Information and stories about United States.

Calling CongressThe First Amendment gives Americans a handful of freedoms, one of the most important being the freedom of speech. But, with freedom of speech comes a more nuanced and focused right- the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In simpler terms, this grants Americans the right to make a complaint to or seek help from their government without fear of repercussion. People often wonder whether calling Congress makes a difference. It has been shown that there is a difference between emailing and calling your representative. It is helpful to understand why it is so important to call Congress.

Why It Is So Important To Call Congress

For starters, calls speak much louder than emails do. It is much more personable to place a phone call as the person must take the time and effort in their busy day to do so. Furthermore, one is more likely to get a response that is not automated, so the call will not get lost in the masses as an email could.

When constituents call their Senators and urge them to co-sponsor a bill or vote in favor of a specific proposal, that request gets tallied. When there are enough tallies to get the attention of the Senator, it is not uncommon for them to vote in the way their constituents had pleaded. If the call is in favor of a more intense partisan issue, there may be a lower success rate for the constituents, but still, their voice is heard and their request is noted.

If enough people call about a similar issue, that has the power to halt the office and bring that issue to the top of an agenda. Demands in such high volumes are impossible to ignore and force a Senator to address them. The power to change the agenda in a congressional office is among the many reasons why it is so important to call Congress.

The Problem with Calling Congress

There is, of course, one major flaw in this system. While there is no cap on the number of emails that can be received at any given time, the same can not be said about phone calls. Even if a congressional staff fielded calls for an entire business day with no breaks and with all-hands-on-deck, they could still only take around 4,000 calls. Because there are so many more constituents than available phone lines, many people can get sent to voicemail. These voicemails are, however, listened to, and if a request for a vote is made over the line, the extra effort and desire to be heard is noted by the staffers and their plea still goes towards the tallies.

With so much on the plates of the leaders in Washington, it can become challenging to remain personable and in touch with the individual needs and desires of constituents. When people call their leaders, it bridges the them-and-us gap. It allows for congressmen and women to connect with their constituents and hear their stories; in turn, it allows them to better advocate for and represent these people and empathize with their concerns. Sharing a personal story and emotionally moving the staffer can have a huge impact, even if it is just one person.

Placing a phone call is somewhat of a lost art, but it still holds so much power. It is a form of communication that simply cannot be ignored, and thus, is far more likely to hold ground and achieve the desired result. While, yes, it is easy to send an email, it takes bravery and effort to place a phone call and explain to the people representing you how it is you would like to be represented. This is the power of a phone call, and it explains why it is so important to call Congress.

Charlotte M. Kriftcher

Photo: Flickr

al otro ladoMore than 4,000 asylum seekers in Tijuana have written their names on a waitlist in hopes of presenting themselves at the U.S. port of entry. It is unclear how the list began since the U.S. government doesn’t claim jurisdiction and neither does Mexico. Regardless, the waitlists are followed and migrants’ names are slowly crossed off as they are brought to state their cases. Most asylum-seekers are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many of whom are fleeing gang violence, political instability and extreme poverty. Al Otro Lado and other nonprofits are helping the migrant crisis.

The Migrant Crisis

Central Americans from the caravan have been labeled everything from refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants to invaders, aliens and criminals. However, despite widespread disagreement and confusion about the caravan, U.S. immigration and international laws dictate that people have the legal right to seek asylum. Asylum seekers’ have the right to present their cases to an immigration officer, but with so many asylum-seekers to process, thousands of individuals and families are left waiting in limbo.

As Policy Analyst at the American Immigration Council Aaron Reichlin-Melnick explains, “The government would argue that high [asylum] denial rates indicate they’re fraudulent asylum claims… the more likely answer is that people are genuinely afraid for their lives–they may not know the ins and outs of a complex asylum system.” For many nonprofits, the situation is clearly a refugee crisis, and they treat it like one. Since caravans began arriving at the border, humanitarian organizations have been on the ground providing shelter, medical care and legal assistance. This is one way that Al Otro Lado is helping.

