Monday, June 1, 2015

Potential Pause on the Patriot Act

At the beginning of second semester, our class did presentations on civil liberties violations during different wars in our country's history. My group did our presentation on the War on Terror, and some of the topics we discussed were the USA Patriot Act, the NSA's involvement in our lives, and Edward Snowden. So when I saw an article about the Patriot Act's expiration, I was immediately intrigued, and a little confused.

The Patriot Act was passed after 9/11 to "justify collecting reams of telephone metadata--information about phone numbers called the times of the calls". The NSA (National Security Agency) is allowed to receive this information from phone companies, like Verizon and AT&T, if they present a search warrant. This has been a controversial act ever since Edward Snowden released information regarding how much information the government was allowed to see, and how much of it was actually useful in finding terrorist activity. Recently, a federal appeals court ruled that the telephone records program is illegal. "The same authority that has been used to collect the bulk telephone data allows national security investigators to obtain court orders for records that pertain to an individual". The debate on whether or not this bill is a violation of our civil liberties has been ongoing ever since. In order to stop the bill from continuing, there needs to be a unanimous consensus from the senate on Sunday, May 31st.

In an editorial I read about the topic, the author argues that the debate "should be allowed to continue" and be able to reach a compromise that gives Americans information on what exactly the government is able to see. When Snowden released his information in 2013, the Obama administration started reviewing intelligence techniques and said they would reform the program. This also caused lawmakers to look at the Patriot Act more closely, leading a federal appeals court to rule that the NSA's collection of phone data was unlawful.

Although I believe that the government should be able to investigate and collect information about possible terrorist threats to the United States, I think there needs to be more evidence showing us how the collection of our phone records has helped them find suspected terrorists. If the NSA is not able to present that information, I think it will be hard for them to continue their actions, especially now that this has been brought to our attention. I don't know what the verdict will be, but I predict that this will be an ongoing debate for the next couple of years. I wonder how the next president will feel about this issue.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Means To an End

In American Studies, we have been discussing social class with regards to the upper-class characters and lifestyle in the Great Gatsby. In our class, most students felt that their families were of the upper-middle and upper class. For many of the upper-middle and upper class, they have the luxury of furthering their education. Most of us will continue our education after high school at a university of our choosing (with exceptions of course). However, I believe college is viewed as a means to an end in our society; students attend college to further their education so that they can find a job easily and pursue a career. I dream big in terms of my career, as I'm sure most students at our school do, but not everyone my age feels the same way. In an article I read, the author discusses the problem that faces almost all of her students: underemployment.

Brittany Bronson, the author of this article, is an English instructor at the University of Nevada. 95% of students at the University of Nevada live at home or off campus so they can save money, and they attend the school for in-state tuition. She finds that her students are very modest when she asks them what they hope to achieve after college, for example taking over a family manufacturing uniform business. In my opinion, the "dream" jobs students hope to achieve seem small. I don't think many students in my community dream of a middle class job after college. Students at our school plan for wealthy and remarkable careers, and our school encourages that. Just look at the wall of New Trier Alumni, aka some of the most "successful" graduates of our school. I wonder how the school determined and recognized the most successful alumni out of the thousands of graduates. 

It seems sad, however, that we focus so much on what is coming after college. Many students don't pursue majors or studies that truly interest them; they just pursue majors they can make money from in the future. Among the highest paying college majors to study are engineering, computer science, and economics. This is not shocking at all; these are also some of the most popular majors at major universities. In class, we discuss how many will pursue business majors in college, instead of english or humanities majors. Students and their families want security in knowing that they will be able to find a job after college. I understand where they are coming from, but I still find it a little sad that college has become a transition to what's next. We work so hard to get there, then once we get there we work equally, if not harder, to set up the rest of our lives. Why can't we stop and enjoy it anymore?

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Lack of Black Doctors

My favorite show of all-time is Grey's Anatomy. I love every part of the show, especially the characters and relationships on it. So when I saw an article about African American doctors, it immediately caught my eye. Off of the top of my head, I can count around 6 black surgeons and main characters on the show. The show has explored some race issues in episodes regarding black surgeons and white patients, but I don't think it has ever really emphasized the problem that seems to be present in our society. "In virtually every field of medicine, black patients as a group fare the worst". Why is this the case?

