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Updated: 22 min 54 sec ago

ID at the Polls: Discrimination or Precaution?

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 10:13pm

By Griffin Edwards ’17

Anyone that attended Rev. Al Sharpton’s speech on St. Olaf’s campus this Wednesday will undoubtedly vouch for the fact that he made some really good points. I went in skeptical, expecting little. As it turned out, I was surprised at how much I agreed with him on many issues. He especially stressed the unreasonableness of police militarization and unnecessary force in recent times, holes in the education system that leave children behind and allocate resources poorly, and shortcomings of the judicial branch. My disagreement with Rev. Sharpton rests chiefly on his assertion that race causes these issues, instead of an over-bureaucratized government burdened with unnecessary and redundant programs.

One issue Rev. Sharpton brought up that has also been plaguing Americans lately is legislation recently introduced (according to Rev. Sharpton, by the right-wing Republicans in all their villainy) which would require anyone voting in the United States to show ID before they hit the polls. Acceptable forms of ID include gun licenses, driver’s licenses, and state-issued ID cards. These new laws are justified by purporting their importance in “avoiding fraud.”

Rev. Sharpton attacked these laws, saying that they were ridiculous and biased. He asserted that the elderly wouldn’t be able to vote as much because they often don’t carry IDs with them, that some can’t afford IDs because one must pay for them, and that the amount of fraud was so low in the US, any accusation of fraud was ridiculous. His seemingly bulletproof assessment triggered roars of applause from socially aware Oles.

But is it true? Is requiring ID to vote an infringement on personal liberties, specifically designed to marginalize certain groups?

According to the DMV, all state IDs are fairly inexpensive. Oregon is most expensive, at $33.50; by contrast, Delaware, South Carolina, and West Virginia offer them at $5. Furthermore, state DMVs often offer considerable discounts to seniors, knowing full well the practice of opting out of a driver’s license. $33.50 doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable for a state ID card, especially when one takes into account all the other things one can do with legal identification. This list includes renting a hotel room, useing the post office, getting a job, picking up prescription drugs, buying alcohol, and receiving social security. Not having a state ID would be like getting through a week without a St. Olaf ID card: extremely hindering.

What about fraud? Surely the nigh-uncorrupted American democratic system is above the rigged elections often seen in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, where candidates are reelected term after term. Despite Rev. Sharpton’s statistic, which stated that fraud occurs in only .00003% of elections nationwide, election fraud investigations have most recently taken place in Georgia and Hennepin County, Minnesota. Keep in mind also that elections in the past have been won by margins as close as 537 votes (in the 2000 presidential race- that’s one-one millionth of the population). Perhaps the presentation of ID would prevent such close races in the future, taking some of the ambiguity out of fraud investigations and ensure more fair elections.

Of course, one could argue that the state shouldn’t require ID at all, or that the Electoral College is a hindrance to democracy, or that the system itself is broken. But these are bigger questions with much larger repercussions.

The Equal Pay (Non)Debate

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 7:24pm

By Emma Whitford ‘18

Photo taken via Twitter

Equal pay has become one of the driving issues of the 2014 midterm elections, and it seems that everyone, democrats and republicans alike, have been stepping out to defend it. Why, then, are women still making less than men?

Good question.

In 1963 congress passed the Equal Pay Act, which requires that men and women under the same employer be given equal pay for equal work. Even with this in place, women still make an average of 77 cents to the man’s dollar. This gap widens for African American and Latina women, with African Americans making an average of 64 cents to the Caucasian male dollar, and Latinas making an average of only 54 cents to their Caucasian male counterparts.

Previously, equal pay was seen as a women’s issue, but in today’s world it’s affecting everyone. Living in a time of rising costs and falling wages, many families rely on two incomes to support their household. Both women and men are finding it an issue that women earn less money based on pure discrimination.

Women are increasingly the breadwinners for their families. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 60% of households with children are dual income households. If women are equally important to the finances of their families, and they’re doing equal work with equal skills, it’s time for them to earn equal pay.

This spring the Paycheck Fairness Act was raised once again in the Senate. Introduced in 2009, the bill went through the House, but was denied in November 2010 in the Senate. The bill was put up again in 2012, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to bring it to a debate on the floor. Drafted as an update to the Equal Pay Act, the bill has three main proposals. First, it suggests that it will be illegal for employers to prohibit or discourage the disclosure of wages and salaries between employees. Second, it declares that employers must be able to prove that pay differences are influenced by factors other than sex.  Third, the bill will strengthen the penalties to those found guilty of equal pay violations.

The bill was reintroduced to the Senate in April of 2014, and with 73 votes was put to debate on the floor. Earlier this month, the bill was voted down once again along straight party lines.

