By Julia Roos
It’s no secret that fashion holds a high position as one of the most polluting industries in the world; but how often does that stop us from shopping for clothes every season? This dilemma is especially pertinent while shopping at affordable brands like Zara and H&M, which seem to always carry clothes in style for a low price. The environmentally conscious consumer will search for “green” products, which often lead them back to fast fashion brands. Almost every fast fashion retailer promotes a line that appears dedicated to the sustainable process of making clothes, yet none of these supposed “efforts” could offset the damage that they continue to cause. Fast fashion bears the responsibility of toxic behavior on both the production and consumer side: the environmental damage, the unethical labor practices, and the perpetuation of overconsumption.
The environment faces problems like extensive water consumption and waste accumulation due to the fast fashion industry. An abundant amount of freshwater goes into the process of dyeing and finishing clothing, as well as growing the most popular fabric, cotton. Although cotton is a natural fiber that can biodegrade, it still prevails as one of the most environmentally demanding crops. Cotton is the most widely used textile, accounting for 75 percent of the world’s clothing products, but the even more staggering statistic relates to its environmental harm. In fact, it takes 20,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. Water scarcity extends past fashion, as it will lead to detrimental world effects. The United Nations estimates that 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. In addition to draining resources, growing cotton requires a heavy use of pesticides that contain harmful chemicals. World WildLife proposes that the pesticides risk damage to water quality and biodiversity in and downstream from the fields. Current cotton production methods are not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, fashion physically pollutes the Earth as 85% of all textiles end up in a landfill. Even worse, synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are made of plastic and therefore non-biodegradable. Polyester is the driving fabric of fast fashion development since the cost of production is exceptionally inexpensive, and it is projected that the global population will consume 102 million tons of clothing by 2030, with 70 percent containing polyester.
In order to keep the cost of clothing inexpensive, brands will outsource their labor, or produce clothing in countries where the federal minimum wage is low. The fast fashion industry remains notorious for exploiting underpaid and mistreated workers at the bottom of the supply chain. Workers in these supplier factories do not make a high enough wage to support themselves. If the price of a piece of clothing retails at $19.99, the person who made it was paid 19 cents. The labor policy hub, Global Labor Justice, conducted a report on the exploitation of Asian female garment workers in Gap and H&M supplier factories and documented acts of harassment, dangerous working conditions, and forced overtime. These brands don’t technically hold any legal obligation to keep these workers safe because they are not directly affiliated with the supplier firms. For reference, brands that have more transparency about their production process are more likely to be producing clothing ethically.
Fast fashion brands also maintain the pattern of overconsumption by appealing to the consumer through style and affordability. For example, Zara puts out at least 20 collections a year, which produces millions of garments that align to the most recent fashion trends. In comparison, most designer brands only show around five collections throughout the year. Fast fashion brands have made it so that every few weeks, new clothes are being sold while others become old and discounted. Furthermore, these clothes were not made to last. Since fast fashion uses cheap materials and labor, they can sell their clothes with a low price tag, which allows consumers to spend more money on garments they don’t need, and only end up wearing a few times.
In short, you buy what you pay for: cheap labor and cheap materials that won’t last long and eventually will be thrown away. To avoid the negative publicity that comes with damaging the environment, permitting poor labor conditions, and encouraging overconsumption, fast fashion retailers invest in simpler and less expensive ways to revive their images through greenwashing. Among the numerous collections fast fashion brands produce, they often present an “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” line. They inflate their marketing with vague phrases that don’t have a legal definition to carry out. H&M’s “Conscious Collection” and Zara’s “Join Life” are perfect examples of PR campaigns for brands to be seen more favorably by consumers. The information presented on H&M’s website does not do a subsequent job of explaining the range of their products. The only justification they give for their “Conscious Collection” is that they at least 50% recycled, organic or, TENCEL material, with the exception of only 20% of recycled cotton in a garment. These statistics do not relay significant information, like the method in which the materials are recycled or produced, or why they are a better alternative. Accompanied with the description, the campaign photos appeal to the environment by using grass, plants, and other symbols of nature. Similarly, Zara’s “Join Life” campaign claims to commit to sustainable fashion, but “sustainability” does not have a standardized definition to uphold, so brands continue to abuse sustainable advertising. Greenwashing is simply a short-term marketing ploy to reap the benefits of “going green”: more consumer interest and higher stock prices, without actually acting on it. These brands spend more time and money trying to convince the public that they are environmentally friendly instead of taking steps to actually reduce their impact on the environment and society.
Sustainable fast fashion is an oxymoronic phrase; the industry cannot truly be “green” when the foundation of its business plan is based on mass production for low prices. Greenwashing practices mislead the customer that values sustainability and that wants to shop ethically. As customers, we carry a large role in the political system of consumerism. While the consumer should not be to blame for the consequences of the actions of large corporations, we have the power to stand up against them by not supporting fast fashion brands and their unethical practices.