The author of this article says that although the usual reasons are valid, like poverty, lack of access to proper medical care and unhealthy lifestyles, another reason may be the low percent of black doctors. Black patients, in general, feel more comfortable with black doctors. They are less trusting of physicians and medicine than any other race. This may be because of their history with medicine, as stated in the article, but I personally do not know enough about the subject to make any inferences as to why they might be less trusting. However, as you can imagine, this often hurts them in the long run. By refusing medical treatment and being suspicious of their doctor's intentions, they are only hurting themselves.

An easy solution to this problem seems to be to increase the amount of black doctors in black communities. In the 2011-2012 school year, only 7% of medical students in America were black. Shockingly, this is progress for America; there were only 2% enrolled in med school in 1968-1969. I wonder if social class and wealth is a factor in this as well, possibly because of the high cost in medical school and the people that can or cannot afford it. Here lies the problem: black patients want black doctors, who rarely exist in black communities. "More black doctors practice in high-poverty communities of color, where physicians are relatively scarce". This doesn't leave many doctors for the middle class African-American community, which may be the source of this problem.

So is there a solution? I don't know if there is. It's a little startling to me to see that people would risk their health and safety just because they might have negative suspicions about their doctor. However, I can see the other side as well. I don't think there is a clear answer here, but I hope in the future that our society can move past these still-present race issues. Having a personal, trusting relationship with your physician is important, and I don't think anything should be in the way of this relationship.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Correcting the Correctioners

For my fourth and final blog post about my junior theme, I found an interesting article in the New York Times about physical abuse and mentally ill prisoners. The relevant news regarding this article is the Human Rights Watch report that has recently been released, which includes different incidents regarding the correctional staff at prisons. "In some cases, the force used has led to their death", according to the press release report for HRW. The force used by the prison guards include chemical sprays, electric weapons, and severely broken body parts. The study also found that the mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners occurs throughout the country and is increasing in more than 5,100 jails and prisons. Through my junior theme research, I found similar startling statistics and information about this problem, leading me to question why this is happening. Why is it becoming more and more "acceptable" to treat the mentally ill this way? Even if they are in prisoners, do they deserve to be treated terribly?

I can only imagine that it takes time to adjust to living in prison for non-mentally ill prisoners. For mentally ill prisoners, I assume that it's almost impossible. There are extensive and firm rules set by prison officers and guards that prisoners must follow. If they don't follow the rules, they should expect punishment, physical or not. But in most cases, usually mentally ill prisoners aren't doing harm to themselves, other prisoners, or guards; they are only trying to adjust to life imprisoned. Their behavior is usually a result of their mental illness, therefore unintentional. Some examples of this behavior found was using inappropriate language, refusing to come out of their cell, or urinating on the floor. I understand that these behaviors might be considered against the rules, but I don't think they are an excuse to physically harm these prisoners. These prisoners are struggling to survive in prison and live a different life than they are used to, making it difficult for them to always behave. I don't think it's fair to blame the prison guards either, however. They aren't trained in knowing how to deal with these prisoners and often don't have the facilities to help treat them.

The National Institute of Corrections, "a federal agency that provides funding and offers support programs to corrections agencies", claimed that mental health for prisoners was one of their highest priorities. They are planning on trying to find ways to create mental health treatment facilities in prisons so that this physical abuse will decrease. Hopefully they will find ways to stop the problem before it results in prison, but I don't think we will come to that decision anytime soon. I don't think there is an easy answer to the problem, and I don't know how much emphasis will be put on trying to solve it for the time being. I hope that we see a decrease in mentally ill prisoners, but I think this problem needs to move a step at a time. If the first step is ending the physical abuse, then I support it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

No More Professors

While simultaneously scrolling through Naviance in preparation for my upcoming college counselor meeting, an article about college professors caught my eye (I know, shocking). The article argues that professors "will fall low on the ladder of meaningful contacts" as college graduates reflect on their education. At first, this was very startling to me. As a high school student, I couldn't imagine not having a connection with one of my teachers; I'm not sure I could have survived the year without speaking to teachers outside of class and getting extra help. I realize that high school class sizes are smaller than the average college course, but I still found this a little surprising.

