Featured

Why We Need this Publication

Spend your leisure time cultivating an ear attentive to discourse, for in this way you will find that you learn with ease what others have found out with difficulty.

-Isocrates

Growing up in a family with different politics than my own, I remember attempting to make every night at the dinner table a debate. I was convinced my politics were on a moral high ground, and I was determined to convince my family of this. I thought it was my duty to “convert” my family to believers of the values that my political party championed. I remember my mom used to tell me, “Something you’ve got to realize about politics is, Democrats and Republicans may think differently, but they don’t really act all that different.”

The idea that both sides of the political spectrum share fundamental traits, despite having differing morals, has always lingered in my mind, and it is something that I have come to find very true. Neither side is on higher ground behaviorally, although both sides believe they are. You are probably thinking, “well of course Democrats and Republicans act the same, all humans act the same at their core,” but no, I mean how each side hates the other specifically for things that they themselves do. Neither side trusts the other, both sides fear one another, and most importantly, both have a flawed perception about what the other believes.

Research has shown that there is an ever-widening “Perception Gap” growing in American politics as we speak. A study conducted by More in Common found that the Democrats they surveyed believed 53% of Republicans to hold radical views on topics like immigration, women’s rights, and climate change, despite only 34% of Republicans actually doing so. And while only 29% of Democrats hold radical views on these issues, Republicans estimated that number to be 56%.      

So what does this tell us, and what does it have to do with this publication? Well, for one, it tells us that people on opposite sides of the political spectrum aren’t speaking to one another, a phenomenon driven by hyperpartisanship. It isn’t necessarily that Democrats or Republicans now have a stronger allegiance to their parties more so than ever before; it is that there is a stronger antagonism between the two parties unlike that of the past. Most importantly, with this antagonism comes assumptions that someone believes a certain way about something because of their association with a particular political party. 

This antagonism has become so strong that nowadays many Democrats and Republicans chose partners and friends not based on personality or level of intimacy, but on the political party they identify with. We’ve even had people quit writing for LPR because we’re too liberal, too conservative, or somewhere in between. It is this perception gap and unwillingness to attempt to understand other perspectives that is particularly dangerous to our society, and that is where we come in.

We at the Louisville Political Review are dedicated to closing that perception gap and to helping people understand one another. We are not necessarily seeking to change anyone’s mind about a particular issue, but open it to perspectives different from their own. Rather than filtering ideas to suit the beliefs of our readers and what we think they would like, we want to encourage our readers to challenge themselves to learn about an idea from a viewpoint dissimilar from their own.

Having a venue that challenges oneself to understand different perspectives is just as important for our readers as it is for our writers and editors. The makeup of our staff is incredibly diverse, and as a result, the articles we produce are inherently varied politically, socially, and intellectually. This indirectly exposes our writers and editors to a new and wide array of concepts and perspectives. Moreover, we actively encourage our writers to evaluate their beliefs, asking deeper questions like why they think the way they do, and to always consider other perspectives when writing. We believe actively creating this space for our readers, writers, editors to articulate their ideas and spark humble discussions around often contentious topics is crucial to closing the perception gap.

We hope this is, and remains, a publication the University and community of Louisville is proud of: a diverse display of the extraordinary writing and research by undergraduate students. Niccio Machiavelli once said, “Politics have no relation to morals.” At the Louisville Political Review, we vehemently disagree. Instead, we insist on elevating respectful and informed dialogue in a political climate where conflict, ruthlessness, and boldly shrewd attempts to gain power are glorified. In other words, we strive to be a light in an oftentimes dark profession; we strive to provide clarity in the convoluted. We reject Machiavellian tendencies, and instead look to another great philosopher, Dr. King. In his words, we at LPR have decided to stick with love; for hate is too great a burden to bear. 

Thus, we do not engage in ad hominem attacks on others, we do not tolerate hateful rhetoric from our members, and most importantly, we always recognize our intellectual inability to speak to every possible view of an issue. 

In order to achieve transparency between our writers, editors, and our audience, it is important to share the following information to highlight the necessity of our publication.

A couple months ago, a former writer of the Louisville Political Review shared posts containing slurs on their personal social media accounts that one could view as homophobic. That member was confronted in a private meeting, where they were informed that posts of hateful and offensive nature would not be tolerated on social media accounts that are associated with an active member of LPR. This was not an arbitrary or novel standard. In fact, we have severed ties with a writer before for breaching this standard. It is important to note that this meeting, though, was not set with the intention of terminating the member that breached the Code of Conduct, only to warn them against sharing further inflammatory posts. 

Instead of accepting that warning and committing to displaying more acceptable behavior, the former member instead initiated an impassioned tirade against members of the editorial board that was disrespectful and unprofessional. At the end of the meeting, the member resigned from the Louisville Political Review. 

We believe the issue is now resolved, and we want to ensure our readers that the entirety of the LPR staff remain fully committed to the continuance of this publication despite these events.

Why Sinema’s Departure is an Opportunity

Kyrsten Sinema is one of the most unpopular senators in the country. At best, this is a sentiment shared across her constituency. Among numerous demographics (men, women, Whites, Hispanics, college graduates, high school graduates, Democrats, Independents, Republicans, etc.), Sinema is disapproved of by over 50% of respondents.

As Slate reports, her entire brand has been about working “across the aisle” to bring both sides together, as evidenced by recent social media posts–but the only unity she seems to bring is universal dislike. To be fair, her latest ratings are a significant improvement from the 8% favorability rating she received from Democrats back in January 2022.

Her story is a tragic one: a Green Party member’s descent into corporate neoliberalism, and a love for the status quo so maddening that it drove this noble legislator to tank the Build Back Better program of her party, watering it down substantially until it had barely any bite. There was too much at stake for the corporate donors that funded her campaign: Build Back Better would have raised the corporate tax rate to 28%, cracked down on corporate tax avoidances and loopholes, ended subsidies to fossil fuel companies, and increased protections for labor unions.

In its original form, the bill would have delivered social democratic reform to millions of Americans in desperate need of help. More importantly, it would have challenged the neoliberal system that, day after day, threatens the security of working people as the ultra-wealthy fight a bitter class war in pursuit of their interests: extreme wealth, privilege, and immense sway over policy programs.

The reality that two senators (both Sinema and Manchin, D-WV) could hold a legislative program hostage revealed the inability of the Democratic Party leadership to corral its members: a kind of control that Republican leadership exerts with relative ease. Despite having a “government trifecta,” commandeering the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party leadership did not employ the necessary resources to compel Manchin and Sinema’s support for President Biden’s legislation.

Noble Departure

Last month, Sinema bent over backward for the establishment that sustained her career by announcing that she was leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent. In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, she positions herself as a maverick on a quest for enlightened statesmanship without the partisan brain rot. “I’ve never fit neatly into any party box. I’ve never really tried. I don’t want to,” she said. “Removing myself from the partisan structure—not only is it true to who I am and how I operate, I also think it’ll provide a place of belonging for many folks across the state and the country, who also are tired of the partisanship.”

But as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out, the “soliloquy” she delivered elucidated zero policy proposals. “Not once [did] Sinema offer a single concrete value or policy she believes in. She lays out no goals for Arizonans, no vision, no commitments.” This is a crucial point. If the Democratic Party is going to be the party of working people, as it was from the 1930s to the 1960s (until neoliberalism took root in the 1970s), getting corrupt actors like Sinema out of the party is a benefit. It’s also an opportunity for staunchly anti-corporate forces to win.

Sinema’s departure opens up the Democratic primary to a principled anti-corporate candidate supportive of the kind of social democratic reforms that Build Back Better would have brought. No one understands the damage that Sinema delivered more than her constituents, and not only is it strategically advantageous to run a candidate outflanking her to her left under the Democratic ticket but it could, frankly, be a layup from a substantive perspective. 

