Thursday, October 31, 2013

Venezuelans Unhappy With the Heir of Chavez

By: Katie Foglia
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

  Seven months after the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, shortages of basic goods, electrical blackouts, inflation, corruption and high crime rates continue to plague the South American country. Venezuela is in a state of civil unrest and political turmoil, and conditions continue to worsen.
  “We’re having trouble to find some items that an average American would take for granted,” said Andres Alvarez, 47, a lawyer from Caracas. “At this very moment it’s difficult to find powdered or liquid milk on the supermarket shelves. Instant coffee simply disappeared almost two years ago… and the only trademarks you occasionally find are too expensive for our family budget.” 
  The lack of basic amenities in Venezuela is causing the quality of life to suffer.
  We are unsatisfied, disturbed, angry and hopeless with the situation in every aspect,” said Daniel Ayesta, 21, a student in Caracas.
  Now all eyes are on Chavez’s handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro.
President Nicolas Maduro faces scrutiny from US and Venezuela.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Venezuelans Scrutinize President Nicholas Maduro

  “Maduro is not the man of the hour,” said Daniel Duquenal, a political blogger from Caracas. “He is a puppet working for the Castro brothers in Havana, who depend desperately on Venezuela subsidies for their tyranny to survive.”
  Many Venezuelans are voicing their distress and dissatisfaction with the president.
  “He has neither the talent nor the power to lead the country,” said Eva Feld, 64, a journalist and writer from Caracas who currently lives between Venezuela and the United States.
  “Venezuelans follow Maduro because they are afraid to lose what they obtained with Chavez,” Feld said. “As long as they are receiving goods and they are taken care of by Maduro, even if he is endangering the future, they will acclaim him.”
  Maduro uses the same model of authoritarian leadership and leftist economic policies that Chavez implemented. He has also continued controversial currency controls. Many Venezuelans feel that he has neither the charisma nor the education that Chavez had to rule the country.
  Before becoming president, Maduro was a bus driver. He eventually become a trade union leader and was elected to the National Assembly in 2000. Under the rule of Chavez, he held various positions in the Venezuelan government. In 2006, he became the Foreign Minister.
President Maduro holding a picture of former President Chavez.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 
  After the death of Chavez in March, Maduro took on the command of president and was officially elected in April. There is much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of his presidency.
  “Maduro was Chavez’s political son. He doesn’t know how to run a country. Before he [Chavez] died, he says: ‘vote Maduro,’” said Nelson Hippolyte, a Spanish language professor at Ohio University. “The country is going in a downfall.”
  Hippolyte, a Venezuelan native, worked as a journalist for El Nacional newspaper in Caracas before coming to the United States. He wrote articles that the government disliked, and as a result was followed and harassed. He left Venezuela in 1996 and has no plans to return.
  Censorship and intimidation of media is common. Critics of the government are often threatened or punished, which has sparked an increase in independent blogs.
  “I thought that Chavez was the worst thing that happened to Venezuela. I was clearly wrong,” said Julia, 28, an activist blogger from Caracas, who requested to be referenced by her screen name. She started her blog in 2007 as a testimony on the life, thoughts and feelings of a girl living in Venezuela.
   “I think my government’s views on the United States are silly, unnecessary, ridiculous and way too paranoid,” she said. “We still sell oil to the United States and we consume a lot of American culture from clothes to movies.” Julia lives in the United States with her husband.

Shaky Relations with United States

  In the past few months, Maduro has been under extra scrutiny. Many bloggers that oppose Maduro question his political decisions, especially in regards to U.S. – Venezuela relations.
  There was much speculation that the United States’ post-Chavez foreign policy would improve, but that has not been the case. Despite efforts from John Kerry, United States Secretary of State, the relation between the two countries has become increasingly strained.
  In July, Maduro said he would offer political asylum to intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. In September, power failures affected almost half of the country. People who opposed the government stated that is was due to the lack of investment in power grids, while the government suggested it was sabotage by political enemies.
  In October, Maduro expelled the top American diplomat and two other Embassy officials. Shortly after, the U.S. retaliated and expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in Washington. The United States and Venezuela have been without mutual ambassadors since 2010.
  The United States is Venezuela’s most important trading partner and oil dominates U.S. imports from Venezuela. It is one of the top four suppliers of foreign oil to the U.S., according to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Mixed Views for the Future  

