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N4P: Financial Coaching and Budgeting Strategies for the Lower Income Sector of our Community

By WVUM News Staff | September 20th, 2014 | LEAVE A COMMENT

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Financial Coaching and Budgeting Strategies for the Lower Income Sector of our Community by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 |

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Counterpoint Recap 7/26: The Value of Higher Education

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | July 29th, 2013 |
Counterpoint's Meg McGee has "the last word" after every new edition of Counterpoint.  After reading her latest recap, hear audio of the discussion she's referencing embedded below the post:

On Friday’s show, we covered a slue of topics, the smoking ban on campus, the Miami-Dade county’s decision to take funding out of libraries, Detroit’s bankruptcy, and the passing of a student loan deal in Congress.

Our entire panel agreed that the cost of college/university is skyrocketing and something should be done to change it. However, our topic grew into a larger discussion over if college is valuable in order to succeed. Matt De La Fe, our conservative contributor, argued that college degrees aren’t necessary for success and that there are plenty of jobs one can go into without a degree. While I think this argument is valid (to an extent), it is far from the reality we live in these days. Yes, there are celebrities, athletes, musicians, artists, and other innovative people in our society that make millions of dollars without having finished college. But the chances of that happening to an average Joe are not that high and if nothing else, a Bachelor’s degree is a safety net in case your multi-million dollar idea goes awry.

Everyone knows the economy and job market is bad, especially for young Americans and post-grads. So naturally, having a college degree gives you a slight advantage over someone who only has a high school diploma. The days of skipping out on college are over, there is no Woodstock, there are no protest movements, millennials have to get to work. We have to go to college and college is not cheap. So while there is no one putting a gun to our heads forcing us to take out enormous loans for college, our society leaves us with few other choices. For me, I have to go to school for what I want to do and not just undergrad but grad school and PhD. program. I think a lot of young Americans are taking huge risks by having $100k in loans but it certainly beats the alternative to working at McDonald’s with no degree. A college degree is the new high school diploma.

Until our country is able to get the costs of education down across the board, we will see more students not being able to go to a 4-year institution and instead having a high-unemployment rate for young adults. Though Congress passed this deal, there are still provisions in it to keep interest rates rising on student loans. I think student loan debt is a problem that Wall Street is cashing in on and once the “bubble” explodes, we could see another financial crisis affecting the next generation of Americans.

Below is audio of the discussion on student loans and the value of a college degree.  Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1p.m. EST

Counterpoint Clip: Student Loans and the Costs of College by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

 

Amash Amendment Fails: Close But No Wired-for-Sound Cigar

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 |

(Image Credit: Florida Today)

 

Well, I was kind of hoping to be writing about a win for the Amash Amendment, but I suppose a loss will have to do. In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and ultimately defeated (205-217 with 12 abstaining) an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would have taken away funding for the NSA’s blanket telephone spying. The day before the vote, the White House and NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander held “emergency meetings” to urge Congress to vote against it.

 

Me being… me, I have to admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that this amendment didn’t pass. It would have been a quick and clean way to put a full stop to blanket phone surveillance while still allowing for targeted surveillance of suspects under investigation. That said, when the White House is scared enough to hold “emergency meetings” ahead of domestic spying prevention votes, I get hopeful. As the advocacy organization Demand Progress put it: “even though we lost, the other side is flipping out right now.” Not bad for an amendment that was voted on only two days after it left committee.

 

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that more or less, the vast majority of people are against the NSA’s surveillance programs (multiple ones have been revealed now: PRISM, ECHELON, BLARNEY, etc.) but it appears as though the tide is only starting to turn on the issue. Obama has welcomed “discussion” on the issue, but it seems almost impossible to have a well-formed discussion about it since the programs are already in place and running: it’s like a kid asking a parent’s permission to eat a cookie after he’s already started eating the cookie. As for curbing the surveillance programs, we might have to wait for the 2014 election cycle: all House seats and 33 Senate ones are up for grabs and at the rate the “spying discussion” is going, it could hopefully become a major issue.