First, the first-past-the-post voting system forces strategic voting: Democratic voters understand that voting for an Independent instead would lend power to the Republican challenger, so your one vote has to go for the strategic option (this kind of plurality voting system is in serious need of reform: it guts any chances that third party candidates have of winning).

Second, Sinema will have to work hard to restore any semblance of approval among her constituents after her endless displays of corruption: legalized bribery; neoliberal policy-making; voting against reforms such as the $15 minimum wage; voting against climate legislation that would address the epistemic crisis threatening civilization; voting against the Iran Nuclear Deal and supporting hawkish military action in the abandonment of her anti-interventionist past; opposing universal healthcare, which would bring us up to par with the rest of the developed world and save us money; opposing pricing reform for prescription drugs; and countless other displays of sheer service to the Establishment.

Sinema’s departure should be viewed as a window of opportunity to elect a principled, progressive, anti-neoliberal Democrat who will fight for the needs of working people as they live and suffer under the current economic regime–an economic order that deprives them of guaranteed healthcare, threatens their ability to unionize, stunts their wages, blocks student debt reform, blocks prescription drug reform, and constantly threatens the various social programs that working people fought for: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and others. Their demise looms closer with the new Republican majority in the House.

We need somebody to challenge the military-industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industry, the gun lobby, the super PACs, foreign lobbies like Saudi Arabia, and other enemies of working people. Sinema is subservient to the owners, not the people–this is a chance to prevent her, once and for all, from striking more blows to working people and hopefully mitigate some of the damage she’s already done.

HANDS OFF HAITI: THE PEOPLE’S ONGOING STRUGGLE AGAINST FOREIGN IMPERIALIST INTERVENTION

In the last few months there has been an escalation in the severity of the political situation in Haiti. In the wake of the assassination of president Jovenel Moïse last year by US trained Colombian mercenaries, the nation has become wrecked with crisis and political strife. Ariel Henry has taken over as the unelected prime minister, taking the place of Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, a move which was supported by western nations of the Core Group. Since taking office, Ariel Henry has continually postponed democratic elections, and in September lifted fuel subsidies amidst a global energy shortage at the behest of Washington and the IMF. In response, the armed group “Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies” (FRG9) seized control of the nation’s fuel supply demanding either the immediate lifting of the price hike or the resignation of Henry. 

Almost immediately, Ariel Henry requested a United Nations “specialized armed force” to intervene in Haiti, a call which was supported by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Since then, the US government has sold military equipment to Haitian national police, lobbied sanctions against Haitian gang leaders, and continually expressed their eagerness to mount a military invasion under UN Article Seven

In early November, FRG9 leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier announced that the blockade would be lifted and the flow of petrol would resume. This came after attacks from Haitian National Police using armored cars supplied by the US. Although the fuel blockade was cited as the main pretext for foreign military intervention, American officials and news sources have continued their warmongering rhetoric.

Today, the flow of fuel has resumed, but the situation still remains incredibly tumultuous as the people of Haiti suffer under a corrupt and oppressive government which cares more for the interests of the nation’s wealthy minority than those living in slums. A recent cholera outbreak which has primarily affected children will only exacerbate this suffering, and Haitian refugees are being deported back from Florida and the Dominican Republic, actions which are deeply rooted in racist sentiment. Despite months of empty promises of elections from unelected president Ariel Henry, Haiti currently has no democratically elected lawmakers in the senate after their terms expired. Haiti’s government represents the interests of a dwindling upper class, and its authority is overwhelmingly rejected by its citizens.

Demonstrations in the streets have been almost constant in the past few months and the message is clear: the people of Haiti are prepared to fight for a better future, one without the oppressive boot of American imperialism on their throat.

A Legacy of Imperialism

The island of Haiti has been brutalized under the yoke of foreign imperialism since Columbus first landed on Hispaniola in 1492. Within 25 years, the indigenous Taino people were worked to extinction. African slaves were brought to take their place, and forced to toil in the most astoundingly brutal conditions. Hundreds of thousands died to fill the pockets of French plantation owners. In 1791, General Toussaint Louverture, national hero and martyr, led a slave rebellion against the French slaveowners. Although he never lived to see a free Haiti, the rebellion lived on, and under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian revolution became the most successful slave revolt in history. For this sin, the imperialist powers of the United States and Europe would condemn the island to centuries of rape, oppression, desecration, and robbery.

The US has been interfering in Haitian affairs since Haiti first won its independence, and has deployed military forces to the nation multiple times in the past century. Most notably, from 1915-1934, the US military occupied the island and declared martial law. This campaign was preceded by the seizure of $500,000 from Haiti’s national bank, and the occupation was characterized by viscous persecution of dissidents and the authoring of a new constitution, which for the first time in Haiti’s history allowed foreign ownership of Haitian land. 

In 1991, Haiti’s first ever democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide took office. Only eight months into his presidency, he was deposed in a coup backed by the CIA and led by US trained Haitian military commanders. In 1994, US troops reinstalled Aristide under “Operation Uphold Democracy”, but he was again removed from power in 2004 and forcibly exiled by the US. These series of events, almost comical in their absurdity, show just how deep rooted American interests are in Haitian politics.

Between 1993 and 2019 there was a near constant UN peacekeeping force present in Haiti, comprising multiple “stabilization missions”. These have been associated with widespread allegations of sexual abuse by the “peacekeepers”, as well as a massive cholera outbreak.

Aside from direct military presence, the US also has a longstanding record of clandestine operations in Haiti, including collaboration with drug traffickers. More impactful than any direct imperialist violence, however, is the grip that foreign financial imperialism has had on Haiti from the very beginning. In 1825, French warships blockaded Haiti’s harbors. For the crime of winning their freedom, the Haitian people were forced to pay reparations to French slave owners. The principal amount was $150 million, but the young nation, ravaged by centuries of slavery, was unable to pay it back, and the debt stayed for years as interest compounded. Wall Street also got their piece of the pie during the US occupation in 1915 when Citigroup purchased shares of the Haitian National Bank, and American companies bought up Haitian property. These debts are the primary cause of Haiti’s current poverty, as for decades all of the nation’s wealth was spent to line the pockets of foreign property owners. As Micheal Parenti astutely remarked, “the third world is not poor…[they] are not underdeveloped, they are overexploited”.

When considering this time-honored tradition of foreign exploitation in Haiti, it is no wonder that the Haitian people are so averse to foreign intervention. In protests over the last few months, angered masses have called Canadians and Americans “monsters” responsible for “chaos”. Protesters have also been seen flying Russian and Chinese flags, urging America’s adversaries to veto UN mobilization and work to construct a multipolar world order. Haitians are not blind to the lies of the western world. They demand a government that will bring an end to hunger, poverty, and inequality instead of offering empty promises of “freedom” and “democracy” while lining the pockets of domestic and overseas business like the US backed regimes. These aren’t just demands for political reform, either. The popularity of figures like Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a self-described revolutionary, shows that this is a movement for radical change.

What Happens Next?

Chérizier has been in the crosshairs of American and Haitian business interests since emerging as a popular leader a few years ago. Originally a member of the Haitian National police, he has been smeared with allegations of involvement with massacres on behalf of the Moïse government, which he denies. The main source of these allegations come from the Haitian human rights group Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), which receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an organization with deep ties to the CIA and American State Department. Chérizier rejects the label that he is a gang leader, saying in no uncertain terms, “The day I become a gang leader who gives someone a gun to go steal, bring me money, to kidnap, to do bad things, that’s the day I’ll take that gun and shoot myself in the head.”

