton a full week to get in front of the would-be scandal’s message with a press conference, a CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday reported untouchable gains over other potential Democratic nominees. Clinton towers nearly 50 points ahead of her nearest competitor, Vice President Joe Biden. 

Scandal and all, Clinton should be preparing for a primary coronation in 2016. And the right knows it. The would-be scandal remains in the media because of conservative doggedness and partisan pettiness, not because of voter concerns. 

It is all too easy to forget that bipartisanship can serve as a system of checks and balances to hold the opposing party accountable. But we as a people, and the right wing as a party, do not have the privilege of rewriting the history of a leading Democrat’s decades of public service because a convenient opportunity arose. Capitalizing on Clinton’s mistake for partisan gains would be a grave mistake: It would be a dismissal of a governmental malaise at best and an exploitation of a system-wide failure at worst, instead of the correction of it. Much must change, and Clinton is only part of the problem.

It is almost a given that Clinton will ride out this storm. She has not only been a devoted public servant but a bulldog in the advocacy of herself and countless others. Clinton is a survivor. Though Clinton made herself an exception to one of our country’s highest office’s rules, I argue that we can face this as an opportunity to re-examine government-wide lapses in accountability. I choose to remember this is as an issue of insisting that officials live by the rules meant to safeguard us all — in literally any case, a nobler alternative to partisan opportunism.

Smith is a is a history and humanities junior from Austin. Follow Smith on Twitter @clairesysmith.

BEIJING — The blind Chinese dissident who boldly fled house arrest and placed himself under the wing of U.S. diplomats balked Wednesday at a deal delicately worked out between the two countries to let him live freely in China, saying he now fears for his family’s safety unless they are all spirited abroad.

After six days holed up in the U.S. Embassy, as senior officials in Beijing and Washington tussled over his fate, Chen Guangcheng left the compound’s protective confines Wednesday for a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury suffered in his escape. A shaken Chen told The Associated Press from his hospital room that Chinese authorities had warned he would lose his opportunity to be reunited with his family if he stayed longer in the embassy.

U.S. officials verified that account. But they adamantly denied his contention that one American diplomat had warned him of a threat from the Chinese that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not get out of the embassy.

“I think we’d like to rest in a place outside of China,” Chen told the AP, appealing again for help from Washington. “Help my family and me leave safely.”

Only hours earlier, U.S. officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.

That announcement had been timed to clear up the matter before strategic and economic meetings start Thursday between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and their Chinese counterparts — and to show the U.S. standing firm in its defense of human rights in China while engaging on
other issues.

Clinton spoke to Chen on the phone when he left the embassy and, in a statement, welcomed the resettlement agreement as one that “reflected his choices and our values.”

But the murky circumstances of Chen’s departure from the embassy, and his sudden appeal to leave China after declaring he wanted to stay, again threatened to overshadow talks that were to focus on the global economic crisis and hotspots such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry signaled its unhappiness with the entire affair, demanding that the U.S. apologize for giving Chen sanctuary at the embassy.

“What the U.S. side has done has interfered in the domestic affairs of China, and the Chinese side will never accept it,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement.

Chen, 40, became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions carried out as part of China’s one-child policy. He served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges, then was kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother, with the adults often being roughed by officials and his daughter searched and harassed.

Blinded by childhood fever but intimately familiar with the terrain of his village, Chen slipped from his guarded farmhouse in eastern China’s Shandong province at night on April 22. He made his way through fields and forest, along roads and across a narrow river to meet the first of several supporters who helped bring him to Beijing and the embassy — his guards unaware for three days that he was gone.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner disputed Chen’s claim that he was left alone by the Americans at the hospital.

“There were U.S. officials in the building,” the spokesman told reporters. “I believe some of his medical team was in fact with him at the hospital.” He said U.S. officials would continue visiting Chen while he was there.

Chen's supporters in the U.S. called on Clinton to meet him directly, and one of them, Republican Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, said it appeared the resettlement agreement “seems to have been done under significant duress.”

“If ever there was a test of the U.S. commitment to human rights, it should have been at that moment, potentially sending him back to a very real threat,” he said.

But no one appeared to know precisely what to make of Chen's change of heart. He had welcomed a deal that let him stay in China and work for change, telling his lawyer Li Jinsong on the way to the hospital, “I’m free, I’ve received clear assurances,” according to Li.

Toner said three U.S. officials heard Chen tell Clinton in broken English on the phone that he wanted to kiss her in gratitude. Chen told the AP that he actually told Clinton, “I want to see you now.”

Nor is it clear how the U.S. could be party to an agreement on Chen's safety inside China when it has no power to enforce the conditions of his life there.

Ai Xiaoming, a documentary filmmaker and activist, said the Chinese government fails to ensure people’s rights, so the best solution would be for Chen and his family to go to America.

“In the first place, Chen Guangcheng should not have to ask a foreign country to protect his rights,” Ai said. “His rights should be protected by his own country, through the constitution. But it is obvious that this cannot be done.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said no U.S. official said anything to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did the Chinese relay any such threats to American diplomats, she said. She did confirm that if he did not leave the embassy the Chinese intended to return his family to their home province of Shandong, where they had been detained and beaten by local officials, and that they would lose any chance of being reunited.

