Wildlife crime: Understanding the human and social dimensions of a complex problem

This week in North Philly Notes, William Moreto, editor of Wildlife Crime, writes about how criminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime.

In recent years, wildlife crime has generated considerable public attention. This can be partly attributed to growing concerns over environmental issues, including climate change, as well as increased attention on wildlife trafficking and its impact on the status of endangered iconic megafauna, like elephants and rhinoceros. The hard sciences, including biology, has tended to take the lead in the assessment and investigation of crimes that harm the environment, including the poaching and trading of wildlife products. This is not surprising given that the unsustainable overharvesting of wildlife can result in long lasting ecological and environmental impacts, as well as potentially devastating public health concerns resulting in the consumption of unregulated and unsanitary wildlife products.

Although wildlife crime has historically tended to fall within the purview of the hard sciences, the role of the social sciences, including geography, psychology, and economics, have increasingly been recognized in both academic and non-academic circles. Indeed, while wildlife crime is very much an environmental issue, it is also inherently a human and social problem as well. Recently Bennett and colleagues (2017) helped reinforce this reality when they published an article in a leading conservation journal, Biological Conservation, demonstrating the role that 18 distinct social science fields have within the conservation sciences. Noticeably missing from this list, however, were the fields of criminology (the study of criminal behavior), criminal justice (the study of how the criminal justice system responds and operates), and crime science (the study of crime). For ease, and I hope my fellow colleagues can forgive me, but I’ll refer to this group collectively here as “criminology.”

Wildlife Crime_smCriminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime, while also contributing to broader conservation science topics. The volume, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice, adds to the conservation science literature by underscoring how criminological theory and research can provide unique insight on a complex problem like wildlife crime. Questions related to the why specific activities and practices are outlawed, how such regulations are viewed by communities who are affected, why individuals begin, continue, or desist as offenders, how the criminal justice system responds to such actors, and what strategies can be developed in addition to the criminal justice system are all discussed in the volume. Additionally, scholars detail their experiences conducting research on active offenders involved in wildlife crime and further highlighting the very human aspects from those involved in such activities, as well as the researchers who perform such study.

Finally, the inclusion of practitioners in the volume who are or were involved in day-to-day conservation practice cements the need for more social science research that directly focuses on those tasked with the implementation and management of conservation policy and regulation. Essentially, by better understanding how conservation policy is implemented and the real-world challenges faced by individuals who work on the front-line is essential in understanding what strategies can be effective, what may be unsuccessful, and what may ultimately prove to be counter-productive or even harmful. In sum, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice contributes to the growing literature on wildlife crime by illustrating the value of viewing the issue from a criminological perspective, promoting the need for increased academic-practitioner collaborations, and reinforcing the place of social science within the conservation sciences.

 

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How state governments touch on nearly every aspect of public policy

This week in North Philly Notes, Michelle Atherton, co-editor of Pennsylvania Politics and Policywrites about what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy.

In the midst of the modern 24/7 news cycle, and the focus on the tweet of the moment from our president, it’s easy to forget that politics in our federal system runs much deeper than the national level. Americans in general are woefully unaware of what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy. Statewide and local elections have much lower voter turnout than presidential years, as if the composition of state legislatures and governors’ offices barely matters compared to who occupies the White House. Many would argue these governing bodies matter even more to the lives of the average citizen, as state governments touch nearly every aspect of public policy.

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy_smRepublicans in control in Washington, DC did not manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but it was originally up to the states to create their own healthcare exchanges, and whether to expand Medicaid. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017 lowered federal taxes for most individuals—and especially corporations—but it also capped the state and local tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000, greatly effecting the calculus of state and local governments’ approaches to maintaining revenues.

Pennsylvania, for example, is one of the states most highly dependent upon property taxes for the support of public schools, collected locally, as opposed to relying on state taxes. Will the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs revolt come November’s general election as higher income households lose thousands of dollars in tax deductions? Perhaps the results will strengthen the case among many voters for doing away with the property tax altogether as a source of funding for public schools in the Commonwealth.

