Commissioner Melonie Marano’s Journey Into Politics—And What She’s Learned Along the Way
By Mariam Khan
On a cloudy winter afternoon in downtown Somerville, Commissioner Melonie Marano sits at a desk in her municipal office, preparing for a commissioner meeting later that day. It’s the fourth Tuesday of the month: one of the two monthly meetings where the five county commissioners convene to discuss health & human services, public works, finances, and public safety for Somerset County.
To my surprise, the Commissioner specifies that this large job description only constitutes a part-time job. “This isn't my full-time job, as much as I would love it to be,” she says. Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, she maintains her regular job as a sales rep for a family business. Needless to say, she deals with a large amount of work and community-building off the clock.
Exhausting as this sounds, she’s grateful for the relative tranquility of the post-election season: “last year felt like a juggle between three jobs, with the addition of canvassing and campaigning.” However, if asked in the early 2000s, Mrs. Marano explains that she would never expect to see herself where she is now. “I never thought about government or politics. I got married, I had children, I had a career, and I was just focused on those things,” she says.
This changed on one decisive day in early 2003, when the Commissioner decided to attend a local meeting regarding zoning ordinances. She returned home feeling underrepresented and slightly dissatisfied with the local government, but she didn’t automatically volunteer to run for Township Committee. Rather, unbeknownst to her, her husband wrote her in as a candidate, informing her that she had already scored her first vote. “That really got my wheels turning. I realized you know what, I am going to run for Township Committee. And I got on the phone and called the Democratic chair in Greenbrook,” she narrates. There was one important factor that she didn’t quite consider: Greenbrook Township didn’t have a Democratic Party. There was a 3:1 Republican-to-Democrat ratio, and no Democrat had been elected since the 80s.
Despite all the odds, the now Commissioner won by a whopping one vote. After the recount, she won by two. After a few years of acclimating to the political sphere, she was appointed mayor in 2009 and finally elected to the County Commissioner role twice in the last two elections.
Throughout her time serving in various county roles, Somerville—the central town home to Somerset County’s courts and municipal buildings—has undergone its fair share of transformations. Just last year, Tropical Storm Ida ravaged the town’s buildings and public areas with floods drenching parks and offices alike. To counteract this damage, Marano was involved with a town hall meeting that debated the best use of 228 million dollars in federal disaster relief funding. Ridge High School students were curious as to how this money ended up being spent. She prefaces her explanation by affirming that she, as well as her colleagues, have full faith in climate change’s realness. In 2021, her team passed a resolution stating five pillars that will be used to address the issue for the county. Aside from the pledge to move net carbon emissions down to zero, one of the other core pillars includes mitigating the impacts of floods and other extreme weather.
The Commissioner arises from her chair, crossing over to the wall displaying a map of the county’s waterways. She explains the severity of the water management problem, claiming that “New Jersey is one of the oldest states in the nation, and people have been building for over 400 years. We didn’t put stormwater regulations into effect until the late 90s, which makes 400 years worth of irresponsible building that we've got to catch up; this is a huge task.” Aside from her team developing strict new standards for building development and spearheading roundtables on stormwater facilities, she offers one especially hopeful piece of information. A federal project addressing flooding of the Green Brook, basin which is located in the eastern portion of Somerset County, has finally received close to half a billion dollars, which will allow for the completion of the project started back in the 1970s.
Aside from Marano’s specialization in public water works and storm management, she is also heavily involved with the county’s LGBTQ+ advisory board, serving as one of its founding members. “While I was campaigning, I spoke with people from this community, and they said that they felt that their voices were not being heard, that they needed representation at a county level. So I promised them that if I'm elected, I will do something about that,” she explains. Despite the pandemic, establishment of the virtual advisory board was swift; three webinars were held in 2021, and two were held in 2022 with more expected this year. Topics included pertinent issues such as name changes, adoption, and specific health issues relating to the queer community.
“LGBTQ+ youth have a 20% higher incidence of suicide, and drug addiction. So, we want them to know they are part of us, and we want to know how to make life better for them. This includes having counselors and staff on-hand at VOTECH and RVCC for youth specifically,” she says.
On the topic of mental health, several students wondered about Somerset County’s initiatives regarding depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Fortunately, Marano explains that Somerset is the only county to boast a county-sponsored mental health facility for people of all ages. One crucial aspect of this facility is its newly developed partnership with the county’s schools to better the condition of youth patients.
Though the county is doing much to support its youth, Marano would like her younger audience to know that they, too, can get involved. She and her colleagues are in the process of creating new, specialized internship opportunities for high school students where they can become involved with areas that interest them within county operations. She hopes that this program can be launched in 2023 to enable young people to help out the public while also gaining experience in a given field.
She wants her youth audience to hear a few nuggets of advice from her last 20 years in politics. When asked about advice specifically for women, as the recipient of the County’s Eleanor Roosevelt Award, she stresses the need for political representation. “We need representation. We need it on the state level, the county level, and the federal level. Our voices need to be heard. We need to just step forward without waiting for somebody to tell us that we're okay to do it.” She explains that the person responsible for instilling this message in her was Linda Stender, who encouraged, guided, and supported her as she waded into politics in the early 2000s. Over the last two decades, it’s safe to say that Marano has learned quite a lot from diverse experiences. She wants readers to abide by her life motto: “Don’t be asked. Just do it.”
What Exactly is Happening in Iran?
By Shaurya Ganjoo
Iran has a lengthy and intricate past that transcends numerous civilizations and centuries. Some of the most powerful dynasties and empires in history have called it home, notably the Persian Empire and the Safavid Empire. One must comprehend Iran's history in order to have a better grasp of the present.