Al Otro Lado

Al Otro Lado is a legal services nonprofit based in Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana. Over the last four months, Al Otro Lado has helped more than 2,000 migrants in Tijuana while also fighting larger battles to protect the legal rights of asylum seekers. Operating out of an Enclave Caracol, a three-story community center turned migrant shelter, Al Otro Lado provides legal orientation and know-your-rights training to asylum seekers waiting in Tijuana.

Though Al Otro Lado is focused on upholding international and U.S. law, it is not immune to the controversy and violence that has accompanied the migrant caravan. The organization and its staff have received death threats, and co-directors Erika Pineiro and Nora Phillips were detained and forced to leave Mexico in January. Still, Al Otro Lado continues their operations in Tijuana, but now they just unplug their phones between calls to cut down on the death threats.

Other Notable Organizations Helping the Migrant Crisis

  1. In April 2018, Food Not Bombs served food to migrants out of the Enclave Caracol community center. They accepted donations of food, spices and reusable plates among other items.
  2. UNICEF works with the Mexican government to provide safe drinking water and other necessities to asylum seekers. The organization also provides psychosocial services and trains authorities on child protection.
  3. Save the Children provides emergency services, legal representation, case management and works to reunite migrant families.
  4. Amnesty International, like Al Otro Lado, is concerned with upholding immigration law. The organization monitors the actions of Mexican authorities at the border and also documents the situations and conditions that migrants face.

Organizations like Al Otro Lado, Save the Children and Amnesty International see the migrant caravan as a humanitarian issue beyond party politics. They have wasted no time supporting migrants and asylum-seekers who have risked their lives journeying to the border. However, unless governments and organizations address the larger issues that led the people to leave in the first place, they will continue migrating. Faced with violence, persecution and poverty, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t do the same.

Kate McIntosh

Photo: Flickr

female democratic policyThe Democratic 2020 Presidential candidate race is well and truly underway. The Democratic Party recently announced that the Democratic National Convention will be held in July 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Currently, the number of declared candidacies for the Democratic Party stands at more than 200 with Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar being some of the critical players in this field. Here are brief summaries of what has defined these female democratic presidential candidates’ foreign policy agendas so far in their career, and what they have identified as key parts of their presidential campaigns.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has been a long time supporter of foreign aid with a platform on trade that focuses primarily on re-investing power in the American Middle Class. Subsequently, she is an advocate for anti-corruption measures and cracking down on multinational corporations that prioritize profits over workers.

Furthermore, she has expressed caution about the U.S.’ trade position with China due to the alleged human rights abuses, contending that China upholds no pretense of democracy regardless of its seemingly capitalist motives. She argues that the domestic agenda should not be considered “as separate from our foreign policy” and that creating strong alliances will help ordinary Americans. Foreign policy must be used to address humanitarian crises and boost democracies worldwide.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris’ foreign policy approach has been shaped by her career as a federal prosecutor. She has identified ending human trafficking, fighting climate change and reducing terrorism among her key foreign policy stances. She is a supporter of ‘smart diplomacy,’ which includes the cracking down on international criminal organizations.

She favors creating a multilateral approach to address global climate change and, subsequently, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership on account of it ‘invalidating’ California’s landmark environmental laws. Although she holds a similar stance to Warren on many issues, she has does not support tariffs on China due to the impact on California’s technology industry. She has not joined her colleagues Gillibrand and Warren in condemning cuts to Palestinian; however, she did join them in condemning the funding cuts to refugee programs.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand is a longtime fighter for both women in developing countries and women in the U.S., which has become a key part of her presidential platform. She co-sponsored the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2013, supporting the integration of gender into U.S. Foreign Policy.

She initially co-sponsored the Anti-Israel Boycott Act but withdrew her support several months later in 2017. Similar to Warren, she has supported using U.S. trade authority to discipline nations over the use of military force and, subsequently, she opposes U.S. collaboration with Saudi Arabia due to its role in the Yemen Humanitarian Crisis.

Gillibrand’s foreign policy statements outside of gender have focused on the protection of U.S. industries against unfair competition. Specifically, she has led the fight for U.S. steel manufacturers and fought back against cheap imports that harm U.S. producers of both primary and secondary products.

Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar has identified a long list of campaign issues on foreign policy centered around advancing American National Security. She is a supporter of foreign aid and the tradition of the U.S. in providing humanitarian assistance, helping to “address refugee crises, preventing radicalization, and promoting stability around the world.”

She has supported sanctions against Iran and North Korea and voted in favor of the Anti-Israel Boycott Bill, which is against the U.N. resolution requesting that states refuse to do business with contractors that engage in business with Israel. She has specifically outlined support for strengthening trade links within North America and with Cuba as part of her foreign policy outlook with the aim of advancing regional interests and investment and strengthening the U.S. position in the global economy. She has favored maintaining a strong military presence more so than several of her female democratic contenders.

Although these candidates, the leading four female Democrats in the race, hold largely similar positions on foreign policy and global trade, there are subtle differences demonstrated by the range of issues they have vocally discussed and highlighted. They are all supporters of foreign aid and all sit largely within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. However, it is likely that as the race gets further underway, these female democratic presidential candidates’ foreign policy agendas will become more distinct.

Holly Barsham

Photo: Flickr

Trade EmbargoesIn a world dominated by complex international relations, tumultuous geopolitical conflicts and volatile financial climates, the sense of protectionism and the implementation of trade barriers are becoming more widespread. An embargo is a term that can be defined as the complete or partial ban on trade, business activities and relations occurring between two countries. Similar to trade sanctions, trade embargoes are involved when countries seek to establish barriers or constraints often for political motives, purposes and gains. But, do they work?

Cuba and the U.S. Trade Embargo

Countries like Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Venezuela, China and Russia have often been on the receiving end of trade embargoes for decades. In the past, U.S. trade embargoes have resulted in sporadic political changes and dire effects on foreign policy.

For instance, Cuba, in particular, has been adversely impacted by the U.S. trade embargo since the culmination of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s, particularly in regard to the collapse of the sugar industry. The initial decline was catalyzed by the imposition of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Production further declined after the fall of the Soviet Union and a rise in the embargoes by the United States.

Trade Embargoes and Economies

At times, trade embargoes work because they can contribute to more peace and stability, and they can even prevent the debilitation of human rights violations, terrorism, aggression and nuclear threat. However, long term restrictions can be quite damaging and aggravate poverty and the standard of living for civilians. Owing to the sheer level of economic isolation and threat to trading relationships, the effects of trade embargoes can be especially damaging to the business, trade and commerce of a country, impacting a country’s GDP as well.

As a result of the negative effects of trade embargoes, domestic industries and producers often suffer a decline in their export markets and revenues, thereby threatening jobs and livelihoods. Countries that tend to overspecialize in certain commodities, goods and services may be most affected by these constraints as key sectors of the economy may be adversely impacted. Given their level of development, poorer countries are often restricted to producing goods in the primary industry that may have relatively lower returns.

Unintended Consequences

Trade embargoes may lead to grave economic and geopolitical problems like retaliation, such as the Russian counter-embargo after the 2014 EU Energy embargo during the Russian annexation of Crimea. This can result in an escalation in trade and price wars in the long run. Incidentally, the U.S. and China may now also be on the verge of a major trade war due to the new imposition of trade barriers, most recently on steel and China’s HUWEI chip sales.

Due to deficiencies in the country’s power to export goods and services during an embargo, its trade balance will also tend to suffer to a great degree. For instance, a U.N. arms embargo has been placed on North Korea concerning all armaments and related goods. Since December 2017, trade restraints have also been placed on key industries like oil and agriculture. This has created issues for the North Korean economy, but it has done little to deter the government from nuclear testing.

Open Trade Benefits Economies

According to the IMF, there is significant evidence that countries with open economies are more likely to achieve higher levels of economic growth. With new levels of trade liberalization and globalization, expanding economies are benefitting from massive inflows of capital and investment from stakeholder groups around the world. Moreover, in recent years, burgeoning and fast-paced economies like China are graduating to an open trade policy so that they can bolster trading ties with other key trading players.

In the year 2014, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA). In order to ensure greater ease, competitiveness, and efficiency in trade in the future, trade facilitation measures are now being implemented so that weak bureaucracy and productivity issues may be addressed. TFA will also aid developing economies to boost their exports and have greater access to markets.