By: Sarah Ouyang
The simplified neoclassical economic theory, originating from John Hicks’ “post-war synthesis” of Keynesianism and classical economics, demands that the government invest in the economy for short term growth. It also assures that in the long term, markets will reach a steady equilibrium of growth by themselves through “boom and bust” cycles, as the classical theory suggests. The key point of this theory — or rather, this synthesis of two theories — is that economies are meant to grow, whether by itself or with government intervention.
Following the recession of 2008, however, dismayed economists watched as the US economy failed to meet their expectations, disappointing “even the most pessimistic early predictions.” A 2016 estimate records a 2.2% annual growth (1.3% lower than the Federal Reserve’s lowest prediction) and a 2% long term growth (0.5% lower).  This situation has now been categorized as “secular stagnation,” a term coined by Alvin Hansen and familiarized by Lawrence Summers.  The concept describes a sustained and seemingly indelible deceleration of the economy, and it has provoked a new, heatedly debated question: is this lack of growth really that concerning — or should it be embraced?
The “degrowth” movement, as it has now been dubbed, supports its argument with three main reasons: the environmental unsustainability of eternal growth, the increase of other significant problems in an industrialized economy, and the suitability of GDP growth as a measurement of prosperity.
Environmental activists like Greta Thunberg have condemned corporations and the government for blindly pursuing economic growth, which culminates in resource-intensive activity. Criticizing the ecological impacts of sustained growth, this stance cites climate change as evidence of the planet’s limitations. While advocates of continued growth have argued that it is possible to decouple economic growth and resource consumption, a process known as “green growth,” this has not happened in the least so far, save for relative decoupling, or a “decrease in resource use per unit of GDP.” Paired with the limitations of recycling, the facts show that eternal economic growth is unsustainable and green growth is only “wishful thinking.” 
Although the EU has made promises to decrease carbon emissions, it is unclear how this can be achieved without tampering with economic growth. Current energy consumption demands fossil fuels, which add greenhouse gases to the air and thus contribute to global warming. Therefore, the only way to reach this goal would be to reduce energy consumption, a process that will likely impede growth.
Further, expanding concerns such as income inequality can be partially traced back to economic growth. Technological advancements have induced an increase in supply and demand of high-skilled labor jobs such as “business managers, consultants, and design professionals.” These occupations tend to include a higher salary, widening the gap between real incomes of different classes. 
Economists have even traced problems like higher mortality rates and extreme political polarization to the unquenchable thirst for economic growth. The latter may occur because, as Nobel Prize winners Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo iterated, social tensions arise when the “benefits of growth are mainly captured by an élite.” If growth must be pursued, then, the government must also address problems with income inequality and wealth distribution, as well as provide relief with “health care, education, and social advancement.” 
A final issue that the degrowth movement has with the stance of growth advocates is whether or not GDP is an appropriate measure of a country’s prosperity. One of the primary hurdles of GDP is that it represents solely aggregate data and ignores the “nuances” of inequality that can be disguised by an increase in absolute wealth, especially when the increase is enjoyed mostly by an élite class while the poorer divisions of the nation remain desolate. 
Countries with high GDP’s may show astonishing income inequality. This is often measured by the Gini coefficient, a “statistical measure of distribution intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation.” The Gini coefficient may range from 0%, which represents perfect equality, to 100%, which represents perfect inequality. Using this measurement, the problems with GDP as a measure of prosperity become evident. Take the U.S.: the United States currently has, according to the World Bank, a GDP of about 20.54 trillion USD.  Meanwhile, Norway has a GDP of about 434.17 billion USD, approximately one-fiftieth of that of the U.S.  However, when examining the Gini coefficient of each country, Norway measures at about 25.8% while the U.S. has one of the highest among developed nations: a whopping 40.8%. 
Another weakness of GDP is its pure focus on numbers. Physical output alone portrays a rise of GDP, so the current measure of growth neglects the quality of services such as health care and education. Recent dips in GDP should not be cause for concern, as a closer look actually reveals a shift of consumer spending “from tangible goods… to services, such as child care, health care, and spa treatments.”  Progress and development in innovation also contributes nothing to GDP. Such oversight refutes GDP as a reliable measure of prosperity, thus encouraging the need for a new and more applicable measurement. Either embrace the benefits of secular stagnation — or redefine economic growth altogether.
To combat the potential concerns of stagnation, economists recommend “policies such as work-sharing and universal basic income.”  Job sharing allows multiple people to complete, in part-time shifts, a task that would usually be accomplished by one person working full-time. A universal basic income sets a mandatory minimum wage for people everywhere to be guaranteed by the government. Such policies could provide financial security for the people and may assist the fight against inequality. In fact, there have already been examples that this tactic works. For instance, Finland offered 2,000 unemployed citizens 560€ per month in 2017, resulting in “reduced stress” for the participants and “more incentive to find a good job.” 
While the degrowth movement challenges established economic theories and common sense itself, the evidence points, in reality, to its exigent benefits. Scholars continue to debate whether this is truly the best path and fiddle with the possibility of policy changes, but at the moment degrowth supporters argue that economic growth, at this rate, is simply not sustainable.
