Dear Kids, You CAN Change the World!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent time talking with my younger family members and friends.  It is amazing to hear about their wild imaginations.  However, when I would ask them if they were going to act on it, I received a lot of shrugs, I don’t knows, and probably nots.  Despite some of their goals being quite unrealistic, this really disheartened me.

It seems as though youth as a whole feel as if they are unable to have a substantial impact on the world.  Much of this feeling comes from age prejudice, and although youth have had less experience then their elders, that most certainly does not mean they cannot have the same amount, if not more, of an impact on the world.  But where to start? The problem is not if they can, but how.

Start small.  It is important to specify what you want to have an impact on and then from there move on to how.  Try to not get carried away with huge plans to change the world because let’s face it, that’s probably not going to happen, at least not any time soon.  More than likely one will come to the realization that changing the world is, as one might say, an extremely hard task.  With this realization one will probably give up, leaving little to no impact.  Instead focus on something realistic, because even if it is just a small act, it is more likely to be completed and therefore leave a much greater impact than one not completed at all.

Kids have wild imaginations and can easily get caught up in them which is wonderful for coming up with ways to help, but sometimes that same imagination leads them to come up with things that are just too hard for them; which is partially why people doubt the impact youth can have.  I don’t mean to say that kids should not dream and hope for whatever they want, just that to complete goals successfully, one must be realistic.

Although kids have less physical resources than most adults, there imaginations and time give them a huge advantage.  The future is in their hands, and I think they are very aware of that.  They can combine their youthful creativity with their excess of time to plan for the long term.  Many adults become attached to short term resolutions and changes, but kids are more aware of the long term because they are the ones who will be living in it.

I truly believe that anyone that wants to make a change, can.  It is all about believing in what you want to do.  As the cliché goes, you can do anything you set your mind to; I say you can do anything if you truly believe in it.

Culture Shock

Webster’s Dictionary defines culture as, “the ideas, customs, skills, arts, etc. of a given people in a given period; civilization.” People tend to define themselves through the culture associated with their country.  America has a unique combination of people all coming from different cultural backgrounds, creating what many call the “melting pot.” It is a country with an abundance of unique cultural aspects and ways of life, but as time progresses it is losing many of its morals. Popular culture, commonly referred to as pop culture, is a combination of the most evident things that define a specific culture.  American pop culture has become one based almost completely on sex, beauty, money, and fame.

In the 1950’s, a biblical film was made where Sodom and Gomorrah were portrayed as “drunken men with multiple piercings and bright red robes, with one loose woman under each arm, cavorting in orgiastic revelry against a background of annoying, mosquito-like music.”  The director had wanted them to depict them in the most “debauched and irredeemable manner” possible, expressing the punishment of their sins; but isn’t that how most Americans act and dress today? We, as a culture, are acting as those whom which burden great sins; in fact, we are much worse.

Whatever happened to a guy having to court a girl for even just a kiss?  These days girls walk around barely clothed practically giving themselves away.  Sex seems to have become meaningless in our culture.  Take the show Jersey Shore for example, which was popular a few years ago.  If you have ever watched it, I am sure you can understand that it’s popularity is an embarrassment to American culture.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very entertaining; but the fact that THAT is what entertains Americans worries me.  What is even worse is that the stars of this show get paid millions of dollars for their crude behavior when others are hard at work and barely getting paid minimum wage.

Since When is it Okay to Not Do Your Job?

The fact that it took 18 months of children being neglected and missing essential resources at a foster home for someone to do anything about it is horrifying; and still, what really is being done?  Where are the kids now?  The Department of Human Services needs to implement policy changes in order to create better, safer foster homes.

Last week, emails were discovered showing that Oregon Department of Human Services director, Jerry Waybrant, ignored serious warning signs that a foster care provider was neglecting the children at their facility.  Since then,  Oregon Governor, Kate Brown, has removed Waybrant from his position and closed down the foster care facility.  But why did it take this long for any action to occur?  The Department of Human Services officials knew about the allegations of neglect since early last year, and had brought their concerns to the agency’s director.

It is the Department of Human Services’  job to monitor and pay for the care of more than 10,000 foster children in Oregon.  They greatly affect the outcome of all of the children’s lives, yet they apparently feel like that is not important.

There are three bodies of information that intersect when investigating a foster home or facility: the abuse investigations, the licensing issues and the financial issues.  The recently shut down facility had serious concerns in all three areas.  Kids were going hungry, being given minimal care, and forced to live in below standard conditions.  Employees from all three of these bodies began contacting Waybrant about the serious concerns early last year.  Instead of looking at the concerns and addressing them, Waybrant continued to give the facility money (much of which was wasted and spent for the facility owner’s benefit) and place children there.