  “Not even the big income generated by oil is enough to sustain an economy in which the state centralizes almost all productive activities,” said Gisela Gil-Egui, 46, a professor at Fairfield University.
  Gil-Egui was born in the United States, but lived in Venezuela from age five to 27. She was a journalist for five years before returning to the United States.
  Gil-Egui noted hyperinflation, scarcity and the financial crisis as major issues currently afflicting the country.
  “However, the government explains all these problems as consequences of international conspiracies led by the U.S. and/or internal sabotage by the opposition parties,” Gil-Egui said. 
  Although Maduro and the government view the United States as an adversary, it is clear that not all Venezuelans agree.
  “Personally, I belong to the group of people who do not believe that Americans are our enemies,” said Carlos Hernandez, 58, a photojournalist from San Juan de Los Morros. “But we should not expect them to come to our aid and solve our problems democratically.”
  It seems that Venezuela’s economic prosperity is uncertain in the post-Chavez era.
  Regardless of who leads the country, the worsening political, economic and social conditions will likely force change.

  “Maduro cannot be the President to lead Venezuela out of its economic crisis. Under his tenure, things will tend to go worse,” Alvarez said. “People may overcome their resignation, social and political unrest might be on the rise and people with economical means may consider emigrating.”

Omani Women Push Traditional Cultural Boundaries…But Not Too Far

By: Brianna DiPilato
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

 Nineteen-year old, Al-Harrasi wakes up, prays and puts on her hijab and traditional dress before stepping outside. She continues to abide by her country’s cultural norms, even if she is over 7,000 miles away from home.
“A girl’s reputation is very important, she represents her family so she must keep a good reputation and her standards must be high,” Elham Al-Harrasi said.
  Al-Harrasi is currently studying at Ohio University on a scholarship she received in Muscat, Oman.
  “Omani women are not really interested in showing how beautiful their body or face is, as much as they are interested in showing the beauty of their souls,” said Zeyana Al-Jaradi, a teacher at Nizwa College near Muscat.
  In the United States beauty pageants are seen as a way to show off the different beautiful women from around the globe and to also bring countries together.
Participants of Miss Universe 2008 pageant.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 

 Omani Representation in Beauty Pageants

  The longest running world pageants are the American Miss Universe Pageant and the British Miss World pageant.
Women from more than 100 countries compete in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants every year.
  Among those countries, a woman from Oman will not be found competing in either one.
  Despite the controversial swimsuit round in each pageant, some Middle-Eastern countries such as Israel and Lebanon do participate.
  Oman is not the only Middle-Eastern country missing from the two world pageants. To take a stand against traditional pageants and to represent their own vision of beauty, women in the Middle East joined together to create the Miss Arab World pageant.
  Countries that are rarely found in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants can be seen in this pageant. Iraq, Jordan and Yemen are among the few countries that are represented. Although looks are part of the judging criteria in the Miss Arab World Pageant, a woman’s cultural pride is also judged.
  Unlike in other pageants, women in this one can choose to wear their traditional veil as part of their dress.
  In 2010, the Omani woman competing in this pageant dropped out before it began. She felt that the dance moves incorporated into the event went against her cultural values.
  “While Oman is a very progressive country as far as women’s rights, education and careers are concerned, in my 20 plus years of living here, I haven’t seen a real beauty pageant with Omani women participating,” said   Sunaina  Serna Ahluwalia, long-time resident of Oman.
  A native of India, Ahluwalia has been working as a photographer and communications consultant in Muscat. She was also a judge in the May Queen pageant held by the Goan Community of Oman. Goa is a state in India, so the participants in the pageant were women who were born in India and now live in Oman.
  “Young girls from different communities all over Oman participated, except Omani girls,” said Aurene Fernandes, winner of the May Queen 2013 pageant.
  “What amazes me is the fact that even though Omani women do not have the opportunity to express their beauty in pageants, they do find many other ways to do so,” Fernandes said.

