Friday, December 31, 2010

Airport Security

     Airport security policies are too extreme because the threat of an attack is minimal to the point of insignificance, airport security is ineffective, and full-body scanners pose a health risk.  In the aftermath of the 9/11 disasters, airport security was tightened substantially to accommodate the ever-increasing "terrorism threat".  The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) recent unveiling of new security tactics including the usage of "Advanced Imaging Technology" (AIT) and Enhanced Pat-Downs has been very controversial.  According to the TSA, the AIT's can detect not only metallic weapons, but non-metallic weapons as well.  This is done by bouncing electromagnetic waves off a subject's body creating a three dimensional black-and-white image in the case of the Millimeter Wave Unit.  In the case of the Backscatter Unit, this is done by creating a reflection of the displayed body by projecting low X-ray beams over the subject (Transportation Security Administration).  Because few details regarding the nature of the pat-downs and body scanners have been released by officials, the TSA has been highly vulnerable to corruption and abuse.  Unintended consequences of stricter airport security have included increased road fatalities from would-be air travelers deciding to drive and a significant toll on the airline industry.
     One major reason why airport security is too extreme is that the measures currently in place are ineffective.  Just after airport security was tightened in the aftermath of the 9/11 disasters, the TSA's red team, which is in charge of testing airport security, was able to secretly take weapons and bomb materials through airport security 100% of the time.  By 2006, the agency made little progress in the detection of hazardous items.  75% of the fake bombs failed detection at the Los Angeles International Airport and 60% of fake bomb materials made it through the Chicago O'Hare International Airport (McManus).  In addition, the TSA's Screening Passengers by Observation (SPOT) program failed to identify 17 known terrorists who traveled through eight airports that had the program implemented on 23 occasions.  One of the terrorists that slipped through the cracks was Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber whose attack failed (McManus).  To make matters worse, the TSA's annual budget has surged from $700 million when the administration was founded to $6.9 billion in 2010 further straining the Federal Government's budget.  That's not all.  The federal stimulus package also granted an additional $73 million to the TSA to outfit airports across the nation with full-body scanners.  

      Another major problem with airport security is that the controversial scanners pose a health hazard.  Although the TSA claims that the radiation emitted by full-body scanners are relatively low, amounting to a thousandth of that received by typical chest X-rays, many independent scientists have disputed this.  For example, a Physics professor at the University of Arizona at Tempe has found that the scanners emit 10 times more radiation than the TSA claims (Airguide).  Although the amount of radiation emitted from the scanners may in fact be low, it's very dangerous because the ionized radiation received is cumulative and could build up to dangerous levels over time.  These scanners are also dangerous because unlike medical X-ray machines which require people to wear radiation shielding, people are unshielded when undergoing the full-body scan.  Many independent scientists have also warned of the potentially serious health risks the scanners present to pregnant women and the elderly.  For pilots, flight attendants, and frequent fliers, the effect of the ionizing radiation emitted by full body scanners could be profoundly devastating.  Pilots already receive greater amounts of radiation than nearly every other category of worker in the U.S. including employees at nuclear power plants (Airport Security Report).  During a solar flare, pilots and flight crew members can receive the equivalent amount of radiation of getting 100 chest X-rays each hour during a typical Atlantic crossing.  Requiring people who are exposed to whooping amounts of radiation everyday they're on the job to go through radiation-emitting scanners means greater radiation exposure and statistics indicate that flight crew members have higher-than-average caner rates as a result.    

     Perhaps the biggest reason why airport security is too extreme is that the threat of an attack is minimal to the point of insignificance.  To assess how great the threat of terrorism really is, we have to compare it with other every-day risks.  For example, the chance of dying in an airplane crash is 1 in 400,000, the chance of dying as a pedestrian is 1 in 48,500, and the chance of drowning is 1 in 88,000.  In addition, the chance of being murdered is 1 in 16,500 and the chance of being struck by lightning is 1 in 80,000 (Bailey).  However, even if just one of America's commercial flights was hijacked and crashed once a week, the chance of dying would be 1 in 135,000 (Bailey).  If terrorists managed to commit an attack equaling the magnitude of 9/11, the one-year chance of dying would be 1 in 100,000.  As seen from these statistics, the risk of death associated with terrorist activity on commercial flights does not even come close to the risk of dying in an automobile accident, as a pedestrian, in a fire, or by being murdered. 

     Although the government probably implemented the strict airport security measures currently in place with the best intentions, the reality is that the security administered by the TSA is ineffective.  In the government's pursuit to ensure the highest level of security to travelers, it must implement security measures that are proportional to the threat and not overblown by fear.  Not only are the enhanced pat downs and full-body scanners a nuisance, but they have proven to be dangerous and ineffective.  Mandating people, especially pilots and flight crews who are already exposed to extraordinary amounts of radiation while on the job, to go through radiation-emitting fully body scanners is not the correct approach to take.  To successfully protect the flying public, the TSA must shift its focus from the detection of weapons to the detection of terrorists through behavioral analysis and effective watch lists.  It must also replace security equipment that has proven to be ineffective and dangerous with safer, less intrusive systems that are better able to detect weapons.  Despite how minimal the threat may be, security that is balanced, moderate, and proportional to the threat is needed to ensure safety without the deprivation of liberty.  It is for these reasons that airport security is too extreme and should be reformed with all deliberate speed.

Works Cited

"Travel Health Watch." Airguide Online (2010). General OneFile. Web.

