Author Archives: jafalino

Income Inequality and Education in the US

The United States is ranked 44th out of 86 countries on income inequality. This is well below the ranks of other major countries in Europe such as Germany and France (Fisher, 2013). Income inequality in the United States has direct effects on areas such as education and public health, causing it to lag behind other major industrialized nations in these areas as well.

Math and Science scores of the US on the international stage fall well below leaders in Hong Kong and Singapore. However, this statistic is rooted in deep regional, racial, and most importantly socioeconomic issues (Zakaria, 2011). There is de facto segregation in the United States by neighborhood due to the disparity in income between social classes. Middle and upper class families often live in suburban neighborhoods quite separately from the poor and ethnically diverse families in urban areas. School and community resources differ by social class, and therefor differ also by race and ethnicity (Berliner, 2005). There is a major gap in resources provided to students in low socioeconomic neighborhoods compared to those with well-funded education systems. These resources range from textbooks to availability and modernity of science labs. In analyzing a 2003 PISA study on subject scores internationally, Berliner notes that if educational opportunities available to white students in our public schools were made available to all our students, the US would have been the 7th high scoring nation in mathematics, 2nd highest scoring nation in reading, and the 4th highest scoring nation in science (Berliner, 2005). Income inequality then creates a cycle where students, often people of color, receive sub par education and are unable to attain high paying jobs and fail to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

The affect of income inequality in education has major ties to health and the lack of affordable health care in the United States. Vision is a simple example. Two different vision screening tests, one among the urban poor in Boston and one among the urban poor in New York have found that 50% of the children tested had some easily correctable vision deficiency. Most of these cases were not followed up on or corrected and the lack of corrected vision has a major effect on educational performance. Another health issue affecting education in low socioeconomic neighborhoods is that of asthma. Families cannot afford to provide regular doctor visits for preventative care of asthma attacks. Since low-income families are more likely to live in urban areas with high air pollution, asthma is more present and students are forced to miss school. Hospital rates for asthma attacks are high in these areas and it puts a strain on the health care system (Berliner, 2005). Missing days of school would have a direct effect on the academic performance of these students. Not to mention, the strain on the health care system takes money away from communities that could be allotted to improving the education of that area.

Zakaria talks a lot about America’s competition with nations increasing in economic power. How would it be possible for the United States to compete for technologic advancements against nations far exceeding our student’s performance in math and science? Education has an enormous capability of maintaining our standings on the world stage by producing efficient and educated workers to succeed and participate in a globalized economy. It will be crucial for the future success of the United States to decrease the soaring rates of income inequality in order to positively impact education and health in the future.

 

(Edit: The Berliner article if anybody is interested. Some really interesting statistics.)

http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=12106)

Imprisonment and Mistreatment

This week’s keyword “War” by Susan Jeffords contrasts war’s explicit definition as armed conflict between two parties to a late twentieth century definition that includes more than direct military encounters. These statements introduce the idea that in a modern world, war transcends traditional boundaries to encompass a wider range of interactions between conflicting parties (Jeffords, p 236). Gordon’s description of United States prisons in dealing with anti-American terrorists in his “Abu Ghraib: imprisonment and the war on terror” presents the prison system as a facet of war in a modern political climate.

The article describes security housing units (SHU), where prisoners are subjected to excessive force and abuse. These forms of abuse include forced cell extractions, electronic stun devices, chemical sprays, total isolation, and sensory deprivation/overload. (Gordon, p 50). These practices are inhumane and are human rights violations. “While these practices violate both the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, the US does not recognize these standards (Gordon, p 50).” The United States fails to recognize international standards for the treatment of prisoners. Why is it that the United States feels justified in maintaining abusive policies in the treatment of prisoners?

Gordon poses the answer of this question to be the United States belief in its own exceptionalism. “Bush government has indeed formulated a policy of exceptionalism, claiming the right of the US, as a sovereign God-given Christian nation, to exempt itself from the same laws that govern conduct of other nations” (Gordon, p 44). The US justifies the abusive practices in prisons as protection of their nation. However, reported abuses in prisons are often cruel and unusual and ought to be viewed as unacceptable practices to preserve national security. The leaked pictures of prisoners in Abu Ghraib include images of prisoners completely naked being threatened by dogs, piled on one another, and handcuffed in contorted positions. There is limited justification in these practices as necessary for preserving national security and must be viewed as the voluntary dehumanization of these prisoners.

It does not appear that the incidents of mistreatment of prisoners are the exception to the rule. The article presents the case of Corporal Charles A. Graner, Jr who had been fired from a position at Fayette County Prison after being accused of routinely beating and humiliating prisoners. In May 2003, Graner was called to duty and served in a supervisory position at Abu Ghraib because of his experience as a prison guard (Gordon, p 48). The hiring of Graner after reported abuses of prisoners in the United States can be logically concluded as a deliberate choice by the United States to not only preserve inhumane practices but to actively seek out prison guards willing to practice these abuses on foreign captives.

