By Tim O'Shea
Gentrification is a dirty word. While contemporary, gaining traction mostly in the last decade as high-profile neighborhoods are seemingly overrun by cultural imperialism, gentrification has been accused of everything from reinforcing structural racism to wiping out minority culture. But on the substantive, quantifiable level, can we make any conclusions over it’s affects on the community it moves into?
First of all, the definition of gentrification itself is unstable. Most sources agree that it involves a movement of high-income individuals into a previously low-income area, usually urban, for various reasons, such as rising property values or possibly new venues or attractions. Where the definitions begin to diverge is whether or not the influx of wealthy people inherently entails a displacement of lower-income individuals as a result of increasing property taxes and rents.
This issue of displacement is the first point of controversy. The logic against gentrification is very simple: rising demand from the wealthy influx drives up rent prices and property values (and thus property taxes), making the area less affordable for lower-income families and forcing them to move out. As such, meta-analyses find that anywhere from a few hundred thousand to 2.5 million people find themselves displaced every year from gentrification . Yet other analyses find contradictory results, such as one study of national census data found no evidence of mass displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods . In fact, individual studies of Brooklyn  and Boston  each found reduced levels of displacement from gentrification. But why? How could increasing costs on families increase their propensity to reside in the neighborhood? Answering such a question requires looking beyond mere rent levels to evaluate the effects of gentrification.
It would be naïve to limit the assessment of gentrification to merely the effects on rent. For instance, wealthier residents spend more in their local communities, while simultaneously paying more in to the tax system and reinvigorating public services. However, opponents argue that residency doesn’t guarantee any more money to the community, especially if the wealthy can do things like shop and contract services from outside the community out of desire for higher quality. Moreover, tax evasion may reduce their contributions to the funding base for local programs. Once again, the statistical results are mixed. The same study of census data found a 20 percent increase in income for original residents in gentrifying neighborhoods , while a comparative study of New York found that gentrification was heavily correlated with homelessness . But there may be an even deeper dimension to the gentrification problem that could trigger changes among all the other factors discussed.
As usual, politics affect everything, and gentrification is no different. Gentrification may pose a risk to the poor of an area for two reasons. First, the rich may become a higher focus of the government’s goals in a city if they arrive on the scene, or may polarize local governments and use lobbying to gain more power, diverting resources towards themselves instead of into poverty-targeting programs. However, others see it differently. For instance, the rich may be able to perform that same redirection from other areas of states or regions into their host city, helping those directly around them. Or, even more intriguingly, given that gentrification is such a politically powerful and charged term , gentrification may act as a signal flare for city government’s to increase poverty alleviation measures out of concern for the poor, even if the poor are in fact being benefitted.
Clearly the academic community is light-years away from conclusions over the effects of gentrification, not unexpected given it’ relative recent surge of appearances in the policy community. But if one is to learn anything from gentrification, it is to never judge a phenomenon on face value. Even though the media and other high-profile voices have been quick to crucify gentrification, it may not be the devil it’s been painted to be.
China's Double-Edged Sword
By Tim O'Shea
Every powerful nation has produced its own Achilles’ Heels. The size of the Roman Empire led to disunity and weakness. The rallying persona of Alexander the Great led to a dependence on his leadership that caused his empire to collapse soon after his death. And for the modern China, the same environmental disregard that has allowed their industry to proceed at such a rapid pace may be strangling its citizens.
Recent decades have seen exponential economic growth in China, accompanied by an expansion of diplomacy, trade, and international attention. But behind the satin curtain of a prosperous China lies the – literally – dirty truth about the fuel for the rise: coal. 70% of China’s energy production comes through coal – fired power plants, and coal produces absurd amounts of pollutants and greenhouse gasses, without even considering the especially poor efficiency and environmental considerations in China specifically. Beijing has turned a blind eye to the rampant violation of the country’s environmental regulations as a way to perpetuate rapid growth, but the sacrifices are severe. The latest World Health Organization data from 2013 places Beijing’s average at particulate matter levels at 156% higher than the national standard. Particulate matter poses a disproportionate health risk because the particles are small enough to pass through the body’s natural barriers and defenses, infiltrating human blood streams and organs.