The problems in foster homes are not limited to Oregon.  Many of the foster homes all over America that are available are worse than the homes that the children are originally being pulled from.  Foster parents and facilities are keeping the monthly checks for themselves rather than using them to support the children.  Children are deprived of basic necessities like food, water, school supplies and clothing; not to mention, love.  The unfit foster parents are abusing them, sexually, physically, and mentally.

The number of children in the foster care system is constantly increasing, while the number of foster homes is constantly decreasing.  I understand that this poses a problem for state agencies like DHS; they need more homes, so they have to accept just about anyone who is willing to apply.  The issue is, the people applying are unfit and doing it for the wrong reasons.  Because the states allocate stipends for each child, the parents and facilitators are taking in as many children as possible to get the most money, and are spending it on themselves rather than the children.

It is both the responsibility of the agencies like DHS and the public to solve this problem.  If the agencies are forced to accept the less than great homes, than they need to monitor them much more closely.  There is absolutely no excuse for letting children be abused and neglected for an hour, let alone 18 months.  The agencies also need to let the public know that homes are needed.  The agencies do not want the citizens to know that they are failing, so they just try to cover it up.  This is not right and extremely unfair to the children.  The citizens then need to step up and provide safe and nurturing homes for the foster youth.

It is great that this facility was finally shut down and Waybrant was removed, but where do the kids from that home go now?  If the agencies do not monitor the homes properly and actively search for better homes, how do we know that these kids aren’t just being sent to another terrible facility?  Immediate changes need to be made in order to ensure that foster youth have safe homes.

Will China’s New 2 Child Rule Be Effective?

China recently changed its one-child policy to a two-child policy in order to improve their economy. Although the original one-child policy was created to prevent population growth, it is now necessary because there are too many elderly people, and not enough working age people.

“China now faces a slowing economy, a rapidly aging population, and a dramatically shrinking workforce. While China’s population is nearly 1.37 billion, its working-age population – defined as 15- to 64-year-olds – is actually dropping. Demographics now constrain China’s once rapid growth.  This is just one unintended consequence of the nation’s drastic one-child policy, and its at times brutal enforcement. By 2030, China is expected to have more than 243 million people over the age of 65 – an 85 percent increase over today.” (Kyung-Hoon)

However, the plan to increase the working-age population may not work.  While you would think that Chinese citizens would be excited about this new policy, many do not plan to have more than one kid anyways.  As the nation has gained financial success, many of it’s people have chose to focus on business rather than children.  They have delayed having a child, or not had any at all.  Current parents do not want to have more children because it is too expensive.  They want to be able to give their child the best education and pay for everything they need.  If they have another child, they will only be able to provide each child half as much.  The Chinese people have become accustomed to having one child, and I think it is not going to be as easy as the Chinese government would like to increase the working-age population.

Sources: http://www.cnbc.com/2015/11/02/china-2-child-policy-problems–commentary.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/world/asia/many-couples-in-china-will-pass-on-a-new-chance-for-a-second-child.html?_r=0

Advertising Gone Too Far: Tomcat

While I am not a big fan of mice and rats myself, I am still so disgusted by the new Tomcat rodent trap commercials.  For those of you who have not seen them yet, I have attached a couple of the commercials in the video below.  Beware: they are quite disturbing.

These commercials are apparently supposed to be funny, but to me they are just sad and upsetting.  What kind of person thinks it’s funny to kill animals and make jokes about how they die and where they go after?  Commercials like these are just promoting violence.  Kids will see these commercials and think that it is okay to joke about killing and death.  They will think that killing and death are not serious matters.  It will desensitize them to the suffering of living, breathing, feeling animals.

I have never used a rodent trap before, but I can imagine using one is not pleasant.  That being said, making a theatrical joke is sickening.  Death should never be something to laugh at.