"APA Advises Against Full Body Scanners." Airport Security Report 18.23 (2010). General OneFile. Web. 

Bailey , Ronald. "Don't Be Terrorized." Reason Magazine 11 Aug. 2006: Print.

McManus, John F. "A look at the TSA." The New American 6 Dec. 2010: 44. General OneFile. Web.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


     Torture should be abolished because it's unethical, is against the founding principles of the United States, and has been condemned by former CIA agents for its ineffectiveness.  In its simplest terms, torture is the intentional use of violence on an individual to make him or her suffer.  The intent is to get the tortured individual to believe his life is at stake and could be deprived if the torturer's requests are not fulfilled.  The torturer's ultimate goal is to get complete power over the victim potentially causing him to give away useful information.  A "Top Secret" CIA report called "Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001- October 2003)" that was published on May 7, 2004 was released to the public on August 24, 2009 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit (Thomas).  This report outlined two types of interrogation techniques, "standard interrogation techniques" and "enhanced interrogation techniques".  Methods of torture falling under the "standard" category were not supposed to "incorporate significant psychological pressure", including "isolation, sleep deprivation not to exceed 72 hours," and "loud music or white noise."  Under the "enhanced" category (EITs), the torture was intended to "incorporate physical or psychological pressure," including attention grasp (slapping), walling (slamming a detainee against a wall), stress positions, sleep deprivation beyond 72 hours, and simulated drowning through "waterboarding" (Thomas).  The US's torture policies are in direct contradiction with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" (Macmillian Social Science Library).

     One major reason why torture should be abolished is that it's unethical.  The practice does not only betray the professional ethics of the physicians and psychologists involved, but also deprives the tortured individual of his most fundamental human rights (Merriman).  After 9/11, psychologists revised their ethics code to be in accordance with changing political tides.  This change disregarded the ethics set forth in the Nuremberg Code after the conclusion of World War II.  The adoption of "post 9/11 ethics" by the American Psychological Association created uproar both within and outside the association.  In the name of national security, the American Psychological Association failed to remain immune to political influences when the Bush Administration decided to engage in torture.  As seen from the drastic ramifications of torture over the last few years, ethical values and civil liberties must be upheld regardless of the ever-changing political tide.  It is clear that some ethical values, such as torture, are too fundamental to discard despite emerging dangers or risks.

     Contradicting the ethical arguments against torture is the following viewpoint by Henry Mark Holzer, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

It is likely that a clear majority of Americans would support torture in cases where it can prevent massive loss of life. The use of torture in such situations is not only morally permissible, but also morally necessary. A legal precedent for torture can be found in a Florida case where police officers threatened and physically abused a kidnapping suspect in an attempt to locate his victim, and were lauded in both state and federal court rulings. Most would consider this use of physical abuse acceptable because it saved the victim's life. If it is acceptable to use physical abuse and threats to save lives, then it should be acceptable to use nonlethal torture—particularly when dealing with a terrorist's "ticking bomb" scenario, where countless lives may be at risk (Holzer).

     Holzer says that when a life can be saved, we should disregard the ethical criticisms of torture.  According to Holzer, it is a moral necessity to take whatever means is necessary to harness valuable information, in the absence of a viable alternative, to save a considerable number of innocent lives.  In Holzer's viewpoint, he cites the "Ticking Bomb Scenario" as an instance in which it would be a moral necessity to execute torture.   One plausible variation of the "Ticking Time Bomb Scenario", is when a suspected terrorist implants a secret weapon of mass destruction that is known to detonate in the near future, at an undisclosed location.  In a situation such as this when law enforcement is certain that the suspect won't give away any information in the absence of torture, Holzer claims executing torture would not only be justified, but a moral necessity.

     The reason it remains unethical to torture in the extremely improbable "Ticking Time Bomb Scenario" is that torture is indefinitely "elastic" (Roth).  If the terrorist can be tortured, why not torture those close to him such as his neighbor or friend who could potentially yield valuable information about the attack?  It is essential that our actions are not driven by fear in the wake of a threat of terror, but on the rational and ethical views we have in times of peace when all the odds are carefully considered and debated.  Through multiple international treaties, many countries have recognized and committed to stop the usage of torture because it's always cruel, inhuman, and degrading in times of peace or in times of war.  Although Holzer's viewpoint that torture is justifiable in certain situations may seem reasonable at first, as we'll explore next, torture is an ineffective method to harness valuable information.

      Another major reason torture should be abolished is that it has been condemned by CIA veterans for its ineffectiveness.  The reality of torture is that it almost always fails to yield true or useful information.  In law enforcement's pursuit of valuable information to combat terrorism, the usage of abusive and degrading torture is counterproductive.  When subjected to unbearable and inhumane treatment, anyone will say what is expected of him, true or not, to end the degrading treatment.  Even in the rare situation when a hint of marginal value is obtained from the practice, it does not by any means outweigh the loss of national pride and strained diplomatic relationships due to violated international treaties.  When informed of America's usage of torture, Allies are less likely to provide support in the fight against terrorism.  History has showed us time and time again of the ramifications of torture and its failure to yield valuable information in almost every instance.

     Contradicting the evidence that torture is an ineffective method to obtain information is the following viewpoint by Richard B. "Dick" Cheney.

"To call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives.... To completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future ... would make the American people less safe" (Berlatsky).

