ISSUES

How to Improve America's Broken Prison System: Create a World Without Free Will and Moral Responsibility

How responsible are you for your actions?

The debate over free will, and whether we as humans possess such a thing, has been ongoing since Aristotelian times. When discussing free will, philosophers commonly mean the kind that mean humans are ultimately responsible for their actions. The assumption of this kind of free will's existence, and the kind of ultimate responsibility that is inherent in it, is the basis of many religions, justice systems, and cultural structures. As philosopher's continue to debate whether free will exists, another question arises: what are the implications if we let go of the concept of free will and the kind of moral responsibility that accompanies it? How would our institutions, behaviors, and individual operations change if we allowed the idea of a causally determined universe without free will to become a part of public consciousness? Based on the work, of Samuel Harris, Daniel Dennet, Robert Kane and Bruce Waller, one can conclude that the world would be a more productive, compassionate place if society were to generally let go of this concept and embrace a hard determinist viewpoint.

First, it is vital that we elucidate what hard determinism looks like in the context of other philosophical viewpoints regarding free will. At present, the debate regarding the existence of free will revolves around the idea of determinism, it's validity as a concept, and, if valid, how that affects free will and responsibility. Determinism is the idea that everything that occurs and will ever occur is an inevitable product of all that has occurred before.

Or as Robert Kane puts it in his book Free Will, "…we say that a determined event is inevitable or necessary, (it cannot but occur), given the determining conditions." (Kane, 6) This idea calls into question the validity of the concept of free will. In this debate, when referring to "free will," one means the kind of freedom that goes beyond surface freedoms (choosing what to eat, where to travel etc.) and extends to the power to control why one desires what they desire and chooses what they choose. Kane refers to this deeper kind of free will as, "…the ultimate power over what it is that we willed." (Kane, 2) Another way to think about it is the power to be the author of one's own character.

Today, for the purpose of this article, the debate can be reasonably divided into two large categories: compatibilism and incompatibilism. The first group is made up of those who believe free will is compatible with the idea of determinism, that is, that free will can exist, on some level, in a causally determined world. The classical compatibilist believes that, "…our natural belief in the incompatibility of free will and determinism rests on confusions of two kinds—confusions about the nature of freedom and confusions about the nature of determinism." (Kane, 21) In brief, classical compatibilists believe that the kind of free will worth having is essentially merely an accumulation of exercising surface freedoms, something very possible in a causally determined world.


Contrastingly, incompatibilists are those people who believe that free will and determinism can't both be true. This leaves incompatibilists with the burden of proving that free will and determinism cannot exist simultaneously, which once accomplished, leaves them to decide which of the two (determinism and free will) is then true. Meaning this group is much more starkly divided than the compatibilists.

The first group in this division, libertarians, are as Kane puts it, those "…who affirm free will and deny determinism…" (Kane, 32) This leaves the libertarian to prove how free will can exist in an indeterminist world, which creates arguments that rely largely on luck or other vague, metaphysical concepts that critics argue, even if true, won't necessarily make a person more free. This view agrees the most with the intuitive sense of free will many common "folk" have, but is not accepted by the majority of philosophers of merit.

The other view an incompatibilist can reasonably take is that of hard determinism, the belief that because determinism is true, free will cannot exist. As Kane puts it, those who hold this view, "…believe that if you look more deeply into the psychological and other springs of action, you will see that all of us are determined to do what we do, whether it be good or evil; and so none of us is ultimately responsible." (Kane, 68) It is this view, as we will explore, that removes the burden of free will and moral responsibility from the world, and creates space for a more compassionate, productive world. Essentially, if we were always going to do what we do because of a combination of our experiences and biology, how can our actions truly be our fault?

According to Kane, "Hard Determinism is defined by three theses: (1) Free will is incompatible with determinism and (2) free will does not exist because (3) determinism is true." (Kane, 70) The basic argument, that philosopher Galen Strawson lays out, seems to make this thesis appear logically sound. The argument is made up of five parts that are as follows: (1) Nothing can be causa sui - nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one's actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible (Strawson,1) This seems to be a difficult argument to reason ones way out of, as at every step one is tempted to refer to an earlier moment of self-authorship, only to be foiled by Strawson's unavoidable logic that such a moment simply cannot have existed.


