Reviving the Debate on Capital Punishment

Written by Victor Vuong (First-year Representative)

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.

On January 30th, the Justice Department announced that they would seek the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of detonating bombs with his older brother Tamerlan at the 2013 Boston Marathon. The bombings resulted in the deaths of Krystle Campbell, Martin William Richard, and Lingzi Liu. In addition, 260 were wounded and an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, was later killed during the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. Although support for the Justice Department’s announcement is quite strong across the country: 70% of people polled across the US support the use of the death penalty against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Boston has split ways with the rest of the country: 57% of those polled oppose the use of the death penalty, with 33% of those polled in favor. Most Boston residents instead support a sentence of life without parole. Boston residents’ divergence from the rest of the country on this issue has revived some debate about whether capital punishment has a place in modern society.

Proponents of the death penalty claims that it deters crime, makes sure criminals do not commit crimes again, and is a just punishment for crimes as horrible as mass murder, child rape, torture murder, etc. Like most Boston residents, I oppose the death penalty for a number of reasons: it is unjustly implemented across the country, has created a false sense of comfort, which does not resolve the pain caused by a criminal’s actions.

There are a number of injustices present within the legalized system of capital punishment. For one, inspection of execution methods has not been thorough enough. In Ohio, Dennis McGuire, guilty of the rape and fatal stabbing of a pregnant newlywed, took nearly twenty-five minutes to pass away on January 16th and was reported to have gasped and made snorting noises during that time period. McGuire was injected with a combination of drugs never previously tried before in the US. Despite McGuire’s heinous actions, there is no reason why the US should cause pain during execution-it mirrors the behavior of those whom some claim deserve the death penalty for such actions.

Furthermore, there exists doubt on convicts’ culpability in their cases. As new technology has developed, there have been post conviction case exonerations in the US⁵. Although not all the exonerations applied to death row inmates, it nevertheless exemplifies an important failure of the justice system. As long as such a problem exists, the death penalty should never be legal.

Lastly, the death penalty creates a false sense of comfort, because it overshadows the more important issue: how to ever prevent something as horrid as the Boston bombings from occurring ever again. Executing Tsarnaev will not strengthen our police force or improve technology that can help prevent future similar situations from occurring, but continual training of our police force and providing adequate funding for them and for new, more impressive technologies will. Executing Tsarnaev will not resolve the pain or anger in our hearts from what happened.

I recognize that I have not addressed all of the arguments that either opponents or proponents of the death penalty hold and that not all of the issues I have addressed apply to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case, but they, along with the Justice Department’s announcement, do present another opportunity that we as a society should take, to have a meaningful conversation concerning the death penalty and its relevance in American society.

The Rise of Third Parties

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by Lindsay Nicastro (Vice President) 

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.

One myth within politics today is that each voter somehow “belongs” to either the Democratic or Republican Party. Third party candidate popularity has been steady throughout American politics. While former third parties may not have held a stronghold within the House, Senate or Executive office- many achieved political game changers. The Women’s National Party (1913-1930) was created by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns for the sole purpose of passing the 19th amendment or women’s right to vote. After the successful passage in 1920, they turned their attention to the supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1896, the Populist Party (or at the time “People’s Party”) nominated William Jennings Bryan, a fighter for labor and agriculture who opposed big banks, who was later endorsed by the Democrat Party as the Presidential Nominee against William Mckinley.

Today, there are three major parties outside of our two party barrier: Libertarians, Green Party and the Constitution Party. The Libertarian Party was formed in 1971 and members boast being more socially liberal than Democrats and more fiscally conservative than Republicans. The Green party emphasizes social justice, environmentalism, peace and non-violence. The Green Party first gained recognition during Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign in 1996 and again in 2000. The Constitution Party defines it’s platform on the founding father’s documents; hence the name. They were founded in 1968 by George Wallace presidential campaign and have since focused on strict immigration laws and penalties towards illegal immigrants.

