IU expert: Obama’s Vietnam visit seen as ‘historic opportunity’ to strengthen relations

Anh Tran is an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington. His research focuses on governance issues in developing countries. He directs Vietnam Initiatives at IU, a global policy think tank, and he co-founded and directs the Vietnam Young Leaders Award, which brings Vietnamese officials to the U.S. for postgraduate study. He has consulted for national governments, the United Nations and the World Bank.

Anh Tran

Anh Tran

With President Barack Obama visiting Vietnam, Tran answered questions from Policy Briefings about the relationship between the two countries and the significance of the U.S. president’s visit.

Q: How would you describe the potential value of President Obama’s visit for the people of Vietnam?

A: President Obama’s visit is furthering the strategy to “pivot” U.S. foreign policy toward the Asian continent. The Vietnamese people look forward to this visit as a historic opportunity for the two countries to achieve profound comprehension, heal past wounds and reshape the future bilateral cooperation between two countries.

Q: What does the United States gain from its improving relationship with Vietnam?

A: The U.S. primarily expects to gain more potential profits from the trade. Since 2001, bilateral trade has grown dramatically, from $451 million in 1995 to nearly $35 billion in 2014. U.S. exports to Vietnam were worth $5.5 billion in 2014; they included agricultural products, machinery, yarn/fabric and vehicles.

Vietnam — with the 14th largest population in the world, more than 94 million people — is experiencing significant economic growth and is a huge potential market for U.S products. On top of that, the U.S. may gain a remarkable ally in addressing China’s expansionism in the region.

Q: President Obama and President Tran Dai Quang announced Monday that the U.S. was lifting its arms embargo against Vietnam. Why is this important to Vietnam at this time?

A: The lifting of the arms embargo gives Vietnam some strategic opportunities in its disputes with China over the South China Sea and freedom of navigation in international waters. It helps Vietnam reduce its reliance on buying defensive arms from Russia. It also shows a warming of relations between the U.S and Vietnam and opens a new chapter for the relationship between U.S. and Vietnam in various areas.

Q: White House statements about the visit have focused on trade and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Are there other issues regarding the relationship that should also get attention?

A: A noticeable issue is the inconsistent perspective between two countries regarding human rights in Vietnam. Obviously, the U.S will not try to “impose” a democratic system on Vietnam, but it will try to bring out problems related to human rights that both countries believe are universal. These include, in President Obama’s words, “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly, and … the right of civil society to organize and help improve their communities in their country.”

Q: In addition to meeting with leaders and visiting cultural and historic sites, President Obama is scheduled to take part Wednesday in a Young Southeast Leaders Initiative town hall meeting. What is the significance of his decision to participate in this event?

A: The initiative was launched in 2013 as President Obama’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia as well as ties between the U.S and Southeast Asia. The U.S. president’s participation in the town hall meeting emphasizes the position of the young people in reshaping the future of Vietnam and the future of the Southeast Asia. This participation also sends a message about the U.S. commitment to support and encourage the young people to lead the country and region forward. This dialogue is also expected as the building deeper partnership between U.S and Vietnam in the future.

‘Yo Sí Puedo’: How Cuba eradicated illiteracy

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Some 99.8 percent of Cuban adults are literate, one of the highest literacy rates in the world and better than the rate in the United States.

Luisa Yara Campos, director of the Literacy Museum in Havana, was one of the 230,000 Cuban teenagers who left home in 1961 to eradicate illiteracy in the countryside.

Luisa Yara Campos speaks at IU's Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

Luisa Yara Campos speaks at IU’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

Campos spoke about her experience as a teacher and the ongoing global efforts in the lecture “Yes I can, Yo Sí Puedo,” Wednesday at IU’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Arlene Diaz, IU Bloomington associate professor of history, translated the lecture.

“Fidel made a call to city students so that they would volunteer to be the teachers of these peasants,” Campos said.

After delivering a speech to the United Nations promising to eradicate illiteracy within the year, Fidel Castro encouraged urban housewives, retirees and students to mobilize, train and move to the countryside.

