by Kevin Tang
Among heaps of dirty syringes and blood-soaked streets, hundreds of thousands of users desperately chased their next high. The deluge of drugs that flooded Portugal didn't care about who you were. Everyone – miners, bankers, students – was at risk. Despite a prosperous 1980s, Portugal was suddenly submerged under a tide of heroin and marijuana. Soon, the country faced the highest rates of HIV in the European Union.
Many Americans who see the following response from the Portuguese officials will feel an eerie sense of deja vu. With the criminal justice system at the helm of its campaign to end drug use, the country adopted hardline tactics that saw incarceration rates explode. By the end of the 1990s, nearly half of the prison population was arrested for drug-related crimes with no meaningful reduction in drug use, overdose deaths, or HIV.
In 2001, however, Portugal reversed its approach. The first nation in the entire world to do so, Portugal stopped prosecuting addicts and decriminalized all drugs with a harm reduction, a scientific based approach that emphasizes treating addicts with both proper care and dignity. Individuals caught with possession of drugs would not be incarcerated but rather be ordered to pay a fine or attend a mandatory meeting with a dissuasion committee of experts. The government expanded health services, ranging from new needle-syringe programs to methadone treatment.
Bucking initial fears and skepticism, the results of a public health approach were revelatory: Portugal now has the lowest drug mortality rates in Western Europe, with drug-related deaths falling more than 85 percent since the policy’s initial implementation. Incarceration of innocent addicts has plummeted, new cases of HIV have plunged, and proper utilization of treatment has increased. After nearly two decades, it is abundantly clear that a decriminalization approach based on harm reduction proves much more successful than punitive measures.
If drugs were present in Portugal, they are omnipresent in America today. The United States has been waging its war on drugs for decades, and the results are in. Our drug policy has failed miserably, with the number of people killed by drug overdoses in 2016 matching the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. As such, the United States ought to decriminalize all drugs and adopt a public health approach as outlined by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization. This initiative would immensely expand treatment options available to addicts such as through programs offering clean syringes and methadone.
Decriminalization is especially pressing in the United States because punitive drug measures have fueled race-driven mass incarceration in the United States for decades. Even though use of drugs is similar across different racial groups, African and Latino Americans are much more likely to be jailed. Along every stage of the criminal justice system, whether it be the arrests or the sentences, minorities bear the brunt of the War on Drugs. For instance, prosecutors are twice as likely to push for a mandatory minimum sentence for minority defendants than for white defendants when they are charged with the same crime. Nevertheless, such institutionalized discrimination should not shock us; the original intent of the War on Drugs was to subdue not drug abuse but marginalized committees, as revealed by top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman:
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Although conventional wisdom holds that drug use is dangerous to society, statistics show that over 80% of incarcerated drug users were arrested for possession only – and not for violent crimes. Incarceration is a disproportionate and ineffective method for reforming addicts, especially since only 11% of inmates will ever receive any treatment while in prison. Even if compulsory treatment in prison works, the dismal accessibility to it renders it feckless. On the other hand, a public health approach would vastly expand treatment options and decrease drug use since it deters people from using drugs in the first place through proper education and treatments those who have already fallen prey to addiction.
As the suffering caused by the War on Drugs becomes more apparent and urgent, movements to decriminalize and legalize drugs has gained traction. From Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have touted the decriminalization of marijuana as a major facet of their platforms. Internationally, member states of the United Nations have unanimously declared the War on Drugs a failure and advocated for a harm reduction approach.
It has been almost two decades, but the wounds of drug abuse in Portugal are still healing. However, Portugal's scars serve as a powerful testament to what happens when governments champion the dignity and humanity of addicts through a public health approach. For decades, the War on Drugs has devastated hundreds of thousands of lives, weaponizing incarceration to achieve dubious ends. It's time for America to decriminalize and seriously rethink its drug policy.
By Kevin Tang
On April 3 this year, ABC aired the third episode of family sitcom Roseanne. In a brief scene, Roseanne and Dan Connor wake up on the couch, realizing that they missed Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat during their nap.
“We missed all the shows about black and Asian families,” Dan yawns.
Roseanne sardonically replies, “They’re just like us – there, now you’re all caught up.”
