By Mariam Khan
Something that George Orwell didn’t quite anticipate in his fictitious novel, 1984, was the progression of a dystopian surveillance state—amidst a global pandemic. The essence of his book focuses on the watchful eye of the government as it evolved into an authoritarian regime ripe with privacy concerns and human rights violations. Today, as the world faces one of the largest public health crises of the century, countries veer closer to becoming ominous super-surveillance states. Experts warn that the sharp rise in disease surveillance starts a dangerous precedent for the future, making the discussion of privacy concerns more applicable than ever.
In March 2020, as China continued waging its long battle against the coronavirus, they inputted an effective, but controversial contact tracing app required for citizens in more than 200 cities. Coined as the Alipay Health Code, the system granted users codes that spontaneously changed color depending on location and virus exposure. Though the concept sounds phenomenal in keeping the virus at bay, it presents a cause for concern, as the app automatically sent personal data to law enforcement—and this begs the question: what are the implications of police having easy access to citizens’ location data and private information? The mass collection of data by the police may carry unforeseen consequences, especially given that officials can choose bits and pieces of information from one’s data storage site, and use it at random times to incriminate dissenters.
As researcher Maya Wang told The Times, China has a history of using specific events as means of justification for the introduction of surveillance tools, yet usage persists well afterward. Citing the 2008 Olympics, she says that new monitoring tools are consistently introduced for a purpose, but they never leave. “The coronavirus outbreak is proving to be one of those landmarks in the history of the spread of mass surveillance in China,” she said. Wang says that the newly introduced data-sharing and location-grabbing technology that was originally created by the government for the purpose of tracking the coronavirus will be here to stay. In fact, the algorithmic techniques that were used to predict the likelihood of infection are similar to the ones currently being used on the Uyghurs, China’s Muslim ethnic minority. Technology provides scores for individuals that tell officials of their political pliancy and aid in their decision of who should be rounded up into an internment camp.
It’s not just China that has inputted algorithmic contact tracing technology; in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued an emergency order and bypassed the standard process of approval to allow the government to use technology to monitor citizen’s cell phones and track those suspected to have the coronavirus. In addressing privacy concerns that arose from the addition of the tracking app, Israel swiftly responded by inputting an oversight committee to balance the necessary public safety with data privacy. Still, the fact that the Prime Minister gracefully advanced surveillance on the Israeli people in a matter of a few days shows how easy it is to use the pandemic as a scapegoat for tightened control.
Reports as of March 2020 show that the 65 contact tracing apps that were in use did not specify how long user data could be stored. Additionally, 49 percent of these apps lacked privacy policies, and others had privacy policies that were completely misleading. For instance, one Canadian contact tracing app claimed that it did not utilize GPS or location tracking, yet when scrutinized further, it subconsciously initiated location permissions for users. What’s more troubling is that half of the apps explicitly state that they will share data with law enforcement agencies, again displaying how companies and governments alike are trying to take advantage of this public health vulnerability.
These apps have brought about much public response from dissidents (at least those who can dissent), as well as those genuinely concerned about the future of democracy when it comes to surveillance states. Ever since Edward Snowden’s incident and before, the issue of surveillance has moved more and more into the global spotlight, but author and activist Arundhati Roy put it best when she told The Guardian that “Pre-corona, if we were sleepwalking into the surveillance state, now we are panic-running into a super-surveillance state.”
Despite the privacy violations, it must be remarked that, around the world, different governments’ use of surveillance technology aimed at containing the virus has been immensely successful. South Korea, which was faced with widespread outbreaks very early on in the pandemic, has observed that information collection has worked to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Contact tracers can see the full train of a person’s movement through the collection of several forms of sensitive data, and this is useful in administering state-mandated quarantines.
