America’s Incarceration Problem

In 2016, the American criminal justice system held more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102, federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails  according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

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Charts provided by the Prison Policy Initiative that give an overview of why so many people are locked up.

America leads the world in the amount of people that are incarcerated. The only other country to have over a million people in prisons is China. And even though the U.S. holds only 5 percent of the world’s population, U.S. prisons has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

It’s no secret that America has a prison problem. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has published articles of human rights violations inside U.S. prisons. But what are politicians doing about it?

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration increased in sentence and made stricter penalties to help curb the crime rate, which did help drop. However, today’s mass incarceration levels do little to affect the crime rate. Congress has been looking for solutions in order to solve this silent crisis.

In order for Congress to enact any type of criminal justice reform, Democrats and Republicans need to understand what caused an increase in incarceration.

The Atlantic reports that America’s war of drugs is the reason why incarceration has skyrocketed. In order to combat drug distribution in the United States, states and the federal government increased sentencing or harsh punishment for those who are caught for drug-related offenses.

In July of 2015, President Obama visited a federal prison an made the claim that the country has “locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.”

State have already begun to take steps towards reforming prisons. States like Texas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Oregon have adopted comprehensive reforms that are limiting the size and cost of state prison systems.

The states are taking a “justice reinvestment” approach, which “draws on research into effective practices as well as data about their own systems to craft policies that prioritize prison space for serious, violent offenders and use the savings to strengthen alternatives for lower level offenders.”

Utah is one of the latest states to switch its sentencing and corrections policy. Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed a reform package that converts all first- and second-time drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. It also establishes guidelines to ensure swift responses to probation and parole violations, and helps rehabilitate previous offenders as the exit prisons and return to communities.

The results from these states from when the first state started which was Texas in 2007, to Utah in 2015, show some compelling changes. National crime and incarceration rate have been falling in the last five years. Crime rates have also fallen by 13 percent in the states that have reduced their imprisonment rates.

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Statistics provided by Pew Charitable Trust which shows the decrease in incarceration from states who’ve been going through Prison reform.

Its not just states who have begun prison reforms either. In early 2016, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, was introduced into the Senate. The bipartisan bill, is designed to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenders, allow deserving federal prisoners to reduce their sentences by doing stints behind bars, and give judges more power when it comes to sentencing discretion.

The bill also introduces juvenile justice reform proposals. It would change how they use solitary confinement on young prisoners and allow nonviolent offenders, who were tried in criminal court to have their records removed, and offer parole eligibility for juveniles who have been sentenced to life, after serving 20 years.

However, this bill has yet to be voted on. The Guardian reports that House speaker, Paul Ryan, has promised to bring the reforms up for a vote but has not scheduled it yet. The Republican party is in support for this bill, along with the Democratic party as well, but Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has not committed to the bill.

For More Information:

Amnesty International:
Mass Incarceration in the USA

The Atlantic:
What Can the U.S. do about Mass Incarceration?

Buzzfeed:
13 Facts that Show Problems in America’s Prison System

The Guardian:
Both Parties want Prison Reform. Why won’t Congress Listen?

Pew Charitable Trusts:
State Criminal justice Reforms Build the Case for Data-Driven Federal Legilation
Most States Cut Imprisonment and Crime

Prison Policy Initiative:
Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016

TIME Magazine:
Senate Introduces ‘Gamechanger’ Criminal Justice Reform Bill

American Intervention in Syria, How Far Will They Go?

In the last week, Syria has received international attention for the chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. Countries around the world are concerned about the latest chemical attack in Syria and what is the best way to resolve the endless war in Syria.

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Images from the chemical attack in Syria. Credit: Associated Press

On Tuesday morning, Americans woke up to the noises of a busy work day. In Syria’s rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun, civilians abruptly woke up to the Earth shaking violently followed by the smell of sarin gas that killed 86 people, 27 of which were children.

No one can comprehend this type of violence. The Washington Post posted an article titled “The Syrian genocide is now Trump’s problem”. And if there was one way to describe the brutal Syrian war, it would be inhumane. But to those in Syria, who’ve lived in a war zone for six years, it was just another lethal day of the endless civil war.