Unfolding at the volatile intersection of race and media representation, ABC’s Fresh off the Boat authentically captures the Asian-American experience. The show, which is loosely based off of its titular memoir published in 2013, follows the life of Eddie Huang, an adolescent who struggles with his identity after moving to suburban Orlando. Along the way, he and his family must overcome many obstacles as they try to make sense of the American Dream.
As Roseanne’s comments indicate, this show is needed more than ever before. In a time when racial diversity is being eroded by powerful media figures as well as government institutions, media representation of all minority groups is essential to champion their humanity and voices. Humorously charming, Fresh off the Boat unapologetically depicts a truly genuine Asian-American narrative, a story that is sorely lacking in modern media.
This visual Bildungsroman features numerous plots, each portraying unique and nuanced facets of Asian-American culture. Although the narratives often compete with one another, they seemingly weave into one cohesive story that authentically encapsulates universal truths about the immigrant experience.
Meet Eddie Huang – a teenage boy who, after living in the sleepy Chinatown streets of Washington D.C, suddenly finds himself in a predominately white public school. Eddie’s life is suddenly upended as he desperately grapples with his newfound awareness of his racial identity. After facing constant exclusion and snide remarks from his white classmates, he finds himself trapped in a role that conscripts him into certain stereotypes he is unwilling to bear. For instance, he paradoxically becomes both a “model minority” as well as a shambling English speaker. Attempting to fit in with his white classmates, Eddie soon internalizes the logic of his own discrimination and is caught in limbo between two worlds: one in which he eschews his rich Taiwanese culture and another in which he must obediently follow his parents. The constricting realities of his race intensifies, portraying an immensely relatable and sincere immigrant story.
At the same time, Fresh off the Boat also presents the struggles of Eddie’s parents. Louis Huang, Eddie’s father, too faces his own hurdles as he tries to achieve the American Dream. Owning a cowboy themed steakhouse called Cattleman’s Ranch, Louis is a cheery father who naïvely embraces all that is American. Meanwhile, Jessica Huang is a loud, abrasive “tiger mom” who takes it upon herself to educate her sons. Simultaneously, she masquerades as a typical American woman to befriend the army of blonde, rollerblading moms that rule the local neighborhoods.
Although each member of the Huang family share multifaceted but similar conflicts, they have different coping methods. From Jessica’s isolation from American culture to Eddie’s quiet solace in rap music, this family sitcom presents a distinctly Asian-American experience that accosts the audience with timely questions in 2018: What does it mean to assimilate? What does it mean to integrate? What does it mean to be American?
Renewed for its fifth season, this family sitcom has had resounding echoes throughout the media industry. In three years, Fresh off the Boat has already been nominated 20 times and won four awards. This success has energized Asian-American representation, from the surging 88rising mass media company to the recent movie Crazy Rich Asians. To the audience, these characters on the big screen empower many to become the protagonists of their own life. Eddie Huang talks like me. Looks like me. Feels like me.
At the end of the day, this witty family sitcom has broader, cultural implications that extend beyond Asian-Americans. With fierce vitality, Fresh off the Boat ruptures institutional whiteness that pervades our society as it comments on the universal immigrant experience. It shows society how racial minorities are pigeonholed into conflicting roles that constrict their individual agency. It shows society how they can understand the lived experiences of minorities. It shows society why the rich diversity of America matters.
Although shows like Blackish and Fresh off the Boat may have not yet solved issues of wealth inequality or under representation in government, they offer a powerful, visceral message of hope. They persistently chip away at the whiteness that is not only a cultural power but also a gatekeeper to economic and political power. And as Eddie once said, “You don't have to pretend to be someone else in order to belong.” With a scintillating message of solidarity among all communities of color, Fresh off the Boat will become an enduring cultural icon, leaving an indelible influence on our collective struggle for equality and social justice.
By: Kevin Tang
In 2018, our political climate is marked by polarizing rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum. While we tend to blame those in Washington for dividing America in two, there is another reason for this internal discord – ourselves. From social media to news outlets, we often shut ourselves in echo chambers.
So first, what are echo chambers? Literally, they mean an enclosed space where sound reverberates. But in terms of media, Oxford Dictionary explains that they are environments in which people encounter only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered. For instance, an example would be if a left-leaning person were to only read liberal news sources while avoiding any conservative news sources. All social media and news outlets we use are potential types of echo chambers that we can put ourselves in.
