Controversial Australian Welfare Plan Sparks Criticism

Derek Brody, Staff Writer

  In an age of large welfare states and massive government entitlement programs, some countries are taking steps to increase accountability in the distribution of these benefits. Late last summer, the Australian government announced plans to randomly drug test welfare recipients in an effort to do just this, but this has been met with immediate pushback from those on the center-left who claim the program simply reinforces existing social and political power gaps. This has been a common proposal across the world from those who claim to have conservative political ideologies, supported by unfounded claims that these welfare recipients use their vouchers to purchase illicit substances. Minister for Social Services Christian Porter released a statement detailing the rationale behind the program, saying, “The aim of the policy is to help job seekers to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families.”

The program, which took effect in January of this year, will begin by randomly selecting 5,000 people who receive welfare payments from the federal government. The government will perform urine, saliva, or hair tests on the randomly selected pool to search for traces of meth, ecstasy, heroin, or marijuana. If a recipient tests positive for one of the substances, the Australian government will convert 80% of their welfare payment to a “BasicsCard,” which is only eligible to be used for food, rent, or childcare. A second positive test will automatically trigger a medical visit and addiction counseling program for the recipient. If the recipient fails to engage in treatment at this point, their welfare payments could be stopped. This effort is being undertaken to reduce government social welfare spending, as well as a motivating factor to encourage low-income residents to re-enter the workforce.

  After a two-year trial period, the program will be reevaluated by the federal government for effectiveness and cost-efficiency. As a part of the pilot program agreement, the government will only implement this procedure in three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown, Logan, and Mandurah. These areas were selected based on their relatively high levels of unemployment and drug use. Approximately 12,000 residents of Canterbury-Bankstown are currently receiving welfare payments, and the new program plans to test about 1,750 of them by next February.

  Liberal Senator Eric Abetz utilized age-old rhetoric regarding welfare reform and fiscal responsibility in an attempt to promote the plan. Abetz touted the plan, saying, “I think most Australians are aware of some, not all, some welfare recipients that actually sadly use the welfare system as a hammock, as opposed to a safety net, and as a good, competent government looking after the welfare of those individuals as well as the taxpayers, it makes good sense that you look at policy options to encourage people into work, into self-reliance and relieve the burden on their fellow Australians.”

Randomly drug testing welfare recipients has not been widely adopted across the globe, but there are several examples of other governmental agencies carrying out similar programs. New Zealand implemented a similar program in 2015 with startling results. Armed with a $1 million budget, the country drug tested 8,000 welfare recipients. Only 22 tested positive, indicating the flawed logic behind the program itself. Likewise, the state of Florida also randomly drug tested their welfare recipients, and only 2.6 percent tested positive for any of the four substances. Recent estimates in the United States have found that about one in five welfare recipients had used illicit drugs in the past year, which makes drug use 50% more common in welfare households than the general population. The study went on to find, however, that less than 5% of welfare recipients met the diagnostic criteria for having a substance abuse problem, further providing evidence to refute many of the claims made by the Australian government.

  The Australian Green party, which holds 1 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and nine of the 76 seats in the Senate, came out in fierce opposition to the proposal. The Green Party is a left-leaning organization whose largest commitment is to environmental rights and protections. A release from the party stated, “the legislation completely ignores the advice and evidence from both medical professionals and social security experts. The Australian Greens are deeply concerned by the government’s repeated rejection of the expertise and evidence given by stakeholders in their continued pursuit of harsh cuts to income support.”

  The Green Party went on to criticize the cost of the program, pointing to several similar attempts in the United States. A program in four American states over an 18-month period tested over 200,000 individuals at a cost of over $1 million. These tests went on to disqualify 847 recipients, equaling a cost of over $1,100 per disqualified individual. At this cost per disqualification, it is clear that programs similar to this are a poor use of public funds.

  Likewise, the response by several Australian medical groups have clarified the negative consequences of this program. Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Michael Gannon released a statement voicing his displeasure, noting that, “The populist idea is that there are armies of drug-addled people bludging off the welfare system. But the reality is, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community who need a hand up. These proposed measured will only serve to marginalize and stigmatize an already-impoverished group.” The negative response from medical professionals, policymakers, and private industry indicate the potentially negative ramifications of this program’s implementation.

  Human Services Minister Alan Tudge responded to the criticism of the program in early August, noting that, “This is a trial in every sense of the word, where we want to try something new, evaluate it, and if it works then we might roll it out further. If it does not work then we adjust. That is how you do a trial. By the way, all medical advances are done on this basis, of trial and error. And if it is good for health policy, why isn’t it good for social policy to do it this way?” Mr. Tudge’s analogy, however, fails on numerous accounts. Clinical trials in the health field are traditionally carried out systematically and with the consent of patients, while this trial period will occur with little input from the public. Likewise, medical clinical trials are subject to strict oversight from grant funding programs, while a similar system of responsibility has not been established in this program.

  The program has also received pushback from those in private industry, including a damning statement from Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson. In a statement from this August, Thompson noted that some may stop asking for welfare assistance altogether, “Simply because they feel that the whole process is really quite demeaning and humiliating.” He went on to state that many would turn to other measures to receive the financial backing they so desperately need. He noted that some may turn to charities for this assistance, while others may resort to crime or prostitution. Fiona McLeod, the president of the Law Council of Australia, reacted similarly to the news. She went on record saying, “What we don’t see here is evidence that this will be beneficial, and we don’t see a benefit that outweighs the imposition or the punitive effect on a certain group of people. It interferes with people’s liberty and it certainly interferes with our responsibility to protect those in our community who are not so well off.”

  The round of criticism led to a response from Liberal backbencher Ben Morton, who advocated for the passage of this program. “I can’t believe there are organizations that are closing their mind to something that could work,” Mr. Morton said. “I think some of the policy officers in some of these peak bodies need to stop focusing on ideology.”

