By Benny Sun
After one month of his presidency, Trump did the unthinkable; with security experts, defense lobbyists, and military contractors joined together in shock around the globe, Trump discovered the ultimate form of warfare surely to shake the international stage: Twitter. With his right hand furiously tapping away and his left comfortably by his side, Trump has no-doubt altered the method of conducting foreign policy in America, cutting off foreign aid to Pakistan via Twitter, sending in troops to Afghanistan via Twitter, and even bickering about North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un… via Twitter. Unsurprisingly, this past summer marks another time Trump has famously used his Twitter weapon, as Trump announced in April of 2019 that the US is now able to “put tariffs on 11 billion dollars of EU products!”, furthering that “the EU has taken advantage of the US on trade for many years. It will soon stop!” With October marking the end of Europe’s and America's failure for productive trade negotiations, the World Trade Organization has finally given the greenlight for America to impose tariffs on the European Union, an outcome which could potentially reorient international supply chains around the world and even shift major geopolitical dynamics, in this duel launched solely from a single tweet.
Since his nomination to presidency, Trump’s tariffs have been a major element behind his economic beliefs. With years of bipartisan support for unrestrained free trade, Trump’s tariffs are another example of how his political views run opposite to the Republican Party. Under the auspices of protectionism, Trump touts restrictions on foreign trade either through tariffs or other government regulation as a strategy to shield domestic industries from foreign competition. In fact, Trump’s support for protectionist policies stems from his populist backing, as the majority of Trump’s political base, who work in the agricultural and industrial sectors, also feel that foreign goods have the potential to seize American jobs and hurt local domestic growth with their cheaper prices. As such, Trump began initiating many trade wars with other countries by placing tariffs on the imports of other countries like Mexico, China, and now the member nations of the European Union.
Tariffs on the European Union are no different and are a result of similar consequences of foreign competition. In April of 2019, Trump tweeted his plans to target $25 billion dollars of European exports with tariffs, as part of a dispute over Europe’s subsidies to Airbus, an aerospace and defense company. These trade policies followed personal complaints and lobbying efforts from America’s largest manufacturing exporter, Boeing. Boeing argued that Europe was unfairly giving substantial financial support to the European airplane manufacturer Airbus, giving Airbus the opportunity to sell their planes at a much cheaper price which undercutted Boeing’s sales. Trump’s decision has not gone ignored. The European Union also has declared retaliatory tariffs against American imports, pushing both parties towards the negotiating table.While the European Union and the United States sought to establish peace through trade negotiations which would take place beginning in May, these talks ended abruptly in October due to bitter rivalry and lack of agreement.
In order to impose tariffs on another country, the United States must first file a complaint to the World Trade Organization, who then rules on the validity of the complaint. As such, on October 2nd of 2019, the World Trade Organization cleared Trump’s ability to impose tariffs over the European Union, which included a 25% duty on a range of products like Italian cheeses, French wines, and Spanish olives, and also a 10% tariff on all Airbus products adding up to 7.5 billion dollars worth of imports (18 billion dollars less than initially threatened). Inadvertently, America’s tariffs could negatively harm some American workers. Many analysts including the Specialty Food Administration predict that these tariffs could adversely raise the price of some European food products by 33% and the United States could lose 14,000 specialty food retailers and 20,000 other food retailers nationwide. Conversely, a European Central Bank study conducted by Dr. Venessa Gunnella and Lucia Quaglietti concludes that current trade-war outcomes have had “mild impact across the Atlantic”.
However, while the trade conflict may seem mild, recent deadlines placed by Trump previously could potentially escalate the EU-US dispute and cause severe consequences. In May of 2019, Trump announced that he would delay his decision of implementing tariffs on Europe’s automobile industry as high as 25% to November, citing that Europe’s sway over American cars is a “national security threat” to the American economy. Europe’s auto industry holds crucial portion of Europe’s economy accounting for 10% of Europe’s global exports, employing 14 million Europeans, and generating 7% of Europe’s total GDP. Thus, America’s auto tariffs could also greatly affect the European economy. Despite Trump’s claims, many are detesting his actions. Industry group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers claims that implementing “auto tariffs” in Europe would be a mistake and could entail significant negative consequences. With his deadline coming up soon, many are questioning whether or not Trump will actually move forward with his threat.
There is little consensus over Trump’s ultimate goal in the trade war. Given the popular perception that Europe is an American ally, many analysts believe that Trump no longer has the political capital to implement auto-tariffs if he wants to win the 2020 elections as both Republicans and Democrats have pushed Trump away from auto tariffs. Instead, David Hauner from Bank of America Merrill Lynch indicated Trump may only be threatening a large sector of Europe’s economy so that he may gain leverage over current trade talks in Europe. More specifically, Trump may be holding the looming threat of auto tariffs over their heads in order to coerce Europe into accepting more agricultural imports such as beef which would appease his political base of farmers for the 2020 elections. Other analysts predict that Trump will actually implement these auto tariffs. Citing Trump’s his desire to slash his trade deficit with Europe, Economist Hans Buchard suspects that the President’s method of receiving votes is through his confrontational approach to foreign countries. Thus, implementing auto tariffs on Europe could serve as an example for other countries. In fact, many politicians believe that Trump won his 2016 election by portraying China as a massive foreign threat, a strategy that got him the support of his blue collar base. Painting Europe in this light could fortify the loyalty of Trump’s Rust Belt supporters as he enters his 2020 campaign season.
Overall, Trump’s trade war with Europe could provoke massive consequences on the global economy. In a worst-case scenario, analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch predict that economic growth could fall from 2.2% to 1.2% as the price of American vehicles, both domestic and imported, could be raised anywhere from 2,000 dollars to 7,000 dollars making the cost of travel much more expensive. Contrary to popular belief, this lesser known trade war may even cause harms even worse than the Chinese-US Trade war. While the total trade between Europe and the United States is worth 1.2 trillion dollars, Chinese-American trade is only worth 737 billion dollars; thus continuing Trump’s tit-for-tat approach with Europe spark an economic catastrophe worse than one with China. Unfortunately, with the last recession of 2008 still burned into the minds of many pushing over 64 million people around the world into poverty, many are worried about the economic consequences of the US-EU trade war. However, there are also greater geopolitical consequences at hand. In contrast to many other nations, China could easily be the greatest winner of the EU-US trade war, as a disruption of the American-European alliance could prompt Europe to shift eastward for a stronger relationship. With China and Europe already working on a free-trade agreement, promises to collaborate on China’s Belt Road Initiative, and greater collaboration on environmental issues (all of which are opposed by the United States), pushing Europe toward China could permanently damage Transatlantic relations.