The Foster Care Crisis: Why the Parents are the Ones to Blame

Currently, babies are being poorly attended to and forced to sleep in conference rooms of downtown Los Angeles high rises.  The number of children in the Los Angeles foster care system is constantly increasing, while the number of foster homes is constantly decreasing. While some people blame the system for this social issue, which certainly is flawed as well, the unfit parents of the children in foster care are the most significant cause of this issue.  Children enter the foster care system for nine main reasons, all of which are due to parental flaws.  These flaws are the source of the foster care crisis.  Although the system has its own flaws as well, if we were able to address the parental flaws, most of the system’s flaws would disappear or become irrelevant.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the shortage of foster care accommodations has reached a “crisis point.”  Due to the fact that there are not enough homes, the foster children are being placed in holding rooms.  The holding rooms are only meant to be used in emergency situations when a child cannot be immediately placed in a home.  The state of California only allows for a child to be placed in a holding room for 24 hours and a law imposes financial penalties for exceeding 24 hours.  In 2013, in the month of  June alone, 600 children in the Los Angeles County were placed in holding rooms, and of these, 117 children exceeded the 24 hour limit, some of them spending multiple nights in these holding rooms.  Unfortunately, this is not the worst part.  Due to the sudden influx of children needing to use these holding rooms, there are not enough beds or caretakers.  Children are being forced to sleep on the floors of conference rooms is downtown high rises.  Infants and toddlers cannot be attended to immediately and will be left alone crying because they have not been changed or fed.  The problem is only worsening as more and more kids enter the system.

Many people would like to blame the system for this social issue.  There are not enough families willing to take in foster children and those who are willing are hard to find due to the un-updated system that the government provides social workers.  The system is only updated once a month and it provides the number of children the household can legally accept, however it does not say how many beds they are willing to fill.  Some people argue that the reason that more people are not willing to take in foster children is because the government does not pay the foster families enough.  Infants and toddlers are especially expensive to take care of.  Currently the state does not even cover half of the cost of raising a young child and this is with the recent $680 raise.The system does need a lot of work, but the truth is, it is easier to blame the system than it is to blame an individual family because it is much less personal; however, that does not mean that it is the most significant cause.

Although the foster care system is far from perfect, the unfit parents are the most significant cause of this social issue.  In fact, if it were not for these unfit parents we would have almost no need for a foster care system.  There are eight main reasons why children enter the foster care system, all of which are related to the parents; I have detailed them below.

1 & 2. Physical and Sexual Abuse: The top two reasons children enter the foster care system are physical and sexual abuse.  Physical abuse usually means to an extreme; bruises and or cuts are left on the child.  Emotional abuse can also be considered a type of physical abuse in some cases.  In California, parents are generally given counseling after their first physical abuse offense.  If the abuse continues, the child is removed from the home.  However, many argue that giving parents a second chance is too lenient and gives way for continual abuse. According to California state law, sexual abuse is the victimization of a child by sexual activities, including molestation, indecent exposure, fondling, rape, and incest. In both cases, there is absolutely no excuse for a parent to abuse his or her child.

3, 4 & 5. Neglect, Medical Neglect and Truancy: Because emotional abuse is difficult to prove, social workers look for evidence of parental neglect instead. Neglect covers a multitude of areas, and so it is the easiest to prove.  Neglect can mean lack of food for a child, lack of a clean living space, or lack of providing a child with his or her emotional needs.  The inability to provide a child with food or a clean home often goes hand in hand with poverty or economic instability.  Medical neglect can also be due to financial setbacks, other times it is pure disregard.  Although lack of income is sometimes an explanation for these failures, it is not an excuse.  A parent needs to be able to provide for his or her child. Similarly, parental neglect can also lead to truancy. Because parents are not around to supervise their child, children are left to do what they want. The lack of an authority figure can have detrimental consequences in child’s development. Parents do not provide their child with transportation to school or accompany them on the walk and thus the child is truant and can get into trouble in the community.

6. Incarceration: If a parent is incarcerated and is unable to make arrangements with a family member or friend to watch his or her child, the child will be placed in the foster care system. However, this situation is easily preventable for most individuals under these circumstances. Often times, the child can stay with a grandparent or relative. If for whatever reason the child has no where to stay then a foster care is the only available option.

7. Juvenile Offenders: If the court system designates a child as a juvenile delinquent they may be placed in foster care, if not juvenile hall.   Juvenile offenders usually occur when there is some level of neglect.  There are almost always issues in the home before a child is considered a juvenile delinquent.  These issues in the home are parental flaws.

8. Runaways: Runaway children will be sent to foster care if the parents are unable to control the situation.  Although the lack of control may not always be the parents fault, the reason the child is running away likely is.  Children generally run away when they do not feel comfortable or safe in their home.  The lack of comfort or safety comes from the parents.  Parents should make their homes the most comfortable and safe place for their children.  They should not be pushing them away from their homes and into the foster care system.

Although some of the previous reasons occur because a parent may abuse drugs or is mentally or financially unstable, there is no excuse for parental inadequacies. Parents have the responsibility to provide their child with at least the basic needs for survival. If a parent is unable to support their child then they should look to a relative, friend, or the community for support, if possible. The foster care system should only be utilized as a last resort. Correcting these issues and being a good parent can greatly diminish the amount of children in foster care and therefore solve the current crisis.

Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

As a political science student I have had a lot of exposure to discretion, but it seems that many of my peers only recently became aware of the term in conjunction with the Sandra Bland issue.  Discretion plays a large role in the criminal justice system, and as it can greatly affect any person in the United States, I believe that everyone should have a sense of what it means and how it can apply to them.  Discretion is defined as “an authority conferred by law to act in certain conditions or situations in accordance with an official’s or an official agency’s own considered judgment and conscience;” or put more simply, the freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation (The Justice System).  In this paper, I will analyze the prevalence and exercise of discretionary judgment in the criminal justice system by focusing on a variety of different actors in the system and how much discretion each holds; additionally, I will introduce some of the problems that occur with each actors level of discretion, discussing the Sandra Bland issue relative to police discretion and whether her arrest was legal.   I will conclude my paper by identifying the positive aspects of discretion and comparing them to  its drawbacks in order to show that discretion is an essential component to an efficient justice system.

Police officers have a large amount of discretion in their job.  There are four important aspects of police discretion.  The first is that they have the freedom to decide whether or not to stop a suspect (Newhouse and Fahey).  This is a huge amount of discretion because they are essentially deciding whether or not a person may be guilty of a crime.  The second aspect is twofold; the police must decide whether or not to use force in effecting a stop as well as what level of force should be used.  The third aspect is the decision of whether or not to arrest the subject in the field (Newhouse and Fahey).  The fourth aspect, and the one with greatest level of discretion, in my opinion, is whether to begin the criminal process or let the criminal go with a warning (Newhouse and Fahey).  This decision can change the outcome of a criminals life and it is completely left up to police discretion; it may be something as small as having to pay a speeding ticket, or something as large as having to go to jail or end up dead like in the case of Sandra Bland.

Due to problems with police discretion, the current trend in policing is to radically reduce the amount of discretion a police officer may exercise in the field.  One problem with police discretion is transparency (Newhouse and Fahey).  Usually no one knows exactly what happened except for the officer(s) and the defendant.  Because of this, police are not always subject to review (Newhouse and Fahey).  Another problem with so much discretion is that it can lead to police harassment or abuse (Newhouse and Fahey).  In the 1991 Rodney King beating, the police abused their discretion in deciding what level of force should be used.

Did officer Encinia abuse his police discretion in arresting Sandra Bland?  Were his actions legal?  The Bland issue is expansive and there are still a lot of unanswered questions as to what really happened.  For that reason, I will be limiting my analysis of police discretion to  the initial interaction between Bland and the officer, Encinia, who pulled her over and arrested her.  I will be focusing on whether or not the arrest was legal and whether or not Encinia abused his discretion, rather than if there was a racial prejudice involved.

For those of you who don’t know, here is a simplified version of what happened.  Encinia pulled Bland over for not signaling when changing lanes.  After running her license and plates, he used his discretion and decided to just issue her a warning.  Bland was already agitated though because she had just arrived to Texas and did not want to be dealing with this.  Before issuing her the warning, Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.  That is when things began to escalate.  Annoyed Bland asked why she had to put out the cigarette if she was in her car, at which point Encinia asked her to step out of the vehicle.  Before she even got out of the car, the two were locked in a physical confrontation, which continued outside of the car on the side of the road.  Encinia later handcuffs and arrests Bland.

The first issue that comes up is whether or not Encinia had the discretion to tell Bland to put out her cigarette, and if so, did he abuse it.  The second issue is whether or not Encinia had the discretion to tell Bland to get out of the car, and if so, did he abuse it.  The third and final issue is whether or not Encinia had the discretion to arrest Bland, and if so, did he abuse it.

Through my research, I was unable to find any statute that requires you to put out a cigarette when you are in your own vehicle, assuming that it is a tobacco cigarette.  Encinia was allowed to ask Bland to put it out, but Bland was not required to under the law.  As far as an officer ordering a person out of a vehicle during a traffic stop, courts have given officers a huge amount of discretion in order to protect themselves.  This is where it gets a little tricky.  From dash camera video surveillance of the encounter, it seems that Encinia ordered Bland out of the vehicle because she would not put out her cigarette, and not putting out a cigarette does not seem to be a big safety issue.  However, it is possible that her refusal came off as hostile, in which case Encinia did not abuse his discretion in asking Bland to exit the vehicle (Phillip).  Police officers often fear for their lives in routine traffic stops, because they never know who they are pulling over.  According to the FBI Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted reports, in 2012 alone, 4,450 officers were wounded or assaulted in various manners during traffic stops, some being killed (Rosario).  While Encinia’s actions may seem unfair, you must consider the cops perspective.