Aside from its obvious societal health benefits, the deployment of surveillance technology poses dangerous consequences for the future of democracy. Researchers claim that citizens’ privacy is essential for the prevention of democratic backsliding, because it ensures that states have limitations. When governments know everything about their citizens, this allows them to extend state control beyond moral premises. According to Justice Felix Frankfurter in Wolf v. Colorado, the “security of one’s privacy against intrusion by the police – which is at the core of the Fourth Amendment – is basic to a free society.” Essentially, not only does privacy makes sure that democracy remains authentic, but it also allows for the progression of society, where individuals can think and advocate for themselves. With one-third of the population already living in declining democracies as of 2018, it is necessary to consider the long-term implications of the coronavirus pandemic on politics.
While the world edges closer to the circumstances depicted in 1984, there’s still a long way to go. Constituents and their governments must strive to establish proper surveillance boundaries. Ensuring that both security and privacy can coexist is vital, because as Edward Snowden said, “Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are, and who we want to be.”
By Sarah Ouyang
There are two meanings to the phrase, “We want the same thing.” The first, that we should work together since we aim to achieve the same goal. The second, that you want what I want. The problem is, only one of us can have it. But which one?
In a field where scarcity is the underlying issue of all discussion, the latter meaning of the phrase is much more prevalent than the diplomatic, politics-heavy former. Economics deals with many factors that come in pairs: production and consumption, private and public, regulation and laissez-faire. One of the dilemmas is that of efficient allocation versus profit maximization. Essentially, the distribution of goods and services among the demand population — or of limited resources among suppliers — poses a question to firms (specifically, various levels of monopolies) who favor producing at a different output level than would be optimal.
To be allocatively efficient, a market should ensure that production reaches the output point where the last unit offers the consumer a marginal benefit that equals its marginal cost. In conceptual terms, this means that everyone who values each unit of output as much as it costs to produce that unit should receive their goods and services.
When prices are ubiquitous, which is nearer to reality the more competitive an industry is, this point is easy to pinpoint on the graph yet leaves many unhappy because it becomes extremely difficult to provide goods and services to those consumers who value the products less than the equilibrium price. Considering a monopolistically competitive industry, however, the scenario becomes easier to manipulate and hypothesize with one understandably controversial tool: price discrimination.
To determine the effectiveness of price discrimination, it is necessary to differentiate between three genres of the practice. Third-degree price discrimination is the most intuitive of the three, the type that everyone would imagine when picturing price discrimination. In simple words, different groups of people are charged different prices. The most common example is the movie theater, where tickets for seniors and children are frequently far lower than those for teenagers and adults.
When you cash in a coupon at the local Starbucks that activates a discount as soon as you reach a minimum purchase total, you are experiencing second-degree price discrimination. This type centers around the quantity of goods or services that the customer purchases, which would determine (often rather indirectly) the prices they pay.
First-degree price discrimination is the boldest, a clear discrepancy between prices charged to each individual customer. Such distinguishment often removes the greatest amount of consumer surplus and is usually possible when the firm has access to enormous amounts of consumer data. Airlines, for example, practice what has become known as inter-temporal pricing, a feat made possible by their salience in regards to clientele information. They can easily determine the urgency of ticket buyers based on the proximity of their purchase date to the flight date. (In other words, the later you buy the ticket, the more desperate you seem, and thus more willing — in the airline’s eyes — to pay higher prices.)
Price discrimination is risky. We have given firms the power to charge different consumers different prices, and exploitation is almost inevitable in a system where consumer surplus has been eradicated — hence the apprehensive reference to first-degree price discrimination. However, according to economist Michael Spence in The American Economic Review, firms’ profits should naturally become synonymous with marginal contribution to overall social welfare. In these cases, where private and public benefits coincide, socially optimal production is far more obtainable because selfish incentives lead to publicly beneficial outcomes.
Various factors weigh in on the success of this practice. Problems arise when data on consumer characteristics become unevenly distributed among producers, reducing their ability to make sound economic decisions. Oligopolies are inefficient for this reason; game theory and collusion are damaging for more reasons than one. Barriers to entry and exit of the market are also less sturdy than economic models would theoretically suggest. Regulation from a politically divided government could affect the impacts as well.