In conclusion, the EU-US trade war is a conflict that must be monitored in 2019, as just a single tweet can evoke century-lasting changes on the world.
Reporting and writing conducted by James Gao under the instruction of Arelis R. Hernández at AAJA JCamp 2019.
ATLANTA, GA. – If Georgia State University’s 2017 construction of a brand-new football stadium was meant to give their brand-new football team a morale boost, it seems as if their $30 million venture may have been fruitless. With a 29-77 all-time record and continued difficulty recruiting, the GSU Panthers are coming to terms with a difficult realization: they aren’t very good. In fact, some students have already given up on their athletes. “People care more about Georgia Tech football than they do about our own team,” one graduate student remarks unapologetically.
Although GSU students feel the anguish of another football season devastatingly barren of wins, many are oblivious to the painful history of the grounds where their present football stadium lies. Georgia State Stadium - previously known as Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, sits squarely between some of Atlanta’s poorest areas by median income – Adair Park, Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, Pittsburgh, and Summerhill. The lifelong residents of these working-class communities are certainly no strangers to stadiums, however, having hosted the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996 and, before then, serving as home to the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for nearly 40 years.
When the Braves announced that they would be leaving the stadium in 2013, Georgia State University offered to purchase it and redevelop the surrounding area for its collegiate football team. As local residents prepared to welcome yet another stadium to their towns, however, they reflected on a troubling past, one where development has been synonymous with gentrification and division. In the 1950s, these districts – then known as the Washington-Rawson region – saw a line bulldozed through their streets in order to clear a path for new Interstate highways, displacing thousands and placing an immovable physical barrier in the center of a low-income black community in decline. In the 1960s, the construction of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium scared away business in droves, resulting in Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Peoplestown becoming three of metro Atlanta’s most destitute neighborhoods.
After the first whispers of redevelopment began to spread once again, locals were determined to ensure that their families and friends did not befall a similar fate. In 2015, a group of neighborhood activists formed the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC), aiming to present to authorities a community benefits agreement (CBA) - essentially, a contract mandating the protection of certain rights for locals. The plan, a collaboration between city council members and representatives of municipal organizations, was ambitious, detailed and comprehensive; a 2016 TFCBC poster lists demands ranging from investments in infrastructure, guarantees against displacement and eviction, upgraded energy and water efficiency, and the construction of a grocery store to improve accessibility to fresh produce. (A majority of the region surrounding Turner Field is considered a food desert by the USDA.)
Despite ensuing protests in city council meetings and across the GSU campus, the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA) signed a deal with Carter and Oakwood (the development firm representing GSU) in early 2017 without adopting the goals of the TFCBC’s community benefits agreement. Community leaders and GSU students reacted with fury; the GSU campus soon became engulfed in heated debate. Senior Brandon Andrews was only a freshman when he, along with many other students, protested the redevelopment of Turner by interrupting city council meetings, picketing the president’s office, and stationing themselves on the grounds of Turner Field to protest the university’s lack of receptiveness to their demands, resulting in the creation of a “Tent City” that had to be forcibly taken down by police. “It was rough,” he concedes grimly. Some students, decrying their university as “Gentrification State,” were arrested or barred from campus when they confronted the university’s president, Mark Becker, over his refusal to discuss the merits of a CBA. Andrews continues, “there were a lot of student government meetings,” so many to the point that “the student government president pretty much said, ‘stop asking me [about the CBA], I’m not going to talk to the President [of the school] about it anymore.’” Becker never acquiesced to the students’ demands, arguing that the school, having a sole responsibility for its own well-being, “cannot pay for something if it is not a university activity” and characterizing the TFCBC as a group of “self-interested individuals” with “personal agendas.” “What they’re telling you is, this is a poor neighborhood and we don’t want it to get better. We want it to stay poor and we just want you to put money in there to keep it the way it is,” he responded in a Georgia State Signal interview. Although student protests mostly died down in defeat after the completion of the purchase, several students ended up permanently leaving the university in protest. Now, Andrews says, “We don’t really talk about any of it anymore.”
Senior Brandon Andrews of Georgia State: “We don’t really talk about any of it anymore.”
Two years after GSU and Carter finalized the Turner Field redevelopment plan without the legally-binding CBA that community activists had asked for, many still express resentment over the lack of transparency and inclusivity in the planning process. Micah Rowland is the former chair of NPU-V, one of Atlanta’s twenty-five “neighborhood planning unit” advisory boards that includes Summerhill, Peoplestown, and Mechanicsville. “We stood there, we fought the building of this stadium… I stood in front of city council, I stood in front of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, but right now, it’s irrelevant. It’s already done,” Rowland, a current systems administrator for GSU, says, a hint of defeat in his voice. He suggested a desire not to reopen an old wound: “You talk to all these activists [who fought for the CBA] and they’re not going to say anything negative. Because it’s there. It’s there now,” he said. “People aren’t really engaged. Gentrification is continuing.”
Former NPU-V Administrator Micah Rowland: “It’s irrelevant. It’s already done.”
Just as impactful as the effects of redevelopment is the apparent rift that the fight for a CBA seems to have exposed between leaders within the NPU-V community. Some members of the now-defunct TFCBC say that the reality of the final redevelopment plan was a far cry from their worst fears. Wanda B. Rasheed is the current treasurer for the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill (ONS), a nonprofit organization that continues to participate in redevelopment negotiations with both the university and Carter and Oakwood. She reflects back on the negotiating process with pleasant satisfaction. “Honestly, it was a win-win for Summerhill,” she said. “While they didn’t want to sign a legally-binding CBA, we felt as if we were heard. They accepted our recommendations, and they implemented them even without the binding agreement.” The new developments in Summerhill excite her, she said. “We can have the old [businesses and homes] with the new. This is a community, and things are changing.” Regardless, she indicated, her goal was still to protect her district’s residents: “We are still representing Summerhill. We are not sleeping on any of the issues surrounding the development. We are asking the tough questions. And we just want to make sure that at the end of the day, that everything is OK for everybody.”
