The Ever-changing American Culture
As Americans, we used to worry little about war, having enough to eat, travel, freedom, and our most basic everyday activities. The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have forever changed the American way of life. We have now become more concerned with our physical health because of the few cases of anthrax and the possibility of more biological warfare. We also worry about nuclear warfare and the effects it could have on our health and environment. Americans have certainly become more patriotic and involved with their families since September 11. Most of us watch the news diligently to learn of any defeat the United States has accomplished in Afghanistan. Many of us are avoiding the airlines and are not spending very much money. This has helped push the economy further on the downward slope. The stock exchange hit bottom on September 21 in the 8100 range and is now back over 9900, which is right at the cusp of being a bull market (Pellegrini). Oil prices have been dropping rapidly and are now around 17 dollars a barrel, which will help to boost our slowing economy. Unemployment rates will unfortunately probably remain the same. “Manpower, Inc. said Monday that its survey of United States companies’ hiring intentions for the first three months of 2002 barely registered a pulse, a weakness not seen since the recessionary early months of 1991. Unemployment numbers will continue to climb up through the winter and spring even as and if a recovery takes hold (Pellegrini).” Our commitment together to boost the nation’s economy will ensure a bright future. America’s future seems to be based on our new ideas formed since September 11, but yet we still carry on the problems of the past. There is still many Americans living in poverty. There is still illegal drugs that infest our nation with addiction and crime that encircles the drug trade. There are many children not getting a good education and many of whom who are fearful of violence at our schools. It is up to us as Americans to face these problems head on now more than ever before.
The nation’s most important problems to tackle and change are our illegal drug problem, the lack of good education for those of all ages, and to end the terrorist situation. The United States “War on Drugs” has done little to stop the sources of the problem and has only persecuted the user. The nation’s children are often trying these illegal drugs at early ages despite drug education. These children also happen to lack in nearly every subject when compared to other nations around the globe. Many of the free nations of the world are dealing with terrorism and we all hope for a solution that will prevent any further violent acts committed against innocent people.
The situation in Afghanistan actually began in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded their country. The United States funded money to the “mujahedin,” or holy warriors, in the name of stopping communism. From this support, Afghanistan was able to defeat the Soviet Union in 1989. Yet the country became very unstable after the war. Political power was fluctuating often and leaders came in and out of power rapidly. Farmers resorted to growing many drugs such as poppies and marijuana and sold them around the globe. Cities were annihilated. Over five million Afghanis fled to other countries in search of a better life. When the Afghanis turned to the United States for help in rebuilding our country, we refused. This caused great anger amongst the Afghani people directed toward the United States. This also lead to Mullah Mohammod Omar, the current leader of Afghanistan, to form a ground of men to “rebuild” his country. They are now known as the Taliban. Omar’s personal description is, “A simple band of dedicated youths determined to establish the laws of God on Earth and prepared to sacrifice everything in pursuit of that goal.” The Taliban have many radical believes including the idea of the never ending holy war or, “jihad.” Since the original forming of the Taliban, they have taken over 90 percent of Afghanistan with some assistance from Pakistan. Now that number is probably much lower due the war efforts there. Osama bin Laden himself gave the Taliban over three million dollars in 1996 to take over Afghanistan’s capital (McGeary 14).
Another source of the Middle Eastern peoples hate for the United States stems from our involvement with Israel. The United States has had a strong influence on Middle Eastern politics, which usually involve backing Israel. The United States supports Israel economically by giving them $840 million annually. Israel also obtains much military support from the United States, funds exceeding $3 billion and access to our weaponry (Beyer 19). Arabic people are also infuriated with American culture being thrust upon them, while they themselves cannot live our life of freedom and luxuries. Many of these people may wish to live our way of life, yet there are many who want to live the traditions of their past and want no American involvement.
The main question on most American’s minds is what happens after Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda are destroyed. The al-Qaeda has “provided training and inspiration to about 11,000 men–according to United Stated intelligence estimates–who passed through it’s Afghan camps” (Cloud). Most intelligent analysts agree that the network of terrorist could function without its leaders. Irene Stoller, former director of France’s anti-terror division states, “This movement, these groups, are far too spread out, diffuse and fluid for a single operation to knock them out. bin Laden and his lieutenants may seem from the outside like super-managers of international Islamist terror, but the real planning and execution is carried out at lower levels. (Cloud). Many experts believe after the war, many terrorists will travel home to their native lands or travel to free countries and regroup with other like-minded people. Cloud states,
Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, the most senior figure worrying the United States investigators is Mustafa Ahmed, a.k.a. Shaikh Saiid, the bin Laden business manager and September 11 paymaster who was in the United Arab Emirates until shortly before the attacks. Ahmed has the skills and connections to put together funding for another terrorist operation–and he doesn’t need bin Laden’s money. Investigators have learned over the past few weeks that al-Qaeda’s money comes from many varied sources beyond bin Laden, including gem miners who help raise funds for the group in Tanzania; contraband traders in the Muslim-heavy border region where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet; and workers at charities throughout the MidEast…. The long term solution requires tackling of underlying political, economic, and social roots of terrorism–unresolved demands for Palestinian rights, perversion of Islam by radical clerics, corruption and poverty in many Arab states and grievances over United States policy in the region.