This issue and many others are explored in the first publication of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader. Further topics include:

  • What would it mean for Pennsylvania to adopt direct democracy such as the citizen-initiated referendum and recall like other states? Would politicians be more responsive and less prone to corruption?
  • Why doesn’t the state of Pennsylvania place a severance tax on natural gas production? Every other state does. Alaskans each receive a dividend from fossil fuel extraction, yet Pennsylvania’s legislature refuses to move the issue forward even in the face of severe budget woes.
  • Why doesn’t the state fund education based on the number of students in schools? Every other state in the nation bases funding on real student counts. In Pennsylvania, the politics of party and leadership control in the legislature dictates funding.
  • Why does Pennsylvania not tax any form of retirement income, one of just a handful of states to do so? And, what does the rapid aging of the state mean for the bottom line of funding services both for the elderly and younger individuals and families?
  • Why did it take so long to be able to buy wine and beer at the local supermarket? Pennsylvania took a unique approach to policing vice.

Another election for the governor, the entire House, and half the Senate of Pennsylvania is just around the corner. Here’s hoping Pennsylvanians find their way to the polling place to vote in proportion to the gravity of the election’s policy implications.

 

Examining institutional responses to campus sexual violence

This week in North Philly Notes, the co-editors of Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses address the state of rape accusations on college campuses under the current administration, and why we need to redouble our efforts to eliminate sexual violence.

As the editors of Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, we thought we were prepared for what a new White House and Federal administration would mean for institutional responses to sexual violence against college students. The progress over the last several years has been palpable, especially given the confluence of student and survivor activism, policy enactments, expanding assessment and etiology research, as well as institutions of higher education’s significant efforts to improve their responses to victims and innovative prevention efforts. Given indicators that the new administration would not maintain the course of the previous one, in the months after the election we discussed with each other what the possible impact could be. Perhaps reduced funding for the Department of Education, a contraction of the number of investigations by the Office for Civil Rights, and/or a redefinition of the current interpretation of Title IX. All of these situations would remove the burden and promise of institutional Title IX responses to campus violence. These concerns led us to wonder in the Preface of our book, that if Title IX was redefined via a new “Dear Colleague” letter, what could be the future of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act—repeal, strip funding, or fail to enforce? If any of these changes occurred, we posited, the corresponding effects on institutions of higher education, and more importantly their students, would be substantial.

Addressing Violence on College Campuses_smWe are now on the brink of the changes we feared, when the progress anti-violence scholars, activists and legislators have made might begin to crumble under the weight of the new, shifting narrative created by the Department of Education. As the stage is set for sweeping policy dismantling, there emerges a narrative of women as falsely accusing men, rape as “drunken sex,” and the reporting of sexual violence as women changing their minds about “our last sleeping together was not quite right.” This rhetoric, along with the narrative that presumes that only women are raped, is disheartening as it negates all of the work survivors, activists, and academics have done to address violence against all genders. We are dismayed—nay, angered—that those responsible for enforcing regulations on violence on college campuses, such as Candice Jackson, the acting assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, would assert, publicly, a victim-blaming discourse. She not only discounts victims’ voices but also endorses an understanding of offenders as victims too, making survivors and the schools that try to hold the offenders accountable the “real” perpetrators. Bringing “claims” of rape or adjudicating such claims is to discriminate, the logic goes.

This shift in defining who our government must protect in cases of sexual assault is possible because rape itself—at least according to Ms. Jackson—is no longer the rape that activists defined and legislators later codified in sexual assault legislation, but rather the mere imaginings of a college woman recovering from drunken sex. Though Ms. Jackson later apologized for what she termed a “flippant” remark, the problem is that this remark reifies the victim-blaming culture within which survivors already must try to seek justice. Now, though, they must do so under official federal endorsement of a narrative in which women have regrettable sex and then men are falsely accused. The data, as presented in Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses, does not support this narrative. But of course there has long been rape deniers and widespread endorsement of rape myths (including the oft-repeated belief that rape victims lie) in our society. We did not imagine, however, that our government officials appointed to address sexual violence would publicly endorse such beliefs in this day and age.