To others, however, including former State Senator and 2017 Atlanta mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, Rasheed and ONS’s reconciliatory approach represents a betrayal of the constituents they were supposed to represent. “The Organized Neighbors were gentrifiers who sold out their community,” he exclaimed with resentment. “They were gentrifiers who didn’t care about the poor and working-class community getting a greater community benefit from this redevelopment.” Fort, who worked closely with the Housing Justice League - an anti-gentrification advocacy organization - suggested that the debacle had put solidarity within low-income black communities to the test: “There was an element of racism on social media. People were saying mean things about African-Americans and promoting resistance to the deal.” The root cause? “There were white gentrifiers within Summerhill, within Mechanicsville, within Peoplestown. They are still gentrifying the community today."
Former State Sen. Vincent Fort: “They were gentrifiers who didn’t care about the poor.”
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Regardless of perspective, no involved party can deny that there is an element of truth in Fort’s insistence that gentrification has proliferated as a result of the lack of a CBA. Even as she extols the business boom in downtown Atlanta, Rasheed admits that “[they’ve] had some renters… who have been displaced” and that “property taxes -- especially for our seniors -- are rising quickly.” Advocates for the initial CBA suggest that such an outcome could have been avoidable. “Community housing development organizations are no longer getting funding from the government as a result of the redevelopment,” Rowland laments. “There’s not gonna be any affordable housing anymore.” “I think that everything that we thought would come true came true, unfortunately,” Andrews assents. “Atlanta already has a huge homeless issue -- and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more displacement as a result of all of this.”
Both on and off-campus, however, students and residents alike have begun to accept the Turner Field redevelopment plan as an immutable component of their lives. Sophomore Keyshawn Phillips will be one of the first students to move into 120 Piedmont next month, a 26-story privately-owned housing tower that looms over Georgia State Stadium. “I’ll be able to see into the stadium just from my dorm window,” he commented excitedly. Meanwhile, businesses revival in Summerhill is evident. Strolling down Georgia Avenue reveals many an establishment with newly-painted signs and bustling shoppers. “The Little Tart Bakeshop,” one elegant red sign reads. Another — a brewery — is named “Halfway Crooks.” “NOW OPEN!” posters and signs line new apartment complexes running all down the street. “Crime has, for certain, gone down in Summerhill,” Rasheed exclaims happily. Andrews agrees. “It is beneficial for the students, I mean, even if it is awful for the residents,” he says, sounding less-than-excited. “I have a friend who lives over in [Mechanicsville] and he says it is a much nicer place to live — it’s no longer considered a ghetto, or whatever it used to be.”
In a few years, the painful, complex redevelopment process will be forgotten by most. Seasons go by for the residents and business-owners in downtown Atlanta. Some are evicted. Some move in. And on the campus of Georgia State, the only reminder left of the months of protests, deliberate negotiations, and camping out on “Tent City” will be the football stadium itself; nowadays, the only thing left to stir up gripes and jumbles is its emptiness. “You know how big a football stadium is?” one junior asked with wide-eyed incredulity. “I think it was a waste of money.” She shrugs her shoulders, then walks away.
By Ayla D'Silva
American literary genius Mark Twain once quipped, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Unfortunately, we cannot all be so optimistic as the famous American author; contrary to Mark Twain, age is commonly seen as an indelible factor. In the current 2020 presidential race, which includes candidates ranging from thirty-seven to seventy-eight in age, we see ageism in its prime. In a recent democratic debate, forty-five year old Julian Castro questioned if Biden had ‘forgotten what he said in the two-minutes previous’, after Biden contradicted himself with buy-in policy to healthcare programs. Castro’s jab at Biden’s mental capacity provokes the question: is the potential presence of ageism in the 2020 race justified?
Castro is not the only candidate exploiting age and things associated to it; in fact, many other election affiliated people use age to their advantage -- and to others’ disadvantage. Representative Eric Swawell proclaimed that Biden should ‘pass the torch’ - a restatement of Biden’s exact words thirty-two years prior. Swawell wants the current politicians to ‘pass the torch’ to end gun violence, solve climate chaos, and resolve student debt. Although, it does not end here. Swawell also stated, “I don't think we can nominate a candidate who has been in government for longer than 20 years … These are issues that will affect us. I’ll be a president that will have to live with the decisions I made”. The California representative attested to the age of some presidential candidates, compelling citizens to support a younger candidate. Bear in mind, Swawell is thirty-eight years old, surpassing the presidential age requirement by a mere three years. While it may be considered rude to target his opponents’ age, this technique is an effective and persuasive route to take. Despite that, simply because it is efficacious does not beget justification. Alas, ageism enlarges the list of prejudices present in our world.
Therefore, we need to understand the role which ageism will play in the 2020 election. For the Democratic party, ageism poses a real threat due to its potential to alienate older voters. Ageist language is harmful for our society. To see it exchanged between potential leaders of the free world leaves voters apprehensive about the election. Alana Officer of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) writes how ageism is not considered a prejudice by society because of its, “largely implicit and subconscious nature”, for W.H.O.’s global campaign to combat ageism. This is another reason as to why ageism is such as complex problem. Along with the lack of recognition, ageism can result in various mental health issues. Campaign ads including the ‘comedy’ of ageism can be subconsciously noted as invasive and degrading. The distinct prejudice does not simply appear in presidential election paraphernalia, but also in: employment opportunities, health care, and the majority of media. In order for democrats to succeed, they need to secure older voters. The majority of Trump’s votes were from Americans aged 65 or more. Applications of ageism could potentially decide where the vote is swayed to.
The gross lack of reason does not render the technique useless. Exposing age has not only been used by potential candidates, but also by various marketing programs. The progressive group ‘Acronym’ released a video motivating younger democratic voters to register early; it featured senior citizens bragging about their control over political entities. One elderly man said, “Tax cuts for the rich? Hell yeah, I’m rich as f**k.” Another boasted, “Climate change? That’s a you problem. I’ll be dead soon.” Issues like taxing and climate change are just pieces in the intricate web which is the American government. By saying that these issues will not affect them leaves the younger generation to wonder: who will it affect? These campaigners want young people to long for revenge. They want them to feel unprotected. They want them to demand greater representation. Other videos showcase the elderly ordering the audience, “don’t vote”, invoking a reverse psychology effect. This technique is used everyday in order to get all Americans to vote because Swawell is right - many will have to live to see the effects.
No matter the use or misuse of age in the 2020 election, America will see its outcome soon enough. Along with its future president, the nation will be made aware of the true benefit -or lack thereof- of ageism in politics.
