Thursday, December 4, 2014

Small Arms in the States

Ian Grant

Small Arms in the U.S.

     With the right to own firearms in America, there has been a growing occurrence of civilian casualties from misuse of these firearms. Wars and conflict provide firearms that last for decades without decay or getting rid of them. This growing availability of weapons has been the cause for over 90% of civilian casualties in the last two decades. Gun control must be implemented soon if we want to see improvements to these figures and to protect our civilians from dangerous firearms.

The growing availability of small arms has been a major factor in the increase in the number of conflicts, and in hindering smoother rebuilding and development after a conflict has ended. It is estimated, for example, that there are around half a billion military small arms around the world. Of that half a billion, some 300,000 to half a million people around the world are killed by them each year. They are the major cause of civilian casualties in modern conflicts. "Modern conflicts claim an estimated half a million people each year ( 200,000 of these civilians are killed from homicides and suicides and over eighty percent of all these casualties have been civilian. Ninety percent of all civilian casualties are caused by small arms ( These figures are far higher than the casualty count from conventional weapons.  War related weapons such as tanks, bomber jets or warships. 
Black market trade is also adds to the amount of military weapons put on the streets. "An estimated $2-10 billion U.S. dollars are spent a year on small arms traded through the black market" ( Civilians purchase more than 80% of all the firearms that are currently manufactured worldwide each year. There are at least 639 million firearms in the world today, of which 59% are legally held by civilians. What does this say for the people causing the casualties? The main people purchasing these firearms are the civilians whom are also the main victims. We may have the right to bear arms but these figures show that maybe owning guns isn't a proper way of solving this causality issue. We must find a way to regulate these weapons being poured into our society, the more available they become, the harder it will be to protect ourselves from the growing rate of deaths caused by small arms related deaths

     A few solution can be related to gun control, but ultimately it is up to the civilians to regulate themselves and be cautious of those owning firearms. The police and government are doing there part to take as many guns off the streets as possible. Further actions will be needed to crack down on black market purchases and other illegal deals providing guns. Civilians must do their part along side of the police to bring awareness of the dangers and harm that firearms have on our society.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Fracking in the U.S.

Ian Grant
Fracking in the U.S.

     The U.S. is known for borrowing materials and using unorthodox methods to extract materials the country needs. Oil is a general material that America gets both by borrowing from other countries and using drilling and fracking to extract oil in reserves located beneath U.S. soil. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an innovative and cost-saving process for drilling oil and gas from rock formations far underground. Michigan is where most of the fracking in the states occurs due to large shale deposits located there. Proponents say fracking is safe and note its positive impact on the state economy. Critics say the process carries risks, both known and unknown, concerning water supply and public health and should be more closely monitored by regulatory agencies.

     Supporters see Fracking as a way to boost economic growth and allow America to become self-sustained with fossil fuels. There are enough fossil fuels “locked” in bedrock shale formations under North American soil to make the United States energy independent, and a net exporter of oil and gas, in the future. Tapping those energy sources would make the United States less dependent, economically and politically, on unstable countries such as Venezuela and the Middle East. It would also enable the West to be less dependent on Russian natural gas, which Vladimir Putin currently uses as a political lever. According to the Natural Gas Industry (NGI), they feel that fracking is a safe procedure because it is located far below the water table during extraction posing minimal risks to groundwater.

     Those against fracking would state how the pumping in fact does pose a large risk on groundwater contamination because of the procedure use and the disclosure of company chemical lists to the public. As well as the depletion of the groundwater table poses a risk for the current and future water supply. Because fracking involves pumping a concoction of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break apart the bedrock, environmentalists and private landowners worry that those chemicals could reach, and poison, the groundwater. Also, companies are not required to disclose the chemicals they use, or the formula of the mixture, in the process. This makes it difficult for local residents to prepare for an accident or emergency, and difficult for scientists to gauge the threat posed by the chemicals if an epidemic does arise. In Michigan, is required to remove an estimated 35 million gallons of freshwater from nearby aquifers per fracking well which is the highest rate in the nation. There increases in the demand for fuel and oil each year which can result in more drilling which could deplete our local water supplies.

