Forum Guest Ron Klain Named Ebola Czar

President Obama announced this week that Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to vice presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, will be appointed as the administration’s “Ebola czar.” Klain was a guest at the 2008 Forum Film Festival, where he spoke about his role in the 2000 Presidential election after a screening of Recount. (Kevin Spacey portrayed Klain in the film.)

Following the election, he served as the general counsel to the Gore–Lieberman Recount Committee, and was named a “Lawyer of the Year” by the National Law Journal for his efforts. Now Klain assumes the managerial role of ensuring that all the agencies involved in the federal response to the recent Ebola outbreak are acting in concert. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has described the position as an “important, high-level implementation role,” not unlike his recent work overseeing the appropriation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.



Opening Night of the Forum Film Festival Featured in Huffington Post, Washington Square News

The opening night of the 2014 Forum Film Festival, which featured an advanced screening of Camp X-Ray with actress Kristen Stewart and director Peter Sattler, has been featured in both the Huffington Post and the Washington Square NewsCamp X-Ray follows the moral dilemmas of Amy Cole (Stewart), who is assigned to Guantanamo Bay—where “prisoners” are subject to the Geneva Convention but “detainees” are not—after enlisting in the military.

The Forum would like to thank Kristen Stewart and Peter Sattler for sharing their thoughts on the film with the Forum patrons, students, and other guests at NYU’s Tishman Auditorium on Tuesday Night. The Forum Film Festival continues on Tuesday, October 21 with John Ford’s classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance followed by a post-screening conversation with United States Supreme Court Justice Hon. Stephen Breyer.


Camp X-Ray opens October 17.

2014 Film Festival Guest Ayaan Hirsi Ali On The Israel–Hamas Conflict

Somalian refugee and women’s-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently gave an interview to Israel Hayom, in which she defended Israel’s right to fight Hamas, argued that Benjamin Netanyahu should receive a Nobel Peace Prize, and asserted that no peaceful solution between Israel and Hamas will be possible so long as Hamas’ “philosophy on life and death” persists. Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia, where she faced the horrors of radical Islam first-hand before she gained asylum in the Netherlands. She will be a guest speaker at the Forum Film Festival for the screening of her 2004 film Submission; its director, Theo van Gogh, was tragically murdered in retaliation for the film’s portrayal of the violence committed against women in the radical Muslim world.

In the interview, Hirsan Ali discusses the growth of extremist violence following 9/11, arguing that critics of Israel will be forced to reconsider the danger as radical Islam spreads to Continental Europe. “It is so clear what is going to happen,” she notes. “All these countries that are now condemning Israel will find themselves in exactly the same position as Israel.” She further discussed the dangers of European-born citizens going to fight in Syria and returning back to their home countries, trained to kill by terrorist groups. Dismissing this as a small problem is major misstep, she argues: “This is not naivete anymore. This is called wishful thinking. They say that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion, but that is what we want, that is what it should be, it’s not what it is. There’s a difference. We’re just not being realistic.”

Hirsin Ali will be joined by Forum Director Thane Rosenbaum and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bret Stephens to discuss the film at the 92nd Street Y on October 22, 2014. For tickets and more information, please click here.

Right Place Wrong Time


“Soccer” as we Americans refer to it, is simply another sport within our society that has its share of leagues, clubs, and fanatics. In Brazil, however, it is their society—it embodies all that is Brazil. Brazilians live to play and watch soccer, it is in their blood. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is being held in Brazil for the first time since 1950. Yet, surprisingly, a poll taken in Brazil to determine whether Brazilians actually wanted to host the World Cup showed that 52% of the population was against it. It seems that there is more to the country than scoring goals.  Many Brazilians framed the World Cup within the context of human rights and handed out yellow cards to a government that cared more about enabling the world’s obsession with soccer than with taking care of its own people. Brazil, already crime filled country, in hosting the World Cup opened up 12 of its cities to millions of soccer enthusiasts, some of whom would undoubtedly contribute to their worsening crime problem, which includes child prostitution and drugs. Young children selling their bodies in order to survive another day is not the kind of economic benefit the Brazilians were counting on as hosts of the World Cup. Moreover,  the allocation of monetary resources has also become a controversial topic. Many are asking why Brazil even submitted a bid to host the World Cup given the  11 billion dollars it would require to repair/build 12 soccer stadiums that will each host only 4 matches. Many of these stadiums will become abandoned following the conclusion of the World Cup. Such monies would be far better spent in other areas such as education, particularly in a country where many children don’t even have access to schools and where gang warfare competes with child prostitutution as extracurricular activities.. Additionally teachers and workers have been demanding higher wages at the very time as the government has sunk the public largesse into the World Cup. Brazil hosted the World Cup hoping to improve its infrastructure, healthcare, and education—yet it doesn’t not appear that such goals will be met as time runs down and the last balls sail wide on this World Cup.