A total of 230,000 volunteers worked from February until December of 1961. But despite the eventual success, not all country residents were initially welcoming.

“There was a lot of resistance in the beginning. Adults didn’t want to admit they couldn’t read and write,” Campos said. “The teachers had to use persuasion and a lot of love and patience to encourage them to go to the school.”

The adults expected formally trained teachers but in most cases received young girls aged 10-16 who were trained for only 15 days before moving to the rural communities.

“Because the teachers worked with them every day, they were able to persuade them to attend,” Campos said.

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Foreign journalists tour Indiana for primary, get elections primer at IU

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Foreign journalists struggle just as much as domestic pundits trying to make sense of the lead-up to and results from this week’s unusually decisive Indiana primary. Twenty-four foreign journalists observing and reporting on the primary process concluded their 10-day trip studying electoral politics with a visit to the IU campus on Wednesday.

As part of the Foreign Press Center-sponsored trip, embassies nominated top journalists who also speak English fluently. The Foreign Press Center at the U.S. State Department then chose journalists who were able to obtain a visa and represented the full spectrum of print, online, radio, TV and wire service reporters. A few of the represented countries included Belarus, Bhutan, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, New Zealand, Nigeria, Thailand, Tunisia and Venezuela.

IU political scientist Marjorie Hershey speaks to visiting journalists from around the world.

IU political scientist Marjorie Hershey speaks to visiting journalists from around the world.

The group convened in Washington, D.C., on April 25. They attended briefings on the nuts and bolts of the U.S. electoral process and met with leaders of the Republican and Democratic national committees and elected party leaders. The journalists traveled to Indianapolis on April 27 to immerse themselves in the primary process, attending rallies for Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

On the last leg of their trip, the group bused to Bloomington for a conversation with Marjorie Hershey, professor and associate chair of political science, as well as College Republicans and College Democrats.

Hershey offered her observations on the nomination process.

“No sane person would have created a nominations process like that of the U.S.,” Hershey said.

Rather, it evolved over time and reflects the decentralized history of the country.

“This is nothing new, despite what the media coverage tells us,” Hershey said. “From the beginning we had a very decentralized system. It’s easy to forget this because of the focus on the presidency.”

After running through the roughly 200 years of electoral history, Hershey answered questions about a likely Trump-Clinton race.

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Scholar: Islamic State ‘twists and manipulates’ jihad, Muslim history

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The promises of the Islamic State continue to attract young Muslims from around the world to fight under a declared combative jihad. By appropriating a new and broader reference to jihad, which traditionally refers to self-defense in the face of an imminent outside threat or an internal struggle, the patriarchal group attracts both young men and women worldwide.

Amin Saikal, a University Distinguished Professor of political science, public policy fellow and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, delivered the lecture “Jihad and Women in the Muslim Middle East” on Thursday.

Amin Saikal (photo by Marine Brichard)

Amin Saikal (photo by Marine Brichard)

“Many in the West and in the Muslim domain have either misinterpreted jihad or deliberately manipulated the term for political strategy,” Saikal told a capacity audience at the IU Bloomington Global and International Studies Building.

Muslim legal scholars continue to debate interpretations of the Quran to decide who is qualified to declare combative jihad and whether women are able to serve in combative roles.

“There is no one in today’s world who speaks for all Muslims,” Saikal said. “Presently, no such organization exists that could rally the majority of Muslims.

“Islam is open to a range of interpretations. You can cherry-pick based on what you really want to achieve. There is no single Islam.”

While groups like al-Qaida only accommodate women in limited supportive roles, the Islamic State has adopted women in combative roles and various other capacities, including morality activists, police and jihadi brides.

“The Islamic State is able to skillfully twist and manipulate Muslim events and history to come up with their own retelling, making their jihad actionable,” Saikal said. “They exploited the power vacuum in Syria and Iraq, the wealth of oil and relics in the region, the sectarian-driven Saudi-Iranian rivalry, socio-economic disparities across the Middle East and the humiliation of disempowerment.”