The explanation for this phenomenon is straightforward. We tend to enclose themselves in echo chambers because we like hearing what we want to hear. Also, we feel more confident that our opinions are accepted by others in the echo chamber.
However, these echo chambers have silent, pernicious effects. When we surround ourselves with ideas that are similar to our own in echo chambers, we succumb to groupthink, taking everything we read and see as fact. This dangerous cycle entrenches false rumors and lies since we often don’t take the time to independently verify what we read.
Statistical data already empirically proves this phenomenon. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, Swedish researchers analyzed 700,000 posts written on an right wing forum. The results were shocking: it took only six months for the average community member to adopt the forum’s radical opinions and go from “I” to “We.” As the study concludes, it saw “a shift toward a collective identity among participants, and a stronger differentiation between the own group and the outgroup(s).”
But this sort of “mob mentality” isn’t just exclusive to alt-right forums; rather, these sorts of echo chambers occur across the entire political spectrum.
And once readers succumb to this groupthink, they accept everything as hard fact, including blatant lies. But what is even worse is that echo chambers kill our discourse and dialogue. As people begin to latch onto their personal beliefs, they refuse to engage with conflicting opinions. In fact, a study published in Information, Communication, & Society journal concluded that “[social networking service] use has a direct, negative relationship to willingness to discuss a political issue in offline, face-to-face contexts.” Only three percent of Americans participate in “formal, real-time, online deliberation.” That means 97% of us don’t. Think about it: when was the last time you consciously sought a person with different beliefs and tried to civilly dialogue about polarizing political issues, like gun control and abortion?
Despite the plethora of multifaceted opinions offered by the incredible world that the Internet created, we overwhelming choose to latch onto narrow viewpoints that we want to hear.
Instead, we must learn to engage in and read up on opposing viewpoints, not to respond or scorn at, but to listen and understand. After reading anything online, we should be asking ourselves important questions: Is this really true? Who wrote this? What potential bias could be coming out of this piece? Only when we do this can we build a more educated and inclusive society. We have to stop viewing issues as black and white, but rather, as shades of gray. Recognizing that no one issue has a clear cut solution helps us widen our often narrow perspectives which broadens societal inclusion as a whole.
At the end of the day, don't be afraid to question anything in life. Even if you feel like it's a “dumb” question, ask it. The more you learn, the less “dumb” questions you will have, so ask away. But most importantly, learn to be prepared for the answer, too. It may not be what you want to hear, but that’s the truth. The plain truth.
By: Kevin Tang
In the face of climate change, electric vehicles pose as a practical solution that could help cut down global emissions. Switching over to electric vehicles would not only cut transportation emissions by 30% but also would reduce the consumption of oil by 1.5 million barrels.
The International Energy Agency reported a record number of 750,000 electric vehicles sold worldwide in 2016; however, the growth in these sales is slowly dwindling. The only places where growth is increasing is in countries with tax incentives like Norway. Government support is key to foster this emerging market.
But, on November 2nd, the GOP unveiled a tax plan that would cut taxes across the United States, including a crucial tax incentive for the nascent electric vehicle market. If passed, it would eliminate Section 30D of the Internal Revenue Code which provides a tax break up to $7,500 when you purchase either a hybrid or an electric car.
The tax credit provides $2,500 for a plug-in vehicle with at least a 5kWh battery capacity. Another $417 is given for every additional kWh. Since January of 2010, the incentive only applies to the first 200,000 buyers for each electric vehicle manufacturer, but so far, no company has reached the mark.
Targeting low and middle income consumers, the credit is primarily used to subsidize leases on the cars, allowing consumers to pay for them. For instance, the Tesla Model 3 is currently listed at $35,000 but a rebate of up to $7,500 makes it much more affordable and attractive to a wider market.
This incentive has been empirically proven to increase sales of electric vehicles and when taken away, there is a noticeable decline in purchases.
States with high tax incentives like Hawaii, California, Georgia, and Washington have two to four times the concentration of plug-in cars than the national average. Looking internationally, Norway has the biggest market for these vehicles, now reaching 37% market share. In December, it had reached 100,000 all-electric cars despite its relatively small market. This expansive and emerging market has owed to Norway's incentives of free parking, free charging, exemptions from tolls, etc.