     In his viewpoint, Cheney expresses his belief that criticizing the psychologists and interrogators involved with torture during the Bush Administration is unacceptable.  He insists that their actions were driven by their ongoing commitment to keep America safe and ensure the highest level of security within the country's borders.  Cheney firmly believes that the legalization of torture in response to the devastating 9/11 attacks was absolutely necessary to prevent a tragic event from recurring.  The former vice president contends that valuable information was obtained through the practice and claims only a small number of terrorists of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to waterboarding (Berlatsky).  Cheney is outraged by recommendations to charge those who approved torturous interrogations with war crimes and thinks such action would thereby indicate that political differences are a punishable offense.  Cheney believes that the US's incorporation of torture after 9/11 was necessary to combat terrorism and condemns views proclaiming torturers should be punished with war crimes.

     As previously addressed, torture is an ineffective method to obtain critical information.  Because it is in human nature for a torture victim to surrender whatever information is expected of him, true or not, when presented with unbearable amounts of pain, torture almost always fails to yield valuable or truthful information.  Even in the rare case when it does provide a hint to law enforcement, it is marginal in value at best.  It is profoundly wrong to say that only a few terrorists were subjected to waterboarding.  Furthermore, the intentional destruction of videotapes of terrorists undergoing simulated drowning by the CIA before US investigators could see them is further evidence that the practice is still alive and well, perhaps more used today than ever before.  As we will see next, torture truly is a war crime and is against the laws of the United States.

     Perhaps the biggest reason torture should be abolished is that it is illegal and against the founding principles of the United States.  In our pursuit to curb the threat of terrorism, we cannot continue to fight terrorists while being violators of international law ourselves.  Torture is a war crime because it violates both domestic and international laws.  One federal law addressing torture is the Torture Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2340 (Haerens).  In addition, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment signed by President Reagan states that "just following orders" is no defense and that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" will be considered when it comes to torture (Haerens).  Finally, under the Convention Against Torture, the United States, among other countries that signed the treaty, committed to make "all acts of torture offenses under criminal law" and prosecute cases that are determined to be torturous to the maximum extent allowed by the law.  Among others, the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the usage of cruel and unusual punishment.  Torture is clearly unconstitutional, against federal laws, and against international treaties and agreements and it is unquestionable that the interrogation techniques cited in the Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001- October 2003) report violate the laws and treaties described above.

     Although the United States government in conjunction with the CIA probably participated in torturous activities with the best intentions, it is clear that the resulting activities have caused far more harm than good.  Torture is truly one of the worst things we can do to fellow human beings.  Ethics aside, history has showed us time and time again how ineffective torture really is.  When presented with the greatest extent of brutality, anyone will say what is expected of him or her to cease the violence.  Besides that, torture is clearly a violation of the US Constitution, federal laws, and international treaties.  In our struggle against terrorism, we must cease our violations of domestic and international policies before we can fight the terrorists that imperil our lives each passing day.  It is for these reasons that torture should be abolished with all deliberate speed.

Works Cited

"Enhanced Interrogation Helps Keep America Safe." Presidential Powers. Noah Berlatsky. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

“Bush Administration Officials Who Authorized Torture Should Be Tried for War Crimes in the ICC." War Crimes. Ed. Margaret Haerens. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2011. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 

Holzer, Henry Mark. "Torture Is Sometimes Justified." Front Page Magazine (29 Nov. 2002). Rpt. in Is Torture Ever Justified? Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

"Torture." Current Issues: Macmillian Social Science Library. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

Roth, Kenneth. "Torture Is Never Justified." The Washington Post (13 May 2004): A29. Rpt. in Is Torture Ever Justified? Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. At Issue. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

Thomas, John. "Mental health professionals in the 'enhanced' interrogation room." Psychiatric Times 26.11 (2009): 1. General OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2010.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Affirmative Action

      Affirmative action should be abolished in the United States because it constitutes reverse discrimination, undermines the academic performance of minorities, and does not significantly improve the quality of education for majority-race students.  Affirmative action is a policy used in the United States and countries worldwide that aims to expand the educational and career opportunities available for women and minorities.  This is done by granting people in these groups preference in areas including college and graduate school admissions.  Critics of affirmative action claim that favoring certain races and ethnic groups over others fosters not only resentment, but deteriorates educational and professional standards by considering race and ethnicity over achievement and qualifications.  However, supporters contend that the practice is necessary to compensate for past discrimination.
     One reason why affirmative action should be abolished is that the practice constitutes reverse discrimination by lowering the chance of admission for better-qualified white students or applicants.  It is justifiable for high school students applying to college to be embittered when they are rejected based on the conditions of their race, gender, or ethnicity.  Affirmative action goes against the founding principles of this nation.  For instance, the Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal" and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires all Americans to be treated equally "without regard to their race, color, or national origin" (New York Times Upfront).  Yet since the the mid-1960s, the United States has largely disregarded the principle of equality set forth in these documents by prioritizing the admissions of women and minorities to compensate for past discrimination.  While it would be an ethical necessity for slaves to receive compensation from their masters, it is unfair to have the descendants of slaves receive compensation from the descendants of the masters.  The policy of affirmative action is subsequently discriminating white people.  For every person that is granted admission to college or given a job because of affirmative action, one better qualified person is unfairly denied that same opportunity.  Discrimination of any type is morally and ethically unacceptable.  Until applicants are judged solely by merit, the United States will remain divided as a country.  It is time to move on from past discrimination.