By Jonathan Nemetz
In 2008, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was the first in American history to spend over $100 million on online advertising. Most of the advertising was directed at Facebook, a site just four years old at the time. Yet despite its relative infancy when compared to television and print advertising, Facebook was extremely effective in increasing support for the Illinois senator, especially among a younger demographic. Partially due to this embracing of digital advertising, 70% of voters under 25 voted for Obama: the highest percentage on record. In 2012, the Obama campaign added networking to their toolbox, getting 600,000 users of the “Obama 2012” Facebook application to reach out to approximately 5 million other Facebook users. Of that 5 million, a million took action in favor of the campaign, such as registering to vote.
This looks like a winning strategy that has worked for Democrats in the past, and should continue to work. Yet, as the Trump campaign showed in 2016, this is not a strategy that the Democrats have a timeless monopoly on. The real estate mogul was able to raise $250 million through Facebook during the 2016 election cycle, making up the bulk of his online fundraising. In addition, new updates and functions on the site allowed the Republican nominee to organize events, reach new audiences, fundraise, push supporters to register to vote, and much more. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton mainly used the massive forum to organize people who already supported her campaign, and failed to use it as a megaphone. So it seems that increasing usage of Facebook will be vital for a Democratic victory in 2020, and prevent the same conservative domination of the site that was so dangerous in 2016.
Since the Obama and Clinton campaigns, however, Facebook and its relationship to the public have dramatically changed, and rarely for the better. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook’s negligence led to the leaking of 87 million Facebook users’ data, raised serious concerns about the trustworthiness of the company. In that vein, awareness of Facebook’s data selling and data mining made people feel less private on the website. Then, with the 2016 election, the algorithms of the social media website became particularly susceptible to an increase in fake news, which politicians and pundits from across the political spectrum both denounced and exploited.
Facebook’s reputation not only has changed, but so have its demographics. While the company has expanded overseas to reach 2.4 billion users, domestic engagement with the website has been shifting to an older audience, who are already likely to vote. Younger potential voters are moving away from the older Facebook, and towards connecting on sites such as Instagram and communicating on apps such as WhatsApp.
Yet, even if Facebook is still an effective tool, Democrats face a larger problem with the company, namely that of politics versus policy. Progressives from William Taft to Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt have always made big stands against the size and influence of corporations, and today’s progressives are no different. Major candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2020, such as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris, have already said they would attempt to break up Facebook were they elected. Even candidates as moderate as Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg have said they would seriously look into it as president.
Yet despite their denouncements of the website, they still use very robust Facebook accounts to reach voters. Elizabeth Warren even got 150,000 clicks for her video on why Facebook needs to be broken up, on the very site she was advocating to dismantle. This raises the question of whether it’s hypocritical for candidates to benefit from a system that they deem corrupt and dangerous for democracy as a whole. While it may not seem like having a Facebook account to organize supporters would help the site in any substantial way, it significantly increases the power and influence of a site that many politicians wish to see less of in American life.
Perhaps the most prominent way that candidates have accidentally aided Facebook is through the use of advertisements. Despite being two of the earliest advocates to break up Facebook, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris respectively, were the two top Democratic advertisers on Facebook, at the beginning of the 2019 summer. While their combined $2.5 million isn’t even half of the advertising revenue that the Trump campaign has put into Facebook’s pockets since January of 2019, it still directly contributes to the company’s resources and ability to dominate the market even further.
In addition, not only does Facebook profit directly from the advertising spending of these campaigns, but a campaign’s very use of the platform benefits it through exposure to other people’s advertisements. By updating and sending notifications to the 11.1 million people who follow openly anti-Facebook candidates, they are directly contributing to traffic on a site they distrust. Once people have been drawn in by a notification from their campaign, they may stay and continue to view Facebook advertisements, generating the site revenue. In addition, by bringing supporters back to the website, more people are exposed to the fake news and misleading headlines that have permeated much of Facebook since the 2016 election cycle.
Still, that engagement has another much more nefarious consequence, which is that of data collection, something Facebook handles mostly through a subsidiary known as ‘Facebook Pixel’. Pixel is billed to businesses and organizations as a tool that allows website owners to get a better sense of the demographics of visitors to their site. In turn, Pixel claims, they will be able to better optimize their website for their audience.
However, the information that Pixel collects isn’t directly shared with the website utilizing the service. Rather it is sent to Facebook servers, who use that demographic information to create and target ads based off of who a website wants to target. However, Facebook then uses that information to also identify and link visitors of a site to a Facebook account, and increase the data they have on hand about that person to sell. While this could be considered morally dubious in its own right, when political campaigns get involved, it gets even messier. Facebook Pixel tracks everything that a user does on a campaign site, including whether or not they donated, and even how much they donated to a campaign. This means that ads and online campaign messages shift to favor the demographics that are spending the most in donations, rather than those who are not in an ability to do so. This diminishes the exposure that politically inactive and poorer citizens get to current candidates and issues, as they are less valuable as donors to campaigns.
In 2008 Barack Obama was certainly aided in his election by a savvy usage of Facebook, but what excited people more was his character: his drive to stand up for what he believed in, pride in his convictions, and an ability to challenge the status quo. Yet in refusing to budge from the tactics of his campaign, democrats have been forgetting its ideals. Despite multiple start ups trying their hand at challenging Facebook, the Social Media giant still dominates the industry, and influences how Americans get political information. But continuing to use the website portrays real activists as opportunists––double-speaking hypocrites that wish to have their cake and eat it too. If Democrats want to continue to be the party of challenging big business, strengthening privacy, and pushing ahead, it’s time for politicians to unfriend Facebook.
by Kevin Tang
Among heaps of dirty syringes and blood-soaked streets, hundreds of thousands of users desperately chased their next high. The deluge of drugs that flooded Portugal didn't care about who you were. Everyone – miners, bankers, students – was at risk. Despite a prosperous 1980s, Portugal was suddenly submerged under a tide of heroin and marijuana. Soon, the country faced the highest rates of HIV in the European Union.
Many Americans who see the following response from the Portuguese officials will feel an eerie sense of deja vu. With the criminal justice system at the helm of its campaign to end drug use, the country adopted hardline tactics that saw incarceration rates explode. By the end of the 1990s, nearly half of the prison population was arrested for drug-related crimes with no meaningful reduction in drug use, overdose deaths, or HIV.
In 2001, however, Portugal reversed its approach. The first nation in the entire world to do so, Portugal stopped prosecuting addicts and decriminalized all drugs with a harm reduction, a scientific based approach that emphasizes treating addicts with both proper care and dignity. Individuals caught with possession of drugs would not be incarcerated but rather be ordered to pay a fine or attend a mandatory meeting with a dissuasion committee of experts. The government expanded health services, ranging from new needle-syringe programs to methadone treatment.
