By Benny Sun
America’s school systems are broken. With George Floyd protests proliferating across the country, Americans are now reflecting upon the many deeply-flawed institutions including criminal justice courts, housing policies, and now schooling. Recent reports indicate that the alarming prominence of “intensely segregated schools” where whites are less than 10% of the student body population has tripled in the last 20 years. Now, nearly 42% of Latinos and 40% of African Americans attend minority-majority schools which severely lack in quality, funding, and equal treatment. While Brown v. Board of Ed was a landmark case passed 66 years ago in favor of racial equality in schooling districts, these sentiments have unfortunately not been reflected in the United States.
For instance, New York City’s school district, home to an extremely racially-divided education system, has been called on to revamp its admissions process. Elite high schools in New York including Stuyvesant and Manhattan Beacon employ a standardized-test based admission process, allowing wealthy students to hire private tutors while poorer students are left behind. For this reason, these elite schools have incredibly low racial diversity rates: in Stuyvesant, only 4% of its student population is Hispanic, Latino, or African American. However, to better understand how the public school system has failed racial minorities, we must first understand the historical context of America’s unequal school systems.
To begin, Brown v. The Board of Ed. was simply not followed through by states. During the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 1,000 school districts remained as segregated as before the ruling. This was because a plethora of southern states clashed with lower and federal courts, bringing in any method of slowing down the process of desegregation. As such, a desire for a truly ambitious education reform failed. Moreover, in the years following World War 2, the 1950s saw a period of immense rapid population and housing shortage, prompting the emergence of suburbs around large cities. Under this new development, “white flight” occurred where wealthy white families moved to predominantly white-majority suburban towns, creating racial-minority areas in poor cities and separating high-echelon neighborhoods.
As a result, white-majority neighborhoods grew more prosperous while living standards in urban areas declined due to a depleted tax base. Even though school segregation was banned in 1954, because of the vast separations in areas, busing projects to bring low-income students into higher-quality schools were scrapped altogether. In the worst case, Boston’s Busing project in the 1970s erupted in violence, as white residents harassed racial minorities through insults and threats. Moreover, during the 1980s, the rollback of legal mandates allowed white families to “splinter” from existing districts, separating their school funding and population from the poorer district. Thus, school segregation existed very much in spirit. These impacts are manifest in two important outcomes in schooling districts across the United States: lack of funding for poor districts and consistent separation.
Education spending across the country is widely inconsistent among school districts. States like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts with fewer lower-income students of color spend twice as much on their students compared with states like Mississippi with a larger population of low-income students. Unfortunately, these fewer dollars means that school districts with less resources provide less services such as more personalized teaching, important field trips, and resources like computers (all essential to the learning process). On the other hand, poorer districts suffer from significantly lower standardized test scores because they are unable to acquire textbooks or test-prep books for teaching materials.
As stated before, the sources behind fewer resources originate from the highly-concentrated areas of poverty areas that some minority students grew up in. Because of the massive white-flight movement in the 1950s, racial-minority families in mostly urban areas were stuck in the cities, where property values sunk and schools saw decreases in funding. Thus, local governments were less able to collect property taxes, the main mechanism for funding schools. For this reason, school quality began dropping off, creating a vicious cycle that pushed more wealthy areas away from these neighborhoods due to poor education. These effects are already well documented: a report by the US Department of Education found that the 20% reduction of pupil-spending in districts is correlated with a whopping 25% reduction in future income gains.
Even if richer families reside near minority-majority school districts, they often do not attend these schools. In a study revolving around the National Educational Longitudinal Survey during the 1980s, Dr. Robert Farlie and Alexandra Resch from MIT discovered an alarming fact: white families simply reverted to nearby private schools instead, cementing the prevalent segregated school district problem. This becomes extremely problematic, as not only does school integration receive less political backing, but interacting with people from all different backgrounds is crucial for raising an open-minded society. By establishing an integrated school district with all races, studies show that these places help white students “overcome prejudice”, while Black and Latino's students receive higher test scores. In some instances, the achievement gap was cut in half in math and one-third in English.
The solution for America’s deeply-divided public schools is tricky, but still possible. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, there are no “neighborhood schools”. Instead, all residents choose their top school choices and district administrators select a match based on socioeconomic factors and preference to ensure an integrated school experience. In New York City, the city council has attempted to push school districts towards integration through offering grants, where schools that develop an integration model are rewarded with extra funding. Luckily, last year, Brooklyn started to craft an admissions process that no longer requires standardized tests. However, without addressing the root of the problem, segregation will still exist in housing.
Overall, because school segregation is entirely based on neighborhood demographics and median income levels, the United States will remain divided unless a major shift occurs soon. As long as Americans are determined to draw lines around each other, whether physical or social, racial progress will be stymied by the lack of educational and economic opportunities that racial minorities face. Learning to live together amidst ethnic and economic tensions may seem impossible right now, but it is the only way Americans can learn to set aside their differences. Through dismantling school and neighborhood segregation, the United States would be one step closer to fulfilling the wish from Brown v. Board of Ed 60 years ago.
By Lucas Canteros-Paz
Around the globe, authorities and experts are preparing for the second wave of COVID-19 infections, yet in the Americas, there’s still no end in sight to the first.