Those who oppose this view, argue that though we may be affected by our environment and biology, we still have the power to decide to change who we are. (Kane, 73) To this, Kane says that Strawson argues that, "…neither compatibilists nor libertarians give us an adequate account of how we could change our characters that accounts for true responsibility. If the way we change ourselves later in life is determined by how we already are, as compatibilists allow, then that kind of change would not amount to true responsibility. But if the way we change ourselves later in life is undetermined, as libertarians require, then it would amount to mere luck or chance and that would not be true responsibility either."(Kane, 73) Of course, it is important to note, as Sam Harris does in his book Free Will, "There is a distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, of course, but it does nothing to support the common idea of free will (nor does it depend upon it). A voluntary action is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out, whereas an involuntary action isn't." (Harris, 12) Meaning that just because we do not act with free will, does not mean we do not act voluntarily, it is merely the motivation behind our voluntary actions over which we have no control. Essentially, hard determinist's argue that the only two things that influence what a person does are biology and circumstance, and if an individual doesn't have control over either of these things from their first moments on earth, how can they be held responsible for their actions? Indeed, when considering these arguments, hard determinism begins to feel inescapable.



This brings up the question: How would internalizing a hard determinist viewpoint shape the way individuals view themselves? Hard determinism may at first appear to be a callous view, as one may assume that the absence of free will means that humans are veritable slaves to determinism, nothing but metaphorical puppets tied to the merciless hands of luck. But, just because ultimate moral responsibility is not an option, that does not mean individual responsibility is also invalid. In fact, Bruce Waller argues in his paramount work, Against Moral Responsibility, the absence of moral responsibility, "…would leave ample room for take charge responsibility and increase the likelihood of exercising it well, and when we look closely (and distinguish take charge from moral responsibility), take charge responsibility is the responsibility most of us really want. It enables us to exercise effective control, make our own decisions and choices, reflect carefully on what we deeply value, and manage our own lives." (Waller, 278) Waller maintains the optimistic viewpoint that, essentially, the idea that we are not causes unto ourselves, should be an idea that motivates and empowers individuals to consider what it is they desire and why, and begin to make choices that leads them in this direction. The elimination of free will and moral responsibility as valid concepts leaves room for people to inspect why they are the way they are, and use that as the motivating force to change their path. Indeed, the very knowledge that none of us are responsible for who we are could be a positive factor that shapes us unavoidably, "…it would promote stronger self control and nurture genuine self-respect." (Waller, 278)

We see now that it is in fact very possible that the loss of moral responsibility could actually positively affect an individual, but what of an individual's view of others? Here is where hard determinism most obviously improves the world. As Harris points out, "Once we recognize that even the most terrifying predators are, in a very real sense, unlucky to be who they are, the logic of hating (as opposed to fearing) them begins to unravel." (Harris, 53) An interesting way to think of this problem is with the following thought experiment: if you were to take the place of a murderer, moments before he commits the heinous act, and arrive in his body with his exact brain and past experiences, could you possibly say you would put down the knife and decide not to murder? Of course not. The things that led him to that place, his biology and experiences, are what have made him into who he is. He is not evil because he has decided to be evil, he does not have the impulse to kill because some deep part of him chose it, and there is no scrap of you that would be transferred to his body that is deeper or more in control of decision making than the murderers nervous system. So how can we hate him? Instead, it makes sense that instead of condemning the murderer as evil, we should seek to understand the factors that led him to murder, in order to create a society in which fewer people are led to act as such. As Waller puts it, "…the most salient feature of a world without moral responsibility is its openness to inquiry: its openness to recognizing and reporting and dealing with problems and flaws and mistakes." (Waller, 285)

This does lead to an obvious question: what is to be done with the murderer? As Harris states, "Certain criminals must be incarcerated to prevent them from harming other people. The moral justification for this is entirely straightforward: Everyone else will be better off this way. Dispensing with the illusion of free will allows us to focus on the things that matter—assessing risk, protecting innocent people, deterring crime, etc.." (Harris, 53) This idea, that incarceration would still be justified without free will, the same way quarantining sick people is justified, is known as the quarantine model. Kane cites philosopher Derek Pereboom, who argues that an upside of this idea, "…is that punishments would not be more severe than is needed to protect society and deter future crime, just as quarantine of the sick should not be more restrictive than is needed to protect society from diseases." (Kane, 75)