One of the biggest and most potent empires in ancient history, the Persian Empire, ruled from 550 BC until 330 BC. It was renowned for having a highly developed civilization, cutting-edge military technology, and a sizable territory that covered portions of Asia, Europe, and Africa. From 1501 to 1736, the Safavid Empire, a strong Shia Islamic monarchy, reigned over a large portion of what is now Iran and its neighbors. It was renowned for its brilliant literature, artwork, and architecture as well as for having a strong religious and political presence. Iran was controlled by the Qajar dynasty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it suffered from internal strife and outside interference. Reza Khan, a military officer, overthrew the government in 1921 and ushered in the Pahlavi monarchy, which aimed to industrialize and modernize the nation.
Nevertheless, a wide range of political and religious organizations opposed the Pahlavi rule and decried its corruption and persecution. The Pahlavi monarchy was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, ushering in an Islamic theocracy presided over by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution was a popular uprising against the Shah of Iran, who was backed by the United States. Khomeini, who was a religious leader and a vocal critic of the Shah, was able to tap into the widespread discontent among Iranians and lead the revolution to victory. After the Shah was overthrown, Khomeini became the supreme leader of Iran, a position he held until his death in 1989. The Iranian Hostage crisis began on November 4, 1979, when a group of Iranian students, who were supporters of the Iranian Revolution, seized the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage. The students were angry about a variety of issues, including the United States' support for the Shah of Iran. The crisis lasted for 444 days
Iran has subsequently been governed by a number of individuals, most notably Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has served as the nation's Supreme Leader since 1989. Political dissidents and religious minorities have opposed the government's stringent enactment of Islamic laws and practices, such as how a “morality police” exists, or the hijab laws, which have all been implemented under Khamenei’s regime.
Many people have condemned the theocratic administration in Iran for its suppression of political dissidents and religious minorities as well as its lack of accountability and openness. It has also drawn criticism for its rigid adherence to Islamic rules and regulations, which many consider being out-of-date and unrepresentative of the opinions and values of the vast majority of people.
The theocratic regime in Iran has seen growing criticism from a number of political and social organizations in recent years. This has been made worse by foreign sanctions, poor administration, and the nation's ongoing economic problems. Iran's theocratic regime has come under fire for its suppression of political dissidents and religious minorities, making oppression a serious problem in the country. Iranian authorities have traditionally persecuted, imprisoned, and used various types of repression against political dissidents. Torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and other human rights breaches have been used in this. For expressing their opinions or taking part in nonviolent demonstrations, many political dissidents have been sent behind bars; some have even received death sentences. In reality, protesters were been given death sentences. Iranian authorities have persecuted and discriminated against religious minorities, including Baha'is and Christians. These organizations have been persecuted by the government because of their beliefs and have been denied fundamental rights like the freedom to exercise their faith. Iranian women experience a great deal of discrimination and injustice in addition to political and religious tyranny. They must adhere to rigid gender norms and frequently miss out on equal rights and opportunities in areas like work, education, and other facets of daily life.
The country is facing a number of challenges, including a deteriorating economy, rising tensions with the US and its allies, and ongoing political instability. In recent months, there have been large-scale protests in Iran over issues ranging from economic inequality to human rights abuses. The government has responded with a heavy-handed crackdown, arresting and detaining hundreds of protesters. In the midst of all this, Iran is also dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a devastating impact on the country's healthcare system. Additionally, a peaceful protestor was just hung, and there is an international uproar.
Overall, Iran's theocratic government's harsh policies have had a bad effect on the nation and its citizens. Reform and better adherence to human rights have been demanded by many, however, it is unclear how these problems will be handled going forward. Despite these difficulties, Iran has achieved notable advancements, including building a domestic nuclear program and rising to prominence in the region. Its people are many and diverse, its culture and history are rich, and it has abundant natural resources, like oil and natural gas. Iranians and the nation's economy have suffered as a result of the country's rising international isolation and economic sanctions in recent years. However, it continues to play a significant role in the Middle East and on the world stage, and its complicated past as well as the continuing political and socioeconomic issues it faces will have an impact on how it develops in the future.
By Mariam Khan
Created in 1650 BC by the Ancient Egyptians, the Book of the Dead intended to help the deceased navigate the afterlife. The book includes poetic references for the living as well, showing them how to prepare for the day they pass on: “In the Land of the Dark, the Ship of the Sun Is Driven By The Grateful Dead.” 5000 years later, this particular quote from the Egyptian funerary text would inspire the name of one of the most influential American rock bands in history known as The Grateful Dead. Rather than driving the “ship of the sun”, though, this band steered the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. But unbeknownst to many, their involvement with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) inadvertently stems back to the CIA and their experimentation with mind control.
In 1965, the first ‘Acid Test’ took place in San Jose California. William Craddock’s personal memoir, Be Not Content: A Subterranean Journal, talks about growing up as a part of the psychedelic counterculture movement. The acid tests of the 60s were a series of parties that piloted the use of LSD—colloquially known as acid or battery acid—amongst the public. The people who attended these parties were “ecstatic, painted, long-haired, bearded, beaded, mad-eyed, strangely-dressed, obvious acid-eaters” who vowed “‘to witness the end of the straight-world’” (187). Bright lights, vociferous electric rock music performed by The Grateful Dead, and magic mushrooms made the parties especially appealing to young hippies looking for fulfillment. People like Craddock craved a bit of idiosyncrasy beyond the shackles of society; they objected to the materialistic post-war culture, the monotony of suburbs, and the nuclear family.
In an attempt to galvanize nonconformists, Ken Kesey, best known as author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, carefully crafted a rather successful campaign. His mission was to encourage the use of LSD to promote liberation of all socio-political kinds. He organized the acid test parties, which became milestones for psychedelic hippie subculture. Soon after, the drug began to proliferate amongst swaths of youth. The advances of several monumental cultural advances stemmed from LSD. Music genres such as psychedelic rock became hits for their unwillingness to align with the rigidity of live music. Ecstasy even seeped into the albums of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and psychedelic-style art impacted art and vinyl covers across all genres.