     Contradicting the evidence that affirmative action is harmful to society as a whole is the following viewpoint by Graciela Geyer:

Graciela Elizabeth Geyer of the United States Student Association argues that affirmative action policies promote equality. These policies, in which colleges consider race in admissions, ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to attend college, she asserts. Because discrimination is pervasive in the admissions process, claims Geyer, race must be considered in admissions. Believing that affirmative action is an effective response to racism, Geyer maintains that eliminating affirmative action creates a hostile environment and segregates colleges (Carroll).

     In her viewpoint, Geyer claims that affirmative action is an essential policy that promotes equality.  She insists that abolishing affirmative action would literally re-segregate schools and society.  Geyer cites the drop in enrollment of colored students that were accepted into the University of California (UC) system over the last five years as one of the negative effects of repealing affirmative action.  She believes that institutionalized racism is necessary to tear down the barriers minorities face and claims that not considering race and gender in the admission process sends out the message that all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race or gender, a message which she deems as false.

     In her viewpoint, Geyer fails to take into account the effect of affirmative action on society as a whole.  While citing retribution for past discrimination as a justifiable reason to use affirmative action, Geyer ignores the fact that America is a meritocracy and that affirmative action contradicts the founding principles of this nation.  Although affirmative action may help disadvantaged individuals be competitive in universities and businesses, these people are often less qualified than their majority peers, resulting in them performing poorly in relation to these peers (Becker).  While affirmative action may give minorities the necessary boost they need to get into college or get a job, it harms the self-esteem of these minority students and workers.  Geyer also fails to mention the fact that when rejected, qualified majority applicants feel as though they were cheated out of a well-deserved opportunity.  In their pursuit of diversity, the appropriate solution for businesses and universities is to work harder in their search for qualified minority students, not to lower their standards by giving special consideration to disadvantaged minorities.

     Another advantage of abolishing affirmative action is that it undermines the academic performance of minorities.  For instance, if white students believe that many of their black peers would not be at a college were it not for affirmative action and, more important, if black students perceive whites to believe that, then affirmative action may indeed undermine minority-group members' academic performance by heightening the social stigma they already experience because of race or ethnicity (Charles).  In addition, individuals who have negative beliefs about their race will find that they feel more so when they know that they themselves fall well below the institutionalized average for SAT scores.  Also, when asked to perform academically, individuals who feel that they are representing their race will feel more pressure and responsibility when their race's SAT score is well below that of other students at the institution.  This stress can be attributed to the psychological need minority-students have to prove that they're worthy of admission at any particular institution.  Given the number of college rating services available, this is a very common issue minorities across the country are experiencing.  Disparities in performance between minority and majority peers can sometimes be observed in class as well.  A study conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education on the academic effects of affirmative action revealed that the greater the difference in SAT scores between minority students and others on campus, the lower the grades earned by black and Latino students as a group on that campus.  These findings suggest that significant gaps in test scores between minority and majority students creates a social dilemma in which it is harder for minority students to perform academically.  The reality is that affirmative action enhances the social stigma minorities feel and increases the pressure they feel to perform academically resulting in undermined grade performance.

     Disputing the consequences of affirmative action is the following viewpoint by Gary Orfield: 

Gary Orfield contends that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the University of Michigan affirmative action case was right: college admissions policies that value diversity, such as affirmative action programs, are necessary and important for the nation. Orfield asserts that schools and communities across the country are deeply divided, with whites increasingly being isolated from blacks and other racial groups. But the nation and the world are comprised of diverse racial and ethnic groups and diversity on college campuses is important for the success of future leaders in our nation (Langwith).

     Orfield believes affirmative action programs are necessary since whites only account for three in five students in America.  He insists that census data shows that communities and schools across the nation continue to be divided and racially unequal despite progress made during the civil rights era.  Gary even goes on to claim that schools are now more segregated than they were in the 1960s regarding race and income.  Orfield asserts that many students appreciate diversity because they believe it positively impacts their education by allowing them to better work with others, and analyze legal issues from the perspectives of multiple cultures and backgrounds.  Gary concludes that to successfully adapt to a rapidly diversifying nation, affirmative action programs must be existent.

     Contradicting Orfield's viewpoint is the reality that affirmative action programs are unnecessary and discriminatory.  Perhaps the most fundamental principle of this nation is equality.  But recently, this principle has been ignored and replaced with diversity.  Most Americans believe that judging one by the color of their skin or their country of origin is profoundly wrong.  However, altering the standards of admission for minorities and women is never considered discrimination, just a necessary approach to form more diverse institutions and organizations.  Since recent movements have claimed that affirmative action has such a redeeming value, a frighteningly large number of Americans are insisting diversity be achieved by any means necessary (Langwith).  The reality is that affirmative action programs promote a quota system in which the outcome of a competitive process is engineered to achieve proportionality based on group identity and that such programs are unnecessary and discriminatory.

     Affirmative action should also be abolished since racial diversity does not significantly improve the quality of education for majority-race students.  A study by Duke University analyzed data on graduates of 30 selective universities to test the frequently argued but little-tested hypothesis that increasing the presence of minorities in elite colleges enhances the quality of education for majority-race students.  To do this, they examined the College and Beyond data set compiled by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation which includes the SAT scores, major subject, and means of exit (whether by graduation, transfer, or withdrawal) of all students in participating universities.  The study analyzed a broad range of outcomes from earnings to academic success.  In addition, the satisfaction individuals had with both their life and job were taken into account.  The study's authors failed to observe any evidence that whites and Asians attending relatively diverse institutions do better later in life (Arcidiacono and Vigdor).  More thorough analysis of the data revealed that affirmative action programs are actually counterproductive if their goal is to enhance to quality of education for majority-race students.  The evidence is clear, affirmative action programs only produce educational benefits for the minorities they are targeted at and have no spillover effects whatsoever on majority-race students.