Forum makes Above The Law, Jeopardy

Above the Law, a leading blog on legal education, has posted a piece noting the Forum’s recent move to NYU Law. It lauds the Forum for hosting “such luminaries as President Bill Clinton and [Supreme Court] Justice Sonia Sotomayor,” and for being an institution that goes “beyond the casebooks to look at broader social and cultural issues.” It also quotes Dean Trevor Morrison:

I am very pleased to welcome the Forum on Law, Culture & Societ. Our curriculum emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of law, and Thane’s programs, with their rich array of people and topics, will amplify that theme, both for members of the NYU Law community and for the public.

Meanwhile,  Jeopardy! recently asked a contestant about former Governor Mario Cuomo’s decision to join the Forum last fall for a screening of The Godfather, lifting his 40-year ban on seeing the film. Those of you who were in attendance can attest to Governor Cuomo’s strong feelings on the film. Here’s a screen cap of the question:

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 8.18.45 AM

After Primary Upset, Eric Cantor To Step Down As House Majority Leader

After losing the Republican primary election for the Seventh District of Virginia, Eric Cantor (R–VA) will be stepping down from his role as House Majority Leader. Cantor, a rising star in the Republican Party, announced Wednesday that his resignation would be effective July 31, in a primary election loss he called a “personal setback.” David Brat, his opponent, is an economics professor whose victory many are attributing to the increased sway of the Tea Party.

Cantor was twice a guest of the Forum, having visited us in 2010 and, more recently, in September 2013. In a discussion at the 92nd Street Y with Forum Director Thane Rosenbaum, he spoke about the then-hot-button issue of the Syrian crisis, his experience as a Jewish Republican leader, and, of course, the growing influence of the Tea Party in national politics.

A video of the entire discussion is posted below, courtesy of the 92nd Street Y.

Where Is The Moral Justice In Crimea?

by I.S.

From a legal and political standpoint the decision to annex Crimea was simply outrageous, to quite literally the entire world.  However, what happens when we start to consider the desires of the people who actually live in Crimea.  The people, who voted, had a referendum and came out on the other side.  The ones who speak Russian, live their lives as ethnic Russians, but have not historically, since the separation, been part of the Russian Federation.  Is the world, purely from a legal and political standpoint allowed to say, no you cannot be part of the country you ethnically and culturally feel most at home.  You speak the same language, you share cultural traditions, but because the rest of the world says so, you cannot join the rest of your “tribe.”

Should it matter to us at all that the great majority of the people outraged by this event are those that are not actually impacted by it?  Is it fair that the countries that are putting forth their dislike for the annexation are not looking at the best interests of those in Crimea but rather the interests of themselves and others with which they are in alliance.  I recently had a conversation to this effect and the strongest argument I heard was what happens when Quebec decides it officially wants to be part of France and France accepts and annexes it.  Well, to this I respond two-fold.  Geographically such an annexation would make far less sense than what has occurred in Crimea but also Quebec has had referendum and the votes have not come out as those in Crimea.  By no means am I supporting Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine and invading, I simply am raising the moral questions about how the world is treating the decisions of the Crimean people and what may be considered “fair” to them.

While few will dispute Putin has an interest necessarily in the well-being of Crimea, maybe, to accomplish what many might consider what is morally fair to those in Crimea, we must employ Machiavelli and simply say the ends justify the means.  The fact that there is a group of people happier now to be part of the Russian Federation than they previously were as part of the Ukraine should be sufficient to make those expressing their outrage over the matter a little bit calmer.  Perhaps, with all of the political hoopla that has occurred since the annexation, the politicians have forgotten that their actual purpose is to work on behalf of people and their happiness.  If then, the people in Crimea are happy, should the world be doing anything?