But aside from the drug’s social impacts, acid-use created a new political awakening that encouraged young people to speak out against oppressive institutions. For example, Vietnam War protests were composed of thousands of hippies across the country who were political radicals, anarchists, and more. LSD encouraged a spiritual revival that went far beyond the confines of traditional societal structures and government. In short, the drug was a pivotal political and social instrument that shaped the mid-20th century. This begs the question: what was the CIA’s role in creating a movement that would go on to oppose their very existence?
April 13th, 1953 marked the beginning of a foreboding era of experimentation. The CIA and its compatriots were given the green light to begin “the use of biological and chemical materials in altering human behavior”, in a mission coined Operation Bluebird. Through extremely secretive operations, the CIA attempted to “enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion” in order to compete with the USSR, who allegedly possessed these capabilities. Once the goal was approved, the CIA created a continent-wide campaign named “MK-Ultra” to non-consensually test drugs such as LSD on subjects. By the end of the experiment, there were around 80 institutions and 185 researchers indirectly funded and used for data collection by the government. Colleges, hospitals, prisons, and mental hospitals were all acceptable contractors, according to the Supreme Court in Fitzgibbon v. CIA. In the words of Sidney Gottlieb, the head of the experiment, the subjects were “people who could not fight back”: marginalized communities such as prisoners and sex workers. At one point in the experiment, Gottlieb even tested out LSD on a MK-Ultra scientist himself, Frank Olson, eventually leading to his death.
Unfortunately, anticipating public outrage, the CIA destroyed thousands of records relating to the experiment at the direction of Director Richard Helms. Thus, little testimonies are known from the victims themselves. One woman, Esther Schrier, recounts her experiences at the Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute where she was administered “four or five barbiturates and amphetamines at a time” coupled with electroshock therapy, in order to test the effect on her brain. Evidently, this was highly excessive treatment for someone struggling with postpartum depression. Schrier was never officially recognized as a victim of illicit governmental experimentation.
Aside from unwitting test subjects who made up the vast majority of research, certain individuals did volunteer to be a part of experiments, in search of monetary or spiritual benefits. The lyricist for The Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter, was a willing subject. In the case of author Ken Kesey, a research hospital near Stanford—where Kesey completed his undergraduate studies—was offering $75 for subjects willing to undergo experimentation. Of course, this hospital was also covertly funded by the CIA. The day that Kesey walked through the doors of this research hospital would prove momentous for the psychedelic revolution. The doctors summoned subjects into a spotless and airless observation room, fed them a white substance they didn’t know, and took notes. In the words of Kesey himself, the first acid trip he experienced alongside other subjects was surreal: “We were alive and life was us”.
Inspired by his first trip, Kesey got a job as a night-attendant in the hospital where he could steal the drug and bring it home for his peers at Stanford. It was during this time that he wrote the renowned novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a work which served as a magnet for rebels in and of itself. From there, the rest is history: the Acid Tests began, and with help from The Grateful Dead, the psychedelic movement officially emerged. Later, the Grateful Dead went on tour and left a trail of acid in their wake.
Simultaneously, the CIA began to fear that it was losing control of LSD as it seeped beyond the fences of psychiatric wards and into the walls of concert halls and parties. Fearful of legal concerns, in 1973, the agency conducted a purge of all materials relating to MK-Ultra and Operation Bluebird. But the damage had been done, with LSD use already prevalent in America, youth culture completely altered, and public outrage about the CIA’s unethical experimentation.
Despite the lack of documentation about the experiment, MK-Ultra’s legacy ought not be understated. After all, it was a multi-million dollar, systemic campaign that served to target the outcasts of society in order to achieve a far-off political goal: mind control. In the process, the CIA inadvertently reinvented the culture of the mid-20th century and led to rampant drug abuse.
Despite a 1975 Senate Intelligence hearing concluding that the CIA “demonstrate[d] a fundamental disregard for the value of human life”, little was done to combat future abuses within the agency. The CIA even failed to denounce the illegal actions of Sidney Gottlieb, who himself did not face any consequences until well into his retirement when he merely faced lawsuits. The minimal accountability stemming from the CIA’s mass psychiatric experiment underscores a greater governmental problem in which bureaucracy has the potential to grossly abuse power. When citizens' rights are impeded upon without their knowledge—or even the knowledge of the rest of the government—this paves the way for a plethora of problems.
In the last few decades, mistrust in the government has reached concerning highs. Americans feel that their government is corrupt, ineffective, or wasteful. From the Watergate Scandal to the CIA’s intelligence failure regarding WMDs in Iraq, citizens certainly feel weary, exploited and under informed.
At the same time, an excessive amount of problems still await solutions: climate change, poverty, racism. But a prerequisite to solving these problems is governmental transparency and accountability to regain public trust. Why did so many Americans refuse to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic? Systemic distrust in the government is certainly one of the causes. If people don’t trust the system, it’s reasonable to expect that they will try to circumvent it. The CIA can continue to unleash Operation Bluebird, Hummingbird, and Mockingbird, but these birds have the potential to become vultures if left unchecked. If the foundations of American government were not decomposed by mistrust and lack of accountability, the plight of these issues would be far more resolvable.
By Priya Mullassaril
The sickle and the hammer, while fumbled by Vietnam, North Korea, Russia, and China, has sketched much promise in the rural state of Kerala, India. Governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and headed by the Marxist Communist Party of India, CPI(M), Kerala finds harmony between placing power in the hands of the people and the hands of government to combat class struggles, religious intolerance, casteism and numerous other issues which gripe India.