We therefore join the call of the 50 organizations who recently demanded that Ms. Jackson reject her own comments publicly and consistently, as Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz wrote about in The Chronicle of Higher Education, on July 20, 2017. And, in the face of Ms. Jackson’s comments, we need college administrators to continue to push their campuses to “do the right thing.” They must do everything that have been striving to do to prevent, respond to, and adjudicate violence, which may involve rejecting a call from the administration for reduced enforcement in the future. We also call upon college students to accelerate their incredible efforts to change the social climate on college campuses and directly confront and reject victim-blaming narratives.

Our concern for what will happen under this current administration—as researchers and women—is growing.  But we also believe in the power of many to eliminate violence against women. Historically, legislation about violence against women has followed from the tireless efforts of activists. We encourage students, faculty, and officials of institutions of higher education to be those activists that refuse to see harm done to college students on college campuses.

What’s inside the new issue of Commonwealth


COMMONWEALTH: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics & Policy
devotes one issue annually to a policy topic of contemporary importance to the state. In 2016 the special issue focused on education, and the 2018 issue will be devoted to the opioid epidemic.

homepageImage_en_USWe are proud to announce that the 2017 special issue on Energy and the Environment is now available. The Special Editor for the issue is Christopher P. Borick, Professor of Political Science and the Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion as well as the Co-Director of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment. Dr. Borick is a well-known commentator on Pennsylvania politics, appearing regularly in media interviews nationally and across the state.

This special issue of COMMONWEALTH provides readers with an enhanced understanding of the complex issues that define energy and environmental policy in contemporary Pennsylvania. The issue begins with a number of engaging pieces on the most prominent issue of the era—hydraulic fracturing. First, Rachel L. Hampton and Barry G. Rabe, of the University of Michigan, provide an in-depth analysis of Pennsylvania’s unique policy response to the arrival of fracking in the state over the past decade. In particular, Hampton and Rabe provide valuable insight into why Pennsylvania has opted to forgo the types of energy extraction taxes that other states have made key components of their fiscal policy structures.

Philip J. Harold and Tony Kerzmann, of Robert Morris University, continue the examination of fracking in the Commonwealth with a thorough overview of public attitudes and preferences regarding this major addition to life in Pennsylvania. They find that state residents have responded to the expansion of fracking with increased awareness and highly divided levels of support for this means of natural gas extraction. Building on this examination of public opinion toward fracking, Erick Lachapelle, of the University of Montreal, contributes an engaging piece that compares perceptions of fracking among residents of Pennsylvania and New York. Lachapelle’s study finds alignment between the policy preferences of Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers and their states’ extremely varied policy approaches regarding hydraulic fracturing.

Renewable energy development has also been a feature of policy development in Harrisburg. Sarah Banas Mills, of the University of Michigan, examines the recent drought of wind energy development in Pennsylvania during a period in which wind power has grown substantially across the United States. Mills suggests that local land-use regulations may be more responsible than failures of state-level renewable energy policy for the lack of new wind power facilities in the Keystone State.

Somayeh Youssefi, of the University of Maryland, and Patrick L. Gurian, of Drexel University, examine another source of renewables: solar energy. They provide a powerful case that Pennsylvania’s efforts to incentivize the generation of solar energy have been limited by market factors that have made the state’s tax credits insufficient to increase development. Youssefi and Gurian offer elegant policy modifications that could remedy the struggles to grow solar energy options in the state within the broader constraints of a regional energy market.

The special issue concludes with invaluable perspective on environmental governance in Pennsylvania during a period of tremendous partisan conflict. John Arway, Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, provides insight into the challenges of protecting the Keystone State’s spectacular array of waterways and aquatic wildlife amid the partisan strife that has consumed the state capitol over the past decade. Arway’s experiences in his challenging position and his call for more cooperation between “technocrats, bureaucrats, and politicians on both sides of the aisle” provide a well-suited conclusion to the broader themes explored in this issue.