Although the United States continue to battle the terrorists in Afghanistan, the terrorists continue to attack us here the United States. For over a month, federal investigators have tried to the follow the trail of anthrax victims in hope of finding a source. So far this strain of anthrax has killed five people and infected 13 others. This strain of anthrax, known as Ames, originated from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Investigators now believe that, “Ames may have slipped through an informal network of scientists to Iraq, which sought the strain from a British bio-defense institute in 1988 but whose application was rejected because of concerns that it would be used to manufacture biological weapons (Fainaru). Federal investigators have also proved that the strain Ames, which appeared in Florida, is also the same that was discovered in Connecticut, Washington, and New York. Yet discovering the strain is Ames has done little to display who is using the strain in such a violent way. Ames has been recognized for its resistance to vaccines and is a natural strain from a diseased cow. Slowly, investigators are tracing the movement of Ames to discover who sent the anthrax mailings, but it will be difficult because many samples and mutations of this strain have been sent out across the country and could have fallen into the wrong hands. Especially Iraqi hands that have wanted the pathogen for a considerable amount of time (Fainaru).
As Americans, it is most important to feel safe here living in the United States and protect our freedoms. In order to continue to cope with the terrorist situations, we must face the reality. First it is important for bin-Laden and al-Qaeda’s fighters to be hunted down and stopped before they can reach another point of safe haven in a country that will protect them. Secondly, once the war is completed in Afghanistan, the United States should provide medicine, food, and rebuilding money to Afghanistan so we don’t turn our back on them like we did before. The most important idea though is that “Relative poverty did not create and does not excuse international terrorism. But it can build a network of sympathy for those who take up the bomb and gun. Somehow the West, with its commitment to rationalism, belief in the future, confidence in the soothing effects of prosperity, has to learn how to talk to those with a different mental cap,” (Elliot).
We also should remember that the terrorist attack of September 11 may have murdered more civilians than ever in our history, but it did not destroy our spirit. It is important for all of us to continue on with our daily lives and remember those lost. We should accept the tightening of security and laws at places and understand they are for our protection. We should fight terrorism with understanding (Alter). As Americans, we should continue to fight these new problems facing us and to try and tackle the old problems as well. Our children are our most important future and we need to protect them and educate them better than ever before.
There are many reasons why the nation’s educational system is failing its children. Originally, formal schooling was set up to “Americanize” immigrants (Lieberman 41). There has been a decline in birthrates since the 1960s, yet lower socioeconomic group’s birth rates remain the same. This means more middle-class and lower class children are attending public school, while though upper class children are attending private schools. Adults in low-income families are less activity politically and generally are less involved in their children’s education (Lieberman 9). There has also been a great increase in the population of senior citizens. Those older than 45 make up 35.9% of the population. Senior citizens tend to care less about supporting monies for education and more about health care. In 1987, federal spending on senior citizens per person averaged around $10,000, while average spending per child was only $854 (Lieberman 21). Changes in the family such as single parent homes, divorces, and poverty affect the education of children greatly. In 1987, 9.4 million women had children with no father involved in their children’s life. Of those families, 53.3% of those fathers did not pay any kind of child support (Lieberman 25). Also, more than one million children under the age of 18 are directly involved in a divorce each year. In 1996, 14% of the American population lived in poverty, 20.5% of which were children under 18 (Quiram 12).
Families are not the only ones to blame for the lack of quality education in the United States. Eighty-five percent of the costs of public schools are spent on salaries and benefits of school district personnel, not the students (Lieberman 51). Teacher unions also only seek benefits for themselves, not for the students. Teachers are also paid based on their schooling and years of experience, not on the quality of their teaching (Lieberman 57).