  The program also includes a secondary provision, which introduces major changes to the compliance regime for welfare recipient jobseekers. By utilizing a demerit point-style system, the government claims it will save over $200 million. It also eliminates several pension payments programs, including those for individuals who are unable to lodge a full claim or those receiving bereavement allowance. This is done as a means of reducing government spending and cutting down on social welfare programs, a conservative ideological goal.

As the government readies itself to implement the program by the beginning of next year, it must continue to respond to the harsh criticism levied from all sides. Critics have raised several questions regarding the effectiveness, cost-efficiency, and morality of the program, and the Australian polity now has 24 months to answer those queries. Regardless, it will provide important and powerful context to worldwide drug policy in the future. After careful consideration of the responses of other policymakers and health experts, as well as the results of similar programs in the United States and New Zealand, it is increasingly clear that this program’s implementation is an assault on members of Australia’s lower class. Rather creating an honest system to increase accountability in the process of welfare distribution, Australia’s polity is instead attempting to widen the existing class divide and further punish those at the lowest rungs of its socio-economic ladder.

The Middle East’s Vietnam

Casie Slaybaugh, Staff Writer 

 The civil war occurring in the country of Yemen since 2014 has harbored the most overlooked and devastating civilian tragedy since the Vietnam War. This fight between the Hadi government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition; Houthi rebels, backed by Iran; and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an uncharacteristically bold terrorist organization, has killed over 1,600 soldiers and led to the loss of countless military assets. However, the true victims of this brutal war are the Yemeni civilians caught in the crossfire. Some see the war as a struggle by the Houthis to be treated fairly by the government, while others perceive it as a power play by both Iran and Saudi Arabia to gain control over the Middle East. The United States has been supplying the Saudis with weapons, refueling their planes mid-flight, and providing intelligence on potential enemy strongholds. The United States intervening in this conflict is—for both practical and reputational reasons—a risky move.

An Iranian-controlled Yemen, granted, would be very detrimental to the interests of the United States. Yemen has control over the Bab al Mandab Strait, a narrow body of water connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. 3.8 million barrels of oil pass through this strait daily. If Iran were to gain control of Yemen and of this strait, the Middle East would become even more unstable, oil prices would rise dramatically, and the strength of the United States would be undermined. Additionally, Iran has historically been supported by Russia, which plays a similar role as the United States in Yemen, albeit supporting Iran instead of Saudi Arabia. The long-lasting tension between Russia and the United States has manifested in multiple similar proxy wars and other smaller conflicts in the Middle East, including Syria, Turkey, and Egypt. For these reasons, it is understandable why America feels the need to remain involved in supporting whichever side is not Iran and whichever side does not promote terrorism. The only problem is that the only remaining faction happens to be committing heinous war crimes and displacing millions of civilians.

This third combatant, Saudi Arabia and its coalition, has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and even the United States House of Representatives, as of November 13th. Despite this, the United States still remains embroiled in the conflict. While the threat of an Iranian-controlled Yemen is certainly strong, the threat of the formation of anti-American terrorists and the loss of American lives should vastly outweigh this, in terms of US interest. By allying ourselves with the group mainly responsible for countless civilian deaths and human rights violations, America opens itself up to the hatred and antagonism of the people of Yemen. Lack of food, medical supplies, and other basic necessities has led to struggling civilians gladly taking such resources from anti-West terrorist organizations in exchange for service. What does it say about the United States that it fights a “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but allows for terrorists to be recruited in Yemen on the means of its own actions?

The war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition are numerous and have been officially recognized and condemned by many organizations and governing bodies. These war crimes include deliberate attacks on civilians—bombings of schools throughout the war, a large funeral procession in October of 2016, three civilian apartment buildings in August of 2017—denying transport of humanitarian aid by bombing and blockading Yemeni ports, failing to protect innocent children from attacks, and many other offenses. By refueling Saudi planes in the air, the United States allows for extended missile-dropping flights, letting the Saudis perform “double tap” strikes, one example being in October of 2016, where one bomb is dropped on civilians and a second is dropped after rescuers come to those wounded in the first strike, wiping out civilians in two savage strings of attack. The bombs dropped on Yemen by the Saudis are typically of US manufacturing, acquired more readily, now, through increases in weapon sales to the country brought on by the Trump administration. By directly aiding in these war crimes, the United States could be maligned on the world stage for aiding and abetting the coalition’s crimes. The implications of these charges could be catastrophic to the global authority and reputation of the United States.

Completely withdrawing US support of the Saudis in this conflict could irreparably damage the relations between the two countries. However, one must ask if this would truly be a bad thing. Surely, all relations would not truly end, as trade between the two nations is vital to each economy—the US is largely dependent on Saudi oil and the Saudis are largely dependent on US weapons sales—but American support of every Saudi action should certainly be ceased. The difference of fundamental values between the two countries is so vast that one can wonder why the US even began supporting Saudi Arabia in the first place. Saudi Arabia is an absolute, theocratic monarchy which adheres to strict Sharia law and tolerates no kind of opposition or disapproval from its citizens. Everything the United States has fought to spread and support—democracy, civilian freedom, human rights—are completely ignored and neglected by Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Saudis have opposed the United States numerous times in Middle Eastern diplomacy, including during the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011 and, more recently, the Arab isolation of Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia held a leading position. For these reasons, it is completely reasonable for American military and political support of Saudi Arabia to end. Pulling US support of the Saudi coalition may weaken bilateral relations between the two countries, but these are ties that warrant weakening.