Once a a person is out of the vehicle, new rules apply.  An officer is legally allowed to handcuff the person, again for their own safety.  According to Texas law, if the person resists the arrest for any reason, the person can be charged with resisting arrest regardless of whether or not the arrest or search was legal (Phillip).  So, again, Encinia was acting within his bounds when arresting Bland.  Because she was fighting back, I do not think he abused his discretion by arresting her.

Prosecutorial discretion makes American prosectors some of the most powerful public officials.  They decide whether or not to bring criminal charges and what charges to bring.  Prosectors choose whether or not they want to use a grand jury.  Even in a grand jury hearing they have a great amount of power, as they get to present their case without the defense present.  They also have the power to offer plea bargains and have leniency as to what they can offer (Lynch).  As former Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson describes it, “when you become a prosector, you have the power…you have the ability to impact lives and families in ways we don’t talk about everyday.”  Their decision of whether or not to charge them and what to charge them with or offer them in a plea bargain will forever change the life of the accused and their loved ones.

With so much power and almost no oversight comes problems of misconduct.  Prosecutorial misconduct takes place when a prosecutor breaks a law or the code of professional ethics during the prosecution process.  In the 1935 case Berger v. United States, Justice Sutherland described it as, “overstepp[ing] the bounds of that propriety and fairness which should characterize the conduct of such an officer in the prosecution of a criminal offense.”  A common example of prosecutorial misconduct is withholding evidence.  A prosecutor’s job is to work with the police and all of the evidence gathered in order to build a case against the suspect that will convince a jury that the suspect is guilty.  But more importantly, it is their job to present the judge and jury with factual evidence and legal arguments that lead to  the conviction of the guilty defendant, not just any suspect.  They are required to turn over all exculpatory evidence to the defense, however sometimes they do not want to; sometimes they find evidence that would likely exonerate the person they are trying to convict.  Although it is illegal to do so, they sometimes withhold the evidence because they are so convinced that the suspect is guilty.  An example of a prosecutor withholding evidence is the Michael Morton case, which led to the incarceration of an innocent man for 25 years.  In Texas, in 1987, Morton was convicted of murdering his wife based on circumstantial evidence.  There was an interview with Morton’s son in which he told the police, “Daddy wasn’t home when mommy got hurt. A monster with a mustache hurt Mommy,” but the prosecutor did not turn this over to the defense.  25 years later Morton was exonerated when his attorney was finally given access to the police report.  At this time DNA testing was also available.  The testing of a bloody bandana at the scene confirmed Morton’s innocence.  Other examples of prosecutorial misconduct include but are not limited to prosecutors misstating the law when arguing to the jury [Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320 (1985)], prosecutors knowingly using perjured testimony [Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103 (1935)], prosecutors ignoring their obligation to disclose to the defense special treatment or promises of immunity they had given to a government witness in exchange for testimony against the defendant [United States v. Schlel, 122 F.3d 944 (11th Cir. 1997)], and prosecutors making inflammatory, racially based remarks to the jury about the accused [United States v. Alzate, 47 F.3d 1103 (11th Cir. 1995)] (Joy).

A grand jury does have some discretion, but it is reliant on the prosecution.  Grand juries work closely with the prosecutor and are not formed until the prosecution has requested one.  They have the ability to ask to hear from particular witnesses and can question the charges, however they often agree with the opinion of the prosecutor.  Where they have their largest amount of discretion is in their ability to decide whether or not to indict.  This is also where grand juries are most controversial; Grand juries have the power to decline to indict, despite probable cause that the criminal act has occurred.  They may do this if they disagree with a criminal law or how it is being applied to the accused.  They may also do this to send a message of disapproval of what they believe to be are unwise prosecutorial decisions or allocations of law enforcement funds.  This discretionary ability is sometimes referred to as “grand jury nullification” (Fairfax 703).  Because the basis for a grand juries decision is kept secret, some people fear that a nullification may be used for the wrong reason.

Unlike a grand jury, which helps the prosecution formulate accusations, the petit or trial jury tests how accurate the accusations are with standards of proof.  Although a petit jury does has a significant amount of discretion, it is often believed that they have more than they actually do.  A petit jury does not deal with questions of law, that is left up to the trial judge.  Their job is to look at the factual evidence and decide whether or not it is compelling.  The jury does get to decide the verdict, however if the judge feels that the jury has ignored the weight of the evidence, they can overrule their verdict (Petit Jury).  Essentially, a judge can overturn a jury’s guilty verdict and request a new trial or deem the defendant not guilty, however they cannot overturn a not guilty ruling by the jury.  There is one exception to my previous statement that the petit jury does not deal with questions of law-jury nullification.  Like the grand jury, a petit jury has the ability to nullify if they do not agree with the law or how it is being applied and their basis for the decision is also kept secret.  In summary, a petit jury’s discretion holds a lot more power in a not guilty verdict or nullification than it does in a guilty verdict.