Syria’s civil war, once stood for the overthrow of the Assad regime that was corrupt and only represented a small percentage of the population, while the majority wanted democracy. Now, it’s turned into an international war filled with several complexities and dynamics.

The Western nations (U.S., European Union, Australia) aid the rebels, while Russia and Iran have stood by the Syrian government, specifically Bashar al-Assad, who’s been called to step down from power several times by international leaders.

After the deadly chemical attack in Syria, the U.S. government responded on Thursday by firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The airfield was chosen after U.S. intelligence tracked the planes that carried out the chemical attacks and determined that the Syrian government was involved in the attack.

After the missile strike, President Trump made an announcement of U.S. intervention in the Syrian war after the chemical attack. This was the first time the United States became directly involved in the Syrian war.

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President Trump and King Abdullah II of Jordan heading to a joint press conference. Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Syria, Russia and Iran have all condemned the U.S. airstrike. Russia claims that the attack was premeditated before the chemical attack took place and has suspended an agreement with the United States that allowed military officers to consult with each other to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace.

Many news outlets question why the U.S. decided to get involved, and whether or not it broke international law.

CNN writers Aaron Miller, and Richard Sokolsky ask, “What was the purpose of the strike? Was it an effort to change Assad’s behavior on using chemical weapons, or the beginning of a more fundamental U.S. involvement in Syria to change his regime? Will the United States not strike Assad when he uses conventional barrel bombs against civilians? Is the Trump administration going to ramp up training of the Syrian opposition? And is using military and political power going to begin a serious process of actually ending Syria’s civil war?”

Other’s question whether or not the president overreached, how Putin and Assad will react, and if there will be more U.S. involvement?

For More Information:

BBC:
Syria War: Why Now, What Happened, what Next?

CNN:
Why Did Trump Strike Syria?
The Questions Trump Need to Answer After Syria Strike
Five Big Risks After Trump’s Syria Strike

The Huffington Post:
Syria: The War on Development and Democracy

New York Times:
63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump’s Strike in Syria
Was Trump’s Strike Illegal? Explaining Presidential War Powers

USA Today:
Syria Timeline: Latest Chemical Attack is Far from First

Vox:
The War in Syria, Explained

The Washington Post:
The Syrian Genocide is Now Trump’s Problem

 

America’s Drug Problem

According to the CDC, there were over 52,000 deaths because of the drug epidemic that has swept the nation. So how can the government combat this effectively?

It’s easy to get distracted with what we’ve been dealing with for the last few months. But 2015 was the worst year for drug deaths, and according to Vox, preliminary data shows that 2016 can be worse.

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Drug overdoses have surpassed HIV/AIDS for more deaths in a year. Credit: Vox/CDC

This past year, in order to get the attention of Americans, several police departments across the country have posted photos of parents/single parents who overdosed in cars while children were in the backseat. The Washington Post questions whether or not this a new norm in America. And it’ been reported that drugs are the leading cause of accidental deaths, beating out car accidents and accidental shootings.

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One of several dozen photos that have been taken by police departments of drug users who’ve shot up in parking lots with children in the back seat. Credit: Town of Hope Police Department

So, how did we get here?

In 2013, the CDC reported that medical providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions, which is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

The Huffington Post reports that the epidemic began with figuring out how to treat pain. Physicians and doctors have tried to find answers to treating over 34 million patients with chronic pain. What makes this process difficult is not knowing how much pain one is in. Unlike blood pressure or something that is objective, assessing pain is subjective – so no doctor can really assess a patients pain objectively.

So, in order to help improve pain treatment, a national initiative called Pain as the 5th Vital Sign. I decided to look up this initiative and quickly found results that this does not improve quality for pain management. According to National Center for Biotechnology (NCIB), they saw zero results in the quality of pain care patients received. But the Huffington Post says this practice is still used to assess patients pain.

What drugs are responsible for drug overdoses?

It’s estimated that around 2.1 million people in the U.S. have abused drugs. In 2010, the CDC reported that heroin was responsible for 8 percent of all drug overdose deaths but in 2015 that number tripled to 25 percent.