Omani Women’s View of Beauty   

  Living in a country where the Islamic Sharia Law rules the government, Omani women are conscious not to break traditional cultural norms.
   “There are two things that our society is based on, Islam and Tradition. In Islam showing your beauty is not forbidden as long as you don’t show it to a random man,” said Halima Al Wahaibi, resident of Muscat. “Traditionally a woman is called a 'Hourma' that means something sacred and pure. Those two principles have been held on to for over 1000 years, therefore, beauty pageants would take forever to be accepted and they may not be at all.”
  As the government moves to a more open view of their religion, Omani women, especially in the capital of Muscat, are pushing traditional boundaries.
  “Most of Omani women wear and cover their hair with a piece of fabric which we call the hijab, but in Muscat there are many women who don’t wear it, like me, and some that only put it carelessly on their heads in which it doesn’t cover all of their hair,” Al-Jaradi said.
  The Omani woman is not required to wear her traditional veil.
  It is also up to the woman if she decides to wear makeup or show her body through certain clothing.
  “Omani women’s view of beauty is developed mostly through trends set by the media, therefore they develop the same desire for fresh fashion lines like the rest of the world,” said resident of Muscat, Hamida Mughairi.
  According to a native of Muscat, Saif Al-Wahaibi, who is also an undergraduate student studying in the U.S., going against what is ‘culturally right’ is bad for a woman’s reputation. Women can be denied jobs and their quest to find a husband can become more difficult if they have a bad reputation.  
Saif Al-Wahaibi with his girlfriend and friends in Oman.
Photo provided by Saif Al-Wahaibi 
  Women’s rights have come a long way in Oman and even though a woman can make her own decisions, being in a beauty pageant will not be one of them.
  “Beauty pageants are acceptable here in America, but not in Oman, we are open, but not that open,” Al-Harrasi said.  

Chinese Students Question Rigorous Education System

By: Caleigh Bourgeois
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

  Despite having a successful merchandising job, Chinese college graduate Nancy Xu said she still does not know what her dreams are.
  “I still do not know what I am interested in and what I want to do,” Xu said.
  Similarly, Helen Yong, senior at Shandong Normal University, decided she wanted to switch her major from math to English two years ago, but was prohibited to do so by her school. She now will have to attend graduate school for English to pursue her newfound dreams.
  “I thought I wanted to be a math teacher when I was in high school, but I changed my mind,” Yong said.
Exams in the U.S. differ from Chinese entrance exams.
Photo via Flickr

High Test Scores in China

 Based on exam performance alone, Chinese classrooms are the most successful in the world. Chinese students have repeatedly scored highest on the Program for International Student Assessment
  On the 2009 PISA test, U.S. students were ranked in the twenties for almost every subject.
  Despite China’s ability to produce students with exceptionally high scores, some pupils and educators in China say there is something missing – room for creativity.
  Shujuan Yuan is one of them. She is currently visiting Ohio University to conduct research for the linguistics department. Yuan said that while Chinese students perform well on exams, the test-based learning style could be damaging.
  “We talk a lot about, why more Chinese people within Mainland China can’t win the Nobel Prize,” Yuan said. “We attribute this to the educational system, because we don’t encourage creativity.”
  In a situation almost unimaginable for most U.S. students, Yuan’s son has been studying chemical engineering at a Chinese university, but has yet to conduct a lab experiment. Instead, the professor describes what chemical reactions would look like in practice.
  “You don’t have the real thing and put them together and see for yourself,” Yuan said.