The development of prisons by the United States government has increased to an estimated eighty-nine military prisons as well as the presence of secret prisons. Extensive methods are used to preserve the secretive practices surrounding these prisons and expulsion and discredit are the consequences of exposing these practices (Gordon, p 43). If it is not in the goals of the United States to modify these practices and the US continues to disobey international law, there appears to be a bleak outlook in the just treatment of terrorist prisoners in the future.

Ideological Representations in One, Two, Three

Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three alludes to the ideological conflicts between the capitalist and communist worlds. The film is set in West Berlin during the Cold War. The location of the protagonist MacNamara and his company Coca Cola symbolize American ideals clashing against those of East Berlin and the USSR. Through a comedic portrayal, a battle ensues between the character’s competing values of their respective political and economic systems.

Scarlett Hazeltine and Otto Piffl’s union represent the ideological conflicts between communism and capitalism. Scarlett is the product of American consumerism as the daughter of wealthy Coca Cola executive, Wendell Hazeltine. She is adorned with the latest fashions including expensive jewelry and fur coats. Conversely, Otto is depicted in ragged clothes, no socks, and he doesn’t wear shorts – an Americanized view of a typical communist. He despises the materialist draw to capitalism and its inequity, describing the system as “… a dead herring in the moonlight. It shines, but it stinks!” Following plans of their move to the USSR, Scarlett gives up her fur coat in response to Otto’s communist claim that every woman should have a fur coat before somebody has two. She is too stupid to comprehend his meaning and looks forward to breakfast in bed due to a lack of table and chairs. The respective possessions and values of Otto and Scarlett represent the variance in principles between the two systems.

At the end of the film, MacNamera attempts to “Americanize” Otto as he must pretend to renounce his communist background in order to appear presentable to Scarlett’s parents. Otto vehemently resists these attempts, sticking to his belief that capitalism is an inferior system. Through a series of fast paced scenes, American capitalism ‘triumphs’ over communism through the benefits of consumerism and capitalist culture. “Consumers could choose liquids, powders, or flakes; boxes, sacks, plastic bottles, or cardboard drums” (De Grazia, 421). This quote provides a real life example of consumer culture and the production of a wide range of products in a capitalist market. MacNamera chooses between a mass of different colored suit jackets, coats, pants, and accessories to properly dress Otto as a respectable American and non-communist. In the race against time scene driving to the airport to meet with Scarlett’s parents, boxes of hats are carelessly thrown out the window until one is chosen as suitable. After a few blunders in maintaining his role, the Hazeltines fall for the façade and capitalism succeeds.

One, Two, Three presents a comedic take on tensions between the USSR and the United States due to the polarity of their political systems. Each character in the film is representative of their respective systems. The interactions between these characters mirror conflicts in the ideologies of the communist and capitalist system.

The US Empirical Mind

The keyword “Empire” is introduced as a debated defining characteristic in modern United States international politics. The term is debated as it carries a connotation of fierce imperialism and past fallen empires. Politicians and pundits alike tended to avoid this term in the past in order to protect and defend the United States’ identity as one acting in the interests of democracy and the betterment of foreign nations. “The use of the concept of Manifest Destiny instead of ‘empire’ gave divine sanction to U.S. expansion and implied that it was a natural and nonviolent process” (Streeby, 97). A religious aspect derived from the early Puritanical belief system adopted throughout United States history by settlers to current politicians alike, Manifest Destiny ‘gave’ the United States a God-given right and responsibility to intervene in international affairs as a police force of democracy.

This concept of the United States as a police force is universally regarded in international politics. In the recent series of crises in Syria, the United States intended to act in its stereotypical empirical manner by intervening when chemical weapons were used against civilians reportedly by the Syrian government. Even as the UN voted against United States military action against Syria, the empirical mind of the nation still considered acting upon its “god given calling” to react in the face of international war crimes and repression of democracy. Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the US public through an article in the New York Times spelling out international opinion, albeit a Russian biased one, on the empirical actions of the United States. (see: A Plea for Caution From Russia) “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us” (Putin). Putin explains his personal opinion, shared by others in the international community, that the United States attempts to act as a model for democracy but our actions are perceived as aggressive and often times out of line with what is expected in international affairs.

There are undoubtably occurrences where US involvement in foreign countries have strayed from their original purposes and been considered out of line by the greater international community. However, in many of these cases the UN and other first world powers failed to intervene themselves. There have also been scenarios that called for foreign assistance and the United States failed to get involved, such as Rwanda where a lack of intervention allowed a genocide to occur. This raises the question if the United States does have a responsibility to intervene in affairs if no other power attempts to alleviate the issue at hand. Conversely, who is to say that democracy or the morals and values of the United States are the standard to which other nations must hold themselves to? Regardless, the past responses of the United States in foreign affairs can only be expected to repeat themselves in the face of actions against the value system of the US.

 

 

The Expansion of National Borders and American Culture

Frederick Jackson Turner in his “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” constructs the argument that the progressive settlement of the frontier led to a redefining of culture and national identity in the United States. This conclusion is important as it draws evidence from agricultural and economic perspectives, social reaction, as well as border interactions to portray and explain a time of great change in United States history.