The answer is not simple. Trade embargos can work under the right circumstances, but they are not always as effective as one would hope. Furthermore, they can have unexpected consequences. Given the vast scope and potential of free trade and development in a dynamically changing world, eliminating barriers and encouraging greater economic integration may provide a more effective way to address important social and economic issues and have profoundly positive impacts in the long term.

Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

The Super BowlThe first Superbowl took place on January 15, 1967. Tickets to attend cost only $12, and was the only Super Bowl in history to not sell out. The halftime show was comprised of local high school marching bands. Nowadays, tickets cost thousands of dollars, the halftime show goes all out with famous headliners, people host their own Superbowl parties and millions of people watch. Unfortunately, while cities spend millions of dollars every year to host a Superbowl game, people around the world, and even around the corner, are suffering from poverty. Below is a basic breakdown of different costs that go into the Superbowl and other ways that this money could be spent to help fight global poverty.

How Money Spent on the Super Bowl Could Be Used to Help People

  • Tickets Prices: Want to attend the Super Bowl? On average, tickets now cost between $2,500 to $3,000. This money could be put towards building wells in impoverished countries, for example. Some countries where you can build a well with this money are Togo, Niger, Senegal, Liberia and Chad. The cost to build a well in any of these countries ranges from $1,600 to $3,000.
  • The Halftime Entertainment: Pepsi has paid to sponsor the halftime show for several years now. On average, they reportedly spend $7 million to nab the sponsorship and invest an additional $100,000 in insurance for the show. It would cost around $86,000 to sponsor an entire African village. This includes a fully functioning school, medical center and access to clean water. For less than the cost of insuring the halftime show, the money could be allocated to helping a village in Africa thrive.
  • Commercial Advertisement: The average price for a 30-second ad spot in 2017 reached a height of  $5 million. The total amount spent on advertising from 1967 to 2018 is $5.4 billion. According to a study done in 2013, the average cost to run a mobile clinic was $92,898. That’s under one-fifth of the cost that it takes to run a thirty-second ad during the Superbowl.
  • Super Bowl Parties: In a survey conducted by The National Retail Federation, consumers said that they will spend an average of $81 on a Super Bowl watch party. That is a total of $14.8 billion dollars spent across the country. The cost to end world hunger is $30 billion a year.  American consumers who hold Super Bowl watch parties could pay for nearly half of that!

Realistically, not all consumers are going to pile their money together to help contribute to alleviating world hunger. But, if even just a few consumers donated that $81 dollars or a company like Pepsi opted to spend half of the Super Bowl sponsorship money to a cause that helps fight global poverty, it would make a huge difference because every dollar counts. While the fight against global poverty is one that takes time and money, it is a fight that can be won.

CJ Sternfels

Photo: Flickr

Department of State
The Department of State (DOS) is an executive office that is responsible for international relations. It serves as an advisory role to the President and represents the United States at the United Nations. But, there’s much more to it than just negotiating foreign treaties and running embassies. Here are 10 cool facts about the State Department.