Additionally, without moral responsibility, the criminal justice system can be made to reform instead of punish. Waller cites Michael Cavadino and James Dignan, who point out that the American criminal justice system blames the individual instead of at least partially blaming the various factors that contributed to an individuals criminality, "…Crime is likewise seen as entirely the responsibility of the offending individual. The social soil is fertile ground for a harsh "law and order ideology." (Cavadino and Dignan in Waller, 285) But Waller points out that retributive law and order is not effective, in fact, in America's retributive system, a person going to jail once, raises their likelihood of doing so again. Waller goes on that, in some countries justice systems, "…when genuine efforts were made to develop effective rehabilitation programs, some achieved considerable success; it also became clear that those negative influences that shaped violent antisocial character." (Waller, 294) This positive effect does not just extend to criminal law, without moral responsibility fostering individual blaming; systems (such as medical teams, air traffic control, factories etc.) can be improved to work better and with less mistakes, as individuals will be more likely to admit their mistakes, and people will be more likely to analyze how systems can be redesigned to ensure less mistakes. Summarily, "The second positive feature of a world without moral responsibility is that it shifts the focus to systems and away from individuals." (Waller, 285)



This argument, that a world free of free will and moral responsibility would be a better world, can perhaps be deepened when one acknowledges that perhaps it is not an argument merely confined to hard determinist thinking. To illustrate this, lets investigate Daniel Dennet's response to Sam Harris' Free Will. It is important to note that Daniel Dennet is a compatibilist.

Waller's argument, that a world free of moral responsibility and the idea of free will is a better world, feel pretty sound and, at surface, Harris appears to agree with Waller. However, upon further inspection, one can find quite a few flaws within Harris' argument. Daniel Dennet helpfully illuminates these in his paper, "Reflections on Free Will." Dennet's major criticism of Harris focuses on the idea that Harris assumed an incompatibilist view (libertarian even). Harris argues that because free will requires that we somehow step outside the causally determined universe and such stepping is impossible, no one can have free will. Dennet asks us to look carefully at this kind of argument and realize that just because the world is causally determined, doesn't mean our choices, "come out of the darkness" (Harris, 34). Instead, Dennet argues, "Freedom involves the ability to have one's choices influenced by changes in the world that matter under the circumstances. Not a perfect ability, but a reliable ability." (Dennet, 14) Additionally, Dennet criticizes Harris' tendency in his work to define the kind of free will worth having as that which "common folk" feel they possess, "…he thinks 'free will' has to be given the incoherent sense that emerges from uncritical reflection by everyday folk. He sees quite well that compatibilism is "the only philosophically respectable way to endorse free will" (p16) but adds: However, the "'free will' that compatibilists defend is not the free will that most people feel they have. (p16)" (Dennet, 4) Dennet argues that just because the compatibilists version of free will is not the kind most people feel they have, does not mean it is invalid. Harris' biggest mistake is assuming that because we cannot be authors of ourselves, we cannot have any degree of free will at all. Interestingly, both Waller and Dennet disagree with him, despite supposedly maintaining radically different views.

Dennet argues that compatibilists, "…think we can articulate and defend a more sophisticated model of free will that is not only consistent with neuroscience and introspection but also grounds a (modified, toned-down, non-Absolute) variety of responsibility that justifies both praise and blame, reward and punishment. We don't think this variety of free will is an illusion at all, but rather a robust feature of our psychology and a reliable part of the foundations of morality, law and society." (Dennet, 1) The kind of free will Dennet allows for, is not Harris' kind (ultimate authorship) but rather what Waller might call, "take charge responsibility" (Waller, 278). Waller describes this kind of free will as, "It enables us to exercise effective control, make our own decisions and choices, reflect carefully on what we deeply value, and manage our own lives." (Waller, 278) It appears that the only thing that truly differs between the two men's view points is what they mean when they say "free will." They both assert that the power to respond differentially to stimuli in the environment exists. However, Waller does not see this as free will, and instead means ultimate authorship over ones character when referring to free will. Meanwhile, Dennet thinks ultimate authorship is an incoherent idea, and believes free will is this smaller thing mentioned above, and therefore compatible with determinism. What is important though, is that neither man believes that we have the kind of free will that requires ultimate responsibility for ones actions. This means that a hypothetical world improved by dispelling of free will and moral responsibility is a world possible as a compatibilist and hard determinist.