Death of the Student Athlete: The NCAA and Northwestern University Football’s Union

by S.S.

On March 26, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) in Chicago granted Northwestern University football players the right to unionize (a monumental ruling that could drastically alter the institution of college athletics as we know them today.  In short, this decision grants the Northwestern football players the right to vote on whether they want to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association (“CAPA”), who initiated this action with support from the United Steelworkers Union.  The most profound part of this decision by NLRB Regional Director Peter Ohr is his conclusion that: “players receiving scholarships to perform football-related services for the Employer under a contract for hire in return for compensation are subject to the Employer’s control and are therefore employees [under NLRA § 2(3)]…”.  This characterization of NCAA athletes as employees has the potential to shatter the entire foundation of American college athletics—the idea (or myth) of the “student-athlete.”

While this NLRB ruling is groundbreaking, its immediate impact will be more limited than many believe.  First, the authority of this decision is limited to students attending private schools because state labor law still governs athletes at public institutions.  In fact, many of the best college football programs are located in the south and mid-west, where most of the states have right-to-work laws, which are not union-friendly and will make it more difficult for players at these schools to unionize.  Second, the CAPA has said that—at least immediately—it will not bargain for pay-for-play terms that are prohibited by the NCAA, and would make its member athletes ineligible.  Instead, the CAPA appears focused on bargaining for improved player safety, medical insurance to cover the long-term effects of injuries sustained while participating in college athletics, and scholarships that truly cover the full cost of attendance.

As expected, the NCAA is ardently opposed to the NLRB’s characterization of their “student-athletes” as “employees,” and filed an appeal with the NLRB main office in Washington, DC. The NCAA and its member schools continue to view athletics as activities that are used to enhance students’ overall college experience and are not the main purpose for the students’ attendance at the school.  In its request for appeal, Northwestern shamelessly claims that scholarship football players are not “initially sought out, recruited and ultimately granted scholarships” for their athletic ability, but rather for their academic prowess.

Really Northwestern?  You recruit your major Division I football team because of their biology and trigonometry grades?  Let’s be real, scholarship athletes attend their respective schools to perform a service for the institution—to make them money through their performance on the playing field—and are compensated for their efforts through scholarships that include detailed conditions for realizing this payment for their services.  It is time that the myth of the “student-athlete” is put to rest.  Only time will tell whether this groundbreaking decision by the Chicago NLRB will have a lasting effect on college athletics.  But good for you, Northwestern football, for challenging the NCAA to be honest with itself; and congratulations to the NLRB for not succumbing to the outside pressure and characterizing the relationship between scholarship athletes and their schools as it is, a true employer-employee relationship.

Does Free Speech Apply to Sperm?

by K.S.

A custody battle in California over a child conceived through artificial insemination has become a controversial First Amendment debate.  Jason Patric, a Hollywood actor, and his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, are engaged in a custody fight over their four-year-old son, Gus.   California law dictates that the mother of the child will receive full custody unless parental rights are established in writing before conception through artificial insemination.

As part of his campaign to obtain custody of Gus, Patric created the organization Stand Up for Gus to raise awareness of parental alienation for fathers in similar situations.  Patric has used Gus’s name and likeness as part of the promotional campaign surrounding Stand Up for Gus.  Schreiber subsequently sued Patric, allegedly that Patric is exploiting Gus for his own fame and using the media to garner support for his case.  At stake in the lawsuit is an injunction that would bar Patric from even mentioning Gus’s name.

The outcome of the suit has the potential to set precedent not only for parental rights in cases of artificial insemination but also important First Amendment implications.  As reproductive technology changes rapidly, the law has been slow to keep up with the corresponding custody issues.  As this case highlights, the very right to speak about one’s child may be implicated in custody rights.  This becomes more complicated when sperm donors are involved, since many would argue that they gave up their right to custody before conception even began.

Perhaps the level of publicity involved in this case sets up a unique situation in which custody should be required to use a child’s image and name on such a large scale.  However, limiting a father’s right to speak his child’s name seems to step too far across First Amendment boundaries.  The custody suit itself seems to imply the need for Patric to articulate a relationship with Gus and to establish the necessary connection between himself and his son.  No doubt issues involving custody and technology will continue to evolve into unanticipated legal questions such as those that have arisen with the Patric case.