10 Cool Facts About the State Department

  1. The Department of State is the keeper of the Great Seal of the United States. The seal is kept securely under lock and key in a glass enclosure in the Department’s Exhibit Hall. It can be used only with the permission of the Secretary of State. Over the years, the DOS has placed the Great Seal on display for the public, the first time being in 1955.
  2. The DOS has its own Diplomatic Motor Vehicle Office for foreign missions. This office works under the 1978 Diplomatic Relations Act and can issue registrations for foreign diplomats who have immunity in the United States. It also issues license plates, insurance and driver’s licenses.
  3. The State Department sponsors the Fulbright Program. Fulbright was established in 1946 and has had more than 250,000 participants since. The program’s mission is to create opportunities for better interactions and understanding between Americans and people of other nations. This is achieved by providing scholarships to American scholars who are seeking to study, teach or conduct research abroad and to foreign scholars who want to do the same in the United States.
  4. The Department of State as a top entry-level employer. With 1,000 job openings in 2019, the Department of State also offers remote internships called eInternships through the Virtual Student Federal Service program. The positions are open to part-time and full-time undergraduate and graduate students. All majors and backgrounds are encouraged to apply. In 2019, there have already been more than 125 internships offered through many different departments of the DOS, bringing new projects each year for students to participate in. The jobs vary from data visualization and infographic design to English-Spanish translations for the National Archives. The eInternships run from September through May; they are unpaid, part-time and some offer college credit as well as a variety of other benefits.
  5. The Department of State gives Linguist of the Year awards. The recipient of this award is an employee of the Foreign or Civil Service who has achieved a high level of knowledge of one or more foreign languages and who has demonstrated the ability to use that language to further U.S. diplomacy. The award comes with a $10,000 cash prize.
  6. The Department of State houses the Diplomatic Reception Rooms in Washington, D.C. In those rooms, the Secretary of State receives important guests. One historically important and cool fact is that the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room is home to the desk upon which the Treaty of Paris 1783 was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. The rooms also contain one of the United States’ most rare collections of fine and decorative arts, which have a value of more than $100 million.
  7. The State Department collaborates with USAID. Even though USAID is not part of the government, the DOS has provided USAID with guidance on foreign policy since 1961. The DOS makes sure that foreign aid is distributed according to U.S. policy standards.
  8. The Department of State employs diplomatic couriers. This job requires nearly constant travel in order to escort and deliver diplomatic pouches with classified material between the Department of State and its foreign missions. Diplomatic couriers are covered under the Vienna Convention as they work under international treaties. They spend more than 75 percent of their work time in international or domestic travel. Peter Parker was the first man to be commissioned as a diplomatic courier in 1776. However, it wasn’t until World War I that the DOS started hiring couriers regularly. Today it employs approximately 100 diplomatic couriers.
  9. The Department of State is leading the Global Connect Initiative. Announced at the United Nations in 2015, the initiative aims to provide 1.5 billion people with internet access by 2020. Global Connect stresses the importance of internet access in economic development because it facilitates investment and creates jobs.
  10. The Department of State provides travel advisories with the possibility to sign up for travel alerts. The Bureau of Consular Affairs monitors safety around the world and issues warnings about security levels. Upon registration, people can receive notifications via e-mail or on an app on their phones. The website offers travel advice for people from all walks of life to ensure safety and well-being.

The State Department is responsible for the United States’ foreign policy and international relations. It operates in the United States and in its missions based in other countries. Despite its serious and global role, the State Department does some cool things. These 10 cool facts about the State Department show that it is about more than just policies; it offers adventurous careers, scholarships and awards and even lessons on the United State’s art history.

– Ewa Devaux
Photo: Google

Eight Facts To Know about Mexican Immigration
The topic of immigration is inescapable in contemporary American politics. Political figures, news sources, late-night TV shows, other media outlets- it seems this topic is constantly being talked about. This coverage has created a flood of information about immigration in the United States, particularly about immigration from Mexico. But not all of this information is accurate. In the text below, eight facts about Mexican immigration are presented in an attempt to shed a light on this topic.

Eight Facts About Mexican Immigration

  1. Most unauthorized immigrants in the United States actually entered the country legally and have just overstayed their temporary visas. For the seventh year in a row, the number of people who have overstayed visas is far greater than the number who illegally crossed the Southern border. In addition, in 2017, undocumented immigrants from Mexico accounted for less than half of the undocumented population in the United States.
  2. Many immigrants crossing the United States’ Southern border are from Central America, not Mexico. The majority of the migrants from Central America come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
  3. Immigrants from Mexico and Central America are typically fleeing poverty, violence and crime as approximately 44 percent of Mexicans, 60.9 percent of Hondurans, 59.3 percent of Guatemalans and 38.2 percent of Salvadorans live beneath the poverty line. El Salvador also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Gang violence, drug trafficking and political corruption are prevalent in these nations.
  4. Mexican immigration into the United States has actually been declining since the mid-2000s, and so has the number of apprehensions at the Southern border.
  5. In the 2006 fiscal year, more than one million immigrants were apprehended at the Southern border. In the 2017 fiscal year, this number was 303,916. This decline in migration is a result of numerous factors. First, the decrease in labor demand in sectors that employ the majority of Mexican immigrants, such as construction, is a major contributor to this decline. With fewer jobs available, fewer Mexicans have immigrated to the U.S. and many have returned to Mexico. This decrease in jobs was in part due to the recession in the late 2000s. The second cause of decreasing emigration is the improvement in the Mexican economy. In the 1980s, Mexico was in a deep economic crisis, but since the late 1990s, the country has experienced economic stability and modest growth.
  6. Though the standard of living for most Mexican families has improved, a majority of Mexicans are not optimistic about the economy and the direction of the country. One-third of them would still migrate to the U.S.
  7. Demographic changes in Mexico’s population have also contributed to decreased emigration. Drastically declining fertility rates have decreased the number of people entering the workforce each year, leading to an increase in labor demand and wages. In addition, many Mexican immigrants are fathers searching for work to support their families. Lower birth rates have reduced the size of Mexican families, lessening the financial burden on parents and making it possible for fathers to support their families without emigrating to the U.S.
  8. The United States’ increased border enforcement in the past two decades has also lowered the Mexican immigration rate. U.S. Border Patrol funding has skyrocketed since 1992, which has enabled the agency to increase its staff by more than 400 percent. However, this increase in border enforcement predated the decline in migration by more than 10 years, suggesting that this is not the main cause of decreasing immigration.