“At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country,” Nuland said. “All our diplomacy was directed at putting him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives.”

Jerome Cohen, a New York University law professor who is advising Chen at the State Department’s request, said there was never any explicit discussion of a threat against Chen’s wife.

“There was no indication in four or five hours of talks that he knew of any threat to her life,” cohen said.

Senior U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the intense negotiations that led to Chen leaving the embassy, said the U.S. helped Chen get into the embassy because he injured his leg escaping from his village. In the embassy, Chen did not request safe passage out of China or asylum in the U.S., the officials said.

U.S. officials said the deal called for Chen to settle outside his home province of Shandong and have several university options to choose from. They also said the Chinese government had promised to treat Chen “like any other student in China” and to investigate allegations of abuse against him and his family by local authorities.

Clinton said the U.S. would monitor China's assurances. “Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task,” she said.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: Chinese dissident afraid, now wants to leave country

JACKSON, Miss. — The State Department put a freeze Monday on expansion of a program that lines up summer jobs in the U.S. for foreign college students, citing persistent complaints about young people getting ripped off and exploited.

At issue is the J-1 visa program, which began in 1963 as a way to encourage cultural understanding by allowing young adults from other countries to spend their summers living, working and traveling in the U.S.

Nearly a year ago, The Associated Press reported numerous abuses, including cases in which students were put up in shabby, crowded apartments and forced to work grueling hours at backbreaking, menial jobs for $1 an hour or less. Some ended up going to homeless shelters for food or a place to sleep. At least one woman said she was beaten and forced to work as a stripper in 2005.

The State Department, which oversees the program, said Monday that is it limiting the number of future participants to this year’s level, or about 103,000 students, and that it has temporarily stopped accepting any new “sponsors” — companies that help students arrange for visas and find jobs and housing in return for a fee. Most of the abuses have been blamed on unregulated, third-party labor brokers who work with the students, but critics say the sponsors have done little to protect them.

In the meantime, the State Department said, it is taking a closer look at the program’s regulations.

Under the program, foreign students are granted visas for up to four months and often land jobs at hotels, resorts and restaurants. Participation has boomed from about 20,000 students in 1996 to a peak of more than 150,000 in 2008, and roughly 1 million foreign students have taken part in the past decade.

Last summer, after years of complaints about abuses, the State Department revised it rules to shift more responsibility onto its 53 designated sponsors.

“Yet, despite these new regulations, the number of program complaints received this year continues to remain unacceptably high and includes, among other issues, reports of improper work placements, fraudulent job offers, job cancellations upon participant arrival in the United States, inappropriate work hours, and problems regarding housing and transportation,” the State Department said Monday in announcing the freeze in the Federal Register.

State Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Bilan, 22, an economics student from Romania who worked during the summer at a candy factory in Pennsylvania, said the changes are not enough, and come too late for students like him. Bilan said he would like to see the sponsor he used shut down and the program return to a focus on cultural experiences.

“It should not be about bringing cheap labor for American companies,” Bilan said. “And the worst part is that when you go to get your visa at the embassy, they say to you that you have rights, you are protected, and there is somebody who will help you, all you need is to call a number. But in reality when you stand up for your rights, the sponsor representatives come to your house to try to intimidate you.”

Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, said abuses in the program “harm the reputation of the United States.”

The moratorium on accepting new sponsors “should remain in effect until the State Department implements even stronger rules sanctioning sponsors that retaliate, intimidate and coerce students to remain quiet when reporting violations of U.S. laws,” she said.

The State Department has said most participants enjoy the program, make memories and friends they keep for life, and often apply to participate more than once. But critics of the program say the weak economy has made it much harder for students to earn back the money they pay just to participate.

Many students complained that they were threatened with deportation or eviction if they quit their jobs. Some resorted to stealing essentials like food, toothpaste and underwear, according to police.a

Editor’s note: The following quotes are from Wednesday’s State Department hearing held at the LBJ Auditorium on the proposed extension of the Keystone Oil Pipeline. The pipeline, which transports oil from the Alberta Tar Sands, would cut across the United States to the Texas Gulf Coast.

“I hate to say that we still need oil, but we do. I would love to have an all-green economy, but it’s better to have [oil] and send our money to friends.”
— Mike Goetz, a member of Laborers’ International Union of North America, in support of the pipeline’s extension, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“Texas can live without a pipeline. But we can’t live with unsafe water and air.”
— Christine Wilson, a member of environmental group Stop the Tarsands Oil Pipeline, in opposition to the pipeline’s proposed extension, according to the Statesman.

“Given that we are at a turning point in how we get our energy, it is important that we not take a giant step backwards by building this risky and dangerous tar sands pipeline.”
— Brittany Morgan, president of the UT Sierra Student Coalition, in opposition to the extension, according to The Daily Texan.

Activist Jim Hightower speaks to a group of students and environmentalists outside the LBJ Library, Wednesday evening. Hightower called for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to approve a treaty that would allow construction of a crude-oil pipeline from Canada to Texas.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Hundreds of UT students and members of the community protested for quality environmental conditions Wednesday evening at the LBJ Library, hoping to influence the U.S. State Department to look into greener solutions to replace the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline.