The CPI’s anti-caste beliefs can be traced back to resistance of British rule during the Colonial era. The crown maintained great class immiscibility in Kerala, and privilege pooled among upper-class Namboodiri Brahmin families who controlled the means of production. Upper class, literate Keralites questioned this disparity of power, and began to spread Marxist ideology within social spaces such as tea shops, libraries, trade unions, and even individual residences of Kerala’s uneducated population. Following Kerala’s emancipation from Britain and designation of statehood in 1957, the Communist Party won by a decisive victory in congressional elections, claiming 55 of the 114 total seats in Kerala’s Legislative Assembly. Soon after, the people elected E.M.S Namboodiripad--a Brahmin who spoke passionately about peasant rights and the skewed wealth distribution in his state--to be Kerala’s first Chief Minister.
Once appointed, Namboodiripad enacted the Land Reform Ordinance, which imposed limits on the amount of land a family could own and protected poorer families from eviction. He then worked to decentralize power in government and grant more authority to the people, a task brought to fruition only after his death through the establishment of Kerala’s communally-run health care system. The network of over 1,356 public health care facilities in the state fall under the individual governance of Kerala’s 900 villages, instead of the state’s government. The sweeping motions taken by government that often overlook the needs of minority groups are dissolved in this system, as Keralite villages now control the framework of their regional hospitals.
Kerala’s modern-day success may be largely attributed to the CPI’s efforts. The region boasts a 96% literacy rate, making it the most literate state in India. From the 1950s to the 70s, P. N. Panicker, a member of the CPI, traveled extensively to rural areas of Kerala to establish public libraries with the aid of government funding. Panicker, acclaimed as the father of the Library Movement in Kerala which strove to educate the state’s illiterate population, is largely responsible for Kerala´s extensive public library system which contains 8,417 libraries. As for the present day, the CPI has expanded on Panicker’s efforts by passing reforms that allow equal access to education for women and other groups previously barred from schooling, due to caste laws.
Not only has the CPI’s intervention helped to educate the masses, but its federalist approach has greatly benefited the state in the midst of crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kerala’s first introduction to an epidemic in 2018 caught the state off-guard, and unprepared. Nipah, a bat-borne virus, tore through the region with a 50-75% mortality rate, and K. K. Shailaja, the state’s health minister, vowed to improve her response to future epidemics through the use of disease-monitoring surveillance, contact tracing, and stronger isolation measures. This pledge was invaluable two years later when the first case of Covid was reported in Kerala. Immediately, the afflicted patient was put in quarantine, and Shailaja’s team rigorously used contact tracing to smother the spread of the disease. By delivering food and water to at-risk locations in Kerala, lengthening quarantine duration to 28 days, and screening incoming travelers at airports, the state shone in its emergency response. Considering that a large part of Kerala’s population commutes out of the state for work, the virus’ 0.36% mortality rate in the state speaks volumes to the efficacy of the government’s aid.
Of course, Kerala still has areas which need improvement. It severely lacks the funds needed to redistribute wealth, and consequently is unable to fully satisfy its poorer population. While the state has increased social security and built homes for the homeless, it has made little progress in truly eradicating poverty. Additionally, younger generations are leaving Kerala after college, seeking lucrative employment in the Gulf, meaning the states’ workforce is aged and dwindling. Thomas Isaac, Kerala’s former Chief Financial Minister, remarks despairingly upon the fact that mass-subsidizations in certain sectors are inevitable, due to the flight of Kerala’s able-bodied workforce. In order for Kerala to make better on its promises to end the class struggle, it must strengthen itself economically by keeping younger generations looking inward for opportunity, instead of outward.
While one could argue that Kerala is not truly a Communist state and does not truly abandon Marx’s detested items of class and property, it seems unfair to altogether wrest this label from a state which has so proudly worked to establish itself as being Communist. While the state has diluted the ideology to make it palatable for its diverse and far-ranging population, the alteration has simultaneously allowed Kerala’s global profile to thrive. Kerala’s economic policy strays far enough from free-market capitalism to be considered an extension of socialism, and yet it abstains from the exceptional requirements dictated by Marx in order to be applauded internationally as a tastefully unconventional state.
Named “God’s Own Country” by passing tourists for its greenery, Kerala is wistful of a future where its picturesque geographic landscape equals its favorable socioeconomic one. Kerala’s founders have already created the bones of a society centered around fairness, equality, and benevolence. It is ultimately up to the future generations of Kerala to complete this construction, or move on to less demanding destinations elsewhere. The power rests entirely in their hands.
By Mimi Petric
There are two things that are important in politics, Senator Mark Hanna said more than a century ago. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.
A lack of proper campaign financing has left political candidates desperate in their search for sources of money; and thus, turning to private campaign finance from those with means to provide. This option has created more harm than good - creating sources of corruption and a multitude of political polarization. Rather than address the complexities and implications of a lack of proper campaign finance, America is instead seemingly infatuated with hyperpartisanship. Gone is our appreciation for equity and fairness in terms of the political process, replaced instead with a country more divided than ever - meaning it’s time to rethink the way we approach campaign financing.
Former President Donald Trump symbolizes this inequity most clearly. The New York Times puts this best when they mention that during a 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman - associates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer - pressed Mr. Trump to remove Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Their schemes were part of a plan to make money from natural gas. Their actions were just a single part of a complex plot that later led to Trump’s impeachment, resulting from his later efforts to compel Ukraine to investigate then-former Vice President Joe Biden. Parnas and Fruman’s corrupt actions personify the most insidious aspect of this: that without even moving a finger, the wealthy can easily influence and skew politics. At the dinner, donors willing to spend lavishly in support of Mr. Trump’s re-election even had the chance to seek the president’s help in placing their own interests above the public interest.