Poverty, violence, crime and corruption are the root causes of immigration from Mexico and Central America into the United States. International cooperation to fund development and alleviate global poverty addresses these root causes and is key to reducing immigration. The United Nations stresses the importance of global cooperation in addressing international immigration and the Council of Foreign Relations asserts that large-scale migration can be managed only with a global governance framework.

With the increased life standard in Mexico and more opportunities in the country, Mexican immigration to the United States can be reduced in a less painful way. Reducing immigration is important not because immigration is inherently bad, but because people should not have to flee their homes to have a safe, financially stable life. They should have the opportunity to immigrate to another country if they choose, but should also be able to lead a safe, stable, prosperous life in their home country.

– Laura Turner
Photo: Flickr

Lyme Disease
Lyme Disease is common in the United States since the ticks that spread it are indigenous to the Midwest and East Coast. Humans are actually incidental hosts for ticks, meaning that there is limited communicability from humans to other species, but the impact that Lyme Disease has on the populations that it affects is tremendous. In order to combat this issue, it is important to look at how Lyme disease affects humans, how people can protect themselves with prevention measures and how to better understand the nature of Lyme Disease and its symptoms.

How Lyme Disease Works

Different ticks transmit different diseases. Lyme disease, also known as (Borrelia burgdorferi), is a bacterial infection carried by the deer tick, also known as the Ixodes tick. Humans get infected after an Ixodes tick has been latched onto them for at least 36 to 48 hours because it takes time for the tick to propagate enough bacteria for it to spread to salivary glands and infect the blood.

There are three major stages to Lyme Disease.

  1. Stage 1 can occur within 3 to 32 days after a tick bite and is characterized by a highly distinctive bullseye rash called the erythema migrans on the skin where the bite occurred. Studies have shown that only 70-80 percent of infected people get this rash, which accounts for the number of patients that go undiagnosed.
  2. Stage 2 can occur days to weeks after the tick bite and it is when the bacteria spread to various parts of the body, resulting in different symptoms in the host including additional bullseye rashes, facial or Bell’s palsy, severe headaches, meningitis, pain in joints, heart palpitations and dizziness. This is also the stage where flu-like symptoms arise such as fatigue, chills, headache, muscle aches
  3. Stage 3, the last stage, can occur months to years after the tick bite. Patients who have not received treatment may start noticing symptoms of arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling. The CDC Lyme Disease Brochure states that roughly 10 percent of patients that undergo antibiotic treatment develop what is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), which is likely due to the host’s immune response continuing after the infection has been cleared.

Preventing Lyme Disease

According to the CDC, the best way to prevent Lyme disease is to protect yourself. First, it is important to be aware of where ticks are found, and second, use tick repellant frequently around areas of the body where clothing might not be sufficient to prevent bites or where the skin is exposed and ticks can directly access the skin. The CDC recommends tick checks, especially on children, in arms pits, in and around the ears, around the waist and inside the belly button, the back of the knees, all around the head and in the groin area. Making these checks part of the regular routine after outdoors activities is the best way to prevent long-term exposure to ticks.