Bucking initial fears and skepticism, the results of a public health approach were revelatory: Portugal now has the lowest drug mortality rates in Western Europe, with drug-related deaths falling more than 85 percent since the policy’s initial implementation. Incarceration of innocent addicts has plummeted, new cases of HIV have plunged, and proper utilization of treatment has increased. After nearly two decades, it is abundantly clear that a decriminalization approach based on harm reduction proves much more successful than punitive measures.
If drugs were present in Portugal, they are omnipresent in America today. The United States has been waging its war on drugs for decades, and the results are in. Our drug policy has failed miserably, with the number of people killed by drug overdoses in 2016 matching the number of soldiers killed in the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. As such, the United States ought to decriminalize all drugs and adopt a public health approach as outlined by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization. This initiative would immensely expand treatment options available to addicts such as through programs offering clean syringes and methadone.
Decriminalization is especially pressing in the United States because punitive drug measures have fueled race-driven mass incarceration in the United States for decades. Even though use of drugs is similar across different racial groups, African and Latino Americans are much more likely to be jailed. Along every stage of the criminal justice system, whether it be the arrests or the sentences, minorities bear the brunt of the War on Drugs. For instance, prosecutors are twice as likely to push for a mandatory minimum sentence for minority defendants than for white defendants when they are charged with the same crime. Nevertheless, such institutionalized discrimination should not shock us; the original intent of the War on Drugs was to subdue not drug abuse but marginalized committees, as revealed by top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman:
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people… We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Although conventional wisdom holds that drug use is dangerous to society, statistics show that over 80% of incarcerated drug users were arrested for possession only – and not for violent crimes. Incarceration is a disproportionate and ineffective method for reforming addicts, especially since only 11% of inmates will ever receive any treatment while in prison. Even if compulsory treatment in prison works, the dismal accessibility to it renders it feckless. On the other hand, a public health approach would vastly expand treatment options and decrease drug use since it deters people from using drugs in the first place through proper education and treatments those who have already fallen prey to addiction.
As the suffering caused by the War on Drugs becomes more apparent and urgent, movements to decriminalize and legalize drugs has gained traction. From Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidates for the 2020 election have touted the decriminalization of marijuana as a major facet of their platforms. Internationally, member states of the United Nations have unanimously declared the War on Drugs a failure and advocated for a harm reduction approach.
It has been almost two decades, but the wounds of drug abuse in Portugal are still healing. However, Portugal's scars serve as a powerful testament to what happens when governments champion the dignity and humanity of addicts through a public health approach. For decades, the War on Drugs has devastated hundreds of thousands of lives, weaponizing incarceration to achieve dubious ends. It's time for America to decriminalize and seriously rethink its drug policy.
by Erin Flaherty
"Servant of the people”, a popular TV show in Ukraine, tells the story of a high school teacher named Vasiliy that goes viral for speaking out against corruption and becomes president of Ukraine. With a captivating storyline and timely message, the show became the 5th most popular show nationwide after premiering. For years, Ukraine’s government has been plagued by elite officials backed by special interests. For Ukrainians, a trustworthy government seemed like an unattainable relic, and “Servant of The People” showed a Ukraine where justice was restored.
After watching 3 seasons of Vasily fighting for democracy, the Ukrainian electorate could only dream of a candidate like Vasily. The approval rating for their current government was at an all-time-low, with 91% of people saying that they had little to no confidence in their government. In a twist of fate, their dreams would come true, when the actor who plays Vasily ran for office. Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he was running for office under the Servant of the People party, named after the famous show.
But he didn’t just run for office, he won! Ukraine had its first round of its election in early April, and over 5.7 million voted for Zelensky out of the 18.9 million who voted. Behind him was current incumbent Ukrainian President, Pyotr Poroshenko, who has been linked to several treason scandals involving bribery throughout his time as president. The second round of elections was held April 21st, and Zelensky won by a landslide, receiving over 70% of the popular vote.
After the first round of elections, Zelensky and his team began to campaign their anti-corruption plan. "For old politicians, corruption is the same as water for fish. The old political elite against corruption is the same as bees against honey”, his team told Telegram channel. With the help of the International Supreme Economic Court, they hope to decriminalize the economy in Ukraine. "The Ukrainian economy is clearly built for the continued success of its wealthiest members. Zelensky will be handed the difficult task of breaking up a system corrupted by private monopolies and oligarchies. His administration's plan is what Zelensky has called a “common sense” way to approach corruption; they reward those who expose corruption while working with officials to scope out individuals contributing to scandals.
Much of Zelensky’s attention will be drawn to foreign issues regarding Russia. Ukraine and Russia have had ongoing conflicts since Russian soldiers annexed Crimea, a peninsula formerly under Ukraine’s control, in 2014. Some say that Zelensky would engage with Russia well, compared to Poroshenko who has offended the Russian government with his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, others expressed concerns that Zelinsky's inexperience would make him vulnerable to Russian manipulation. “Russia sees Zelensky as a new Macron or Trump, a novice to be exploited and played with,” said foreign policy expert Vladimir Frolov.
Frolov brings up the parallels between other recent elections where the “common man” has unexpectedly won an election. However, Zelensky differentiates himself from these candidates in his appearance as a less polarizing figure, and more of a moderate politician. Zelensky also differs from other figures in his religious identity as a Jew. Ukraine is now the only country other than Israel to have a Jewish Prime Minister and President. Zelensky didn’t focus on this during his campaign, as he believed his religious identity didn’t affect his stance as a politician. As Yaroslav Hrytsak, a history professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University said, “People in times of war and crisis don’t care that much about who is what religion. They care about the agenda he or she represents.”
Overall, Zelensky has been much less focused on dividing the people of Ukraine with party politics and more focused on uniting the people against Ukraine’s most prevalent issues. As Washington Post Columnist Anne Applebaum said, Zelensky is “a symbol of success and national unity in a country that has often felt divided.” Zelensky's presidency marks the start of a fresh and new era in Ukrainian politics.
by Camille Shen
At its creation, the New York Specialized High School System presented an avenue of opportunity for those without wealth, privilege, or a family name. In an effort to value pure merit rather than background, eight magnet schools offer a world-class education, free of charge, to the city’s brightest students: those who earn a high score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT. For years, the children of impoverished Jewish families dominated these schools, which still remain racially homogeneous today – though now, an influx of Asian-American immigrants have taken their place, while admissions for other minority groups have only abated. Due to rising investments into the New York educational system, one side sees black and Latino students as systematically disadvantaged, while the other side believes that low-income Asian students gain admission through rigorous preparation; to rectify this issue, New York City ought to increase funding for middle schools in impoverished areas to narrow the preparation disparity and invest in the academic potential of low-income minority students.