The Pressure on Exams 

  Chinese and schools in the U.S. differ in numerous ways. Chinese students are tested rigorously beginning at age six. Curriculum consists of memorization of facts in order for students to score well on national exams. Students are not encouraged to question their teachers.
Chinese students are tested rigorously beginning at six-years-old.
Photo via British Council
  High school students are typically split up into different classrooms based on ability, which is determined by test scores. Therefore, many students base their self-worth on their scores.
  Examination is almost always the only method used to evaluate students. Most Chinese universities base their admissions criteria entirely on test results, in contrast to U.S. universities that also look at extracurricular activities and essays.
  Chinese high school students take the National Exam, similar to the ACT or SAT, to determine university acceptance. The pressure is so high that failure sometimes drives students to fatal measures.
  Xu Cheng, an accounting major at Chongqin Technology and Business University, said he has witnessed his peers fall into deep depression after receiving poor exam scores.
  “There are many students with mental health problems, and there will be many students who commit suicide every year in the university entrance exam after losing,” Cheng said.
  Some high-achieving Chinese learners say they wish they could switch places with U.S. students.
  Becky Xinrui, a senior at Capital University of Economics and Business, wants more freedom within her education.
  She described U.S. students as, “freely, with many choices,” and said she thinks the U.S. education system is better.
  However some Chinese students are content, and think American classrooms lack challenges.
  Pan Xuli, a material science major at Tongji University, said she thinks American schools are too simple.
  “We think American classes are very easy, especially your math, and you don't have too much pressure,” Xuli said.
  On the 2009 PISA test, students in Shanghai ranked highest in mathematics, with an above average score of 600. By comparison, American students had a below average score of 487.

Respect for Chinese Professors

  The differences between Chinese and American pupils extend beyond curriculum. 
  Dr. Raymond Witte is an Educational Psychology professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Having traveled to China to research education, he has seen major behavioral differences between Chinese and U.S. students.
  “I probably was never treated better than when I was in China, and I mean that,” Witte said. “An extreme level of respect is provided to educators, which I don’t think that would be reflected quite as much over here.”
  Yuan has also worked as a professor in both the United States and China, and said she feels there are drawbacks to both education systems. She and her fellow Chinese instructors question U.S. methods as well as their own.
  “We very often talk about how the American teachers, they praise their students too much, but we criticize them too much,” she said.
  Witte admits that while Chinese students appear smarter, the U.S. system trains its students with intangible abilities. While respect for educators is demanded from Chinese students, Witte said unquestioned authority hinders learning.
  “I think, because American students ask questions, we might create a different kind of thinker, someone who feels comfortable in challenging what they know,” he said.

Motivation for the Future

  Yingchi Wei transferred from a university in China to Ohio University two years ago. She said U.S. university students are more positive and motivated, because many chose their own paths.
  “They have their own plans for the future, to not follow other people’s paths or teachers’ advice or parents. They have their own future in their heart and they want to pursue their own dreams,” Wei said.
  Nancy Xu’s dreams are still a mystery to her. They are lost in a culture where competition is so easily measured by tests, and authority is not to be questioned. 
  “We would be asked, ‘what was your dream,’ when we were kids. We always responded that we wanted to be a teacher, policeman, or scientist, but when we grow up we know it is not my dream,” Xu said.
  As she sat in her office in Jiaxing, she admitted she is still hoping to finally discover what her dream is.

Islamic Codes Called into Question in Response to Hamed Case in Sudan

By: Holly Moody
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati
  One woman’s refusal to abide by the criminal code in Sudan has turned into a public outcry to end the abuses of the Sudanese government on women for breaking Sharia law.
 The case of Amira Osman Hamed, 35, and the implications of the public order code in Sudan has gained international attention causing an uprising of campaigns against the law as well as questions as to the religious motivations behind her punishment.
  According to the Sudan Tribune, Hamed was arrested on Aug. 27 for refusing to wear the hijab in while she was entering a government office in Jebel Aulia, just outside of Khartoum.
  Hamed is being charged under Article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code of 1991, which prohibits indecent clothing. 
  Her trial date was formerly set for Sept. 19, but has been pushed back until Nov. 4, after her lawyers submitted a request for postponement to the Attorney General of Sudan, Omar Ahmed.
  If she is found guilty, Hamed could face up to 40 lashes.
  “Flogging is a deliberately designed to humiliate and to violate the human dignity,” said Abdullahi An-Na’im, a Sudanese citizen and professor of law at Emory University. “How come Islam and Sharia law has nothing to say about forces shooting and killings on the streets? Hundreds of women have been killed in Khartoum that have not even been a part of any demonstrations. How come Sharia is present in flogging women for the way they dress but very absent when it comes to fundamental justice?"