And if this seems far-fetched, it isn’t. The action of skewing politics was clear, too, with Senator Ted Cruz. For his 2016 presidential campaign, a collection of super PACs supporting Mr. Cruz raised $37 million, nearly all of it from three families. Robert Mercer, a private hedge fund investor from New York, contributed $11 million, making him the top known political donor in the country so far this election cycle. The monetary benefits associated with Cruz’s campaign may have well given him an edge over other candidates, effectively creating a skewed election. When we blur the lines between what is equitable and what is not in campaign finance, we stray further away from democracy, contradicting democratic values of equity in both the political and social scope.
The masterminds behind these operations are known as “super PACs” - essentially, committees that may receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor unions and other PACs for the purpose of financing independent expenditures and other independent political activity. As a result of their use within campaign financing, fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign. Super PACs have revealed themselves to be significantly quicker at campaign fundraising — sometimes bringing in tens of millions of dollars from a few businesses or individuals in a matter of days — has allowed them to build significant campaign war chests in a fraction of the time that it would take the candidates, who are restricted in how much they can accept from a single donor. Just 130 or so families and their businesses provided more than half the money raised through by Republican candidates and their super PACs - wherein lies the problem. When campaign finance becomes skewed to a particular party, American democracy lies at stake as hyperpartisanship takes center stage. Establishing heavy funding for a specific candidate or party creates inherently inequitable circumstances for voters.
And the fallout is omnipresent. Money and its potentially corrupting influence are the bane of US politics, and candidates constantly promise voters that they will try to reform a system that they say has been broken by congressional inaction and the Supreme Court. But as posited by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren, “money slithers through every part of our political system, corrupting democracy and taking power away from the people. Big companies and billionaires spend millions to push Congress to adopt or block legislation.” If such big influences fail in their attempts, they turn to lobbying federal agencies which are responsible for ordering legislation. And if their endeavors prove to be futile yet again, companies and billionaires run to judges in the courts to block regulations from taking effect.
Yet the most elusive of issues is yet to be solved: how is such a momentous problem to be approached? To approach a lack of equity in the financial scope, we can use the process that Lawrence Lessig of the New York Times suggests: changing the way campaigns are funded — shifting from large-dollar private funding to small-dollar public funding. When campaign funds for candidates become public, the probability of corruption or inequitable spending decreases.
The political and social implications that skewed campaign financing has created is undeniable. But both the people, their advocacy work, and campaign reform can create change. Putting a stop to the influence of wealthy corporations and individuals is a complex issue: but counteracting it is as straightforward as limiting the sources from which candidates can gain financial support. And that’s as simple as it gets.
By Chloe Yang
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Putin has been working to increase Russian influence throughout the former Soviet zone. However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has been working to advance its own interests, but with democratic values in mind instead. Since the early 1990s, several Baltic nations from the former Soviet Union, including Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and more, all joined the NATO alliance. Now, numerous NATO states directly border Russia. NATO has now expressed interest in enrolling Ukraine into the alliance, which set off the beginning of the conflict.
The Kremlin has been especially angered by the fall of Russian power in formerly-Soviet areas, with President Putin describing Soviet disintegration as “one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century that robbed Russia of its rightful place among the world’s great powers.” Having spent his past 22 years in power building up the Russian military and growing the nation’s geopolitical power, Putin now believes that Russia is ready to face the West.
Specifically, Putin has his sights set on integrating Ukraine with Russia. Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine should be a part of Russia, both culturally and historically. In 2014, Putin acted on these hopes of integration, when he annexed Crimea, a region in Ukraine. Since then, Western pressure has been mounting on Russia to demilitarize the region, yet Russia has ignored these calls.
In December of 2021, Russia presented NATO with a set of demands, including a pact that Ukraine would never join NATO and that NATO would pull back forces in NATO member Eastern European countries. The NATO alliance quickly dismissed these demands, and Russia quickly began mobilizing on the Eastern border of Ukraine. By the beginning of 2022, over 100,000 Russian troops had mobilized on the border.
February 24th, 2022 marked a devastating day for countless Ukranians, as Russia invaded Ukraine, declaring the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. Just two days later, Russian airstrikes began across the nation of Ukraine and Russian forces invaded the country from Belarus, Crimea, and Russia, essentially attacking the nation from all sides. After the first day of Russian invasion, many key Ukrainian zones, such as the Chernobyl exclusion zone, had been captured by Russia.
On the second day of invasion, Russian troops stormed the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, where they faced surprisingly strong resistance from troops and civilians alike. By early March, Russia began attacking civilian areas, shelling the towns of Kharkiv and Mariupol. Dozens of civilians had already been killed by Russian forces, following numerous artillery attacks and airstrikes.
As of March 18th, the United Nations estimated that over three million people have fled Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Thousands of Ukrainians fled the country by train with thousands others attempting to drive out, creating long traffic lines out of the country. Ukrainian refugees have primarily been fleeing into neighboring countries, with Poland taking in nearly 2 million refugees, as of March 16th. Refugees entering Poland, primarily women and children, face wait times of over 24 hours, although they do not need documents to enter. Ukrainian citizens—those who are legally living in Ukraine—have been granted refugee status in Poland. If they do not have friends or relatives to stay with, many Eastern European countries have allowed Ukrainian refugees to stay in reception centers where they are given food, medical care, and information about their further travels away from Ukraine.
While Poland has been very accommodating towards refugees, the government of Poland has stated that it will need more money from the EU to continue to host more refugees in the future. Moldova, a nation with the largest concentration of refugees per capita, has also requested international help to deal with the influx of migrants.
In addition, an estimated 12 million people inside of Ukraine are also in need of assistance, according to the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In southern Ukraine, bedding, medication, and heating are scarce, while in Eastern Ukraine, even basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter are needed as well. While the UN has been offering humanitarian assistance inside of Ukraine, the EU puts the total number of Ukraine refugees at up to seven million.
