By Alison Shim
America has always been known as the land of opportunity, ensuring citizens a chance at a new start and a new way of life. However, more and more prisoners are reverting back to a life of crime even upon their release, primarily because employers across America are unwilling to give them a second chance. It’s time for the government and those in Congress to turn to prison education as the solution. By educating prisoners, they will be more likely to be able to assimilate back into society and are more qualified to enter the workforce. Rather than closing off former prisoners from society, our nation should begin taking strides towards giving every citizen an equal opportunity at a second chance.
The status quo reveals some alarming truths. According to a recent article published in Forbes Magazine, “In New York, forty percent of all inmates who are released will wind up back in prison within three years”. This cycle of recidivism is only made when accounting for the impact of the prisoner’s time of absence on their families. James Austin of the George Washington University Institute on Crime explains that when families across America lose parents to the prison system, their income for the period of the sentence drastically declines. Even more despairingly, after they leave prison, their ability to gain employment is drastically impaired. Thus, already lost income is barely able to recovered at all. Reduced income and instability in the family results in an unstable future for not only the former prisoners but for their children and families as a whole as well. Overall, prisoners are rarely given the opportunity to turn around their lives for themselves and for their children. Currently, a majority of prisoners fall under the poverty line and struggle to support themselves with a sustainable livelihood. Without means of affording higher-level education, employers simply deem them unqualified and inept for employment. The Rand Corporation reported that enhanced income correlates with enhanced education and opportunity within lower socioeconomic families. Essentially, the children of prison families often do not have access to either education or opportunity due to either their family situation, or lack of income from their parents. This burden is constantly relegated from the parents to the children, depriving former felons as well as their children from economic opportunity. Until significant change is catalyzed in society by either legislation in Congress or a shift in the social stigma against prisoners, the future for these individuals can never be anything but hopeless.
Many studies are now concluding that education for prisoners is the most effective solution currently on the horizon. Gerald Gaes of the Urban Institute concluded that there are significant social benefits to felon education. He explains that college education offsets the prisoner stigma, introduces a prerequisite to moral thinking, and provides the basis for integration in social communities. In doing so, felons are less likely to revert back to crime and are more likely to obtain employment in the workforce. Reducing crime mitigates violence in neighborhoods across America, benefitting every individual in the nation. A study of Missouri’s prisoners conducted by Forbes showed that reincarceration rates “were nearly cut in half for former inmates with a full-time job compared to similar inmates who are unemployed.” Ultimately, they concluded, “…every inmate who leaves the system saves that state an average of $25,000 per year. Nationwide, more than 650,000 people were released from state prisons in 2010. By cutting the reincarceration rate in half, $2.7 billion per year could be saved.” Overall, former inmates who are employed also are less dependent on public assistance and contribute more significantly to society in the form of taxes and consumption.
Educating prisoners is going to be holistically beneficial to our nation’s productivity, innovation, and efficiency. The economic and social benefits are far too significant to be overlooked. It’s time for America to be restored to the land of opportunity it once was and forgive these prisoners for crimes they have already repented for. By opening the door to prisoners, we can ultimately open the door to a brighter future for their families and for America.
The Cuban Embargo: Should We Lift It?
By Alison Shim
'February 7, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the ongoing US embargo on Cuba, a nation off the coast of Florida. Fifty years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was optimistic at what the embargo could accomplish: “The loss of this income will reduce the capacity of the Castro regime… to engage in acts of aggression, subversion, or other activities endangering the security of the United States and other nations of the hemisphere.” Ever since, the embargo has continuously consisted of economic sanctions and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce for all people and companies under US jurisdiction. Despite being the longest trade embargo the U.S. has ever imposed, some also now deem it the least successful. Many have recently contested whether or not the embargo is now actually harming the innocent people of Cuba under the current regime.