Sharia Law in Sudan

Sharia law is defined by the precepts of the Quran.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 
President Omar Al-Bashir institutionalized Sharia law in Sudan when he came into power by military coup in 1989. Sharia law is defined as the moral code and religious law of Islam based off the precepts set forth by the Quran.
  However, the Quran advocates for a modest style of dress for all of its followers and does not specifically note regulations for wearing a veil or hijab.
  According to translation of the Quran, Surah 7:26, “It is the right of both sexes to use clothing to enhance their beauty as well as cover their nakedness. The most important thing is to be modest and righteous.”
  “The Quran does not prescribe any particular style, but it insists on modesty for both men and women. The particular style that we see now is driven by ideology not Islamic scripture or Muslim practice,” An-Na’im said. “The government has nothing to do with what women wear and whenever they intrude in that way, the motivation and the outcome is a political and ideological agenda, not a religious one.”
  In Turkey, women abide by the same Islamic codes as Sudanese women. Ironically however, according to An-Na’im, it is prohibited for a Turkish woman to wear a hijab in public in order to protect their secularist ideology.
  In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights decided to uphold Turkey’s headscarf ban to deny those who chose to wear it the right to higher education. 
  “What is the difference between a state like Turkey that prohibits women from wearing the scarf in educational buildings and a state like Sudan which flogs women for not wearing the veil? To me this is two sides of the same coin,” An-Na’im said. 
  The punishment of flogging for not wearing a headscarf is not consistently implemented in Sudan.
  “Basically you have an Islamic ideology in Sudan and from time to time they try to make some sort of symbolic action by having a woman executed or flogged but they don’t do this consistently throughout the country,” An-Na’im said.

International exposure of the case

Women of Sudan wearing traditional hijabs.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 
  Several women’s rights campaigns and organizations have taken action in response to the international exposure of Hamed’s trial in effort to repeal Article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Code.
  The case has caught the attention of Amnesty International. The human rights organization issued a press release on Sept. 20 urging people in the U.S. and abroad to send appeals to the Sudanese authorities including the Minister of Justice, Mohamed Bushara Dousa.
  “I think the most telling response that we’ve gotten was that immediately after the case there was a really big appetite from our activists to get started,” said Jasmine Heiss, Amnesty International’s Individual and Communities at Risk Campaigner. “We are calling upon the Sudanese authorities to abolish the penalty of flogging and to drop the charges on Amira.”
Amnesty International has not yet heard from the Sudanese authorities regarding Hamed’s case since issuing its call for action.
  “All of our stances are on treatment guided by international human right documents, so really what we are calling on the Sudanese authorities to do is to act in conformity with their obligations on international human rights law,” Heiss said. “We hope that the international activism is having an impact on this case."

Ethnic divides in Ukraine remain

By: Rick Bannan
Produced & Edited by: Katie Foglia
In the United States, ethnic divides are more about skin color than family heritage. Those divides date back to a point in the history of the nation where people were transported across the ocean to perform labor for free. In Ukraine, however, the suppression of minorities is much more convoluted.
Ukraine, spanning land from the Carpathian Mountains to the Sea of Azov, gained its independence from the United Soviet Socialist Republics barely two decades ago. Since then, the country has been in an identity crisis in terms of its allegiance to either the European Union or the Russian Federation.
Within the last few years, numerous bouts of “big fist fight[s],” as per BBC World News, have occurred within Ukrainian Parliament over issues such as whether or not Russian – slightly distant from the national Ukrainian language – should be given equal status as an official language in some parts of the country. 