Emboldened by the injustice of racial inequity, one side believes the current educational system inherently stymies the academic endeavors of black and Latino students. Many of these students find themselves ill-equipped to perform well on the SHSAT and thus comprise just slivers of specialized schools’ populations. In fact, Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times finds that though this demographic “make[s] up nearly 70% of New York City’s public school system as a whole”, they accounted for a mere “10% of students admitted into... specialized high schools”, with Stuyvesant, one specialized city school, “offer[ing] just seven out of 895 slots...to black students”. The chilling reality of this disparity lies not with the academic incapabilities of black and Latino students, but rather, with the public school system that fails to prepare them in the first place. In desperate need of proper funding, such schools simply do not possess the teachers, resources, or capacity to prepare students for the advanced concepts encompassed by the SHSAT. Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic expounds the direct correlation between low-income schools and a lack of educational opportunities, noting that “poorer communities...have less local resources...and a harder time attracting the best teachers”, leading to an overall deficit in “both economic and social capital resources” for their students. Given that nearly all black and Latino students in New York City attend these majority low-income schools, those already crippled by poverty find that they must also hurdle the numerous educational barriers strewn on their pathways to upward social mobility. The black and Latino students locked out of these prestigious institutions remain relegated to a perpetual cycle of generational poverty that stems from inadequate education. Lacking a proper foundation of knowledge, most black and Latino students struggle on the exam, leaving them underrepresented in elite high schools and without comparable educational options. This perspective maintains that the scarcity of black and Latino students at specialized schools derives from their maltreatment by the structure of public education as a whole.
Conversely, the opposite side contends that many of the Asian-American students at specialized high schools also come from low-income backgrounds but surmount these hardships to excel on the SHSAT. Often, poor Asian-American families will scrape together every penny to afford expensive prep classes for their children in hopes of securing them a spot at a specialized school. This mentality is a defining characteristic of Asian households; in my own family, education is non-negotiable. Rooted in a cultural belief that education breeds success, my parents were willing to spend thousands of dollars for a full-time summer program dedicated to preparing students to take the SAT. For us, it meant sacrificing a sunny stint in Europe. But for others, the costs of test preparation could mean forgoing heat, light, or gas– for months. Indeed, a study conducted by New York University affirmed that the city’s majority-Asian neighborhoods are more economically depressed than that of other racial demographics, with less than one quarter of the residing Asian adults possessing an undergraduate degree or higher. This bleak reality falls far from the “model minority” perception of Asian-Americans as high-earning, white-collar citizens. Rather, it echoes the story of the working-class immigrant that New York’s specialized high school system was designed to help in the first place. Like other children of first-generation immigrants, the wheels of my life often revolve around the axle of hard work and the idea that nothing comes free; thus, Asian-American parents believe that the SHSAT is simply another test that can be conquered with enough determination– and hours poring over practice exams. Through this lens of results-oriented dedication, Asian-Americans conclude they rightfully earned the seats allotted to them the same way anyone else could have attained one. As such, this opposing viewpoint believes that impoverished Asian-Americans succeed on the SHSAT by virtue of their unique cultural upbringing, prioritizing the exam as a passage to prosperity.
In order to close the gaping racial disparity in specialized schools, New York City ought to increase funding for middle schools in impoverished areas and decrease the budget for the Department of Corrections. Allocating more funds to public education in low-income districts targets the academic inequity at its root: the systemic correlation between poor neighborhoods and poor education. Although public schools in low-income areas of the city receive slightly more funding in the status quo than their affluent counterparts, the vast discrepancies between schools with the highest and lowest levels of impoverished students renders the difference ineffectual. This disparity becomes profoundly critical as increased school spending has led to a prominent development in student learning. Black and Latino students living in low-income neighborhoods not only lack access to and means for test preparation, but underfunded public schools leave them without a foundation to perform well on the advanced SHSAT. However, with well-financed schools, poverty-stricken students from all minority racial backgrounds – African-American, Latino, and Asian-American – will reap the benefits of more enriched academic resources, alleviating the need for expensive test preparation as the sole means to pass the SHSAT. Further, financing the costs of such indispensable resources could easily come from the city’s ever-expanding budget for the Department of Corrections. A 2017 report from New York City’s Comptroller’s office revealed that despite record-low prison populations, annual costs continue to ascend due to “mismanagement” and “failure of accountability”. By redirecting squandered funds to public schools, the city both reduces bureaucratic inefficiency within one agency and buttresses another in dire need of repair. This appropriation acts as an investment in the city’s future, one where not only the white, privileged, and wealthy can expect to succeed, but also those whose abilities have been historically hampered by a system of educational inequity.
While one perspective asserts that black and Latino students face intrinsic disadvantages in the structure of education, others affirm that Asian-American students overcome their own economic burdens to earn admission into specialized schools; nonetheless, increasing funding for impoverished middle schools would bolster academic preparedness across all low-income ethnic groups. One hundred years ago, New York City was the symbol of the American dream. To this day, the city’s symbolic landmark – the Statue of Liberty – still proudly beckons over the “poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to reverse their fortunes and achieve prosperity. New York City public magnet schools ought to do the same for the city’s disadvantaged and impoverished, and open the door for its own young, brilliant minds who, too, yearn for a better future.
by Jonathan Nemetz
On January 18th, two-thirds of students in the Los Angeles United School District didn’t show up for school. It wasn’t because of a freak snowstorm in the city, or because of Los Angeles’ famously gridlocked traffic, but because of the solidarity that the local community had decided to throw behind the 30,000 teachers and education workers who had been striking that week. Since the 16th, teachers had been striking for reforms to their working conditions and compensation as a part of the first strike of its kind in the city in over thirty years.
Originally, the teachers were protesting for increased wages, smaller classroom sizes, and regulations on charter schools, which were seen as shifting funds out of the public district and into private hands.
Looking at the district that these teachers are striking from, it isn’t hard to see why the educators walked out on the 16th. While the district claims the average class size is about twenty-six students, 35% of the classes can still range from thirty to forty students per teacher. On top of that, another 6% of teachers have to manage over forty students in a single class period. Teachers fear that they aren’t able to adequately teach or control classrooms that are so large, and the personal connections that can make education so compelling are often lost in a large environment.