     America has been coined the "melting pot of the world" for being so racially diverse and tolerant of different cultures.  This level of diversity has surely had immeasurable advantages.  While it is true that being around people of other races and cultures has unprecedented benefits, such interaction does not yield any educational benefits.  For those that are given a job or admitted into college through affirmative action, the psychological strain and pressure they feel to prove themselves worthy of admission can sometimes be unbearable.  Disparities in performance between minorities assisted through affirmative action and majority-race students can often be observed in class as well.  For every beneficiary of affirmative action, one qualified individual is turned down.  In their pursuit of diversity, institutions should ramp up their efforts to find qualified minorities, not lower their standards by giving special consideration to disadvantaged minorities.  Engineering the outcome of a competitive process to achieve proportionality based on group identity is profoundly wrong and until individuals are judged solely by merit, the United States will remain divided as a country.  The time to move on from past discrimination has come, and it is for these reasons, that abolishing affirmative action is in the best interest of the United States.  

Works Cited

Arcidiacono, Peter, and Jacob Vigdor. "Does the River Spill Over? Estimating the Economic Returns to Attending a. Racially Diverse College." Duke University (2008): 34. Web. 

"Affirmative Action in College Admissions Ensures Equality." Students' Rights. Ed. Jamuna Carroll. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

Charles, Camille Z., et al. "Affirmative-Action Programs for Minority Students: Right in Theory, Wrong in Practice." The Chronicle of Higher Education 55.29 (2009). Educator's Reference Complete. Web.

"Preferences Cover Problem They Claim to Correct." The Chronicle of Higher Education 55.10 (2008). Educator's Reference Complete. Web.

"Affirmative-Action Programs Are Necessary." Discrimination. Ed. Jacqueline Langwith. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

"Affirmative-Action Programs Are Unnecessary and Discriminatory." Discrimination. Ed. Jacqueline Langwith. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.

"Is it time to end affirmative action? California, Michigan, Washington, Florida, and Nebraska have banned its use in public education and hiring." New York Times Upfront 16 Feb. 2009: 22. Popular Magazines. Web.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Value Added Tax

       A value added tax should be enacted in the United States since it will lead to significant increases in machinery and equipment investment, is a highly efficient tax that will help the government balance budgets, and has been successful in many developed countries worldwide.  The value added tax is the tax of choice in most industrialized countries.  Like a sales tax, it is a tax on consumption in which a single percentage rate is applied to goods and some services.  Unlike a sales tax, which is levied at the final retail stage only, a VAT taxes each stage of production calculating the increasing value of a good or service as it moves through the production process towards distribution.  In other words, businesses only get taxed on the difference between their sales receipts and the cost of their inputs purchased from other businesses (Farrell).  A VAT could help eliminate the US's debt and lead to long-term economic stability.

     One major advantage of implementing a value added tax in the United States is that it will likely lead to substantial increases in machinery and equipment investment.  During the 1990s, four Canadian provinces implemented a VAT, while five other provinces continued to use a retail sales tax (RST) similar to that used in almost all US states.  Research conducted in Canada during the 1990s shows the effects of having a VAT over a retail sales tax very accurately.  This is because both methods of taxation were used at the same time allowing the provinces that continued using a retail sales tax to act as a "control group".  In provinces that adopted the value added tax, machinery and equipment investment rose approximately 12 percent above trend levels in the years following the sales tax reform.  However, no significant difference was observed in both residential and non-residential construction in provinces that hadn't switched to a VAT (Smart and Bird).  The correlation between slow construction growth in non-reforming provinces can be attributed to the excessively high tax rates on business inputs including capital goods.  In accordance with economic theory, eliminating such taxes by replacing a RST with a VAT will have substantial effects on business investment.  It is likely that the effects observed in reforming Canadian provinces will be observed in US states that implement a VAT since the RSTs currently in place in many US states are similar to those currently being used in non-reforming Canadian provinces.  As seen from Canada's experience, replacing RSTs with VATs gives businesses a drastic incentive to increase machinery and equipment investment.  

     Contradicting the evidence that a value added tax is beneficial to society as a whole is the viewpoint that it's regressive.  Opposers of a VAT believe that it's regressive since it's a tax on consumption meaning that it will hit low-income households in greater proportion than upper-income ones.  This is due to the fact that poor people spend a greater percentage of their annual income on consumption meaning that a greater percentage of their income would be spent on the VAT tax (Caspersen and Metcalf).  

     At its very core, a VAT is in fact regressive because poor people spend a greater percentage of their income on consumption.  At the same time, you can't ignore the fact that 47% of US households don't pay income tax (Leonhardt).  Implementing a VAT would require all US consumers to make a contribution of some amount to the government.  To minimize the regressiveness of a VAT, food, housing, and medical expenditures could be exempt from the tax.  If a value added tax is designed and implemented with delicacy, its regressiveness can be minimized to an insignificant minimum.