In theory, economic models are intrinsically inaccurate and difficult to apply to the real economy. If we are content to ponder the surface before diving in, however, price discrimination has great potential in an economy as profit-driven and (currently) allocatively inefficient as the one in this country. All we need to do is look past the apparent immorality of charging different prices and realize that a universal price tag could very well be just as economically unfair as demanding $450 for a plane ticket that was sold for $300 a week ago.
By Zayna Kutty
Forever 21, H&M, Shein, Zara, Mango, ASOS, Fashion Nova, NastyGal; these are all brands where people shop on a daily basis, the go-to stores for trendy outfits. In recent years, these brands have gained increasing popularity from consumers seeking cheap and chic clothing. Though these may seem like the best brands due to their low prices and amazing looks, they have detrimental impacts both socially and environmentally.
Fast fashion is exactly as it sounds: making fashion, fast. Quickly producing clothes causes products to become cheaper and trend cycles to speed up, therefore, shopping becomes a daily event for many people. The term “trend cycles” refers to the lifespan of a trend. Basically, this means that trending items go through cycles where they are trending, and since more clothes are being produced, clothes are “trendy” for a shorter amount of time. However, quickly producing clothes results in many negative environmental impacts.
Fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth, second only to oil. Fast fashion generally uses cheap but toxic dyes, making fashion the second largest polluter of water, this time behind agriculture. Additionally, because clothes are produced so quickly, consumers are able to buy more clothes, along with getting rid of more clothes. This causes waste buildup. In North America, around 9.5 million tons of clothing end up in landfills each year, most of which could be reused.
To quickly produce clothes, brands use cheap materials to make trendy clothing at a rapid pace. Dana Thomas, a fashion and culture journalist, says in her article in the New York Times that over 60% of fabric fibers are derived from fossil fuels and are synthetic. Therefore, if clothing does end up in landfills, it is literally impossible to decay. Additionally, fibers of clothing can be carried by wind or other sources, eventually landing in the ocean. These fibers are made of synthetic materials, namely plastic. When plastic particles get into the ocean, marine life unknowingly consumes them. This also affects humans because the particles are so tiny that they cannot be filtered or drained. Therefore, fast fashion leads to water contamination which is harmful to both marine life and humans.
Fast fashion not only negatively affects our environment, but our society as well. Historically, child labor and worker’s rights have been a major issue. Though many believe these issues have been solved after the industrial revolution, they still exist, in part thanks to fast fashion. Machinery and equipment are used to produce clothes quickly, but these machines have to be run by people. Dana Thomas reports that there are immigrants working in Los Angeles, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, and so many other countries that face working conditions that are inhumane. She says that fashion has always been an industry dependent on the use of the voiceless and powerless, and that the industry ensures that they are kept that way.
However, there is good news. There are many different, easy ways to shop sustainably. Currently, thrift shopping is trending, and a great way to save the environment. With thrifting, clothes can be reused and given to someone else for a second life, eliminating the option of it ending up in landfills. Additionally, there are many clothing reselling apps, such as Poshmark and Depop. These apps are very popular, with many people being able to make money off of reselling clothes so that they don’t end up in landfills. And finally, many sustainable shoe brands are popping up all over the globe, such as Allbirds and Rothy’s. This is extremely beneficial, as the standard sneaker emits 12.5 kilograms of CO2 per sneaker. Allbirds, for example, only emits around 7.6 kilograms of CO2 per sneaker, which yields a 32% decrease in total emissions.
There are many ways that you personally can help fast fashion come to a close. First and foremost, shop less. There is no need to buy excessive things when we are lucky to have so much already. Not supporting and purchasing from Zara, H&M, and Mango could save you a great deal of money and closet space all while lessening the harm done to the environment. It is unrealistic to say that you should not buy any clothing items. Of course, clothes are a necessity. However when you do buy clothes, you can purchase from sustainable brands, such as Allbirds, Patagonia, Amour Vert, Mara Hoffman, and Athleta. These brands are not 100% sustainable, but they are significantly better for the environment. Additionally, before getting rid of clothes, you can come up with better solutions. For example, if there is a rip in an item, you can try sewing it or paying someone to do so. You can upcycle the article by giving it to a sibling, or using it for a craft project. There are so many viable and creative alternatives to getting rid of clothes. When you do find the need to get rid of a clothing item, try to reuse it first. Give it to a family member, donate it to a charity organization, or drop it off at your local thrift store so that someone else can get some good use out of it. Additionally, apps like Poshmark and Depop allow you to make a little bit of cash by selling clothes. Throwing out clothes should be the last option, and would generally be unnecessary if the alternatives are taken into consideration.
