Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Drug War has Deluded America

"The only way of explaining how the Sinaloa [drug] cartel and Chapo Guzmán became so powerful is with the complicity of the government." What a provocative statement! Investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez has been researching the "War on Drugs" in Mexico, and what she has to say is much different from what Americans hear about the "War on Drugs". She turns our world upside down with the claim that the Mexican government is fueling the drug war

This grotesque depiction of the "War on Drugs" is drawn from America's viewpoint. Could it be an illusion?

Hernandez explains that the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico is often fabled for its elusiveness and its leader, el Chapo Guzmán. This man is supposedly a mastermind, carefully importing drugs into the U.S. using "747 jets, submarines, and freight trains". El Chapo allegedly "hid in the mountains" for years, fooling the U.S. and Mexican government in the process. However, reporter Anabel Hernandez really questioned the validity of these reports and did some more research.

What she found was that the Sinaloa Cartel "enjoyed government protection (mexican gov.) since the Vicente Fox [2000-'06] administration, and that protection continued through the government of Felipe Calderón [2006-'12]".  She claims that the Sinaloa was attacked the least and had the least arrests. She even said that the DEA cooperated with the cartel in order to take down enemy cartels. It
 is really shocking that a cartel had friendly contact with the government, especially the US goverment. The result of this government protection was an increase in amphetamine, marijuana, and opium production in Mexico.  

In reality, the War on Drugs is perpetuating itself. The US and Mexican government are only catalyzing the process. While Mexico might somehow benefit from the running of cartels, the US government has no reason to support drug cartels. America is trying to rid itself of drugs (hopefully), and not trying to further production for some maniacal, monetary benefit. We should not be supporting drug cartels, and I'm sure most Americans would agree. Right now I am really questioning the role of the media in the US. Why has the American public not heard about this earlier? Is there a reason this information has been hidden from the public? 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wage Away our Dreams: America's High Gap and Low Morale

Get this: America's wages have actually decreased if not stayed the same while the National Gross Domestic Product has increased! This is a huge problem in America that is commonly known as the income gap. I think in order to fix this nationwide problem, America needs to change its economics from top to bottom. 

Displaying FullSizeRender.jpg
A graphic from American Studies class taken from Robert Reich's Inequality for All.

As you can see from the graphic, the overall GDP increased in the last 40 years in a linear fashion. The problem is, since 1970, the average worker's wage (adjusted for inflation) is relatively stagnant. So where does that gap between GDP and wages go? That money goes into the pockets of CEO's

These CEO's make on average 15.2 million a year according to the Economic Policy Institute. To add to that, the government taxes the top 1% less than the middle class! This is shocking. The reason for this is the economic theory of "Trickle Down Economics".  This is a theory where the CEO's essentially say that they should be allowed to have more of the wealth because they will be able to spend it and create more jobs for the lower classes and benefit the whole economy. Well, this has downsides because each CEO can only spend so much for the things they need. They can only buy so many cars, houses, etc. Plus, the places they spend their money are usually not benefiting the economy, but rather just themselves. The rich are essentially getting richer while the rest of America does not advance. This has detrimental effects to the overall American morale and social mobility. 

Americans are raised with the mentality that anyone can move up in socioeconomic status. This is essentially the American Dream. However, it is becoming a little jaded. Americans are working longer hours to account for the stagnant wages, and this causes Americans to have very little time for recreation or other self-building activities. The American mindset is especially focused on improving oneself, but if Americans don't have time to improve themselves let alone make enough money to do so, the American Dream is impossibly far away. 

How can America reinvigorate its citizens if the American Dream is a fallacy? Will America eventually have no social mobility? 

Class Identity Crisis

Recently, Americans have changed their viewpoint of their social class significantly. According to a recent 2015 poll from Gallup, 51% of Americans identify as middle class. That is down from 63% in 2008. This may be because of the growing income gap and the problems of trickle down economics.

Social Class Identification
Gallup Chart on Class Identification
The chart shows an overall decrease in the percent of middle class identification in from 2001 to 2015. Less people are identifying as middle class, however, it is not because upper class self-identification has increased, but because lower class identification has increased. 

What this says about America is that people feel even less wealthy than they used to. This is probably because of longer working hours in America as well as lower pay. We learned from Robert Reich that the wage gap is increasing because CEO's increase their pay while keeping worker wages the same. This gap in wealth may lead many Americans to think that they are not middle class anymore. This is most likely because they cannot purchase much material wealth and therefore don't feel middle class. Material wealth is what defines wealth for many Americans and when wages are stagnant, people cannot buy as much and as a result think that they are not even middle class. Longer working hours are symptoms of low class labor and since people have to work longer hours to earn more, they begin to think they are low class. Americans are currently suffering from an identity crisis that really takes its roots in the lack of social mobility in the U.S.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Bare Minimum Wage

This just in, Americans everywhere struggle to live on the minimum wage. No, it's not news. The inadequacy of the minimum wage is something that every American knows about. It drives Americans to work harder so that they might be able to avoid the struggles of the poor. For those of you that are quite well off economically, indulge me. The struggle is real.

The Federal minimum wage is $7.25. Americans working the federal minimum wage are far below the poverty line. For the record, the "poor" are defined as having an income below $15,930 a year for a family of TWO

Persons in family/household
Poverty guideline
For families/households with more than 8 persons, add $4,160 for each additional person.

However, the minimum wage only pays $15,080 a year at 40 hours a week! Often people work minimum wage jobs to support families of MORE than two people. This puts those families even further below the poverty line in America, as shown in the table above. 