 

In the meantime however, I would remain hopeful: the Amash Amendment might have failed, but that was only looking at phone surveillance, which has historically been less antagonizing than Internet surveillance. It might be just a tick away from justifiable to retain phone metadata, but I have a feeling that Internet surveillance won’t go over so well when the time comes.

 

 

SCOTUS Decision: I’m Pleading the 5th

By William Ng | Counterpoint | June 26th, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)

On June 17th, the Supreme Court decided to pass a “landmark decision” in regards to Salinas v. Texas which impacts how one can go about claiming the right to not incriminate oneself (otherwise known as “pleading the fifth”).  The decision essentially stated that when an individual is not placed under arrest, the individual must explicitly evoke their 5th amendment right and that simply remaining silent does not mean their right has been evoked.  Depending upon the circumstances, this silence can be used to infer possible guilt of the party in question.

To really understand the context of this ruling, let me first start with a quick background to this decision.

This all started with a murder case conducted in a Texas state court.  In 1992, Houston police officers found two homicide victims.  The investigation had then led officers to Genovevo Salinas. Salinas voluntarily agreed to accompany the officers to the police station, where he was then questioned.  At this time, Salinas was not under arrest and had not been read his Miranda rights.  Salinas had the ability to leave at any point while he was being questioned.

Salinas answered every question until an officer asked him whether the shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime would match the shotgun found in Salinas’ home.  At this point, the defendant fell silent and “looked down at the floor, shuffled his feet, bit his bottom lip, clenched his hands in his lap, and began to tighten up” (according to the statements made by the state prosecutor).

A ballistics analysis later matched Salinas’ gun with the casings at the scene.  Police also found a witness who said Salinas admitted to killing the victims.  In 1993, Salinas was charged with the murders, but he could not be found until 15 years later.

During the trial, the prosecution introduced the evidence of Salinas’ silence and body language in response to the question about the gun casings.  Salinas objected, arguing that he could invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.  The trial court admitted the evidence and Salinas was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The question boiled down to whether or not Salinas’ body language is allowed to be presented as evidence.

I say YES!

First of all, Salinas had the ability to leave the questioning period any time he liked.

All of his answers from this questioning period were applicable to be used in court as evidence.  Since he did not leave nor claim his right to not self incriminate, I believe that the answer his body language gave is also admissible in court.

There’s been plenty of dissenting chatter in the public sphere about Supreme Court’s decision to allow this piece of evidence stand.  Personally, I think it’s time for these chatters of dissent to stop. Ladies and gentlemen please plead the fifth!

Now we are all very familiar with our fifth amendment rights.  Just to recap a bit, the pertaining part of the 5th amendment in this case is “No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.  There are other things the amendment guarantees such as our right in regards to double jeopardy, due process, and eminent domain. The important thing here to focus on is the ability to not self incriminate.

Some people will argue that to not self incriminate is a natural right.

I think they are only partially right.

If one really focused on the language of the Constitution, the key word is compelled.  We are allowed the right to not be forced into incriminating ourselves but that does not stop you from doing it freely.

The Miranda rights are read to you because you are in custody, and you can’t just get up and leave.  If you had incriminated yourself without explicitly knowing your rights under these conditions, the law enforcement officers are essentially forcing incriminating evidence out of you.

Under a different circumstance where you basically waltz into a police department and partake in a questioning period willingly then… anything you say or may do are going to be used against you! (sound familiar?)

There has been all types of people have used their 5th amendment rights in the past, and some of them have gotten off clean while others haven’t.  People such as Don King, Colone Oliver North, Casey Anthony, and even O.J. Simpson have all claimed their right to not incriminate themselves when they were questioned, as well as they should have (and O.J. I’m talking about you especially).

Look, we have all watched enough Law and Order and CSI to know that when you are being questioned, and you get asked that one question where you might start to incriminate yourself…

What do you do?

You shut up and ask for a lawyer.

