Monthly Archives: February 2012

Cuba: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Rob Panos (Acc. ’12) recently traveled to Cuba on an educational visa with Lexington Institute, a think tank based in Arlington, Virginia, to study small business and the country’s changing economy.

Cuba is not what you think. Yes, it is a communist state. Yes, the government denies many of the freedoms we take for granted. But Cuba is not static. From the rusting Chevrolets on the streets of Havana or the Spanish facades of the town plaza you would think you were in another decade, or another century altogether. There is limited internet access and most farmers still till their fields with horse and plow, but now is a time of dramatic change in Cuba. With the transition of power from Fidel to Raúl in 2008 the country is moving in a direction that many never imagined possible under the Castro family. Cubans can now buy and sell property, manage (certain) private businesses, and stay in hotels that were previously reserved for tourists.

The Cuban people suffered long and hard under the economic policies of the last decade but the government is finally recognizing the merits of a third road, one modeled on the socialist market economy of China. What’s even more promising is the buzz of our generation. Young people can hardly contain their excitement for new opportunities and the chance at a better life. The change is slow, calculated, and incremental, but it is change nonetheless. Many of the restaurants we visited during our trip illustrate the dichotomy between old and new. On the one hand are state-operated restaurants, and on the other are private operations. The former are slow and irritatingly conventional, while the latter are pushing boundaries with good food, great service, and a uniquely Caribbean atmosphere. Despite a hefty government tax, there are obvious incentives for private restaurateurs. Furthermore, the competition of private establishments is forcing state-run restaurants to clean up their act.

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A meeting with a Cuban official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed deep frustrations with contemporary US relations. The people of Cuba desperately want dissolution of the US embargo, which has been in place since 1960. Local officials argue that they come to the bargaining table again and again, but the United States keeps moving the goalposts farther away. The reality is that the embargo is not a salient issue for the American public and is easily swept aside. The one constituency with a real interest in the matter is the Cuban-American community, which holds strong resentment for the revolutionary government that expelled them more than 50 years ago. Cuban officials argue that US legislators are slave to the purse strings of this highly-motivated electorate. A great irony of US-Cuban relations is that we maintain strong economic ties with socialist governments like China and Vietnam, but refuse to concede any ground to our neighbor. But, then again, Cuba has little leverage to demand fair treatment these days.

As one economist stated, “the future of Cuba will be inextricably tied to that of the United States.” The expansion of market opportunities is a valuable starting point for the normalization of relations, but Cuba cannot unilaterally determine the course. American policy towards the island is grounded in a historical narrative that will be difficult to overcome. Furthermore, the state of relations is highly subject to Executive opinion. President Obama has eased restrictions since taking office, yet Republican front runner Mitt Romney has pledged to return the embargo to its former stature. Cuba may be complicated but it is not what you think. It is much, much more than that.

Post by Rob Panos

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48-Hour Project Underway

At 11 am today, the first year classes hit the ground running on their 48-hour projects. The diverse and provocative prompts include:

  • Teacher pay should be linked to teacher performance
  • The U.S. must protect its strategic interests by supporting a domestic rare-earths industry
  • Should Turkey be admitted into the European Union
  • Fat content in food should be taxed
  • Returning to the gold standard would benefit the US economy
  • Abuse of antibiotics in animal feedlots is endangering lives
  • Prisoners should be automatically paroled at age 85
  • Payday lenders are economic predators and should not be able to charge more than 36% interest
  • The US income tax should be abolished in favor of a flat tax on personal and corporate income
  • “Cadillac” health plans should be taxed
  • The US is under-investing in infrastructure
  • The lopsided distribution of income in the US is harming the competitiveness of the US economy

Good luck to everyone!

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Batten Council Election Results

The results are in for student council elections, and Batten voter participation was at a whopping 76 percent. Thanks everyone for voting, and congratulations to the 2012-2013 Batten Council!

President: Aaron Chafetz

Secretary: Maddie Bergner

Treasurer: Katy Lai

Engagement Chair: Kaitlin Brennan

Special Events Chair: Amanda O’Malley

StudCo Representative: Barkot Tesema

Honor Representative: Nate Daugherty, Melina Schoppa

UJC Representative: Colleen Farrell, Melissa Rickman

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Top 10: Restaurants Beyond the Corner

1. Mas Tapas — If you don’t mind long waits and you love Spanish tapas, Mas is the place for you. Be sure to try the delectable bacon wrapped dates and the queso manchego with jam and bread. The menu changes depending on the season, so it’s always fresh and local. They don’t take reservations so make sure you have enough time to sit down and wait at the bar sipping on some sangria while you wait for your table.

2. Ten — As soon as you walk into Ten, you get a certain vibe that just screams sophistication. And the food, much like the ambience, does not disappoint. Ten serves tapas style sushi–meaning the portions are small and pricey, but the sushi is fresh, creative and delicious. The menu changes constantly, bringing Charlottesville the most original flavors of Japan. Ten also boasts one of the largest sake collections on the East Coast.

3. Eppie’s — A fun and casual restaurant on the downtown mall that offers sandwiches, salads, and more! They use fresh bread from the Albemarle Baking Company and fresh, homemade pasta from Mona Lisa Pasta – you’ll be supporting local businesses while enjoying delicious food! Definitely be sure to try their macaroni and cheese and “cast iron” cornbread, too.