     Fracking is a beneficial process for extracting fossil fuels efficiently. It allows for the U.S. to become more self-sustaining with power and energy, but may cause more damage to the environment that good for the economy. It could cause mass contamination that could poison or deplete our water supply. The cities won't survive or prosper if the water supply is tampered with. Precautions must be taken to either cut-down or increase monitoring of fracking sites to ensure safety for the public.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Transportation Funding

Ian Grant
Transportation Funding

     An important aspect in society deals with the importance of investing in infrastructure. Although the Federal government has discussed the importance of infrastructure development, they have kept transportation funding at stagnant levels. In return, many states in 2013 decided to take matters into their own hands. Previous and current policies have/are being enacted to allow billions of dollars to be put forth towards transportation infrastructure. The importance of this issue will be heightened in 2014 as the MAP-21 reaches its expiration date.

     Though the details vary, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming all enacted policies in 2013 that will mean billions of dollars of new funding for transportation infrastructure. More action can be expected this year, with Alaska, Iowa, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Wisconsin all examining the issue. Also, Texas will enter the polls in November to decide whether or not it should pump money from the state's rainy day funds into transportation projects. In Missouri, efforts to petition to hold a vote on a one-cent sales tax increase for infrastructure projects.

     This fall, MAP-21 - the federal legislation that decides how much the country will spend on transportation and where the money will come from - is set to expire. This means that many legislations that haven't been changed for years may be facing changes come the end of 2014. For example, the expiration happens at a time when the federal gas tax has remained the same for twenty years. Federal budget forecasters continue to warn that, the gas tax accounts that reimburse states and localities for transportation projects could soon run dry if actions aren't taken soon. The expiration of MAP-21 can pose exponential risks on policies if changes are implemented which could damage funding for those programs. In regards to infrastructure, funding for transportation could have a negative effect on states in provisions aren't made to continue funding for that program. On the other hand, the expiration of MAP-21 could allow for increases in funding for infrastructure depending on whether or not the expiration will allow for programs to increase funding limits.

     Buzz about the future of federal transportation decisions could help the issue gain traction at the state and local level. If it becomes clear Congress isn't going to do anything, it may light a fire under some of these states sparking intentions to place funding provisions in the states hands. It could encourage states to battle the Federal government upon the means of gaining similar or increased funding for for their state. 

Income Tax Revision

Ian Grant
Income Tax Revision

     As states finally begin to stabilize in this post-recession economy, some of these states will look towards  making major changes to their current tax codes. One of these codes deals with income taxes. Many governors have made efforts to lower, limit, or eliminate completely the use of income taxes. We discuss previous actions made to lower income taxes and current plans to regulate or change income tax laws.

     Last year, ten governors made efforts to float tax cuts and devised proposals to lower or eliminate income taxes in their states in order to keep their states economically competitive with the rest of the nation. Three of the proposals planned to eradicate income taxes altogether. There are currently seven states that don't implement income tax. While none of the states joined those existing seven states that don't tax income, some reductions to income taxes were put forth and budget watchers expected those themes to leak into 2014 as a number of governors have again made plans to lower the income tax rates.

     Louisiana, Nebraska and North Carolina were the three states that devised proposals to eliminate their income taxes. Although they failed to eliminate their states income taxes, major efforts were made to cut down on tax rates. Nebraska established a commission to study the income tax issue. North Carolina Republicans were able to shift to a lower, flat income tax. The actions of North Carolina were watched by GOP legislators across the U.S., so further actions towards reducing/eliminating income taxes are expected in 2014.