Multitude of ethnicities in Ukraine

However, that is just the parliament, and not the ongoing struggle of the subalterns; that is, the peoples (indigenous and not) who have been subject to remain in the dregs of society.
Romani people in Lviv, Ukraine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
There is a multitude of ethnicities present in Ukraine. While the nation is predominantly ethnic Ukrainian (or Russian, which constitutes around 17 percent of the country) there are still roughly 222,000 Crimean Tatars (the predominant minority in the Eastern reaches of the country, near the Black Sea) and anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000 ethnic Romani in the country of 44 million.
Given the sheer size of the population of the country, both groups would barely constitute one percent of the entire nation, regardless of what estimate is used. Compare that to the Native American population of the United States, which according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data is at roughly 1.6 percent of the total population (mixed ethnicities included). 
What that means is that there is a strong analogue of the Native Americans to these two particular groups, especially considering how, like Native Americans, many Crimean Tatars were removed from their ancestral lands. The most notable was during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1944 under the pretense that the Tatars were Nazi sympathizers.
Livadia Palace near Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons. 
The histories of the Crimean Tatars have a heritage dating back to the days of Mongol Conquest. While the Viking-founded Kievan Rus' was attempting a stronghold on first-millennia Eastern Europe, the people who would become the Tatars were half a continent away, in the steppes once populated (according to linguistic and anthropological records) by the progenitors of Turkish dominance.
Tatars share more in common – especially linguistically – with Turkey than their “home” country of Ukraine (in the sense of this article; Tatars are found throughout Eurasia).
The Roma, on the other hand, are hard to pin down geographically. If anything, this is due to their highly mobile nature. Even their national flag depicts a spooked wheel across an abstract background of green grass and blue sky, as a testament to their assumed right to moving about the continents. 
Supposedly “settling” in Ukraine around the 1300s, these folk had always lived on the fringe of what most western tongues would call “civilization.” Not content to put their foot down in territories including the Kievan Rus', nor the Halych–Volhynia (a Ruthenian [Ukrainian] kingdom from the High Middle Ages). The Roma moved across the landscape as a people embodying the notion of perpetual diaspora.

Push for Tatar independence

Both the Tatars and Roma are subjugated in the highly Slavic, highly divided state of Ukraine. The subjugation of the Tatars is an issue in Ukraine. As one of the most prominent ethnic groups, they have had their fair share of outings with treatment parallel to that of subjugated peoples like the Native Americans in North America.

There has been a recent push for Tatar independence in the Black Sea Peninsula. The issue is not so much from complete liberation, but one of keeping the Eastern Russian way away from the Tatar living.
Ultimately, those in the West can learn a lot from the situation existing in Ukraine regarding the small, dignified ethnic groups of the country like the Roma and the Crimean Tatars. 
Although the track record in the United States for dealing with native populations has not exactly been ideal, looking toward Ukraine would add a level of analogy to United States relations with minority populations that could take them out of the country’s limited mindset on their own peoples, and understand that the conflict exists across the globe.

Malaysian death penalty under revaluation

By: Emily Bamforth
Produced & Edited by: Katie Foglia
It has been over a year since Malaysia’s attorney general announced that the Attorney General’s Chambers was considering an amendment to make the death penalty discretionary in terms of drug trafficking.
Bar Council of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Photo by Kaihsu Tai via Wikimedia Commons. 
The change would drop the number of cases where the death penalty is mandatory from six to five. The current cases to which mandatory sentencing applies are firearm offenses or being an accomplice in a crime utilizing a firearm, murder, drug trafficking and treason, according to the Malaysian Bar.
Malaysia is one of 29 countries that still carry a death penalty.
“Obviously, the death penalty is a severe punishment,” said Kin Chai Ho, a senior lecturer at HELP University College, in an email. “It shows the severity of the crime and the government’s determination to curb the crimes.”
Execution is by hanging. Anil Netto, treasurer for ALIRAN, a Malaysian social reform movement, said that some on Death Row have been in jail for long periods of time.
“ALRIAN has always been against the death penalty,” said Netto in an email. “We feel that it is against the fundamental right to life.”

Malaysia compared to other countries

Although the sentence may be mandatory, Malaysia sits low in terms of executions compared to other countries. A total of 324 people have been sentenced to death in Malaysia between 2007 and 2012, but only two have been executed, according to data from Amnesty International.
In comparison, so far in 2013, 30 people have been executed in Texas. The Texas death penalty is discretionary. Ho said, however, that it is unwise to stack countries up against each other.
“A country’s law is supreme in that country and is meant to serve the people of that country,” he said. “You cannot use someone else’s standard to judge your law. In doing so, you are implying someone’s law is superior to your law.”
Pathman Sundramoorthy, associate professor of criminology at University Sains Malaysia, said the lack of executions could be due to a potential change and current questioning of death penalty laws.
“There’s demand that these kinds of punishments be reviewed,” he said.
Organizations such as the Malaysian Bar have been working towards abolishing the death penalty for years, Christopher Leong, president of the organization, said. “Even in the case of a convicted murderer, the death penalty is a reflection of the notion that ‘an eye for an eye’ provides the best form of justice, a concept that we should not embrace nor practice today bearing in mind that at present there is no criminal justice system emplaced which is foolproof.”
Sundramoothy said the penalty in regards to drug trafficking may not deter individuals from trafficking in the first place, but will remove their impact from the community, a concept called specific deterrence.
“Don’t forget, we’re all still developing countries,” Sundramoorthy said. “We cannot afford to have this problem.”
Surrounding countries such as Singapore and Indonesia also maintain mandatory death penalties.