The health implications for the emissions problem at large are staggering. Outdoor air pollution allegedly killed 1.2 million Chinese citizens in 2010 alone, life expectancy in China fell 5.5 years from 1981 to 2001, and rates of lung cancer have risen over 450% despite stagnated levels of smoking. A Chinese politician might see these sufferings as only necessary sacrifices, but that’s a flawed, perhaps smoggy, lens. Health issues undoubtedly lower productivity by increasing the amount of sick days, hurting focus while at work, and forcing more citizens to use already – overcrowded medical infrastructure that could just as easily cure them as give them another disease. Such costs are not conducive to the kind of growth that China longs for, and needs if they want to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy.
The real question lies with whether it’s fixable. Unless Beijing can truly commit to reducing emissions by understanding both the immediate and long term detriments, pollution will always be tomorrow’s problem. Such an attitude is apparent in the lethargic level of environmental enforcement in China. But could the solution lay in an even more radical path of growth? The Kuznets Curve, a radical economic model confirmed by empirical research, presents a graph of a country’s economic progress along the x – axis, and the environmental quality along the y – axis. The progress follows an inverted – U shape, meaning, quite simply, that conditions become dismal before they can improve. The hypothesis holds that as companies can afford more efficient and clean technology, and consumers hold enough wealth to purchase goods that preserve the environment, economic growth can contribute to the preservation of the biosphere. And while it seems like a Utopian pipe dream, the statistical relationship has been proven even if heavily industrialized nations such as Thailand. Thus, a more counterintuitive approach to pollution problems in China would be to fight to keep growth going and monitor the market for the inverted U – shape in order to fight through through current issues to a brighter future.
In the pro – growth political climate that has permeated Chinese policy – making, an accelerated path of growth might be the only feasible path for the future, considering past resistance to more traditional forms of pollution reduction. But whether the nation uses emissions reduction. green technology, an accelerated path of growth, or any other method of fixing the pollution, each has one factor in common: they’re needed now.
New Face Of The Catholic Church
By Tim O'Shea
In the months following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent appointment of his successor, Jorge Bergoglio, or as he is now known, Pope Francis, Catholics have watched as he has taken dramatic turns on not just hot – button issues, but on the flagship beliefs of the Catholic Church. Within the first week of his new position, he made choices that starkly contrasted with his predecessor: He elected to stay in his small apartment rather than the lavish Papal Apartment, he rejected some of the more ornate papal dress such as the red shoes and the golden ring, left the Vatican alone to visit a sick friend, and told various high ranking priests to avoid his introduction ceremony and to donate the money they would’ve used for the trip to charity instead.
Even his car reflects the new Pontiff’s philosophy. Rather than continue to use the Mercedes and BMWs of Benedict, Francis requested a Ford Focus for his transportation. And in September, he chose an even more modest car, a 1984 Renault 4 with 190,000 miles. The car was a gift from a Northern Italian priest, and Francis used it as an opportunity to tell priests the world over to reject material wealth.
But modesty isn’t the only new aspect of the head of the church. He’s been both praised and assailed for his more socially liberal statements, such as when he reached out to the atheists of the world in furthering world peace on Christmas, or when he published an article where he asked atheists to follow their consciences and God’s love would find them. This strikes a sharp contrast with Benedict, who assaulted secularism and atheism as causing a vast undermining of society, adding that the last group to seek to eradicate God was the Nazis. Moreover, where Benedict decried homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil”, Pope Francis stated that a person’s sexuality is insignificant compared to their love of God and compassion.