      Another advantage of implementing a value added tax in the United States is that it's highly efficient tax that will help the government balance budgets.  Based on panel data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), governments with a VAT raise more revenue than those that don't, all else equal.  A VAT can achieve stellar efficiency due to significant reductions in administrative costs when raising any given amount of revenue.  This is because most of the cost of collecting tax is borne by business, rather than by the state.  A significant cause of the budget deficit can be linked to combating the costs of the current recession.  In addition, with the approximately 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 getting ready to retire, enormous strain will be placed on the budgets of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  If over the next 25 years, the nation's total tax burden remains at its current 18% of the GDP, the United States will have to borrow to pay interest on the interest resulting in the national debt going straight up (Farrell).  Obviously, the income tax rate must be drastically increased or an efficient revenue raiser such as the VAT must be enacted.  The efficiency of a VAT can minimize compliance problems and help the government make ends meet.

     Many conservatives fear a VAT because of their belief that it will increase government size since governments with the tax raise more revenue than those that don't, all else equal.  Although statistical analysis of OECD data seems to show increased government size in countries with a VAT, deeper more thorough analysis reveals that the revenue a VAT raises is to some extent offset by reduced revenues from other taxes (Keen and Lockwood).  This shows that the purpose of a VAT is not to finance bigger government, but raise revenue with greater effectiveness.  The intent of a value added tax is to minimize wasteful spending and increase government revenue while easing the burden on taxpayers.  In essence, a VAT reduces the use of less effective tax instruments maximizing efficiency.

     One of the biggest reasons a value added tax should be implemented in the United States is that many developed countries worldwide have had success with it.  For example, the VAT is the tax of choice among OECD countries.  In the European Union, each member country's VAT legislation must comply with the provisions set forth in Directive 2006/112/EC which sets the basic framework for the EU VAT.  The VAT Directive requires certain goods and services to be exempt from the tax including postal services, medical care, lending, and insurance.  New Zealand has a value added tax called the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is notable for its relatively few tax exemptions.  For example, New Zealand taxes all types of food at the same rate unlike most countries with a VAT.  Its few tax exemptions include rents collected on residential rental properties, donations, and financial services. Critics fear that if the federal government enacts a VAT, the states will lose their preferred tax base.  To get around this problem, Canada created a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) which merged its Goods and Services Tax (GST) with its Provincial Sales Tax (PST) into one single value added tax.  Based on the experiences of countries worldwide, the US will likely have success with a VAT if it is designed and implemented well.

     As seen from Canada's experience, enacting a value added tax in the US will likely increase machinery and equipment investment substantially.  In addition, it would be much more efficient than the RSTs currently being used in many US states because most of the cost associated with collecting tax would be borne by business, rather than by the government.  Enacting a value added tax will not make the government bigger, but raise revenue with greater effectiveness.  Its intent is to minimize wasteful spending and increase government revenue all while easing the burden on taxpayers.  Using a similar approach to Canada's HST, a VAT could generate revenue for both state and federal governments.  With the national debt spiraling out-of-control and the baby boomer generation starting to retire, the US must either drastically increase its income tax or implement an effective tax such as the VAT.  If quick action isn't taken, the nation will see itself paying interest on the interest.  While not perfect, a VAT is the US's best approach to economic recovery and long-time stability.  It is for these reasons that a value added tax should be enacted in the United States. 

Works Cited

Caspersen, Erik, and Gilbert Metcalf. "Is a value added tax regressive? Annual versus lifetime incidence measures." National Tax Journal 47.4 (1994): 731-746. General OneFile. Web.

"Why a VAT Tax Is Where It's At; Adoption of a value-added tax in the U.S. would be a fair, efficient way to help restore the country's financial health, argues Bloomberg Business Week columnist Chris Farrell." Business Week Online 8 Mar. 2010. Business Economics and Theory. Web. 

Keen, Michael, and Ben Lockwood. "Is the VAT a money machine?" National Tax Journal 59.4    (2006): 905+. General OneFile. Web. 

LEONHARDT, DAVID. "Yes, 47% of Households Owe No Taxes. Look Closer." The New York     Times 13 Apr. 2010: Print. 

Smart, Michael, and Richard M. Bird. "The impact on investment of replacing a retail sales tax with a value-added tax: evidence from Canadian experience." National Tax Journal 62.4 (2009): 591+. Business Economics and Theory. Web.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Capital Punishment

    Due to the reality that capital punishment leads to the executions of some citizens who are innocent, the fact that many states and countries have abolisehd the death penalty, and the evidence that the death penalty does not deter crime any more than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the death penalty should be abolished.  Since the 1970s, capital punishment has received a great deal of legal and religious discussion.  On June 29, 1972, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was a form of cruel and unusual punishment in  Furman v. Georgia after finding that juries imposed the death penalty in arbitrary manners.  This invalidated all existing death sentences and death penalty laws in all states (Rose).  A rapidly rising crime rate in the 1970s created a demand for the restoration of the death penalty especially for certain types of murder.  Just four years after the 1972 ruling on July 2, 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that under a new two-stage capital trial system, the death penalty was constitutional, under certain conditions, in any state that chose to adopt it (Rose).  