The White House and Senate democrats have been very vocal in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s a strategic move to play for the November mid-terms because it plays well to women, a largely democratic demographic.

The GOP announced support of equal pay for women, and Senate republicans justify the rejection of the bill because no amendments to the bill were considered. They claim that the bill will discourage employers from hiring women, in turn hurting the very people it claims to help.

America’s Police Problem: Collisions of Liberty and Safety

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 11:09am

By Nick Bowlin ’16

(Picture taken via Twitter)

Over the past month, Americans have closely followed the events in Ferguson, Missouri. The widespread protests that followed the racially charged shooting served to expose a disturbing trend in American police departments. The problem is this: our police forces have become identical to our military. Images from the protests showed heavily armed paramilitary units threatening protestors and driving on city streets in assault vehicles. In short, they looked like an invading army. Citizens across the country were outraged at what they saw in Ferguson. One infamous photo shows an entire SWAT team with their guns trained on an unarmed protestor with her hands in the air. Reporters were harassed and detained without cause. This is a new and terrifying version of America and it must be confronted.

The militarization of America’s police forces is a relatively new phenomenon. After 9/11, President Bush formed the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS wanted to give local police forces the capability to withstand other terrorist attacks. If done correctly, this would be a good thing. Instead, Americans must now confront the fact that our police forces are using against us weaponry that was designed for warfare. In fact, one Iraqi war veteran named Rafael Noboa y Rivera wrote in a blog post that “the police in Ferguson have better armor and weaponry than my men and I did in the middle of a war. And Ferguson isn’t alone — police departments across the US are armed for war.”

Let me explain how the DHS gets weapons and equipment to the police. There are two primary processes. The first is called the Department of Defense Excess Property Program. This long bureaucratic title disguises a program funneling surplus military equipment to local police forces. The second method is via DHS grant programs. In this fiscal year alone, the Guardian Newspaper reports, “the DHS plans to award $1.6b in grant money for state, local, and tribal agencies.” This is an obscene amount of money. Even worse are the stunning lack of restrictions on how police are allowed to use this military equipment.

This lack of restrictions means that the police are now using this anti-terrorist equipment for normal police work. It is no coincidence that the number of SWAT team raids has skyrocketed in the past decade. SWAT teams now do mundane tasks such as delivering warrants, even to non-violent offenders. One infamous incident in Florida involved SWAT teams charging barbers for cutting hair without proper licensing.

In addition to the military equipment, the DHS also supplies police with military surveillance technology. This should scare Americans. It goes against every classically liberal principle on which our country was founded, ignoring ideals such as individual liberty and limited government. The DHS recently launched a program giving small surveillance drones to police departments. The government has claimed that these drones will be used only in critical situations. Personally, I don’t believe them. Their misuse of the DHS military equipment shows that police cannot resist exploiting new technology to its full potential. In addition, there is now something called “Stingray” technology, provided to the police by the Pentagon. This tool allows police departments to collect mass public cell phone data.

There is some hope. On September 9th, there was a Congressional hearing regarding the government’s role in police militarization. For once, there seems to be some bi-partisan agreement that this problem needs to be addressed. Also, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, has drafted a bill to cut down on the DHS surplus weapons program. He plans to introduce the bill in September.

Still, is a massive problem. The United States, where every citizen is guaranteed certain fundamental liberties at birth, increasingly resembles an Orwellian police state. Before you dismiss this allusion as overdramatic, consider the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA. We have seen community police departments drift away from their promise to protect and serve, and towards a nation where faceless paramilitaries squash protest and free speech. Benjamin Franklin famously wrote: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” American citizens must realize that militarized police forces violate our essential liberties. Our free press, our right to assemble, and our privacy are threatened by the draconian nature of American police. Ferguson has brought this issue to the forefront.

The Congressional hearing is a start and President Obama has publicly questioned the need for weapons of war in the hands of police, but the solution to this problem requires more than talk. America’s police forces must be actively disarmed and forced to stop their unconstitutional surveillance. Otherwise, our essential liberties, which Franklin held in such high regard, will be forfeit.

The Law Perverted: Musings on the Constitution

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 9:35am

By Griffin Edwards ’17

(Courtesy of Twitter via College for America)

“The Law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its former purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law became the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!

            “If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.”

            Thus begins French political philosopher Frederic Bastiat’s The Law. Talk about a hook.