When inspected carefully, it becomes clear that ultimate free will is not seen as possible by either the compatibilists or the incompatibilists, and it is only the libertarians who believe such a free will exists. In conclusion, moral responsibility is an incoherent idea because individuals are merely the product of a causal world, and therefore their actions are a product of this world as well. Embracing this idea would create a more compassionate and effective world because it would be a world open to inquiry into people's behavior, additionally such a world helpfully shifts focus to systems and away from individuals. Indeed, Waller says, "In the absence of moral responsibility, it is possible to look more deeply at the influences of social systems and situation and to move away from both the fundamental attribution error and the individualistic blindness that hides the forces that shaped our qualities of character." (Waller, 286)

Sources

The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility Author(s): Galen Strawson Reviewed work(s): Source: Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 75, No. 1/2, Free Will, Determinism, and Moral Responsibility (Aug., 1994), pp. 5-24

Kane, Robert. Free Will. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2009. Print.

Harris, Sam. Free Will. London: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.

Dennet, Daniel. "Reflections on Free Will." (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 1 May 2017.

Waller, Bruce N. Against Moral Responsibility. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011. Print.


ISSUES

The Five Best Aid Organizations to Give To

Choose to give where your money will go the farthest.

Everyone can agree that giving to charity is a worthwhile way to use one's money. But it's not as simple as just writing a check. You want to make sure your money is going somewhere where it'll be put to good use. With so many options out there, how can you make sure you're putting your money into worthy causes? To help you on your quest, we've compiled a list of the top 5 aid organizations to give to in 2019.

Children International

Children International is an organization who has the broad mission of ending childhood poverty across the globe. Their primary means of doing this is by allowing donors to sponsor a child, regularly donating to provide the child with healthcare, education, food, shelter, etc. Charity watchdog gives this foundation an A rating, as they offer 84% of their earnings to children in need, with only 16% going to overhead costs.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

This organization aims to "maintain and advance civil liberties, including, without limitation, the freedoms of association, press, religion, and speech, and the rights to the franchise, to due process of law, and to equal protection of the laws for all people throughout the United States and its jurisdictions." The ACLU is one of the most powerful groups fighting to protect American citizens today, and decidedly a very worthy cause to donate to.

National Wildlife Federation

The National Wildlife Federation aims to protect American wildlife and wilderness by educating Americans about the importance of nature and fundraising money for environmentalist programs. They only spend 13% of their income on overhead, meaning you can be sure your donation isn't going towards some rich person's personal fortune, but is actually going towards protecting America's quickly dwindling natural beauty.

National Alliance to End Homelessness

This organization's mission is simple: end homelessness in America. They focus primarily on issues of policy and education, empowering legislators and communities to take steps to support disenfranchised Americans without housing. They give an incredible 92% of their proceeds to their cause, making them one of the most responsible charities on this list.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

Suicide is an ever-growing crisis in the United States, but thanks to organizations like the AFSP, people are becoming more and more educated about the truth of mental illness. They raise awareness, fund scientific research, and provide important resources and aid to those affected by suicide.

Democratic Socialism: Explained

What would Democratic Socialism mean for the economy?

Democratic Socialism, a subset of the democrat party, has been thrust into the spotlight recently with the shocking victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over a 10-term incumbent. Ocasio-Cortez often referred to in the media as AOC, is a self identified Democratic Socialist, as was 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Despite this newfound prominence, the political affiliation is still widely misunderstood, often confused with communism or European style socialism. So what exactly is Democratic Socialism? And how would a Democratic Socialist platform affect your life?

According to the biggest socialist organization in the US, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), "Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives." This polished and condensed definition sounds good, but it's difficult to grasp what it actually means in practice. To help you understand, we've broken down the four pillars of Democratic Socialism to explore how their implementation in the American government could affect your life.

Workers Control Means of Production/The Importance of Unions

Perhaps most central to Democratic Socialism is the belief that American industry should be controlled by the workers who run it and the consumers who gain from it. Generally, they believe in a decentralized economy, though they think some indispensable portions of industry, like energy and steel, should be government controlled. As the DSA puts it, "We believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect."

In practice, this decentralization would likely mean the fruition of things like workers cooperatives and publicly owned ventures. Essentially, this economic model would mean that it would be much more difficult for a few people to get obscenely wealthy while those on the bottom of the economic ladder remain impoverished. Instead, everyone would have fairly equal opportunity to profit off the success of a business, creating a more widespread sense of ownership over the success of the economy, therefore stabilizing it. Unions are an important part of this pillar, as Democratic Socialists believe unions are essential in order to hold companies accountable to their workers and to empower workers to challenge capitalism as a concept.

