Bastiat, Beautiful Scenery, and the Big Apple

I recently returned from a work-related trip in the states of New York and New Jersey. Being the sheltered Orange County, CA kid I am, I had never been to New York before and was excited to plan this trip. Lucky for me, my job allowed me to embark on this quest to find and seek out conservative activists at New York  and New Jersey campuses.

Over the course of four days, I saw many things and met many interesting folks.

En route to JFK, I sat next to a Czech man also from Alexandria, VA. He was making a connecting flight at JFK to get to Prague, Czech Republic. The elderly gentleman, Pete, noticed my Bastiat book and then proceeded to talk about how great his work was. Pete said how much he valued his [Bastiat’s] contributions to society and also valued those of other notable economists from the Austrian School. Pete recounted how he and his wife (who hails from Germany) came to this country in 1976. Pete quipped, “I born under Hitler and raised under Stalin.” At that moment, I knew then and there that I had an ally in him. He reminded me of my paternal and maternal grandfathers in many ways. Like him, both of my grandfathers – especially my late Grandpa Misha  – wore baseball caps, large vests, and traveled lightly. He also boasted this kind demeanor commonly found in immigrants from the former USSR, particularly the ones who saw what a nightmare Communism was in the Old Country. You know when you meet a stranger for the first time and instantly hit it off with them? This is exactly the feeling I got when I talked with Pete. Like my parents, he understands the dangers of universal healthcare, the failure of forced “equality”, class warfare rhetoric, and other radical positions this sitting president touts on a daily basis. It is always heartwarming to meet people who come from a similar background. Although I was fortunate to be born in the United States, I recognize Pete’s and my parent’s concerns about this administration embracing socialism and Marxism. I befriended Pete and plan to keep in touch with him.

Gabby Conquers NYC? Sort Of…

Once I hitched a cab to my hotel, I laid eyes on the terrible traffic that is commonplace there. What made it worse was the fact that the Messiah himself, President Obama, was in town for yet another fundraiser with his celebrity surrogates. How lovely. Those of us who hail from Southern California are familiar with traffic, and my adopted home – Washington, D.C. – was recently named the city with the worst drivers in America. New York traffic couldn’t be that unbearable, I thought. Alas, I was greatly mistaken.

Aside from the traffic, I enjoyed navigating the subway system. It boasts many similarities to the WMATA, our beloved metro system here in the  D.C. metro area , but had far more stops and is more subterranean than it. I had to get from Queens, NY to Manhattan to meet with students at the King’s College, so the subway helped out.

Kings College is set in the heart of Wall Street and the Financial District in NYC. The skyscrapers surrounding it tower high above the streets, and are worth marveling. (Yes, I did see Occupy activists in and around Wall Street.)

And the New York Stock Exchange:

Of course, no trip to New York City is complete without a stop to Times Square. Despite the rain that night, I enjoyed being immersed in the popular hotspot. Our gracious tour guides – some new friends from King’s College – gave me and Brandon, one of my field reps, a great but quick tour of the area. I was the only one in the group playing tourist, but that wasn’t an issue. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the greatness that is NYC?

Following my visit to King’s College, I went to NYU and Princeton University.

Here’s a shot of Princeton, a campus I found to be beautiful with its High Victorian Gothic style. (If you were wondering, YES – conservatives exist at Princeton and most Ivy League schools. Sad thing is, many are closeted and afraid to publicly express their views.)

After spending several days in NYC, I went to upstate NY to meet with more students. I came across this thing before leaving the city. Apparently, unions display these rather disgusting, ugly-looking inflatable rats as a form of protest when they don’t get their way…

FACT: Upstate New York is gorgeous.

I’ve lived in suburbia my entire life, whether it be in Laguna Niguel, Coto de Caza, or La Jolla in California but have grown to accept and enjoy living close to a major city. Nevertheless, I’ve always been one for the outdoors since I enjoy fishing, camping, and hiking in my free time. That being said, upstate New York was anything but boring and uninteresting. The foliage, rivers, lush green pastures, and countless farms are great fixtures in the region. It reminded me of Lithuania, my ancestral homeland, with its crisp fresh air and nature. Here is a breathtaking sunset near Ithaca, NY.

One odd thing that I noticed was cemeteries located near every land-grant (public) university. Whether Syracuse, Ithaca, Cortland, or Buffalo, cemeteries are a commonplace in upstate New York. Beats me, but here’s more information about them.

One place we stumbled upon was this diner near Geneseo, NY:

It was NASCAR-themed and had a country flair to it. The food was also delicious. Here’s another view from the inside.

My other field rep, Simeon – who also graduated from UCSD this June – and I visited and met with students from Syracuse U, Cornell U, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY Buffalo. I absolutely loved Cornell’s surroundings with its gorges, forests, wild deer, the Finger Lakes, and old architecture. SUNY Buffalo was our largest meeting with over 30 students in attendance. Each university was unique, and the students were equally passionate and dedicated to the cause. I can say that there is true, genuine hope in New York. Young conservative activists just need to be identified and equipped with the right tools to counter liberal bias on campus.