Elementary and secondary history classes often portray the American view of the frontier as a singular partition between settlement and wilderness, a so to speak “line of demarcation.” In his article, Turner states “Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and new development for that area” (Turner, 1). This statement becomes the foundation of the debate that the settlement of the west would cause an intermingling of cultures as well as a challenging of accepted norms to develop a more diverse national identity. “Thus, the advance of the frontier has meant a steady movement away from the influence of Europe, a steady growth of independence on American lines” (Turner, 2). The initial settling of America lead to a culture heavily influenced by Europeans. The exploration and settling of the west would allow the American culture to become more independent as settlers interacted with indigenous groups and other American settlers to add variance to national identity.

Much of the history of the settlement of the frontier was marked with interactions between settlers and Native Americans. “The trading frontier, while steadily undermining Indian power by making the tribes ultimately dependent on the whites, yet, through its sale of guns, gave to the Indian increased power of resistance to the farming frontier” (Turner, 5). The technological advances from European culture, specifically guns, allowed for control over the indigenous peoples. Native American culture also became an aspect of American Identity through the exploitation of previously used lands. “The buffalo trail became the Indian trail, and this became the trader’s “traces”; the trails widened into roads, and the roads into turnpikes, and these in turn were transformed into railroads” (Turner, 6). The expansion of the use of lands originally settled by the Native Americans allowed for the United States to develop a system of transportation.

Transportation along the frontier would cause a pivotal change in American society and the relation between individual States and the Federal Government. “The pioneer needed the goods of the coast, and so the grand series of internal improvement and railroad legislation began, with potent nationalizing effects” (Turner, 8). The formation of the railroads was a response to the demand for goods to be transported to and from the frontier. This would require federal programs and funding, as the railroad would expand through several states. This would begin to form another aspect of US culture, as the federal government would need to seize and allocate public lands in order to benefit the US public. This would eventually lead to tension between the powers of federal vs state government in the ownership of land.

“The Significance of the Frontier in American History” by Frederick Jackson Turner maps out the cultural changes of the US in relation to the settlement of the frontier. These comparisons are profound as they explain cultural changes including the formation of American thought, relations between Native Americans and the United States, as well as the continuation of a national debate between the powers of Federal Vs. State government in controlling these lands. This argument has convinced me that settlement of the frontier has had a much more substantial influence on US History than I had once believed.

Rethinking Race and Nation: Racism as a Theme in US Society

Nikhil Pal Singh’s “Rethinking Race and Nation” presents racism as a national ideology in the United States. This theme transcends the traditional slavery system in American history in order to form a systemic cycle of oppression towards African Americans up until the present day. Despite progressive reform at various stages over time, oppression towards blacks has perpetuated throughout history as racism failed to be removed as an aspect of United States national identity.

The United States claims to be a nation founded on the pillars of freedom and equality, while race relations in America present themselves to be the antithesis of these principles. “Racism and the reproduction of racial hierarchy are blind spots for the forms of liberal and democratic political theory and practice that are said to constitute American nationhood” (Singh, p 12).  The failure of the United States to deconstruct these social ideals represents an inability to uphold the fundamental values upon which the nation was founded. Instead, a system of oppression towards African Americans became an exception to these values and an independent aspect of the nation.

The formation of slavery and racism in US culture relies on an ideological belief that African Americans are “lesser” beings. This view portrays itself not only in the actions of individuals in society but also by law. “…The ‘three fifths’ clause that rendered slaves as part persons, part property” (Singh, p 10). This portrayal of racism in US law referring to the Three Fifths Compromise acts as a dehumanizing agent that renders African Americans as less than a person. The law of the time perpetuated racist ideologies among the citizens that remained even as these laws were repealed. “It led to the organization of new segregated institutions, white supremacist ideologies, legal rationalizations, extralegal violence, and everyday racial terror, which elaborated black racial difference as the basis of a new order of unequal social relations” (Singh, p 10). This passage refers to the period of Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War. Despite the emancipation of slaves across the US, the South quickly responded in law and society in continuing to oppress African Americans. The formation of racism through action and defended by state or federal law caused racism to be forever written into the national identity of the United States. Racism was incorporated not only through law but in other areas of society such as business and other institutions which translated to racist ideals as an accepted standard among the US public. Intolerance and oppression became written into the history and established racist ideals in the United States that remain present today.

Nikhil Pal Singh defends his argument of the link between nation and racism through concrete examples of oppressive laws as well as societal tendencies. It is apparent that racism towards African Americans has been a staple of US society since around the time of its settlement. There has been progress through social change and the Civil Rights Movement towards a greater acceptance of African Americans in the US. However, racism has become imprinted in the United States national identity. If racism has continued to be a force in almost the entirety of United States history, one must ask if it is possible to expunge this ideology from the culture altogether? The United States in its entirety is challenged to uphold the values the nation claims to have been constructed upon in order to resolve the issue of racism in society.