Heroin has been on the rise in the last decade but people who are addicted to drugs become this way because of prescription painkillers; the most common drugs like Methadone, Oxyodone (OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (Vicodin). When pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions noticed the rising number in addictions they began to restrict painkillers.

When painkillers became more restricted people began to use heroin or synthetic drugs, which are cheaper and more accessible than prescription drugs.

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Chart provided by Vox, giving a visual of each state’s situation. Credit: Vox/CDC/German Lopez

How is the government and medical institutions trying to prevent more drug overdoses and deaths?

The CDC now has guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain and can only be prescribed to patients 18 and older. The recommendations focus on pain that’s lasted longer than 3 months, active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.

Other ways to prevent more deaths are promoting the use of state prescription drug monitoring programs. These are state-run electronic databases used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. The program is meant to monitor the information to prevent abuse or diversion. These programs have proven to be the most promising state-level intervention method to avoid drug abuse.

Stat, a medical news group offers advice for governors who are dealing with drug abuse. The site suggests that governors need to expand access to lifesaving medication-assisted treatment. Governors also need to allow better access to therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, physiological testing, and 12-step integration (Alcohols Anonymous with therapist assistance).

For More Information:

American Society of Addiction Medicine:
The relevance of twelve-step recovery in 21st century addiction medicine

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
Increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose death
Opioid overdose
Understanding the epidemic
Prescription drug monitoring programs

CNN:
This is America on drugs: A visual guide

Huffington Post:
The opioid epidemic: how did we get here?

John Oliver YouTube:
Opioids: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
Measuring pain as the 5th vital sign does not improve quality of pain management

National Institute on Drug Abuse:
America’s addiction to opioids: heroin and prescription drug abuse

Stat:
4 things governors can do to help combat the opioid epidemic

Vox:
How the opioid epidemic became America’s worst drug crisis ever, in 15 maps and charts

The Washington Post:
Another parent’s overdose, another child in the back seat: A ‘new norm’ for drug users?

 

 

Where’s Rex Tillerson Been?

The Secretary of State has been making headlines for not making headlines since being confirmed by the Senate so why has Rex Tillerson been keeping a low and almost silent profile?

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Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson in Brussels meeting with NATO allies. Credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post reported that since being confirmed by the Senate, some of the State Department staff have yet to meet the appointed Secretary of State.

“His distant management style has created growing bewilderment among foreign officials who are struggling to understand where the United States stands on key issues. It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue.” Those in Washington are concerned that Tillerson isn’t doing enough to lead the agency.

The article goes on to explain that while Tillerson was the CEO for ExxonMobil he would travel the world with one or two aids and would make deals behind close doors. This type of business suited him well, so many in the State Department assume he’s carried over this style of work to his new job.

However, this isn’t ExxonMobil, this is the State Department. Tillerson is dealing with Diplomats who’ve had years of experience, whereas he has had no government experience.

This week, Tillerson made his first trip to NATO headquarters to speak with other ministers about NATO’s budget. This is the meeting’s second attempt as the first was postponed due to Tillerson decision not to attend due to conflicting schedules.

The meeting has not made much progress. Trump has made several statements about NATO one being members of NATO needing to pay their “fair share” of military expenses.

A senior State Department official briefed reporters on the U.S.’s goals with NATO allies. Tillerson will echo Trump’s stance on spending, as well as pressing allies to increase NATO’s role in counter-terrorism efforts.

According to NATO statistics, the annual economic spending on military for NATO is 2 percent, but only five NATO allies hit that target in 2016 – the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the NATO allies meeting in Brussels. Credit: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

However, this situation isn’t entirely Tillerson’s fault. He probably was the most successful pick out of all those for Trump’s cabinet. But, his inexperience in foreign policies and the administration’s deliberate undermining of the State Department have made Tillerson’s job even more difficult. Tillerson was wise to pick an experienced foreign deputy, Elliot Abrams, but Abrams, who was a critic of Trump was rejected.