Mixed public opinion on penalty 

Sharon Wilson, an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communications for Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), said she sees a mixed bag of opinions amongst the public on the topic.
“For those who agree, they believe it is proper in accordance to the crimes committed,” she said in an email. “The death penalty ensures that criminals do not get involved again or (become) repeat offenders. As a lesson there are many countries that carry out the death penalty in public for all to see in the public square. In Malaysia, the death penalty is done in closed doors.”
Wilson supports the death penalty in the case of serious crimes. She added that she would like to see the punishment extended to offenses such as sexual crimes against minors.
In a recent study commissioned by The Death Penalty Project in London, 56 percent of a group of 1,535 Malaysian citizens said they were in favor of a mandatory execution sentence for murder, with between 25 and 44 percent in favor for drug trafficking offenses and 45 percent for firearm possession.
Emily Brokaw, a student at Taylor University studying music education, lived in Malaysia for 14 years. She said as an expatriate, she was advised to be cautious in her actions and to avoid situations that could compromise her security.
“Instances of the death penalty and the severity of the rule do not frequently demand attention in the common populace, or at least the long term expat residents,” she said in an email. “I have heard from second hand sources of instances where people have been tried for a crime and sentenced to death, usually for possession of drugs even if they were transporting drugs unknowingly. This serves as a reminder to expats that we need to take care to not place ourselves unwittingly in a compromising situation.”
Wilson said the trial process for these kinds of crimes is quite long, extending to the high court, Court of Appeals and federal court. Defendants can request a Royal Pardon if found guilty.
Members of the Royal Malaysia Police force.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
“Malaysia has been very strict with its drug laws and we don’t tolerate possession or distribution,” she said. “The Malaysian courts have not been ‘trigger happy’ in implementing this law unless they are sure that all evidence puts the individual as the criminal.”
Sundramoorthy said there are many misconceptions about the death penalty in the country, like the harsh punishments are tied to religion. He said he urges people to examine the economic, historical and political factors tied into the punishment.
"Every country has specific reasons why certain types of punishment are (given) out to offenders,” he said. “Every country has its reasons. What might appear right to you might look wrong to me. You have to look at the context.”  

Taiwanese National Health Insurance system in crisis

By: Jacob Betzner
Produced & Edited by: Katie Foglia

Taipei City Hospital in Taiwan. Photo by Lord Koxinga via Wikimedia Commons.

Only 22 nations and the Vatican City recognize Taiwan as a fully independent country. The island, located off the southeast coast of China, boasts an extremely affordable and efficient healthcare system. When Taiwan lifted martial law in 1987, officials wanted to develop a strong, affordable healthcare system that would serve nearly 22 million citizens. 

National Health Insurance (NHI), a compulsory program, brought healthcare to all Taiwanese and required only a small percentage of annual household income. The government recently reformed the payment system for National Health Insurance premiums to cover growing costs. National Health Insurance in Taiwan resembles Medicare in the United States, but it is open to the entire population.

“In addition to the basic premium, the insured will be charged a supplementary premium of two percent for other incomes received, including large bonuses, income from professional practice, part-time wages, stock dividends, saving interest and rental income. Before the Second Generation of NHI, premiums were solely payroll based,” said Mei Wang, Associate Researcher with the Planning Division of the National Health Insurance Bureau.

Wang said National Health Insurance covers a wide variety of areas including inpatient and outpatient care, prescriptions, regular dental services, traditional Chinese medicine, mentally ill and nursing care and more expensive procedures on a case-by-case basis.