The embargo currently creates mass food shortages across Cuba, depriving the very people the embargo sought to empower. With inefficient domestic farms and a lack of access to cheap American agricultural markets, it becomes nearly impossible for the people of Cuba to obtain the food necessary to feed the entire population annually. Trade restrictions imposed by the embargo prevent Cuba from obtaining much needed agricultural benefits. Isacc Inkeles in the Harvard International Review of March 2013 contends, “The state farms are terribly inefficient and some years produce only 20% of the food necessary for the Cuban people. Thus, Cuba must import a large quantity of its food”. It is radically unfeasible to assume that Cuba can support its people and their basic necessities solely on its own domestic production. Greg Pugliese of the George Washington University International Affairs Review furthers in 2011, “Because of the American embargo, imports are extremely expensive… the nation’s vast amount of low-wage workers can not afford the prices of imports.” As a result of the embargo, it has become increasingly expensive for Cuba to afford foreign imports overall, impairing the ability of the people of Cuba to maintain a basic standard of living. Cubans without foreign connections and access to remittances barely survive on an old Soviet-style food-rationing system that provides each household with coupons redeemable for basic foods. Providing Cuba with access to low-cost American agricultural products will benefit the Cuban people and in turn, improve America’s standing both in Cuba and Latin America. Ultimately, as a champion of human rights, it is the United State’s obligation to support the struggling Cubans, those most discontent with the Castro regime and those who most deserve change.
In addition to helping the people of Cuba, lifting the embargo will be able to benefit the U.S. health sector by supplying the U.S.’s current shortage of doctors. Cuba’s heavily developed health sector contains thousands of doctors eager to immigrate to the United States, but the embargo currently prevents this from occurring. An article from Foreign Affairs reports in August 2010, “The travel restrictions impair thousands of highly skilled Cuban medical personnel from pursuing employment in the United States, where higher paying jobs make the move highly attractive.” Essentially, the embargo prevents thousands of qualified doctors from working in jobs that could significantly benefit their families financially. According to the American College of Physicians in 2011, the United States has approximately one doctor for every 2,500 patients and a critical shortage of nearly 17,000 doctors. Lifting the embargo will allow Cuba’s medical sector to fill these gaps for the benefit of America’s public health. With the recently enacted federal health-care reform law putting more than 30 million more Americans on insurance, the need for physicians is dramatically increasing. Cuban physicians will be able to shoulder the burden and treat American citizens, increasing remittances to Cuban families and helping American families.
Overall, the Cuban embargo has now become outdated and frivolous. For the sake of both the people of Cuba and American public health, it is time to lift the embargo and reinstate trade and free travel between the two nations.
Dumping On Native American Land
By Alison Shim
Over the past few years, Native American land sites have been targeted for dumping nuclear waste and even more recently, for radioactive waste dumps. Serious health effects from the waste and uranium mining have now plagued a vast number of Native Americans’ struggling health. Tribes are now constantly struggling to obtain restitution and compensation from the government.
As reported by the Las Vegas Review Journal, in 1987, 49 states ganged up on Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the single site in the nation for further study as a potential national dump for high-level radioactive waste. Nevada was targeted as the only site for this potential dumping and served as a clear step towards discriminating against Native Americans. Due to significant public resistance, dumping targeting large regions in the East had been postponed. However, the proposal of “dumping” as a solution to handling such large amounts of nuclear waste was not met without strong controversy. According to the Las Vegas Sun, “Led by Western Shoshone spiritual leader Corbin Harney, the Western Shoshone National Council maintained tireless opposition to the dump, joined, over time, by more than 1,000 environmental groups. Then, in 2009, President Obama and his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, wisely cancelled the dangerous, controversial proposal.”
The economic costs to dumping are recognized to be monstrous as well. If the proposal for dumping in Nevada had progressed, “Although $11 billion of ratepayer and taxpayer money had already been wasted, another $90 billion would have been wasted if the project had gone forward.” The supposed “solution” is neither cost-effective nor efficient in providing a long-term solution to the on-going issue of nuclear waste.
Native Americans are now facing a wide range of serious health concerns after having been exposed to colossal amounts of radiation. If the dumpsite in Nevada had opened, many thousands of high-level radioactive waste trucks and trains would have travelled through most states, passing tens of millions of American’s homes, at risk of severe accidents unveiling disastrous amounts of radioactivity into metro areas. The environments of such highly populated areas would be severely damaged and inherently threaten all of its inhabitants. The region overall would be doomed as a “nuclear sacrifice area”.