While it’s easy to write off each of these small statements as isolated incidents rather than earth – shattering revolutions, one can’t deny the new trend of love, compassion, and inclusion. Catholicism has found itself at a critical crossroads with the modern world, a crossroads encountered by many of the world’s major religions. Because of new social conditions such as acceptance of new social norms or time demands that detract from worship, religions are losing practitioners in frightening numbers. There are only two options to survive. First, update their views and practices to demand less attention or time from their followers, sacrificing tradition in the name of saving their relevance. Or second, stick to their guns and lose followers, while staying true to their original beliefs. The transition in Catholicism demonstrated a textbook – example shift from the latter to the former, but the mix of philosophies within the Cardinals means that the next Pope could easily shift the balance back, or perhaps even go further than Francis.
Whether seen as a shift in public opinion or a strategy to retain churchgoers, it’s important to remember the essence of Francis’ philosophy and what he is bringing with him to the Vatican. His namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was a wealthy man who threw it all away in an attempt to become closer to God and his fellow man. Francis is trying to distance material possessions from happiness by setting an example, and every new social statement is made in an attempt to only expand the Church’s doctrine of unconditional love and acceptance. And in an age of conflict and hate – mongering, a message of love might be something we can all learn from.
The Problem with Anti-Terrorism Laws
By Tim O'Shea
Nine Eleven was a crisis. No one will dispute that. But the only thing more important and lasting than a crisis is the reaction. Not only how it addresses the problem, but also how it checks itself from being too expansive, irrational, or emotionally driven. And America’s reaction to the threat of terrorism has been all of the above.
The first issue is always going to happen. Crises and the ensuing panic, paranoia, and anxiety can drive people to pursue options that they would not have considered had the crisis not driven them in to such a state. Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote that the part of the brain that controls fear, the amygdala, can inhibit decision-making processes should it react strongly enough. While this may be harmless on the individual level, using those reactions to craft policies that will persist long after the fear has subsided makes the problem much more permanent.
The second issue is one much more caused by the American legal and political system than to fear. Simply put, laws will only expand their ground. As new boundaries of laws are tested and upheld, the laws can find themselves covering much more than previously anticipated. U.S. counterterrorism efforts using drones led to the killing of Anwar Al – Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, setting up precedent for the United States to indiscriminately kill U.S. citizens without any kind of constitutional protection. Moreover, the newly revealed domestic surveillance operations done by the National Security Agency have been justified through the expansion of the ground of the PATRIOT Act to include operations like the ones the NSA conducts. Thus if it’s clear that this relentless expansion of ground is occurring, the next question is why.
One culprit may be the political incentives behind anti – terrorism laws. Politicians often portray themselves as defenders of the people when they pass a law designed to stop terrorists. However, this makes it politically harmful to repeal the laws, even if they may be frightfully ineffective or misallocated. Furthermore, laws that are ineffective themselves but represent a widely supported political movement may be difficult to resist because going against the law can be misconstrued as going against the root value of the law. Finally, if a law persists for long enough, such as the case of the PATRIOT Act, its measures become the norm, causing any repeal to appear as a scaling back of the “normal” levels of security.
While it may seem that unchangeable human behavior is to blame for the expansionary trends in anti – terrorism laws, easy legal augmentations pose a solution. For instance, “sunset” provisions ensure that provisions of laws will expire after predetermined periods of time absent extension. For instance, the PATRIOT Act had fourteen permanent provisions, but three contained sunset provisions that will cause them to expire in 2015 absent action. While failure to extend the laws can encounter the same political costs and obstacles as repealing them, it still offers an easier option that allows conflicted politicians to end a measure passively rather than actively voting against it. Furthermore, simple control can offer an even greater solution. While emotional reactions in the event of catastrophe are understandable, it’s important to think about the long term before shouting for changes. Politicians still have to please the people, and if the people can measure their reactions and expectations in a way that doesn’t create incentives for such irreversible actions, the problem will be cut off at the source.
The expansionary nature of anti – terrorism laws is neither a reason to stop passing them nor a reason to repeal any faulty law. But when certain laws mean so much for both civil liberties and national security while simultaneously being so emotionally charged, much care must be administered when evaluating them in order to check steps that could create consequences for years to come.