Defense lawyers and defendants have very little discretion compared to other actors in the criminal justice system.  At trial, defense lawyers have some discretion when it comes to what evidence to present and what witnesses to use as well as how to present their evidence and conduct their cross-examinations.  Defendants have more discretion than their lawyers because they decide whether or not to plead guilty and whether or not to take the stand.

A criminal judge is tasked with balancing the needs of the community and the rights of the defendant; they are given a large amount of discretion in order to do so.  Judges have the ability to let charges stand or dismiss charges.  The 8th amendment gives them the ability to set bail and decide how much to set it for.  Judges have discretion when it comes to what evidence can come into the court and which witnesses can testify, essentially directing what a jury can hear.  Although there are sentencing guidelines, judges often have the ability to choose the degree of punishment on a sliding scale.  As I previously mentioned, judges also have the ability to overturn guilty verdicts.

One of the biggest concerns with judicial discretion is inconsistency.  Different judges will exercise their discretion differently because of their own beliefs and understanding of the issue.  Judges have been accused of abusing their power when it comes to sentencing.  Authors such as Jon Roland believe that judges will impose lenient sentences in order to avoid prison overcrowding and the early release of violent offenders.

Discretion is an essential component to an efficient justice system.  There are concerns about discretion, but they are outweighed by the positive aspects.  For example, while police discretion is transparent, it is outweighed by public safety.  If police officers were unable to arrest suspects on scene before attaining a warrant, a suspect may flea and commit a potentially life-threatening crime.  As far as the Bland issue goes, like I previously stated, we do not know all of the facts of the traffic stop and following arrest.  I think that it is necessary for officers to have discretion for safety reasons, and if we are worried about them abusing it, we need to have stricter guidelines for becoming a cop.  The discretion is essential, but it must be put in the right hands.  Prosecutors have been accused of brining cases to court without enough evidence, but it is better that they have the discretion to choose whether or not to bring each case.  Alternatively, if they did not have this discretion, and were required to present every case that was brought to them, they would constantly be wasting the courts time and taxpayer’s money.  Grand juries and petit juries are accused of having too much power when it comes to deciding not to indict, returning a not guilty verdict, or nullifying, however they are necessary because they are the cross-section between the common citizens and the governmental judicial actors.  They bring the views of the community to help ensure not only a fair decision, but one that encompasses democracy.  Discretion is essential to defendants and their attorneys so that they are given a chance to tell their side of the story.  The biggest drawback of judicial discretion is inconsistency, however this drawback can also be looked at as a positive aspect.  Inconsistency also means flexibility, which is a good thing because not every crime is exactly the same, therefor it should not be treated exactly the same.  Judges must look at the broad scope, the entire story, when making a decision.  This specifically applies to sentencing guidelines.  Judges are usually given a choice between a low, medium and high sentence.  The judge will look at the circumstances of the crime, whether or not the defendant is a repeat offender, what their ties are to the community, etc. when deciding where on this scale they should go.  Someone who is charged with robbery for stealing food for their baby because they are poor should not get the same sentence as someone charged with robbery for the fourth time who was  trying to steal alcohol.

Our criminal justice system needs discretion in order to ensure that each case is not only treated lawfully, but that it is carefully thought out.  Without discretion, majority of the criminal justice system could be run by computers.  We need people and their decision making ability in order to understand and evaluate the human aspect of each situation.

Sources:

Fairfax Jr., Roger A. “Grand Jury Discretion and Constitutional Design.” 93 Cornell L. Rev. 703 (2008). <http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clr/vol93/iss4/7>

Joy, Peter A. “Prosecutorial Misconduct.” California Innocence Project. California Innocence Project, 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2015. <http://californiainnocenceproject.org/issues-we-face/prosecutorial-misconduct/&gt;.

Lynch, Gerard E. “Prosecution: Prosecutorial Discretion – Varieties Of Discretion, Subjects Of Prosecutorial Discretion, Standards Of Prosecutorial Judgment, Controlling Prosecutorial Discretion.” Law Library-American Law and Legal Information. Jrank, n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <http://law.jrank.org/pages/1870/Prosecution-Prosecutorial-Discretion.html&gt;.