The pipeline, proposed by energy company TransCanada, would run from Alberta, Canada, to the Nederland and Port Arthur area. TransCanada estimates the pipeline will contribute more than $20 million to the economy and create more than 20,000 new jobs across the U.S., according to company’s website. Protesters against the pipeline have raised concerns about its impact on air quality and on the state’s natural aquifers.

The State Department held a hearing at the LBJ Auditorium to gauge public reactions to the proposed pipeline. Throughout the day, the State Department hosted more than 650 people and heard an estimated 250 public testimonies.

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he plans to meet with the State Department later this week.

“Although the pipeline does not come through the city of Austin, I have serious concerns about the project,” Leffingwell said.

The UT Sierra Student Coalition, an organization that focuses on environmental policy in the political sphere, organized a march to the LBJ Auditorium in the effort to inform students about the controversial issue. Sierra Coalition President Brittany Morgan said it was inspiring to see students coming together to fight for a cause larger than the mselves.

“Given that we are at a turning point in how we get our energy, it is important that we not take a giant step backwards by building this risky and dangerous tar sands pipeline,” Morgan said.

Jacqueline Ho-Shing, UT-Pan American psychology junior, spent most of her childhood surrounded by the oil refineries in El Paso and Houston. Ho-Shing travelled to Port Arthur on Monday, the site of the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline, and said she was struck by the familiar smell of oil.

“[Port Arthur] was kind of majestic because of the oil refineries,” said Ho-Shing. “This was ironic because [it’s the] pretty oil refineries that [are] doing such harm.”

Ho-Shing was one of about 150 people protesting the construction of the Keystone Oil Pipeline project and said her main concerns were the health and environmental impacts of the project on the Houston area. She said she suspected her brother’s asthma developed from growing up around the oil refineries of El Paso.

“If they continue with this, it’ll eventually get down to [McAllen]. I want my grandchildren to have a healthy future,” Ho-Shing said.

Student Government passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting student involvement in the pipeline debate because of the number of UT students living in East Texas that would be directly affected. The resolution also called for the State Department to analyze the impacts and risks the pipeline on Texas lands and communities in drought conditions.

Liberal arts Student Government representative John Lawler supported the legislation and said SG received a lot of support from students for the legislation.

“This would create jobs but a majority of them are dirty construction jobs,” Lawler said. “We need to look into becoming an innovative technology [state] and stop producing oil for other people.”

Reno Hammond, representative of the Southwest Laborers’ District Council, said about 75 members of the SWLDC had come out in support of the pipeline because it would create new jobs for many people in the economy. The Southwest Council is an organization of more than 500,000 members who work at oil pipelines, chemical plants, demolition and industrial and professional plants.

Hammond said many of the speakers of the day had a misconstrued view over the pipeline debate and oil refineries. Hammond said many of the public testimonies inaccurately made references to oil spills that are really leaks. He added SWLDC members take care of those leaks and maintain them to make sure they are secure.

“We respect the environment,” Hammond said. “We need jobs. This pipeline has been delayed too long, and every day we wait, it’s a house or insurance payment that needs to be made.”  

Student Government passed a resolution supporting student involvement in the proposed Keystone Oil Pipeline Project on Tuesday night. The resolution did not state SG’s opposition to the pipeline but rather called for more environmental and ecological information from the State Department.

Andrew Townsend, assistant director for the Campus Environmental Center, presented legislation opposing the oil pipeline to SG last week. The Keystone Oil Pipeline, a project by energy company TransCanada, would run more than 1,600 miles from Alberta, Canada, and would end in the Nederland and Port Arthur area.

Townsend said he and many members of the CEC were concerned with the environmental impact the pipeline would have on the state of Texas, especially the degradation of air quality and the effect on natural aquifers, which could, in turn, affect the families and homes of UT students.

“We hope that this legislation, if passed by SG, will serve to illustrate the level of concern present in the student body about this issue,” Townsend said.

Townsend said his committee wrote the legislation in preparation for the State Department public hearing about the pipeline to be held Wednesday. 

Questions arose last week about whether the issue of the Keystone pipeline could be considered student life or whether it was solely a political issue. Yaman Desai, chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee, said representatives mainly had concern with the proposed legislation because they felt not enough was known about the pipeline and about the environmental and economical issues it would cause. 

“[Because] we found such contradictory and inconclusive research on the pipeline, many representatives on the committee did not feel comfortable voting in opposition to the pipeline,” Desai said.

The Legislative Affairs Committee killed Townsend’s original bill in session and drafted a new bill calling for student involvement on the issue and for the State Department to provide a new environmental impact statement that would provide more information on risks of the Keystone project on Texas lands and communities during drought conditions.

The bill passed with an amendment that would only ask the State Department to analyze the environmental impacts instead of issuing a new resolution.

School of Law representative Austin Carlson said the original resolution was in the greater political arena instead of the SG arena.

“I am all for having student involvement, but you walk a very fine line when you touch an underlying political issue,” Carlson said.