In addition, Los Angeles school teachers have had problems in the past with securing wages that make sense for the relatively expensive area. While Los Angeles teachers make, on average, $76,000 annually, this usually is not enough to cover local costs of rent and transportation. Cities with similarly expensive costs such as New York compensate for the higher cost of living in the area by offering average wages closer to $88,000. This high cost of living in Los Angeles means that teachers cannot afford to live locally, with many of them having to commute into their work from over an hour away.
However, negotiations for improvements to these conditions were initially stalled.
Even after twenty months of negotiation between the Los Angeles United School District and United Teachers Los Angeles, both sides could not agree to a deal as neither side would budge on particular issues important to the groups that they represented. While small differences could be negotiated, like the difference between a 6% and 6.5% pay raise, other disagreements proved harder to bridge. While the union requested an $800 million allocation at minimum towards more support staff such as nurses, librarians, and counselors, the school district said that they could only come up with about one-eighth of the initial request. On the topic of class sizes, conflicts grew even larger as the school district met the union’s hopes of a thirty-student class cap with a cap of thirty-five students on select subjects, far from what they had hoped.
Above all, though, looms the fear of charter schools for many teachers. Already, the Los Angeles school district has more students enrolled in charter schools than in any other district in the nation, and before the strikes, that trend was only growing. With political backing from wealthy and famous icons of the city, such as Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, charter schools have received generous amounts of public funding that go towards private use. Despite having ⅕ of LA students, their funding is disproportionately high for that amount of students, funnelling away more equitable funding. School administrators say that charter schools are much more effective ways to create efficient schools, especially those in low-income communities, where the combination of public and private capital is especially useful. Due to the fact that they benefit from both the oversight and reliability of public funds, as well as the autonomy and wealth of private capital, the marriage of these two systems supposedly makes schools more productive at a lower cost. Due to the often more rigid structures, some students, especially minorities, get effects from public schools as if they attended 36 more days of school because of how much more instruction is included in curriculums as an efficiency measure.
However, teachers are afraid that these charter schools are diverting money that could be used for their undersupplied classrooms, into the pockets of wealthy charter school owners. With The rising popularity of charter schools is a source of anxiety for many school teachers, who fear that their already thin budgets will be further stretched with the construction of more and more charter schools. After national charter school enrollees reach 2 million students in 2013, that number has only continued to climb, but the funding allocated has not. That is why the 1,000 charter school educators that are a part of the union report drops in as much as $2,000 annually in salary when switching to charter schools as they try to cut costs. This not only reduces who wants to go into education and their well being in it, but also takes out of things such as a school’s budget for basic school supplies for their students.
During the six day strike though, teachers were clear that the strike wasn’t just about their pay and their funding, but about the educational system in the city as a whole. Steven Bilek, a union representative and science teacher at Paul Revere Middle School said that “the idea that teachers just want a raise is just not true”. Rather, teachers argued they were striking for better educations for their students. In a district where 80% of the families are eligible for food assistance programs, support that students receive at school is everything. Many students in the LA United School District rely on the counselors and nurses of the schools. But as funding for support staff that fill those roles are pulled back, teachers fear that those sources of stability in students’ lives will be gone. Yet this isn’t just a fear for well being, but also in the past, mental health has been proven to be a major indicator of a low income child’s success. A study by the Urban Institute determined that 21% of low income families would see mental health problems that could seriously harm a student’s performance if not properly addressed. Yet with a reduction in funding for school counselors, that much needed attention may not arrive for the low income families most susceptible to it.
However, these fears were addressed on January 22nd, when the school district and teachers’ union both announced that they had reached a labor deal that would end the teachers strike. Alex Caputo-Pearl, the head of Teachers United Los Angeles, called the deal ‘historic’ in the progress it will make towards better equipping local schools for problems that teachers have been facing for years. While the raise was not as generous as teachers had hoped (with no change to the initial offer of a 6% raise), there was still a lot for teachers to be happy about when they returned to classes on Wednesday.
One of the most important parts of the deal was the commitment to health in the schools. Whereas before, most schools were only given funding to have one nurse present, one day a week, the district has now pledged to have at least one full time nurse in all schools next year to help reduce the strain on school’s discretionary budgets that often were drained paying for extra days for the nurse.
Class sizes were also set to be reduced, but it would be a slow process. Now, most schools will reduce their student-per-class limit by one for next year. It will then be reduced by two for the following year, and three for the year after that and so on. At the moment this is going to continue for an indefinite amount of years, hopefully a sign that in a few years, schools will be adjusted to more manageable class sizes.
However, some of the biggest advancements came from outside of the contract. In this school year, Los Angeles has added its name to the list of teachers from Oklahoma, to West Virginia, to Arizona who have all gone on strike for better conditions. As tensions from charter schools grow, and states continue to lower education spending, it seems unlikely that strikes will stop any time soon. But as the Los Angeles strike showed, productive and cooperative change from both sides is still possible and is still happening in our country.
By Jed Boyle
On November 6 2018, voters went to the polls. Despite the bouts of Americans biting their nails that evening, by midnight, it became clear that voters delivered a stunning rebuke of President Trump. Facing their worst Senate map in history, Democrats limited their losses to just two seats. They picked up seven governorships, seven state legislative chambers, and 40 seats in House of Representatives, thus capturing control of the chamber.
In the days following the midterm elections, however, a number of questions emerged: would Democrats retain Pelosi as their leader and return her to the speakership? Or would moderate Democrats that won promising to oppose Pelosi prevent that from happening? The media attention focused on one type of freshman Congressperson - the progressive. However, they failed to mention a different brand: the moderate.
These moderates would likely be part of an often overlooked group - the Problem Solvers Caucus. The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of congressman chaired by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY). There are about the same number of Republicans as Democrats. Now that the Democrats control the House, the focus will mostly be on the Democratic members.
A central focus of the new majority was who would become the speaker of the house. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker before the Republicans captured the House in 2010. She became a figure of disdain and was often the target of many Republican attack ads. However, her supporters say she is a legislative genius and vital for fundraising efforts. Her critics, on the other hand, say that the 78 year old Congresswoman is taking positions that should belong to younger leadership in an increasingly young and diverse party. As a result, many freshmen pledged not to support her for speaker and won in their districts on that promise. In fact, 50 Democratic candidates in total pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.