Pointing Fingers After Boston
By Tim O'Shea
Following the fatal double bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15th and subsequent investigation into Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsaernaev, investigators have found themselves in a sense of deja vu. For reasons both concealed in classified reports and overlooked by overlapping agencies, the family had been looked into by the FBI in a March 2011 investigation, yet did not present enough of a threat to be watched. The Russian government wiretapped a conversation between the older brother, Tamerlan, and the brother’s mother, Zubeidat, in which they discussed ‘jihad’, a Muslim term for “holy war” commonly used by Muslim extremist terrorists referring to their fight against the United States and other western institutions. Furthermore, the mother also communicated with an unnamed individual from the Caucasus already under investigation by the FBI. So, the question presents itself: why, if the family had a history of suspicious activity, was there no action taken place that could have prevented the tragedy in Boston?
Many have begun to point the finger at Russia. After all, the entire reason the 2011 FBI investigation was closed was because communication broke down between the investigative agencies of each country. But the idea that Russia could have been aware of their intentions and knowingly withheld information from the FBI is absurd. First, Jim Treacy, former FBI attache to Moscow, notes that the Russian government has actually sought more cooperation in recent years, seeking to widen their global investigative net to better fight their enemies in Chechnya. Second, Russia has no clear motive to wish harm on the civilians of America. Even if Russia wishes to surpass us as an economic or geopolitical superpower, bombing a marathon furthers neither of those goals and presents a huge risk if they are caught. Finally, it simply makes no sense that they would offer us the information after the bombings if their true intentions were to hide their involvement. Why would they aid us in the investigation if they could just as easily make the records disappear?
Any attempts to point blame at the FBI are similarly illogical. Without possessing the Russian intelligence, little about the Tsarnaevs would hint to any ill intention. Chechens have little history of anti – American sentiment. Instead Chechens antagonize Russia because of religious and ethnic divides that resulted in a bloody war in the 1990s. The capital, Grozny, was reduced to rubble, and up to 200,000 women and children became refugees as a result of the violence. So in an area preoccupied with fighting Russia, how did radical Islam take root? The answer lies in the nearby region of Dagestan, where Tamerlan spent six months last year. While Chechnya has begun to cool down, Dagestan has become more violent in the past years, with Islamic militants beginning to employ bombings and other terror tactics against local authorities. But without the information that Tamerlan ever visited the area, the FBI had little reason to suspect anything of him.
So where should the blame fall? Oddly enough, the answer may come from 1994, a time when most American citizens knew nothing about terrorism and couldn’t even pronounce Al – Qaeda. In 1994, Stephen Bowman published “When The Eagle Screams”, a book widely recognized to be the first to warn Americans of anti – American terror. Bowman was so comprehensive in his predictions that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and plot against the Lincoln Tunnel had already been predicted in his first drafts. And in this analysis that would not come to be acclaimed until after 9/11, Bowman notes an intrinsic weakness in the American justice system. While other countries focus more on prevention of terrible acts than on punishment afterwards, America seems to be the other way around. Punishment works well to harm those who value the conventional goals of life and liberty, but because extremists value spiritual goals and rewards they believe to be received beyond the grave, they do not hold the same attention to consequences. In addition, the mainstream media causes attention to flock to terrorist actions, turning suspected bombers in to overnight celebrities. The problem is that when their goal is to bring attention to their acts, media coverage acts more as publicity of their success than as condemnation of their actions.
So while we can point the finger at bureaucracy or other countries, we have to realize that the nature of our society inherently makes it easier for us to be targeted. Blame may prevail in certain incidents, but it is the overarching problem that should be most important in the long term.
North Korean Human Rights Abuses
By Tim O'Shea
The question of military conflict with North Korea has been flooded with possible justifications for action, from its nuclear brinksmanship, to imprisonment of American citizens and even remnants of anti – Communist containment. But it might just be the most important reason of all that isn’t getting media attention.