Currently, most countries in Latin America are seeing their daily cases and deaths increase, and in the past two weeks, this region accounted for over half of coronavirus-related deaths worldwide. Brazil, the most populous nation in the region, has reported more than 1.2 million cases, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru are forecasted to have more than 10,000 deaths each, according to Reuters. Worryingly, researchers say these numbers could be even higher due to low testing rates. Although the situation in Latin America seems to get worse every day, efforts to contain and treat the virus have been marred by corruption scandals and profiteers who seek to use the pandemic for their own economic gain.
According to various experts, the pandemic has actually facilitated attempts of corruption for public officials in Latin America. By declaring a state of emergency, several countries have suspended regulations governing public contracts, adjourned in-person congressional meetings, or abolished rules requiring them to respond to media requests for information. These actions have resulted in reduced transparency and have left thousands across the region without the necessary resources to treat the deadly virus.
For instance, Bolivia’s former health minister, Marcelo Navajas, is awaiting trial for corruption charges after the ministry over-paid for 179 ventilators that did not even work properly. According to Al Jazeera, Bolivia initially paid $27,683 for each ventilator from a manufacturer in Spain when the actual price was estimated to be about $11,000. Bolivia is one of Latin America’s poorest nations and is currently experiencing political turmoil after the controversial resignation of Evo Morales. Due to the nation's current economic state and the governments failed policies, many patients have been turned away from hospitals.
Also, in heavily impacted Ecuador, prosecutors revealed that they identified a criminal ring that colluded with health officials. One of their leaders, Daniel Salcedo, was detained after reportedly selling body bags to hospitals for 13 times the actual price. As a result, many hospitals in the Guayaquil area were forced to dispose of bodies on the streets.
Most notably, Peru’s police chief and interior minister were forced to resign after their deputies were caught purchasing diluted hand sanitizer and useless face masks for their officers. Thus, more than 11,000 police officers have been infected and at least 200 have died of the virus. Due to the lack of law enforcement, the government has failed to enforce lockdown orders, and currently, Peru has the 6th most cases in the world.
Although scandals in Latin American countries are not very surprising given that they consistently rank amongst the most corrupt in the world, it is clear that many government officials and members of law enforcement have abused their power during the pandemic. A recent survey by Transparency International revealed that more than half of the region’s residents believe the problem of corruption to be getting worse. They also found that a fifth of survey takers admitted to paying a bribe in the past year.
But, many still remain optimistic that social pressure against corruption could bring massive change to Latin America. In the same report, it was found that 77% of survey takers believed that ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption despite fears of retaliation.
Before the pandemic, massive protests against corruption and economic inequality erupted in several countries. For instance, protesters in Ecuador blocked highways and fought with security forces when the government decided to remove fuel subsidies in 2019. After the mass protests, the government backed down from their decision. Similarly, many people in Chile took to the streets after the government raised the price of public transportation. Although prices have only increased a mere 4%, these protests are representative of a greater economic divide between the top 1% and the rest of the nation.
Also, the use of social media has made it easier for people to publicly denounce corruption. For example, in 2016, Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht admitted to paying over $788 million in bribes for over a decade after public pressure. This led to the jailing of several former company presidents. Optimists also point to Paraguay’s successful implementation of a platform that allowed users to track the status of 110 emergency accounts worth over $26 million. This will allow citizen groups to monitor how resources are being spent to address the pandemic.
In Latin America, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Countless lives are still being lost each and every day. It is up to the authorities of each nation to do what's necessary to protect their citizens, but it is clear that many are using the virus for their own economic benefit. Only time will tell whether this trend will continue.
By Julia Roos
This month, LGBTQ+ community members and allies have come together to celebrate their identities and increased visibility. Over the past decade, monumental strides have been made towards equality for all Americans regardless of their identity. In 2015, the landmark civil rights case, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalized same-sex couples’ rights to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court interpreted a statute that will transform the lives of millions of LGBTQ+ Americans.
In an unanticipated 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Court heard a series of three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude v. Zarda concerned lawsuits from gay men who asserted that they were fired because of their sexual orientation, and the R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case was brought by a transgender woman who was fired after she revealed that she is a transgender woman and will come to work in women’s clothing. Title VII prohibits employers’ discrimination against an employee “because of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” The Court questioned if employment discrimination “because of … sex” encompasses homosexual and transgender individuals. Since the present Supreme Court is fundamentally conservative, this ruling surprised communities and allies, while it disappointed many Republicans. Trump’s first appointee to the court, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, authored the majority opinion that “discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.” He furthers his rationale by explaining, “an employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.” Imagine this scene: if an employer fires a man for having a husband but not a woman, they are firing that man for an action that they would not question in a female worker, which is discriminating based on sex. Sex undeniably plays a role in the concept of homosexuality and gender identities.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas wrote the leading dissent, which criticized the majority and accused them of sailing under a “textualist flag,” essentially pretending to make decisions strictly based off of the text but instead updating it to better reflect the values of modern society. Gorsuch acknowledged that the drafters of the Civil Rights Act did not likely have LGBTQ+ groups in mind when creating Title VII. However, he pointed out several major court rulings that have read the law expansively, for example, barring discrimination in the workplace against women because they have children, and prohibiting sexual harassment of both men and women.