Although Georgia was one of the domestic leaders in the electric vehicle market, it sharply plummeted after conservative state legislators removed the credit in 2015, instead opting for a $200 registration fee instead.
"We should be around 40,000 vehicles now, " lamented Jeff Cohen, founder of the Atlanta Electric Vehicle Development Coalition. "We're not growing.” Although Georgia sold 1,426 electric vehicles in July 2015, it only sold 242 in August. This 83% drop has yet to rebound.
Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, a staunch supporter of the incentive added on that “The tax credit was key to our growing this market.”
While the GOP tax plan still needs to be passed by the Senate, consumers and electric vehicle companies must petition to protect the electric vehicle industry.
By Kevin Tang
The first major hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, Hurricane Harvey struck the Lone Star State, inundating the area with trillions of gallons of water. It not only disrupted thousands of lives, but also it devastated the economy. The storm damaged billions of dollars' worth of property and crippled the chemical, energy, and shipping industries, leading some to call it the most expensive storm in American history, at a total of $190 billion.
Last year, Texas accounted for nearly 8 percent of American output with GDP of $1.5 trillion. The US economy was projected to grow by 2.8% before Harvey but now, it is expected to decrease by 1-1.8%.
Most of the losses were due to damaged uninsured property. In situations like these, after natural disasters, it is common to see more unemployed people who are willing to help rebuild; however, Texas is a special exception. In Texas, a disproportionate amount of the construction workforce is comprised of illegal immigrants. Due to the state's harsher stance on immigration, many would not help rebuild for worry about deportation. This not only spells longer reconstruction times but also a longer time for Texas's economy to bounce back. Without the necessary infrastructure, the affected industries cannot operate properly and contribute to the state's already declining economy.
Furthermore, the cuts in Texas's manufacturing capacity in 2008 have dire consequences today as there is a shortage of building materials. Due to these factors, investors are wary and prudent, therefore unwilling to help out. This stinginess will only elongate the time needed to rebuild.
Ultimately, the oil industry is taking a big hit. While it used to account for 24% of America's oil, Texas was forced to shut down its facilities recently. This both exacerbated the unemployment problem within the state and increased gas prices across the entire country. "It may take weeks for refineries to repair and replace damaged equipment, " Mr. Dye, a chief economist at Comerica Bank, said. "Port facilities have also been damaged, and this may result in an export bottleneck." Until Texas's infrastructure is rebuilt, all Americans' will directly see the impact of Harvey through their gas prices.
Those not in Texas still face the broader ramifications. The hurricane toppled thousands of bridges and ruined major freeways. A month later, transportation is still at a standstill as road closures persist, lengthening what would be short commutes by hours. Only with continued funding from FEMA and help from other organizations can Texas recover.
By: Kevin Tang
In the late 19th century, American infrastructure dramatically developed to become powerful facilitators of the economy, integrating domestic markets and increasing commerce. But today, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has reported on the current state of infrastructure in 2017 to present the United States with a nearly-failing grade: D+.
The nation’s oldest engineering organization, the ASCE, comprises of more than 150,000 members. Together, they advocate for the maintenance of infrastructure and publish “report cards” that examine the condition of the country’s infrastructure every four years. In these evaluations are comprehensive examinations of the 16 types of infrastructure that range from roads to aviation to energy to schools. The key criteria that make up the final grade are condition, public safety, innovation, etc.
Although a D+ appears to be a poor grade, it is actually a slight improvement over the past years which were mostly given D’s. Since the first ASCE report in 1998, the highest overall grade has been a D+ and none of the infrastructure categories have scored above a B. While it is true that America spends around $40 billion on infrastructure annually, it still remains true that only a third of the nation’s roads are in “good condition.” To remediate these issues, the ASCE projects that another $4.59 trillion is necessary. This amount of money for repair will only continue to increase if the glaring problem is left alone.
While one cause is the lack of funds towards infrastructure, another is poor planning. Every year, our nation spends around $20.4 billion to construct new infrastructure that accounts for less than 1% of the total; however, for the other 99%, the United States only spends $16.5 billion to maintain and repair the rest. This mismanagement of funds and lack of forethought continues to exacerbate the issue.
