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Physician-assisted death should be legalized

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published March 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue here.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Terminally ill people should be able to die in a dignified and humane way if that is what they want.

Physician-assisted death is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado and Montana. These states — with the exception of Montana, where it was made legal through a court ruling — have so-called “death with dignity” statutes. The District of Columbia recently legalized it as well.

Under these statutes, doctors can prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill adults who request it. The patient must be deemed mentally competent and have a prognosis of six months or less to live. The process is filled with safeguards and checks to ensure the patient is making an informed decision.

Physician-assisted death is often confused with euthanasia and is therefore viewed more negatively. Euthanasia means the physician administers a lethal dose of medication whereas physician-assisted death means the patient ingests the lethal dose on their own. Around one-third of those who request the medication decide they do not want to use it after all — that they have the choice to do so at all is the important part.

The number of people who request and use the prescription is low. In 2014, 155 terminally ill patients in Oregon made a request and 105 of those patients used it. In 2015, there were 218 requests and 132 uses.

According to a Gallup survey from 2015, 68 percent of Americans think physician-assisted death should be legalized. Regardless of the question of legality, an increasing number of Americans also believe physician-assisted death is morally acceptable. In 2015, 56 percent said it is acceptable compared to 45 percent just two years prior.

Twenty-four states, including North Carolina, are considering similar bills this year. Rep. Pricey Harrison plans to reintroduce her Death with Dignity Act this session. The bill was attempted in 2015 — a first of its kind in North Carolina’s legislative history — but it never made it out of the Judiciary Committee.

There has been some pushback. In February, Congress attempted to overturn the District of Columbia’s law but they were unsuccessful. A similar attempt was made in Montana by their legislature but they were also unsuccessful.

Death with dignity laws are far from perfect as they are somewhat narrow in what they allow, particularly the limitation requiring a prognosis of six months or less to live. Alzheimer’s, for example, is a degenerative disease that can last for years. Since these laws state a patient must be considered mentally competent, they would likely be unable to make the decision by the time they have six months left to live. Despite the shortcomings of the laws, they are a good start since most terminally ill people have no choice whatsoever.

More states should work to adopt these policies and attempt to improve any weaknesses or flaws that are found. No one should be refused the right to die in a humane and controlled way if they are suffering from an incurable disease or illness. No family, friend or otherwise should be forced to watch a loved one in anguish simply because they cannot legally or safely choose to end their own life.

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We cannot afford to ignore climate change

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 28, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Climate change needs to be addressed immediately in a meaningful and substantial way before we reach the tipping point.

Reports of the symptoms of a warming Earth seem to be steadily increasing. A new study published last week in Nature found oxygen levels in oceans worldwide dropped an average of 2 percent in the last 50 years — in some areas there was a decrease of more than 4 percent. If the trend continues, this has catastrophic implications for marine life and ultimately the entire food chain.

At our current pace, the World Health Organization projects climate change will result in 250,000 additional deaths per year attributable to more heat waves, malnutrition from increased famines and the spread of diseases like malaria. Some scientists think that projection may be an underestimation.

A 2014 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, “Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security and prolong existing and create new poverty traps.”

Last week, the World Meteorological Organization found sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic at record lows. Occurrences of floods and droughts will increase, and that is just the beginning.

The effects of climate change will lead to political instability. With rampant, international political instability, it is unlikely any concrete steps would be made since the focus cannot be on climate change at that point. It will be too late. The focus would then be on scrambling to relieve angry, impoverished and dying populations.

Some studies, such as “Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming” published in Nature, suggest we are already beyond the prospect of reversing climate change, but its effects, at least, can be mitigated.

The longer we wait to take action, the more extreme the bare minimum solutions become. The more extreme the solutions become, the more politically unappealing they will be. The more politically unappealing those solutions are, the less likely they are to become a reality.

We can focus on it now before it is too late, but those who have the power to enact and enforce change do not seem to be concerned about the threat — they would much rather bow to pressure from lobbyists and make a quick buck.

The evidence is abundant and readily accessible. Our current administration and the majority of Congress, however, seem resolute in their decision to roll back environmental regulations and ignore the evidence.


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Trump’s travel ban is a direct result of a failed war on terror

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 21, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

The unwinnable war on terror creates fear, justifies disproportionate, ineffective domestic and foreign policies and wastes trillions of dollars.