Before this ruling, 29 states lacked full protection for citizens against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. These states substantially fell along the partisan divide as red states in the south and the midwest did not uphold statutory protection. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, this ruling will protect 4 million LGBTQ+ workers in those 29 states that lacked protection under federal law. The Court’s order is the most influential in the American LGBTQ+ movement’s decades-long history. Earlier successes included the implementation of anti-discrimination laws by states in 2013 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. Not everyone gets or wants to be married, but most American adults do work, and need to work, to provide for themselves or their families.
Although this landmark case indicates an enormous stride for the LGBTQ+ community, Gorsuch addressed several possible stipulations that will form after this ruling, like employers having religious objections to hiring gay or transgender workers. Freedom of religion, stated in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, is a fundamental aspect of the United States government. The free exercise clause is an important regulation to follow, especially when it comes to minority religious groups whose practices are easily infringed upon by laws and policies enacted by the majority. Although, when exemptions from laws and statutes to satisfy religious beliefs or practices trample on the rights of others or essential societal values like nondiscrimination, policymakers should not blindly support freedom of religion. Proponents of laws that make exceptions for religious groups argue that they effectively balance religious freedom with LGBTQ+ rights, when in reality, these laws create exemptions for religious groups with no consideration for the burden and harm on others. These exceptions take the form of refusing to provide services to a same-sex wedding, permitting religious adoption agencies to not place a child in a same-sex family, healthcare providers turning away LGBTQ+ patients, and countless other injustices. By encouraging people to place their biases against LGBTQ+ people above fairness and equality, it challenges the broader principle that people should not be discriminated against because of who they are. The recent Supreme Court ruling does not directly combat this complication, but for LGBTQ+ groups to make this much progress in the judicial system, and in society, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination laws should be enforced on every individual, and not be disregarded by people with “religious” or “moral” standards.
President Trump has been actively pursuing the Evangelist constituency, as they made up a large percentage of his voters in the 2016 election. According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelical groups’ confidence in Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has decreased since March. As a response, Trump pushed for churches to reopen, visited religious sites, and continued to advance conservative social policies. Although the statute only refers to employment discrimination, the other prohibitions of education, housing, and public accommodation should likely follow this decision. The outcome of the ruling directly reprimands the Trump Administration, who use its rule-making power to take protections away from transgender individuals. Their attempt to roll back transgender healthcare rights from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act may bring this case back into question, since this rule would remove nondiscrimination protections from people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of this rule believe that the reversal of Obama-era regulations is necessary to define the meaning of “sex discrimination,” so healthcare providers can legally harm this already vulnerable group, even amid a pandemic. The original law stated that protections of sex discrimination include males, females, a combination of both, or individuals that identify as neither. The United States Department of Health and Human Services finalized the rule in June 2019 that will reverse the former definition of sex discrimination to be again based on biological sex exclusively. They claim that this regulation will save doctors and hospitals billions of dollars over five years, which makes sense considering these institutions can legally turn away the one million transgender people that live in America and seek healthcare. The implementation of this new rule will lead to dangerous refusals for transgender citizens in the healthcare system: a checkup at a doctor’s office, a transgender man who needs treatment for ovarian cancer, a hysterectomy not being covered by an insurer because it relates to someone’s gender transition. Fortunately, various LBGTQ advocacy groups, clinics, and organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, will sue the Trump Administration for rolling back LGBTQ+ healthcare protections.
No American should be refused care because of a provider’s beliefs or morals against the individual’s existence. Hopefully, the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision will outlaw the Trump Administration’s war on LGBTQ+ rights. The definition of “sex discrimination” should apply to gender identity or sexual orientation on every account to every person and in America regardless of religious affiliation. Since when did the value of equality in America be prioritized for certain groups over others? Why can people stigmatize the LGBTQ+ community in the name of religious freedom? Nobody should be turned away from healthcare providers, employment, or any other accommodations because of who they are.
By Benny Sun
In a region marred by poverty, death, and disease, Yemen hopelessly sinks further and further into chaos as both the Coronavirus and the deep-seated violence of war continue to fester within the country. Now in its sixth year of the war, Yemen’s crisis has been dubbed the “Worst Humanitarian Crisis” by the United Nations with reports indicating over 14 million Yemenis in deep poverty and 20 million civilians on the brink of starvation. Under this brutal conflict, in 2015, Saudi Arabia launched its air campaign over Yemen to protect the Sunni-backed Yemen government against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. What started as a few skirmishes quickly escalated into an all-out war and now an all-out human catastrophe. However, as civilian casualty rates continue to increase and the economic effects take its toll on Saudi Arabia, the Yemen conflict is entering into a new chapter, one whose fate could be entirely decided by the United States.
Announced in April of 2020, Saudi Arabia declared a ceasefire in the Yemen region in order for the alliance to recoup their losses from the coronavirus. Soon after, in May of 2020, the United Nations declared comments on the success of the ceasefire, finding that recent attempts “significant progress on negotiations”. However, despite this progress, there are still extreme tensions between the Saudi air force and Houthi rebels. For instance, the port of Hodeida, the country’s main access to aid and food from other countries, was attacked despite the ongoing ceasefire. Even on April 24th, the Houthis accused Saudi Arabia of violating the ceasefire 241 times in 48 hours, demonstrating that the existing hostilities could easily boil back into an all-out war. Unfortunately, while tensions are near the boiling point, recent actions by the United States could intensify conflict in Yemen and re-ignite the fighting, destroying all progress seen in the last few months. Against the behest of Congress, Trump officials are planning again to sell billions of dollars more into Saudi Arabia in munitions, arms sales, and weaponry so that Saudi Arabia can continue its fight in Yemen. This is especially significant, as against the backdrop of 2019, where Trump vetoed a resolution to end arms sales which were supported by both the House and the Senate, existing defiances by the executive branch again could set more clashes between Trump and Congress. Specifically, Trump plans to add 478 million dollars in existing deals which would add more than 7,500 more precision-guided missiles and expand Saudi Arabia’s access to advanced weaponry. Overall, to better understand the geopolitical implications of recent actions, one must first understand the arguments on both sides.