By Erin Flaherty
Climate change undoubtedly poses a threat to the entire global community, but its impacts are hitting closer to home than most may think. When you consider that New Jersey’s coastline is 130 miles long and is home to 9 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, it's no surprise that climate change disproportionately impacts New Jersey in comparison to many other states. A Rutgers University report states that the “sea level in New Jersey was rising more than two times faster than the global average; Since 1911, the sea level rose 1.5 feet, compared with the global mean of 0.6 feet.” The impact that rising sea levels will have on coastal residents and businesses will be detrimental; in fact, the Rutgers study further concludes that, by 2050, Atlantic City will most likely experience high-tide flooding 120 days a year. On top of that, New Jersey’s yearly temperature average has been increasing at a rate that’s double the average for the continental United States.
These environmental issues have already led to several detrimental economic impacts, including a loss in revenue from tourism and agriculture. With a staple of the state economy under strain, local politics have become increasingly focused on the unmitigated impacts of global warming, and how these issues can be confronted efficiently and with the urgency needed to lessen these impacts. Current New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran his campaign with a strong focus on environmental reform. He sees environmental progressivism as entirely necessary considering the impact that climate issues are having on the entire state, which explains why he signed Executive Order No. 100 in January, also known as Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT). This executive action has been labeled the most aggressive and comprehensive climate change regulation plan in the United States.
Governor Murphy’s PACT sets a sizable goal for New Jersey’s energy usage: 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050. He claims that this type of goal will stir up the urgency needed to combat the threat of climate change, stating that “New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution.” Despite its lofty ambitions, there has been heated controversy over the efficacy of PACT. In the past, Murphy’s environmental plans have received criticism for being superficial and not inciting enough action. Fred Fastaggi, a consultant with Shoreline Energy Advisors, an energy efficiency consulting firm explains this in his opinion on New Jersey’s past energy goals: "Visions and strategic plans are two different things. Energy master plans have been visioning statements without the nuts and bolts of a true strategic plan to successfully attain that vision." This time around, Murphy came prepared with a detailed Energy Master Plan that has seven main clauses, from reducing energy consumption in the transportation sector to the building sector. These clauses outline and address different areas where the state can reduce emissions and include regulations that will be put in place to ensure that these plans are put into action.
The most controversial clause is Murphy’s plan to strictly regulate new infrastructure construction. New Jersey is the first state to require builders to consider the impacts of climate change in their planning and usage in order to be granted government approval. In the past, Murphy has stayed silent and allowed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to run without much regulation. Jon Bramnick, the republican minority leader in the New Jersey General Assembly, believes that this type of developmental regulation will hamper business growth. Another perspective that clashes with Murphy’s plans for clean energy is the idea that the transition away from natural gas is being rushed and isn’t ideal for the economy. New Jersey could keep natural gas sources in its energy portfolio for important and urgent development projects while targeting environmental reform in other areas.
Despite expressed disapproval from republican assembly members, Murphy’s PACT has received support from some prominent republicans, such as Michael Egenton, the executive vice president of governmental relations for the state Chamber of Commerce. He has supported the regulation as long as the business community is considered in the process. This is why Murphy has invited both business and environmental leaders to the table to participate in the rule making process. His efforts to include varied voices in the conversation show that his intent is not to slow down business growth, but to create an economy that considers the impacts of its practices and works in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, Murphy’s goal signifies an important shift in focus from rapid state development to sustainable practices. The governor hopes to set a powerful precedent and example from the rest of the country. “We are going to make New Jersey the place that proves we can grow our economy, create jobs, and fight climate change all at the same time,” he stated in response to backlash from the Trump administration in regards to his lofty goals. If the governor's goals are met with tangible action and fierce enforcement of his clauses, the Garden State’s PACT agenda will set a nationwide standard for future climate progress.
By Logan Aviles
All applicants are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This paradoxical phrase rang true just a few months ago, following the biggest college admissions cheating scandal in the nation’s history. 51 defendants have been named in a conspiracy to game the college admissions system, doing everything from bribing coaches from colleges as elite as Yale to cheating on standardized exams. Parents have paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to Rick Singer, the college admissions officer who created the scheme, to falsify athletic credentials and inflate standardized test scores. Those who have pled guilty have gotten off with little punishment. The lightest sentence of those who’ve confessed is barely more than probation. Other light sentences include the impressive 14-day debt to society incurred by Emmy-winning actress Felicity Huffman. The heaviest sentence given so far is a mere five months, and in all cases, sentences have been reduced from what the prosecutors originally requested.
Considering that we’ve reached the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation surrounding the scandal, it is an opportune moment to analyze the scandal’s implications for the broader educational system.
There’s no doubt that education is key. And access to that education ought to be afforded on a meritocratic basis. With parents receiving light sentences and prosecutors compromising on punishment, it has become clear that the justice system does not fully appreciate the importance of higher education. Singer’s scheme and others like it undermine the opportunities of all students who put in the work to become an appealing applicant. When prosecutors let cheaters off with a slap on the wrist, elites are less likely to think twice about inflating their kid’s academic prospects, further widening the educational gap between the rich and the poor. Applications cannot fulfill their intended purpose if it comes into the best interest of all applicants to find new and inventive ways of misleading college admissions officers and exploiting vulnerabilities in the admissions process.