     Since the seventeenth century, the arguments for and against the death penalty have remained fairly constant (Pickens).  Supporters of the death penalty believe that the practice is justifiable for reasons including retribution, social protection against dangerous people, and deterrence.  People against capital punishment have expressed their belief that capital punishment is not a deterrent because states without the practice have the same average murder rates as those that do.  They believe that the imposition of the death penalty makes juries more likely to respond irrationally and with fear resulting in a miscarriage of justice, namely the death of an innocent person.  Religious groups have stated that perfect justice is not humanly possible and have expressed opposition towards capital punishment.  Capital punishment has historically been used most frequently against the poor and certain ethnic groups causing some to perceive the practice as a means of social control.

     One major reason why the death penalty should be abolished is that it leads to the executions of some citizens who are in fact innocent.  Since 1973, 133 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence (Death Penalty Information Center).  The following question allows one to better understand the opposition of religious groups towards capital punishment: "If we choose to worship an innocent who was executed as a criminal, shouldn't we care about the execution of innocents in our time?"  However, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia stated in 2006 that there is no "single verifiable case to point to" that proves that an innocent person has been executed, and that although no criminal justice system can completely rule out "the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly", the likelihood of this happening in the U.S. has been "reduced to an insignificant minimum" (Winright).  But one must ask themselves how the wrongful death of even one innocent person is insignificant.  New Jersey's Death Penalty Study Commission, which completed a study of all aspects of the death penalty in New Jersey, concluded in part that whatever good might be served by executing a small number of guilty persons would not justify the risk of executing an innocent one.  Given how often innocent people are executed, the death penalty is a measure civilized societies shouldn't employ regardless of how efficient the practice is.

    Contradicting the evidence that capital punishment is harmful to society is the following viewpoint by Walter Berns:

Abolitionists distrust and dismiss retribution as a justification for capital punishment. They do not understand that the anger a community feels toward a criminal who has caused the innocent to suffer is a sign of the highest morality. This kind of anger leads people to seek justice and protect their community.  Society is justified in executing serious criminals in order to achieve justice and retribution (Berns).

      Berns believes that we imprison criminals as a form of pay back for their crimes and that it is a moral necessity to execute the worst of them.  He is also convinced that executing the worst of criminals does not sacrifice human dignity.  In his viewpoint, Berns expresses his belief that the ultimate punishment, the death penalty, "must remind us of the moral order by which alone we can live as human beings" (Berns).  Berns clearly conceives that the purpose of our justice system is to punish criminals out of the demand for justice thereby breeding respect for the law.  He is certain that the presence of capital punishment in the law will create a more trustworthy society in which citizens will not commit crimes in such great amounts even in the absence of law enforcement.

     Abolitionists oppose the viewpoint that retribution is a justification of capital punishment because of their belief that vengeance and revenge is the aim of the death penalty.  From a psychological perspective, immediate victims and society as a whole desire the satisfaction associated with seeing the suffering inflicted upon themselves returned to the criminal who initially caused their suffering.  This feeling of getting even with the criminal creates a peace of mind for the people affected by crimes such as murder.  What is increasingly happening is that juries are satisfying the interests of society and those of the immediate victims corrupting the judicial system.  The purpose of juries is not to feel the pain those close to a murder victim feel, but measure the toll on society the crime has created (Cohen).  It is also not the job of juries to provide victims of a gruesome crime with satisfaction, but provide reliable, unbiased punishment for the suffering inflicted upon society as a whole.  The abolishment of capital punishment will not only eliminate the heat of revenge from the sentencing process, but make sentences fairer and minimize discrimination in regards to race, gender, and social status since bias becomes more of a factor the more passionately a process is conducted.

     Another reason why capital punishment should be abolished is the fact that many states and countries have abolished the death penalty.  As of April 2010, 95 nations have banned the death penalty (Gajewski).  On November 19, 2009, Russia's constitutional court extended a thirteen year moratorium on the death penalty.  In Mongolia, President Tsakhia Elbegdorj has commuted three sentences since taking office and has placed a moratorium on the death penalty.  In addition, he has called for an end to the practice.  In the United States, New Mexico has abolished the death penalty and replaced it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Influenced by a report prepared by the Public Defender Department, lawmakers realized that they could save millions of dollars on prosecution costs if they eliminated capital punishment.  In New Hampshire and Colorado, the House of Representatives passed measures to abolish the death penalty recently (Death penalty under examination).  In 2007, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine signed legislation abolishing what he called "state-endorsed killing" (Christian Century).  According to assembly member Reed Gusciora, "murderers have not been deterred in the 2,000 years the death penalty has been in effect."  Although capital punishment remains a significant part of the justice system in the United States and many parts of Asia, many countries and states are realizing the consequences of having capital punishment and are taking progressive measures towards abolishing it.

     Disputing the evidence that capital punishment results in the deprivation of innocent lives is the following statement by Roy D. Adler and Michael Summers:

Most commentators who oppose capital punishment assert that an execution has no deterrent effect on future crimes. Recent evidence, however, suggests that the death penalty, when carried out, has an enormous deterrent effect on the number of murders. More precisely, our recent research shows that each execution carried out is correlated with about 74 fewer murders the following year (Goldstein).

     Alder and Summers claim that each execution has a huge deterrent effect on murder rates the following year.  They believe that prior to the publication of their report, activists for the abolition of capital punishment could feel that they'd saved a life after working tirelessly to commute the sentence of a convicted murderer.  The professors insist that based on their research, it is the duty of the criminal justice system to deprive the lives of convicted murderers to create a strong deterrent effect that will save dozens of lives the following year.