Congress has drawn the human toll attributed to American weaponry by Saudi Arabian fighter jets over Yemen. Currently, 60% of Saudi Arabia’s arms deliveries originate from the United States. Not only does Saudi Arabia depend on external weapons, but America even provides a daily supply for maintenance, refueling, and logistical training. Therefore, many would argue that if the United States ended its arms sales to Saudi Arabia, they would be left unable to fly their planes and continue these campaigns. Essentially, on every level, current Saudi Arabian military equipment relies on American training and technology. Moreover, mere backing Saudi Arabia could push them towards fighting rather than strong diplomacy, as Foreign Policy Expert Trita Parsi explains that when the United States militarily backs Saudi Arabia up, they become emboldened to expand in conflict violence in the first place. This is because when a major world power like the United States backs up Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia perceives this support as greenlight for further action. And with Trump continuing to ignore many human rights violations done by Saudi Arabia, it definitely could be the case. On the other hand, in November 2019, when Saudi Arabia recognized that the US military was no longer at their disposal, Parsi concluded that Saudi Arabia “began exercising diplomatic talks”. Consequently, there was a miraculous 80% drop in airstrikes with little casualties two weeks after this incident. It is therefore understandable why Congress is so uneasy about Trump’s recent actions: if the United States continues to fund the war effort, the Yemen situation would quickly boil over. Problematically,, Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes have become synonymous with terror in Yemen repented by both the civilians and the international public. In fact, according to a report from the New York Times, nearly 4,600 civilians have been killed in the crossfire as a result of inaccurate bombing from Saudi Arabia. An especially tragic incident occurred when Saudi officers subverted their chain of command and struck a funeral hall mourning the deaths of Houthi rebels which killed over 155 people. To conclude this chapter simply, NJ Senator Bob Menendez finds that “since 2015, we have seen Saudi Arabia utilize American-made weapons in what started as a campaign to restore the legitimate Yemeni government but has degenerated into one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in the world and a wholly destabilizing campaign”.
Conversely, Trump’s decision to continue supporting Saudi Arabia only furthers America’s long track record with the United States. As early as the 1930s when Franklin D. Roosevelt declared oil as a strategic resource, the federal government established a strong connection with Saudi Arabia. Since then, even with its bumpy relations including the oil embargo 1970s or later events of 9/11, America established strong economic ties which later flourished into a military alliance as well. To address existing concerns, many experts such as writer Tom Rogan predict that Trump is utilizing its leverage as a trusted ally to push Saudi Arabia towards ceasefires and better targeting practices. For example, in 2017, the Trump administration required Saudi Arabia to buy 750 million dollars worth of US training to further mitigate civilian casualties. Although the results have been mixed, these efforts could demonstrate the leverage the United States could have over Saudi Arabia's relationship. Therefore, if Trump ended the relationship with Saudi Arabia by cutting off these arms sales, they could lose this important leverage to control Saudi Arabia’s action, prompting Saudi Arabia to continue aggressively pushing in the area. This is especially important as the main reason why Saudi Arabia decided to launch its air campaign has always been to reduce Iranian or Shia influence in the Middle Eastern region. Thus, even without Trump’s arms sales, the war in Yemen could still theoretically continue. This is because as the Economist reports, the United States is competing with other major rivals in arms sales including Russia or China. Rostec, a state-owned Russian firm, sold over 13 billion dollars of weapons to the region of the Middle East with Chinese firms closely following behind. Thus, a common claim by the Trump administration has been that if they ended their relationship, Saudi Arabia could simply buy weapons from other countries like Russia or China.
Overall, despite popular protests from both Congress and most Americans, Trump will continue to aid Saudi Arabia in fighting the war in Yemen. While current negotiations are taking place, it is important to understand that America’s actions in the next few months will become vital in the outcomes of these events. Thus, Trump’s recent decision to expand arms sales could either become a curse for the people of Yemen or a signal of restraint for Saudi Arabia. Only time will tell.
By Julia Roos
It’s no secret that fashion holds a high position as one of the most polluting industries in the world; but how often does that stop us from shopping for clothes every season? This dilemma is especially pertinent while shopping at affordable brands like Zara and H&M, which seem to always carry clothes in style for a low price. The environmentally conscious consumer will search for “green” products, which often lead them back to fast fashion brands. Almost every fast fashion retailer promotes a line that appears dedicated to the sustainable process of making clothes, yet none of these supposed “efforts” could offset the damage that they continue to cause. Fast fashion bears the responsibility of toxic behavior on both the production and consumer side: the environmental damage, the unethical labor practices, and the perpetuation of overconsumption.