The Guardian, wrote an article on Tillerson’s job performance so far and shared this sentiment, “Generous interpreters suggest he is smart and capable enough to play the long game, taking a back seat while he builds his relationship with Mr. Trump, his links to Generals Mattis and McMaster, and his understanding of foreign policy and government. But until and unless the day comes when he is ready and able to steer his own course, American foreign policy is subject to a combination of dangerous drift and equally alarming spurts of activity unchecked by institutional expertise.”

For more information:

The Guardian:
The Guardian view on Rex Tillerson: a sidelined secretary of state

Politico:
Tillerson’s message to NATO: Show Trump the money

Reuters:
German balks at Tillerson call for more European NATO spending

The Washington Post:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spends his first weeks isolated from an anxious bureaucracy
Tillerson clashes with NATO allies on defense spending during brief meeting

State Lawmakers are taking Full Advantage of the Chaos in D.C. Part 2

A few days ago I talked about Florida’s gun laws and how they’re about to add to a gun law that has already caused controversy.

Today, I’d like to address what’s been taking place in Texas. On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee passed a school choice legislation in a 7-3 vote.

According to the Texas Tribune, “the bill would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses.”

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Hundreds of supporters came out to support the bill. Credit: myStatesman

The first program would create education savings accounts (ESAs), which would give parents online accounts, of a certain amount of money provided by the state, to pay for private school tuition or homeschooling expenses.

The second program is a tax credit scholarship. This would allow businesses to receive credits against their insurance premium taxes if they contribute to approved scholarship organizations.

Proponents of the bill believe that parents have the right to choose where to send their children and what their children learned. State Sen. Van Taylor, who voted in favor of the bill, said that the bill would save state money because public schools would be relieved of the student growth that they’ve seen each year.

“There actually will be more money per child in the public education system in Texas,” State Sen. Van Taylor said. “Slowing the rate of growth is actually operationally advantageous to the districts I represent.”

myStatesman, an Austin newspaper, gave scenarios of how much money families would receive. A family of four whose income is at least $90,000 would receive about $5,400 per year and a family who makes less that amount would receive $6,800. Students with disabilities, regardless of income, would receive $8,200.

Students who come from low-income homes could also qualify for tax credit scholarships to use towards private school tuition; businesses that donate to the scholarship fund would receive a tax credit which would be capped at $100 million per year from the state.

However, this bill has also created controversy. The Texas Tribune spoke with Guy Sconzo, the executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition, a group of 75 school districts seeing the quickest enrollment growth in Texas. “Children don’t leave in perfect groups of 22 or 25, allowing a district to then need one less teacher. Even if they left in those groups, all of the other costs to operate a facility and run a quality school don’t go away.”

Many public education advocates have been urging the Legislature to prioritize the public school system by allocating equal amounts of money throughout schools.

Ann Beeson, the executive director of the left-leaning policy group Center for Public Policy Priorities, also pointed out the flaws of this bill. “SB3’s (a name for the bill) voucher scheme will drain tax dollars from public education, without helping families most in need. Instead the Legislature should focus on the real issue – remodeling Texas’ outdated school finance system to ensure all Texas students can get a quality public education, no matter where they live or what their background.”

State Lawmakers are Taking Full Advantage of the Chaos in D.C.

While President Trump has been blasting the media, confusing Americans with false claims and creating chaos with the federal government, state legislators have quietly been passing bills.

I want to talk about state legislation in session and what they’ve been up to. This blog post and the next will be dedicated to two different bills that have been controversial, and has received little attention from the media. State legislation are in session, and while most of the media has been focused with what’s been going on in D.C., many legislation have been using that to their advantage.

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State Senator Rob Bradley (left), wrote the Stand Your Ground measure. (Scott Keeler/The Tampa Bay Times, via Associated Press)

In Florida, lawmakers have begun to take steps to pass the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun law. This law will allow people to use deadly force rather than retreat from a threat taking place. Now this bill has been proposed by several other states, including Florida, but Florida is adding on to the bill which is why its at the center of controversy.

If passed, the bill would strengthen it’s (already expanded) self-defense laws and shift the “burden of proof” to prosecutors rather than defense attorneys, in pretrial immunity hearings.