But besides Rick Singer and the parents who participated in this scheme, there is another party accountable: the schools themselves. The most alarming part of this story is not that elites are willing to game the admissions process—it’s that exploitable weaknesses in the admissions process ever existed in the first place. The college admissions scandal cannot be soon forgotten; it is a terrible mark on the integrity of higher education. Hopefully the arrests will lead to a new age of increased scrutiny and accountability that will improve the meritocracy of the educational system.
By Logan Aviles
Big Brother is watching you.
Governments across the globe are currently expanding their facial recognition technologies. With decreasing accountability and transparency, facial recognition could pose numerous threats.
There’s no question that facial recognition has taken the private and public sector by storm. It’s beginning to be used everywhere — from airports, to shopping malls, border patrol, and especially law enforcement. Moreover, a recent research report projected that the facial recognition industry will grow from $3.2 billion in 2019 to $7.0 billion by 2024 in just the U.S. alone. These technologies function by creating a “facial signature,” measuring the dimensions of a human face and placing its unique dimensions into a data set. These data sets are often used by law enforcement agencies to identify and locate criminals.
But the technology has still drawn some well-placed skepticism. One could cite the lack of federal regulation as a source of concern. Even assuming that the technology is accurate and effective, there still isn’t enough transparency (or, in some cases, accountability) for how that data will be used, interpreted, and applied in law enforcement efforts. There’s no clear authority in place that could put private companies and law enforcement agencies on the right track.
Further, the usage of facial recognition within China has proven just how severe an impact the technology can have on privacy and democracy. With over 500,000 faces scanned per month, China uses its facial recognition technology to profile and keep tabs on Uyghur Muslims under the pretext of security. These systems identify minorities so that they may be better tracked and surveilled by Chinese surveillance systems. Facial recognition has contributed significantly to the Chinese surveillance state.
Facial recognition programs may also exacerbate the already existing racial biases of police officers. Even top performing facial recognition softwares still struggle to differentiate between African Americans — misidentifying them at rates five to ten times greater than they do whites, leading to a greater number of false positives, further solidifying police officer’s racist associations between criminality and minority status. These biases are irreversible; facial recognition algorithms fed with data coming from human beings with innate and unconscious racial biases will inevitably reflect that racial bias.
Biased algorithms are even more dangerous than biased people. People are accountable for their own actions — but when an algorithm inadvertently encourages racialized policing, biased behavior can then slip by undetected, settling underneath the veneer of scientific authority and the dazzle of exciting new technology.
Facial recognition has exploded into the modern technological mainstream, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The best one could ask of a nation and its citizens is that they stay vigilant. Facial recognition technology has shown that it is capable of doing bad things on a terrible scale; it is the obligation of all governments to do what they can within their power to keep pace with the development of this new technology. If the good voices of the world cannot keep pace with this new technology and all of its destructive capabilities, then the risks of facial recognition will continue to imperil society.
By Benny Sun
“Truth is like poetry and most people… hate poetry” - The Big Short (2016)
The Great Recession of 2008 has become one of the darkest moments in modern history, permanently shaking up millions of American households and international markets. Within a few short months, America experienced a total financial meltdown with the bankruptcy of investment banks such as Lehman Brothers, foreclosures of 10 million homes, and the wiping out of 20 trillion dollars in total American household assets. Unfortunately, at the heart of America’s crisis was criminal negligence and sheer greed from politicians and higher-ups in the banking sector. This is because while major banks were bailed out by the US government, the brunt of the economic burden was placed on the very poor. Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform sought to address the recession’s root cause, new trends in global banking seemingly seek to only replicate the same recklessness prevalent among banking institutions prior to 2008. Here, this article will address the main culprit: shadow banking, now a 52 trillion dollar global industry which represents a 75% increase since 2008
The shadow banking system, often in the form of hedge funds, has the same goal as traditional banks of providing access to loans and liquidity. However, there are numerous differences between both categories. Foremostly, shadow banks, because they don’t provide typical deposits, are subject to little or no regulations, often only required to register and have assets worth around 150 million dollars. Consequently, shadow banks are more easily able to loan towards unqualified borrowers considered too risky to loan to (which under certain conditions can expand economic growth and financial access). However, as in the cases of 2008, mass defaults across these loans could trigger bank bankruptcies as well, as these banks often profit off the promise of future money, rather than their current financial situation.
Moreover, shadow banks also lack access to government safety nets like deposit insurance or central bank funding, making their operations considerably riskier. Instead, these corporations rely on money from short-term investors to fund these operations. Thus, as unregulated institutions, many shadow banks simply skirt away from the rules designed to avoid a financial crisis. For instance, as their investment is reliant on investors, any market downturn could decrease investor confidence which forces shadow banks to either shut down or sell off all of their assets at depressed prices to return their money to investors, causing a downward price spiral in derivatives, bonds, and stock markets. Overall, Economist Paul Krugman demonstrates how shadow banking creates vastly more volatile markets and economies, concluding that it “makes the good times better, but the bad times far, far worse”.