September 15-19 is Constitution Week. It’s a patriotic holiday that, oddly enough, celebrates the signing of the US Constitution on September 17, 1787. It lacks the explosive pomp of Independence Day and the stay-home-and-grill attitude of Labor Day. In fact, unless you’re in especially academic or especially patriotic circles, Constitution Week will probably come and go without so much as a firecracker or barbequed hot dog. Perhaps this lack of attention is fitting; after all, scratching a few words on a hemp-paper document is hardly noteworthy. It is not nearly as earth-shattering as declaring political independence.

But it isn’t the shock and awe of the Constitution that make it worthy of a week. Rather, it is its quiet repercussions that continue to echo into our own lives today, two hundred-some years later.

Now, to return to Bastiat: what exactly is this “law” that he’s so worked up about? Why does he feel a moral imperative to preserve its integrity and alert his peers to its violation?

If one continues reading The Law after the opening apostrophe, which is a hard thing to resist, one finds that “the law” of Bastiat is not something instituted by governments; it’s natural, inherent in human life, and a sacred part of society. “The law” is not a social contract. In a word, “the law” is the unifying moral code of non-aggression and personal liberty particular and universal to mankind, even in the absence of government. This line of thought was common, even popular, to him and his almost-contemporaries, including Thomas Jefferson and John Locke. In contrast, today we often attribute rights to the government, subconsciously considering them something granted us through the good graces of the state. We occasionally rename these as “privileges” as if to excuse their infringement, and we turn a blind eye when, out of convenience (or perhaps laziness), we witness our rights taken away in the name of security or benevolence. We see our rights as things impossible without the state to uphold them, and maintained only through legislation and social norms.

However, if Bastiat is correct, and rights are natural parts of being human, the Constitution and the ideas it upholds are mammoth in scope. The Constitution ceases to become a dusty old document of a failed political system long since run its course; it becomes a sacred work, something, perhaps, transcending any government. It not only provides rules for citizens, but rules for the government; it seeks to prevent the law from being perverted and turning into something hulking, ugly, and oppressive. It is as much, if not more, for the government as for citizens, a proclamation not only for the idealistic state dreamt by the founding fathers, but a manifesto of what they held dear. It is a thing as philosophical, even theological, as it is political.

The relevance of the Constitution has not been lost in recent years; if anything, it retains its importance even as we move into an age quick to abandon our heritage and move into a postmodern world that has so vastly outgrown our adolescent britches. If we as Americans wish to stand the test of time, we must ensure that the law remains unperverted, and government kept at a distance, as embodied by our Constitution.

Trading Opinions: Why Boeing’s Bank Needs to Go

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 7:48am

By: Alec Paulson ’16

Photo courtesy of Google images

The renewal of the Export-Import Bank’s charter continues to stir controversy among House and Senate Republicans in the weeks before its expiration on September 30th. The bank, which grants special finance options to American exporters, has been targeted by conservative think tanks as an unnecessary intervention in international trade. While Democrats support the reauthorization in union, Republicans dissention highlights an interesting political rift among party leaders.

Pro-Business Republicans contend that the measure is necessary to maintain international competitiveness with foreign manufacturers. International trade is never free or fair, which necessitates government assistance for American manufacturers. Cattle-prodded by the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth, a handful of Republicans including Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz counter that the Ex-Im Bank is the poster child for corporatism in the United States.

The data show that Cruz and Ryan’s claim is well warranted. The bank is ineffective at spurring export activity. In 2013, the Ex-Im bank financed exports that accounted for just 2% of the $2.2 trillion total export activity in the United States. Of that 2% activity, two-thirds went to Boeing. Three-quarters of the finances went to a total of 10 corporations including Dow Chemical, John Deere, General Electric and Caterpillar. Undoubtedly, the bank’s main purpose is to provide corporate welfare.

Pro-Business Republicans counter that the small firms still benefit from the special financing. Even if the largest beneficiaries are giant corporations, smaller firms necessarily account for smaller finance packages. There is a lot of good that can be done for small exporters with just a quarter of Ex-Im’s total 2013 budget.

Democrats and Pro-Business Republicans must come to terms with the fact that they cannot fiat international competitiveness through accounting tricks and gimmicks. It should be unsurprising that uncompetitive financial practices breed uncompetitive manufactures. If an American corporation or small business is not competitive, the government should not try to pump life into it. Picking winners and losers in the economy is a dangerous game especially when the winner is a large multinational that will survive without special finance.

Despite the undeniable harm the reauthorization inflicts on the American taxpayer, the likelihood for the charter to be renewed is strong. The best hope for ending the charter is our ‘do-nothing’ Congress to do just that. However, with Senate midterm campaigning in full swing, no candidate wants to appear unresolved on their commitment to American jobs and exports. This protectionist sentiment is one that succeeds politics, but very rarely in policy.

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