     Economical constraints and tepid growth have caused increases in interstate competition. States compete for the lowest tax rates and as neighboring states reduce their rates. Others will attempt to match or reduce even further to stay ahead of their neighbors. This is a healthy competition that both lowers rates for citizens as well as aids in the rebuilding of a state's economy through competitive cuts on taxes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Midterm Elections: Voter Turnout

Ian Grant
Voter Turnout

     Voting in America is a civic duty for all citizens. It is our job to shape our futures and one way to do that is through voting. This allows for normal people to have a voice in government and to have a say in what laws and regulations get passed into office. Yesterday marked the day of the midterm elections in the U.S. and records show that this year has been one of the lowest midterm turnouts in history. The midterm elections were horrific for many states except for twelve in regard to turnout. Many expected a major decrease this year but the result were worse than expected.

     Voter turnout is has always been an issue for the U.S. around election time, particularly among the young adults ages from 18 through 30. Statistics from the Tuesday's elections show that amongst all of the voters, only 13% were under the age of 30. This is crippling voting results because the youth under 30 greatly outnumber those above the age of 30 yet less youth show up to vote. Another huge issue has to do with the non voters that didn't participate in the recent elections. According to the United States Elections Project:

"Nonvoters are also more racially diverse than the voting population and are less educated. More than 40 percent of likely nonvoters in the 2014 elections identified as Hispanic, black or other racial/ethnic minorities, compared with 22 percent of likely voters. While most voters (72 percent) have completed some college, nonvoters are more likely to have never attended college."

Santa Clara county suffered a huge loss in turnout this year. An estimated 9.9% showed up at the polls on Tuesday and almost all that showed up were veteran voters above the age of thirty. Minority votes in Santa Clara were extremely lacking as well.

     The democratic party suffered heavy losses with the previous elections as well. Studies have shown that populations who are more likely avoid polls are those mostly likely to vote for a Democrat, which presents a challenge for the Democratic party and its candidates. The loss of turnout is said to have been one of the reasons why the Republicans gained control of the Senate. The loss of votes for the Democrats during the election far outweighed their gains and the Republican party pulled ahead with less loss due to more turnouts for their party.
     Compared to the 2010 midterm elections, turnout for this year makes much more sense in comparison to the presidential elections. The 2010 elections only had a voter turnout of 40.9% while in 2014 we only had a 36.6% of eligible voter show up for the polls (United States Elections Project). Turnout numbers in Washington, Delaware, Missouri, South Dakota, California and Indiana all dropped by more than ten percentage points between 2010 and 2014. Although some states made gains in voter turnout (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Maine, to name several), most states dropped. Only twelve states turned out a higher percentage of eligible voters this year than in the last midterms.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ebola Epedemic

Ian Grant
Mandatory Ebola Quarantines

     Provisions have been made by the U.S. to prevent the spread of ebola from African countries and promote awareness of ebola within the states. One of these provisions pertains to US soldiers and civilians returning home to the state after being stationed in areas near/within Ebola quarantine zones. According to Washington (CNN), a 21-day quarantine for all military personnel (only) serving in Ebola stricken areas of west Africa is expected to be approved by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Wednesday. This quarantine was called into effect due to the recent outbreak of the early signs of Ebola in America. In result of this epidemic, provisions such as these quarantines have been imposed to prevent further outbreaks from traveling back to the US. Previous efforts to prevent the outbreak have been successful despite the fact that we now know Ebola is present in America. This success has raised arguments on whether further quarantines are necessary to be enacted and Defensive Secretary Chuck Hagel is in favor of expanding this quarantine program due to recent Ebola cases in the US.

     Washington's (CNN) reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to approve a 21-day quarantine for all military personnel serving in Ebola stricken areas of West Africa. The quarantine was pushed forth by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was acknowledge by the Pentagon. The provisions were originally pertaining to all civilians attempting to leave West Africa but assessments are being imposed to see whether or not quarantines are still necessary to enact towards US travelers seeking to return home to the states. The policy pushes for the creation of a separation of rules for military members and civilian health care workers. 

"President Obama has argued that civilian volunteer health workers returning from aid trips to Africa should not be quarantined and the White House has urged states not to impose their own quarantine policies. Science, Obama has said, does not support the need for a quarantine."