While some reasons to withdraw from the Yemeni conflict directly benefit the United States, the most substantial argument for complete disengagement is simply to protect the innocent people of Yemen. Saudi airstrikes and blockades, Houthi landmines and artillery rocket attacks, and hostile AQAP action in the region have all contributed to what has been deemed by many the “worst humanitarian crisis in decades”. Millions are displaced, cholera is sweeping through medical camps, children are malnourished and suffering from treatable diseases, and freedom of speech is being violently oppressed. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has placed the Saudi coalition, the Houthis, and AQAP on the annual “list of shame,” yet nothing has been done to end the violations against children in conflict that earned each group this placement. The United States’ Congress has passed a resolution stating that the Saudis are fighting an unlawful war and that America should withdraw from it, but the American political atmosphere at the moment is so divided that bipartisan support can’t be reached on a law to pull out all support. The people of Yemen have been utterly failed by the international community, populated by citizens who barely know that the country exists. These innocent civilians deserve to have someone stand up for them for they cannot stand up for themselves. Yemen is too small a country to be the fighting ground of a proxy war between two of the greatest powers in the Middle East and, ultimately, two of the greatest powers in the world. Something more needs to be done on an international scale, but must begin with the end of American support of the Saudi coalition.

Trump’s Habit of Abandonment

By Jessica McHale

Traditionally, American presidents have encouraged diplomacy and peace through treaties and international agreements before resorting to threats or violence, as that is one of the most significant shared values demonstrated by democracies (regardless of whether the state being dealt with is also a democracy.)  However, American foreign policy has experienced a powerful and incredibly dangerous shift away from this established practice since the inauguration of President Trump. Although Trump’s foreign policy endeavors have often remained unexplained and sporadic, one focus of his has proved consistent throughout his 8 months in office: his habit of retreat, which runs contrary to America’s historical precedent for international affairs. This switch in America’s approach to foreign policy is incredibly harmful. From his abandonment of peaceful dispute resolution frameworks to his withdrawal from previously established international treaties, agreements, and organizations, Trump is actively weakening the United States and its position as a global hegemon.

To justify his international approach, Trump claims that Americans need to reclaim American jobs and set the example that America must put itself first. He discredits the notion that the United States has some sort of moral responsibility to help other, less fortunate states (which are often in their position due to toxic Western imperialist endeavors), mostly relying on the argument that American innovation and economic advancement is hindered by international interference.

Firstly, prematurely retracting from diplomatic means and resulting to threats and eventual violence posits significant economic consequences. Not only is war incredibly costly, but international isolation and protectionist policies are also economically harmful to the United States considering how heavily we rely on necessary resources (including human capital) from other states to fuel our own economy as well as provide raw materials and final goods to American companies. The current international world order is remarkably characterized by state-to-state dependency and one state’s reliance on another for economic means is not as zero sum as Trump would like to argue. The more the United States presents itself as unwilling to compromise with other states and promote peaceful decision-making, the less other countries are going to commit to economic partnerships that benefit the American economy.

In addition to economic considerations, Trump’s foreign policy agenda of retreat also demonstrates severe political repercussions. His complete dismissal of participating in any method of international cooperation that does not directly impact the United States in a positive manner has cut important strategic political allies and will continue to do so. As the United States has historically served as an exemplar of democracy and diplomacy, other states will soon begin to mock the U.S.’s new approach of disruptive behavior and political discord which can potentially become the new norm, resulting in little urgency to promote cooperation. The loss of life due to war and intrastate disagreements over politics is just one of the many severe consequences of states pursuing policies purely according to their own interests. At its worst, this tactic can lead to a dystopian disregard of state autonomy. At its best, it leads to a superiority complex and ignores the desperate need of assistance for states victim to extreme poverty, violence, and turmoil. Although cooperation and the prospect of peace through diplomatic means is one of the core tenets of liberalism, pro-Trump realists should also discover the need to eschew support for Trump’s routine abandonment, as mediation and partnership increasingly become a matter vital to state security and survival, and as Trump’s retreat has often allowed for other countries to gain economically and politically.

Trump’s policy of retreat is also socially harmful. His persistence in building a wall along the US-Mexico border, blocking US travel from Middle Eastern citizens, and rejecting DACA have demonstrated his disregard for foreigners, especially those who can offer little to the United States and who have historically been discriminated against. This sort of retreat has caused especially harmful relations regarding race and citizenship status throughout the United States. Whether he intended a negative impact or not, his desertion within this realm of foreign policy has caused severe domestic issues aimed toward normalizing harmful behaviors toward immigrants and minorities, especially those connected in some way to the countries he attempts to distance from the United States.

The arguments put forth by Trump and his supporters that foreigners and international involvement are hindering the U.S. economy are simply untrue. Not only do immigrants complete a significant portion of jobs within the United States economy deemed as unwanted by Americans, but they also (unfortunately) provide this work for lower wages than American citizens, allowing companies to benefit from larger profits which ultimately supports our overall GDP. Additionally, as was discovered after the disturbance ensued by Trump’s desire to alter the HB1 visa provision (predominantly from tech companies that chiefly rely on the minds of foreign engineers and innovators), the American economy is greatly dependent on foreign employment for our own success and technological advancement over other states. Ultimately, Trump’s tendency to retreat from the global community actually does not in fact put “America First,” but rather it weakens our stance within the global community while providing economic, political, and social consequences.

The Fragile State of U.S. Cybersecurity Policy: Is it enough?

By Sarah Taylor

Google the word “hack” these days and thousands of hits come up regarding large, multinational companies being hit by attacks that you think shouldn’t have happened in the first place. In the current media frenzy focusing on the North Korean missile crisis, hurricanes and natural disasters, and humanitarian crises, cybersecurity threats and attacks fly relatively under the radar. Only when the attack threatens an election or millions of identity thefts does the news of a detrimental hack make headlines. Most recently, the Equifax hack released the private information of 143 million of Americans that resulted in many having their identity stolen and leaving their credit ruined. The United States has been the subject of thousands and thousands of cybersecurity threats, and yet the policy (both domestic and foreign) regulating them is relatively undeveloped. The investigation into Russian cyber-meddling in the 2016 Presidential election seems as though it has stalled at best. At worst, it has been completely forgotten in the sidetracking hearings of former F.B.I. Director James Comey. What should have been a hallmark case in foreign cyber attacks turned into a political tête-à-tête.