In my opinion, the goal of any teacher is to help their students learn and grow while receiving a good education. I think that most teachers want to have meaningful connections with their students, or at least reflecting on all of my teachers in the past I feel that they do. I can't speak from experience about college professors, but I assume they are similar. Yet only 1/3 of freshman students speak to their professor outside of class, and 42% meet with them on occasion. Freshman year is the scariest year of all; everything is new and different than you are used to, and there is a heavier workload. It seems that freshman year should be a logical year for students to meet with professors and possibly start connections that will continue with them for the rest of their schooling. How else would students know more about the subject they are learning, or decide if it is a possible subject they wish to pursue the following year?

The lack of student involvement with professors may be a result of our society's beliefs. The author of the article argues that it's barely the students fault; many of them are involved in numerous extracurriculars and have more distractions, especially with technology, than ever before. I feel like this relates well to students at my school, since in general we strive to do as much as possible and become a "well-rounded" person. However, the purpose of attending college is to further your education and make these important connections, which is something we may be losing. In a study reported in this article, in 1967 86% of students objectives in college was to "develop a meaningful philosophy of life" while around 40% reported that their objectives was to be "very well-off financially". In our world today, the percentages have reversed. Is this what our society has come to? Do we really only hope to gain money and "success" out of an education?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Clinton's Criminal Justice System

During Hillary Clinton's speech at Columbia University last Wednesday, April 29, she spoke about reforming the criminal justice system. Not only did she speak about the prison system in general, but she spoke about how prisons have become mental health institutions as well. Clinton recently announced that she is running for president, and has already begun her campaign. Once I read that she had made a speech about the criminal justice system, I immediately wondered what prompted her to discuss this controversial topic at the beginning of her campaigning.

In her speech, she addressed the recent events in Baltimore as well as other similar events that have happened over the last year, like Michael Brown. Clinton claimed that, "we have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance" and "our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power". I find both of these statements very interesting because she seems to be siding against the prison and justice system, something that politicians like herself have influenced. I agree with both of her statements, especially after my research for the junior theme, but I still wonder if this was too risky of a move for her in her presidential campaign. She seems to want to "undo the mass incarceration system" that has evolved and grown over the past couple of years, especially during her husband Bill Clinton's presidency. Although Bill Clinton did not start the mass incarceration, it grew during his presidency.

Increased 225% over this amount of time while population only grew 1/3
Clinton wants to change the way our criminal justice system works. Crime rates are not increasing, but incarceration rates are. She doesn't seem to have a plan yet, but I find it admirable that she is addressing this controversial issue during currents events. I don't know if there is a right answer, or any answer that will solve the problem completely, but I think it is good that a presidential candidate is bringing the question to the table. However, in the future I wonder if she will address the mentally ill imprisoned more than she did for this speech. Can our criminal justice system be "fixed"?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Since it's prison, it's OK

While continuing my research for my Junior Theme, I found an article about rape and sexual assault in prisons. I'm not a professional on this issue, and I have never been to prison so I do not know what prison is really like, but I know it's not a place where I would like to live. I wasn't surprised, however, when I saw that around 80,000 male and female prisoners report sexual assault each year. This number isn't completely accurate, since many prisoners don't report sexual assault and harassment with a fear of being punished, yet it is still very high.

In 2003, a law was passed (the Prison Rape Elimination Act) to stop sexual assault in prisons. There were rules passed with the law, for example screening the prisoners to see if they were a possible threat before placing them in a cell, but only two states actually listened and followed the law. The ACLU estimated that around two million prisoners were sexually assaulted during the time it took to finalize the law (around 9 years), yet states have not changed their opinion on disobeying the law. The article states that "prisons protect rape culture to protect themselves", which is interesting to me. In fact, 50% of prison rape occurs between a prison guard and a prisoner. In my opinion, this is the most alarming fact in the article. Why do prisons employ men and women who hurt prisoners? I realize that prison guards main job is to keep the prisoners in line, but part of their job is protecting them as well. They are supposed to look out for the prisoners and make sure they aren't being further harmed while in prison, which is why I was shocked that such a high percent of rape was from them. 

I realize that people are arrested for a reason. I like to believe, as many Americans do, that prisoners deserve to be in jail. However, I don't think it is okay to let horrible things happen to them while in prison; they are already being punished for what they did. I don't think our society should be fine with prisoners being raped since they did something bad so they "deserve" it. I think that rape and sexual assault is something that should never be wished upon anyone, no matter the person.