The environment faces problems like extensive water consumption and waste accumulation due to the fast fashion industry. An abundant amount of freshwater goes into the process of dyeing and finishing clothing, as well as growing the most popular fabric, cotton. Although cotton is a natural fiber that can biodegrade, it still prevails as one of the most environmentally demanding crops. Cotton is the most widely used textile, accounting for 75 percent of the world’s clothing products, but the even more staggering statistic relates to its environmental harm. In fact, it takes 20,000 gallons of water to make a single pair of jeans. Water scarcity extends past fashion, as it will lead to detrimental world effects. The United Nations estimates that 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030. In addition to draining resources, growing cotton requires a heavy use of pesticides that contain harmful chemicals. World WildLife proposes that the pesticides risk damage to water quality and biodiversity in and downstream from the fields. Current cotton production methods are not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, fashion physically pollutes the Earth as 85% of all textiles end up in a landfill. Even worse, synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are made of plastic and therefore non-biodegradable. Polyester is the driving fabric of fast fashion development since the cost of production is exceptionally inexpensive, and it is projected that the global population will consume 102 million tons of clothing by 2030, with 70 percent containing polyester.
In order to keep the cost of clothing inexpensive, brands will outsource their labor, or produce clothing in countries where the federal minimum wage is low. The fast fashion industry remains notorious for exploiting underpaid and mistreated workers at the bottom of the supply chain. Workers in these supplier factories do not make a high enough wage to support themselves. If the price of a piece of clothing retails at $19.99, the person who made it was paid 19 cents. The labor policy hub, Global Labor Justice, conducted a report on the exploitation of Asian female garment workers in Gap and H&M supplier factories and documented acts of harassment, dangerous working conditions, and forced overtime. These brands don’t technically hold any legal obligation to keep these workers safe because they are not directly affiliated with the supplier firms. For reference, brands that have more transparency about their production process are more likely to be producing clothing ethically.
Fast fashion brands also maintain the pattern of overconsumption by appealing to the consumer through style and affordability. For example, Zara puts out at least 20 collections a year, which produces millions of garments that align to the most recent fashion trends. In comparison, most designer brands only show around five collections throughout the year. Fast fashion brands have made it so that every few weeks, new clothes are being sold while others become old and discounted. Furthermore, these clothes were not made to last. Since fast fashion uses cheap materials and labor, they can sell their clothes with a low price tag, which allows consumers to spend more money on garments they don’t need, and only end up wearing a few times.
In short, you buy what you pay for: cheap labor and cheap materials that won’t last long and eventually will be thrown away. To avoid the negative publicity that comes with damaging the environment, permitting poor labor conditions, and encouraging overconsumption, fast fashion retailers invest in simpler and less expensive ways to revive their images through greenwashing. Among the numerous collections fast fashion brands produce, they often present an “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” line. They inflate their marketing with vague phrases that don’t have a legal definition to carry out. H&M’s “Conscious Collection” and Zara’s “Join Life” are perfect examples of PR campaigns for brands to be seen more favorably by consumers. The information presented on H&M’s website does not do a subsequent job of explaining the range of their products. The only justification they give for their “Conscious Collection” is that they at least 50% recycled, organic or, TENCEL material, with the exception of only 20% of recycled cotton in a garment. These statistics do not relay significant information, like the method in which the materials are recycled or produced, or why they are a better alternative. Accompanied with the description, the campaign photos appeal to the environment by using grass, plants, and other symbols of nature. Similarly, Zara’s “Join Life” campaign claims to commit to sustainable fashion, but “sustainability” does not have a standardized definition to uphold, so brands continue to abuse sustainable advertising. Greenwashing is simply a short-term marketing ploy to reap the benefits of “going green”: more consumer interest and higher stock prices, without actually acting on it. These brands spend more time and money trying to convince the public that they are environmentally friendly instead of taking steps to actually reduce their impact on the environment and society.
Sustainable fast fashion is an oxymoronic phrase; the industry cannot truly be “green” when the foundation of its business plan is based on mass production for low prices. Greenwashing practices mislead the customer that values sustainability and that wants to shop ethically. As customers, we carry a large role in the political system of consumerism. While the consumer should not be to blame for the consequences of the actions of large corporations, we have the power to stand up against them by not supporting fast fashion brands and their unethical practices.
By: Sarah Ouyang
The simplified neoclassical economic theory, originating from John Hicks’ “post-war synthesis” of Keynesianism and classical economics, demands that the government invest in the economy for short term growth. It also assures that in the long term, markets will reach a steady equilibrium of growth by themselves through “boom and bust” cycles, as the classical theory suggests. The key point of this theory — or rather, this synthesis of two theories — is that economies are meant to grow, whether by itself or with government intervention.
Following the recession of 2008, however, dismayed economists watched as the US economy failed to meet their expectations, disappointing “even the most pessimistic early predictions.” A 2016 estimate records a 2.2% annual growth (1.3% lower than the Federal Reserve’s lowest prediction) and a 2% long term growth (0.5% lower).  This situation has now been categorized as “secular stagnation,” a term coined by Alvin Hansen and familiarized by Lawrence Summers.  The concept describes a sustained and seemingly indelible deceleration of the economy, and it has provoked a new, heatedly debated question: is this lack of growth really that concerning — or should it be embraced?
The “degrowth” movement, as it has now been dubbed, supports its argument with three main reasons: the environmental unsustainability of eternal growth, the increase of other significant problems in an industrialized economy, and the suitability of GDP growth as a measurement of prosperity.
