Tag Archives: politics

Targeting Muslim Americans in the Name of National Security

A Muslim American woman watches her child play soccer in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo by Keoni Cabral via Flickr CC. Click for original.
Saher Selod
Saher Selod is in the department of sociology at Simmons College in Boston. Her research examines the American Muslim experience in the years after 9/11.

Years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the daily lives of American Muslims continue to be affected by the anxieties and policies those attacks unleashed. Because so many of their fellow citizens see them as both physically threatening and culturally inferior, Muslim-Americans endure regular expressions of hostility at their jobs and in public spaces. They are also the target of government policies aimed at securing the country from another terrorist attack.

Every single day in U.S. airports, for example, Muslim Americans are treated as dangerous. Quite a few men have been told they are on a No-Fly List when they attempt to check in for flights; and women who wear the hijab or other religious clothing are often stopped and searched by Transportation and Security Administration agents. Such government actions are not only a problem for the people affected; they also convey the broader message that Muslims are a threat to national security and require careful monitoring and surveillance. (more…)

How New Digital Technologies Make It Possible To Privatize Censorship and Manipulate Citizen-Users

Photo by Phillong.Me.UK via Flickr CC. Click for original.
Rex
Rex Troumbley is in the political science program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. At the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, he helped monitor global Internet censorship and participated in the design of a global governing body scheduled to assume management of Internet addresses from ICANN in late 2015.

For most Americans, protecting free expression means countering threats from government. Private corporations are not usually seen as threatening free speech. But as private technology companies increasingly mediate access to information and services, the distinction between governmental and private censorship becomes less clear. Concepts of free speech and freedom of expression may need to be revised and enlarged to take account of new threats in the age of digital communications—and policies to protect freedom of expression may need to counter threats, often subtle, from the private sector as well as government. (more…)

Are Americans Really Anti-Intellectual?

Inventing the Egghead cover
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Aaron S. Lecklikder is in the department of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is the author of Inventing the Egghead: The Battle Over Brainpower in American Culture.

Media coverage often implies that Americans are ill-informed or hate intellectuals. Politicians are known to make fun of the highly educated—as Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown did when he sneeringly tried to slight his 2012 election opponent, Elizabeth Warren, as “the professor.” Or media features may play up the supposed popularity of ignorance, as in the spoofs of Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice-presidential campaign and television coverage of grammatical errors in signs at Tea Party rallies. In such instances current news events are sometimes said to reflect a long history of American “anti-intellectualism.” So frequently does that term get bandied about in the mainstream media that it almost seems obvious that Americans really do revel in ignorance and mockery of the best-educated.

But in fact, positing anti-intellectualism as typical for America is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term “anti-intellectual” has appeared in the New York Times over 650 times since 1870, and more than three-quarters of the times happened after historian Richard Hofstadter published his 1964 book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. For nearly 100 years, in short, Americans were rarely described as anti-intellectual. Only over the most recent half century, has “anti-intellectualism” become a recurrent interpretive lens to make sense of society and politics. It is worth looking more closely, as I have done in my work, to better understand the concept and the realities. (more…)

The Roots of Multicultural Diversity in Revolutionary America

Image from Mark Rain via Flickr Creative Commons
Ben Railton
Ben Railton is in the department of English studies at Fitchburg State University. He is the author of The Chinese Exclusion Act: What It Can Teach Us about America.

Opinions vary about whether multiculturalism and ethnic and racial diversity are divisive or beneficial to contemporary American society – but most of those discussing the issue presume that these are relatively recent trends, especially characteristic of the late-twentieth and early twenty-first century United States. The Immigration Act of 1965 is often cited as a watershed moment, a major policy change that opened the door to unusually diverse streams of immigrants, giving rise both to new ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups – and also sparking nativist reactions based on worries about a fraying national community. But a look back across U.S. history reveals that ethnic diversity and multiculturalism are hardly modern innovations.

Indeed, multicultural realities and ideals were present from the U.S. founding. Subsequent eras have brought new waves of arrivals, adding more cultures, religions, and languages into the mix, but not changing America’s core identity so much as adding to it. Only one major time period – the era between the 1920s Quota Acts and the 1965 Immigration Act – brought a temporary partial delay in the U.S. march toward greater cultural diversity. (more…)

The Benefits of President Obama’s Program to Protect Undocumented Immigrants Who Arrived as Children Before 2007

Roberto Gonzales
Roberto G. Gonzales is in the department of sociology at Harvard University.He is the co-author of Dreaming Beyond the Fields: Undocumented Youth, Rural Realities, and a Constellation of Disadvantage.