     Asked to explain the discrepancy between civilians and the military, Obama stated that service members have been sent to the Ebola region by him and health workers are going as volunteers. "It's part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately the commander-in-chief so they don't expect to have similar rules for military as we do for civilians," Obama said. Personnel, if they're in the military, are under more circumscribed conditions than sent civilian officials. The chiefs did not have new scientific or medical data about Ebola when they pressed for Hagel to approve the quarantine of military officials. This is simply about the chiefs looking at the best way to take care of the force, the families and the communities to which they are returning.  In their discussions, the chiefs noted that many of the US troops are young and inexperienced in any medical issues. There was concern they might not adhere to an informal protocols such as simply taking their temperature twice a day on their own. Concern for the troops were expressed on both the home front and stations within Europe. The US already has 1,000 troops on the ground, and that force could grow to a total of 4,000 which is the largest American group in this area. During the press conference, "The chiefs believe it is better to start more restrictive and then re-assess as we get further into the Ebola operation," said one official. 

     For now, troops will be held in quarantine at bases designated by each of the military services. There will be provisions for compassionate leave—allowing troops to leave quarantine if they have a family emergency such as an illness or death. The quarantine will also not apply to those just briefly travelling to Liberia, or aircrews flying in an out, although everyone is told to monitor their temperatures. The provision allows for specific restrictions to be lifted while also taking a cautious approach to this situation. We want to keep our civilians and troops safe in this time of disease and distress This provision is a step towards regulating the potential of spreading Ebola further in the US while also attempting to allow for certain travel restrictions to be lifted for those seeking to return home to the states.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Obama Care

Ian Grant

    Healthcare in the U.S. has become a real pandemic for many citizens. Many cannot afford the coverage and suffer because of it. President Obama has made efforts to aid this issue through establishing a program called Obama-care. This program would allow for many to afford quality health coverage whom are not able to afford regular health care services. This increased availability of coverage is beneficial for many citizens but many view this program as a cancer. Saying that Obama-care accumulates more cost than rewards. We will discuss the pros and cons of this issue and determine whether or not this program is beneficial to the U.S.

     Many citizens are denied or cant afford decent health care. Rates from hospitals and different coverage companies drive families to live without protections for themselves. Low income families whom don't earn enough to afford decent coverage must take greater risks to survive knowing that if an accident occurs they may not be able to turn to the hospitals for care due to coverage costs. The establishment of Obama-care was a step forward to eliminating the need of care for those unfortunate citizens. This program allows for millions to have access to decent health care in the marketplace and gives those citizen certain privileges that regular coverage programs establish for their clients. It cut down on health care premium costs, lowered rates for young adults and Seniors, and allowed the creation of new prevention services and benefits. It also help curb spending within the health care system. The goal was to allow cheap insurance and allow those in need to have medical resources ready incase of a emergencies where many citizen would normally not be able have available due to costs.
     With aid cost rebound laws and costs. Taxes have become a primary source of income for the government. Programs require funding and the citizens pay everyday to ensure the effectiveness of these new programs. Providing health care cost a large chunk of federal funding. When coverage is expanded, taxes and other reparations are taken into effect. Taxes are implemented on citizens, mainly higher earning families, which effect the citizens directly and could spark individual or employer mandates. The expansion of Medicaid is funded by both the state and the federal government. If states refuse to increase coverage millions will suffer from the in-availability of coverage options. Also, the program CHIP requires the use of federal and state funding which adds to taxes added to society. Coverage companies are force to aid all clients which will create an increase in coverage for everyone on that specific health coverage plan. Some companies have cut employee hours just to compensate for the insurance increases effecting employee net worth as well as increasing premium cost for clients.

     Obama care is a great idea to end the need for affordable coverage. This program does aid those in need and allows for quality care to be available for all, but the costs may outweigh the rewards of more affordable healthcare. Taxes and other costs are implemented with the creation of coverage laws which can focus a greater financial issue that coverage holders may not be prepared for. Actions must be taken to enforce Obama care by aiding citizens while at the same time keeping costs low enough not to put a financial restraint on those seeking coverage. Keeping availability high and costs low for the U.S.