Salinas paid for his slip up during the questioning period, and he couldn’t answer because he got nervous.  The police had hit the nail on the head.  If he was really trying to evoke his 5th amendment right, we would definitely all be made aware of it (it’s really not that hard).  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because the bullet casings did fit his shotgun.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer because he did murder two innocent people in their own home.  He got nervous and couldn’t answer probably because he started planning for his 15 years of hide-and-seek with law enforcement.  

The take away from this Supreme Court decision?

You have the right to not self-incriminate.

USE IT.

 

7 Reasons Why Arming the Syrian Rebels Is A Bad Idea

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 21st, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)
  1. Obama’s “red line” was the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war— and now the US is arming the rebels. The incident of the use of sarin gas on the battlefield only caused 150 deaths compared to the 90,000 deaths caused by conventional warfare.
  2. We’ve seen the same rhetoric pre-Iraq war with the promise of WMDs as a reason to intervene militarily.
  3. We’ve also seen the same premise of arming the rebels to defeat a common enemy of the people and the United States (The Mujahideen in Afghanistan). 
  4. The types of military support the US is offering is not enough to topple Assad’s regime but only to exacerbate an already bloody war. 
  5. We have no way of controlling who the arms are given to. Al-Nursa is one of the opposition groups that have openly stated their connection to al-Qaeda.
  6. Supporting the rebels does not mean we have allies in this war. Non-state actors are unpredictable and don’t need to claim allegiance to any country.
  7. Syria has become the stage for competing international interests in the Middle East. Russia and Iran supporting the Assad regime and the West (US, UK, France, Germany) supporting the opposition; making it a proxy war.

The Farm Bill and Poverty in the United States

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | June 14th, 2013 |

 

This week, the U.S. Senate passed an extensive, 955 billion dollar Farm Bill package that will extend certain subsidies and crop insurance packages for the next 10 years. The Senate also cut $3.9 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows low-income families to pay for food costs, through the food stamp program. The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on its own version, cutting food stamps by $20.5 billion over the next 10 years, denying 2 million people the food they need.  From a policy and an ethical standpoint, Congress erred by cutting SNAP considering that poverty has only worsened since the Great Recession.

Over time, food stamps were integrated as part of the Farm Bill as a means for urbanites to support the agricultural sector. While preserving family farms should be a focus of the government, much of our agricultural policy is rooted in giving subsidies to large corporations such as Monsanto, whose bottom line is enhanced by the American taxpayer. Other recipients of this money include wealthy landowners, such as Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), who cited the Bible in his defense of cutting food stamps: (while pocketing $70,000 in farm subsidies) “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Food stamps provide an important function in combating both urban and rural poverty. They not only provide additional resources for the user to pay for their other needs, but also help provide sensible nutrition, which will save us money in the long run. They also provide the biggest economic stimulus per dollar out of any policy the government could enact (multiplier effect of 1.73 per dollar spent). Americans think that hunger is a relic of the past, and while it is true that the United States produces a surplus of food, hunger is an everyday battle for many families. One out of five American children (16 million) struggle with hunger (No Kid Hungry). With extensive health and retirement benefits, and a healthy salary, most members of Congress are seemingly unaware of the challenges of surviving on food stamps. This week, nearly 30 congressmen will take the SNAP challenge and live on $4.50 a day, as 47 million Americans (1 in 7, half of whom are children) do. In many cases, SNAP isn’t enough, evidenced by record numbers serviced at food banks and other charities.

Furthermore, over half of Americans will spend a year under the poverty line. The government has the resources to combat poverty and has instead squandered it on corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the drug war. The poor don’t have the political clout that America’s wealthy do. In an era where demagogues like Grover Norquist make any tax increase on America’s wealthiest an anathema, America’s poor are left to fight for themselves.

Over the last few years, conservatives have used welfare as a means to rile up their base and stoke racial divisions among Americans. In fact, the majority of welfare recipients are white, and working Americans. We’ve seen a rise in unemployment and a great increase in discouraged workers that artificially reduced the unemployment rate. Pension plans and other economic security measures have weakened over the last 10 years as employers look to cut back on expenses. Many Americans today work part-time jobs or work without a living wage, or suitable health care coverage. On this topic, the Florida Legislature voted to eliminate Miami-Dade County’s minimum wage provision that will only hurt the weakest in our society.