As I was heading back to D.C., I realized I was riding the same plane with Al Sharpton (think race-baiter, serial hypocrite) and Doug Schoen, Democrat and Fox News contributor. Talk about an interesting experience…

My takeaway from the trip? New York lives up to its reputation as an impressionable and exciting place. Los Angeles and San Diego pale in comparison to NYC with respect to size. Upstate New York reminded me of several places in Southern California, with its small towns, forests, and mountains – minus being a desert. While New York is a blue state, I learned to appreciate it and value the experience by not allowing politics to entirely get in the way of my trip. I’ll be going again in October to help students counter U.N. Day.

Next stop: Boston and Southern New England!

Update: I will resume blogging in the next couple of weeks. I’ve got some wonderful writing opportunities that I will .

Princeton sees death of “Great Hummus Debate” after referendum fails

Sabra (company)

Image via Wikipedia

Taken from The California Review and AmatoTalk on December 3rd, 2010:

After much deliberation, Princeton University students rejected a referendum that would have banned Sabra hummus from dining halls. Students who have tackled and successfully defeated divestment campaigns on their universities can find some temporarily solace with this development. As I pointed out on November 22nd, this call to boycott and ban Sabra hummus is a political ploy to undermine the state of Israel.

Known as Princeton’s “Great Hummus Debate,” the Sabra hummus referendum attracted attention from Fox Nation, the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and the Associated Press. What started off as a pointless war waged on the delicious dip escalated into a deciding moment in the fate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An article in the Daily Princetonian reports that the measure failed 1044 to 699, making note of the following.

If the referendum were approved, the USG would have recommend to Dining Services that an alternative brand of hummus be offered for sale at retail locations on campus.

This is seen as a victory for pro-Israel advocates, as the war waged on hummus proved to be divisive:

Tigers for Israel opposed the hummus referendum and the Center for Jewish Life cautioned students that “passage of the referendum would allow the referendum’s sponsors to make a strong political statement about Israel.” In a statement released Friday, CJL co-presidents Kerry Brodie ’12 and Mendy Fisch ’11 said, “We are proud that the Princeton student body defeated the referendum.”…“This is a victory for those who wish to foster open dialogue and honest discussion on campus. It is a victory for those who wish to continue to think, work and act to achieve peace,” they added.

The Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) sponsored this referendum to seek an alternative to Sabra hummus, citing The Strauss Group’s partial shareholdings in Sabra Dipping Company. The motive behind the group’s attacks originated in their belief that Sabra Dipping Company supports a brigade of the IDF that is “guilty of crimes against humanity.” Their intent is highlighted below:

The student group Princeton Committee on Palestine sponsored the referendum because The Strauss Group, which owns 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company, has publically and financially supported members of the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces. The brigade has been accused of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

This particular attack on Sabra hummus is seen as a pet project of the Philly BDS, which seeks to boycott, divest and bring sanctions against companies that support the Israeli Defense Forces. Essentially, this group seeks to condemn Israel and its powerful military forces by accusing them of human rights violations. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement is not exclusively tied to the U.S., as similar campaigns can be found in Canada:

Well hummus is just the latest target in a long line of commercial and ideological boycotts targeted at the Israeli government. Not simply an American movement, Canadian students have also actively supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign, which was initiated in 2005 with the intention of pressuring the Israeli government to “end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and “[recognize] the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel.”

Princeton University was not the only campus subject of recent BDS campaigns. DePaul University twiddled with a similar hummus ban referendum, although it failed to materialize.

With the continued rejection of BDS campaigns on college campuses, it is evident that students and their peers find this to be a pointless attack and something that is foolish to debate. Again, student governments should refrain from making statements on international relations. Leave the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the diplomats and experts. Now, eat your hummus in peace and hopefully people can focus on the real problem: Hamas.

Princeton wages war on Israel through Sabra hummus boycott

Taken from The California Review on November 21st, 2010:

What is with college students making everything political? One would think food—especially a delicious Mediterranean spread enjoyed by both Israelis and Palestinians—would be spared this injustice. Apparently, nothing goes unnoticed at the Ivy League. Not even hummus.

Why is such a harmless food item being spotlighted, one might ask? The Princeton Committee on Palestine is pushing for the removal of Sabra Hummus from University Stores. They cite Sabra’s partial owner—the Strauss Group—as a supplier of care packages to the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces. This attack on hummus is an attack on Israel’s legitimacy. Efforts to delegitimize the state of Israel under the guise of divestment from companies funding Israel—which is a very familiar tactic at UC-San Diego and UC-Berkeley—are foolish. Hummus is a harmless late night snack, not a political ploy.

Samson Schatz, chair of Tigers for Israel, writes about Sabra’s shareholders in The Daily Princetonian:

The truth is that 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company is owned by PepsiCo, and 50 percent is owned by the Strauss Group, an Israeli company. The Strauss Group sponsors a range of community outreach programs, including raising money for premature infants in Serbia and providing scholarship funds to children with cancer. The Strauss Group’s list of projects also includes a “support the troops” program, for which the company provides care packages of free hummus to Israeli soldiers in the Golani Brigade. The company has not been providing weapons or ammunition; it is simply giving the 18-year-olds in uniform free hummus and a little moral support.