This means that defendants would no longer have to present evidence to prove themselves not-guilty. Supporters of the bill said they did not want people to jump through hoops in order to prove they acted in self-defense.

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association (NRA) talked to the New York Times and said”If you exercise a God-given right, the right of self-defense, you don’t have the same rights as everybody else. You’re not innocent until proven guilty, that’s wrong. That’s what needs to be fixed.”

The measure, which was passed by the Senate (23-15 along party lines) has been opposed by Democrats and state prosecutors who believe it will only strain the criminal justice system and discourage witnesses in sensitive cases from testifying.

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Republican State Senator Rob Bradley (left) and Wilton Simpson talk during debate on the Stand Your Ground bill. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

Phil Archer, the state attorney for Brevard and Seminole counties says, “This is an anti-law enforcement bill. It’s saying they don’t trust law enforcement either at the arresting stage or filing stage or state attorney, that we don’t understand a self-defense case.” Archer is also a member of the NRA and teaches self-defense, including stand your ground.

The Law is also opposed by the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches. “Shifting the burden of proof to prosecutors increases the potential of denying justice to victims and their families. These laws are often applied in a racially biased manner, they do not deter crime, and the bottom line is that they make it easier for people to murder other human beings and not face any legal consequence,” said Adora Obi Nweze, the group’s president.

A professor at the UCLA School of Law, Adam Winkler, talked to the Washington Post and said “Stand Your Ground” has been a long-standing legal principle to justify the use of deadly force, but if Florida’s measure goes through, it would give special weight to defendants, including gun defendants.

“This new revised stand-your-ground law may really inhibit the proper functioning of the judicial system… No other criminal defendant gets the benefit of a trial before a trial, a trial to see if they can go on trial.”

What does Pro-Life Mean?

For the last few weeks, I’ve had friends post to Facebook and Twitter praising specifically, Republican’s for their pro-life stance. After chatting with some of them I realized that what they think is pro-life is actually pro-birth.

I’m not promoting the idea of abortion nor am I trying to argue for or against it. That’s not what this post is about. What I want is for readers to explore the idea of what being pro-life is actually about.

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March for Life in 2015. Credit: Catholic News Agency

Many Republicans have prided themselves for being pro-life and for being against abortion. But that’s just it. They’re against abortions. Once a baby is born, there’s little Republican lawmakers have done to provide a life for the child, the mother, and father that will help them take care of that child or its future or current siblings.

In Missouri, for example, one in five children live under the poverty line. Lawmakers have done little to help the situation by making tougher restriction on welfare which have been taken off it. From 2011-2016 welfare assistance dropped by 66 percent (2011: 109, 639 to 2016: 37,486). And while people were getting kicked off welfare some $4 million has gone towards Alternatives to Abortion Program instead.

Other states have created stricter restrictions to abortions while also doing little to accommodate working mothers.

In South Dakota, legislators haven taken steps to toughen up on abortions laws and on the same day they got rid of a bill that would require accommodations for pregnant and new mothers. Rep.Wayne Steinhauer (R-SD) responded with this message, “If the person’s not allowing you to breastfeed at work… You don’t want to work for that guy… It’s not prison. You can quit. You got a choice everyday, you make a choice whether you come to work.”

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WalletHub’s research on the best and worst states for working moms. Credit: WalletHub

In 2016, WalletHub, a personal-finance site, researched the best and worse states for working moms. The top five states with the best day care systems are New York, Washington, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas. The top five states for the worst day care systems are Alabama, Louisiana, California, Nebraska, and Idaho.

For Republicans to continually call themselves pro-life is hypocritical. To me, pro-life is more than just the stance on abortion. Life is more than just being born. It’s about being able to live a life that does not involve poverty or lack of liberties. Republicans have refused to allow very little accommodations for women who are pregnant or are mothers. Families who become pregnant unexpectedly may struggle financially and where welfare is decreasing families are left with little options. Lawmakers, Republican or Democrat need to understand that if they cannot provide accessible parental laws abortion will continue to be the go-to option for low-income families.