In this past 2013 Virginia Gubernatorial election, Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate received almost 7% of the vote. This election was highly contested with slightly over 50,000 votes determining Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe as winner. Sarvis, who received 145,762 votes, is now being blamed by the Republican party for stealing voters away from Republican nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

Third Party candidates have been the scapegoat for losing nominees for centuries. This seems unfair. As a nation, we do not make voting or participating politically mandatory- nor do we only provide a choice for Democrat or Republican on the ballot. In the past, third party candidates have shown to push other candidates into sharing more honest policy during campaigns or debates.  Third Party candidates do not run to give one opponent more competition and another an advantage. Ralph Nader did not run in 2000 or 2004 as the Green Party Candidate to steal votes from Gore or Kerry. I’m sure getting G.W.Bush elected was the farthest ideal situation for The Green Party (who again pledges pacifism and sustainability).

We need to start realizing that Americans are not drones forced to choose between Republicans and Democrats. We cannot be agitated over those who vote for a candidate they believe in, even if that candidate may not have a chance of winning (In theory, isn’t that the point of voting?). Not everything is black or white. At times people fall within the grey areas and giving  a voice to the minority parties can only benefit the American political system in the long run.

The Widening Gap Between Labor and the Democratic Party

by Alex Blankman (First-Year Representative) 

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.Labor-Turnstyle

In the 1940s labor unions were created to protect worker’s right and give them a forum to collectively share their voices. In today’s world where corporate power continues to grow, the middle class continues to decrease and unemployment and stagnant wages persist, it would seem that labor unions have more of a place in our society than ever. Nevertheless, participation in labor unions continues to decline and American approval ratings of labor unions have also reached an all-time low.

Many economists and political scientists have offered ideas for these numbers. Some say that the nature of labor has changed. The need for unskilled workers has decreased and it is far more difficult to organize the skilled workers that are most in demand. Some cite the changing demographics and national culture. However, the most important and pervasive reason behind the decline in labor unions is a political battle.

Conservatives have gone head-to-head with unions for years. They have led the smear campaign against the unions for years, bombarding the American people with the idea that unions are simply poor economics. These actions and rhetoric are expected from the Republicans.

So, who is opposing. The answer should be the democrats but, unfortunately, over the past few decades the party has not done its job. The Democratic Party should be at the front lines of this debate. We know that destroying unions for the sake of saving some money is a short-term solution. We know that strong unions are the first step to recreating a middle class and that it is in the interest of almost every American. Yet, we have taken an entirely too weak stance on the unions’ rights.

Labor unions continue to suffer blows from every which way, yet the Democrats have effectively decided that this is not a battle worth fighting. Most recently, on November 13th, Unite Here Local 355 vs. Mulhall will be heard in the Supreme Court. This is one of the most important labor cases of our generation because if the court rules against labor, it could cripple efforts by private sector unions to organize workers.

Regardless of the case’s importance, Democrats have been silent on this issue. Our President is a former community organizer with a great amount of respect for labor unions. The democrats have no reason to not stand up for worker’s rights other than cowardice. Public approval of unions has steadily declined, which only means that it is the responsibility of the Democrats to show the country the valuable place that unions hold. It is up to us to change the precedent and it is about time that we accept the challenge

The Aftermath of Election Day

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On Tuesday, November 5th, Americans across the country voted in a myriad of state and local elections to select their new representatives to many positions.  Of primary importance were the mayoral elections in Boston and New York, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as a few other elections of minor impact.

At 9:30 on Tuesday night, Marty Walsh was declared the winner in the Boston mayoral race against John Connolly.  Despite, and perhaps because of, few substantive differences in policy, the election came down to the wire, with the primary distinctions between the candidates on their support bases.  Walsh, a state legislator and former Trade Council Head, ran with the backing of Boston’s unions, and won the race with 52% of the vote.  He will be replacing Mayor Thomas Menino, who has managed the city since 1993.

New York City had its own mayoral election on Tuesday.  After 20 years of Republican management, eight by Rudy Giuliani and twelve by Michael Bl

oomberg, a Democrat, Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, was elected mayor in a landslide victory.  He ran

against Republican Joe Lhota on an incredibly progressive platform, effectively as the anti-Bloomberg.  He won most of the city and 73% of the vote.