Furthermore, the Christian Science Monitor points out that “the US currently has more than 75,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel stacked up at 122 temporary sites in 39 states across the US, according to DOE reports. The nation’s 104 commercial nuclear reactors produce about 2,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel annually. Thousands more tons of high-level military waste also need a final home”. The problem of nuclear is approaching rapidly on the horizon, calling for a greater and longer-lasting solution than dumping on Native American land. In order to create a sustainable future, the government is going to need to implement a more efficient, forward-looking solution. The same Christian Science Monitor article finds that currently, “Mr. Obama handed the commission the problem of what to do with spent nuclear fuel that will be dangerously radioactive for millennia and a big problem if it gets into the environment. Currently, spent-fuel pools and dry above-ground casks at reactor sites are being used for temporary storage. But a secure geologic site for permanent story remains key if nuclear power is to expand and the amount of spent fuel increases”. While both temporary solutions look to be insufficient in the future, both serve as capable replacements to the ever-harmful dumping on Native American grounds.
Health Care Mandate, or Not?
By Alison Shim
Anita Pereira of the Connecticut Law Journal explains that “Healthcare has become a commodity in the United States. The affluent have absolute access to health; the disadvantaged are denied this necessary access.” With a significant size of the population remaining uninsured, the issue of health care coverage has become one of the most polarizing issues in our modern day society. While some hold the belief that an individual mandate guaranteeing health care for all citizens would be an efficient solution, many fail to recognize the economic and societal cost at stake. In a real world scenario, an insurance mandate would actually counteract its goal of improving health while damaging the economy.
The Mississippi Center for Health Workforce finds that “a health insurance mandate would increase demand for health care access.” Even though more residents would technically be covered, “associated issues with access to physicians might result in increases in spatial rationing of care.” Because there would be increased demand among newly insured citizens, longer wait times would ensue and actually prevent more citizens from receiving care. The Cato Institute notes that after implementation of the Massachusetts mandate, wait times in Massachusetts were over twice as long as other U.S. metro areas because the limited number of doctors were unable to treat the increased demand from patients. An article by Objective Standard Press furthered that the new patients now have to wait up to 3 months for an appointment. In Britain, similar wait times forced hospitals to cancel as many as 100,000 operations each year. The Health Services Research Journal identifies the devastating impact to health, finding that wait times of over a month increase the likelihood of death by an astounding 21%.
In fact, individuals who were insured even before the mandate have reported that they experienced increased difficulties in accessing care after the mandate was implemented. The Massachusetts Medical Society found that the percentage of residents having difficulty getting care rose 8% over 1 year. Furthermore, the same report by the Objective Standard Press found that the “the state reimbursement rates for adult patients cover only half their costs”, meaning that half the patients that go unchecked receive no care for their money, leaving patients financially disadvantaged and without care.
The increased demand resulting from an individual mandate would not only induce longer wait times, but a shortage of doctors as well. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that increased demand will result in a shortage of 46,000 medical specialists by 2020. The Massachusetts Medical Society also explains that a mandate caused physicians’ overbearing work load and a massive administrative bureaucracy, leading to struggles when recruiting and retaining doctors. In actuality, about three-quarters of medical group directors say that their ability to retain physicians has become more difficult in the last three years. Even more astonishingly, an article by the Wall Street Journal notes that the passage of an individual mandate would exacerbate the doctor shortage by around 25%.
Moreover, the economic toll of the individual mandate is not one to be underestimated as well. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the implied expansion of Medicare and Medicaid that follows an individual mandate would have a net cost of $1.1 trillion on GDP over the next ten years. With an insurance mandate, less healthy, more costly individuals would enroll in coverage, driving up premiums. The Cato Institute holistically finds that existing mandates have increased premiums by an estimated 20 to 50 percent.
While the individual mandate may seem like an ideal solution on the surface, when examining the real world consequences of implementation, American public health as well as financial stability would only be put at stake.