Newhouse, George B., Jr., and William F. Fahey. “Police, Police Misconduct & Rule of Law.” Lecture 4. USC, Los Angeles. 3 Feb. 2015. Lecture.

“Petit Jury.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015. http://www.britannica.com/. Web. 5 Oct. 2015.

Phillip, Abby. “A Trooper Arrested Sandra Bland after She Refused to Put out a Cigarette. Was It Legal?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 22 July 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

Roland, Jon. “Abuse of Judicial Discretion.” Constitution.org. Constitution Society, 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

Rosario, Rubén. “No Such Thing As A Routine Traffic Stop.” Nosuchthing. Force Science Newsletter, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

“The Justice System.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Office of Justice Descriptions. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

Slacktivism

What is “slacktivism?” A combination of the words slacker and activist, slacktivism is generally defined as actions performed on the Internet to support a political or social cause; the actions require little time or effort. For example, signing an online petition, posting an Instagram photo, retweeting something, joining a campaign group online, or changing the filter on your Facebook profile picture. Because these actions do not require much effort, many old school activists (the ones who tell you they marched with MLK etc.) are very against this new form of activism. In fact, they say it isn’t activism at all. Old school activist believe that if you aren’t physically out there on the front lines, you can’t possibly be making a difference.

While I agree that getting out and fighting for a cause is important and sometimes more effective, I don’t think slacktivism is useless. It can, and has, done a lot of great work. Consider the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, for example. It was criticized for being silly and not actually doing any good. Critics said that no one was actually learning about the cause or donating, and that people were just doing it for attention and personal gain. In reality, the campaign went viral and in one month did more marketing for ALS awareness than any organization had done in years. Millions of people created these videos, which led to millions of people looking up ALS and talking about it. 220 million dollars were donated to ALS charities worldwide. Things were getting done. And sure, some people probably were just making videos to get attention and more “likes,” but those people were still making others aware of the issue, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Changing your profile picture filter to pink for breast cancer won’t cure cancer, but maybe it will get someone to donate to the cause, or at least get people to become more aware of it. The OG activists are right, slacktivism does not have the same effect as giving up your Saturday to feed the homeless, but it does get people aware and it can certainly lead to people becoming more involved. Also, because it is a lot easier, less time consuming, and usually free, it will attract a lot more people. Slacktivism should not be the only form of activism that a group or campaign uses, but in our social media world, it is certainly a good one to explore and use.

sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-finger/als-awareness-month-beyond-the-ice-bucket-challenge_b_7473940.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/03/12/does-slacktivism-work/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-geoffrey-a-mitelman/can-slacktivism-lead-to-a_b_5946986.html

I Am Cait: A Pamphlet on Transgender Issues and Misconceptions

Although you may not have any interest in the show, and maybe you hate the whole Kardashian empire, you ought to be interested in the way that our society discusses important issues. Because of Caitlyn Jenner’s fame and money, she has been chosen to be the new “representative” for the transgender community. I was hoping that her show would give insight into some of the challenges both she and her friends in the transgender community are experiencing (or have experienced). While there are glimpses of this, unfortunately, majority of the show feels very staged. At times while watching the show, I felt like I was reading a pamphlet on transgender issues and misconceptions. It is great that Caitlyn is using her position to talk about some of these issues, but if she is going to do that, she should make them more real.

In Moze Halperin’s article on the show, ‘I Am Cait’: Staging Empathy for Social Change, she praises the show for not trivializing her transition, as you would expect a reality show to do. She says:

“Had one of the first reality TV shows about a transgender public figure eschewed the very grave issues facing the highly underrepresented minority in favor of the usual mode of nihilistic kitsch, it wouldn’t have been seen as just another charmingly useless part of the reality TV machine. Rightly, it would have likely been received as somewhat appalling. People would have accused it of trivializing the experience just as reality TV does with issues that aren’t quite as sensitive. Luckily, I Am Cait does no such thing. As highly empathic television that’s also strategically hitting all the right notes to be accepted by all parties, it’s a fascinating specimen of a new form of social justice oriented reality TV.”

I disagree; I think that by “strategically hitting all the right notes to be accepted by all parties,” the show actually does trivialize her transition and does a disservice to the transgender community. Throughout the show, Caitlyn and her new posse attend NYC Pride and visit non-profits which support the LGBTQ community. They meet with people who are working towards change, but the problem is, all they discuss are the hot button issues (and they do so in the most politically correct way as possible). It feels extremely staged and, at times, somewhat ingenuine.