If a tick is found on the body, then it’s important to be able to quickly and effectively remove it with a tweezer. If the tick is attached on the skin for fewer than 24 hours, than the chance of getting Lyme disease is much lower. It is also important to protect household pets from Lyme Disease, mainly by using tick pesticides around areas where the pets often go, like the lawn, and by discouraging close contact with deer.

Kelly Mai
Photo: Google

Higher Education in RussiaThe course of formal learning in society takes a mold that has been carefully crafted over the course of history. Similar to business, hierarchal structures remain in place to provide a linear path for young and ambitious students to rise through the levels of education in order to become better contributors to society. This logic path applies to all developed nations of the world, but for the developing nation of Russia, a massive suboptimal state within higher education continues to disenfranchise the student population from the institutions themselves.

State of Higher Education in Russia

The suboptimal state of higher education in Russia presents itself in the faulty relationship between faculty-led lecture and curriculum learning and student capability. Currently, the system of education in Russia mimics that of United States by level and progression. Russia has three primary levels of education available to its 143 million citizens: primary school, secondary school, college and tertiary school that is often referred to as university or post-secondary education.

Unlike the United States where higher education finds its roots in Jeffersonian ideals of limited government and freedom of expression, states and religious communities, all higher education in Russia is either commercial or state-owned and operated. Commercially owned universities take on the same form as privately owned universities in the United States where a board of controllers share a stake in the institution and design its curriculum and policies.

Conversely, state-owned and operated universities in Russia is where the suboptimal state of higher education in Russia materializes. Faculty are on the government payroll and often found work in higher education as an alternative to finding private sector work. Lack of qualifications coupled with a general apathy corrodes the quality of higher education in Russia.

Contrary to the United States where the possession of a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) represents the terminal degree of higher education and right of passage into a professorship, poor education standards in Russia afford more graduate students to earn their Ph.D. equivalents and enter the employment world of higher education. Proper education training programs are not pushed on professors as much as it is in the United States.

Higher Education and Poverty in Russia

According to World Education News and Reviews, around 54 percent of Russians aged from 25 to 64 held tertiary degrees as of 2015. Representing more than 50 percent of Russia’s demographic of educable citizens, the country is ranked as one of the most educated nations in the world. Where then does the suboptimal state of higher education in Russia fit into the equation of global poverty?

The answer is complex. Because government-owned universities offer free tuition and significant subsidies on student housing and extraneous costs, the state proctors an array of difficult entrance exams that determine a candidates eligibility into Russian university. For those who do not pass the exam or have little care for the system of higher education altogether, a pivot toward traditional blue-collar trades such as electricians, plumbers and contractors is not unfamiliar. However, the pursuit of blue-collar work does not afford Russians the same pay scale and livelihood as it does for U.S. laborers. Herein lies the trickle-down effects of higher education restraints into the poverty of the Russian’s middle-class.

Present and Future of Higher Education in Russia

In 2019, higher education in Russia is beginning to respond to the needs of the labor market and mimic the same dynamic of labor – education as in the United States. Around 20 years prior, laborers with a Bachelor of Science or Arts degree were very competitive and employable in the labor force. Currently, bachelor degrees are being less valued by Americans and now college graduates pursue a masters degree in addition to a four-year degree so to better secure their chances of higher job security and pay.

Notwithstanding this change, the trend of Americans who believes a four year-year degree will lead to a good job and higher lifetime earnings represents only 49 percent of the population, down 13 percentage points when the same question was asked four years earlier.

There are a few possible solutions to the link between middle-class poverty in Russia and the shambolic higher education offered. Requiring professors in Russia to visit select cities where intense training and education is offered in preparation for professorship may cure the qualifications issue.

Additionally, commercial universities ought to take measures of their own to increase competitiveness and admission rates to receive the pressure off of state-run institutions. Russia is presently molding its education philosophy around Western ideals that hinge on government deregulation, freedom of choice and competition. Implementing additional measures and programs that fall in line with that philosophical shift is not beyond Russia’s capability. The survival of Russia’s educated middle class depends on it.