Environmental activists like Greta Thunberg have condemned corporations and the government for blindly pursuing economic growth, which culminates in resource-intensive activity. Criticizing the ecological impacts of sustained growth, this stance cites climate change as evidence of the planet’s limitations. While advocates of continued growth have argued that it is possible to decouple economic growth and resource consumption, a process known as “green growth,” this has not happened in the least so far, save for relative decoupling, or a “decrease in resource use per unit of GDP.” Paired with the limitations of recycling, the facts show that eternal economic growth is unsustainable and green growth is only “wishful thinking.” 
Although the EU has made promises to decrease carbon emissions, it is unclear how this can be achieved without tampering with economic growth. Current energy consumption demands fossil fuels, which add greenhouse gases to the air and thus contribute to global warming. Therefore, the only way to reach this goal would be to reduce energy consumption, a process that will likely impede growth.
Further, expanding concerns such as income inequality can be partially traced back to economic growth. Technological advancements have induced an increase in supply and demand of high-skilled labor jobs such as “business managers, consultants, and design professionals.” These occupations tend to include a higher salary, widening the gap between real incomes of different classes. 
Economists have even traced problems like higher mortality rates and extreme political polarization to the unquenchable thirst for economic growth. The latter may occur because, as Nobel Prize winners Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo iterated, social tensions arise when the “benefits of growth are mainly captured by an élite.” If growth must be pursued, then, the government must also address problems with income inequality and wealth distribution, as well as provide relief with “health care, education, and social advancement.” 
A final issue that the degrowth movement has with the stance of growth advocates is whether or not GDP is an appropriate measure of a country’s prosperity. One of the primary hurdles of GDP is that it represents solely aggregate data and ignores the “nuances” of inequality that can be disguised by an increase in absolute wealth, especially when the increase is enjoyed mostly by an élite class while the poorer divisions of the nation remain desolate. 
Countries with high GDP’s may show astonishing income inequality. This is often measured by the Gini coefficient, a “statistical measure of distribution intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation.” The Gini coefficient may range from 0%, which represents perfect equality, to 100%, which represents perfect inequality. Using this measurement, the problems with GDP as a measure of prosperity become evident. Take the U.S.: the United States currently has, according to the World Bank, a GDP of about 20.54 trillion USD.  Meanwhile, Norway has a GDP of about 434.17 billion USD, approximately one-fiftieth of that of the U.S.  However, when examining the Gini coefficient of each country, Norway measures at about 25.8% while the U.S. has one of the highest among developed nations: a whopping 40.8%. 
Another weakness of GDP is its pure focus on numbers. Physical output alone portrays a rise of GDP, so the current measure of growth neglects the quality of services such as health care and education. Recent dips in GDP should not be cause for concern, as a closer look actually reveals a shift of consumer spending “from tangible goods… to services, such as child care, health care, and spa treatments.”  Progress and development in innovation also contributes nothing to GDP. Such oversight refutes GDP as a reliable measure of prosperity, thus encouraging the need for a new and more applicable measurement. Either embrace the benefits of secular stagnation — or redefine economic growth altogether.
To combat the potential concerns of stagnation, economists recommend “policies such as work-sharing and universal basic income.”  Job sharing allows multiple people to complete, in part-time shifts, a task that would usually be accomplished by one person working full-time. A universal basic income sets a mandatory minimum wage for people everywhere to be guaranteed by the government. Such policies could provide financial security for the people and may assist the fight against inequality. In fact, there have already been examples that this tactic works. For instance, Finland offered 2,000 unemployed citizens 560€ per month in 2017, resulting in “reduced stress” for the participants and “more incentive to find a good job.” 
While the degrowth movement challenges established economic theories and common sense itself, the evidence points, in reality, to its exigent benefits. Scholars continue to debate whether this is truly the best path and fiddle with the possibility of policy changes, but at the moment degrowth supporters argue that economic growth, at this rate, is simply not sustainable.
By Erin Flaherty
Climate change undoubtedly poses a threat to the entire global community, but its impacts are hitting closer to home than most may think. When you consider that New Jersey’s coastline is 130 miles long and is home to 9 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, it's no surprise that climate change disproportionately impacts New Jersey in comparison to many other states. A Rutgers University report states that the “sea level in New Jersey was rising more than two times faster than the global average; Since 1911, the sea level rose 1.5 feet, compared with the global mean of 0.6 feet.” The impact that rising sea levels will have on coastal residents and businesses will be detrimental; in fact, the Rutgers study further concludes that, by 2050, Atlantic City will most likely experience high-tide flooding 120 days a year. On top of that, New Jersey’s yearly temperature average has been increasing at a rate that’s double the average for the continental United States.
These environmental issues have already led to several detrimental economic impacts, including a loss in revenue from tourism and agriculture. With a staple of the state economy under strain, local politics have become increasingly focused on the unmitigated impacts of global warming, and how these issues can be confronted efficiently and with the urgency needed to lessen these impacts. Current New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran his campaign with a strong focus on environmental reform. He sees environmental progressivism as entirely necessary considering the impact that climate issues are having on the entire state, which explains why he signed Executive Order No. 100 in January, also known as Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT). This executive action has been labeled the most aggressive and comprehensive climate change regulation plan in the United States.