An implication of shadow banking in the United States has been its major role in procuring a private debt and loan conundrum, a ticking time bomb for America’s economy. Economic columnist Steven Pearlson specifies that the increased accessibility of loans in the market is only fueling increasingly severe credit bubbles such as auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt. The reason why risky lending is so harmful is that while providing this capital can prove vital to low-credit households and companies if they are unable to pay it back and are forced to issue a default, the shadow bank loses precious money for operations and investors. Multiply this by the thousands and an economic catastrophe becomes tangible, such as the case of increasing mortgage defaults and the popping of the Housing Bubble that preceded the 2008 recession. Even after recent legislative attempts to regulate the Shadow Banking industry, much of the industry is still considered to be as risky as before and still as dangerous.
Alarmingly, these effects of shadow banking have already manifested in debt markets. A recent economic report shows that the private debt market as a result of shadow banking has tripled, accounting for a 1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. This only breeds instability for businesses and individuals, as any economic shock, such as mass layoffs, lower spending, or dips in the stock market, can push corporations into insolvency or families into bankruptcy which makes them unable to pay off their debts or loans. For this reason, household debt is seen as a good indicator of the future economy, with the last five economic recessions being preceded by high levels of household debt. Even now with the Coronavirus pandemic, stock markets are cascading to all-time low never seen before since 2008, members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council have identified shadow banks as a major risk amid economic anxieties. Thus, the Coronavirus will simply compound the difficulty of keeping shadow banks afloat as they face a new financial crisis.
Overall, Bond Ratings Agency DBRS is calling on federal legislators to increase regulations on the shadow banking industry, as existing loopholes and lack of oversight could generate incidents of rapidly recurring recessions. They conclude their letter with a very clear and price message: with the Coronavirus pandemic around the corner, the banking industry is “not ready to handle an economic crisis” and Americans should be “very worried”.
By Julia Roos
What defines art? We know by now that art is not confined to brush strokes on a canvas, since art is even found in the clothes we wear. Fashion brands dedicate their businesses to create wearable art; to encompass expression, emotion, and inspiration. Many designers look to other countries and cultures for inspiration. Enter: cultural appropriation. Often referred to as misappropriation, cultural appropriation occurs when fashion brands are accused of trivializing and misinterpreting non-European artifacts in a way that disrespects and exploits a minority culture for the prospect of financial gain. But is all cultural appropriation done with malicious intent? The fashion industry embodies the opposing arguments: is cultural appropriation beneficial or harmful to society? Cultural appropriation can take many forms, and it is up to the public's interpretation of the designs to determine if they are acceptable or not.
A clear criterion for cultural appropriation is using sacred artifacts of a culture as an accessory. Gucci showed a traditional Sikh turban during their 2018 Autumn/Winter show. The use of the headdress on the runway reduced a sacred element of the Sikh religion to a “trend” for a season. The item, sold as the “Indy Full Head Wrap,” represents one of the five articles of faith and symbolizes spirituality. This action establishes a problem that transcends the act of just exploiting indigenous designs. When designers’ are inspired by another culture, it is often a historically marginalized one. The people of the Sikh religion habitually deal with persecution and discrimination for wearing a turban that Gucci could retail for hundreds of dollars. When it comes to introducing cultural elements on the runway, especially those regarding religion, it is the brand’s responsibility to understand the symbolism and the religious practices associated with it before advertising it as an accessory.
The real issue, however, lies in the realm of social media outrage and sensitivity. Self-appointed “woke” users on social media litigate numerous, and often harmless, acts of cultural appropriation against popular fashion companies. The first issue of Vogue Arabia launched In March of 2017, with American model Gigi Hadid on the cover. Embellished in a heavily jeweled veil, Hadid faced criticism for appropriating Middle Eastern culture, even though she is half-Palestinian and her father is Muslim. Critics argued that she should not be wearing a hijab because she is not Arab enough to represent the region on the cover. A person’s ability to wear pieces that are inspired by their own heritage should not be shamed by social media users. Cultural appropriation allegations have become so frequent and popular because “the term [has] trickled into mainstream fashion discourse, becoming a buzz-word.” Discussion about offenses like cultural appropriation are important to have and are good measures to take for change. However, most online users have misguided judgements.
Cultural appropriation claims limit innovation and self-expression and therefore hinders cross-cultural appreciation. It is an important aspect of fashion, as “cultural exchange and the intermingling of forms, ideas and styles [...] are at the heart of the creative enterprise.” The power of cultural inspiration can be seen at fashion’s biggest night: the MET Gala. Every year the attendees dress according to the varying themes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The Gala provides an opportunity for designers to celebrate various cultures through their garments with themes like Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. The most renowned garment that has ever walked the MET Gala’s red carpet was Rihanna’s dress during the 2015 theme China, Through the Looking Glass. This theme provided an opportunity for designers, celebrities, and viewers to reflect on China’s influence on Western fashion and culture. Rihanna wore a regal, yellow, fur-lined cape embroidered with floral scrolls created by Chinese designer Guo Pei. The dress is celebrated for its tactful appreciation of Chinese culture that allows for education through wearable art.