Regardless if Barbeque is a revolutionary, a criminal, or some of both, his massive popular support cannot be denied. G9 has grown from a small armed group protecting the lower Delmas neighborhood in Port-au-Prince to a large coalition which controls a significant portion of the city, all through grassroots support from Haitians who resonate with Barbeque’s message. The news coverage surrounding Barbeque has been primarily critiques of his character and history, when the focus should be on the rhetoric that has gotten him so popular.  “We want a revolution to redistribute the country’s wealth”, says Chérizier, “for all Haitians to have something, just like the nation’s father, Jean-Jacques Dessalines wanted Haiti’s children to have something, and that’s why they assassinated him.” 

Its impossible to say if Chérizier’s movement will live up to these lofty ideals, but he importantly represents a growing disdain for foreign imperialism that has escalated into an organized militant movement. Haiti’s liberation can only be achieved by the Haitian people, but it will require international solidarity. The American state has committed innumerable atrocities against Haiti, and we must begin to atone. First and foremost, as citizens we must do all in our power to resist any escalation on the part of the US government which could lead to intervention in Haiti, military or otherwise. We can support legitimate efforts of solidarity, looking toward the Cuban Medical Brigade as a shining example.

Additionally, the American and French governments must pay reparations to the Haitian people, including not only the money stolen by the US in 1914, but also the sums paid to French slaveholders, plus compensation for the decades of disruption and stunted growth. These demands are meager, and will only begin to recompense the horrible legacy that America and others have left on Haiti, but we must begin somewhere. As Franz Fanon said, “Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”

The Haitian people are aggravated from centuries of exploitation. They know their enemies, and see clearly that America does not meddle in their country’s affairs for any altruistic reasons, but to satisfy the overwhelming greed of capital. In a tragic irony, the first nation of slaves to win their freedom is today still subject to the same masters and must once again liberate themselves. This liberation may be peaceful or violent, but it will come, and it is our responsibility as Americans living in the imperial core to do all in our power to reject hawkish rhetoric and ensure that our government does not stand in the way of Haitian self-determination.

“In overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of the black liberty in St-Domingue-it will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

-Toussaint Louverture

Amendment 2 and the Attorney General’s Attempts to Ignore the Voice of the People

When the Kentucky General Assembly proposed an amendment to the Kentucky Constitution removing any inferred right to abortion, many believed that Kentucky would quickly pass the measure. Pro-choice advocates crossed their fingers, hoping Kentuckians would reject the proposal–listed as Amendment 2 on last year’s ballot– and its radically anti-abortion language. When the votes were finally tallied, 52 percent of voters delivered a message in defense of privacy rights. Anti-abortion politicians were forced to reconsider their perceptions of public opinion and realize that a constitutional amendment of this nature ran contrary to the will of the people.

Unfortunately for Kentuckians, the state Attorney General’s office has failed to come to terms with this truth. Rather, it has entrenched itself in the attempted resurrection of this failed initiative and has filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court defending the rejected constitutional interpretation. On November 9th, in defense of the General Assembly’s blocked trigger law and six week ban, Attorney General Daniel Cameron filed a motion with the Kentucky Supreme Court arguing that Amendment 2’s Election Day defeat should be ignored and that the decision on abortion’s legality should lie solely with the General Assembly.

According to the Attorney General’s office, the Amendment itself was an attempt to “foreclose an argument that our Constitution implicitly protects the right to abortion.” In other words, the General Assembly sought to end the debate on their abortion laws before it could begin. These concerns were realized in July when the measures came before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry. Perry instated a temporary injunction on both bans arguing that there was probable cause to believe that the rights of people seeking abortions were being violated. Additionally, Judge Perry held that the right to privacy guaranteed by the Kentucky Constitution is even more expansive than that found in the Federal Constitution and that the bans betrayed this right.

In his appearance before the Kentucky Supreme Court on November 15th, Solicitor General Matt Kuhn argued that the General Assembly is the best representative of Kentuckians views on abortion, stating that it is the legislature and not the Court that is “most responsive to the people.” The venue for Kuhn’s argument belies his flawed logic, however. When the very people he claims the legislature to be most responsive to strike down a proposal, why does the Solicitor General go to an allegedly LESS responsive branch of government requesting a new-and-improved outcome? How can one contend to be the best representative of democracy but then disagree with and work against democracy’s results?

Solicitor General Kuhn attempts to explain this contradiction with an equally confounding answer. The Attorney General’s office makes the distinction that it was an attempt to add language that was voted down, thus leaving it to the Court to decide whether the Constitution as it currently stands does not have any inferred right to abortion. “What I would suggest,” Kuhn said, “is that the decision not to add words to our constitution does not change the meaning of the words that are already there.”

Kuhn’s words are a clever attempt to ignore the reality of what Amendment 2 was. Its language – “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion” – was itself a constitutional interpretation, one which the voters rejected. 

Ultimately, a constitution  must be a reflection of the values of the people it represents. The purpose of a proposed ballot amendment is to gauge the support of voters. When an idea is rejected, it tells lawmakers they need to return to the drawing board. If the legislature and the Attorney General are going to ignore the results of this amendment and instead carry on with aggressive bans and legal efforts to remove the right to abortion, what was the point of voting in the first place?

While it is clear that a majority of Kentucky voters do not favor universally restrictive language being added to the Kentucky Constitution, it is not clear that voters are in favor of providing expanded abortion access, as some were quick to claim after the votes were tallied. It is more appropriate to say, however, that Kentuckians have recognized that thoughtful discussions can and need to be had on the issue of abortion. Both halves of the electorate must come together to negotiate a satisfactory set of policies that more clearly and fairly answer the question of privacy rights than the legislature’s overly aggressive solutions. Amendment 2 and the recent motion from the Attorney General were merely attempts to avoid these debates and halt any further discussion that might yield progress.

Why Did the Felon Cross the Road? To Register to Vote! How an increase in felon voting rights could change elections 

“You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” This phrase could be more accurately stated as, “You can lead a horse to water, but it’s the horse’s right as an autonomous being to choose whether or not to act upon its right to drink.”   

Throughout the Freedom Fall series, my colleagues at the Louisville Political Review have explored the history and impact of felon disenfranchisement and argued that the restoration of voting rights to people who have been convicted of a felony is an integral step on the path to forming a more perfect democracy. Having read and agreed with their arguments I was left with a question: how would the electoral map change if we actually restored voting rights to felons? In other words, if we gave everyone their right to vote back right now with no strings attached would it make a difference in elections? 

It turns out that this question, like most in political science, does not have a simple answer. The short answer is that it’s difficult to tell exactly what would happen, but most likely we wouldn’t see any major changes. This prompts the question: Why? To answer that we have to look at what the issue of felon disenfranchisement is, how it’s changing, and what factors determine if a person will vote. 

Overview of Felon Disenfranchisement

Felon disenfranchisement is defined by the Oxford University Press as the “practice of barring individuals who have been convicted of felony crimes from voting in political elections.” It has a long history in the U.S. beginning in 1792, when Kentucky became the first commonwealth in the nation to limit felons’ voting rights. By the 1860s most state constitutions mandated some form of criminal disenfranchisement and this remained the status quo until the civil rights movement when a few states began rolling back these laws. However, those states were still in the minority. During the early 2000s, the tides began to turn and states like New Mexico, Nevada, and Alabama for example began to repeal voter restrictions. Despite some progress, the practice of felon disenfranchisement continues today with detrimental effects. An estimated 5.8 million people In the U.S. are barred from voting due to felony convictions with Kentucky being the home to more than 197,000 of those people whose rights are not guaranteed.  

What do Voting Rights Laws Look Like Across the U.S?

To date, only two states, Vermont and Maine, allow every person to vote regardless of conviction, imprisonment, or parole status. Most states are somewhere in between. Those on the more severe end, like Kentucky and Virginia, have no legislation besides the limited authority of gubernatorial executive orders that protect the rights of those with felony convictions. Some states like Colorado allow anyone not currently serving a prison sentence to vote and some states like Minnesota only withhold voting rights from those who are “currently serving a felony conviction sentence, including probation, parole or supervised release” 

Not only are these laws often contradictory, but they are constantly evolving. In Kentucky, for example, it was illegal for felons to vote until Governor Steven Beshear signed an executive order granting voting rights to some felons on November 24, 2015 which was rescinded by his successor Matt Bevin less than a month later. On Dec 12, 2019, yet another change came by executive order, this time by Governor Andy Beshear whose executive order granted the right to vote to nearly 140,000 formerly convicted people. 