Governor Murphy’s PACT sets a sizable goal for New Jersey’s energy usage: 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050. He claims that this type of goal will stir up the urgency needed to combat the threat of climate change, stating that “New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution.” Despite its lofty ambitions, there has been heated controversy over the efficacy of PACT. In the past, Murphy’s environmental plans have received criticism for being superficial and not inciting enough action. Fred Fastaggi, a consultant with Shoreline Energy Advisors, an energy efficiency consulting firm explains this in his opinion on New Jersey’s past energy goals: "Visions and strategic plans are two different things. Energy master plans have been visioning statements without the nuts and bolts of a true strategic plan to successfully attain that vision." This time around, Murphy came prepared with a detailed Energy Master Plan that has seven main clauses, from reducing energy consumption in the transportation sector to the building sector. These clauses outline and address different areas where the state can reduce emissions and include regulations that will be put in place to ensure that these plans are put into action.
The most controversial clause is Murphy’s plan to strictly regulate new infrastructure construction. New Jersey is the first state to require builders to consider the impacts of climate change in their planning and usage in order to be granted government approval. In the past, Murphy has stayed silent and allowed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to run without much regulation. Jon Bramnick, the republican minority leader in the New Jersey General Assembly, believes that this type of developmental regulation will hamper business growth. Another perspective that clashes with Murphy’s plans for clean energy is the idea that the transition away from natural gas is being rushed and isn’t ideal for the economy. New Jersey could keep natural gas sources in its energy portfolio for important and urgent development projects while targeting environmental reform in other areas.
Despite expressed disapproval from republican assembly members, Murphy’s PACT has received support from some prominent republicans, such as Michael Egenton, the executive vice president of governmental relations for the state Chamber of Commerce. He has supported the regulation as long as the business community is considered in the process. This is why Murphy has invited both business and environmental leaders to the table to participate in the rule making process. His efforts to include varied voices in the conversation show that his intent is not to slow down business growth, but to create an economy that considers the impacts of its practices and works in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, Murphy’s goal signifies an important shift in focus from rapid state development to sustainable practices. The governor hopes to set a powerful precedent and example from the rest of the country. “We are going to make New Jersey the place that proves we can grow our economy, create jobs, and fight climate change all at the same time,” he stated in response to backlash from the Trump administration in regards to his lofty goals. If the governor's goals are met with tangible action and fierce enforcement of his clauses, the Garden State’s PACT agenda will set a nationwide standard for future climate progress.
By Logan Aviles
All applicants are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This paradoxical phrase rang true just a few months ago, following the biggest college admissions cheating scandal in the nation’s history. 51 defendants have been named in a conspiracy to game the college admissions system, doing everything from bribing coaches from colleges as elite as Yale to cheating on standardized exams. Parents have paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to Rick Singer, the college admissions officer who created the scheme, to falsify athletic credentials and inflate standardized test scores. Those who have pled guilty have gotten off with little punishment. The lightest sentence of those who’ve confessed is barely more than probation. Other light sentences include the impressive 14-day debt to society incurred by Emmy-winning actress Felicity Huffman. The heaviest sentence given so far is a mere five months, and in all cases, sentences have been reduced from what the prosecutors originally requested.
Considering that we’ve reached the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation surrounding the scandal, it is an opportune moment to analyze the scandal’s implications for the broader educational system.
There’s no doubt that education is key. And access to that education ought to be afforded on a meritocratic basis. With parents receiving light sentences and prosecutors compromising on punishment, it has become clear that the justice system does not fully appreciate the importance of higher education. Singer’s scheme and others like it undermine the opportunities of all students who put in the work to become an appealing applicant. When prosecutors let cheaters off with a slap on the wrist, elites are less likely to think twice about inflating their kid’s academic prospects, further widening the educational gap between the rich and the poor. Applications cannot fulfill their intended purpose if it comes into the best interest of all applicants to find new and inventive ways of misleading college admissions officers and exploiting vulnerabilities in the admissions process.
But besides Rick Singer and the parents who participated in this scheme, there is another party accountable: the schools themselves. The most alarming part of this story is not that elites are willing to game the admissions process—it’s that exploitable weaknesses in the admissions process ever existed in the first place. The college admissions scandal cannot be soon forgotten; it is a terrible mark on the integrity of higher education. Hopefully the arrests will lead to a new age of increased scrutiny and accountability that will improve the meritocracy of the educational system.
By Logan Aviles
Big Brother is watching you.
Governments across the globe are currently expanding their facial recognition technologies. With decreasing accountability and transparency, facial recognition could pose numerous threats.
There’s no question that facial recognition has taken the private and public sector by storm. It’s beginning to be used everywhere — from airports, to shopping malls, border patrol, and especially law enforcement. Moreover, a recent research report projected that the facial recognition industry will grow from $3.2 billion in 2019 to $7.0 billion by 2024 in just the U.S. alone. These technologies function by creating a “facial signature,” measuring the dimensions of a human face and placing its unique dimensions into a data set. These data sets are often used by law enforcement agencies to identify and locate criminals.
But the technology has still drawn some well-placed skepticism. One could cite the lack of federal regulation as a source of concern. Even assuming that the technology is accurate and effective, there still isn’t enough transparency (or, in some cases, accountability) for how that data will be used, interpreted, and applied in law enforcement efforts. There’s no clear authority in place that could put private companies and law enforcement agencies on the right track.