For the Dior 2020 Cruise Collection, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri gracefully connected African and European culture that celebrated collaboration and globalization. The fashion show was located in Marrakech, a city in Morocco, and the theme of cultural exchange was prevalent as the Moroccon inspiration of color and craftsmanship was deeply rooted in the collection. Chiuri appointed local artists, artisans, and designers to help fuel her design aesthetic. This is an example of a designer doing the right thing regarding the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Designers should be consulting artists of the targeted culture to educate themselves while creating a collection to appreciate and not appropriate that culture.
Regardless of the context, cultural appropriation will always be seen as a negative action. However, the notion that artists should not use elements of other cultures would be counterproductive for society. To try to untangle all ties of culture is impossible, “and the impulse to do so is ahistorical and philistine.” Truly innovative ideas arise only when the inspirations of culture are mixed. Society needs to reframe the construct of appropriation in fashion as a discussion of ideas and inspiration, not an act of malice. At times this “inspiration” is carelessly and excessively offensive; other times the utilization of another culture is artistically purposeful. At times the controversy sparked from these productions is pettily misinformed; other times the discussion is enlightening. Fashion is a language, and we should use it to spread knowledge, inspiration, and positivity.
By Jedson Boyle
Over a century ago, the railroad was virtually the only way that Americans would travel from city to city. In fact, in 1916, 98 percent of intercity travel was done by train. However, around that same time, Henry Ford began production of the first automobile that the average American could buy. Fast forward to 1970, the year of Amtrak's creation, and the railroad industry was broadly displaced by a system of highways and widespread ownership of cars, meaning most Americans seldom traveled by rail.
In order to rescue passenger rail services from near collapse, Congress passed the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act, unifying twenty of the railroad companies in the United States into the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, typically known as Amtrak. Amtrak was still a for-profit organization, but it was to be owned and controlled by the U.S. government. Despite its nationwide presence, Amtrak has not drawn a profit in any year since its creation, and this year the (relatively) new CEO Richard Anderson, is trying to put a stop to that streak. Although the initial goal of Amtrak was to connect all of America by railroad, Anderson posits that it might be better if the federal government cut down on certain routes. After all, Amtrak services a variety of routes that differ in distance, demand, and profitability.
The first category of Amtrak routes are those that run short paths along the East Coast, the most famous being the Acela Express (the line that runs from Boston, to New York, to D.C.). There are 26 of these routes and they carry 25.8 million passengers per year, comprising approximately 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership. These are the lines that Amtrak generates a profit from, most likely because they are less time-exhaustive alternatives to flying between East Coast travel hubs. For instance, a train ride from New Jersey to D.C. may require less time than a flight from Newark to Dulles.
The other type of passenger rail service that Amtrak offers is long-distance routes, which are the routes that connect one part of the country to the other instead of just major cities in the same geographical regions. An example of this would be the Southwest Chief line connecting Chicago to Los Angeles or the Silver Star which connects New York to Miami. It is these routes that cost Amtrak money and prevent them from reaching a point of profitability. Even though most riders on long distance routes do not travel the whole route, these trains often go through less populated areas with lower ridership. In fact, ridership was down 4 percent on long-distance routes in 2018 alone.
Another major problem with these long-distance routes is that the trains on those routes tend to be late, only making it to the destination on schedule around 43 percent of the time. Most of the 21,400 miles of track utilized by Amtrak are owned by freight companies. Only 3 percent of the track is owned by Amtrak itself. Although federal law states that Amtrak trains have priority over freight, freight railroads often disobey this regulation. Freight companies are incentivized to flout this federal policy because the DOJ has only brought one enforcement action against a freight company throughout Amtrak’s history. Resultantly, the long-distance routes’ reputation for lateness has driven away potential riders, because delays don’t make an already long and grueling trip any more enticing.
It is not surprising that it is the long-distance routes that Anderson wants to cut, or even completely eliminate. Anderson has made it clear that he regards these routes as only appealing to “hobbyists” and “experience seekers,” groups that do not make up a large share of the population. Anderson reasons that, the distances between major cities outside the Northeast Corridor are so vast, no one will ride from endpoint to endpoint. Therefore, he believes, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in routes that don’t draw a profit.
However, not everyone shares this vision. “Not one element of Anderson’s stated rationale stands up to even superficial scrutiny. The easiest place to start is the nonsense about customers of the company’s business segment being mere ‘experience seekers.’” writes President Andrew Selden of the United Rail Passenger Alliance. “Catering to ‘experience seekers’ is a huge, profitable and rapidly growing business. Except apparently at Amtrak.” On the other hand, proponents of Anderson’s vision would argue that, while the tourism industry is large and rather profitable, most families don’t have the time (or the patience) to spend two days on the Empire Builder (a long-distance line that runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland) to say, Spokane, Washington, as beautiful as the scenery may be.
Now the answer to Amtrak’s profitability problems seems simple, and that is to just cut the long-distance routes. But remember, Amtrak is publicly funded, and to keep funding from Congress, Amtrak has an obligation to consider the demands of congresspeople. Thus, cutting routes from, say, Kansas, might lose the support of Kansas’s Senator Jerry Moran (who happens to be fighting Amtrak over the Southwest Chief). And why should Senator Moran vote to fund Amtrak if Amtrak isn’t doing anything for his state or his voters?