With the looming environmental threats, fast fashion has faced growing backlash as shoppers begin to realize the significant impact it has on emissions and trash output. Ultimately, change must occur to the massive industry as climate change becomes a more important issue than ever. Though we are not able to control how large companies that take part in the fast fashion industry function, we can make small changes in our lifestyle that make a difference.
By Sarah Ouyang
Chivalry is dead, the old lady in the subway laments when a stout man steals the last seat in the car. Chivalry is dead, the gentleman complains when a woman rushes by, ignoring him as he holds the café door open for her. And as you turn on the news, preparing yourself for another round of grim Election 2020 headlines, you silently agree: Chivalry is dead.
For the weeks following this year’s presidential elections, incumbent President Donald Trump has remained steadfast in his conviction not to concede to President-elect Joe Biden. If the pattern continues, he will not be allowing Biden his inauguration, much less congratulating him for it. This has greater consequences than inconvenience and confusion for the White House staff as they prepare for the transition. A century-old tradition will be placed in peril.
In 1896, two days after election results were unveiled, Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan sent a telegram to Republican victor William McKinley, expressing his congratulations. Thus began the gallant, unspoken convention that has culminated in what is now known as the presidential concession speech. Even before Bryan’s public declaration, the defeated candidate sent private letters to the newly elected president, offering well wishes and congratulations. Just four years ago, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech the day after losing the 2016 presidential election to Trump, exhibiting expected disappointment but courteous congratulations as well.
The tradition has not been broken in over a century, but Donald Trump is nothing if not unpredictable.
Trump has, instead, decided to throw himself into an onslaught of issues arising from the pandemic, the suffering economy, and the national state of social unrest. He surprised members of both parties on Tuesday, December 22nd, when he delivered a brutal criticism of the newly Senate-approved second stimulus package, which promises direct payments of $600. In his message, Trump called the package a “disgrace” and demanded that each direct payment be raised to $2000. Surprising, of course, but not entirely unwelcome for Democrats, who eagerly and unanimously accepted the proposed amendments.
Republicans in the Senate, however, were not pleased with this turn of events. This disagreement has two serious implications for the government: a shutdown may occur if Trump does not sign the bill, and the Senate race in Georgia could be majorly disrupted by the stimulus package battle.
What does this mean for Joe Biden? He may very well be handed a government, or even a nation, in chaos and conflict. Even as some rummage for hope in Trump’s new seemingly Democrat-favored policies, it appears his decision could have drastic consequences for what should have been a peaceful transfer of executive power. This conflict will exacerbate the problem that began with the question of a concession speech from Trump — or rather, a lack thereof.
A concession speech may be purely allegorical and contain no legal importance, but it has had dramatic impacts on American presidential transitions. Ron Elving, a Senior Editor and Correspondent at NPR News, explains the benefits of a concession speech: “It ends the suspense. It mellows the mood. And it means the country can begin moving on.”
The absence of a concession speech could thus be especially detrimental this year. While public focus has been widely drawn to COVID-19 or election news, there can be no surprise in referring to the other, more socially-geared issues of 2020. The frenzy of the Black Lives Matter movement seemed to die down after the summer as people shifted their attention to other current events, but their goals and fighters remain strong and unhappy with the country. During this period of political polarization and social unrest, a stubborn silence from the incumbent president will be widely heard.
In the 2020 movie The Trial of the Chicago 7, Abbie Hoffman (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) sits at the stand with a poignant smile on his lips as Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) asks him: “So how do you overthrow or dismember, as you say, your government peacefully?” Without missing a beat, Hoffman replies, “In this country, we do it every four years.”