Cyber attacks are nearly impossible to predict, and even harder to prosecute after the fact, as there are no fingerprints or DNA  evidence left behind in a purely digital invasion. Thus, the policy surrounding cybersecurity is notably lacking in specificity, especially with regards to foreign entities performing the attacks. Often times, the attacks are a result of pure human error, which makes policy formulation that much harder. For example, in the Russian hack into the DNC emails, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta clicked a link to reset his password that he thought was sent by “the Gmail team”. This very basic phishing email gave Russian hackers full access to Podesta’s emails and sent the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign into a frenzy that included the word “emails” being exhausted in every debate. By the time the breach was even discovered, the irreparable damage had already been done.

Thirty-nine states have found evidence of invasions by Russian hackers into software systems and voter databases, using this data to attempt to delete or alter votes. While this is clearly an extreme situation, little has been done to our relationship with Russia to ensure this doesn’t happen again, or to at least show that we are taking this as seriously as we should be. The implications of Russia hacking into the election are far-reaching. If they are able to alter voter data to alter to outcome of the election, then the entire integrity of the American political system is at danger. It is as though the fears of the Red Scare and the anti-communism nightmares of the mid-twentieth century are being realized as technology has made them an available possibility. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security has a “Framework” for private sector businesses to investigate and respond to cyber threats. Most multi-national corporations have an information security department that handles these matters as well. However, the United States’ body of foreign policy is lacking specific measures to identify and stop or respond to attacks from foreign nations that have malicious intentions. These attacks are especially dangerous when the attacks are backed by the government, as is suspected in the Russian election intrusion.

While I argue that Homeland Security should develop a similar framework with more specific details on how the United States’ public and private sectors should respond to foreign attacks, it is understandable how this goal can be significantly roadblocked by gaps in capabilities and detection. For obvious reasons, government entities are not quick to lay claim to an attack, especially when it impacts the political integrity of another country or hundreds of millions of Americans. DHS is making positive strides in identifying potential threats. Most recently, they identified a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, as using antivirus software to spy on the government. The firm likely has ties to the Kremlin. Though these are steps in the right direction, these incidences are still found when it is likely too late. In the case of Kaspersky, their ties to the Kremlin should have been an automatic red flag and disallowed business in or with the United States. Cybersecurity threats by foreign nations have been proven to have irreparable and unthinkable damage on the core of the United States, whether it be a presidential election or the credit of half the country.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canada

One staff writer reflects on Canada’s history during Canada Day festivities 

By Javan Latson

July 1st marked a very important milestone in Canadian history, the 150th anniversary of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada becoming a confederation. Every year, millions of Canadians gather in towns and cities to celebrate this anniversary, now commonly called Canada Day. The signing of the North America Act in 1867 put the then British colony on the path to becoming the prosperous nation that it is today. This piece of legislation not only created Canada as a nation, but also gave Canadians greater control over their internal affairs, although it was not until 1982 that Canada became fully independent from England.

Although a relatively young nation, a lot of change has happened in Canada in the past century and a half. Once a colony, Canada is now one of the world’s most successful countries and is ranked 10th on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Thousands of brave Canadians fought and died alongside American soldiers in the First and Second World Wars, playing their part to help combat fascism and totalitarianism. When the world was anticipating a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Canada was one of the founding members of NATO in order to preserve peace. As nations around the globe descended into civil war and anarchy, the Canadian Government ended nearly a century of racially discriminatory entrance requirements with the passage of the Immigration Act in 1976. Ending years of quotas and exclusionary policies, this law opened the gate for non-Western Europeans to enter the country. Hungarians fleeing communism, Iranians escaping the Ayatollah, and Chileans seeking freedom from Pinochet found refuge on Canadian soil. The Immigration Act and the subsequent revisions have helped the lives of thousands and have transformed Canadian society into the diverse and pluralistic country that exists today.

This is not to say that the nation has been without problems. Canada’s history with its indigenous population is shameful and the relationship between the government and the First Nations is still rocky. A legacy of discrimination, land theft, and boarding schools has caused many aboriginals to associate Canada Day with white supremacy and injustice. Things have been only slightly better with the French population over the issue of sovereignty and the place of the French language in society. During the 1970s, things had gotten so bad that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had to enact martial law in Quebec following the murder of a government official by Quebecois separatists. Today, there is less unrest, and with the passage of the Multicultural Act of 1971, the Canadian government has officially recognized French as one of its two official languages.

I had the privilege to witness the Canada Day celebrations this year in the Canadian capital of Ottawa during a mission trip with friends it was truly remarkable. It was a vibrant display of the history and culture of the young nation, with the pomp of a formal event. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, were there, along with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to celebrate the occasion. Millions of people descended upon Parliament hill to hear speeches, eat food, and enjoy live performances from U2, Alessia Cara, and Ruth B. While there I asked friends two questions: What does it mean to be a Canadian, and what makes Canada great?

I was told that to be a Canadian means, “being one in diversity in a land of diversity” while another told me being Canadian is “being a friendly citizen who is respectful of differences others might have.” In a time when nations are more divided more than ever, the common theme that I noticed in my conversations and in the festivities, was the importance of community. Whether someone is West Indian, Sikh, Quebecois, English, or Inuit, they are all Canadian and that diversity is something that many people take pride in. Although not without its problems, Canada shows that successful and diverse societies are possible if people have respect for one another. One of my friends told me that Canada is often referred to as a, “tossed salad” and this is an accurate statement. For my second question, the responses were more varied with some saying free universal healthcare, low crime rates, and beautiful landscapes are what make the country great. However, there was one person whose answer really stood out. She told me that she loved Canada’s “humble attitude” and the “friendly smiles and welcomes you’ll get from our fellow Canadians, and that Canada will be sure to make you feel at home.”