Another wild card is former Vice President Joe Biden, often nicknamed “Amtrak Joe” who may be elected president this year. As a Senator for 36 years, Biden rode the Amtrak to and from Wilmington, Delaware each day on his way to work, and if he is elected president, Amtrak likely can count on receiving plenty of funding but may be subject to new political stipulations.
Just like any corporation or for-profit organization, Amtrak leadership must walk a very fine line. Allow Amtrak to turn a profit for the first time in history, but not anger too many members of Congress. Given the inherent contradiction in these two goals, this task will prove to be quite a challenge. It may no longer be 1916, and the American railroad may never relive its glory days, but if Richard Anderson succeeds, Amtrak could restore America’s status as a railroad capital. Only time will tell if Anderson’s plan truly gets Amtrak back on track.
By Benny Sun
“I begged them to kill me” Here, Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur Muslim, describes her experiences in China’s infamous Muslim re-education facilities, evoking historic sentiments similar to those found during Nazi Germany’s brutal persecution of Jews in the 1930s and its meager international response. “I still have scars on my body from the constant beatings and pain in my wrists and ankles from the chains. I cannot hear on my right ear caused by heavy beatings”. As a sufferer under China’s systematic oppression, Mihrigul Tursun’s experiences are not a rare occurrence, but rather a part of a broader trend towards authoritarianism and human rights abuse now being propped up by the digital and internet age. With innovations in computer science, such as social media and artificial intelligence rapidly increasing, so too is a voracious wave of “techno-dystopia” utilizations that are threatening to sweep Asian countries in a flood of increasingly intrusive and prevalent surveillance.
A prominent manifestation of the surveillance state in Asia is China’s attempt to dismantle the livelihoods of ethnic Muslims across the Chinese region. Since its military occupation by China in the 1950s, the communist party has utilized the autonomous region of Xinjiang as a prison to oppress 10 million Uighur Muslim minorities through constant surveillance, burdensome restrictions, and dehumanizing policies. As a part of China’s “de-extremification policy”, Chinese officials attempt to coerce Uighur Muslims into relinquishing their Muslim beliefs and praising Chinese communist ideology. While China notoriously describes the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang as a part of the “peaceful vocational process” to inhibit “religious extremism” and “separatism”, investigative reports from the Economist, in contrast, paint a horrific narrative of coercive torture and inflicted violence.
Armed with state-of-the-art recognition software from recent technological advances which can distinguish between different facial features and skin tones, Chinese authorities can effortlessly target and track the movements of individual Uighurs. Every piece of biological data imaginable is entered into government records, with China storing fingerprints, blood samples, and voice recordings for each Uighur individual. On the internet, every single word on online chatrooms and social media is monitored by authorities where a single jab against the Chinese Communist Party may mean the difference between freedom and confinement. Overall, by silencing the minority voice through the extreme censorship of political expression, China has erected a technological surveillance state similar to that found in Orwell’s 1984, almost following it faithfully like a guidebook on the repression of rights.
China’s experiment in Xinjiang has also become a standard to be replicated by other authoritarian countries, with China exporting the same surveillance technology to over 60 countries, including Iran, Venezuela, and now India. Amid the rise of anti-Islamic views and Hindu-nationalism spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more Muslims are increasingly under the control of blatantly exclusionary policies and enhanced government surveillance. For instance, over the summer of 2019, Modi passed legislation that erased the statehood for two Muslim-majority regions, Jammu and Kashmir. Modi also kicked off around nearly 2 million Muslims from citizenship in India, causing a divisive domestic and international uproar among Muslims who all protest in large groups across the country to fight off Modi’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this only served as a pretext for India’s further expansion of repression through surveillance and technology.
When delving more deeply into India’s treatment of its Muslim-majority regions, one can see glaring resemblances to China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. In these regions, India has cut off internet access and mobile and postal communication, measures even more extreme than those in China, isolating millions of Indian Muslims from the global world. In Kashmir, Chinese corporation Hikvision has set up thousands of CCTV surveillance systems, and India has also utilized its drones to monitor local mosques and movements of Muslims in India. Unfortunately, under this expanding surveillance state, this technology has already been used to oppress, with law enforcement agencies in India in February using facial recognition software to identify over 1,100 individuals at a recent riot for Muslim rights. Unlike China, however, there is still some hope left for India’s minority population; recently, local groups and even the United Nations Human Rights Council have sued Modi’s administration under India’s Supreme Court for violating an article under the Constitution which promotes equality among all citizens in India. As many of the justices in the Indian Supreme Court have been critical of Modi’s previous actions, many hope that their judgment could roll back months of racist legislation originating from Modi’s religious war on Muslim Indians. Even still, these actions cannot unduly reverse the destructive effects of Modi’s surveillance regime.