Capitalism Promotes Greed and Must be Regulated

Democratic Socialists believe that capitalism has the inherent tendency to keep the rich rich and the poor poor and that capitalist corporations will always act in the interest of maximum profit at the expense of all else. Therefore, private corporations must be regulated by the government in order to ensure that they look out for the wellbeing of workers and lower rung employees. With this kind of philosophy implemented, there would likely be a strengthening of labor laws, a higher minimum wage, expanded parental leave, the prevention of foreign outsourcing to low wage countries, and the prevention of environmentally harmful activities.

A Minimum Quality of Life for All Citizens


This is perhaps the simplest pillar of Democratic Socialism though likely would prove to be the most difficult to fulfill. Essentially, Democratic Socialists believe that all human beings have the right to sustenance, housing, clean water, healthcare, education, and child care, and that the government should ensure these things are accessible to all US citizens. This would likely mean significantly more spending on social welfare programs and expansion of government housing, which would inevitably require higher taxes. Of course, with the implementation of the other pillars of Democratic Socialism, more people would have a better chance of reaching this minimum quality of life even without an expansion of welfare programs.

Importantly, healthcare is an essential part of this equation in the eyes of Democratic Socialists. They don't merely believe in "medicare for all" health care system, but also that medical facilities should be publicly run and doctors publicly employed.

Grass Roots Means of Achieving Power



As mentioned before, the welfare of the community is important to Democratic Socialists, meaning that the election of the individual is also seen as having the tendency to play into the patterns of the centralization of power. A traditional Democratic Socialist would likely reject the concept of election altogether, instead opting for grass roots organization and mass mobilization. But as shown by AOC and all the other Democratic Socialist candidates elected this year, most who ascribe to these beliefs recognize that it's necessary to participate in the democracy in order to insight change, but still maintain that true change and empowerment comes from the mass mobilization of the people.

ISSUES

The Truth About Elizabeth Warren's and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Wealth Tax Proposals

Who would they affect?

There has been a lot of recent buzz about the idea of a "wealth tax" in the United States, particularly since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York appeared on "60 Minutes" and laid out a plan that would tax the richest Americans at a rate as high as 70%, nearly doubling the current 37% top rate. Additionally, 2020 Democratic Presidental candidate and Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, is reportedly working with UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman to design a proposal to levy a wealth tax on Americans with fortunes over $50 million. While these numbers may seem difficult to grasp, the kinds of wealth taxes democrats are proposing are not only not as extreme as they sound, but already practiced successfully in other parts of the world.

Firstly, it's important to keep in mind that America operates on a progressive tax system, meaning, as Business Insider puts it, "as a person earns more and progresses through tax brackets, their tax rate increases for each level of income." So while many people balked at the idea of a 70% flat tax rate, Ocasio-Cortez clarified "Once you get to the tippy-tops, on your 10 millionth dollar, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60% or 70%," she said. "That doesn't mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate. But it means that as you climb up this ladder, you should be contributing more." Essentially, the rich would not suddenly be destitute under this proposed plan; they would merely have to contribute an increasing amount as their fortune grew. So it wouldn't be the entirety of their $10 million fortune that would be taxed at 70%, but their 10 millionth dollar. While under Warren's proposal, the US would adopt a progressive wealth tax that would levy a 2 percent tax on fortunes worth more than $50 million, and a 3 percent tax on fortunes worth more than $1 billion, meaning billionaires would contribute amounts that are negligible in the context of their total fortune.


This would be similar to France's wealth tax policy, which is triggered at €1.3 million, but only the first €800,000 of this amount is tax free, and taxpayers pay between 0.5% and 1.5% on anything over this each year. This tax has worked successfully in France, despite it being applied to significantly lower amounts of wealth than Elizabeth Warren is proposing. Meanwhile, in Denmark, the highest tax bracket sees about 15% taxation, and citizens report great satisfaction in terms of quality of life and government services. In summary, wealth taxes are a simple and effective way to ensure that wealth does not become too heavily monopolized by a few people, while also ensuring that the poorest people are taken care of by the state.


But some don't see it that way, with many on the right reacting strongly to suggestions of an American wealth tax. House Republican whip Steve Scalise called Ocasio-Cortez's idea a "leftist fantasy program," while more moderate voices didn't react quite as strongly, but still suggested that while income tax laws definitely need to be reformed, a wealth tax is not the way to do it.