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Students awarded grants for sustainability research

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

The IU Bloomington Office of Sustainability has awarded 12 Student Research Development Grants ranging from $2,000 to $10,000. This year’s awards totaled just over $50,000 and will aid student sustainability research focused on stewardship, mitigation of human activity’s environmental impacts and societal responses to environmental problems.

The grants help pay for research equipment, travel to research locations and living expenses while working, among other costs associated with individual projects.

Jordan Blekking (left) takes a turn at the blow while working in Zambia.

Jordan Blekking (left) takes a turn at the blow while working in Zambia.

A multidisciplinary team of professors selected the grant awardees based on several criteria, including sustainability framework engagement, social equity, innovation, timeliness and impact.

“With help from this grant program, past recipients have published in academic journals and anthologies, presented at conferences and received additional grant funding, such as from the National Science Foundation and the Waterhouse Family Institute,” said Kathleen de Onis, Ph.D. candidate in communication and culture and graduate intern in the Office of Sustainability’s Education and Research Working Group. “Having received this grant myself in 2014, I can say that this award is instrumental in offering the support necessary to move projects from ideas into action on the ground.”

The 2016 grant cycle ties with last year for the largest number of awarded projects in the program’s eight-year history. This is the second year that undergraduate students were considered for the award.

The grants help facilitate undergraduate projects from the research phase into the publication phase. The funds help graduate students add additional research components to their master’s thesis or dissertation that might be outside the funding from their faculty mentor.

“We wanted to honor the IU Bicentennial emphasis on engaged learning for all students, including undergraduates, and were aware of all the great outcomes that often come from undergraduate research,” said Andrew Predmore, associate director of sustainability. “We knew we would be launching an undergraduate research program, 2020 Sustainability Scholars, this academic year. Knowing this, we felt that opening up the grants to undergraduates would potentially provide some of the scholars support to continue the work they began in 2020 Sustainability Scholars program.”

The IU Education and Research Working Group evaluated the applicants and allocated the awards for both domestic and international research.

“These grants are highly competitive and offer students the financial resources and recognition needed to conduct quality sustainability research,” de Onis said. “Funded projects address diverse contexts, spanning from Indiana to Iceland to India.”

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Panelists pessimistic about addressing college costs

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Addressing the cost of college tuition is a challenge of politics, educational equality and policy. The risks are high. Rising tuition leads to overwhelming student debt and puts college out of reach for some. But despite the urgency, policy experts do not have the data to propose a definitive state or nationwide response.

Panelists at the “Rising Cost of Higher Ed” symposium April 21 at IU Bloomington discussed the pitfalls of current research and the major obstacles in potential policy solutions. Panelists included Jacob Gross, professor of strategic planning in higher education at the University of Louisville; Matt Hawkins, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at the Indiana Commission for Higher Education; Nick Hillman, professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Phil Schuman, director of financial literacy at IU MoneySmarts.

Jacob Gross, left, makes a point, while fellow panelists Nick Hillman, Phil Schuman and Matt Hawkins listen.

Jacob Gross, left, makes a point, while fellow panelists Nick Hillman, Phil Schuman and Matt Hawkins listen.

“From the scholarly angle, we are trying to answer the same question as students: What’s the best way to take out and repay loans?” Hillman said. “But the theme of tonight is going to be how little we know about repayment.

“We use a shotgun method to policy-making when in reality, we don’t know what works,” he said.

The lack of data on different repayment plans and their effectiveness is only one part of the problem, however. The panelists were pessimistic about what they described as unrealistic plans from presidential candidates.

Hawkins pointed to candidate Bernie Sanders’ plan to make tuition free at public universities. The plan relies on state funding, he said, but states continue to reduce funding for higher education. Hawkins was skeptical that a state would fulfill such a large unfunded mandate.

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Archives exhibit features student movements throughout IU history

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Coming to a university often provides students their first opportunity for free self-expression. Indiana University has a long history of self-expression and public reactions to local, national and global events like the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, the refugee crisis of World War II, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa and the AIDS crisis.