Outlawing Death

by C.K.


I have been unable to see anything in capital punishment but a penalty the imagination could not endure, and a lazy disorder that my reason condemned.

—Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine


Due to the seemingly unwavering string of acts of extreme violence in America, there has been a resurgence in public debate about capital punishment. It’s always surprising to hear the alacrity of condemnation coming from the mounts of so many of my compatriots.  They make it seem like the death penalty is the only rational end to dealing with a mass murderer. Can that be so? After intently absorbing, in person, through the media, off the written page, the arguments of many pro-capital punishment claimants, I struggled to find anything convincing in the conclusions that they reached.

Let’s first tally the three most common arguments that repeatedly came from the mouths and the minds of death penalty advocates: (1) considering the feelings of retribution and need for closure by those close to the victims of crimes; (2) providing a proportional punishment to the severity of the crime; and (3) that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to society. I will now lay them out before you, demonstrating the immorality and illogicality in this style of thinking.

The first argument frequently heard from defendants of this particularly unsettling attitude is: what if one parented, or was married to, a victim of a murder? As if to say this natural human proclivity toward revenge justifies capital punishment. Entertaining this morose idea, I would have to agree that it’s very plausible that I would wish death onto my loved one’s slayer. But justice and human passion are not congruous. If human passion was the best arbiter of justice then why did we, as a society, go to all the trouble of creating law and order?

Secondly, many believe it is morally sound to take from one that which they took from another; in other words, “an eye for an eye, a tooth from a tooth.” Many legal systems throughout history are predicated on that very tenet—none more famous than the Code of Hammurabi. But let’s apply Hammurabi’s code to all crimes. If someone is convicted of theft, do authorities rob the robber? If someone else is convicted of battery, it is righteous to bludgeon the wrongdoer? There’s not much that can be said in defense of the claim that the Code of Hammurabi is an archaic system created by a barbarous mind. But, somehow, it remains copacetic to murder a murderer. The ordering of the American punitive system, systemically, kicks the stilts out from underneath the ‘criminal’s comeuppance’ pro-capital punishment argument.

A third pro-capital-punishment argument, and one that seems to surface the most (especially in the public forum) is that capital punishment is an ironclad deterrent, forcing members of society to genuflect in fear.  Jeffery Toobin of the New Yorker recently published an article about the decline of capital punishment in America, which said that 315 death sentences were handed down in 1994, compared to only 78 in 2012. It went on to say that during that same period, the murder rate also plunged, “rendering especially hollow the traditional argument that the death penalty serves as a deterrent.” The article concludes that the death penalty “now exists in a kind of twilight, a fading but still significant presence in America life.”

For a punishment to be a deterrent—an exemplary undertaking—it must merit fear inside the people. Yet, as the passage above points out, the drop in court-ordered death sentences didn’t result in a greater murder-rate. Yet, in fact, the opposite occurred. Even more significant, the murder rates remain stagnant in the 100 or so nations that have wiped the death penalty from their judicial system. Knowing this, is it possible to deduce that capital punishment is an effective intimidator?

Of all the methods of capital punishment, lethal injection runs counter to the claim that the death penalty keeps the public in line. For most, there’s nothing intimidating about a needle; nothing that strikes the fear of God into the frenzied killer seconds before an attack (expect in cases where it fails). Throughout history there’ve been plenty of methods that could very easily deter one away from bloodlust, from the guillotine and the gallows, to dismemberment and a fiery stake. Compared against these petrifying methods, lethal injection seems like a ride on a rowboat. But these historical methods are something, I assert, that modernity has outgrown. Hence, the exemplary argument has no business being voiced in a country that administers its justice through a vein. In fact, if the point of capital punishment is to be an example, then making it a public spectacle should not only be advisable but mandatory; complete with the stark macabre that chills the public’s blood.

Capital punishment, above all things, deems a person unfit for living, and this should never be the concern of “a jury of one’s peers”—putting it a different way: society. Society created itself by unification, so it can, if it so chooses, deem a member unworthy of being a part of the whole. Its concern, concordantly, ought to never extend beyond this question: can we (society) grant one of our own the title of lifelong outcast? By virtue of what society is and how it came about, no graver punishment can be dispensed without the label of injustice.