Prison camps have seen widespread use in North Korea for everything from “prisoners of war” to political dissidents to the families of anyone the government deems dangerous. And the tales that have slipped through the barb – wire fences of the camps have started to gain traction in the international community. Shin Dong – hyuk was born and raised in a political prison, and managed to escape the camp and tell his story to the world in his book “Escape From Camp 14”, a bestseller translated into twenty four languages. The memories he recalls to journalists are ones of fierce psychological atrocities against the prisoners. For instance, incentives such as food were so strong that they drove people to report any conspiracy of escape to the camp officials, often resulting in executions. Escaped prisoner Ji Hae Nam explained that prisoners also went through hours of hard labor and mandatory self – criticism meant to break down their spirits and make them subdue to the regime.
As more than sixty defectors have corroborated, the camps are a malnourished nightmare. David R. Hawk from the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported in “The Hidden Gulag” that according to eyewitness accounts, 70% of prisoners in Camp 1 suffered from malnutrition and a fifth of the population died as a result of inadequate rations. Camp Fourteen, where Shin was born, is a particularly underfed and brutal camp. One prisoner named Kim Chul Min was killed after it was discovered he gathered chestnuts for nutrition and Kal Li Yong was beaten to death with a stick after attempting to eat the leather from a whip. And it hasn’t just been prisoners telling their stories. In an interview with NBC, former guard Ayn Myong Chol described the procedures used by the guards. One incentive scheme used to control guards involved paying for a college education if a guard killed an escapee. Besides resulting in the beatings of any who misbehaved in an attempt to gain distinction, Ayn revealed that a fellow guard forced a man to escape so he could kill him before going to college. In summation, Ayn says that “They are not treated as human beings; they are just like dogs or pigs”.
The silver lining is that the desire for action has begun to build. Shin and another escaped prisoner met with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in December, and three months later the U.N. announced the creation of an investigation into human rights abuses in North Korea. While it is important not to use these grievous acts as an excuse for war – mongering, it represents an opportunity to fight for the people of North Korea rather than engage in conversation only with the upper tiers of the government. After all, any action against the hermit country must be wary of the fact that many people of the country are not the loyal supporters broadcasted on the propaganda networks, but victims of systematic psychological repression that deserve their freedom.
The 3D Printer Debate
By Tim O'Shea
Technology has always placed framework for debate. The mass – production of guns led to the gun control debate, the ability to burn CDs brought up new questions about intellectual property, and now the onset of 3D printers has created a stage for a new kind of discourse.
3D printers have only recently become mass – produced, some selling for as little as eight thousand dollars. But it is not the printers themselves so much as the designs put in to them that have sparked debate. Defense Distributed, an organization dedicated to making weapons easily available via 3D printers, has been making breakthroughs in distribution of their designs. They’ve posted designs of assault rifle magazines, Ar – 15 lower receivers, a partial silencer, and a coupler that allows multiple magazines to be attached to each other for quick use. But easily, the greatest of their achievements has been the Liberator, a 16 – part handgun entirely buildable from a 3D printer, except for a small nail that serves as a firing pin. After a video of the fully – functional pistol surfaced, new questions were asked about the possible implications of allowing such intricate devices to be made in the living room of anyone in America.
There are many reasons to fear the proliferation of these weapons. Little regulation stands in the way of 3D printers for the time being, meaning that anyone with a printer and a design can create a potentially lethal weapon. This includes under – age citizens, felons, and the mentally ill. And while plastic guns are banned because of their advantage over metal detectors, no one seems to trust the ban to be effective against this new breed of weapons production. Even the intentions of Defense Distributed itself are questionable, being that it is run by a self – described anarchist.
But unfortunately, those who wish to defend 3D printers and the material that come out of them may have a possible defense in the 1st Amendment. If one can defend the argument that these online designs represent the speech of the creator, then any attempt to stop their distribution is rebuffed. But this doesn’t seem to be the current interpretation. The website Defense Distributed has had all of the designs taken down, and the badge of the State Department graces the sections where file downloads once appeared. At least temporarily, the congregation of debate has agreed to stop the flow of the designs while they consider the possible legal implications of doing so.