Student Reform Movements at IU,” an IU Archives exhibit, highlights a few of the student protest movements on campus since the university’s founding in 1820.The exhibit is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in Wells Library E460 through June 19.

A 1940 letter from a Viennese Jewish refugee thanks the IU president and trustees for making it possible for her to continue her education

A 1940 letter from a Viennese Jewish refugee thanks the IU president and trustees for making it possible for her to continue her education. (Click to enlarge).

“I wanted to show a span of time,” said Carrie Schwier, public services and outreach archivist at the IU Archives. “Protest movements aren’t a new thing, and it wasn’t just in the 1960s and 1970s that students were finding their voice. Students have been involved in protest and civil rights movements throughout the history of the university, not just the time periods you normally think of.”

The exhibit was curated by Schwier, and Department of Information and Library Science graduate students Alessandro Meregaglia and Elizabeth Peters.

“I started thinking about the idea of protest movement in light of the 30-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” Schwier said. “I knew about refugee dances during World War II and realized that the same issues are really relevant. Issues we’ve dealt with in the past, we’re still dealing with today.”

The exhibit features,  among other movements, IU’s 19th-century literary societies and their pushback against university censorship; Theodore Dreiser’s inspiration drawn from the Bloomington community; the 1968 Little 500 sit-in; the 1950s student green feather movement; and a nine-month shantytown in Dunn Meadow, protesting apartheid.

Curating an exhibit that spans the entirety of IU’s history takes time. Schwier and her graduate assistants spent six months combing the archives for letters, photos, publications and fliers. Knowing where to begin looking among IU’s 40,000 cubic feet of archives and 2 million photographs requires a familiarity with the archives that comes only after years of experience.

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IU panel: Divided Supreme Court complicates predictions

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Many law and political science professors who follow the Supreme Court will playfully, but often seriously, gamble on decision outcomes. They bet on who will vote which way, what the dissent will argue and any other part of an anticipated decision. But with a split court, both the legal and political outcomes before the court remain uncertain and, in some cases, are left undecided.

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland muddies any forecast of what a future Supreme Court looks like. More than ever, predicting legal outcomes is a gamble.

During the “Supreme Court Roundup: Can there be justice without a justice?” panel on April 19, panelists Beth Cate, associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Paul Helmke, professor of practice in SPEA, and Andrea Need, lecturer and director of undergraduate academic affairs in SPEA, grappled with the uncertainties and walked through a few issues on the court’s docket. The SPEA law and public policy program sponsored the panel.

Panelists, from left, Andrea Need, Paul Helmke and Beth Cate discuss current Supreme Court cases.

Panelists, from left, Andrea Need, Paul Helmke and Beth Cate discuss current Supreme Court cases.

Panelists discussed the politics around Garland’s appointment, diversity on the court, the possibilities of the University of Texas affirmative action case in its second round, the implications of a splintered court in the Fifth Circuit abortion case and the implications of the recently argued Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and voting cases.

The seat on the bench left empty with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia renders future cases increasingly speculative. The fight for and against Garland is primarily political, not legal, Helmke said.

“By elephant in the room, we are referring to the Republican refusal to consider Garland’s nomination,” Helmke said, making a joke about the Republican elephant iconography. “It fascinates me that they’ve been able to get away with this.”

Republicans have controlled the court for 46 years and any movement further to the right concedes control and admits a degree of defeat, Helmke said.

“Garland was an olive branch candidate,” Cate said. “But he isn’t being perceived that way.”

One possibility, Helmke said, is for the Obama administration to speed past the confirmation process. The Senate has a responsibility to advise and consent on Supreme Court nominations. If it refuses to advise, Obama might have the power to accept silence as consent, he said.

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Sustainability Scholar takes on tough transportation challenge

Eric Gu has faced one of Indiana University’s thorniest policy challenges in his role as an IU Bloomington Sustainability Scholar: how to move hordes of pedestrians, motorists and cyclists along and across the traffic bottleneck that is the East 10th Street corridor.