Nationals of the seven countries which President Trump tried to impose travel restrictions on have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015, reports Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Trump signed the executive order — which courts have already blocked — under the pretense of ensuring national security by protecting Americans from terrorists. We are not in any more danger of being killed in a terrorist attack than we are of our furniture crushing us to death.

Americans are incredibly fearful about a problem that does not pose a significant threat.

In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported the economy and terrorism were the top two issues for voters— 84 percent and 80 percent respectively. In 2008, those percentages were 87 and 68. Americans are now less concerned about the economy and more concerned about terrorism.

Numbers from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. State Department lay out a sharp contrast. For every American killed by an act of terror domestically or abroad in 2014, more than 1,049 died because of guns. The trend of gun-related deaths steadily rose since 2001 while the number of deaths by acts of terror plateaued.

The military drone program, which was first used under former President George W. Bush and then expanded under former President Obama, has been used in at least six countries.

Our use of drones helps with the recruitment of people willing to commit acts of terror. The Islamic State group is the latest terrorist organization to take advantage of fearful communities after civilians are killed, sometimes intentionally, by our bombs. We have targeted funerals, weddings and hospitals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen — one of the countries included in Trump’s executive order — resulted in widespread famine after farms and agricultural facilities were bombed.

Yemeni cancer patients are unable to receive treatment due to shortages. The situation is worsened by the fact humanitarian groups are effectively crippled in conflict zones; they cannot provide aid to those who need it most.

We export terror to these countries, import fear into our own and then have the audacity to deny asylum to the refugees we helped create.

After 15 and a half years of the war on terror, there are now reports the Department of Defense may propose the U.S. send ground troops into northern Syria. There is no end in sight.


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The Democratic Party will recover if it chooses to

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 21, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

If Democrats want to reverse their massive losses, they must refocus their message and their efforts to organize.

Since 2010, the Democratic Party managed to lose approximately 1,000 legislative seats across the country. Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships and they are in complete control of 25 states. Many of those states — including North Carolina — have veto-proof Republican majorities, meaning even if there is a Democratic governor, the legislature can override the governor.

A good first step in the long and difficult process of regaining power is to expunge and replace the ineffectual leadership of the Democratic National Committee. The DNC is responsible for organizing and supporting the Democratic Party at all levels of government.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who began to serve as the DNC chairperson in 2011, stepped down in 2016 after leaked emails revealed coordinated efforts to assist Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries. The DNC chairperson is supposed to remain impartial during the primaries.

Schultz perfectly exemplifies the embarrassing level of detachment from the poor and working class Democrats have demonstrated over the last few decades.

She received contributions from payday lenders and defended the industry despite the fact lenders often target single mothers and minorities, trapping them in an endless cycle of debt. She opposed the legalization of medical marijuana, effectively denying sick and terminally ill people a form of relief. In an almost comical display of elitism, it was reported she tried to use her influence as chairperson to score seven tickets to “Hamilton,” the Broadway show, through the DNC finance director. Tickets cost around $200 each on the lower end and about $850 a pop for the best seats.

Schultz was then replaced in the interim by Donna Brazile. While Brazile was a political analyst for CNN, she shared debate questions with Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, giving Clinton an unfair advantage going into the debates. Once questioned about her unethical move, it was clear she was sorry for being caught, but not because she felt bad about her actions.

Schultz was ultimately unsuccessful as chair of the DNC since she neglected to properly fund down-ballot campaigns and therefore neglected the infrastructure of the party. But there is some hope. A few weeks ago, Brazile did what many establishment Democrats have avoided: admit failure. She made it clear, “We made some serious mistakes and some strategic errors.” She is right, and it is time to reset the DNC.

By the end of February, the next chairperson of the DNC will be elected. If the Democratic Party hopes to become revitalized, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota is the candidate likely to make that a reality. He has emphasized a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down strategy Democrats have focused on over the last few years. His platform states, “We must energize Democratic activists across the country and give them the tools to build the party from the bottom up. Beyond a 50-state strategy, we need a 3,143-county strategy.” He understands the importance of organization at the local level; it is the keystone of political power.

Grassroots mobilization is absolutely required if Democrats, liberals, progressives and leftists hope to gain any leverage. Centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Joe Manchin are not going to strengthen the party. They are the reason the Democratic Party is in the shape it is.