While the US Congress has passed legislation giving billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainians, there is still much that the US can do. For example, the Boston Globe proposes that the Biden administration issue humanitarian parole visas to Ukrainian refugees so they can seek asylum for two years. Additionally, they advocate for the creation of a program that would allow ordinary citizens to host refugees.
The Russo-Ukrainian conflict took the world by surprise and is continuing to unfold each and every day. Hopefully, the conflict can be resolved by the international community soon, and peace can be brought to Eastern Europe. As European Commission foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says, “these are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War.”
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
By Priya Mullassaril
The age-old idea of American superiority which primarily rests upon the belief that we bear no resemblance to autocracies like Russia and China is long overdue for a paradigm shift. America scorns the aforementioned countries for practicing the suppression of speech, and in the same breath, she silences marginalized authors by removing their books from circulation. Much to the chagrin of our founding fathers, the chasm which separates this country from authoritarian regimes is gradually being doctored due to America’s despotic implementation of censorship. Republican state representative Scott Cepickey recently introduced a state-wide bill in Tennessee attempting to ban in-school reading materials that grapple with grave topics, such as prejudice and religious intolerance. Large parts of the conservative movement and its leaders have sought to prevent the youth from learning about pervasive interracial and interfaith schisms, leading members of the group to challenge and ban books such as Maus, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and Lawn Boy on the basis that they make students feel uncomfortable. These books delve into Jewish trauma resulting from the Holocaust and anti-semitism, the ostracization of black queer Americans, and the myopic lens used to view Hispanic people, making it imperative that these authors have a platform on which their voices can be heard. By no means do these books broach a level of impropriety that makes them unsuitable for younger readers. They are simply honest accounts of what it is like to grow up in a country that has misconstrued what it means to be a “true American”.
While this country grants numerous benefits to its citizens, its downfalls must also be taken into account in order to initiate growth. For decades in America, the microphone has, for the most part, been handed to men unaffected by the injustice which lurks beneath the red, white, and blue flag we so proudly wave. To learn from the experiences of marginalized authors at a young age is a stepping stone to cultivate the social conscience of Americans, and cleanse them of their predetermined prejudices. It also gives future generations an opportunity to show more amiability towards minorities than their ancestors did. Education is the only way our country can hope to deconstruct its prejudices which have been inculcated into us at birth, which is why the expurgation of material that sheds light on inequality in America is a senselessly cruel act.
Prohibiting these books from libraries is not only antiquated and representative of a dysfunctional government, but it is also discriminatory. This country has repeatedly shown jaundice towards minorities, what with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and Japanese internment camps in 1942. Our history is scarred by our ignorance and inability to listen to others. To repeat this mistake by silencing BIPOC and ethnic groups is to say that their issues are not worth our time- that the injustices they suffered at the hands of our country should be forgotten in the name of preserving the innocence of our youth. This is an eminently prejudiced take because it exacerbates the divide between white and non-white Americans by belittling minority struggles. Change will never be possible if we are unwilling to face the demons of our past and how we were responsible for unleashing them, meaning we must open up discussions about race and prejudice instead of shutting them down.
The First Amendment grants citizens the right to publish reading material freely without fear of censorship. To trample this right of certain authors because they expose America’s tainted past is a direct violation of human rights that allows only a select few to control the narrative of what this country’s history should entail. Like any other country, America has made its mistakes- some more egregious than others. However, if children are never taught about how America strayed from the path of morality during its darkest hours, they develop the mentality that this country can do no wrong. This type of thinking engenders bigotry and xenophobia, leading future generations into treacherous territory.
Moreover, it is of the utmost importance for children to learn about injustices that plague this country because of their growing minds. Studies show that at age 12, kids start to become increasingly influenced by social factors. By sheltering white children from serious topics, namely racism and discrimination, their ability to develop empathy for people of color will be hindered. If they are not educated about such matters at a young age, their ignorance will lead them down the wrong path, and it is infinitely harder for them to unlearn prejudice when they are much older. A child’s formative years is a period when education and learning should be maximized; not restricted. What's more, adults often underestimate how much adolescents and teens are able to handle. Children watch movies with profanity, play video games consisting of killing, and are taught about war and 9/11 in school- they are more than capable of learning about America´s pejorative history towards minorities. If it is taught correctly, then there would be no problem with allowing reading materials which deal with America’s treatment of marginalized groups to be freely accessible in school libraries. And if it brings such a degree of wariness for conservatives to teach their children about America’s history that they resort to censorship, perhaps our nation needs a significant amount of change before it can be one we are proud to call home.
By Chloe Yang
Based on the results of the 2020 census, state and local governments across the nation are beginning a new cycle of redistricting, or redrawing district lines in accordance with population shifts. However, through redistricting, politicians now utilize a practice known as gerrymandering, or redrawing district boundaries with the intention of favoring the electoral chances of one group over another. Partisan gerrymandering, which is redistricting to favor one political party over another, has been utilized frequently by politicians from both sides of the aisle. This practice has only been heightened in the most recent redistricting cycle following the Supreme Court ruling in the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause case, which decided that partisan gerrymandering cannot be challenged in federal court, although they can still be challenged in state courts.
Most notably, partisan gerrymandering has been heavily weaponized by Republicans during the 2021-22 redistricting process. This gerrymandering scheme began back in 2010, when Republicans unveiled the REDMAP initiative which targeted swing states in the 2010 election to gain power in the corresponding redistricting process. The impacts of this initiative were effective, and as REDMAP’s own website puts it, that party that has power over the redistricting process “shap[es] the political landscape for the next 10 years.”
Twelve years after the start of REDMAP, Republicans are continuing to unjustly use partisan gerrymandering to their advantage. In Ohio and North Carolina, for example, although the redrawn maps have since been struck down, Republicans have attempted to pass maps that have both received an “F” grade on the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s partisanship scale.
