Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the Waves of Imperialism

On the Waves of Imperialism: Did Europe, especially Britain and France, purposefully under-develop Africa? That is one of the primary questions which historians have been debating for decades. To contextualize this question, historians generally divide the history of imperialism into two waves. The first wave began with the Portuguese invasion of Morocco (Battle of Ceuta) in 1415 and ended around 1830 when France invaded Algeria. Lasting roughly 400 years, this wave included everything from Columbus, the Conquistadors, and the "Age of Discovery" to Napoleon's armies marching across Europe. The primary economic ideology behind this imperialistic wave was mercantilism, and the sole purpose of such a system was to make the state wealthy. Mercantilism, which put merchants at the center of its scheme to acquire markets, drove the trading of anything from gold and guns to slaves and sugar. But what changed in the mid-nineteenth century to cause historians to identify a "second wave" of imperialism? More countries and new technologies (Quinine, Maxim gun, etc.) got involved, as nationalism and industrialization encouraged new players to join the game. Thus, the second wave included nations like Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Ultimately, it lasted from 1830 to the post-World War II period when many African and Asian countries gained their independence.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

On Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: When Congress passed the Boggs Act of 1952, the United States entered the realm of mandatory sentencing. More specifically, the Boggs Act called for minimum prison terms and maximum punishable fines for people found in possession of marijuana. Thus, mandatory sentencing began as a means to deter the sale and use of a drug. But by the mid-1980s, the criminalization of drugs went into hyper-drive. With the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress enacted a variety of new mandatory sentences for drugs including cocaine, marijuana, and MDMA (ecstasy). Perhaps the biggest change in federal drug policy at the time was the heightened emphasis on the punitive instead of the rehabilitative. The state had effectively tossed aside judicial discretion (in certain circumstances) and cast an "unequal gaze" (as Foucault would say) toward the perpetrator. It was a "modernization of punishment" according to government officials. It was also a grand experiment in transparency, making it known to citizens that if you commit "X," you will receive "X's" punishment. And although mandatory sentences started in response to drugs, they have since spread to cover nearly all felonies, as states like California have adopted a "three-strikes law," which has dramatically increased incarceration rates. As a result, the U.S. has become a prison-industrial complex where cheap criminal labor helps sustain corporate profit margins.