Saturday, March 16, 2013

Whose Side Are We On?

As President Obama makes his first visit to Israel this week, everyone's wondering if we'll be seeing any peace resolutions in the near future. The region has been riddled by an Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the early 20th century, leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees and tens of thousands dead. According to the website If Americans Knew, which is dedicated to informing the American public of the exact statistics involving the conflict, during the fiscal year of 2011 the U.S. gave the Israeli military $8.5 million per DAY, Palestinian forces received nothing. Isn't that incredible and disheartening? Furthermore, The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions estimates that over 27,000 houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967, all of said houses have belonged to Palestinians. 

Before I get too ahead of myself I should probably tell you how this all started if you don't already know. In the late 1800's a Zionist movement began to create a homeland for the Jewish people. Following the Holocaust more and more Jewish people migrated to the region, alarming the indigenous population who were slowly losing their land and eventually their rights. The UN intervened in 1947, but instead of allowing the citizens of the region to self-determine their state they chose to divide it themselves. According to If Americans Knew, the UN recommended giving away 55% of Palestine to a Jewish state – despite the fact that this group represented only about 30% of the total population, and owned under 7% of the land. I was just reading an article today about the 10th anniversary of the death of American activist, Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death protecting a Palestinian home by an Israeli Caterpillar D9 bulldozer-- equipment funded by the U.S. (the article here: 

So why does the U.S. continue to provide Israel with such exorbitant military aid? The interest lies in our current relationship with the Middle East at large. With so many nations who are against the U.S. in the Middle East, Israel proves to be a strong ally located in the region. Having strong diplomatic relations with Israel allows the U.S. to have a foothold in a region that fosters so many uncertainties for us as a nation. But Obama's agenda isn't solely to garner peace between the Israelis and Palestinians but also to address the issue of Iran's nuclear weapon program that has been causing  increasing fear around the world. Iran has been vocal in the past of the way the American government has handled the Israeli-Palestinian issue, criticizing the lack of fairness and tact while handling the situation. 

While Israel bathes in the international limelight this week lets hope that American's will finally take the time to understand the incredible injustices we have been funding for decades. 

Here's a little tongue-in-cheek cartoon poking at the wayward conditions in Israel today:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Please Tread On Me!

Following the tragic murder of 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School staff and students, the issue of gun control in America has reached a boiling point. Coined in his article "America as a Gun Culture", historian Richard Hofstadter popularized the term "gun culture" to refer to America's long standing affection to firearms. The admiration stems from the association of guns and the American heritage, a complex duo that has helped foster a relatively lax gun policy in the U.S. A time of western expansion when guns were needed on the American frontier has created a society in which gun violence has reached epic proportions. I'm sure that every single day when you turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, it is almost impossible not to read about another death or injury by gun violence. It is not just the lack of gun controls that haunts American society but the sheer amount of guns in this country itself-- with 270 million guns belonging to put that into perspective that is 88.9 firearms per 100 people!! The U.S. with 4.5% of the worlds population holds about 40% of privately owned guns! 

It's a sad truth, but statistics have shown that stricter gun control leads to less gun violence in society. A new study by Boston's Children's Hospital which showed that states with more gun laws exhibited less gun violence. Although several factors such as type of laws, enforcement of laws and gun ownership rates in states were not taken into account but the study indicates that laws play a major role in preventing firearm deaths. According to the study, states with the most gun laws had a mortality rate 42% lower than the states which had the fewest. 

Like the story of Trayvon Martin, where a young boy was shot because he was deemed a threat by a deranged neighbor or the case of Virginia Tech where a boy with clear mental health issues killed his classmates in a rage. The access that American's have to gun ownership is shockingly easy, where people with mental health issues can obtain a gun or an enraged civilian can instill his wrath with ease. Of course many advocate for the right to gun ownership to protect themselves, but the reality is the psychosis of a society changes when their is more restricted passage to violence. 15 of the last 25 mass killings in the last 50 years has been in the United States! But Washington Post does acknowledge that "An August CNN/ORC poll asked respondents whether they favor or oppose a number of specific policies to restrict gun ownership. And when you drill down to that level, many policies, including banning the manufacture and possession of semi-automatic rifles, are popular." 
If there was a time to act, it's now. As gun violence spirals out of control, public policy and litigation will be our only savior. Lastly, I leave you with a touching speech from Former representative Gabby Gifford's, a victim of gun violence. Be bold, be courageous.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Policy Spotlight: Sequestration

In recent weeks we've been hearing the term 'sequestration' a lot. With the buzz of the recent election subsiding, the fiscal cliff and governmental divide have the American people piquing their ears to some unsettling policy news. So what is the sequester? Why is it happening? And what does it mean for the American people?

It's a wordy term with a complicated and ominous meaning. Simply put, sequestration is Congress' solution to our countries growing national debt (it stands at over $16 trillion today!). Put into effect at 11:59pm on March 1, 2013, the sequester will cut $1.2 trillion dollars from the federal budget over a 10-year time period. The cuts will be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending (these include healthcare, education, law enforcement, disaster relief, unemployment benefits, non-profit organizations and the sciences).

I know, it's a hard pill to swallow but now its time to wonder why this is even happening.
The sequester was originally passed as a part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised America's debt ceiling and provided an incentive for the appointed 'Super Committee' to come up with a more comprehensive and sensible budget plan. Believing the sequester to be enough of a threat for the Committee to come to an agreement it was a shock when they were unable to reach a deal by the end of the year. The cuts aimed to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, but Congress came to a last-minute decision to delay the sequester until March 1st so as not to coincide with the end of Bush-era tax cuts, an amalgamation of policies referred to as the 'Fiscal Cliff'.

So what now? How is this going to effect the American people?
Programs such as Social Security, public assistance (TANF) and food stamps (SNAP) have been able to avert sequester cuts. But programs such as federal housing, Woman and Infant Care and and Medicare are vulnerable to the governments wielded axe. Federal employees may face unemployment and school programs such as Head Start may also see dramatic cuts. The hard truth is that many of these cuts will affect low-income families more than Congress thinks. Tax hikes are inevitable and without a comprehensive tax-rate the pressure of the sequester may prove to be too much for both our society and our economy.