How Do These Laws Affect Who Will Vote? 

The dynamic nature of state laws concerning disenfranchisement becomes a problem when registering potential voters and encouraging people to actually vote. A textbook example of this is seen in Florida. In 2018, Florida amended its state constitution to return voting rights to nearly 1.4 million people upon the completion of their sentences. However, in 2019 a law was passed to amend the phrase “completion of sentence” to include the complete payment of all fines and fees the sentence may have incurred. This came to a head in August of 2022 when 20 people who were formerly convicted of felonies were arrested for casting a ballot in the 2020 election. This was a result of confusion surrounding who was actualy eligible because those arrested were convicted for crimes like murder that were not forgiven by the 2018 law or 2019 amendment. This has had wide ranging impacts and has made formerly incarcerated people, even those who are eligible to vote, wary of exercising their civil rights for fear that they may jeopardize their freedom. 

Even when governments try to clarify voting rights by explicitly informing formerly incarcerated people of their right to vote it really doesn’t change anything. A study of New York, New Mexico, and North Carolina showed that voter turnout to presidential elections among former felons remained largely the same both before and after notification was given to released convicts informing them of their right to vote. The ever changing nature of voting legislation has actually resulted in people receiving incorrect information upon their release from prison. Release documents in Colorado that were last updated in 2014 incorrectly stated that parolees could not register to vote despite being distributed more than two years after a 2019 bill was passed explicitly giving people on parole the right to register and vote. This confusion plays a large part but is not the only reason we most likely would not see significant changes in election results even if all felons were immediately granted the right to vote. 

Other Factors In Election Results

 One of the major reasons that simply reversing felon disenfranchisement would not result in a major shift in the political landscape is simply that people who are generally  likely to be convicted of a felony are the same demographic of people who are highly unlikely to vote. Lower rates of voter turnout are seen historically in people who are lower income, who have less formal education, and in young people. Prison populations tend to show very similar trends. The Brookings Institute found that “Two years prior to the year they entered prison, 56 percent of individuals have essentially no annual earnings (less than $500).” Additionally, prison populations tend to have less formal education. 

Explicit parallels can be drawn between these statistics and the actual data on voter turnout rates among people convicted of felons. Remember that study about voter turnout in New York, New Mexico, and North Carolina that was mentioned earlier that showed no significant increase before and after formerly convicted people were notified they could vote? Well the overall turnout of ex-felons that they saw was only 10% of the eligible number of ex-felon voters. Another study looked at whether strict voter disenfranchisement laws negatively impacted the eligible population of voters and found that even in places without strict voter disenfranchisement laws the eligible population did not turn out at higher rates. 

Conclusions

To answer the main question this article asks: how would the electoral map change if voting rights were restored to people convicted of felonies? It likely wouldn’t. Individual states have constantly changing, incredibly flummoxing, and complex laws concerning felons’ right to vote. These laws have potential to cause confusion and even apprehension in potential voters that can result in lower turnout. Even if all laws surrounding voting rights were crystal clear it probably still wouldn’t change the results of elections drastically. The simple fact of the matter is that demographic characteristics like low education levels, low income and youth are highly prevalent in both the groups of people who are most often convicted of felonies and those who are least likely to turn out to cast a vote. However, this is not to say that people should remain disenfranchised. 

Just because someone chooses not to exercise a right does not mean they shouldn’t have the opportunity to do so. That is precisely what makes it a choice. A main goal of this Freedom Fall series, on top of advocating for felons voting rights, is encouraging voter registration. Those looking to learn more about how they can get involved or support this mission can look to groups like the League of Women Voters who advocate for these rights to ensure everyone in our nation has equal access to participate in our democracy.

“If the meanest man in the republic is deprived of his rights then every man in the republic is deprived of his rights.” — Jane Addams, 1903

The Dual-Threat of Election Denialism and Domestic Extremism

The “Big Lie” was on the Ballot in the 2022 Midterms

In light of former President Donald Trump’s false claim that he lost the 2020 presidential election due to widespread voter fraud, election denialism became a rallying cry for Republicans in the 2022 midterm elections. Research from the Brookings Institution found that 345 Republican candidates embraced Trump’s assertion that the 2020 election was stolen and that American elections are deeply flawed. These candidates’ willingness to perpetuate a claim that has repeatedly been proven as false reflects the pervasiveness of conspiracies in contemporary politics, as well as Trump’s continued influence over the Republican Party. Even for those who don’t believe the “Big Lie,” the fact that Trump made election denialism a condition for his endorsement in Republican primaries led many candidates to parrot his fraudulent claims. 

The negative implications of this conspiracy cannot be understated. According to polling from Monmouth University, about one-third (32%) of the American public continues to believe that voter fraud determined the 2020 election, with nearly 3-in-4 Republicans (73%) clinging to the idea that President Biden won through fraud. 

In addition to undermining public trust, for many advocates of the “Big Lie,” efforts to preserve ‘election integrity’ are simply a cover for voter suppression. Working under the guise of “poll watchers,” members of the QAnon-linked group Clean Elections USA actively engaged in voter intimidation in Arizona, Nevada, and North Carolina. Members of the group, including two men in tactical gear who were brandishing guns, were issued a restraining order after harassing voters near a ballot drop-box in Maricopa County, Arizona.

The New Jim Crow Era 

For their part, Republican officials have attacked voting rights through dozens of bills that limit ballot accessibility. These laws restrict early and mail-in voting, impose new photo ID requirements, limit same-day registration, and make it more difficult for individuals without traditional addresses to prove residency and register to vote. Senate Bill 202 in Georgia has made it more difficult to vote by shortening the time for requesting an absentee ballot, limiting drop boxes to one per 100,000 voters, and making it illegal to give food or water to voters standing in line. Provisions such as these disproportionately impact voters of color, and this disparity is further compounded when one includes the continued disenfranchisement of felons. In 11 states, people with felony convictions can be permanently disenfranchised, and even in the states that allow prisoners to vote, a lack of accountability means their rights are routinely violated. Mirroring the racist origin of most felony disenfranchisement laws, mass incarceration in the U.S. means that 2.3% of the voting-age population is disenfranchised. 

These efforts to suppress the vote have been described as a “new Jim Crow” and are eerily reminiscent of the laws that institutionalized Black Americans’ status as second-class citizens following the end of Reconstruction. From 1877 until the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, poll taxes, literacy tests, and onerous registration procedures were used to suppress African-Americans’ right to vote. Today, election denialism and the remedies put forth by its proponents are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle voting rights. Coupled with partisan gerrymandering, this attack on voting rights is a clear effort to increase the likelihood of Republican victories and was instrumental in allowing Republicans to gain control of the House in the midterms.

Fortunately, the results of the 2022 midterms were primarily a repudiation of election deniers, who failed to flip seats in 95% of the statewide races they were competing in. Out of 94 races for statewide office, only 5 non-incumbent election deniers won. More broadly, predictions of a “red wave” failed to materialize, as Republicans underperformed in senatorial and gubernatorial elections in swing states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania.

The Threat Remains

While the election fraud conspiracy failed to catapult many of its advocates into office, supporters of American democracy must not celebrate prematurely. Incumbent election deniers won several races in Republican-leaning states, including five governors’ seats and races for secretary of state in Indiana and Wyoming. 

“Our democracy withstood an important test, and that’s because of the voters,” Joanna Lydgate, CEO of States United Action, said in a statement. “But we need to remember that the election denier movement isn’t going anywhere as we look to 2024. This is a continuing threat.”