However, without regarding the consequences of religious discrimination, China’s and India’s actions betray the possible rise of a broader, dangerous trend across Asia this pattern of mass surveillance continues, a multitude of consequences could result. First and foremost, their actions could embolden dictatorships and democracies to encroach upon the precious privacy of its citizens, enabling politicians to discriminate against entire populations based on race, religion, and gender. On the bright side, although the Western World has adopted surveillance to monitor its people, Time Magazine writer Charlie Campbell explains that “Western democracies have enacted safeguards to protect citizens… while China [seeks]... to exploit it and weaponize it”. China’s actions to utilize its technology could leave behind a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world to follow, where more susceptible democracies such as Bolivia and South Africa could perceive China’s surveillance expansion as a greenlight to strip away their citizen’s own privacy as well. Therefore, many see China’s rise in surveillance sales as a new opportunity for China to export its model of authoritarianism and dictatorship over democratic ideals.
Moreover, the rise of techno-digital dystopia could be further impacted by other crises, primarily China’s own coronavirus outbreak. With a rising number of coronavirus cases quickly becoming a global pandemic, New York University’s Rina Chandran predicts that Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand could be using the COVID-19 epidemic to clamp down on free speech via the use of Big Data to and AI to track and locate protestors of their governance. Unfortunately, by suppressing potential criticisms in these governments, it is also slowing down the spread of awareness for the Coronavirus. For instance, China, expanding its surveillance technology from Xinjiang into the mainland, imposed strict information controls while also arresting and punishing people who criticized Chinese authorities for mishandling the outbreak. “There’s a danger that when you increase surveillance and information controls, it can undermine the public health system,” said Chandran, who cites the instance of a Chinese doctor who initially warned the international community about the virus and was subsequently arrested.
With more governments in Asia seeking surveillance as a method to control crises and gain greater control, many must first understand the political implications of such a decision: it’s potential to drive dictatorship and fall under corruption. Thus, Chandran concludes: “Surveillance itself can never be a solution”.
By Ellee Tomaru
Two is company and three’s a party… but what is more than three? Competition. Netflix is being bombarded with not three but five rising streaming competitors: Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Prime Video and HBO Max, and Hulu plus. What once was a solo market is being flooded with content, so how will Netflix hold under the growing pressure? Netflix, the original streaming service from 2007, has held all the power in the streaming world until recently. Luckily, Netflix has three main factors on it’s side: Netflix Originals, a wide variety of content, and the decline of cable.
A large source of Netflix’s attraction is its addictive original content. This is a key component because in 2018, 57 percent of streaming consumers said that they had subscribed to access original content. Netflix originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror have people hooked. What makes these originals so original, to say the least, is that they are catered to a specific audience, rather than attempting to satisfy a wide audience. Many plotlines of other TV shows are told through a filter, needing approval from various audiences. The creators of Netflix Originals are able to create content to cater to a specific viewer. Forbes found that “an approximate 13% of ex-Netflix users signed up again to watch the third season of Stranger Things.” People would rather re-subscribe to Netflix than miss a season of the action-packed Stranger Things. According to Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, around 85% of Netflix’s spending will be going towards new original content–around $8 billion. So we should begin to see a myriad of original content coming our way which will inevitably keep Netflix relevant into future decades.
Netflix is also suitable for any age range or types of interest, unlike Disney Plus. While I can count all the types of content Disney Plus has released on my one hand (Disney Originals, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic), “Netflix’s originals slate for 2018 includes 80 films, ranging from “sub-indie” low-budget pictures to ‘100 million blockbusters.’” Netflix is an endless library offering over 13,300 films and tv shows worldwide. That’s another advantage that Netflix has over the competition. Netflix is experienced. Netflix is on a global level. Netflix is on an adaptable degree. Most of these newer streaming services such as Disney Plus are still testing the waters and are limited globally. For instance, Disney Plus currently is only offered in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Netflix is available globally in over 190 countries. Additionally, Netflix is adaptable to all types of streaming devices such as Rokus, Chromecasts, Fire TV Sticks, Game Consoles, phones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops, Blu-ray players, and cable box providers such as Dish, RCN, and Xfinity. This wide variety of content, countries, and capacity gives Netflix the accessibility that most streaming services lack.
And lastly, Netflix should not be concerned about their relevance or revenue in the oncoming years because luckily for them, cable is on the decline. No one has the patience to sit through commercials anymore. Everyone is switching to subscription streaming services. It’s not a question of which, but how many. According to Market Watch, the average monthly cable bill of 2019 was $157, while most popular streaming platforms are under $20 a month. Given that everyone has become obsessed with binging TV shows and watching select movies, cable TV has become a thing of the past. Conclusively, people will be willing to spend the $157 budgeted for cable on multiple streaming services to escape the ads and tailor to their specific interests. This projection has already taken action as Deloitte Insight’s survey from 2019 found that a higher percentage of households subscribe to a streaming service rather than traditional pay TV and 44% of respondents said that “no ads” was the reason they switched over to streaming services. Fortunately for Netflix, with the decline of traditional tv services already beginning, consumers already pay for an average of 3 streaming services and with Netflix being the largest, they should not fret about losing subscribers just yet. With the added benefit of having name recognition, Netflix is an easy choice for consumers when switching over from cable.
Conclusively, Netflix will stand strong with their addictive originals, range of attraction, and the decline of cable. So what if there is growing competition?