As the 2021-22 redistricting process begins to wind down, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current system of partisan gerrymandering is becoming less and less democratic. The primary nomination system is largely to blame––partisan gerrymandering removes any real competition from general elections, meaning the primary election of the dominant party all but determines district representation. Not only does partisan gerrymandering skew representation and create extreme polarization, they also impact a multitude of social and political issues.
The passage of gun prevention legislation, for example, has been hindered by the proliferation of partisan gerrymandering. Public support for increased gun control legislation has been rising in the US within recent years, largely due to the increase in mass shootings and gun-related homicides. However, while 88% of Americans support requiring background checks on all gun sales, many states have failed to take this action because of the disconnect between the representatives and their voters. For example, in 2017, Democrats won a majority of the popular vote for the Virginia House of Delegates. However, thanks to the gerrymandered districts, Republicans held on to control, and the following year, the same thing happened in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These Republican-controlled legislatures have repeatedly refused to allow gun restriction bills to have a hearing or come to a vote.
Similarly, partisan gerrymandering has also limited access to health insurance. While states can receive federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, the states themselves must approve it. Because of partisan gerrymandering, conservative politicians from Wisconsin, to North Carolina, and Georgia, have opposed ACA policies that are estimated to have insured 1 million more people and prevented around 3,000 deaths in 2019.
Partisan gerrymandering has also hindered the expansion of child care and education programs. Expanding programs that provide support for children have long been a bipartisan issue: 70% of Americans favor increasing funding for expanding pre-K education — 53% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats. Although policies like tax credit for child care have been proposed in states like North Carolina, the effort for adoption was quickly quashed by the Republican dominated legislature. Similar efforts, which have been proposed in Michigan and Pennsylvania, were also defeated in the gerrymandered state legislatures.
In addition to partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing political boundaries to favor one racial group over another, still continues to plague our redistricting process as well, even though the practice was outlawed in the Shaw v. Reno Supreme Court case. While partisan gerrymandering is constitutional, racial gerrymandering is not. However, because it is difficult to distinguish between the two, racial gerrymandering still takes place under the guise of political partisanship.
Specifically, Republicans have been using racial gerrymandering to dilute the power of African American voters to push Democratic leaders out of office or dilute their electoral chances. Racial gerrymandering is more prominent in this redistricting cycle in particular because it follows the Shelby County v. Holder. Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which defined the rules for redistricting based on voter turnout. Essentially, this decision gave states the ability to create more restrictive voting laws without federal approval. In Texas, and in nine other states primarily in the South, redistricting maps no longer needed federal approval.
The New York Times found that “the number of Black legislators being drawn out of their districts [in this cycle] outpaces that of recent redistricting cycles.” And Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc concedes that, “Without a doubt [racial gerrymandering is] worse than it was in any recent decade.”
This pattern is proven in numerous Republican-led states. For example, while people of color account for more than 95% of Texas’ population growth since the 2010 redistricting cycle, the Texas State Legislature drew two new Congressional seats with populations that were predominantly white. States like Alabama and South Carolina are also continuing their decades-long tradition of packing African American voters into a single Congressional district to minimize the power of their votes, even though there were attempts to have a second majority-Black House district created.
While beneficial in theory, in practice, gerrymandering has unfortunately become far too politicized and favors politicians over people. Gerrymandering, both partisan and racial, are frankly undemocratic practices that arbitrarily minimize the voices of some citizens and amplify the voices of others. Politicians must strive to leave the game of elections and partisanship behind for the betterment of their own constituents. In our current system, it is no longer our voters who chose our representatives, but rather our representatives who are choosing their voters.
By Chloe Yang
On December 22, 2021, the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission adopted a new congressional district map. The six Democrats on New Jersey’s bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Commission drew their own proposal for the new map whereas the six Republicans on the commission drew a separate proposal. Because they could not agree on a map, NJ Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, who had been selected as the tie-breaker, had an enormous amount of power in deciding the future of the state’s congressional districts. On December 22nd, Wallace announced that he would vote in favor of the Democrats’ map, citing his reason for doing so being that the Republicans controlled the state’s last redistricting process in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, the new map is relatively favorable to Democrats, for out of the twelve congressional districts of New Jersey, six districts are now solidly Democratic and three districts are Democratic-leaning. In comparison to the previous map, the new map includes three more Democratically-leaning districts: one less Republican-leaning district and two less highly competitive districts.
Most notably, Democratic Representative Andy Kim’s 3rd Congressional district had the most dramatic partisan swing, going from R+5 to D+9 (data based on FiveThirtyEight’s Partisan Propensity Index). Similarly, Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill gained much bluer districts following the redistricting, improving their reelection prospects in 2022.
However, while Representatives Kim, Gottheimer, and Sherrill all benefited from this redraw, District 7’s own Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski is at an increased risk, with the district going from D+4 to R+3. During the redistricting process, Malinowski supporters testified at meetings of the NJ Redistricting Commission to try to save Malinowski’s reelection chances, with one supporter stating that, “[m]aking our district safe for the scion of any political dynasty would be unacceptable to the citizens of NJ-7”. However, these efforts were ultimately not enough and Malinowski’s seat may have been sacrificed in the redistricting process.
In 2020, Malinowski’s opponent, New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean Jr., came just one point away and 5,000 votes from unseating the incumbent. Kean has announced that he will be seeking a rematch with Malinowski in 2022. Although this time around, Kean has primary opponents to face off against, State Assemblyman Erik Peterson and America First Rev. Phil Rizzo, Kean is likely to remain on top as the Republicans’ candidate of choice. But no matter how difficult his reelection chances may seem, Malinowski announced early last month that he would be seeking reelection for a third term. Malinowski himself admits in a fundraising email that “redistricting hasn’t made things easier for us” but also contends, “I’ve only ever won hard races. And my likely opponent, Tom Kean Jr., has only ever lost them — for good reason.”