– Nicholas Maldarelli

Photo: Pixabay

Work and Travel USA
The Work and Travel USA program is a United States’ government program that offers foreign students an opportunity to work and travel across the country through the provision of a J1 work visa. The program allows over 100,000 students to come to the U.S. into a variety of cities and towns across the country each summer.

Advantages of Work and Travel USA

Prior to moving to the U.S. for the summer, students find an employment opportunity in the U.S. through their respective work and travel agencies. Upon arrival, four months of work are defined and nearly a month’s time of travel and leisure for each student, depending on their savings throughout the summer. The program offers foreign students the unique opportunity to earn thousands of U.S. dollars, experience American life and culture through personal interaction and work experience as well as the privilege of repatriating thousands of dollars back into their respective country’s currency when they inevitably return home. Unless they decide not to return home.

Middle Classes of US and Russia

According to the Pew Research Foundation, approximately half of the U.S. population that totals to around 320 million citizens reside in middle-class households. Despite a strong representation of middle-class American citizens, financial gains for middle-income Americans during this period were modest compared with those of higher-income households, causing the income disparity between the two groups to grow.

Contrary to the United States, Russia’s middle class has shrunken to the point of nonrecognition. In developed countries, the middle class is an essential class, the guarantor of social and political stability, legislator of norms of socio-economic and cultural behavior. Its representatives are characterized by independence and critical thinking that facilitate the development of civil society and the efficiency of state management. In Russia’s developing nation, the middle class is parceled into ultra-rich oligarchs that, in fact, represent the elite and the derelict poor on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Motivations for Work and Travel Program

Russian student candidates for the Work and Travel USA program fall somewhere in the middle. They are aged from 18 to 28 years, have a proficiency in English, belong to a travel agency with a work arrangement, they have obtained all legal documents to work in the U.S. for three to four months and have successfully completed at least one semester at their home university.

The motivations for applying to the Work and Travel USA program appear obvious, but American laborers and academics seldom realize the hidden incentives behind a J1 visa and its political power. On average, candidates for the Work and Travel USA program initially put up over $1,200 in program fees and paperwork in order to be afforded a J1 visa and to work in the United States. The granting of this visa grants temporary freedom to a Russian student that he or she is seldom likely to experience while living, studying and working in Russia.

Matters of poor higher education standards and poverty in the form of household income, per capita GDP, social exclusion on the basis of sexual orientation and gender and geographic/geopolitical disenfranchisement are the primary motivations for a select few Russian J1 visa holders to defy the Work and Travel USA agreement and ultimately overstay their visas in pursuit of residency, a green card and, ultimately, American citizenship.

Misuse of Work and Travel USA

The J1 visas awarded to students through the Work and Travel USA program have become a solution to middle-class poverty students in Russia for escaping the country. Rather than committing to a broken system of higher education or working tirelessly in a blue-collar trade, many young Russians are overstaying their visas while in the U.S. in preparation for a new life. Due to matters of conflicted interest, Russian travel agencies and the U.S. government do not disclose precisely how many J1 visa holders overstay their visitor status.

The issue of overstayed J1 students obviously concerns the internal environment of Russia and its connection to poverty. Young Russian citizens know better than to assume the state of affairs in Russia will improve to the point where poverty will be alleviated nationwide. Thus, students fortunate enough to make the cut and receive the J1 visa often pursue the Work and Travel USA program with nefarious and permanent intent.

There are real solutions to solve this suboptimal state for young Russians in the middle class. The establishment of lobbyist groups to improve higher education standards will begin to set positive trends in motion. There is however the persisting issue of Russians wanting to visit the USA with the intent of returning home. Programs and measures taken must work to encourage all Russian J1 holders to return home without disadvantaging those who seek the program with integrity.

Conversely, the issue of overstaying can be reframed entirely. Perhaps the U.S. can begin to set up incubator programs for foreign students who overstay their visa in order to afford them the necessary legal resources so they may make legitimate claims to the residence. If Russia refuses to enact policy that addresses its middle-class poverty issue, perhaps it is time for the United States to step up and show how far legislation can go to improve the lives of law-abiding people.

– Nicholas Maldarelli

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