Across the river, New Jersey held their own gubernatorial election.  Incumbent governor Chris Christie defeated challenger Barbara Buono in a landslide win with 60% of the statewide vote.  Despite opposing policies supported by the majority of New Jersey’s population, Christie’s handling of the economy and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy ensured his win, setting him up for a possible 2016 Presidential run.

Virginia also elected a new governor.  In an incredibly close election, Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli with 48% of the vote.  Virginia was one of the oddest elections of the year, with the candidates run

ning in front of the backdrop of the government shutdown and a Republican supported law banning “non-traditional sex acts”.  Despite polls predicting a clear marginal victory for McAuliffe, this race was one of the last to be decided, as well as one of the closest.

Democrats Have Grown a Backbone – Why Aren’t They Using It?

democrats-spot-a-backboneby Joe Beebe (President) 

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.

There is an old political joke that used to frequently get thrown around: “I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democratic.” For much of the last 50 years, the Democratic Party of the United States became associated with an ability to lose against all odds. Even our own Commonwealth did not escape this curse: just take a look at the Presidential elections of Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry, or the Senate campaign of Martha Coakley. Our entire nation moved farther and farther right in this period. Even the successful administration of Bill Clinton predicated itself on the concepts of “New Democrats” and “Third Way” policies, steering away from the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. In fact, Clinton’s tenure partially ushered in an era of deregulation that helped lead to the 2008 Fiscal Crisis. Admittedly, the crisis is complicated and multifaceted, but I am willing to bet that President Clinton repealing Roosevelt’s Glass-Steagall Act did not help.

However, in the last few years, something seems to be changing within the Democratic party. Moxie. Chutzpah. A backbone. You can feel it in the air. Take the Government Shutdown for instance. Not only did the Democrats refuse to cave to the GOP’s threats, but they stayed united, they stayed organized, and they accomplished their goals. Surprise: it worked. The media chalked up the crisis as a complete victory for the Democrats, and the DCCC’s fundraising has skyrocketed. The buck stopped at Senator Harry Reid, and it worked. Democrats are showing some long-overdue spine.

So why aren’t they doing anything with it? Our progress has been incremental at best. The Affordable Care Act is a landmark piece of legislation, and an incredible achievement. But what about immigration? Education? Income inequality? Where are the liberals standing up to Drone strikes?  Student loans, gun control, unemployment. We hear all about it during the campaigns. Say what you want about the shutdown and the Tea Party, but they sure as hell know how to keep a campaign promise.

How about just in Massachusetts: why is the campaign to raise minimum wage just happening now? The minimum wage in MA has fallen 25% since 1968. That’s with a Democratic legislature-not exactly the Bay State liberals’ finest hour.

Democrats have their backbone, now they need to use it. There’s too much at stake not to.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Governor Deval Patrick, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention:

“If we want to win elections in November and keep our country moving forward, if we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to stiffen our backbone and stand up for what we believe. Quit waiting for pundits or polls or super PACs to tell us who the next president or senator or congressman is going to be. We’re Americans.”

Opposition and Support for Charter Schools

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large. 

Support by Alex Blankman (First-Year Rep)

Let me begin with a few staggering statistics: According to the National Assessment of Education Progress Reading Test, 67% of all American fourth graders scored “below proficient” in reading and the United States ranked 25th in math performance out of 30 countries. The institutions that are producing these results are not fairing any better than our students. 1 in every 10 public schools is considered a dropout factory, which means that 60% of its students do not graduate in four years.

There is little doubt that our public school system is broken. It is one of the greatest crises faces our country today. This lack of quality education is impeding the US from competing globally and it facilitates the cycle of poverty in America. The US educational system is in need of a radical change, not minor adjustments. This kind of extreme transformation has been difficult to achieve in our existing school system because of a puzzling bureaucracy.

In response to the inaction of the government to improve education, educational experts devised an alternate solution. They created the first charter school, which receive less public funding than the average public school and in turn has more flexibility. Since the first charter school was created in 1991, there is an immense amount of data supporting the success of these new kinds of schools.