Of course we know and accept that all reality shows have an element of staging, but I had hoped that I am Cait would be able to show more of the real experiences, struggles, benefits, etc. of Jenner’s life and experience transitioning. While Jenner’s life is certainly privileged and therefore her transition is not typical, I still think it is important to see her genuine experiences. Even though her experience is very different than others (but then again isn’t everyone’s experience completely their own and different), I think that the show would be a lot more effective in shedding light on some of the social justice issues if it was more real. Caitlyn has experienced some of the injustices despite her privilege, and her friends certainly have; If the show focused on that rather than trying to be politically correct and hit every hot button issue, it would not only be more interesting to watch, but it would give people a better understanding of the social injustices.

Chocolate Makes You Skinny?!

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Now that I have got your attention, I am sorry, but the answer is no, eating chocolate will not give you that perfect summer body. And, I hate to break it to you, but you know all those easy and great health and weight loss tips you read in a magazine or online? Well, they are probably not going to work either.

As a college student surrounded by ramen and free pizza and donuts, it is already hard enough to eat a healthy diet without confusing, and often false, advertisements telling me what is or isn’t good for me. I work hard to live a healthy lifestyle and eat nutritiously, so I am constantly struggling with knowing who or what to trust. It is unrealistic that I, or any average person who wants to eat healthy, is going to be able to do all of the scientific research on their own to know what is best for them. Advertisers only make this harder with posts like, “Chocolate is Good For You!,” when really only a small amount of dark chocolate that has a specific percentage of cacao or higher and has very little sugar is what is good for you (well I think it is..).

A peer of mine recently posted on her blog, Just Add Reason, about the issue of not knowing who to trust and reiterated the fact that advertisers often deceive you. In her post, titled, Food or Toxic Drug – Honestly, How Are We to Know Better?, she questions the general publics ability to argue against the white coat:

“It isn’t new that advertising fires ridiculous amounts of health messages at us. What’s good for you? What’s not?  We are well aware of how they can skew nutrition label information left and right to convince us to buy their product.  Unfortunately, the general public, more often than not, succumbs to these fallacies. But honestly, how are you supposed to be an expert in nutrition if you haven’t spent your life with your nose in a medical journal?   Truth be told, our ignorance or naivety when it comes to the nutrition label is to be expected. We are pleasantly preoccupied with goals other than mastering the nutrition checklist and staying current on the recent macronutrient verdicts.   When looking for answers we turn to those qualified and of merit in the field – of course.  Though we, as a general public, always run the risk of receiving unreliable or misleading information, what gives us the confidence to argue against the expert in the white lab coat?”

Of course, with the internet, just about anyone can post just about anything, but what concerns me, is how professionals (doctors, scientists, nutritionists) are advertising these fad diets and bogus health tips and how it is so easy for them to do so. So, I decided to do a little research on how the ‘chocolate as a weight loss tool’ fad all started.

Science journalist John Bohannon, who is not only one of the people responsible for spreading the fad, but also debunking it. He has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and works as a journalist. Bohannon explains how the chocolate story started. He and a group of documentary filmmakers teamed up to prove “just how easy it is to turn bad science into big headlines.” They made a group and a website which they titled the Institute of Diet and Health. With their made up group, they recruited a doctor, an analyst, and paid research subjects to take part in a clinical trial in which they tested the effects of eating chocolate.

Although both Bohannon and the Doctor’s goal was to blast pseudoscience in the diet industry, they ran a real clinical trial to do so. One-third of the subjects were randomly put on a low-carb diet, and one-third were assigned to eat a 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate every day in addition to the same low-carb diet. The other third was the control group; they were instructed to keep up with their normal diets. After 21 days, the analyst crunched the numbers and found that the chocolate-eating group lost weight about 10 percent faster than the other dieters.

Wait.. so the study showed that chocolate did lead to weight loss..so we should trust it, right? Bohannon explains why we shouldn’t and that the experiment was basically rigged:

“Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a ‘statistically significant’ result. Our study included 18 different measurements — weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc. — from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives….We didn’t know exactly what would pan out — the headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure — but we knew our chances of getting at least one ‘statistically significant’ result were pretty good.”

Now that they had a report that showed a result which they liked, all they needed was a publisher. They found one, who did not fact check them at all, published their work, and paid them.

So basically, doctors and researchers are able to create the results that benefit them the most and have the biggest headline in order to make some extra cash. My own moral issues with this aside, the main point is that you should not trust any catchy weight loss or health tool headline. My advice, is that you should just try to keep your diet balanced and listen to your body. There is no one size fits all diet. If something sounds good, eat it; if you know something makes you feel sick later, avoid it; and if you are craving something “bad,” don’t make it off limits, just have a small amount.