This not only worsens public safety and increases inefficiency, but also drags down the economy. Without the necessary funds directed towards infrastructure, the country could potentially shed 2.5 million jobs and $4 trillion from the nation’s GDP. This costs the average American family “$3,400 dollars a year,” ASCE explains.
To fix these problems, America must allocate the necessary $4.59 trillion to infrastructure while also ensuring that most of this money spent is on maintenance and repair rather than construction of new roads. This smarter distribution of resources will allow the nation to fix its current issues instead of creating future issues. Already in the past years, the nation has been making slow but steady progress as nearly half of the 16 categories of infrastructure are being improved.
One way President Trump looks to add to America's infrastructure is with his border wall. With a $70 billion wall spanning 1,000 miles built between the United States and Mexico, he predicts that illegal immigration will decrease. However, some argue that the almost $1 trillion wall would be an inefficient use of money as “infrastructure”.
Although border apprehensions decrease in areas with fences or walls, there may be other factors that contribute to the reduction instead. For instance, as new fencing was constructed, there was also an increase in border guards at the same time. Even if the wall does deter would-be migrants, there are still other ways to bypass it. From 2007 to 2010, officials have reported at least one tunnel a month. In addition, the wall would not impede people from flying over the wall into the United States as many overstay legal visas.
However, the Trump administration has other plans. Looking to fulfill campaign promises of creating more jobs for the American people, they have already announced a plan that would dedicate a trillion dollars to create a public-private national infrastructure project reminiscent of Roosevelt's New Deal that would provide "millions" of jobs.
Although it is still less than a quarter of what is necessary and no detailed plan has been released yet, it is a step in the right direction. Only can persistence and more resources solve the historical and current infrastructure problem.
By Kevin Tang
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Similarly, as America’s working class suffers from Trump’s policies and automation taking over jobs, many economists have started to look to universal basic income for hope.
Becoming more prominent after president Nixon advocated for it in his Family Assistance Plan during the 1960’s, the concept of universal basic income is not new and is appealingly simple; all citizens would receive a regular governmental stipend in addition to whatever they already make.
It stands to reason that this is gaining traction, especially for the lower and middle classes. Not only has the Trump administration rejected new overtime protections and lower mortgage insurance premiums, but also its proposed tax plan would reduce taxes by an average of 13.5% for the top 1% while increasing taxes for over 8 million middle-class families, reports Associated Press News. Since these proposals disproportionately hurt people with lower income, the poor believe that an unconditional nationwide income would help remediate these problems.
This income is also advantageous because instead of finding certain jobs to pay off their bills, people would have more room to explore new jobs that are more suitable to their abilities. This would boost productivity as well as innovation and flexibility.
However, universal basic income provides a solution because as shown around the world, it provides not only material economic benefits, but also intangible societal benefits that we often take for granted such as improved physical and mental health as well increased productivity. In the Canadian town of Dauphin, the idea was put to test. For four years, the town saw a decrease in “ill-health and mental stress.”
Similar findings were reported in North Carolina, Namibia, and India who all saw better nutrition and health when instituting a similar program. The most recent experiment in Finland shows us how it can and will work too. The first of a kind in Europe, the study observes 2,000 citizens who receive 560 euros (615 US dollars) over two years, starting in January 2017. And already, The Independent reported that there was a “notable reduction in stress levels.”
Although Trump blames outsourcing of jobs to countries like China as the source of unemployment in America, there is a less well-known but even greater issue – automation. As technology evolves to become a cheaper and more efficient alternative for a large variety of jobs, more low-skill workers are finding themselves with no jobs. Even though the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, manufacturing output has been increasing “roughly 2.2% a year” reports Ball State University. These millions of jobs were not outsourced because the same report indicates that 88% of them were lost due to automation.
Even more, management consulting company McKinsey and Company estimates that before 2040, 45% of jobs will be replaced by automation. This makes universal basic income “necessary” said Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.” With this regular payment, workers who have lost their jobs can be compensated.
For many, financial insecurity is a consistent problem. An unconditional basic income granted to every citizen regardless of his or her background would not only improve health, as studies prove it, but also financial stability. Although it seems impossible under the current presidency, universal basic income remains a glimmering hope for a growing number of people in America.