Lydgate’s warning is especially salient given the volatility of the American political climate. The U.S. has seen a spike in political violence over the last five years, and many observers attribute the increase in part to the conspiratorial rhetoric espoused by former President Trump and his surrogates. Not only do these false allegations further erode trust in American institutions, they also empower the more violent sentiments propagated by domestic extremist groups. 

Domestic Extremism is on the Rise

The January 6th attacks on the U.S. Capitol Building highlighted the willingness of far-right extremist groups to enact violence in one of the country’s most hallowed institutions. However, members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and many other groups that participated in the riots did not act alone. Former President Trump’s rhetoric and actions in the year leading up to January 6 lent legitimacy to far-right groups. In an infamous moment during a September 2020 debate, when asked if he would condemn white supremacy, Trump instead instructed the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” and said that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.” Such a tacit endorsement of a known extremist group was shocking, and yet it perfectly encapsulated Trump’s stance on violent extremism. 

It would be a mistake, however, to suggest that Republicans’ culpability for political violence began on January 6. In reality, conservative commentators and Republican officials alike have been normalizing violent sentiments for years. What began with Rush Limbaugh playing the racist parody song “Barack the Magic Negro” in 2007 has morphed into Tucker Carlson promoting the “Great Replacement Theory,” a xenophobic conspiracy purporting that liberal immigration policies, specifically those impacting nonwhite immigrants, are part of a plot to undermine or “replace” the political power and culture of white Americans. Carlson’s regular promotion of the conspiracy on Fox News has elicited praise from white supremacists online, and directly inspired the domestic terrorist who murdered 10 Black patrons at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in May of this year. 

More recently, Nancy Pelosi, who has long been vilified by the right, narrowly avoided an attack when an intruder broke into her San Francisco home on October 28th and proceeded to beat her husband, Paul Pelosi, with a hammer. This attack reflects a growing trend of increased threats against members of Congress. According to Capitol Police records, there were more than 9,600 recorded threats against members of Congress last year, a jump of nearly tenfold from 2016. 

Hate crimes are also on the rise. After hitting a low of 5,479 in 2014, they started growing by a few hundred annually, but the trend line rose sharply during the Trump administration. From 2016 to 2017, hate crimes rose by over a thousand cases, and they rose by nearly the same amount again in 2020. In that year, 8,263 hate crimes were recorded by the FBI, the highest number since 9/11. Once again, Trump and the right-wing media are culpable. Look no further than their description of the coronavirus as the “China” or “Wuhan” virus, a racist characterization that fueled a string of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic. 

Moreover, counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 registered a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes compared to counties that Trump did not visit. After being asked about the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides.” The same applies to American politics: there are very fine people on both sides, but Donald Trump, his election-denying surrogates, and the domestic extremists they’ve empowered certainly aren’t. 

With Trump announcing his intent to run for president in 2024, Republican voters must decide whether they allow a man who has fabricated conspiracies, fomented insurrection, and fueled an alarming rise in hate crimes to once again serve as the standard bearer of their party. Although the 2022 midterms afforded a temporary victory for American democracy, the dual threat of election denial and domestic extremism remains as relevant as ever.

Atrazine: Hermaphrodite Frogs, Water Contamination, and Maybe Cancer

Unless you’re a corn farmer or environmental activist, chances are you’ve never heard of atrazine. But you may have drank it, and maybe you’ve even heard Alex Jones talk about it – that it “turns frogs gay.”

Atrazine is the second most commonly used herbicide in the United States. First registered in 1958, atrazine is used on the majority of corn croplands in the United States to fight against broadleaf and grassy weeds–to the tune of 70 million pounds a year,and these 70 million pounds find their way into our environment, with atrazine being the most common herbicide in American surface water. 

From there, it finds its way into our drinking water. The Environmental Working Group, which compiles and studies data on tap water in the United States, found that atrazine is present in the drinking water of “nearly 30 million Americans in 28 states,” primarily in the Midwestern Corn Belt. Additionally, concentrations above the legal levels have been found in multiple cities along the Ohio River, including Louisville.

This presence has been disastrous for the American taxpayer. Syngenta, the Swiss company that manufactures Atrazine, settled a lawsuit in 2012 filed by cities and towns across the Midwest. Just 16 cities reported spending around $350M to filter atrazine out of their water. Syngenta agreed to hand over $105M.

This and another lawsuit against Syngenta prompted the release of internal documents pertaining to their manufacturing and research of atrazine. Among other things, these documents contained disturbing revelations on how the company had treated a particular researcher, Dr. Tyrone Hayes.

Hayes was first contacted by Syngenta shortly after becoming a professor in the biology department at UC Berkeley in the 1990s. Hayes estimates that donations from the company paid for up to ¼ of the biology research there at the time. After the Environmental Protection Agency began expressing concerns about atrazine’s health effects, Syngenta paid Hayes to research the chemical in frogs in 1998. 

Hayes began observing frogs that had been exposed atrazine, finding that when male frogs were raised in water with atrazine levels as low as 2.5 ppb (current regulations allow for 3 ppb in drinking water and 15 ppb in surface water) they experienced a range of effects. Ten percent of the frogs underwent full feminization. These genetic males developed as females, with some even producing eggs. Males that did not undergo complete feminization experienced lower levels of testosterone, decreased sperm production, detriments to other sex characteristics, and were much less likely to mate with females, often preferring to mate with other males.

Following these findings, Hayes claims, and documents from the lawsuits confirm, that Syngentia pressured him to fudge data and later launched an offense against him. After unsuccessfully pressuring him to manipulate data, Syngentia terminated their relationship with Hayes. They did not leave his life, however. Syngentia recruited teams of scientists to discredit his work. Hayes also reports that Syngenta had been monitoring his private emails, and that one employee made intimidating statements about his wife and daughter. 

Interestingly, the studies funded by Syngenta tended to find that atrazine posed much less of a health risk, than did independent ones, and Hayes reports that the scientists conducting them were difficult to collaborate or share data with.  

While this was going on, the European Union banned the use of atrazine in 2003 over concerns of its “ubiquitous and unpreventable water contamination.” The U.S., on the other hand, allowed for its continued use, having set the limit for drinking water at 3 ppb in 1991. The 2003 decision to permit atrazine’s use was guided by two advisory committees made up entirely of EPA and Syngenta employees. 

Syngenta’s history with the EPA extends beyond this, though. The agricultural giant has come into hot water recently after an appellate court found that the EPA registered one of its insecticides, CTP, without meeting standards set up by the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, the company settled a lawsuit with the EPA in 2018, after exposing Hawaiian farmworkers to a pesticide known to cause illness and neurodevelopmental effects.

But back to atrazine. The chemical harms more parts of our aquatic ecosystems than just frogs. Atrazine inhibits photosynthesis in a number of aquatic plants. It is linked to DNA and endocrine system damage in aquatic invertebrates, and was associated with reproductive and developmental deficits in a number of fish species.

You do not have to be a fish or live in water to experience the detrimental effects of atrazine. Atrazine works as an endocrine disruptor in mammals. In human cells, it was found to act on SF-1, a human transcription factor involved in the the function of multiple endocrine glands as well as sex determination. Atrazine’s endocrine disruption, among other things, has been linked to an increase in testosterone’s conversion to estrogen in humans.

It should come as no surprise, then, that atrazine has been linked to other health defects. Current research explores its link to cancer as well as abnormal genital development. It is worth noting that due to ethical concerns, much of the research conducted on atrazine’s effects has been done on rats and not humans.

Corn growers, though, are not too concerned with the chemical’s continued use. Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Corn Growers Association was quoted in a 2020 article as saying, “these products [triazine herbicides] are the most heavily researched compounds in the history of crop production and are among the safest to use for the environment, human safety and for the safety of aquatic life.” Gary Marshall also does work for the Triazine Network, which promotes the use of atrazine and other such chemicals.