By Alison Shim
With this past 2012 presidential election, many voters have failed to recognize the impact campaign spending has had on the votes they cast come Election Day. While whether or not spending or negative advertisements shown in the media actually alter the course of the election has constantly been under question, many are now realizing the significant harmful effects of a Supreme Court ruling that changed the way campaigns were run forever.
Back in 2010, the Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission altered the course of campaign spending by upholding that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations or unions. Citizens United, a non-profit group, wanted to air a film called “Hilary: The Movie” attacking Hilary Clinton during television broadcast, an apparent violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. The Citizens United ruling ultimately gave corporations the power to exercise their freedom of speech as openly as any individual citizen. In turn, corporations began to abuse this right to freedom of press and thus began the rise of Super Political Action Committees, commonly known as Super PACs. With this drastic and daunting surge in unlimited corporate spending, a vicious cycle in which the wealthy were consistently muffling out the voices of the poor began to develop through every election process since.
In this past 2012 election cycle, outside groups spent an estimated $970 million, according to Federal Election Commission data, and the increase has been driven by rapidly increased spending among ‘super PACs’ that can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors due to the Citizens United Decision. Overall, the Sunlight Foundation attributes 78% of the 400% increase in outside spending since 2008 directly to Citizens United, demonstrating the direct impact Citizens United had on campaign spending. A small number of wealthy, unrepresentative Americans disproportionately take advantage of the independent expenditure rules and Super PACs made possible by Citizens United, crippling the election. As the wealthy take up airtime at the premium, those of the lower and middle class are left with more expensive and fewer slots for representation in the media, skewing the true democratic nature of presidential elections.
Alex Bowie of Metro Philadelphia concludes that 97% of Super PAC contributions by individuals came from just 1,900 people, and 12% of total contributions have come from corporations. He furthers that with the rise in power of corporations, few wealthy individuals became the loudest voices heard in advertisement. Bob Edgar of Common Cause finds that over 300 Super PACs and wealthy donors are muffling the voices of political participants by taking airtime at a premium and consequently making participation more expensive. Thus, the Huffington Post notes that mega donors are able to amplify their voices to an astounding 3,100 times the volume of small donors.
The Brave New Foundation also establishes the suppressing impact the Citizens United decision had on voters, primarily through Super PACs like the Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity. Following the 2010 election, the billionaire Koch brothers paid $200 million to their Super PAC Americans for Prosperity, which helped Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and 7 other states approve fraudulent obstacles to voting. Overall, they have funded proposed voting suppression bills in 34 other states to thwart 21 million Americans from voting. Disengaging voters from the electoral process is deemed the most crippling impact of the election post-Citizens United.
As overall campaign spending by corporations took a drastic surge, negative advertisements relapsed by these corporations became more prominent as well. An empirical analysis by Wesleyan University finds that after Citizens United, negative advertisements by outside interest groups have increased by 340%. These ads are successful at winning candidates more votes because they are often blatantly incorrect or misrepresent information in a partisan manner. The Annenberg Public Policy Center quantifies that 85% of spending goes towards ads with at least one false assertion. Furthermore, the Brennan Center reports that organizations avoid accountability for their lies after Citizens United because of the easing of restrictions and that half of meaningful outside spending now comes from shadow organizations. Through these shadow organizations, corporations are able to hide their identity and blamelessly fund these false advertisements. Resulting from this is decreased voter turnout, as the American Political Science Review finds that because inappropriately negative advertisements depress people’s respect for both candidates, exposure to negative advertisements dropped intentions to vote by 5%. Citizens United led to an increase in skeptical voters now wary of the integrity of the U.S. electoral system as well as a blatantly misinformed public.
Overall, every year post-Citizens United experiences yet another increase in campaign spending and with it, the inherent crippling of our electoral system’s integrity and participation.
By Alison Shim
For the past 30 years, the seven-times-smaller Lebanon has lived under Syria’s military and political domination. Long-lasting tension between the two has developed a long and tumultuous history of Syria often meddling into Lebanese affairs. Specifically, Damascus has often created tension within Lebanon’s explosive mix of Muslims and Christians in order to further its personal regional interests. Syria’s strong ties with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah has only led to further conflict between the two nations. However, is Syrian occupation of Lebanon to blame or the French imperialism that dominated the two in the mid-twentieth century? While many point the finger at the over-whelming influence of Syria’s own instability, the root cause of conflict in both nations lies in oppressive French imperialist rule plaguing both nation’s history.