What makes Canada stand out as a nation? Is it its wealth, the Charter of Rights of Freedoms, poutine, or free healthcare? Yes all of these things are key things that many Canadians love and enjoy. However after 150 years the one thing that truly makes Canada great is the people whose efforts have helped build a successful and vibrant society.

The Election and Russian-American Relations

By Jackie Olson

When America elected a new president on November 8th, we were not only choosing the next president, but also deciding a business deal, one that even state officials in Moscow would have a hard time making. While unable to change Putin (he is here to stay) America did, in some ways, decide if she wants to see a newly-constructed Trump Tower on a street in Moscow, along with a new style of Russian-American relations.

Since the 1980s, Trump has made numerous business deals and created financial ties to Russia. In addition, Trump wants to build a Trump Tower in Russia’s capital, but he has been snubbed at each turn. His latest attempt, during the Moscow-hosted Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, left him close to a deal with Aras Agalarov, a friend of Putin often dubbed Russian-‘Trump’, but it was halted. This close success also coincided with a failed invitation to Putin to attend the pageant. While ultimately unsuccessful from a business and political perspective, the event seems to have heavily influenced Trump’s favorable opinion of Putin’s Russia, despite growing criticism from the US government.

Though Trump was not important to him prior to the election, his clear desire for business ties and willingness to respect Putin makes Trump by far the better candidate, in the eyes of Russia, for President of the United States. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a threat. She is an outspoken woman who takes a strong liberal-democratic stance on foreign affairs and was not going to revoke her talks of a “no-fly” zone over Syria anytime soon, let alone formally recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, something that Trump has supported several times this fall.

In 2011, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the time, was blamed riots in Moscow, when people took to the streets in near-zero temperatures to protest the supposed ‘rigged’ re-re-election of Putin. Putin lamented Clinton’s interventionist messages, especially when she proclaimed, “the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve free, fair, transparent elections.” Putin since then has made it his goal to openly condemn Clinton, the results of which have been seen this election season. Russian media has portrayed Clinton in a negative manner by continuously playing footage of her coughing on state television and reminding Russians of her botched “reset” attempt of relations in 2009, yet the fact that Trump has a 28% higher approval rating than Clinton in Russia does not mean much to any legitimate poll, Russia did not elect our president.

Regardless of America’s choice in candidates, nothing will change. America has put so much emphasis on the Putin state, that Russia is becoming a relic of the past, a trigger word for individuals born in the 1970s-1980s who only know of it as the Federation presided over by Yeltsin. Even Hillary Clinton has separated “Putin” from “Russia,” declaring in 2015 that the U.S. “needs a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular Putin.”

American policy has increasingly isolated Russian policy from Putin’s policy, which is entirely problematic for the mentality in solving overseas tensions. Indeed while Putin has turned relations sour, even this year, Russia itself pulled out of the Plutonium Disposition Agreement and did not participate in President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit talks. Yet if America stops focusing on Putin’s physical appearance, such as his infamous shirtless photos, and his banter about the American election, and considers the true Russian state, it would be beneficial to not only our understanding of their increasingly aggressive foreign policy, but the faults within Russia’s domestic conditions.  

Since 2014, Russia has been facing a harsh recession from the fall in the price of oil and from economic sanctions. The economy has not grown for six straight quarters and real wages have dropped by 10%. While minimum wage has increased by 20% and Putin cut his own salary by 10%, the IMF projects the Russian economy will shrink by another 1.2% by the end of this year before a projected growth period.

During this predicted growth period, America should be fully ready to grasp and acknowledge the threat Russian corporations, not Putin, will serve to the United States security. For example, 2013, Rosatom, a Russian corporation, took over Uranium One Inc., a corporation in Canada, giving them direct control of 20% of all American uranium. Ironically, investigations found that from 2006-2011 over 40 million dollars from U1 advisors and associates was donated to the Clinton Foundation, a potential cause for concern as Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the deal. Yet while Clinton did not become the president-elect, Russian corporations such as aggressive Rosatom, a state-run “non-profit”  business out of Moscow will be more than eager to use the cover of  ‘friendly’ Putin-Trump relations to garner a larger acquisition of natural resources, indirectly making the U.S. weaker as an international force.

Yet, our obsession with Putin and consequently his banter with Trump, is just a distraction from the real issue; Russia is going to rebound and with that in need of natural resources to grow its previously stagnating economy. The U.S. needs to realize that Russia is not just Putin and the threat is truly derived from economics. The more willing the U.S. is in understanding the country’s issues than the man in power, the better the country will be in tackling her ultimate foe, one that has arguably been brought down before through economics.

Russia on the Rise

By Javan Latson

The world was shocked on Christmas of 1991, as the hammer and sickle was lowered for the last time in the Kremlin. After a series of relatively peaceful events throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Soviet Union collapsed. The U.S. and other nations were optimistic and eager to help the new Russian Federation, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin. Russia could finally be integrated into the world system. The Cold War was over, or so we thought.

Twenty-five years later, the world is watching as Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin and various oligarchs, is morphing into a rogue nation whose actions need to be addressed. It’s time to treat Russia as an international pariah, the same as Gaddafi’s Libya, Iran, and North Korea, for their reckless actions and constant violations of international norms and laws.

Cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues in our society, and many critical industries are vulnerable to the threat of a cyber-attack. Russia is a major cyber power and has invested a lot of money into computer science and cyber technology R&D, which can be seen in the level of sophistication and inventiveness their hackers display. The Russian government also has utilized and contracted hackers for operations, and turned the blind eye to criminals as long as their attacks serve national interests. These attacks cause billions of dollars worth of damage as seen in a 2007 attack on Estonia, and attacks on major financial companies such as JPMorgan Chase & Co.  The most recent allegation of Russian hacking involves the leakage of emails from the DNC, which has caused speculation that the Kremlin is trying to manipulate the U.S. presidential election. This willingness to conduct espionage and attack critical infrastructure, combined with their technological capabilities, makes Russia a major threat to our allies and us.