To begin, the groups governing the charter schools have realized that children, especially those in low-income areas, need more time in the classroom. Therefore, they elongated the school day and school year. As a result, charter school students receive on average an extra 79 days of class time. This has led to higher academic performance on proficiency tests. For example, Harlem Success Academy, a New York City Charter School, boats that none of its students are below national standards in math or reading and almost 50% of its class are performing higher than grade level.

Another advantage of a charter school is its understanding that no two students are the same. It is difficult to force a child into a preset system that does not allow for an inch of flexibility. Therefore, a charter school can provide a much more personal environment. The motto of a charter school is that even if a child is born into difficult circumstances, he is still capable of being successful in school. He just needs to right help and tools to realize his potential. It is for this reason that if a young student is consistently late for school, a teacher from a charter school may provide wake-up calls each morning to ensure the student’s attendance. The flexibility of charter schools provides a much more individualized experience.

The greatest aspect of the charter school system is that is provides low-income families with a choice in regard to their child’s education. Selecting one’s education was normally a concept that was reserved for the elite. The wealthy are able to either pay for a private school education or move to a neighborhood with a strong school distract. Unfortunately, this is not an option for many families in America. Charter schools give parents a way to avoid sending their child into a locally zoned school that has proven to be a failure. Instead they can select the highest quality education and what will be best for their child.

Continuing our charter school system does not mean that we should neglect improving our public school. The US government should keep striving to offer an equal education for all. However, this will not be a quick or easy process. So, it crucial to maintain the charter school system to help thousands of students who would otherwise receive the worst education America has to offer.

schoolchoice

Opposition by Greg Phipps (Communications Director)

Charter schools: moving toward European-style segregation? For me, America’s socialized public education system has always been a source of national pride. In the Land of Inequality, it’s the one institution we have that is truly equal, that facilitates opportunity and gives students a chance at realizing the American Dream. . We reject the European model, which relegates underachievers to vocational school and thus bars them from post-secondary education. Indeed, the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that makes high school graduation a priority for all of our students and, in doing so, gives every graduate the chance to go to college and further his or her educational development.

The rise of charter schools fundamentally threatens this model. Charter schools attract the highest-performing students, recruit the best teachers, and dominate the political sphere. Remaining public schools are thus cast to the back burner, with lower-quality students and teachers and fewer resources to work with. Supporters of charter schools point to their higher educational outcomes when compared to traditional public education. I would call this a chicken-or-egg problem: schools with higher-quality students and teachers will necessarily outperform schools with lower-quality students and teachers. The diminished quality of public schools resulting from this fact dampens their reputation, driving good students who aren’t offered admission to charter schools toward private education. This creates a cycle of negative feedbacks that further deteriorate traditional public education.

In Boston, charter schools have the potential to exacerbate pre-existing educational disparities. Boston

has more than twenty public high schools, and Bostonians complete an application process to attend their desired school. This system creates inequality between the various high schools. Some Boston high schools, like Boston Latin, are very good; while others, like English High School, are very bad. This means that, within the district, underperforming students are only offered admission to underperforming schools, creating a cycle of underachievement. Add charter schools to the mix, and this cycle is likely to get even worse, as failing schools see a reduction in funding and teacher quality.

These two cycles – of negative feedbacks and  underachievement – dramatically undermine the egalitarian principles of American public education. They create a system that is inherently unequal and more closely resembles the European model. High-performing students, segregated into well-funded charter schools with high-quality teachers, certainly benefit from improved prospects at attending a prestigious four-year university. Yet low-performing students are segregated into the remaining public schools, deemed “failing” due to their poor test scores and underachieving teachers.  What happens to these students? Can we reasonably say that they have an equal shot of attending a four-year university? That they will have equal access to opportunity and social mobility? The answer is no.

While charter schools are all the rage, I see them as detrimental. Call me idealistic, but I think every public school should have equal levels of funding and a comparable quality of teachers and students. Charter schools are the antithesis to this ideal.