National Health Insurance gives citizens easy and quick access to doctors and prescriptions by using a fixed global budget, meaning the National Health Insurance Bureau pays a fixed amount to hospitals but only limits hospital visits for patients in extreme circumstances. 

Dr. Jen-Hsiang Shen of the Ministry of Health and Welfare said doctors receive only about 30 percent of the payment per procedure. The hospital or clinic invests the remaining 70 percent in new buildings and equipment, often buying from companies partly or fully owned by the hospital owners.

With the extremely accessible healthcare, patients flocked to hospitals and clinics. Currently, doctors work as many as 80 to 100 hours per week. “The National Health Insurance in Taiwan is the cheapest and the most effective health insurance in the world, and it has worked for 18 years in our country,” said Dr. Ping-Hung Lin, Vice General Secretary of the Taiwan Medical Labor Union. “However, it has caused the increasing demand of health of our people, which means increasing work of our medical staff.”

Dr. Lin gave several examples of doctors and nurses in Taiwan facing extreme stress. Nearly a dozen doctors and nurses died from overworking last year. Dr. Shen said Taiwanese culture contributes to doctors working extra hours, often for no pay. 

“There is a culture in Taiwan that if you haven’t finished your work when your hour is finished, you should keep finishing your job until it’s finished,” he said. 

Nurses suffer, too. Typically, one nurse monitors 20 or more sickbeds, and one doctor cares for more than 60 sickbeds throughout one shift. Dr. Lin and the Taiwan Medical Labor Union work directly with the government, drafting legislation to limit work hours in the hopes of improving the quality of care.

“The medical system in Taiwan is breaking down,” Dr. Lin said. “I can tell you the doctor life in Taiwan is miserable. I hope the [Affordable Care Act] in the U.S. won’t make the same mistakes as Taiwan. Cost down is wrong. The quality must be taken into consideration first.”
The number of doctors continues to decline. Many move to different countries like the United States, China or Singapore to work fewer hours for higher pay. Dr. Yuan-hung Wu, an oncology resident at Taipei Veteran’s Hospital, recently considered such a move.
“I am ready to apply for to practice in the United States, I’m ready to do that,” he said. “Many of my younger medical students, they have already gone abroad to practice right after they graduated. They are about 20 graduates in my college they are now working abroad.”

Additionally, doctors face heavy penalties and even jail time if found guilty of medical malpractice. In the United States, doctors face fines and the possible suspension of a medical license in civil court except in extreme cases like homicidal negligence. 

Dr. Shen said Taiwanese courts send nearly a dozen doctors to jail every year, in addition to imposing heavy fines. Dr. Lin said the risk of jail time and fines discourages medical students from entering crucial fields like surgery, emergency medicine and gynecology.

“The medical students, they do not want to go to these high-risk specialties. They go to dermatology or the plastic surgery or whatever, not high-risk surgery,” Lin said.

However, patients enjoy many benefits with the program. Patients pay a $3 to $5 USD co-pay, mostly to cover administrative costs, to visit a hospital or clinic. Staying in the hospital for an extended period of time costs a co-pay of only $70 to $120 USD per night. Fu-Long Kai, a recent college graduate currently serving a compulsory stint with the Republic of China Armed Forces, says National Health Insurance helps keep costs low for citizens.

“Everybody gives a little part of their salary and everyone can go to hospital and you don’t have to pay that much. You can see the doctor and get their proper surgery or the proper solution for your disease or something,” he said.
Dr. Wu said National Health Insurance allows doctors to provide care without worrying about insurance coverage. 

Chiu Wen-ta, the Minister of Health and Welfare.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
“We don’t have to consider their economic status, whether they are affordable to the treatment. We can do the treatment to the patient in need right away,” Dr. Wu said.

While National Health Insurance isn't perfect, it allows patients easy access to affordable and quality care, and doctors still earn, on average, higher salaries compared to average Taiwanese incomes. Dr. Lin and Dr. Wu both said the system needs some reformation to survive. Dr. Shen suggested subtle changes to help doctors in Taiwan perform at a high level without sacrificing efficiency.

“I think the government need to offer reasonable work hours, reasonable salary and reasonable staffing to keep doctors wanted,” Dr. Shen said.