America’s working poor is growing and growing as the middle class has shrunk. Many workers are forced to take multiple jobs or make incredible sacrifices to make ends meet. The average Chartwells’ worker at UM makes less than $20,000 a year and often must rely on assistance programs to pay their mortgages, get health care, or eat.

If you thought that poverty in America was on the downturn, recent policy alternatives may make it worse.
The decline in unionization has cost millions of workers decent jobs, and the advent of Right to Work (for less) in states like Indiana (and already in Florida) will union and non-union workers alike.

The sequester has laid off millions of workers and hurt many more. Republican cuts to the social safety net have only worsened poverty.

A failure to pass a suitable immigration bill will jeopardize the prosperity of millions of Americans already here and allow owners the leverage to pay their legal workers less.

Unless Congress acts, the student loan interest rate will double to 6.8%, with student debt already surpassing $1 billion and difficult to remove even post-bankruptcy. (Our banks receive preferred rates of less than 1% from the Fed).
However, the biggest test to controlling poverty over the next generation is securing our entitlement programs. Republican ideas to reform our entitlement programs enrich the wealthy while damning the poor. Social Security has been the single-biggest anti-poverty measure undertaken, and have reduced poverty among our seniors by a wide margin. Medicare is effective, popular, and essential for our seniors’ health care needs. Finally, Medicaid provides vital health care to low income Americans. The refusal to take up Medicaid expansion paid for by the Affordable Care Act is a massive failure on the part of the Florida House and cuts millions off from health care coverage they need. Reducing entitlement benefits will only shrink the middle class and make the poor poorer.

We haven’t had a targeted approach to reducing poverty since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Wall Street has recovered from the recession. The majority of Americans haven’t. Income inequality is at an all-time high, with record CEO compensation and giveaways to agribusiness and Big Oil. It’s time to address the problem that nobody really wants to talk about.  We need to make sure that our fellow Americans can lead dignified and prosperous lives. We have the both the means and moral responsibility to do so.

 

 Counterpoint airs Fridays at 1pm ET

 

Counterpoint Recap 06/08: PRISM and Privacy

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 9th, 2013 |

Photo Credit: The Young Turks

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On Friday, the Counterpoint team had a field day with the news that NSA has a program, PRISM, which listens to phone calls a la Verizon and stores information through frequently visited websites such as Facebook and Google. Most of us came to the consensus that the government doesn’t care about your photos from that keg party you went to freshman year. (Unless that keg party was hosted by al-Qaeda)

Jordan (Counterpoint contributor), however, stressed that this was a severe violation of Americans’ privacy and Constitutional rights. National security policies like this are an extension of the Bush-era Patriot Act and make us all question: what happened to Obama’s vision of “change”? The more we learn about Obama, the more we see the lines are blurring between him and former President Bush. While Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues are much more rooted in liberalism, he continues to extend and expand Bush-era foreign policy (Can you say drone program? Gitmo? Counterinsurgency?)

Mr. Obama, your words and your actions are saying two different things. We all knew he was a bit naïve and optimistic, but we still put our faith in yet another leader to get us out of crisis. In defense of Obama, I’ll say that once you become president and are continuously briefed on every possible national security threat, you may not be singing “Kumbaya” when thousands of American lives are at risk—including your own. I don’t know this from personal experience but we can only give the President the benefit of the doubt.

My question for the American people that are upset over the PRISM program is this: If you feel this is a violation of your rights, what do you plan on doing to fix it?

Will you go out and protest like our Turkish cousins in Istanbul? Where something as simple as the demolition of a park, ignited a larger-movement against a government encroaching on their citizens’ democratic rights. Are you ready to get hit with tear gas and water cannons? Or will you just gripe about it over Facebook and over the coffee table?

Call me when you have an answer. Remember, Obama is listening.

 

Listen to a clip of our discussion of this topic on the show below.  Counterpoint airs live every Friday from 1-2pm ET.

Counterpoint Clip: NSA Surveillance by Wvumnews on Mixcloud