In 1990, the George Bush administration set up the National Educational Goals that were to have been met by the year 2000. It stated that the high school graduation rate will increase to 90%; all students leaving grade four, eight, and twelve will have competency in English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, government and geography; the nation’s teachers will have access to programs to improve their teaching skills; United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement; every adult will be literate and have necessary skills to function in today’s economy; every school in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, firearms, and alcohol; and every school will promote parental involvement (Quiram 68). Yet it is true in fact that none of these goals have been completely achieved or even tackled by our school systems. The dropout rate for 1999 was 11.2%, which is still less than 90% of the students graduating (NCES). Students on the high school level on the average only complete 3.8 years of English, 2.5 years of math, .2 years of computer science, 2.9 years of social studies, 2.1 years of physical and biological science and .3 years of foreign language (Quiram 24). This is not nearly enough education to compete with today’s foreign market.
Many of the nation’s public schools are still in horrible condition. In 1999, one quarter of school reported that at least one type of onsite building was in less than adequate condition. Half of schools reported that at least one building feature was in less than adequate condition. About four out of ten reported at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition. Close to ten percent of schools have enrollments twenty-five percent greater than the capacity of their buildings. The average dollar amount needed to fix each individual school is about $2.2 million and the grand total of funds needed to repair these schools is $127 billion (NCES).
School safety has become a large concern since the many high school shootings. Yet statistics have not been changing for the better. During the 1996-1997 school year, 57% of public schools reported that one or more incidents of crime or violence had happened in their school. Ten percent of all public schools experienced one or more serious violent crime. Violent crimes are defined as murder, rape, sexual battery, suicide, physical attack, fight with a weapon, or robbery. Forty-five percent of elementary schools reported one or more violent incidents, compared with 74% of middle schools and 77% of high schools. School crime is proven to happen in larger schools, 38% of small schools reported incidents, while 89% of large schools reported criminal incidents. Schools in cities were twice as likely to report violent crime and gang activity than rural or suburban schools. During the 1998-1999 school year, 3,523 students were expelled for bringing a gun to school (NCES). Yet 78% of all schools claimed they had some type of violence prevention program, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Neither does our former president’s plan to reform education.
Lieberman lists many ways to help improve education. He recommends that high school age children should be able to graduate in a shorter period of time if they desire and receive rewards for doing so (274). He believes the PTA should just consist of parents and students making goals for education to discuss with teachers and the school board (275). He believes there should be a national curriculum plan so that all children are taught the same basic important ideas. Teachers should be required to take state examinations to evaluate their competency. He also believes parents should be given a better interpretation of their children’s grades by report cards that include: checklists, anecdotal comments, how attendance affects grades, how the grade point average was computed, what curriculum path the child is on, and increase the frequency of reporting (Lieberman 87). The United States government should also give better funding to schools that need repairs and new materials because our children are our most important asset of all.
The nation’s illegal drug industry is not only thriving among school age children, but across the entire population of the United States. The United States is the single largest market place for illegal drugs (Zill). About 13 million Americans claim to occasional drug use of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, and other drugs, but about five million people have serious drug habits, spending over $500 a week to support their habits. These two groups of users spend $60 billion a year on illegal drugs (Zill). In 1999, “Americans spent $63.2 billion on illegal drugs, $37 billion on cocaine, $12 billion on heroin, $10.2 on marijuana, and $4 billion on other illegal drugs (Who are America’s Drug Users?). This extremely large sum of money is collected in stash houses down south from Mexico to Columbia. All this money pays the salaries of shippers, processors, and bribes of government officials. Countries like Columbia and Mexico are almost dependent on the demand for drugs from the United States. The illegal drug industry stays intact because of its huge profit margins. Zill states that,
Processed cocaine is available on the streets of Columbia for $1,500 per kilo and sold on the streets of America for as much as $66,000 per kilo. Heroin costs $2,600 per kilo in Pakistan, but can be sold on the streets of America for $130,000 per kilo. Methamphetamine are often even cheaper to manufacture costing approximately $300 to $500 per kilo to produce in clandestrine labs in the United States and abroad and sold on United States streets for up to $60,000 per kilo.
The so-called “War on Drugs” seizures of illegal drugs have little effect on the industry. Current drug interceptions only stop 13% of heroin shipments and 28% to 40% of cocaine shipments (Zill). Between 1984 and 1999, the number of defendants charged with a drug offense in Federal courts increased from 11,854 to 29,306; 65% of those charged had been previously arrested, 16% reported being an importer, grower, or manufacturer, and 25% reported they were street-level dealers (Federal Drug Offenders). In the past decade, federal and state law enforcement agencies have seized over $48 billion in drugs, cash, and assets. The government has not been tackling the major sources of illegal drugs in the United States and only seems to arrest growers, users, and sellers, not those in charge. The government should learn to target the source of drugs and also provide better education to young people.