But perhaps the biggest question isn’t whether the government will restrict these designs; it’s about whether it can. Even if they manage to restrict the online traffic of weapons designs, anyone with a USB can still transfer them between printers. And the ban on plastic weapons only held any effectiveness in the past because the government had to enforce only gun – makers instead of the entire population. When the production sites spread among the entire population, it becomes infinitely more difficult to contain the issue. It would be like trying to contain the illegal drug problem if marijuana and coca plants were legal to own. People could harvest it in their own home and easily evade detection until they choose to use their newly created product. So ultimately, whatever direction the government goes, it will be the direction of the American people that decides the future of both the 3D printing industry and its potentially lethal wares.
By Tim O'Shea
Monty Python isn’t known to address international policy issues, especially ones that hadn’t happened at the time of the sketch. But there’s a first time for everything. Any avid fan remembers the signature scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when a French knight hurls bizarre insults at a group of enemies since the knight was safely sheltered behind the walls of the fortress. Following an unsuccessful assault by the enemies, the knight only continues the verbal onslaught. While most focus only on the strange content, it still poses a relevant question. Will empowering somebody to a serious degree allow them to lose their fear of conflict? Fast forward a few decades and relocate to the Middle East, and the answer is yes.
The Israel – Palestine border is no stranger to conflict, and a constant source of military effort has been devoted to curbing the suffering. Following the 2006 escalation that killed 44 Israelis, projects began to attempt to mitigate the damage done by the rocket attacks constantly used by Palestinian militants. The result, debuting in March 2011, was the Iron Dome system, the child of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and United States funding. Stationed along the border, the system monitors incoming short – range rockets, predicts the trajectory to determine if they pose a threat to civilians, then fires an interceptor to destroy any dangerous missiles. Early testing indicated a 90% success rate, and systems were deployed heavily along the border following a particularly intense volume of rocket attacks in mid – November 2012. Although only 184 of 500 missile attacks were intercepted during that escalation, Israeli spokespersons still defended it as a viable defense system. So it defends Israel against enough attacks for them to retain their confidence in times of crisis. Now the question arises, is that a good thing?
Look at the record. Following the rocket attacks that would previously have caused them to take a defensive stance, Israel instead beefed up its offensive potential during last November, beginning airstrikes against targets within Palestine and preparing a ground force for an invasion. Now, as the conflict in Syria rages on, Israel has allegedly committed airstrikes against weapons depots it felt were threatening, and deployed Iron Dome systems along its border at the Golan Heights following the outrage for attacking Syria. The problem lies in that if Israel’s civilians are safe from harm, Israel has little incentive to avoid conflict that would put them in peril. Just as the French Knight had no trouble insulting his foes from behind the walls of the castle, Israel feels little fear with its citizens safe from the insurgents rockets. That’s not to say that Israelis should not be safe, but it represents a liberating factor for Israel that makes it that much less risky to pursue conflict. Additionally, Max Fisher from the Washington Post explains that the Iron Dome puts the missile issue out of sight and out of mind, allowing Israeli leaders to ignore the problem and allow the conflict to persist as a result, rather than focus on long – term solvency.
This issue should not be considered a distant issue for any U.S. citizen. Not only did the U.S. largely fund the creation of the Iron Dome, but its impact carries serious consequences for the United States. A pillar of United States foreign policy in the Middle East has been support for Israel, and allowing Israel to flaunt it’s power in the region with no fear of repercussions is not conducive to long – term stability. That’s not to say that Israeli civilians should not be protected, but they should not be done in a manner that allows Israel to commit actions it wouldn’t if its citizens weren’t safe.
With conflict between Israel and Syria heating up, the Iron Dome will play a pivotal role in determining how Israel treats the situation. With attacking from within castle walls being so easy, one can only hope that they remember that there are wider consequences than a launched missile.