     This statement is not an accurate reflection of the deterrent effect associated with capital punishment due to the fact that the study was conducted from the early 1990s on, which was a period of rapidly falling crime rates nationwide.  In addition to the decrease in homicide, crime rates fell consistently across the board.  Due to the fact that the study was conducted in a period of rapidly decreasing crime rates, a correlation between crime rate and the deterrent effect associated with capital punishment cannot be observed.  This study is flawed geographically as well by comparing very distant places.  For example, the decrease in murders in New York can't be attributed to capital punishment because most of the executions occurred in Southern states.  The report prepared by Alder and Summers is so plagued with flaws that no connection between capital punishment and any associated deterrent effect can be observed.

     The biggest reason why capital punishment should be abolished is that it does not deter crime any more than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  In a study published in 2009, Radelet and Lacock surveyed America's leading criminologists on their opinion of the deterrence effects of capital punishment over long term imprisonment.  To be eligible to participate in this survey, the criminologists had to be a Fellow in the American Society of Criminology (ASC) at some time, apprehend the ASC's Sutherland Award (the organizations most prestigious award given for contributions to criminological theory), or been a president of the ASC between 1997 and the present.  Founded in 1941, the American Society of Criminology is the world's largest organization of academic criminologists.  Although the questionnaire was sent to the 94 criminologists meeting these requirements, only 79 of them responded resulting in an 84 percent response rate.

      The first question asked the criminologists if they felt the death penalty lowers murder rates.  88.2% of those polled felt capital punishment wasn't a deterrent.  When asked if they thought death-penalty states had lower homicide rates than neighboring non-death penalty states, 74.7% of the experts felt this statement was false.  In 2007, states with an active death penalty had homicide rates that were 42% higher than their non-death penalty counterparts (Radelet and Lacock).  There was a strong overall agreement among the criminologists that politicians support the death penalty because it makes them appear tough on crime.  In addition, only 8.3% of the respondents believed increasing the frequency of executions would increase the death penalty's overall deterrent effect.  Besides that, only 12.4% thought shortening the time between sentence and execution would add to the death penalty's deterrent effect.  Concluding the questionnaire, 89.6% of the experts disagreed that executing people deters others from committing murder.    

     The result of Radelet and Lacock's study shows that an overwhelming number of criminologists strongly believe that the death penalty does not add any additional deterrent effects to those achieved by long term imprisonment (Radelet and Lacock).  Only ten percent or less of the top criminologists surveyed believe that the presence of the death penalty reduces homicide rates more than long-term imprisonment.  Summarizing the results of this study, most criminologists think that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment and only a few believe the threat or use of the death penalty reduces homicide rates more than long-term imprisonment.

     Capital punishment should be abolished because it leads to the executions of some citizens who are in fact innocent.  States like New Mexico have realized that they can save millions of dollars on prosecution costs if they abolished the death penalty.  New Jersey's Death Penalty Commission concluded in part that whatever good might be served by executing a small number of guilty persons would not justify the risk of executing an innocent one.  The fact that 133 people have been released from death row with proof of their innocence since 1973 shows how unreliable and unsuited our justice system is to have capital punishment.  But the fact is that almost all of America's top criminologists agree that capital punishment doesn't lower murder rates or add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.  In addition, the statistic that states with an active death penalty have homicide rates that are 42% higher than their non-death penalty counterparts shows how ineffective and potentially dangerous the death penalty is.  Replacing capital punishment with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a win for everyone.  It's a win for all the people affected by a murder since the convict will suffer more than if executed overcoming the day-to-day struggles prison has to offer.  In addition, it's a win for the convicted criminal because he/she will be allowed to continue living making it easier on his/her family.  Last of all, it's a win for the government because huge amounts of money will be saved on prosecution costs easing the burden on state budgets and taxpayers.  But if a convict that has not been executed is found to be innocent, all that he/she was deprived of was precious time to enjoy life.  No one deserves to be deprived of their life for crime they did not do.  Regardless of how efficient the death penalty is, it is a measure civilized societies just shouldn't employ.  It is for these reasons that capital punishment should be abolished.

Works Cited

Berns, Walter. "Retribution Is a Moral Reason for Capital Punishment." At Issue: The Ethics of Capital Punishment. Ed. Nick Fisanick. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale.

"New Jersey repeals capital punishment." The Christian Century 125.1 (2008): 20+. Business Economics and Theory.

Cohen, Michael. "Capital Punishment Is Ineffective and Dangerous." Current Controversies: Capital Punishment. Ed. Paul Connors. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2007. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale.

"Death penalty under examination." State Legislatures 35.6 (2009): 10. Business Economics and Theory. Web. 1 July 2010.
Gajewski, Karen Ann. "Ninety-five nations have banned the death penalty." The Humanist Mar.-Apr. 2010: 48. Business Economics and Theory. Web.
Goldstein, Evan R. "Debating the Impact of the Death Penalty." The Chronicle of Higher Education 54.16 (2007). Business Economics and Theory. Web.

Pickens, Donald K. "Capital Punishment." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. 39-41. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.

Radelet, Michael L., and Traci L. Lacock. "Do executions lower homicide rates? The views of leading criminologists." Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 99.2 (2009): 489+. Business Economics and Theory. Web.                      

"Capital Punishment: The Question of Justification." American Decades Primary Sources. Ed. Cynthia Rose. Vol. 8: 1970-1979. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 547-551. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.      

Winright, Tobias. "Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment." The Christian Century 126.19 (2009): 40+. Business Economics and Theory. Web.          
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