The highest rates of illicit drug users are found among older teens. In 1999, 22% of tenth graders and 26% of twelve graders had used an illicit drug in the past month (America’s Drug Users). Twenty to Twenty-one percent of young adults age 18 to 20 reported using an illicit drug within the past month. The highest drug using ethnic population is Native Americans and those reporting mixed races. In 1999, 8.7% of men and 4.9% of woman were illicit drug users (America’s Drug Users). The most commonly used drug is marijuana, with 11.1 million users in 1999. The use of marijuana has remained almost constant throughout the 1990s. There was also about 1.5 million cocaine users in 1999, representing 7% of the population.
The federal government’s planned expenditures on illegal drugs for the year 2002 is an estimated $19.2 billion, compared to 2001’s budget of $18.1 billion. The government plans to spend $2,296 million on plans to reduce youth drug use, $8,052 million on reducing drug-related crime, $3,101 million on rehabilitation programs, $2,555 million on border control, and $2,047 on reducing the source of supply. This money is further broken down into specific programs. Parents for a Drug-Free Future Program will spend $5 million dollars on educating communities on drug abuse prevention of young people, and providing scientific information to provide factual information to children. Eleven million dollars will also be spent on the Drug-Free Communities Program, which assists community-based groups to foster local anti-drug activities. The federal government will spend over $126 million dollars on research to improve drug abuse treatment for addicted offenders in the criminal justice system. Twenty-nine million dollars will be spent on the National Data Collection, which will decide which drug-related services are still effective. The most outrageous statistic of all, the federal government will spend $731 million on the Andean Regional Initiative that will give “counter-drug” money to Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela, and Panama (ONDCP). The description by the ONDCP states, “The counter-drug strategy in the region must include funding to bring greater economic and political stability to the region and a peaceful solution to Colombia’s internal conflict.” I find that most of these program descriptions are vague and are generally a waste of taxpayer’s moneys on programs that haven’t been working. Something drastic needs to be done to change federal government policy to either decriminalize certain drugs or to actually attack the sources of these drugs instead of funding money to the source.
Drugs, the terrorist war, and education have affected each and every single American. All of our nation’s problems tie into together like a spider web. There are many problems faced by this nation, that all must be handled one issue at a time. More money should be spent on ending poverty in the United States. We need to discover alternative forms of energy incase of an oil shortage. We need to make drastic changes in our environmental policies to stop doing so much damage to our environment. We need to have a great love and compassion of those different than us and respect the variety of people in the United States. As a nation, we need to all become more involved politically so we have better options for senators, governors, presidents, and representatives. We must remember that freedom isn’t something everyone around the world gets to experience, and we are most lucky for having it. Most of all, we must continue the patriotism that was born on September 11 and never forget how proud we are of our freedoms, right, and beliefs.
Alter, Jonathan. “Patriotism.” Newsweek Sep 2001. 21 Nov 2001.
Beyer, Lisa. “Roots of Rage.” Time 1 Oct 2001: 19.
Cloud, John. “What is the Al-Qaeda Without Its Boss?” Time 26 Nov 2001. 26 Nov 2001.
Elliot, Michael. “Don’t Make a Matryr of Osama.” Time 26 Nov 2001. 26 Nov 2001.
Fainaru, Steve and Joby Warrick. “Deadly anthrax strain’s muddy trail.” The Washington Post 25 Nov 2001. 26 Nov 2001.
Federal Drug Offenders. government. Aug 2001. 18 Nov 2001.
Lieberman, Myron. Public Education: An Autopsy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.
McGeary, Johanna. “The Taliban Troubles.” Time 1 Oct 2001: 14.
National Center of Educational Statistics. government. 18 Nov 2001.
National Center of Educational Statistics. government. 18 Nov 2001.
National Center of Educational Statistics. government. 18 Nov 2001.
Office of National Drug Control Policy. government. April 2001. 18 Nov 2001.
Pellegrin, Frank. “The Street This Week: Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Malls — Or None of the Above?” Time 19 Nov 2001. 21 Nov 2001.
Quiram, Jacquelyn, Mei Ling Rein, and Nancy Jacobs, eds. Education–Reflecting Our Society. Wylie: Information Plus, 1998.
“Who are America’s Drug Users?” org. 14 Nov 2001. 18 Nov 2001.
Zill, Oriana and Lowell Bergman. “Do the Math: Why the Illegal Drug Business is Thriving.” org. 14 Nov 2001. 18 Nov 2001.
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