Three Issues Facing California

Photo Source: Forbes
Photo Source: Forbes

 

  • Problem 1: Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population

Too much of California’s scarce resources are being spent on incarcerating people, particularly nonviolent drug users. Spending at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) went from 3% of the states annual budget in 1980 to 11% in 2009. Since 1980 the CDCR budget has grown by an astronomical 436 percent. A large part of the problem is due to the policy of mass incarceration of nonviolent drug users for petty possession charges, also known as the ‘war on drugs.’

Prisons are more than overcrowded. They are a human rights issue violating the 8th amendment to the constitution. There is inadequate space, medical treatment, sanitation, nutrition, and that doesn’t account for solitary confinement, inmates on death row or the abuse by prison authorities. Filled prisons are a destabilizing socio-economic force, perpetuating cycles of poverty and single parent households especially in lower income communities. People of color are disproportionately targeted for arrest and drug prosecution. We must rectify these societal injustices and reduce our spending in this sector even more than the Governors’ 2013-2014 Budget proposal of nine billion dollars to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The Supreme Court agreed when they ruled that California had to reduce prison crowding to 137.5% of capacity by June 2013. Governor Brown’s Justice Department readily acknowledges they will be unlikely to meet the deadline.

Solution: I recommend the following: release the 24,959  nonviolent drug offenders, prioritizing those exhibiting good behavior; focus incarceration efforts on violent and sexual crimes; allot a portion of the money currently spent on imprisonment towards intensive drug treatment; and conduct research on lowering the cost of prisons while improving services.

  • Problem 2: Is our education system working?

In many schools, California’s public education system is failing its students, particularly impoverished students and students of color. Impoverished children are less likely to graduate from high school, go to or graduate from college. Of the 72,320 high school dropouts this past year, 42,129 were Hispanic. Students who do graduate college find themselves with a crippling average debt of $19,000 and unprecedented unemployment rates. The cost of education rises as services, infrastructure, and the quality and availability of instruction diminishes. There are insufficient funds for special needs, integrated technology, and blended learning programs. Standardized testing as a metric to evaluate students does little to foster critical thinking, writing abilities, or useful skills for life, future education, and employment. The Economic Policy Institute warned of damaging consequences to test-based evaluation systems or merit pay based on test scores.

  • Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Water is the most essential resource for survival on this planet, and California is running out. Regrettably, California’s water system is in grave peril. We face serious obstacles in keeping up with water demand for our current population and we will be unable to meet future increased demands. Experts agree our systems are in need of major upgrades. Climate change and droughts diminish snow reserves California needs in order replenish reservoirs. The integral hub of California’s water system, the Delta is endangered by levee failure, and sea-levels rising as native fish populations fall. Twenty million California residents rely on the Delta for water. Sea –level rise would corrupt the existing freshwater supply and flood the homes, farms, and other Delta residents’ private property. Without a stable and secure source of freshwater Californian’s could find themselves without constant access to food and water in the very near future.

Sources: Problem 1 Detrimental Impact of California’s Large Prison Population


1. “The Future of California Corrections – A Blueprint to Save Billions of Dollars, End Federal Court Oversight, and Improve the Prison System”  http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/2012plan/docs/plan/complete.pdf

2. Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California

3. BROWN, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL. v. PLATA ET AL. http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-1233.pdf

4. Geurino, P., Harrison, P. M., & Sabol, W. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p10.pdf

5. 2013-2014 Governor’s Budget Summary, Edmund G. Brown Jr. Governor, State of California — http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/pdf/BudgetSummary/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

6. American Psychological Association – Psychologists offer ways to improve prison environment, reduce violent crime — http://phys.org/news168967098.html

7. Prison Fellowship International – beyond crime and punishment http://www.pfi.org/cjr/downloads/ten-keys-to-improving-conditions-in-overcrowded-prisons

Sources: Problem 2: Education

8. California Department Of Education Cohort Graduation and Dropout Rates 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 — http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr12/yr12rel65.asp

9. Project On Student Debt, California – http://projectonstudentdebt.org/state_by_state-view2012.php?area=CA

10. Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – Economic Policy Institute — http://www.epi.org/publication/bp278/

 

Sources: Problem 3: Water Water Everywhere and not a drop to drink

11. California Water Today – Public Policy Institute of California —http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_211EHChapter2R.pdf

12. Association of California Water Agencies —  http://www.acwa.com/spotlight/california-water-2012-water-bond

 

 

Three Problems Facing the United States

Image Source: NYPost
Image Source: NYPost

1.     The National Security Agency (NSA)

In addition to the 2005 New York Times article, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts”, the recent disclosures by Edward Snowden reported by Glenn Greenwald (formerly of the Guardian) have cemented the fact that the NSA is conducting bulk surveillance on the civilian population of the United States, and the world.