Reject segregation. Reject charter schools.

A Peak into the Government Shutdown

By Camila Camborda (First Year Representative)

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large.

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photo credit: New York Daily Newspaper

Failing to reach a budget agreement by midnight, the United States Government is officially in a partial shut-down. Following an uncertain weekend, the House once again passed a continuing resolution postponing the Affordable Care Act for a year, which the Senate promptly rejected when it reconvened. Late last night the Senate then passed a Continuing Resolution back to the house, minus the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions at which point it appeared that a conference would take place between Representatives and Senators. The conference did not take place however. It was rejected by Senate Majority Leader Reid who said that a conference would not be held when a “gun was held to their head.”

That was yesterday. Today the nation awoke to the reality of a shutdown, which ramifications we are just beginning to understand. While President Obama signed a last-minute bill last night guaranteeing military pay, federal employees considered “non-essential” will face furloughs. National Parks and Monuments will close, the CDC will no longer continue research and the NIH will no longer accept new patients. As college students we face reductions and cancellations of federal funds that grant us work-study jobs.

Both parties are responding to the shut-down as expected, blaming each other for the crisis. Democrats continue to insist on a clean budget that will continue government operations before negotiating possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, which rolled out today as planned, continuing resolution or not. On the other side of the aisle, ideas have floated about a piece meal approach, passing bills to fund individual services, such as Park Services and Veterans Affairs, in an effort to once again defund the ACA.

An interesting reaction from the right is being portrayed. Fox News, a leading right-wing network has chosen to call the shut-down a “slim-down”, implying a positive change to an overly large government. Some right-wing blogs have also pointed to the fact that services such as the TSA and USPS will continue to run, and that what we are facing is “not so bad”. In my opinion these are moves to protect Republicans in congress who will face backlash from constituents, many of whom are employed by the government, and seek to pin the blame on Democrats.

As we continue through this shutdown I think it is important to understand the severity of the situation. Even though essential services that keep the government running bare-bones will still be funded, there are still many Americans who will feel the impact of this. Whether you agree with the ACA or not, shutting down government operations should not be taken so lightly.

Room for Compromise in Immigration Debate

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by Emma Brandon, Vice President

“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving,
hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” proclaimed President
Obama in his second inaugural address. This proclamation kicked off a firestorm of
activity in the White House and on Capitol Hill to find the better way that the President
had demanded.

The White House came out with a plan that included strengthening borders,
cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, and a path to
citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. The path to citizenship
element of the President’s proposal is by far the most controversial and misunderstood
element. Obama’s plan would require that immigrants pass security and criminal
background checks; pay taxes; learn English; and “go to the back of the line” for green
cards.

A bi-partisan group of Senators quickly formed a “Gang of 8” in response
to the President’s proposal and wrote their own immigration reform proposal. The
“Gang of 8”’s proposal includes strikingly similar plans to the President’s proposal
on strengthening borders and the hiring of illegal immigrants but differs greatly on its
prioritization and ideas on a path to citizenship. The plan contains a provision for a
similar path to citizenship only after it can be proven that the borders are secure. The
“Gang of 8” also proposes the creation of a commission of Governors, Mayors, and
Attorneys General from states that are along the United States’ Southwestern border to
determine whether this condition has been met and whether it is now time to establish a
path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are currently in the country.

The major sticking point for Republicans in the House of Representatives
appears to also be the President’s proposal of a path to citizenship. The current House
Republican position is not clearly defined and is evolving as hearings on the subject
in House Judiciary Committee that began on Tuesday, February 5 continue. Many
leading Republicans such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)
have wondered aloud whether there is a middle ground between a path to citizenship and
mass deportation. Goodlatte has suggested that the answer may be legal residency for
current undocumented immigrants but there has been no consensus House Republican
plan on the issue. This relatively moderate position demonstrates that there is room for
compromise although the fact that a recent AP-Gfk poll has shown that more than 6 in
10 Americans support a path to citizenship may be a sign that the President need not
compromise on this issue.