Personally, my family has successfully grown corn on our farm for years without ever using atrazine. Atrazine’s continued use in the U.S. flies in the face of the science that proves its detrimental effects on our endocrine function, it harms our aquatic ecosystems, and it has a significant cost on taxpayers across the Midwest. It’s time the EPA, without the help of Syngenta and its army of paid scientists, review the science and determine how safe atrazine really is. 

The 2022 Midterm Elections: A Two-Year Lease on Democracy

Introduction 

The are times in history when it is crucial to take a step back and attempt to view what’s happening not in the vacuum of the present–with all its shifting considerations and interests–but in the vast expanse of the future, knowing that the actions we take today will have consequences that reverberate far past our short time here. In America, and all over the world, now is one of those times. The tumultuous world we are experiencing today will be studied by future students. What will they learn of this current generation? More importantly, how will they be impacted? Will they learn that we had the strength and courage to protect our democracy? Or will they learn that we were cowards that allowed despotic leaders to disintegrate our republic? Only we can decide.

Democracy Won, For Now

Many believe democracy is under attack by Donald Trump and a faction of the Republican Party leadership and voters. Democratic campaign strategies often center around this claim, but the threat to democratic rule in this country is far more than a Democratic talking point. It is real, it is tangible, and it is pressing. The movement is built to challenge rightful election results at every level of the process. It starts in Congress, the institution charged with approving slates of Electoral College votes. Having election deniers in Congress (there are projected to be 156 in the next House and 9 in the next Senate) could be the difference between a state’s electoral votes being accepted or rejected by the body. 

Down to the statewide level, governors and secretaries of state are often charged with running elections and sending their state’s electoral results to Congress. Having election deniers in these positions can be the difference between officially sending electoral college results that reflect the popular vote in that state or results that do not. For example, after Trump lost in 2020, he called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and pressured him to “find 11,780 votes,” enough to flip Georgia back to Trump. Thankfully, Raffensperger refused to comply with those illegal demands.  

Many of these positions were up for grabs in the midterms. Donald Trump, in an attempt to strengthen his undemocratic movement, endorsed candidates for these positions that reflected his opinions about the 2020 election. He quickly showed his force in the party when many of his candidates won their primary elections, often defeating incumbents. The Republican establishment knew he was taking candidates too far to the right in competitive states, but could not deny that Trump had the support of Republican voters who gave him the nomination twice, put the election deniers on the general election ballot, supported or ignore his claims about 2020, and say that “No, Democrats are the real threat to democracy.” This must be understood. Trump’s power differs from people like Mitch McConnell’s. Trump is a populist (with a cult of personality that is frankly scary, one that I got swept up in in 2016), while McConnell derives his power from controlling institutions like the Senate and the Senate Leadership Fund

Simply put, establishment Republican leadership was scared to challenge Trump because they are scared of the people that support Trump: they know nothing of statesmanship, nothing of democracy, nothing of integrity–just petty politics. The writing on the wall was that the party was changing in Trump’s direction, so instead of challenging the unsavory parts of Trumpism, they allowed it to fester to preserve their power. All this could have been avoided by impeaching and convicting Trump directly after January 6th, but the establishment failed to do so, worrying solely about themselves, ignoring the magnitude of that horrific, historic moment.

But oh how fast politics shift! In politics, you can say anything, do anything, be anything–but you must win elections. And Trump’s proving himself to be a loser. He lost in 2020. And many of his key endorsed candidates lost in these midterms–with the most important losses coming in battleground states. Many were direct threats to democracy, also they were just outright weird. Kari Lake (who admittedly, would’ve been an entertaining governor), Blake Masters, and Trump’s secretary of state pick lost in Arizona. His gubernatorial and secretary of state picks lost in Michigan. Doug Mastriano (who as governor would have appointed the secretary of state) and Dr. Oz (also fun) lost in Pennsylvania. Both his statewide picks lost in Minnesota. Trump’s picks often lost what otherwise would have been winnable races. Mitch McConnell cited “candidate quality” as the primary reason the party failed to take the Senate. 

The Republican establishment may tolerate many things, but losing is not one of them. Especially an embarrassing loss like this, which came after Republican leadership and organizers were predicting a “red wave” fueled by voters’ concern about the economy and “kitchen table” issues–issues conveniently not concerned with January 6th or the future of democracy. What they didn’t realize was that voters did care about the riots at the capital, and they do care about protecting democracy from authoritarian politicians. The lackluster results in the midterms represented this clearly. Abortion was another issue fueling Democratic voter turnout, especially among women voters.   

They now have undeniable evidence that attacking democratic institutions is not a winning electoral strategy, and they have used it to say it’s time for Trump to move over. Conservative media even came after him. The New York Post called him, “the most profound vote repellent in modern American history.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board referred to him as the party’s biggest loser. Even online commentators like Ben Shapiro criticized Trump’s recent moves. 

Why support a dangerous man who can’t win elections when men like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis can take over the party, win landslide elections, and bring power back to Republicans? That’s the calculus happening within the party right now. Trump has announced re-election and attacked DeSantis, a desperate move designed to crowd out DeSantis early. DeSantis makes a compelling challenger: he is loved amongst the party’s voters like Trump. 

The Far Right is By No Means Dead 

Note that this opposition to Trump exists not because of his undemocratic tendencies and actions, but because of the unpopularity of those actions amongst middle-of-the-road voters who decide control of government institutions in the United States. For reference, Mitch McConnell said that Republican underperformance in the midterms was due to moderate voters’ perception that the “party was involved in chaos, negativity, excessive attacks.” Fortunately, the most important voters have decided to protect American democracy. But the movement to attack it has not died. In fact, in addition to Trump running for president, the movement gained seats in the House and Senate and won key races like JD Vance in Ohio, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and Joe Lombardo in Nevada. Its congressional members even fought Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy for control of Congressional leadership. 

The far right, with or without Trump, is in it for the long haul. They are organized and frustrated in Congress and party leadership. They have two potential presidential candidates that are the current favorites to win the party’s nomination. They have big money donors like Paypal founder and billionaire Peter Theil who single-handedly funded two Senate campaigns in Ohio and Arizona. A man who said that democracy is unworkable in America. 

Their ideological and tangible political connections to organized militias should not–cannot–be ignored. January 6th was not an accident. It was not a fleeting moment in our nation’s history. It was the result of deep connections between the former President and far-right, often white supremacist militia groups and extreme supporters. This militia movement is armed, dangerous, and growing. With the militias, grassroots conservative activists like Stephen Bannon are organizing poll watchers to “adjudicate every [election] battle” in key states. In the midterms, this happened across the country in a manner we haven’t seen since Jim Crow when Black voters were systematically denied the ballot with the help of this tool. These poll watchers would be wise to remember that today’s Black people are not yesterday’s Black people. We have enjoyed the right to vote (mostly) for the past sixty years, and we intend to keep doing so—by any means necessary. 

Conclusion: The Road to 2024

All these factors, the ingredients to topple democracy, are present. Cult of personality. Power. Money. Guns. Popular support. And a dash, or maybe a new wave, of racism. All these explosive elements are catapulting towards another critical juncture: 2024. Trump is back on the ballot and his people are ready to challenge another election, this time with four years of preparation. Democracy is once again on the ballot: we should vote like it is. We ought to be clear from the start that these midterms did not save democracy, they merely bought us a two-year lease on our republic. And for the next two years, we must not forget it in the hurricane of political issues. It is paramount, for none of the other issues matter if democracy is not secured. Stop letting Republicans dodge this issue: make them explain how they can support the constitution they purport to love while supporting or tolerating a man who so severely violated his oath to preserve, protect, and defend it. 