The Executive Branch, and members of the Legislative Branch have consistently misled the public with respect to these programs. It even appears the Executive Branch has “substantially” misled the Judicial Branch on numerous occasions, according to a recently declassified FISA Court opinion.

A few excerpts from the decision and the Washington Post article where I saw the following quotes:

“For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion.

Bates continued in a footnote, “the court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”

In response to these developments – we must begin an indictment and prosecution of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper; and the Director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, for perjury to the Congress of the United States of America. Any prolonged failure to act in response to the deliberate misdirection of elected officials will only embolden future National Security figures to more boldly (if possible) obfuscate and mislead the Congress with impunity.

If we are truly a nation that respects the rule of law – we must begin by enforcing it in the halls of our own legislature.

Conclusion:

There must be swift and decisive actions to challenge the system of dragnet surveillance. Officials who misled the Congress, the Judicial Branch, and the public must be punished appropriately, and the gap between legal intention and execution must be bridged with comprehensive NSA Surveillance reform.

If you are interested in minimizing the amount of data that can be collected on your internet activity — see Prism Break.

Source: Yes Magazine
Source: Yes Magazine

2.The Trans Pacific Partnership

Aside from the disproportionate corporate influence and unprecedented secrecy under which these trade agreements are being negotiated, these two statements made by elected officials accurately represent my grievances with this trade deal.

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren said, “…if transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.” Source
  • Representative Alan Grayson stated, “what I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it…It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away…Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty.” And finally he said, “it’s all about tying the hands of democratically elected governments, and shunting authority over to the nonelected for the benefit of multinational corporations…It’s an assault on democratic government.”

Any attempt by the Executive Branch to skirt the Legislative Branch by enacting a ‘fast-track’ (formally called Trade Promotion Authority) must be challenged. Such measures would allow President Obama to sign the agreement prior to congressional approval, before legislators read the final text. Congress would have to vote within ninety days to approve the deal retroactively, but debate would be limited and no amendments would be allowed. Source

Conclusion:

Congress should not grant the Executive “fast-tracking” authority. Congress should only approve the TPP if the content of the negotiations has been transparently discussed and debated on the floors of the Legislature and found to be beneficial to the public interest.

Some of the text of the negotiations have been leaked to the public. You can access them here.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has done a phenomenal job analyzing the leaked text of the negotiations.

If you are interested in organizing/protesting against the TPP — see the wonderful folks over at Flush the TPP.

Image Source: MN Progressive Project
Image Source: MN Progressive Project

3. Syria

It is widely acknowledged that the United States intelligence agencies are covertly assisting the Syrian rebels. United States allies, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding, training, and funneling weapons to the Syrian rebels. Quite recently Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, moved four destroyers into Syrian waters. Prior to the conclusion of the UN Investigation, Secretary of State John Kerry stated he, and the Administration, believed Bashar Al-Assad was responsible. We have since weathered that storm and found a diplomatic solution, no matter how clumsily.

But we must forcefully and vocally discourage any future attack and assert the (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11)[1] authority of the Congress to declare war. Congress needs to reassert that the War Powers Resolution does indeed apply to the current Administration, and any military intervention on a country that does not pose an immediate threat to the security of the United States is an act of aggression. Such measures are a gross violation of international law and of the public trust. We ought to push back against the Administration’s legal interpretation of the AUMF. It should not be a blank check for global military intervention.

Conclusion:

If we have learned anything from the prolonged occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that United States involvement in the Middle East increases violence and adds to the destabilization of the region. Any strike by the US will further discourage a peaceful diplomatic solution. As guardians of the public interest, we must be a vigilant voice of reason amongst the cacophony of calls for pre-emptive war.


[1] [Congress shall have Power…] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water. – Article I, Section 8, Clause 11; United States Constitution. Cornell University Law School. 

 

Memories of Cabrera

Cabrera, Dominican Republic (August 2011)
Cabrera, Dominican Republic (August 2011)

 

Camp Esperanza was one of the most mutually beneficial experiences in my life to date. Of all the activities or volunteer opportunities I’ve been a part of, Camp Esperanza stands alone. I received equally as much satisfaction (if not more) from the experience as did the kids, the parents, and the locals. Furthermore, without the courage and compassion of a resourceful and noble couple, Anthony and Fiona, this would have been entirely impossible. My gratitude to Anthony and Fiona extends eternally, approximately the amount of time this endeavor will impact my life.

 

A nearby beach. The name escapes me now.
A nearby beach. The name escapes me now.