America's poor struggle to make it by every day. A Forbes interview with a minimum wage mother of 4 gives us greater insight. Carmen Iverson has four kids and works 20-27 hours a week, making only $400-$600 a month after taxes. When asked whether she could work for the government standard of 40 hours a week, she said "I couldn't do it". Living in Kansas, her rent alone is $650 a month. It seems impossible for her to live. Remember, there are millions of Americans that work for the minimum wage and most likely suffer a similar fate.

I think the plight of the minimum wage worker is best explained by a quote from the documentary Hoop Dreams. In the movie, Sheila Agee courageously worked for the minimum wage to feed her family of four. After being cut off of welfare, Sheila asks us (the audience),"Do you all wonder sometime, how I am living? How my children survive, and how they're living? It's enough to really make people want to go out there and just lash out and hurt somebody.''

Yes, we all wonder how it's possible for someone to live on the minimum wage. That's why I think that the federal minimum wage should be raised to a more ethical $10/hour (of course if m.w. is higher in certain states it shouldn't be reduced to $10/hour). After reading about the minimum wage, I became very frustrated. I hope you have too. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tired of These Character Killings

I'm so tired of this. Every two days there is another story in the news of a police officer shooting a black man. Every time, there are juxtaposed pictures of a white officer and a black man being shot. The latest was a shooting of an "unarmed biracial teen in Wisconsin". People have been calling for an indictment for the officer. I think people trust police officers less because of becoming a character assassination against police officers. Based on the recent riots/protests  across the country over these shootings, I think that many people feel that police are "racist killers", especially the media.

The common juxtaposition purposefully created by the media to gain attention. (These are from the Wisconsin case)

I mean, look at those loaded words in the title of the shooting in the article linked above. The words "unarmed" and "biracial" are the first pieces of evidence used against a cop in every situation. "Look, the victim was unarmed, this Cop is a cold-blooded killer!" Being unarmed is quite alarming, but the teen that was shot had "assaulted two other people" as well as hit the officer "on the side of his head and knocked him into the wall". The officer felt (physically too) that his life was in danger and used his weapon. The word "biracial" serves to give the "black" connection so as to show that the white police officer shot a black man; it basically insinuates racism.

Yes, there have been some unjust and racially charged shootings. Yes, black lives matter. However, I think that the #Blacklivesmatter campaign undermines the authority of police officers (some would say justly). The whole purpose of police officers is to protect and to enforce the law. 

The result of the #blacklivesmatter campaign is that police officers are now seen as untrustworthy. The media have begun to antagonize police officers more. I think this will just lead to more chaos. America needs to understand that the police are on their side. This is not the Cold War. There are no spies, no defectors, no infiltrators. The police are Americans too. Cool it with these character killings America!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Impoverished and Overwhelmed

Haven't the poor suffered enough? I mean, they don't earn enough money in the first place, but now we learn that they have worse health? The poor just can't catch a break. To be clear, I'm talking about a study published by the Journal of Health and Social Behavior last week. Scientists reached a consensus that poor people age at a faster rate. Apparently, it's because of the stress.

The results of the study showed that poor people had "shorter telomeres", independent of race. In normal-speak, telomeres are parts of DNA that shorten as humans age, so having shorter telomeres essentially means that a person is aging faster. The study effectively showed that being poor causes deterioration in health. Why is this?

Telomeres (in red) shorten with age.

The authors of the study say that the poor have to deal with "material, psychosocial, and environmental stressors" which lead to deterioration in health. Examples of these stressors include: not having enough money to buy a car (material), not knowing whether you can pay next month's bills (psychosocial), and being forced to live in a dangerous neighborhood because of the cheap housing (environmental). Statistically speaking, these stressors are most prevalent in America's poor

A graphical interpretation of a poll surveying the stress levels of different socio-economic status. (Analysis of Gallup data from Brookings)

From this graph, we can see that poor people have more stress. In fact, they have a greater incidence of each of the negative feelings (pain, worry, sadness, anger) that were polled. Add "faster aging" to that list, and the poor are truly suffering (not that they weren't already). I think this extreme level of suffering by America's poor just goes to show the detrimental effects of America's class system. Factors such as high income inequality as well as low social mobility might be causing insurmountable despair in America's lower class.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

America is Stuck with Fossil Fuels

By now, you might have figured out that fossil fuels are bad for the environment. But have you done anything? Has America done anything? America has been experimenting with more fuel efficient vehicles, dabbling in the renewable energy industry, invented new fresh pressed kale juices (I'm kidding),  but it hasn't stopped relying on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels comprise 83-85% of our energy sources depending on the source of the statistic. For the record, fossil fuels are oil, coal, and natural gas.

Image of U.S. energy flow, as explained in the article text
Guess which three sources of energy are consumed the most... FOSSIL FUELS.
It's been 20+ years since the scientific consensus that fossil fuels are causing habitat destruction through global climate change. America hasn't switched off. The reason for this: fossil fuels are cheap. That's it. The United State's infrastructure makes fossil fuels cheap. Energy lobbying makes it cheap as well. The worst part about all of this is that we can't do much about it. The government subsidizes fossil fuels. Energy companies lobby to keep these subsidies in operation. Americans don't do much to limit their own consumption. It's kind of a lose-lose situation here. If you stay with fossil fuels, you destroy/harm the environment. If you switch, you spend a huge amount of money on more expensive sources of energy and their related infrastructure.

America is supposed to be on the forefront of new technologies and ideas. We discovered electricity, invented the car, built the transistor (which essentially accounts for every electronic device ever created), but we can't seem to switch off the fossil fuels? How un-American. Is the current America an America that is stuck in the past? America still has elements of racism as shown in the recent videos of police shootings. America still has prejudices against gays as shown by the gay marriage debate. And finally, America still uses fossil fuels, even though its been 20+ years since it was known that they are bad. What's it going to be America? The future or the past?