Instead, people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Bernie Sanders should be supported and their message amplified. Pay attention to their ideas because if there is a platform that will resonate with and inspire people, it is theirs.


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Clinton’s campaign should serve as a lesson to Democrats

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published February 7, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Hillary Clinton lost the election through a series of strategic failures, uninspiring and hopeless messaging and an overall incompetent candidacy.

Clinton arrogantly neglected the industrial Midwest and assumed support for her was secured in those states. Michigan in particular has been placed under the microscope since then in order to better understand what happened, and it exemplifies how her campaign floundered on a larger scale across the country.

Virgie Rollins, a Democratic National Committee member on the ground in Michigan, told Politico she had “never seen a campaign like this.” She described to Politico how Clinton’s campaign failed to pay attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials. Rollins said her requests for organizational and monetary assistance from Clinton’s campaign were ignored.

The ineptitude is staggering: Clinton raised $350 million more than Donald Trump and still managed to drop the ball. Her campaign had 489 field offices nationwide; Obama’s campaign had 789 in 2012.

One-third of nearly 700 counties in the industrial Midwest that voted for Obama in both elections decided to support Trump this time around, according to the Washington Post. Out of 207 counties that voted for Obama in either 2008 or 2012, 194 sided with Trump.

Their decision to vote once again for the candidate promising hope and change should come as no surprise. What should be surprising is the astounding incompetence demonstrated by the Clinton campaign — the campaign that lost for the second time to a populist candidate. To be sure, progressive and right-wing populism are not the same, but populist rhetoric seemed to be the driving factor in getting voters out in an election that favored the anti-establishment candidate. Obama ran on hope and change and Trump promised his own brand of it. One would assume Clinton and her staffers might learn a thing or two over the course of eight years.

Instead of learning anything, Clinton portrayed herself as a pragmatist: a “progressive who likes to get things done.” She offered a message not of hope, but of settling for less. She promised potential voters universal health care would “never, ever come to pass.” As her challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned on a minimum wage of $15 — as well as universal health care — Clinton apparently thought it wise to tone down the ambition: she suggested voters settle for $12.

Clinton has a history of coziness with banks and an incredibly hawkish record compared to other Democrats. In an attempt to combat Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Clinton’s campaign reacted predictably: they began to use the phrase “America is already great.” None of this was inspiring.

One crucial takeaway from this election should be that people need something to vote for, not something to vote against. The average voter did not and will not base their vote on political calculation. The average voter does not participate in the same electoral stratagems campaign staffers and policy wonks do. It was up to Clinton and her campaign to reach the average voter, and they failed to do so. That she won the popular vote and still lost the election should speak to how terrible of an operation she and her campaign ran.

Clinton — and many of her staffers, voters and supporters — thought she was entitled to Obama’s voting blocs from 2008 and 2012 simply by virtue of her experience and existence. Their hubris proved to be a mistake.

The Democratic Party overall warrants critique and contempt for their impotence — particularly their failure to win legislative seats, ongoing since 2010 — but any and all scorn directed at Clinton and her campaign is absolutely deserved. The Clinton campaign is to blame for its loss, not the voters. It is the responsibility of a campaign to give the electorate a reason to vote for its candidate; votes are earned, not owed. It is vitally important for Democrats to recognize and embrace this now unless they want to lose again.


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Trump’s administration should provoke people into taking action

I originally wrote this article for UNC Asheville’s student newspaper, The Blue Banner. It was published January 31, 2017. Digital scan of the issue unavailable.

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By Cody Jones, Opinion Staff Writer

Donald Trump is now the president of the US. For those who normally do not care about politics or are uninvolved, now is a good time to start, the next four years will give you a reason to care. With his cabinet taking shape, his appointees should be examined. Everyone — conservative, liberal or otherwise — will be adversely affected by this administration.

Up first is Jeff Sessions, selected to be US attorney general, the top law enforcement official. The US attorney general can change how civil rights laws are carried out, and considering Sessions’ history and the Republican makeup of most state legislatures, voters should be worried.