How Gender Inequality Looks throughout the World

On Wednesday, we celebrated International Women’s day. To many it was just a normal day but to others, it was a day to show how the world would be different if women had stuck to the status quo.

I grew up in the Kansas suburbs. During most summers my sisters and I would play outside with our neighbors, the majority of which were boys. My younger sister had two girl friends that were her age, so my older sister and I would play games with the boys our ages. We learned to play football, basketball, baseball, kickball, etc. We would spend hours each day playing games and hung out. Never in my mind did I think we were different, or that we were treated differently, because we were girls. We just played as if we were all the same.

Why is this important? I think that’s how our society should look like. I think that whoever we are, whatever personalities we may have, women and men shouldn’t be stereotyped into certain roles because of their gender.

This idea of women being able to do what they want and not be looked at differently, isn’t a radical thought.

I’ve been taking an international politics course this semester. The assignment this week was to watch a BBC News documentary What Stands in the Way of Women being Equal to Men?

While watching the BBC Documentary (shot in 2014), the reporter followed four teenage girls from four different countries, Vigdis from Iceland, Mira from Jordan, Lulu from the UK, and Shoeshoe from Lesotho. Each country has a different ranking on the gender equality index.

The 2014 index has the highest possible score of one. Iceland, who ranked number one on the list with a score of 0.8594. The UK ranked in 26th place with a 0.7383, followed by Lesotho at 38th place with 0.7255, and Jordan who ranked 9th to last at 0.5968 (this lists contains 142 countries).

The United States was ranked number 20 with a score of 0.7463.

I looked at the 2016 index to see if the rankings had changed. Out of 144 countries, with the highest possible score of one, Iceland was still number one with a score of 0.874. The UK jumped up six rankings and landed at number 20 with a score of 0.752. Lesotho dropped to 57 with a score of 0.706, while Jordan managed to go up to 11th from last at 0.603.

As for the U.S., it dropped from 20th to 45th place with a score of 0.722.

While following the young teenage girls, each faced a different situation and environment where women are subjected to different roles.

Vigdis, 15, who lives in Iceland, thinks there are still things she cannot do because she’s a girl. “For example, when you think about a plane, you think about a guy as the pilot, and a girl as the one who’s catering the food and stuff like that. And I think about when I become older I want to do whatever I want, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m a girl or boy.”

In Iceland, it’s not unusual for girls to be walking around alone after dark. But what women have come to realize that there is this double pressure where Iceland has come to accept women working the same as men, but are still expected to excel at being in charge of the home. Men haven’t been exposed to being in charge of taking care of younger children or the extensive responsibilities of the house. The father of Vigdis, believes that men tend to get in the way and so they don’t know how to deal with infants, like a mother would.

Lulu, 16, is from the UK and hopes that one day men and women can see each other as equal, and that men wouldn’t look at women as objects. “I’d like to be treated the same as boys. I’d like to wear whatever I want to without anything being expected of me. And I’d like to go where I want, do what I want, wear what I want without anyone saying ‘no you can’t do that because you’re a girl.’

In the last 30-40 years the UK has been able to progress with conversations about race, but when it comes to sexism women have seen an increase in verbal harassment. Lulu told a story about her male classmates who were discussing sex and porn. The classmates were asked about this by the reporter, in the documentary, and they explained that porn was something guys just do and gives them a standard of how women should be at sex. The classmates believe that by sexualizing the girls they’re complimenting them.

Mira,15, lives in Jordan, and also believe women should have more rights. “Because of a girls reputation she is claimed, not like a boy. There are a lot of things that a woman can’t do, and maybe some[things] that women would love to do.”

In Jordan, the country holds very religious and conservative values. Women are held to strict standards. Mira is not able to do a lot of stuff that her brothers are able to do. She’s not allowed to associate with friends without her parents permission, or allowed to play sports like basketball. Her parents believe its more important to protect the family’s reputation and respect their religion than it is to allow their daughter to have equal rights and freedoms like men/boys do. When Mira’s brother was asked if girls should have the same rights as boys, he said yes, but it probably won’t happen for another 100-200 years.