Cabrera is an anomaly in and of itself. It is quaint, nearly unmolested, and a wholesome community wherein children hone their baseball skills in the streets during the day with whatever impromptu materials may be produced. Parents and grandparents alike congregate on their porches, or in the town square, where they avidly play bingo and/or discuss anything from dinner — to historical events. What I saw humbled me greatly. Everyone’s ability to subsist with limited materials served as both a testimony to how little one actually needs to be happy, and how much people overuse in other nations. Upon landing in the Dominican Republic, I was swept up in the intoxicating aesthetic value of beaches, architecture of houses, and the swagger of the people. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into, but I knew one thing was for sure, this adventure would prove rewarding.

And boy was I sunburned
And boy was I sunburned

 

During the time I spent in Cabrera, I cultivated influential and meaningful relationships with kids on a daily basis through the interaction at camp. I served as a confidant, a counselor, and most importantly, a friend. I built deep, long-lasting connections with fellow counselors. I maintained an extremely important and entertaining bond with the spunky kids in my host family.

One of my favorite co-counselors Karsten Chang and Jenny hanging with the cool kids
Some of my favorite co-counselors Karsten Chang and Jenny hanging with the cool kids

Now that I’m back in the United States, and I’ve had time to look at my pictures and reflect on all that has transpired, there are a few things I miss greatly. I miss the pace of life in Cabrera; slower and mellower than the U.S. I miss the counselor outings to the local Internet café, Choripan, where we would reflect on the day’s activities over the comforts of Chinola Juice. I miss the deep and amusing conversations we had late at night where I not only felt as though I were a part of a meaningful group; I felt essential to something special. I miss the kids, both rowdy and pacified, and I miss playing baseball with them every day. I miss Anthony and Fiona, their house, the movie and game nights with them, and the atmosphere of feeling totally welcome.

Same beach, different angle
Same beach, different angle

I miss Cabrera for all of its faults and all of its treasures. I miss knowing that I was making a difference in a child’s life as I talked to them, spent time with them, and got to know them personally. I miss hearing the kids squeal with joy and chant my name because I blasted the music they wanted to hear.

In short, I miss Camp Esperanza.

Sunset in Cabrera
Sunset in Cabrera

Health and Hope Springs Eternal in the Jungles of Burma

As my father pointed out to me at dinner tonight, I have a tendency to spend more time talking about negative issues than I do appreciating positive developments that happen in the United States and abroad.

For that reason, I thought my first blog post should be some original content that is both inspirational and uplifting. I wrote this content for an internship that I got but was unable to fulfill due to conflicting commitments. It’s the story of the most inspiring individual I’ve ever encountered and how our interactions influenced me deeply — to strive to be a better person every day than I was the day before. His name is Sasa. He is a friend, a leader, and a solution to the problems of his people. I hope you enjoy.

___________________________

After a childhood without access to healthcare, education, stable government, or any semblance of infrastructure, one Burmese man perseveres and continues to inspire hope in the hearts of future generations. His name is Dr. Sasa, a real life superhero.

Growing up in the jungles of Burma Dr. Sasa frequently watched as those closest to him perished from what he now recognizes as preventable diseases. He remembers having to travel seven days in the rain through rough mountainous jungle terrain in order to seek medical assistance – many of his friends died on this journey.

Dr. Sasa’s experience, hope, and vision for a different future inspired him to leave his family and his village at the tender age of thirteen. He walked to the capitol of Burma, Yangoon, where he taught himself Burmese (a dialect distinct from his tribal language) and enrolled in high school. Starting in 1988 the Burmese government shut down colleges in Burma responding to student protests. Dr. Sasa was undeterred from pursuing his education. He walked to India taught himself Hindi and English and enrolled in college where he received a B.S. and graduated with honors.

Dr. Sasa then returned to his village where he hoped to apply what he’d learned in his studies to stem the tide of illness. After two years he recognized he needed additional medical training. His village sold their very limited precious belongings and raised a semesters worth of tuition and airfare for medical school in Armenia. After his first semester, Prospect Burma sponsored Dr. Sasa allowing him to stay enrolled until he graduated, receiving his M.D with high honors.

After medical school Dr. Sasa declined to remain in the West, and immediately returned to assist his people, where he put his skills to use by setting up a healthcare training center on the Burmese-Indian border in 2009. During his time in Armenia, Dr. Sasa encountered Lady Caroline Cox, the founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust UK (H.A.R.T), and with her assistance, Dr. Sasa created Health and Hope, an organization dedicated to providing basic medical training and spreading awareness of preventative healthcare and first aid techniques.

Dr. Sasa hosts eight-month courses where two representatives from each of the villages in the region of Burma are trained to provide basic healthcare. They return to their villages to promote preventative healthcare, teach basic hygiene, first aid, and sanitation. To date, Sasa has trained over 700 individuals. His journey is the source of a Documentary film bearing his name. Sasa and those around him have taken their well-being back into their own hands. In doing so they have begun to provide hope for those who, until now, thought life was hopeless.

photo

Source: Sasa — Directed by: Diane Namm/ My Hero Project