August 15, 2014 marks the second anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama administration program to protect young undocumented immigrants originally brought to the United States as children. If these young people were brought across the border before 2007 as minors under the care of adults, America is effectively the country they have grown up in and, the President argued, it makes no sense to threaten them with removal. Under the Deferred Action program, if such youths and young adults have stayed out of legal trouble and go through a specified application process that includes paying a hefty $465 fee, they are exempted from the threat of deportation for two years at a time and granted Social Security numbers and renewable work permits. As of March 2014, 673,417 young people had applied to the program and 553,197 were approved for its protections and benefits. Very soon, temporary protection will begin to expire for the earliest Deferred Action applicants. Many beneficiaries have begun to apply for renewals, but community-based organizations realize that they need to mobilize, both to encourage renewals and to draw more eligible applicants into the program. (more…)

The Downsides of Excluding Millions of Immigrants From Health Reform

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Heide Castaneda
Heide Castañeda is in the department of anthropology at the University of South Florida. She is the co-author of Ethnographic Insights on Displacement, Migration, and Deservingness in Contemporary Global Contexts.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 promises to extend health insurance coverage to tens of millions of uninsured people across the United States – but not to everyone. Non-citizens are among those most likely to lack health insurance coverage, yet large segments of the immigrant population have been excluded from the benefits of health reform – and may face greater barriers in the future than in the past. (more…)

Will the United States Adopt Start-Up Immigrant Visas to Foster Economic Innovation?

Image from rickpilot_2000 via Flickr Creative Commons
Natalie Novick
Natalie Novick is in the sociology program at the University of California, San Diego. Her areas of expertise include international labor migration, new technology and policymaking in the United States and in the EU

In the fall of 2013, Stanislav Korsei and Oleksandr Zadorozhnyi arrived in Vancouver, Canada, bringing with them from their home country, the Ukraine, a new tech company called Zeetl Incorporated. Their arrival to build a new life in Canada was enabled by a successful application to that country’s Start-Up Visa program, one of the world’s first to offer permanent residency status to young immigrant entrepreneurs and their families. Korsei and Zadorozhnyi secured $30,000 in funding from a Canadian business accelerator, which entitled them to apply for the program. One year later, Zeetl was acquired by Canadian social media company Hootsuite. The exact valuation of Zeetl has not been disclosed; the deal illustrates tangible results for Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program, and Korsei and Zadorozhnyi are already working on their next startups. (more…)

New Measures Reveal the True Impact of America’s Anti-Poverty Programs

Image from Steven Depolo via Flickr Creative Commons
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Jane Waldfogel carries out research on a range of topics including the measurement of poverty, food insecurity, work-family policies, the effects of the Great Recession on parents and children, and inequality in school readiness and school achievement, both within the United States and across countries.

Half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson launched America’s War on Poverty; yet by the 1980s President Ronald Reagan famously declared that “we waged a war on poverty and poverty won.” To back up this claim, conservatives point to official U.S. statistics showing that the percentage of Americans living in poverty, around 15%, has changed very little over the decades.

But the official poverty measure is outdated – so I teamed up with several colleagues to produce estimates using a more accurate one. When we use the improved measure, it turns out that U.S. social programs and taxes have had a powerful effect on reducing poverty since the mid-1960s. Back then, government programs did little to alleviate poverty, but today public programs and taxes cut the percentage of people living in poverty by almost half, from the 28.7% it would be without government efforts to 16% after public programs are included. Far too many Americans continue to have inadequate incomes, but U.S. policies have helped millions avoid poverty.

The Need for a More Comprehensive Poverty Measure

America’s longstanding official poverty measure is outdated, because it is not adjusted appropriately for the needs of different types of individuals and households and it fails to take into account the full range of income and expenses that individuals and households face. In particular, it does not calculate the income effects of the full range of government programs whose aim it is to reduce poverty in the United States. Because of these and other failings, researchers cannot simply track official poverty measurements if they want an accurate picture of trends in poverty or the role of government policies in alleviating it.