During his confirmation hearing after being nominated by Ronald Reagan for the role of a federal judge in 1986, he was accused of both making racist comments and referring to the NAACP and the ACLU as “un-American” and that they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”

Gerry Hebert, at the time a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said Sessions had “prosecuted black citizens on phony charges of voter fraud” and he “supported discriminatory voter ID laws based on the myth of widespread voter fraud.”

A voter ID bill has already been introduced this year in Iowa; voting rights are swiftly being targeted in order to suppress voter turnout. It is expected to pass the Republican-controlled legislature and the Republican governor will likely sign it into law. In Arkansas, Republicans are pushing to reinstate voter ID laws found unconstitutional in 2014. The myth of widespread voter fraud is alive and well, and Republicans, including Jeff Sessions, will continue to capitalize on that myth. Trump recently repeated the lie that millions of votes were cast illegally in the last election and is now calling for a “major investigation.” This rhetoric is being used as a stepping stone to further consolidate their power through the erosion of voting rights.

Tom Price, a former physician who is anti-abortion and anti-Obamacare, has been selected to be secretary of Health and Human Services. Price received a rating of zero percent from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice. That rating, Planned Parenthood reports, means he is in “complete opposition” to their public policy positions regarding reproductive rights and sexual health issues. As one example, he supported legislation banning all abortions after 20 weeks. Abortions occurring after 20 weeks are often because of serious health problems threatening the life of the mother.

He wants to privatize Medicare — this would gore the program and ruin it for approximately 55 million people who rely on it. He supports a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act and has his own plan to replace it. Whether his plan will be used as the replacement is in question, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates about 22 million people will lose their insurance if there is a full repeal. The Urban Institute’s estimates are even higher at around 30 million. People will die if they lose their insurance and people will continue to die if the Affordable Care Act is not replaced by a similar or better plan. Republican proposals are not similar or better and universal health care is currently out of the question, so more deaths are inevitable.

Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control was made widely available to women who previously had difficulty getting it — or had no access at all — through their insurers. After Trump won the election, there were reports of women rushing to get IUDs and other forms of birth control out of fear they may not have access soon.

Those fears are not unfounded and people are rightly worried. Trump already signed an executive order to reimpose the so-called Mexico City policy which was originally announced by President Reagan in 1984; the policy prohibits funding foreign nongovernmental organizations that “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” These NGOs provide health care for mothers and children, counseling, HIV testing and contraceptives among other services. NGO-run clinics in other countries will now be paralyzed or forced to close entirely. Again, people will suffer unnecessarily because of this decision. Similar attempts will be made — and are being made — domestically.

Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier who has received donations from the fossil fuel industry and defended the industry as Oklahoma’s attorney general, will now lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2016, Pruitt wrote the debate regarding climate change is “far from settled” and scientists “continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” The debate is in fact settled and an overwhelming majority of scientists are in agreement it is caused by human activity.

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, is the pick for secretary of state. This role deals primarily with foreign policy and one particular issue of concern is climate change. As secretary of state, Tillerson has influence over the US’ role in environmental agreements meant to reduce carbon emissions, such as the 2016 Paris Agreement. ExxonMobil is currently under investigation after it was revealed the company spent decades ignoring its own scientists’ research showing fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change.

Tillerson’s proclivity to support and expand the fossil fuel industry while disregarding the risks of climate change will result in disaster. The prospect of addressing climate change with any meaningful action seems unlikely under Pruitt and Tillerson. To ignore climate change is to ignore an existential threat.

Everyone can and should find an issue to focus on in the coming years as the Trump administration and Congress begin to take action. Workers’ rights, the minimum wage, health care, public education, indigenous rights, women’s rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, drug policy reform, immigration, foreign policy, welfare programs, climate change and much more are all likely to be negatively impacted. There is plenty of cause for concern.

The next four years are going to require an acute attention to detail of what this administration does in conjunction with the Republican majorities across the country, and much more than simply paying attention, action must be taken at the local, state and federal levels. Whether it is voting, campaigning for candidates, organizing rallies, calling members of Congress, protesting, coordinating general strikes or donating to a preferred cause, there are countless methods to use and opportunities to push back.

The recent women’s march — one of the largest demonstrations in decades and perhaps the largest in American history by some estimates — should make it clear there is, and will continue to be, a great deal of pressure on this administration. That momentum must be multiplied, sustained and unrelenting if there is to be any hope of mitigating the damage to come.