“It is challenging,” said Gu, a freshman studying policy analysis in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “When I was working on this, I realized: When you make policy, you can’t satisfy everyone.”

But, he said, maybe you can adjust policies to make things better for most people. Possibly you can create incentives that encourage people to make better decisions. Those are the modest goals of his project, a study of transportation safety and mobility.

Eric Gu

Eric Gu

Working with Scott Robinson, planning services manager with the Bloomington Planning and Transportation Department, Gu carried out original research aimed at gaining a better understanding of the challenges involved in moving people through campus by car, by bike and on foot.

He observed and recorded traffic patterns and administered a survey of campus behavior and opinion. He also drew on City of Bloomington traffic data and previous studies and reports, including the IU Bloomington Campus Master Plan and a 2012 IU Transportation Demand Study.

The Shanghai native, who attended high school in Michigan, is one of 15 undergraduates participating in the 2020 Sustainability Scholars program through the IU Office of Sustainability and the Integrated Program in the Environment. The program pairs undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct high-quality research in sustainability. More information about the program and links to stories about other Sustainability Scholars are on the Student Experience blog.

Gu approached his project from the perspective of transportation demand management, which seeks to manage the demand for transportation services rather than increase the supply. He looked for ways to discourage people from driving on 10th Street and encourage people to walk, ride bikes or take the bus.

He also focused on the mid-block pedestrian crossing island that was installed on 10th Street in front of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs building in August 2010. Does it improve safety? Did it worsen traffic congestion? How should those results be balanced and prioritized?

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IUPUI scholar: ‘Divisive, sexist’ rhetoric still part of U.S. political culture

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Kristina Horn Sheeler, professor in the Department of Communication Studies and interim associate dean of academic programs in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, has done extensive research on women in politics and the role of feminist and post-feminist culture in American elections. She is the co-author of the book “Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture” and the Presidential Studies Quarterly article “Texts (and Tweets) from Hillary: Meta-Meming and Postfeminist Political Culture.”

Sheeler responded to questions from Policy Briefings about the current climate for female candidates — a timely topic in advance of Tuesday’s New York primary election, which is considered a key contest for Hillary Clinton as she seeks the Democratic nomination for president.

Q: What are the main takeaways from your book “Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture,” and what was your impetus for writing it?

Kristina Horn Sheeler

Kristina Horn Sheeler

A: Our research on U.S. first ladies and women governors led to close examination of presidential spouses and women in positions of executive leadership. That led us back, repeatedly, to the question: What will it take for a woman to be elected as U.S. president?

Lots of books have attempted to answer that question, but the vast majority talk about what individual women candidates should do differently to make themselves more electable. We came to believe that the problem was a cultural one. We need a cultural transformation so that women who are as qualified, accomplished and ambitious as men can be seen as credible, desirable presidential candidates.

Much of our book focuses on the 2008 campaign, when Hillary Clinton was an early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and Sarah Palin was the Republican nominee for vice president. Those developments prompted lots of people to say that 2008 was a good year for women in politics.

Our research found that both Clinton and Palin were subjected to explicitly sexist and misogynistic attacks, and not just from their political opponents. The attacks also showed up in mainstream journalistic coverage, satirical television programs and digital discourse.

We argue that the 2008 campaign is a case study in the pernicious backlash against women presidential candidates, one that is expressed in both political and popular culture.

Q: Countries including Thailand, Liberia, Costa Rica, Australia, Argentina and Germany, just to name a few, have or have had women in their highest leadership positions. Are there national political factors or gender attitudes that keep the U.S. from joining this list?

A: The important thing about the countries mentioned here is that all elect their legislative branch through some level of proportionality, as opposed to winner-take-all elections in the U.S. Proportional systems tend to have twice as many women in political office as majority systems.

For example, instead of having a winner-take-all system as in the U.S., with each member of Congress elected by popular vote and each winner filling one seat in the House or Senate, proportional systems fill the legislature based on percentage of votes earned by the party. So a party that earns 30 percent of the vote fills 30 percent of the seats.

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