 

Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy

This week in North Philly Notes, we promote our new online-only journal, Commonwealth.

Commonwealth_sm.jpgA peer-reviewed, online-only journal that publishes original research across a broad range of topics related to the politics, policy, and political history of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth is interdisciplinary in nature and appeals to scholars and practitioners across political science, public administration, public policy, and history fields.

Issues will cover general interest pieces, applied research, practitioners’ or experts’ analyses, research notes, essays, and book reviews. The first annual “special policy issue” of Commonwealth highlighted educational policies in Pennsylvania. The next special policy issue, which will focus on the environment, will be assembled by a guest editor selected in consultation with the journal’s editor and editorial board. The print “Year in Review” issue will be a compendium of the best articles of the year.

Commonwealth collaborates with the Pennsylvania Policy Forum to plan special issues… The Forum is a consortium of faculty members and academic and policy institute leaders… who share an interest in generating ideas, analyses, and symposiums that might prove useful… in addressing major issues confronting the Commonwealth and its government.

Highlights from  the journal’s Special Issue on Education Policy include:

Commonwealth invited Senator Argall… and Jon Hopcraft… to summarize the argument that the (property) tax is an antiquated and unfair levy and should be abolished. We invited Dartmouth College economist William A. Fischel… to summarize his argument that, compared to statewide taxes, the local levy provides voters – even in households without school children – with stronger incentives to support high quality public schools.

A paper that outlines the rationale behind Student-Based Allocations for Pennsylvania School Districts, and investigates the extent to which the (Basic Education Funding Commission) proposal would allocate funds on the basis of students.

An evaluation of Pennsylvania’s Keystone exams that finds that race, socioeconomic status, and a schools English Language Learner and special education populations drive performance.

Subscribe at: https://tupjournals.temple.edu/index.php/commonwealth/index

December 17, 2014

This week in North Philly Notes, Yolanda Prieto, author of The Cubans of Union City discusses President Obama’s landmark Cuban policy change, while reflecting on her own experiences as a Cuban American.

As a Cuban American who favors the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, I choked up with emotion when watching President Obama’s historic television address on December 17, 2014 announcing that he was changing the policy of isolation towards Cuba. After all, Obama explained, more than 50 years of acrimony between the two countries had not accomplished anything. Instead, engagement could lead to a more fruitful relationship, and it could possibly bring economic improvements and more freedoms to the Cuban people. Americans could also travel to Cuba under a broader range of categories, which could generate more contact and understanding between the two countries. These changes would happen even though the economic embargo, imposed by the United States on Cuba in 1962, would remain in place. To lift the embargo, Congress would have to repeal the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which strengthened and extended the existing embargo on the island. Regarding the embargo, Obama urged lawmakers in his speech to lift it because the law was anachronistic and it no longer served any real purpose.

At exactly the same time, President Raul Castro made the same announcement on Cuban television. In both countries, the news was received with great surprise. The road ahead would be difficult, but these steps marked a historic beginning.

Cubans of Union CityIn Cuba, people were elated. Praise for President Barack Obama abounded, and American flags were displayed on balconies and bike taxis. In Miami, where most Cubans outside of Cuba reside, the reaction was mixed. Many Cubans approved of President Obama’s plans, but many others disapproved. Relations with Cuba, they think, would only serve to enrich the coffers of the Cuban government in Havana.  But the majority of Miami Cubans favor normalization of relations. A survey conducted by Bendixen and Armandi International in March, 2015 revealed that 51 percent of Cuban Americans support the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, while 49 percent do not. Approval for the politics of normalization is growing among Cubans who do not live in Miami; 69 percent of Cuban Americans who live outside of Miami support normalization.

Although approval is high among younger generations of Cuban Americans, it is declining among the older population. Disapproval is also vociferous among Cuban American Congress members. In Cuba, some dissidents oppose normalization while others welcome it. It is also possible that some in the Cuban government do not agree, especially those hard-liners that see any contact with the United States as detrimental to Cuba.