He also notes the irrelevant nature of highlighting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of boycotting Sabra hummus:

You are being deceived because you are being made to believe that putting pressure on Israel is sufficient to resolve the conflict in the Middle East. The leaders of the anti-Sabra campaign imply that by attacking Sabra hummus or even divesting from Israel we can bring peace to the region. Israel is already making compromises. While we have been blinded by frivolous debate over a creamy, chickpea delicacy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday proposed to his cabinet a 90-day extension to the freeze on building settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu hopes that the borders of the future Palestinian state will be decided within this time frame, which would render further discussion of settlement construction in Israeli territory moot. The Middle East conflict is more complicated than hummus. I strongly encourage this campus to focus its intellectual energy on the real issues rather than shift its focus to minute, immature and pathetic distractions.

The “Save the Hummus!–Vote Against the Sabra Hummus Boycott” event page on facebook notes backpedaling from the PCP on November 19th, 2010:

We are very excited to hear that, despite its initial advertising, PCP has backpedaled and no longer claims that its referendum is a direct call for the University to stop selling Sabra Hummus. Although the word “boycott” is not officially part of the referendum text, we still oppose this referendum because of its significant ambiguity and because it unfairly singles out Sabra Hummus.

The exact text of the anti-Sabra ballot resolution will be as follows:

“On behalf of the student body, the USG will make a formal recommendation to University Dining Services that it offer an alternative to Sabra Hummus in all university retail locations.”

This language is extremely ambiguous: does “offer an alternative to” mean an alternative in addition to or instead of Sabra? Although PCP originally aimed for this resolution to convince Dining Services to replace Sabra hummus with an alternative, as stated in the information on PCP’s Facebook group page and on PCP’s electronic petition, Bitran and PCP have since changed their message regarding the intent of this confusing text.

In a statement made to the Prince prior to the article published today, Bitran wrote that this referendum “asks the university to provide an alternative to Sabra. We don’t know what the university will do, whether they will sell Sabra and an alternative side by side, or how many of each.”

It is crucial that student governments refrain from political issues, especially when they are so divisive. Last year at UC-San Diego, our student government was faced with a resolution urging divestment from companies operating in “war zones” [read the fine print: doing business with Israel] — specifically naming companies with shareholdings there like GE. Regardless, political controversies should have no place in student government, which is supposed to be a voice for all of the students.

Tigers for Israel cites valid points in defense of Sabra hummus and Israel.

1. This boycott is far too broad a means of challenging human rights violations. Not all Golani Brigade soldiers are guilty of criminal behavior, and many of those who have committed crimes have, as acknowledged by PCP’s very own pamphlets, been convicted by Israeli courts. It is not right to hold the majority of soldiers responsible for the few, just as it would not be right to boycott Palestinian products because of the actions of a few terrorists.

2. The logic behind this boycott could be extended to include boycotts of various goods produced by American firms supporting US soldiers. Americans were guilty of terrible abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Nonetheless, American courts still convict those who are guilty of war crimes. Should we boycott Boeing due to its contracts with the US Army just because of isolated cases of human rights violations by American soldiers? Absolutely not!

3. (NOTE: This paragraph was written prior to PCP’s backpedaling on the meaning of the referendum.) The advocates of the boycott condemn the lack of consumer choice available on campus when it comes to hummus. But their position is not the one of enhanced consumer choice. We would love to see the University offer multiple brands of hummus in its stores. When we have more options, everyone wins. But that DOES NOT require banning Sabra Hummus. The reason Sabra is the hummus brand of choice as of now is that it is very popular across the country. In fact, it was recently reported that Sabra sold 40% of all hummus in the US. The University’s decision to make Sabra its default hummus choice is perfectly logical. We’d all love more options, but eliminating Sabra from the equation simply is not the answer.

4. Some speak of Arabs being forced to support crimes against their own people since Sabra Hummus is the only brand available to them. While we do not argue that Sabra MUST be allowed to have a U-Store monopoly, we think it absurd to suggest that supporting a company that sends care packages to Israeli soldiers is indirect support for war crimes.

5. Context is critical here. This boycott unfairly targets Israel. We’re not seeing an attempt, for example, to boycott products which somehow support the Saudi government despite its truly widespread human rights abuses. And even were the student body to deem boycotts targeted at Israeli goods to be acceptable, where would this stop? Would we boycott Microsoft, Intel, Victoria’s Secret, and other mainstream companies based heavily in Israel? Surely the student body is not willing to take this misguided effort to its logical conclusion.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complicated issue, and we concede that there’s room for improvement on all sides. Placing ALL of the blame on Israel is not going to bring peace to the region. Instead of furthering these divides through arbitrary boycotting, we should work to build bridges between both sides by engaging each other in constructive dialogue to find ways to end the conflict.

Frankly, I like my hummus and hate seeing this product go down by those eager to undermine Israel. Student governments have rejected all attempts to divest from Israel because it is pointless, divisive, and inappropriate to deliberate. Let’s keep it that way.