Shoeshoe says there are many things she still cannot do because she is a girl. “There are a lot of things I can’t do, like I can’t go out at night to parties. I can’t speak out in class. I can’t really stand up for myself, because a lot of people see that as a girl being disrespectful or just a wild crazy child.”

Lesotho has improved in gender relations in the last few decades, 30% of women are now more literate than men and are also getting more professional jobs but they still face cultural issues. Shoeshoe has a conversation with her boy friends at school. She asks them if they would marry a women who is paid more than them. One boy answered no immediately and believed if he did marry a women who had a better job than him, she would control him. He believes that their culture doesn’t allow that. Another boy said it depended if he had a job or not. If he didn’t have a job he said no, because he believes he wouldn’t have a proper role in the family.

As I watched the documentary it was interesting to see how each country differed from others when it came to the perception of women. It also shows how even in Iceland, who has continued to pursue an equal society for men and women, has struggled to get to a point where there’s equality for each gender.

I think one day, societies will no longer hold stereotypes for each gender. But in order for this to happen we need to recognize the double standards that are held for each gender. We also need to understand that each gender’s role is changing. Our society is progressively changing, and more women want to experience freedoms that they have the rights to. The process to achieving women’s rights isn’t something that simple, but if society begins with tearing down stereotypes and change out-of-date traditions, the road to women’s rights can be achieved.

The Trump Administration and Russia

The Trump administration has been struggling with several Russian scandals as of late. In the last month, the administration has dealt with several allegations, some of which were true, which could lead to political and legal consequences.

In the last three weeks Trump has dealt with two high-ranking officials who’ve lied to having contact with Russian officials.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s top security adviser, resigned in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence after he made calls to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. A day after this took place, CNN learned, from multiple officials, that high-level advisers in Trump’s administration were in constant communication with Russians, during the campaign period.

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Trump arriving in Orlando, Flordia for a rally. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Following the Flynn debacle, was the revelation of Jeff Sessions, the newly-appointed attorney general, who had contact with Ambassador Kislyak throughout Trump’s campaign as well.

Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July and September when he was also still a Senator and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. On March 1, Sessions released a statement saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Justices officials confirmed Sessions meetings with Kislyak but was in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee panel, not to discuss the Trump Campaign. Sessions did recused himself from the Russia investigation. While Trump, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and many Republican members of Congress said there was no reason for Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation.

 

According to recent polls, the public is still looking for answers concerning Russia’s involvement in the U.S. elections, and if there has been any contact between Russia and the Trump administration.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was released asking Americans if they believe that Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is “too friendly” or not. 38 percent called the Trump-Putin relationship “too friendly” while 29 percent believed it wasn’t. And around 32 percent, didn’t have an opinion.

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Analysis of the possible links between Trump Team and Russia. Credit: The Washington Post

Throughout all of this Trump has continually changed his stance when it comes to his relationship with Russia. He has claimed to know Putin “very well” but doesn’t actually “know Putin”. Trump has also claimed to have “nothing to do with Russia,” while his son has said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

He has also repeatedly denied the Russian connection, calling it a “witch hunt” and “fake news”. He also has called out Democrats for meeting with Russian officials as well and called for investigations.

According to the New York Times, part of the problem is Trump’s antagonistic personality towards the press. “In fact, vigorous reporting by multiple news media organizations is turning up multiple contacts between Trump associates and Russians who serve in or are close to Mr. Putin’s government. There have been courtesy calls, policy discussions and business contacts, though nothing has emerged publicly indicating anything more sinister. A dossier of allegations on Trump-Russia contacts, compiled by a former British intelligence agent for Mr. Trump’s political opponents, includes unproven claims that his aides collaborated in Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets.”

With the extensive contacts, its drew concern of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials due to the timing of the Russian cyberactivities in the Democratic Party political organization.

After the election, the intelligence community began briefings on Russian meddling in the U.S. elections which included communications that had ties  with Trump.

Because there was so many conversations with the Trump administration and Russian officials during the DNC hacking, intelligence officals had to check out whether or not the Trump administration was guilty of anything. And with Trump being less than forthcoming about his contacts with Russia the media and intelligence community have had to dig deep to uncover what actually happened.