What led to this change in the American position toward Cuba? According to William Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh’s book Back Channel to Cuba, there has been ongoing, secret, often surprising, dialogue between Washington and Havana. Along with the invasions, covert operations, and assassination plots, there have been efforts at rapprochement and reconciliation. However, most of these efforts had fallen through the cracks. Discussions between the two governments have been largely limited to specific problems, mainly in times of crisis, such as migration talks and more recently, talks about drug trafficking.

Recently, there were rumors that President Obama might tackle the U.S.-Cuba relations issue during his second term. Many believed that the incarceration of Alan Gross, the American contractor employed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was the main obstacle to a change in policy. He was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and then prosecuted in 2011 for bringing sophisticated telecommunications equipment into the island against Cuban law.  At the same time, there were three Cubans jailed in the United States. They were part of the Cuban Five, a group of Cuban nationals convicted in Miami in 2001 for conspiring to commit espionage and for conspiring to commit murder. Two had already been released.

The December 17. 2014 announcements were preceded by 18 months of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials.  They met in Canada and in the Vatican. Canadians helped, as did Pope Francis, who wrote letters to Obama and Castro urging them to work for an end to the impasse. Finally, on December 17, Cuba and the United States announced that they had agreed to exchange prisoners: Cuba would free Alan Gross and a high-level Cuban working for the Americans serving time in Cuba for espionage. The United States would in turn free the three jailed Cubans. Additionally, Cuba would free 53 Cuban political prisoners.

Since December 17, 2014 there have been talks between U.S. and Cuban officials to work out the details of normalization of diplomatic relations. There have been two meetings in Havana and two in Washington, with an additional one scheduled for May 21 in Washington. One topic of concern has been the reopening of the embassies. Simultaneously, a flurry of activity has taken place. Trips and delegations of politicians, businessmen, artists, have arrived in Cuba looking for their space in this new climate. Representative Nancy Pelosi went down with a delegation early this year. Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, visited the island in April accompanied by business leaders, including some executives from pharmaceutical companies. A number of officials, from government to private industry are urging that the embargo be lifted to completely normalize relations. Other major changes have taken place or are in the works. For example, President Obama recommended that Cuba be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. There have been advances in the area of telecommunications, banking, trade, U.S. exports to the private sector in Cuba, and travel, both by air and sea.

Among recent visitors was French President Francois Hollande who met with Raul and Fidel Castro.  He also urged the United States Congress to lift the embargo.  More recently, Raul Castro met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The reason for his visit was to thank the Pope for his efforts to promote rapprochement between Cuba and the United States and to prepare the way for the upcoming visit of the Pontiff to the island in September, 2015.

Who benefits from normalization? First and foremost, the Cuban people. One expectation is the increasing economic development of Cuba through investment and trade. Hopefully, ordinary Cubans will gain through an improvement of the economic situation, both in terms of greater possibilities for consumption and possibly the creation of jobs, especially for the poor, who lack material resources due to meager salaries and lack of money through remittances from relatives abroad. The very poor and non-whites are often the ones who do not have family in the United States. There is also a very positive effect on Latin American regional relations. Obama probably had that in mind all along, as the Summit of the Americas in Panama revealed. Most Latin American countries wanted the return of Cuba to the Latin American family. The United States had opposed that. The meetings in Panama showed how the change in the U.S. position positively altered the climate among all nations.

Finally, these changes could be very beneficial for the Catholic Church, other religious groups, and other members of Cuba’s civil society. The Catholic Church already participated in talks with the government in 2010 to release political prisoners. Before and after those talks, the Catholic Church and the government have maintained a constructive dialogue. In the words of Havana’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega, “for the church, the improvement of bilateral relations will be very beneficial… It will be easier to obtain help that we receive from other world churches to do our charity work in Cuba. The dialogue between church and state will not be broken, it will continue.”

Normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States will not be an easy journey. For one thing, the U.S. embargo of Cuba presents legal obstacles to many of the changes that the two governments want to implement. But the process has already started, and it seems that there is no way back.

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