Image Credits: Gallows V | Tyler Merbler | Flickr

Climate Policy & Congressional Stalemate

The Earth is perishing before our eyes. The temperature of the Earth has risen exponentially, human activities continue to pollute the air, and the most severe impacts of these changes have been felt by the world’s animals and forests. What steps are those in government who represent us taking to address this issue? They continue to pass the buck when it comes to deciding how much money they are going to spend on addressing such urgent issues.

When the Earth came out of the ice age millions of years ago, the temperature steadily rose from 4 degrees Celsius to 7 degrees Celsius. However, since the 20th century, the temperature has risen at a rate of 0.7 degrees Celsius per century, which is 10 times faster than it was during the ice age.


The sixth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted that the global temperature has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius from 1850 to 2017 and that since 1850, the world’s average temperature has gone up by 1.1 degrees Celsius, which led to the IPCC report. continues to rise by another 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will cause unprecedented and irreversible damage to planet Earth. Since 1850, the world’s average temperature has gone up by 1.1 degrees Celsius, which led to the IPCC report. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has stated that a warming of the climate that is greater than 2 degrees Celsius might have “irrevocable repercussions.”

In 2021, the Congressional Research Service conducted an internal report and found that 750 bills had been brought up in Congress that dealt with climate change in some way, but none of them had worked. Because of the lack of lawmaking, we are now seeing global warming’s effects on a huge scale.

The impact of global warming on many forms of life and the ecological balance of the earth is one of the most significant repercussions. The rising temperature has an effect not just on the land but also on the seas, which are home to a massive number of species from across the animal kingdom. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns us that greater water temperatures can induce coral bleaching. This happens when corals exfoliate algae from their tissues, which causes the coral to change from a vibrant palette to a dreary white wasteland in the ocean. The warm seas that were present close to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands caused the United States to lose half of its reefs in the Caribbean in 2005. The Great Barrier Reef, which is located in Australia and is the most significant coral reef system in the world, has also been negatively impacted by coral bleaching. It has been stated that coral bleaching has damaged 90% of reefs that were inspected in 2022. One contributor to this phenomenon is global warming.

In light of this, what steps has Congress taken in the last five years to deal with the important problems that climate change and global warming pose? The Green New Deal resolution, which is a resolution of environmental activism, was submitted to Congress, but the measure has not moved further.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, also known as Build Back Better, is an omnibus bill that was supported by President Joe Biden. The bill initially included $3.5 trillion in funding for green initiatives, which was seen as a step in the direction of the Green New Deal. The bill is encouraging and shows potential. Even so, the bill was passed with $369 billion to support renewable energy, tax breaks for electric vehicles, reducing pollution, making batteries in the United States, and investing in solar panels. This was accomplished despite the House and Senate being in a stalemate.

Even though the measure has been toned down a lot, it still has important parts that will have a big impact on future generations. The standard has the potential to avert the untimely deaths of thousands of people brought on by high levels of air pollution. Think for a moment about what would happen if Congress passed the same plan with the initial $3.5 trillion in funding. It’s possible that even more lives would be saved.


If we continue to get such a small amount of funding, we can’t expect the average temperature of the Earth to go down or the amount of pollution in the air to go down.

In times when the political climate is becoming more polarized, Americans need to be cautious about who they elect to govern the country. How much longer will it be that Congress will continue to vote along party lines on significant measures that have been brought there? Will our political leaders find a way to work together on crucial issues like climate action?

We are beginning to observe the consequences of global warming. More violent storms, prolonged rain, droughts, tornadoes, and other extreme weather phenomena will become more common and much more intense. It is now time for Congress to start representing the will of the people in its actions. It is not only financially unfeasible but also detrimental to future generations to pass legislation that may be seen as a stepping stone to the future. It is time for Congress to stop compromising on policy and start taking action that will make a difference. It is time to begin pursuing meaningful climate action policies. Congress ought to be the instrument of the people’ interests and among those interests is global environmental security in the near future.

Jim Crow’s War in America Continues in Virginia and Kentucky

Virginia and Kentucky stand as two of the four commonwealths in the nation, along with Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. These two states are starkly similar in more than name. Both states have codified criminal justice systems with archaic and unfairly punitive rules. The twin commonwealths both require individual petitions to the governor, who gets to decide whether the individual petitioner is worthy of their right to vote. This practice has been subject to increased scrutiny since Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order in 2016 that restored voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted and since released felons.

After Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear followed suit in 2019, restoring the right to vote to more than 140,000 felons, many questioned why these sweeping actions were necessary in the first place. 

The Restoration (and subsequent refusal to acknowledge it)

After the Civil War and the disintegration of the Confederate States of America, the U.S. entered a period known as Reconstruction. This period saw military governance of several former seceded states, and general order established in a pro-union stance. After relinquishing military command, redrafted constitutions were published in these newly readmitted states. Virginia, a state that was originally reluctant to become a part of the Confederacy, ultimately became their most historically important state after secession. After the 1865 defeat and the military Reconstruction, Virginia became a champion of Jim Crow policy in 1870 after their readmittance to the Union. 

Slavery was dead, but it’s vile cousin segregation continued to rear it’s head in the South, and Virginia was no stranger to it. By the 1870’s, 95% of incarcerated Americans in the South were Black. With its newly written constitution taking account of the knowledge that white police forces with little to no scrutiny over their arresting practices of minorities, Article II was written into law. As it reads, Article II of the Virginia Constitution states that, “No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.” As such, this 95% incarceration rate not only virtually removed African Americans from the general populace, it also removed their right to vote if they were convicted of felonies – and they largely were. 

Enfranchisement isn’t Straightforward, Nor is it Easy

This practice of incarcerating African Americans, who historians agree were largely overcharged or even outright falsely accused, has perpetuated segregation in Virginia for nearly a century. In fact, even after the defeat of the infamous Byrd machine that sustained segregation in Virginia for nearly 70 years, this amendment proved to be difficult to discard. Up to Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial victory in 2013, felons still had to petition the governor individually and satisfy a number of requirements in order to be enfranchised. After McAuliffe’s victory, he loosened these regulations for violent felons, and made non-violent felon enfranchisement automatic on application. In 2016, after the defeat of a constitutional amendment that would reword Article II and enfranchise felons, McAuliffe signed an executive order granting the right to vote back to felons, but this was stuck down in the Virginia Supreme Court. After this order, McAuliffe shed light on how archaic Virginia’s enfranchisement system was by individually signing roughly 13,000 orders to restore voting rights to felons.

After this broader executive order was struck down, an important legal precedent was set. Now that almost all the released felons in Virginia have had their right to vote restored, who’s to say that the next Governor would continue to sign these orders to restore voting rights? This was a large topic of debate in 2017, when the next Governor was up for election. Fortunately for petitioners, Ralph Northam won handily, and continued this policy. 2021 was a different story. Glenn Youngkin won in an upset victory against McAuliffe, vying for a second term. This posed the question of whether Youngkin would continue this policy. Governor Youngkin has since displayed, in a politically shocking move, a respect for this precedent and has continued to enfranchise felons. As such, Virginia has a de facto policy of enfranchising their felons. Until this is codified in law, however, felons will be forced to see if their voting rights are at stake every 4 years.

Kentucky Follows Suit

Kentucky, in a near indistinguishable constitutional amendment, followed Virginia’s lead in 1891. Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution as currently ratified, reads that, “Persons convicted in any court of competent jurisdiction of treason, or felony, or bribery in an election, or of such high misdemeanor as the General Assembly may declare shall operate as an exclusion from the right of suffrage, but persons hereby excluded may be restored to their civil rights by executive pardon.” One might notice the heavy leverage on the executive acting as the sole authority for granting felons the right to vote. With the South having a near unbreakable record of voting for segregation, having a pro-Jim Crow governor was a given in nearly every deep and upper Southern state, including Kentucky. 