But to truly understand the argument, one has to compare what a wealth tax would mean to a real life billionaire, vs. what it would mean for the country. For example, with Warren's plan, only an approximate 75,000 families would be minorly affected, but the United States would earn an additional $2.75 trillion over a 10-year period. If you take the $57 billion fortune of Mark Zuckerberg, and apply this tax idea, he would only be taxed $1.7 billion, and then close to $0 in the following years if his fortune didn't continue to accumulate. For him, $1.7 billion is a small number that would in no way affect his quality of life. But if you think of the social services that would benefit from that $1.7 billion, you would undoubtedly see widespread effects improving the lives of the poorest Americans, making it difficult to argue that an American wealth tax would do anything but help the state of the nation.

How Much Protected Land Have We Lost Under Trump?

Federal land is diminishing at a frightening pace under Trump.

Much of Alaska has long been protected from oil drilling by laws intended to preserve the natural beauty of one of America's least populous states. But for as long as people have fought to keep parts of Alaska free from human interference, others have fought to profit from the land. Now, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat of oil drilling. Unfortunately for the protected land, a GOP tax law passed by Congress a year ago and introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requires the Secretary of the Interior "to approve at least two lease sales for drilling — each covering no less than 400,000 acres."

Ryan Zinke, the outgoing interior secretary, has openly lauded the development, saying, "An energy-dominant America starts with an energy-dominant Alaska, and among the scores of accomplishments we have had at Interior under President Donald J. Trump, taking these steps toward opening the 1002 section of Alaska's North Slope stands out among the most impactful toward bolstering America's economic strength and security."

This move is in line with other initiatives by the Trump administration to alter Obama era regulations and expand fossil-fuel acquisition all over the country. According to The Chicago Tribune, the interior is also "trying to scrap wildlife management plans for the Mojave Desert in California and for sagebrush habitat through much of the rest of the western United States."

Mark Salvo, vice president of landscape conservation at the Defenders of Wildlife, emphasized how reckless these decisions are. "These are examples of the Trump administration stealing defeat from the jaws of victory," he said. "These plans took years to produce and tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources to arrive at these carefully crafted compromises to conserve public lands."

Trump is far and away the US President who has most significantly shrunk the size of protected land, notably reducing Bear Ears National Monument by 85% — a loss of 1.1 million acres. This was a part of a major push in 2017 by interior secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink the size of 10 different areas of federal land or open them up to things like oil drilling, lumber farming, and commercial fishing.

So just how much protected land have we lost under Trump? According to a study conducted by the Wilderness Society — a not-for-profit organization advocating for the protection of public lands — shared with The Guardian, the tally is as follows:

  • "13.6m acres onshore have been made available for leasing by the Trump administration, far more than in any two-year period under the Obama administration."
  • "More than 153m acres of ecologically sensitive habitats – from the California desert to the Arctic national wildlife refuge – have seen conservation protections rolled back in some form."
  • "More than 280m acres have been made available for offshore leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and along nearly 90% of the US coastline."

Cumulatively, that is approximately 433 million acres of land that is no longer protected under US law. What this will mean for the ecosystems and tourism that exists in these places remains to be seen.

WORLD

Migrants Tear-Gassed at Border Crossing

Trump threatens to close the border completely, despite having no authority to do so.

On Sunday, a group of Mexican migrants reportedly rushed the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, drawing tear gas from Border Patrollers. Consequently, the crossing was closed for several hours. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen later said the closing of the border was "to ensure public safety in response to large numbers of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. illegally." According to the Washington Post, "At least two dozen tear gas canisters could be seen on the Mexican side of the border after the migrants eventually turned back."

Images from the incident, shot by Reuters photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon and showing young children fleeing the tear gas in obvious distress, have elicited outrage across the country. The photos also appear to contradict Republican propaganda claiming the migrant caravan was full of criminals.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, condemned the extreme measures taken by border patrol, tweeting:

Gavin Newsom, the Democratic governor-elect from California, echoed this sentiment, saying:

On Monday, President Trump addressed the border closing by threatening to close the border permanently and calling for the deportation of the tear gassed migrants.