Another area of concern is Russia’s constant violation of international law/norms. Putin is taking desperate measures to gain global influence, especially in former Soviet states. Russia treats these countries as client states and uses them as a buffer against NATO.  The Kremlin has used harsh tactics to maintain regional supremacy and to prevent neighboring countries from adopting pro-Western positions. These measures have included cutting gas exports, embargoes, and fueling internal conflicts. The most blatant disregard of international standards can be seen in the 2008 invasion of Georgia following a bid for a NATO membership action plan, and the 2014 annexation of Crimea after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was deposed. All of these actions, including the reckless bombing campaign in Syria and the arming of pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine, have done nothing but destabilize those regions.  

Tough action against Russia will help drive reforms and prevent future escalated confrontation. Sanctions against Iran crippled their oil industry and greatly damaged their economy, which subsequently increased American negotiating power. Likewise, tough sanctions against Libya pressured the government into making reforms. In the case of Russia, military action would be foolish due to their large army and nuclear stockpile. Russia isn’t Iraq or Panama, and cannot be forcibly coerced. Hurting their wallets, and Putin’s in particular would have the effect of causing them to reevaluate their current policies, especially if the people of Russia are negatively affected by the consequences of their decisions. Putting pressure on the Russians this way could change popular opinion, and the prospect of financial ruin could cause the ruling party to change their policies.

Some don’t believe Russia is a threat to the U.S., and think it’s simply a regional power. This is partially true because it is not as powerful as the Soviet Union was – it is no longer a state that possesses equal parity with the U.S. The decision for the various Soviet Republics to leave hurt because Russia lost significant amounts of territory, access to natural resources, and control of warm water ports. Today, Russia’s global influence comes through membership in the G8 and UNSC. Russia also possesses a nuclear arsenal, strong military, and advanced cyber capabilities which make them a force to be reckoned with. Another argument against taking a stronger stance against Russian aggression is that we should let Putin continue his expansionist policies because eventually, they will cause his end. This sounds logical because over-expansion and financial problems lead to the USSR’s dissolution. However, Russia’s centralized government keeps Putin and his cronies in power, and there isn’t a strong multi-party political system capable of making a significant change in domestic policies. The Russian Federation is no longer a brutal dictatorship like in the days of Stalin, but it’s definitely not a democracy. Also, his approval ratings are currently very high which means that there may not be a change in regime anytime soon. Lastly, the rising price of oil along with growing partnerships with China, Iran, and other Eurasian states may help bolster the economy, but military endeavors in Syria and Ukraine may negate that gain. Stronger sanctions against state-owned energy companies could have a positive impact, as could boycotting the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup, declaring Russia a state sponsor of terror for supporting separatists in Ukraine, and placing a travel ban on chief Russian leaders. These actions could send the necessary message that such behavior from the Russian Federation will not be tolerated and that changes need to be made.  Russia’s actions must be addressed, and how our nation responds to this behavior will be an important aspect of foreign policy for the next presidential administration.

The US and Yemen: Why the US Shouldn’t be Involved

By Daria Berstell

In the past few months, the United States has become increasingly entangled in Yemen’s conflict. Since March of 2015, the U.S. has been providing a Saudi-led and largely Sunni-supported military coalition with aid through arms sales and American intelligence. This coalition has been fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s government in January of 2015. The Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and several important military installations, resulting in the dissolution of parliament and forcing the president, Abed Mansour Hadi, to flee to Saudi Arabia. The war has now killed an estimated 10,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.

Last week, the U.S. went from being tangentially involved in the conflict to being directly involved. On October 13th, an American warship stationed off the coast of Yemen fired cruise missiles at radar installations that American intelligence believed were used by Houthi rebels to target another American warship in two missile attacks the previous week. The Pentagon has characterized the strikes as “self-defense strikes” which were conducted to protect American personnel and freedom of navigation for American ships. This situation has the potential to draw the U.S. into another protracted conflict in the Middle East.

Already, the civil war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and fueled extremism among the country’s citizens. With the U.S. being a vital part of the coalition fighting the rebels, the U.S. bears partial responsibility for the terror and death caused by the Saudi-led coalition. Thousands of civilians have died during their involvement in Yemen’s civil war, with a recent incident being the bombing of the funeral of a prominent rebel leader that killed almost 150 civilians. Human Rights Watch called it an “apparent war crime.” Previously, the coalition also bombed a hospital served by Doctors Without Borders, killing 15 people and destroying the Emergency department of the hospital.

The coalition either does not know how to hit their targets successfully or does not care about killing civilians. Either option is unconscionable. Despite Saudi Arabia’s disregard for human rights, one assumes that they would not intentionally target civilians, meaning that they are killing thousands of civilians accidentally. If the coalition cannot avoid killing thousands of civilians even with the help of American intelligence, the coalition should cease airstrikes immediately. A recent UN report blames 60% of Yemeni children’s death and injuries on bombings and military action taken by the coalition.

In a region so unstable and so prone to fueling extremism, the worst possibility for the U.S. would be to continue to be entangled in a never-ending conflict. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. went into Yemen in hopes of getting the country back after the rebels took over, however, at this point Yemen is near total collapse with 80% of the country in need of some sort of humanitarian aid and extremist groups becoming more radicalized and gaining more followers. This war was started to help the people of Yemen, however, the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to finish it.

The U.S. should not be complicit in these atrocities and should not implicitly condone them by continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts. Arms sales should be stopped until Saudi Arabia is able to wage war without killing civilians and until they commit to negotiating peace  in Yemen. Those arms sales make the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen possible, however, they also provide firepower for other military actions Saudi Arabia takes. For a country with such a terrible human rights record, it does not make sense for the U.S. to be supporting them with military power and intelligence. The United States should not support a nation which does not share our values regarding the value of human life and basic rights.