Further, the usage of facial recognition within China has proven just how severe an impact the technology can have on privacy and democracy. With over 500,000 faces scanned per month, China uses its facial recognition technology to profile and keep tabs on Uyghur Muslims under the pretext of security. These systems identify minorities so that they may be better tracked and surveilled by Chinese surveillance systems. Facial recognition has contributed significantly to the Chinese surveillance state.
Facial recognition programs may also exacerbate the already existing racial biases of police officers. Even top performing facial recognition softwares still struggle to differentiate between African Americans — misidentifying them at rates five to ten times greater than they do whites, leading to a greater number of false positives, further solidifying police officer’s racist associations between criminality and minority status. These biases are irreversible; facial recognition algorithms fed with data coming from human beings with innate and unconscious racial biases will inevitably reflect that racial bias.
Biased algorithms are even more dangerous than biased people. People are accountable for their own actions — but when an algorithm inadvertently encourages racialized policing, biased behavior can then slip by undetected, settling underneath the veneer of scientific authority and the dazzle of exciting new technology.
Facial recognition has exploded into the modern technological mainstream, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The best one could ask of a nation and its citizens is that they stay vigilant. Facial recognition technology has shown that it is capable of doing bad things on a terrible scale; it is the obligation of all governments to do what they can within their power to keep pace with the development of this new technology. If the good voices of the world cannot keep pace with this new technology and all of its destructive capabilities, then the risks of facial recognition will continue to imperil society.
By Benny Sun
“Truth is like poetry and most people… hate poetry” - The Big Short (2016)
The Great Recession of 2008 has become one of the darkest moments in modern history, permanently shaking up millions of American households and international markets. Within a few short months, America experienced a total financial meltdown with the bankruptcy of investment banks such as Lehman Brothers, foreclosures of 10 million homes, and the wiping out of 20 trillion dollars in total American household assets. Unfortunately, at the heart of America’s crisis was criminal negligence and sheer greed from politicians and higher-ups in the banking sector. This is because while major banks were bailed out by the US government, the brunt of the economic burden was placed on the very poor. Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform sought to address the recession’s root cause, new trends in global banking seemingly seek to only replicate the same recklessness prevalent among banking institutions prior to 2008. Here, this article will address the main culprit: shadow banking, now a 52 trillion dollar global industry which represents a 75% increase since 2008
The shadow banking system, often in the form of hedge funds, has the same goal as traditional banks of providing access to loans and liquidity. However, there are numerous differences between both categories. Foremostly, shadow banks, because they don’t provide typical deposits, are subject to little or no regulations, often only required to register and have assets worth around 150 million dollars. Consequently, shadow banks are more easily able to loan towards unqualified borrowers considered too risky to loan to (which under certain conditions can expand economic growth and financial access). However, as in the cases of 2008, mass defaults across these loans could trigger bank bankruptcies as well, as these banks often profit off the promise of future money, rather than their current financial situation.
Moreover, shadow banks also lack access to government safety nets like deposit insurance or central bank funding, making their operations considerably riskier. Instead, these corporations rely on money from short-term investors to fund these operations. Thus, as unregulated institutions, many shadow banks simply skirt away from the rules designed to avoid a financial crisis. For instance, as their investment is reliant on investors, any market downturn could decrease investor confidence which forces shadow banks to either shut down or sell off all of their assets at depressed prices to return their money to investors, causing a downward price spiral in derivatives, bonds, and stock markets. Overall, Economist Paul Krugman demonstrates how shadow banking creates vastly more volatile markets and economies, concluding that it “makes the good times better, but the bad times far, far worse”.
An implication of shadow banking in the United States has been its major role in procuring a private debt and loan conundrum, a ticking time bomb for America’s economy. Economic columnist Steven Pearlson specifies that the increased accessibility of loans in the market is only fueling increasingly severe credit bubbles such as auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt. The reason why risky lending is so harmful is that while providing this capital can prove vital to low-credit households and companies if they are unable to pay it back and are forced to issue a default, the shadow bank loses precious money for operations and investors. Multiply this by the thousands and an economic catastrophe becomes tangible, such as the case of increasing mortgage defaults and the popping of the Housing Bubble that preceded the 2008 recession. Even after recent legislative attempts to regulate the Shadow Banking industry, much of the industry is still considered to be as risky as before and still as dangerous.
Alarmingly, these effects of shadow banking have already manifested in debt markets. A recent economic report shows that the private debt market as a result of shadow banking has tripled, accounting for a 1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. This only breeds instability for businesses and individuals, as any economic shock, such as mass layoffs, lower spending, or dips in the stock market, can push corporations into insolvency or families into bankruptcy which makes them unable to pay off their debts or loans. For this reason, household debt is seen as a good indicator of the future economy, with the last five economic recessions being preceded by high levels of household debt. Even now with the Coronavirus pandemic, stock markets are cascading to all-time low never seen before since 2008, members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council have identified shadow banks as a major risk amid economic anxieties. Thus, the Coronavirus will simply compound the difficulty of keeping shadow banks afloat as they face a new financial crisis.
Overall, Bond Ratings Agency DBRS is calling on federal legislators to increase regulations on the shadow banking industry, as existing loopholes and lack of oversight could generate incidents of rapidly recurring recessions. They conclude their letter with a very clear and price message: with the Coronavirus pandemic around the corner, the banking industry is “not ready to handle an economic crisis” and Americans should be “very worried”.