Despite this inflammatory claim, there are no legal provisions that would allow Trump to close the border in its entirety. Additionally, by law, asylum seekers must be allowed to present their case to a U.S. judge if they're able to cross the border. This means that the migrants who were tear-gassed on Sunday were not there illegally at all, and U.S. officials are required by law to consider their claim before deporting them back to Mexico. Yale Law School's Harold Hongju Koh, former legal adviser to the State Department, said that what Trump does not understand "is that everyone crossing our Southern border is not illegally present. Those with valid asylum claims have a legal right to assert those claims and remain."


But as the number of migrants waiting at the border grows and as Trump's anti-immigration policies and rhetoric cause longer and longer delays in the hearing of these cases, illegal immigration actually becomes more likely, not less. Wayne Cornelius, professor at the University of California, San Diego and expert on the border, told the New York Times, "The longer the caravaners stay in Tijuana, the more likely they are to succumb to the temptation to cross illegally into the U.S." So the Trump administration's anti-immigration stance is not only perpetuating a false impression that immigrants at the border are breaking the law, but also making the illegal immigration they're supposedly so opposed to more likely than ever.

Now, Trump is reportedly working with the Mexican government to add further peril and hardship to the journeys of these migrants. Trump tweeted on Saturday:

This provision, which the new Mexican government is reportedly agreeable to, would further violate asylum laws, which state that the United States must ensure that individuals waiting for asylum are safe not only from a hostile government, but from gangs and other threats. It would be nearly impossible for America to ensure asylum seekers this kind of protection while they're still in Mexico, and it would undoubtedly require a massive allocation of resources to do so. The American Civil Liberties Union immigration attorney Lee Gelernt told the Washington Post on Sunday night, "We believe it would be impossible for the U.S." to ensure asylum seekers safety while still in Mexico.

The truth of the matter is that these migrants are not the villains Trump has made them out to be, as they're merely seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Andrés Medina, 22, who left Honduras to escape gang recruitment and was a part of the group that rushed the crossing, said, "We've got to try one more time, we don't even have weapons." He added, "We just wanted to cross."

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

WORLD

Theresa May Could Face Removal Over Brexit Deal

Many British politicians are calling for vote of no confidence.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that her administration has come up with a 585-page draft agreement that will form the basis for the UK's exit from the EU. She is now facing backlash in response to the draft. Among the objections are concerns over the apparent lack of clear guidelines as to whether UK citizens will be able to work and live in the EU, the state of the Irish border under the new deal, and that the UK will pay at least £39bn to the EU to cover all its financial obligations once the deal is agreed upon. May has critics on both sides of the aisle, and those who think the UK needs to make a hard Brexit fear "an agreement on the EU-UK land border will tie the country to the EU's customs union and parts of the single trade market."

In response to the deal, big name ministers have resigned from the cabinet, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who says he quit over "fatal flaws" in the agreement. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has also resigned, saying the Brexit deal "does not honor" the result of the referendum where a majority of Brits voted to leave the EU. Junior ministers Suella Braverman and Shailesh Vara quit the cabinet in protestation as well.

Dominic RaabBusiness Day

Now, May might face a vote of no confidence from the House of Commons, a measure that, if successful, would remove her from power. For the motion to proceed, 48 Conservative MPs—that's 15% of May's own party—must write letters of no confidence. May would then be replaced by someone of her party's choosing. However, if a new MP is not chosen within a period of 14 days after the vote, parliament would be dissolved and a General Election is triggered.

The leader of the labor party, Jeremy Corbyn, is also hoping for a vote of no confidence. In a party-wide email, he wrote, "After two years of bungled negotiations, the government has produced a botched deal that breaches the prime minister's own red lines, does not meet our six tests, and will leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say." He went on to say, "If parliament votes down this shambolic Tory deal—as seems likely—this will represent a loss of confidence in the government. In those circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate general election that can sweep the Tories from power and deliver the Labour government this country desperately needs."

Jeremy CorbynThe Independent

At a press conference on Thursday, May stood by the deal, saying she "believes with every fiber of my being" that the Brexit deal is the right choice. She went on to say that, "Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones. As Prime Minister, my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people. Do I believe this is a deal which does deliver that, which is in the national interest and am I going to see this through? Yes."

Marco Rubio Doesn't Know What a Field Goal Is

The Senator tweeted an awkward sports analogy about the Florida election recounts.

Like a dorky but enthusiastic Dad trying to connect with a teenage son he doesn't understand, Marco Rubio made an epicly bad sports analogy in a tweet about the vote recount in Florida.