After the Democrats retook the house, Nancy Pelosi set to work getting votes for her to be Speaker again. In her path to the speakership, Pelosi had to make promises and compromises to opposition. Many of those who opposed her were members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. To quote an article from the New York Times, “Ms. Pelosi, of California, has traded committee assignments, promises to prioritize lawmakers’ pet issues, rules changes to empower centrists and, ultimately, to relinquish her speakership.” In order to convince the Problem Solvers of her commitment to their goals, Pelosi has bargained by offering committee assignments to Caucus members, rule changes to uplift centrists, and, most notable of all, a promise to relinquish her speakership in 2020. After these abundant negotiations, Pelosi was able to seize just enough votes to become Speaker.
This is a prime example of the influence the Problem Solvers Caucus has had and could have in this new Congress. They may push the Democratic Party further toward the center, away from the progressive direction it appears to be going in right now. Furthermore, they might try to push bipartisan legislation on issues like immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, the opioid epidemic, and an infrastructure package.
The Problem Solvers have been known to attempt to push legislation to break the gridlock in Washington, but they have faced multiple criticisms. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has criticized the group as being merely a fast track for lobbyists. It has also faced criticism as a hack for vulnerable incumbents to win re-election. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), for instance, barely won a tough battle for re-election this year and utilized his membership multiple times in the debates and just about every time he spoke in public.
The Republican members have voted with their party 93% of the time ,and Tom Reed, one of the co-chairs of the committee voted for the Republican-led 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Some on the progressive side claim it is a front for conservatives to push their policies. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said that they have no track record whatsoever, and has termed it a “political cover operation.” Reportedly, even Republican staffers say that the caucus has not gotten anything done.
No matter the underlying purpose, there is no doubt that the Problem Solvers Caucus will have a large impact on this Congress. It is unknown how the caucus will impact the investigations of President Trump that will likely soon begin. However, it is very likely that they will attempt to curtail the power of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is also likely that they will sometimes serve as a foil to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership. Tom Reed, as mentioned earlier, a co-chair, voted with the Democrats to end the recent government shutdown. During the middle of the shutdown, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus went to the White House to meet with President Trump. However, it seems as if nothing was accomplished in that meeting. Freshman representative Max Rose (D-NY) said, “The president spent a lot of time with us, the vice president spent a lot of time with us, his team spent a lot of time with us. This is about trust building and opening the government back up. It’s a very slow process.”
Since President Trump never got the border wall he so desired, many speculate that he will close the government again. Some wonder if the Problems Solver’s Caucus will play a role in solving the next potential shutdown. Others question if the Caucus might try to break with the Democrats (like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did) and support a shutdown deal with a wall in it. Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) says that if experts say a wall is what is necessary, he would support a deal with funding for the wall. However, many Republicans found themselves in unexpectedly competitive races this year and just want this whole charade to end. So the question is, will the Problem Solvers work to change Washington? Or it it just for politics? Time will tell.
By Erin Flaherty
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. An important moment in the movement towards equality, this aimed to overcome the unfair barriers that many state and local governments had put in place to stop African Americans from voting. Unfair measures like using literacy tests and grandfather clauses were officially illegal. However, over 50 years later, this act is being used by the Trump Administration in a way that critics argue would bring the United States further away from equality.
The Trump Administration announced in March of 2018 that they are adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This question would ask “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” for each family member that the survey pertains to. The Trump Administration says that this is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination against any citizen’s voting rights on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group”. They argue that minority communities can’t elect the representatives that they want in elections without this data being available to the government, since their districts have many ineligible voters.
Since this announcement, many have come out against this decision, citing several reasons as to why it would be a bad idea to add this question. Critics have worried that this added question will scare many immigrants away from filling out their survey. Having the census produce an accurate count of the population is essential, since the government uses this count in various ways, like when funding infrastructure or determining districts for congressional appointments. Cities where immigrants live could receive less funding if immigrants are scared away from filling out the census, leading skeptics to believe that this is an attempt by the Trump administration to hurt Latino and immigrant-heavy communities.
Even before this question was added, in the 2010 census, many researchers had already expressed concerns about possible skewed census results since immigrants were already avoiding taking the survey. In 2015, a respondent told researchers that “the possibility that the census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.” This concern among immigrants would only be heightened and intensified by adding a citizenship question. The Trump administration, nor is any immigration agency allowed to access specific Census Bureau information, but many immigrants are fearful of giving a government organization this info regardless.
In late March of 2018, a group of 14 states, led by California filed a lawsuit against the Census Bureau. These states arugethat in adding this question, the Bureau will violate the Constitution, since the Constitution requires that every resident, regardless of whether they are or are not a citizen, is counted in a census. These states argue that having this question would skew data and allow for funding to be allocated incorrectly, along with allowing incorrect political boundaries to be drawn. According to them, Trump’s citation of the Voting Rights Act is merely an excuse to hurt immigrant communities. “The census is supposed to count everyone”, says Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, a backer of the lawsuit. “ This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”
Judge Jesse M. Furman from the District Court of New York was the first federal judge to rule against the question. Trials are just beginning in California and Maryland, and many involved in the lawsuit had been expecting that the issue will make its way to the Supreme Court. Recently, it was announced that the Supreme Court will be making a decision regarding Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary of the Census Bureau. However, this decision won’t necessarily be in relating to the citizenship question; the trial will focus on whether Ross and others involved with the Census Bureau can be compelled to answer questions about the addition of the question. This is only really one component of the case and wouldn’t directly change the fact that right now, the Census is still planning on including this question.
It is getting closer and closer to when census surveys need to be printed. The deadline is in July of 2019, and many of the plaintiffs involved in the case are worried that trials won’t finish in time to change the current plan to include the question. This time crunch could cause various scenarios to play out, according to law expert Thomas Wold, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. He speculates that the Supreme Court could rule against the lower courts and ask the lower courts to reconsider their rulings. However, he also doesn’t doubt the possibility that the Supreme Court doesn’t get to hear the case in time, and therefore the question is kept on the census. “The government could ask to leap over the appeals case in all three cases,” he adds. “The Supreme Court can move very quickly if it has to, but it doesn’t really like to do that because it doesn’t make for the best decisions.”
Whether it has been surrounding the legality or the morality of the question, this decision by the current United States administration has definitely brought light to significant conversations regarding the treatment of immigrants under the Trump Administration. “This decision comes at a time when we have seen xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy positions from this administration,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Many immigrants have told news organizations that they will not fill out their Census survey no matter the stance of the citizenship question come 2020, since their fear has already been stirred up enough. Will we ever be able to get an accurate count of our population with the current climate surrounding immigration? Perhaps, the census is no longer a viable option to do so.