4. Positively Fourth Street — A swanky yet comfortable American restaurant on the downtown mall that provides a wide range of gourmet burgers including the 4th St with onion straws, house pickles, and bacon-onion marmalade to the Mediterranean Veggie with tzatziki sauce, avocado, and goat cheese. Their appetizer and late night menus also feature fried artichoke hearts with a spinach pesto sauce. Delectable!

5. Thai 99 — Looking for some Pad Thai or Panang Curry on the run and on a budget? For $10, you can get a heaping serving of your favorite Thai dish to either eat-in or take-out from Fontaine Avenue. Sometimes it’s hard to get through via phone, but this is still one of the best pad thai dishes in town. Definitely worth it!

6. The Flat — The Flat is the perfect alternative for a delicious dessert or snack on the go. Swing by the little window on Water Street and get your pick of sweet or savory crepes made on the spot. You can order your classic nutella and strawberry crepe or perhaps you can be a little more adventurous and get something like a brie, chicken and spinach crepe. Either way, prepare yourself for a treat, make sure to check the schedule, and bring cash.

7. Fry’s Spring — Tucked away at the end of JPA next to Crossroads, Fry’s Spring is an unexpected gourmet gem, serving delicious, creative pizzas, salads and paninis, as well as a wide selection of wines and beers. Located in the 1931 building that once served as Fry’s Spring Station, the restaurant has a wide patio that provides a pleasant sitting area during warm weather. Make sure to try “The Jefferson” pizza and their half-off wine on Wednesdays!

8. Bellair Market — It may look just like any other gas station in town, but Bellair Market houses some of Charlottesville’s best sandwiches. They offer a great selection of different breads, meats (cracked pepper turkey, anyone?), cheese, and condiments. Be sure to try their famous Birdwood sandwich and the herb mayo. Who knew a gas station could be so delicious?

9. Ariana Grill Kabob — Whether you want to dine in our take out, Ariana Kabob is an excellent option for nights when you just don’t know what to have for dinner. The traditional Afghan restaurant has a small menu, but each item is cooked to perfection, including chicken kabobs, gyros, or vegetarian curries. Do not miss the pumpkin or chickpeas curries, they are truly one of the highlights of the menu. And the best part? You can find them on campusfood.com!

10. Aquí es Mexico — Craving Mexican food? Instead of driving to Chipotle and standing in line for half an hour why don’t you head over to Aqui es Mexico, just a few miles past the downtown mall? Aqui es Mexico provides a nice combination of traditional Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican/Central American dishes and flavors that are sure to satisfy your cravings. Whether you’re in the mood for a burrito or an enchilada, or even a pupusa, Aquí es Mexico provides a wide variety of Latin American dishes and sides on a budget.

Post by Mary Drach and Vanessa Orco

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IPA Projects: Post-Grad Class

“Our groups is focusing on the role of government in commerce and agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are specifically analyzing what improvements can be made to increase income generating projects for a World Bank report.” – Addie Bryant 

“Our client is the World Bank. We are making recommendations for  community income-generating projects that could be implemented to rural Lebanon communities.” – Kelly Connors

“Our group is developing a strategy for MathCounts to grow its program.  In collaboration with two other teams, we plan to provide a cohesive plan that enables MathCounts to better market its program to non-traditional participants like girls and non-mathletes, increase it’s operating budget, and grow the number of schools participating in MathCounts.” – Jonathan Snipes

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IPA Projects: Accelerated Class

Second semester at Batten is defined by the IPA project, and this year’s accelerated class is working with a variety of clients on domestic issues mainly related to Virginia state policy.

Four groups are examining various aspects of the U.S. unemployment system and how the system should be reformed to more appropriately integrate the needs of a service-oriented and high technology U.S. workforce.  Two groups are considering reformations of Virginia’s UI system and the federal system as a whole. One group is looking at federal job training programs and how they could be integrated into the UI system, and the final group is examining how the UI system could be incorporated with other safety net programs like Medicaid and SNAP.

“During tough economic times, the UI system basically acts as a safety net — it gives people who have lost their jobs for no fault of their own some money to help pay for their basic needs as they are search for a new job….I personally really enjoy just being able to become (almost) fully informed about an issue that is so important to millions of Americans, let alone an issue that I had rarely thought about before this project.” – Evan Vahouny (Acc. ’13)

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is working with one student group to study how effective year-round schools are and if this model would be appropriate for Virginia. The Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time is also sponsoring a project on funding for afterschool and summer programs.

Two groups are working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on projects about Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay programmatic milestones for 2012-2013 and the current policies and funding concerning the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“We’re excited about the project because the CBF has said that they will definitely use our report in their advocacy strategy, and that we’re looking into an key area that needs further research.” – Kaitlin Brennan (Acc. ’13)

The final two groups are working on independent projects with the Virginia Municipal League. One project is assessing how state budget cuts have affected K-12 education in Virginia and what other models of school funding should be considered in Virginia. The other project is examining how public-private partnerships can benefit transportation infrastructure in Virginia.

Post by Mary Drach

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Vote in Batten Student Council Elections!

Voting for all University elections will occur from 1 pm on Monday, February 20 to 1 pm on Friday, February 24. Refer to the voter’s guide on the UBE webpage to see who is running for Batten Student Council.

 

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