Upon the decline of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, Syria was placed under French rule as a mandate of the League of Nations in the Skyes-Picot Agreement. The Skyes-Picot agreement gave France absolute control over the lives of the natives both in Syria and Lebanon. The French chose to take control of the region in order to protect the Christian Maronites inhabiting the area. However, ultimately the interests of both Syria and Lebanon as a whole were completely disregarded when deciding their fate in the aftermath of World War I. Arab armies led by Faysal Husayn entered Damascus in 1918 and declared an independent Arab kingdom. At the same time, French military forces landed in Syria and Lebanon. The ruthlessness of French military and economic policies radicalized the Syrian population. From its very beginnings, the oppressive militaristic French imperial rule was faced with opposition from the native people with a strong sense of nationalism in mind. This anti-imperialism sentiment would only escalate as the French mandate continued to establish the basis for all the country’s modern conflicts. One of the radical Arab nationalist parties was called the Ba’ath party, the main actor in all of Syria’s modern day problems. Every anti-colonialist movement that came about in Syria in the 20th century was based upon some variant of Arab nationalism as its prime political principle. The religious conflict between the Christian Maronites and Lebanese Muslims that sparked the Lebanese civil war of 1975 resulted in political and religious turmoil that continues to contribute to the instability the country faces today.
The instability in Syria and strong support of Arab nationalism as a result of the French imperial rule gave the Arab Baath party and Hafiz Al-Assad an opportunity to seize power in 1970. Syria came under the authoritarian rule of President Hafiz Al-Assad and faces many conflicts today as a result. The authoritarian regime, continued by Hafiz’s son Bashar al-Assad, is challenged by daily pro-democracy protests throughout the country. As a result, al-Assad has increased government ordered security and kills approximately 40 people a day in order to suppress the revolts, worsening living conditions for the Syrian population as a whole. Uprisings are met with Syrian security forces beating and killing protestors and even firing indiscriminately into crowds of people. As the government enhances its efforts to suppress the protestors and build up the military force, the strain on Syria’s economy and the national budget increases as well. Such modern conflicts are a direct result of the repressive French mandate that increased support for Arab nationalist parties like Al-Assad’s Baath party.
Bashar Al-Assad has been the president of Syria since 2000, when he succeeded his father, Hafez al-Assad, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter of a century. The al-Assad regime has ruled with repressive policies and tyrannical rule since it first came into effect directly after French imperial rule. The nationalist sentiment and growing instability that was established under imperialism has resulted in the totalitarian regime under which Syria now resides. Furthermore, the United Nations notes that protests against the al-Assad regime in March 2-11 were quickly met with violent action. Al-assad had used forces to suppress the revolts by killing over 25,000 people and detaining tens of thousands more. In response to the demands behind the uprising, Mr.Assad’s government has adopted few insignificant acts of political change, while still ignoring the sweeping reforms that have the potential to defuse public riot. By October 2012, war has spread to the country’s main urban centers of Aleppo and Damascus and the government has taken even more extreme measures.
The danger with Lebanon lies in the spill over effects of Syria’s conflicts. The New York Times found that spillover from the Syrian conflict hit Lebanon in a frightening new way in August 2012 with the abduction of more than 30 Syrians inside Lebanese territory, which was what their captors called revenge for the kidnapping of a relative inside Syria.
Today over 100,000 Syrians have fled westwards, including 7,500 Palestinians who had been refugees in Syria. The bloodshed in Syria has drawn next-door Lebanon deeper into the unrest – a pressing issue for a nation that has suffered its own 15-year civil war from 1975 to 1990 and contains a polarized mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and Palestinian refugees, in addition to severe divisions between pro- and anti-Syrian factions.
While hope for the future of the two nations remains yet to be seen, both nation’s tumultuous history under French imperialist rule gives us greater insight into the cause of the modern day instability plaguing in both regions