Not only did Kentucky follow Virginia’s lead all throughout Jim Crow, they have also seen a modern incarnation of the Old Dominion’s shepherding. Governor Beshear signed a similar executive order as McAuliffe’s original enfranchisement order in 2019, and as of 2022 it has not been struck down in court. Beshear granted nearly 140,000 rehabilitated people their right to vote again, and has attacked one of the last standing institutions of the former Confederacy and the dirty legacy of slavery in the United States.

Many still worry, however. Beshear only won in Kentucky by 0.5 points. Like Youngkin’s win in Virginia, this was an upset victory–and may not last. Unlike Virginia, there is far less of an argument for precedent in Kentucky. Felon enfranchisement has been an institution for 8 years in the Old Dominion, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky has only claimed this for 3. Even then, Youngkin’s continuation of this policy was seen as an unprecedented political move. Beshear stands for reelection in 2023, and much like Virginia, felons who will be released after this election have no choice but to sit and wait patiently to see if they will be able to reclaim their right to vote. 

Codification is Key

Until Virginia and Kentucky officially and formally pass a constitutional amendment that alters Article II and Section 145 respectively, felons are still disenfranchised in these states. A single person having absolute authority to decide whether a felon is rehabilitated and deserves their right to vote or not is an Orwellian retelling of the American Jim Crow era. Harkening back to the reasons these amendments were even put into place places us in the uncomfortable position of acknowledging that felon disenfranchisement is categorically racist.

We think of barring felons from voting as protecting our future. Surely those that have committed crimes cannot be of sound mind, right? Surely, they cannot be able to take part in a societal process they have forfeited in their knowing involvement in a crime? These questions fail to take into account why these systems originated. Disallowing a disproportionate amount of the African American community in the South perpetuated Jim Crow and segregation laws and allowed the Solid South to stay solid far longer than it should’ve.

Why The United States Needs to Continue Supporting the Ukrainian War Effort

In 1939, Nazi tanks stormed across the German border into Poland. In a matter of weeks, half of Poland was under German control. Promises from the French and British to come to Poland’s aid were never fulfilled. The United States, guided by isolationism, was worlds away from everything happening in Europe. Poland was left to its hopeless fate. It was left to charge newly developed tanks with cavalry and rifles. A year later, German tanks would again cross another border, this time into France. The German army captured the country in less than six weeks, and with it they controlled most of mainland Europe. These actions would change the course of the world, committing the world to half a decade of war. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is one of the most horrendously consequential events of the 21st century. Its effects can be felt in every part of the globe. Prices of many critical commodities, including fuel, fertilizer, wheat, and oil have skyrocketed. It has resulted in food shortages in much of a developing world that relies on Ukrainian grain in order to feed its citizens. 

In launching the invasion, Russia’s purpose is clear and  twofold: to erase Ukrainian cultural identity and its economic independence. Those who believe in this war don’t believe that the independent nation of Ukraine even exists. They see it as just another Oblast of Russia. They also see Ukraine’s growing economic independence as a threat to their hegemony over Eastern Europe, and other former Soviet nations. 

 Until late 2013, Ukraine maintained strong economic ties with Russia. When it was proposed that the country join the European Union free trade block, the Russian government vehemently objected and forced the Ukrainian government to backtrack from any attempt to form closer relations with the European Union. The Ukrainian people then took to the streets, giving birth to the Euromaidan demonstrations and eventually a revolution that toppled the Yanukovich government. Soon after, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula, depriving Ukraine of its sovereign territory and a key economic resource. This was followed by an uprising of Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donbas region, a key mining and industrial region of Ukraine. 

Keeping in line with this, one of the main objectives early in the current war was to capture the port city of Odessa, and deprive Ukraine of any access to the Black Sea, and thus international waters. The Russian military has also been hijacking and selling stolen Ukrainian grain shipments. In conducting this war, together with their previous actions, the goal has been to systematically destroy Ukraine’s economy, and rob Ukraine of its independence. In taking this drastic step, the Russian military threatens the global food supply, as Ukraine supplies a good chunk of the world’s grain. Even though corridors to continue grain shipments have been secured, attacks still continue on major port cities like Mykolaiv and Odessa. The Russian navy still patrols the Black Sea unabated. Russia’s position on the United Nations Security Council, and its ability to unilaterally withhold support for the free shipment of Ukrainian grain, means it can continue to effectively hold the food supply as a hostage. As of this writing, the Russian military has suspended its cooperation with other countries to secure corridors for the shipment of grain. 

This is why it is critical to continue to support the Ukrainian war effort. Russia cannot be allowed to hold the stomachs of millions of people hostage. The international community cannot allow any aggressor states to wage wars of conquest unrestricted, with little cost. To back down now and abandon Ukraine would bring a victorious Russian army to NATO’s doorstep. Those who support the vision of the invasion seek more than just the occupation and consumption of Ukraine. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were once provinces of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, along with Poland and Moldova. All of these countries face a similar threat. Why? In considering the goal of this war, which is to occupy Ukraine and make it a part of Russia once again, we have to consider the ideological motivation. Russian nationalism is consumed with the idea of recreating the Russian Empire and avenging the collapse of the Soviet Union. If Russia is allowed to prevail in Ukraine, it will be empowered to seize more territory, whether by force or by other means. 

So why should we care? Why should an American be worried about this? What effect does it have on us? After all, Ukraine is thousands of miles away. What happens there shouldn’t be something we worry about, right? 

That’s what some important politicians here would like us to think. Some members of Congress in the U.S. have been openly critical of sending money and arms to the Ukrainian government. Representatives like Kevin Mccarthy believe that with inflation being such an issue, people won’t exactly be appreciative of writing a “blank check” to Ukraine. Other, older Republican and Democrat members are in line with the President’s continuing support. Unlike other issues facing the electorate, there is a stronger degree of unity among partisans in continuing to fund the Ukrainian war effort, with a number of both Republican and Democratic delegations having made visits to Ukraine. Still, some younger, louder and increasingly influential members of Congress have questioned our support for Ukraine and have been increasingly vocal about taking steps that could potentially put that aid in jeopardy. 

 Stopping our support for Ukraine would have a disastrous effect on not only the US economy, but the world economy as a whole. It would prolong the war and expand its global impact. It would erase any reason for the Russians to lift its blockade of Ukrainian ports, and would permit the Russians to continue as they see fit. Most importantly, it would be a signal to the world that the United States has tapped out, and other Western countries would likely follow suit. Countries like Germany and France are anxious to resume supplies of natural gas from Russia in order to ease their domestic energy crises. 

In short, it would be the very thing Russia wants. The United States succumbing to isolationist tendencies would be a gift. They are counting on a collapse in U.S. support, and the resulting hesitation from other nations to continue their support of Ukraine’s war effort. 

As I write this, the war is at a critical juncture. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have retaken large swathes of territory in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, and have pushed Russian forces into a pocket on the northern bank of the Dnipro river. Aided by sophisticated NATO artillery systems and weaponry, they have managed to put Russian troops in something of a strategic bind, and will likely retake most of the occupied territory west of the Dnipro river. However, in light of Ukrainian advances, the Russian military has begun a systematic campaign of cruise missile and drone attacks on critical civilian infrastructure. In the past week alone it has targeted over a dozen electrical plants or substations, and caused entire cities to go dark. This is particularly ominous, given that winter is fast approaching, and continued attacks may leave millions of Ukrainians without access to heat, water or fresh food. 

At this time, when the war is at such a turning point, it is important to maintain support for the Ukrainian war effort. Without it, Ukraine, and the world face drastic consequences. The course of this war determines whether much of Eastern Europe will remain free of Russian hegemony. Whether the world will have access to the grain it relies on.  By supporting the Ukrainian war effort and making the cost too high for the Russian government, we can hope to end this war sooner, rather than later.