He was consequently mocked by twitter users for calling a field goal "a three point kick," earning a number of responses that questioned the Senator's sports knowledge and the logic of the intended metaphor.



In response, Rubio whined about the ridicule, somehow managing to go even further into the hole of lameness he dug for himself, essentially saying, "Haha no guys seriously I know about sport I love sport let's toss the ole pigskin haha go Dolphins!"

Of course, this is not the first time Rubio has embarrassed himself in the realm of sports. How can any of us forget the iconic moment in his 2016 presidential campaign when he nailed a child in the face with a football?



Maybe if you stop trying so hard be athletic, Marco, you won't need to be so disciplined about hydration.

Marco Rubio Pauses Speech for Water Break www.youtube.com

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

Republicans Claim Election Interference in Florida

Rick Scott and President Trump baselessly claim a conspiracy by Hillary Clinton's lawyers.

Tensions are rising in Florida as Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election bid is likely headed for a hand recount. The incumbent Democrat now trails Florida Gov. Rick Scott by just 17,000 votes, easily within the .25% margin required for a hand recount. On November 6th, it looked as though Scott had won a narrow victory over Nelson, but untallied ballots have since trickled in from traditionally blue Broward and Palm Beach counties and called the election results into question.

Of course, Republicans have found a way to blame this new development on Hillary Clinton, claiming that her lawyers are involved in a far reaching conspiracy to claim Florida's senate seat for the Democrats. Rick Scott held a news conference Thursday evening calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the validity of the ballots in Broward and Palm Beach counties, and claimed he filed a lawsuit against top election officials in each county.

"I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida," Scott said. "Their goal is to keep mysteriously finding votes until the election turns out the way they want... left-wing activists have been coming up with more and more ballots out of nowhere."

Despite this strong rhetoric, Scott presented no evidence that anything unlawful actually occurred. Characteristically, President Trump soon weighed in with a tweet:

Then, Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giulliani contributed his thoughts on the matter:

On Friday, Trump told reporters during a news conference that Fusion GPS plotted to steal the election in Florida. "Then you see the people, and they were involved with that fraud of the fake dossier, the phony dossier, and I guess I hear they were somehow involved or worked with the GPS Fusion [sic] people, who have committed — I mean you look at what they done, you look at the dishonesty," Trump went on to say, "Look, look — there's bad things have gone on in Broward County, really bad things ... I say this — [Scott] easily won, but every hour it seems to be going down. I think people have to look at it very very cautiously."

A member of Bill Nelson's team, Dan McLaughlin, said in an official statement that "the goal here is to see that all the votes in Florida are counted and counted accurately," going on to say that Scott's call for a criminal investigation "appears to be politically motivated and borne out of desperation."

Indeed, there's no valid legal claim that votes cast in a county that counts votes more slowly shouldn't be counted, and no evidence whatsoever that the issues with vote tabulation in Broward and Palm Beach counties are in any way due to Democrat interference.

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Admitted to Hospital for Broken Ribs

The 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice fell in her office on Wednesday night.

According to a statement from the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell in her office Wednesday night and fractured three ribs. Initially, the Justice thought all was well following the fall and went home. After experiencing pain throughout Wednesday night, however, she was admitted to George Washington University Hospital Thursday morning.

Her stay at the hospital meant that Ginsburg was not present for Thursday's investiture of Trump-appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an event that reportedly drew crowds in protest.

LA Times

Since her appointment to the court in 1993, Ginsburg has become a pop culture icon, praised by progressives for her liberal influence. In particular, Ginsburg is seen as an opponent of President Trump, whom she called "a faker" in 2016. Since the replacement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, progressives have been particularly concerned as to the state of Ginsburg's health, fearing that her age may force her to retire before Trump's tenure ends, allowing him to put another conservative Justice on the bench.

The next sitting of the Supreme Court begins Nov. 26, and given Justice Ginsburg's history of attending work despite health issues, her fractured ribs are unlikely to hinder her participation. She broke two ribs in 2012 and returned to work the next day. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure; in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer and returned to work three weeks later.

In July, the Justice stated that she hopes to stay on the bench for the duration of Trump's term. "I'm now 85," Ginsburg said. "My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years."

Brooke Ivey Johnson is a Brooklyn based writer, playwright, and human woman. To read more of her work visit her blog or follow her twitter @BrookeIJohnson.