Along with Liana Fox, Irv Garfinkel, Neeraj Kaushal, and Christopher Wimer, I re-analyzed trends in poverty using an improved measure – called the supplemental poverty measure – that includes near-cash benefits, in-kind benefits, and tax credits that go to various individuals and families. This supplemental measure also adjusts income calculations for taxes paid and for unavoidable child care, work-related, and medical expenses.

Since 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated annual poverty levels using both the traditional and the supplemental poverty measure, but it has not estimated historical trends using the revised measure. My colleagues and I have taken this extra step, estimating trends in poverty since 1967 using two new measures, one similar to the supplemental poverty measure in which the poverty threshold is calculated for each year using contemporary living standards, and another using an “anchored supplemental poverty” measure, in which we take today’s supplemental threshold and carry it back historically. The second approach is the one we use here in this brief. Data on incomes over the years come from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey.

When we use the supplemental poverty measure to track the percentages of Americans under the poverty line, a different picture emerges. The traditional poverty measure says that 14% were poor in 1967 and 15% in 2012, but the anchored supplemental measure shows the percentage living in poverty falling by more than 40%.

A New Perspective on U.S. Anti-Poverty Efforts

Our estimates also provide new insights as to the role of government programs. Using the supplemental measure anchored to 2012, we tracked the percentages of the U.S. population that would have been in poverty with and without including income from taxes and government social benefits. The green line shows poverty without taxes and benefits, and the blue line shows how much poverty has been reduced by taxes and social benefits.

Government benefits include food and nutrition programs such as Food Stamps, school lunches, and programs for pregnant women and infants; cash welfare benefits of various kinds; housing subsidies; and Social Security, unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, and public pensions. Taxes include both those that reduce income (payroll taxes, federal and state income taxes) and those that boost incomes (like the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax credits). Clearly, U.S. taxes and benefit programs have greatly reduced the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line. If we only counted incomes and expenses in the private market, poverty would have increased slightly over the past half century. But when taxes and social benefits are included, poverty sharply declines.

These results underline a key point: if we want to properly assess the progress the United States has made in fighting poverty, we must include all income and expenses. Properly measured, poverty has fallen substantially since the War on Poverty was declared. The war is far from over, but hard-won ground has been gained – and millions of Americans would suffer if anti-poverty efforts cease now or suffer major reverses.

How Better U.S. Food Policies Could Foster Improved Health, Safer Jobs, and a More Sustainable Environment

Image from Niall Kennedy via Flickr Creative Commons
Nicholas Freudenberg
Nicholas Freudenberg is in the department of public health at the University of New York School of Public Heath and Hunter College. He is the co-author of Training new community health, food service, and environmental protection workers could boost health, jobs, and growth. 

U.S. efforts to ensure safe and healthy food are falling short. Even as more than 49 million Americans lack access to adequate nutrition, corporations are aggressively marketing unhealthy foods that contribute to epidemics of diet-related diseases. Many of the 30 million workers in the food industry face unsafe conditions and do not earn enough to support themselves and their families. The production and transport of food often spurs pollution and global warming.

In classic economic theory, when markets fail to meet human needs, government steps in to protect the public. Today’s U.S. public food programs and regulations amount to an incoherent and ineffective jumble – but fixing them could contribute to a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable American food economy. (more…)

Why America’s Food is Still Not Safe

Image from Jasmine via Flickr Creative Commons
Adam Sheingate
Adam Sheingate is in the department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of Still a Jungle.

Each year, 48 million Americans suffer from illnesses caused by dangerous microbial pathogens lurking in the food they eat. For most people, food poisoning just leads to temporary stomach aches or diarrhea. But the effects can be much more serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 125,000 Americans are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from pathogens in our food. Estimates of the cost of food borne illness exceed $75 billion a year – taking into account the cost of health care and lost time on the job for people who get sick. The actual suffering and economic cost could be much greater, because many incidents of mild illness caused by tainted food go unreported.

That eating dinner can result in disability or death comes as a shock to most Americans. Most of us believe that the United States fixed these problems more than a century ago, after Upton Sinclair’s famous book, The Jungle, revealed the ghastly facts about unsafe methods of commercial food processing for a mass market economy. But in fact, the rules and regulations we assume will protect us are inadequate. Duplication and gaps in government responsibilities leave Americans highly vulnerable to a variety of risks from industrial food production. (more…)