The conflict in Yemen is difficult and becomes more complicated by the day as more bombs are dropped and more citizens become radicalized. This is especially true with the development of US involvement, which began with Houthi rebels firing on American warships and the Americans responding destroying three radar installations. While retaliatory and justifiable, the US Navy’s response was still the first direct action taken by the U.S. military in this conflict. In addition, becoming further entangled in this conflict in the Middle East runs the risk of forcing the U.S. into several more decades of direct military engagement in the Middle East, just as the U.S. military is slowly beginning to be pulled out.

With a rising civilian death toll and deteriorating living conditions in Yemen, some would say it is logical that the United States should intervene more than it has. But it would be foolish for the United States to become involved directly in a war in Yemen and, following a lengthy and unpopular conflict in Iraq, there would not be support for it among the American people. Given rising extremism and unstable conditions created by the humanitarian crisis, it would be risky for the US to get entangled in yet another conflict in the Middle East. If provided U.S. intelligence made it possible for the coalition to successfully combat the rebels, then that support should be continued, however, even with that intelligence, civilian targets continue to be hit. The U.S.’s involvement has not helped the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and it is time the administration ceased its support to Saudi Arabia and considered other options.

The Ugly Alliance: Can we justify US/Saudi relations?

By Javan Latson 

For 70 years, our country has maintained an alliance with Saudi Arabia built on oil and security, but is that enough to justify our relationship? It has often been said that Saudi Arabia is one of our few friends in the Middle East and that they are a key partner in the war on terror, however, we need to reduce the support we give them, and stop supplying them with so much political and military aid. We can’t continue to support a regime that exports radical ideologies, oppresses their citizens, and works against our interests in the region.

The U.S has placed several nations under economic sanctions because of human rights violations. Cuba, North Korea, and Burma are all countries that are currently paying the price for their discriminatory domestic policies. One must wonder why Saudi Arabia isn’t also reprimanded by the U.S. for how they treat their citizens. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that is governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. There are no formal democratic institutions in the country since political parties are forbidden, and until last year women weren’t allowed to vote. Torture and arbitrary arrests are common and many people are held in custody for long periods of time before trial. This is a country where one can be beheaded for homosexuality, apostasy, armed robbery, adultery, and even sorcery. Stoning and death by firing squad are other means of execution, and most are held in public. It’s entirely hypocritical for the U.S. to keep turning a blind eye to this barbarism when other countries are punished for the same behavior.

Despite horrid domestic laws, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies are no better, and we suffer because of many of their policy decisions. The Saudis spend millions of dollars on the creation of religious schools in order to spread fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam throughout the world. These schools tend to be vehemently anti-western/anti-American and many of their graduates become recruits for radical Islamic terror groups. Organizations like Al-Haramain and Al Waqf Al-Islami are examples of Saudi “charities” which finance the spread of radical Islam and support imams that preach this strict interpretation of Islam. The effect of these schools can especially be seen in traditionally moderate Kosovo, which has become a pipeline for jihadists following a large influx of Saudi funded mosques and imams.  Many EU countries have made the connection between the spread of Wahhabism with extremism yet our government has made no efforts to pressure the Saudis to reconsider their missionary work.

Furthermore, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, has not been a valuable asset in the current conflict against ISIS and has actually done much to destabilize the region. The U.S. and the Saudis agree that President Assad must step down in order to for Syria to transition towards peace. However, we have different goals and objectives in the region. Our main priority is defeating the Islamic State through an aerial campaign and by supporting “moderate” rebels with training and weaponry. Although ISIS is seen as a threat by many western nations including the U.S., one would think that the Saudis would contribute more to the campaign due to their geographic proximity. The Saudis have a defense budget of about 46 billion dollars and are the top buyer of U.S. weaponry, meaning they are equipped to be a key partner in the coalition. Despite this, they have contributed virtually nothing in the air campaign. On the ground, Saudi Arabia finances a great deal of the training programs for rebel groups, but they also support Islamist groups like Al-Nusra who we deem terrorists. While we are conducting the majority of combat operations against ISIS, Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in Yemen against Houthi Rebels. This intervention has not produced any positive results but has destabilized the region and created a foothold for Al-Qaeda. To make matters worse it hurts our nation’s reputation abroad when someone is indiscriminately bombing civilians with American hardware. All this does is fuel the fire for a community already resentful of the United States and helps provide the propaganda extremists thrive on, that America is a tyrant that supports oppressive regimes.

There is a lot of money to be made from our alliance with the Saudis, as they are the number one importer of American weapons, providing an economic angle to the partnership. Though a Saudi U.S. alliance is certainly profitable, can we continue to justify our support for them purely because it’s good for business? Our nation has supported some very questionable governments but it’s time for us to reevaluate our strategies for the region and whether or not the Saudis should play a role in our policies in the Middle East. Instead of being a symbiotic and positive relationship, ours is a parasitic one with Saudi Arabia. We don’t need to maintain a close partnership with the Saudis when can work with other states in the area such as Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Israel. These states may not all be ideal western democracies, but they are in strategic locations and for the most part work well with U.S. interests. Three of these states are Sunni, and all buy large amounts of American weaponry, which serves in the interests of those in the defense industry. Also, current trends in the oil market have lowered the price of crude oil to the point that we no longer need to depend on Saudi Arabia for energy. We can attempt to develop or improve relationships with the other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (especially those in Latin America) and free ourselves from the potential entanglements of Saudi energy dependency. It’s time for our nation to reevaluate who we consider our friends and not allow the past to dictate how we handle future and present events in this ever changing world.