For more information:

CNN:
Trump Aides were in Constant Touch with Senior Russin Officials during Campaign
Trump and Russia: What the Fallout could be
Trump Angry and Frustrated at Staff over Sessions Fallout

The Guardian:
The Story of the Week is Trump, Russia and the FBI. The Rest is a Distraction

The Independent:
The Intelligence Community Needs to get to the Bottom of Donald Trump’s Russian Problem

The New York Times:
Trump Team’s Links to Russia Crisscross in Washington

The Washington Post:
Everything You Need to Know About Trump and Russia
Sessions met with Russian Envoy Twice Last Year, Encounters He Later did not Disclose

Timeline of Trump Administrations; Interactions with Russia

This discussion is one I haven’t gotten into much, but since it’s been going through the news nonstop I guess it’s time to talk about Trump and Russia.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Trump’s administration has been caught several times having some type of contact with Russia during his campaign. This issue has caused controversy after another. For the next two blog posts I will be going over Trump’s relationship with Russia (through a timeline) and why American’s should be concerned.

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Trump at a rally in Orlando, FL. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

It all goes back to 2013. In October of 2013, Trump had an interview with David Letterman saying he’s had conducted business with Russia. He talked about Putin and how he’s a “tough guy” and had met with him once.

Later that year, Russian President Putin praised Trump, who at the time, was the front-runner of the Republican Primary. This is the first, of many times, Americans would here about the Trump administration’s links to Russia.

Fast-forward to June of 2016, when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced that they had been hacked by Russians. Later that month hackers began releasing information that crippled the Democrats strategy against Trump. Other documents were released that highlighted Clinton’s vulnerabilities as well as her responses to those attacks.

In July, WikiLeaks publishes almost 20,000 emails that were stolen from the DNC. Many of the emails showed favoritism towards Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Presidential candidate, rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders. Later in July the FBI announced it would launch an investigation into the DNC email hacking.

After he won the election in November, Trump interviewed with TIME Magazine. “I don’t believe they interfered [in the U.S. elections]. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered. Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart. It could be Russia. It could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”

In December, Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the country and impose sanctions on Russia for interfering in the elections. At this time, Michael Flynn (the soon-to-be National Security Adviser) had made several phone calls to Russian Ambassador, Kislyak assuring the ambassador that the Trump administration could discuss the the newly imposed sanctions (this is what got him fired since at the time he was a civilian). A day later, Putin announced he would not retaliate against the U.S., a uncharacteristic move by the Russians.

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Senator Jeff Sessions speaking to the Press. Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times

In January of 2017, when Sen. Jeff Sessions (soon-to-be attorney general), an early Trump surrogate, was under oath at a Senate hearing told the congressional leaders that he had not been in contact with any of the Russians. This was proved to be untrue a month later that he did have conversations with Russian officials. Throughout the rest of the month Press Secretary Sean Spicer tells reporters that Michael Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak were logistics of setting up a call between Trump and Putin. Trump calls out the “dishonest media” for the first of many times.

In early February, Trump was interviewed by fox news and defended Putin, “I do respect him,” when O’Riley pressed Trump about the atrocities that have taken place in Russian, Trump responds, “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”A few days later, the Washington Post confirmed that Flynn did discuss U.S. sanctions during his call with Kislyak, and step down as the NSA director a few days later.

In the middle of February, Trump calls the Russia controversy “fake news” also stating, “I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything. Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information.”

And finally we come to March, where the Washington Post reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, did in fact, speak to the Russian ambassador during the campaign, which contradicted his past statements, including one where he was under oath.

For more information:

The Huffington Post:
Trump Team’s Ties to Russia Face Sharper Scrutiny Amid New House Porbe and Explosive Reports

CNN:
Untangling Trump and Russia: What We Know – and What We Don’t

The Washington Post:
National Security Adviser Flynn Discussed Sanctions with Russian Ambassador, Despite Denials, Officials Say
The Web of Relationships Between Team Trump and Russia

Politico:
The Definitive Trump-Russia Timeline of Events

The Guardian:
Will Russia Connections become the Trump Administration’s Watergate?