Contrastingly, Kean is increasingly confident going into election season. Dan Scharfenberger, Kean’s campaign manager, for example, thinks that the new district lines were a reflection of Malinowski’s increasingly slim reelection prospects: “Democrats on redistricting rated him a loser, now analysts rate him a loser”.
The Congressman’s reelection chances are far from entirely gone. In fact, Malinowski has only ever run in highly competitive races. Malinowski has a leg up in fundraising: Malinowski raised around $2.1 million in campaign financing by October, 2021, in comparison to Kean’s $648,000. Additionally, in 2018, Malinowski was one of the few Democrats who campaigned in the race as a moderate and won. Going into the midterms, one of Malinowski’s primary strategies is to appeal to the voters who backed Biden for President and Kean for Congress in 2020. This election may test whether a Democrat with an independent persona, much like Malinowski, can withstand a Republican wave.
As in every new decade, the redistricting process has come and gone. However, for residents of New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional district, the new lines may cause great political change in the 2022 midterm elections, possibly flipping the balance of power for the next two years, or even longer. As Malinowski himself states, “The stakes have never been higher.”
By Chloe Yang
In many ways, the world was impacted the most by the pandemic because of a lack of precautions. As the Omicron variant continues to surge and countries struggle to keep cases low, the oversight in providing the proper health precautions has led to the number of total worldwide COVID cases skyrocketing to 400 million. But beyond that, a failure to bolster the global supply chain has led to nearly every single aspect of it being affected by the pandemic. From manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and more, the efficiency of the supply chain was greatly slowed following the spread of COVID-19.
Primarily, manufacturing was one of the first steps in the supply chain to be impacted by the pandemic. In industrial and manufacturing giants like China, South Korea, Vietnam, and even Germany, thousands of factories were forced to shut down or reduce production due to quarantine restrictions and sick employees. As a result, shipping companies subsequently cut down their schedules, anticipating a global drop in demand for transporting goods.
However, this prediction proved to be a fatal mistake. While demand for certain goods and services, such as airline tickets and restaurant meals, did lessen, this did not hold true in numerous industries. Indeed, people instead redirected money that they once would have spent on experiences and promptly funneled them to home investments, which doubled as offices and classrooms during lockdown. From office chairs to blenders, video game consoles, gym equipment, and even paint for redecoration, demand in the home improvement sector quickly skyrocketed. Peloton, an American home exercise equipment company, for example, saw their stock rise by 350% in just 2020 alone, due to the increased demand in at-home exercise equipment.
But factories soon found it difficult to keep up with this sudden increase in consumer demand. Some items, for example, are critical components in the manufacturing process. Computer microchips were among the items that were most affected by the supply chain crisis, due to their advanced and complicated production process. Because of this, factories struggled to produce items such as automobiles, computers, displays, and other vital electronic products. This shortage especially burdened teachers and students around the world, who needed computers, microphones, and web cameras for virtual learning, widening the supply and demand gap even more.
Physical transportation has also created stalls in the supply chain. Since the beginning of the pandemic, containers have been simultaneously scarce and in high demand. As masks, hospital gowns, and other personal protective equipment were shipped from China and the US to nations around the world as the virus first proliferated, empty containers quickly piled up in remote areas that do not typically ship exports back to China or the US, slowing global container turnaround rates. At the same time, nations began greatly increasing production in order to keep up with the aforementioned increased demand. The newfound scarcity of containers combined with the spike in demand for them led to the skyrocketing of the cost of cargo transportation. China-US container shipping even rates ran as high as $20,000 in 2021.
Physical bottlenecks complicated cargo shipment ever more. Ports and docks across North America and Europe quickly found it difficult to keep up with the heavy influx of container ships following the manufacturing increase from nations like China. Consequently, ships were forced to anchor in the sea for days before having the chance to load and unload cargo. Similarly, with truck drivers and dockworkers in port areas being forced into quarantine, the availability of transportation workers decreased, slowing the cargo transportation process even more.
While the global supply chain crisis was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, without a doubt, the issues embedded within the crisis were present before the virus. Indeed, the pandemic only highlighted existing issues within the supply chain itself. However, nations around the world can take steps to ensure that a similar crisis can be averted in the future.
The United States, for example, can focus on becoming more self-sufficient in manufacturing to guarantee that heightened reliance on Chinese manufacturing cannot cause delays in the supply chain. The world’s reliance on China’s production of goods was one of the largest contributors to the crisis. While the US likely cannot keep up with China in more labor-intensive industries, it can invest more heavily in technological and research-intensive production. Recently, the Biden administration invested $20 billion in American technology company Intel to build a semiconductor factory in Ohio. Increasing domestic manufacturing capacity as well as diversifying suppliers is a crucial first step to alleviate the pressures caused by the supply chain shortage.
Additionally, the labor shortages in the transportation and warehousing industries could be reduced by the increase in global wages for the sectors. With the annual turnover rate reaching 94%, retention is a big problem in the global trucking labor market, but one that can be mitigated by higher wages. Additionally, improving working conditions in the sectors can also make the jobs more attractive to licensed truck drivers. The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed in the US failed to address these issues, overlooking the inclusion of funding for truck parking, for instance. However, by providing more competitive wages, as well as increasing investment in overall infrastructure, nations around the world can diminish the substantial labor shortage to prevent another supply shortage in the future.
While the current supply crisis may be temporary, the underlying issues within the supply chain will undoubtedly persist. If the global community can cooperate to solve these problems using collaborative solutions, another supply chain crisis can hopefully be averted in the future.