Arthur the Aardvark, Brexit, and the Global Force of Anti-Intellectualism

By Adithya Sivakumar

Do you all remember Arthur the Aardvark? The eight-year-old who cruised around with his friends through the streets of Elwood City navigating the struggles of being a third-grader? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take comfort that Arthur has been lauded as one of the finest examples of children’s television programming in the last decade, as well as being “just straight up awesome” (Sivakumar et al., 2006).


However, I’d like to turn your attention to one particular episode of this show. “Prove It,” episode four from the fourth season of Arthur, which concerned Arthur’s wonderful sister D.W. and her attempt to get her brother to take her to a science museum. In order to do so, she starts a museum in her own backyard, promoting theories such as the H in H2O stands for hose, and the ocean is created by sand moving so fast it turns into liquid. Annoyed and terrified about the effect D.W.’s “science” is having on the impressionable neighborhood children, Arthur takes her to the museum to show her how science actually works, thereby fulfilling her ulterior motives.


When I first watched this show as a young child, I have to admit, I was angry. How could D.W. promote such bogus science? How could people believe her? She had turned her back on reasoning and the very pillars of the discipline she claimed to espouse, all in order to achieve a mischievous end goal. No one would actually do that in real life, right?


Fast-forward a decade later to June 23, 2016. As the votes for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (E.U.) came towards a close, I experienced many of the same emotions as I did when I was in elementary school after that Arthur episode. How could the “Leave” campaign promote such grand anti-immigration sentiment? How could the British believe them? Why did they not follow the advice of countless organizations, foreign governments, and heads of state to stay for their own economic security? Was the attempt to bring Europe together after World War II all for nothing?


In both instances, I never realized the magnitude of the inequality that led to these drastic actions. For the children in Arthur, they had not been educated about all the intricacies of science, causing them to find some sort of refuge in D.W.’s explanations. In Britain, analysis showed that the town that had the most percentage of residents in favor of leaving the European Union, Boston, earned low incomes and had only 1 in 3 people carry formal qualifications. Leaving the European Union was not a large loss for these voters, as they had failed to see the benefits of European integration. In the town of Lambeth, where voters chose overwhelmingly to stay in the E.U. , incomes were more than 10,000 pounds more than the average voter in Boston, and there were twice as many professionals. These results indicate a widespread gap in socioeconomic status and education, a gap that in turn has affected how people respond to political commentary.


In one instance during the Brexit campaign debates, when confronted with reports that respected organizations and groups had pointed out recommended against leaving the European Union, “Leave” campaigner and U.K. Justice Secretary Michael Gove said, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organizations… with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”


And that, folks, speaks volumes.


This statement elucidates a large factor in the majority of the U.K. rejecting the overtures of U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and other seemingly respected individuals and institutions: anti-intellectualism. The establishment commonly uses academia and intellectualism to support their claims, which may or may not lead to good results. The establishment might use scientific data to push forward claims of global warming or the efficacy of vaccines, but those opposed to the establishment conflate these scientific positions into a larger establishment narrative, and therefore reject them in alarming numbers. That being said, academia and government do not always have a beneficial goal in mind. The theory of eugenics pushed in intellectual circles in the early 20th century can be regarded as a driving factor for the implementation of the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States.


Additionally, socioeconomic gaps exist worldwide and have manifested in similar ways politically, mainly in a distaste for the establishment and for experts. In the Philippines, this led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign was based on his anti-crime campaign to purge the nation of criminals in any manner possible, implying the reintroduction of vigilante death squads that he oversaw as mayor of the city of Davao.  Disgusted with crime and perceived inaction by establishment parties, voters swept Duterte into office, despite calls to stop him from the incumbent government and human rights organizations concerned with his previous record of extrajudicial killings. In Austria, a far-right candidate who proclaimed “Islam has no place in Austria,” lost the presidential election by 0.6%, a movement attributed to anti-immigration sentiment in the wake of the influx of refugees into the European Union; his opposing candidate, also an outsider was backed by the chancellor of Austria, as well as the supporters of the two major parties in the country. In fact, an Austrian constitutional court has just invalidated the election results, leading to another potential grab for power for the aforementioned candidate.


Why should all this affect you? If you are a college student at Vanderbilt University at this moment, you are a target of anti-intellectualism. An academic institution such as Vanderbilt is largely seen as elitist, even with the diversity of opinions that are harbored on this campus. We have the privilege of being educated here, but that does not mean we have the privilege of flaunting our education over others. Education can bring us into respected positions, but these positions often may give off an air of elitism that goes widely unrecognized, so whenever we attempt to espouse a position, we fail to realize that our opinion will inherently carry more weight than one given by a person that did not have an opportunity to pursue an education. This, in turn, causes resentment and rejection of those considered “educated.”


These actions have dire consequences, especially in light of how the UKIP, the major party in favor of leaving the European Union, convinced many voters to chose to leave the EU by primarily emphasizing fears of immigration. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, stated in response to a question about the similarity of his campaign and that of Donald Trump that “The problem you’ve got in the U.S. is illegal immigration. Our problem is legal immigration to half a billion people.” Compounded with posters proclaiming refugees as undesirable, many voters choosing Brexit did say their decision was influenced by immigration, a sentiment that certainly reverberates across the Atlantic. By using scapegoating instead of educated, well-reasoned arguments, political forces are able to tap into inner prejudices and divisions between different groups (evidenced by the uptick in hate crimes against minorities and immigrants across the U.K. after votes were counted),  and therefore using them to achieve a political goal.


Education is a privilege. Our best goal and hope for this generation and the broken political world is to prevent academia from being distorted and being derided, a hope that can only be accomplished with discarding a sense of elitism, recognizing our privilege, and attempting to have thoughtful, civil, and educational debates with others concerning issues surrounding politics and other disciplines. The longer we disregard populist sentiments, the easier it is for groups and individuals to exploit divides within communities, causing false information being fed not only to the innocent neighborhood children of Arthur, but also to vast segments of our population, leading to life-changing moments like that in Britain.