Let’s hope that is still true.
By Sarah Ouyang
Faith comes in many forms. For startup businesses planning for long-term growth and in need of sustenance, some cold, hard cash is preferred above all else.
And that’s where venture capitalists swoop in like reverse vultures who, instead of gorging on carcasses, breathe life into struggling newborns. Entrepreneurs might worship these firms for their financial benevolence, but venture capitalists are not exactly altruistic saints — thorough and adroit in calculating potential gains, they take into consideration factors such as the network and experience of the founders.
For 2010’s Berlin, this type of scrutiny became the basis of its economy, replacing the more defining business atmospheres of other European cities: chic culture in Paris, for example, or music in London. Three factors directed the V.C.-friendly spotlight shining on Berlin and pulled the city out of its financial mire in the years surrounding 2008. In fact, the global recession itself paved the way for venture capital in Berlin: the crisis left the city poor in capital and rich in opportunity. Office space was rent-free and plentiful for startups who entered the scene early in the game, since the only real competition they faced was the public sector.
Another contribution to the city’s venture capital originated from local hipsters. Influential artists, among them David Bowie and Iggy Pop, flocked to Berlin for cheap, trendy respite. This boosted its reputation in the eyes of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists alike. Finally, Germany had become a rival to America in “melting pot” status (perhaps either a cause or effect of the rise in hip culture), a development in which engineers from all over the continent were happy to partake.
Such economic and cultural shifts have designated 59% of German national V.C. investments to Berlin, rendering it a hub of possibility for tech companies. In 2019, a data report revealed startling numbers showcasing the progress that Berlin has made: startups manifesting 80,000 jobs; startups receiving 3.7 billion euros in funds; startups placing the city in 2nd place for European tech investment. The second place prize can also be attributed to the number of unicorns, or private startups valued at over 1 billion USD, created within a certain period of time.
It is essential to understand how this change has occurred in Berlin. Barely more than a decade ago, Berlin was turning itself inside out in search of industries that could set it apart from the rest of the bleak crowd, envying Paris and London for their glittering cultural je ne sais quoi. The desperate scramble for economic progress led to some “knock-offs” of American e-commerce. One such “shallow tech” company, Rocket Internet, left behind a legacy of unoriginality and misfortune that lasted until Berlin decided to concentrate its efforts on tech startups rather than “consumer clones.”
Foreign startups also peak the interest of Berlin’s venture capitalists, who see profits made from companies in faraway lands as an “external validation” of sorts. The richness of the city’s risk capital has diversified the focuses of its V.C. firms, expanding beyond simple, safe ventures to projects that might have universal benefits — a definite step forward in the morality of venture capital. For instance, June Fund partner David Rosskamp proudly describes an increase in funding towards “the agricultural world… [in response to] a large need, and an equally large economic opportunity in digitizing these flows, in providing transparent access to agricultural supplies and in empowering millions of small-scale farmers. So June has invested in agricultural trading networks from Europe to Africa.” Berlin has thus been near-flourishing in V.C. pursuits and tech advancements.
And then the coronavirus hit.
With the current pandemic exacerbating an economic crisis of our own, the United States is, as General Washington was according to Lin-Manuel Miranda, “in dire need of assistance.” More than anything else, the country needs an understanding of the situation in order to further analyze the best paths to recovery. Whether by following role models or avoiding worst-case scenarios, watching trends in other countries appears to be greatly important for a successful return to normalcy.
The problem is, experts are not quite certain whether Berlin is the former or the latter. Speaking from a rather humanitarian perspective, Germany is a clear example to follow for its relatively low percentage of COVID-19 fatalities, courtesy of Chancellor Merkel’s precise and effective handling of the virus.
On a fundamentally economic level, however, virus effects in Germany leave observers skeptical. Investment level decreases have been drastic, especially when compared with the fairly more fortunate European cities such as Dublin and Amsterdam. The vast range of different level changes is astonishing: while Zurich has seen a 98% increase in investment levels since the previous year, Madrid’s levels have dropped 69%. Berlin is on the devastating side, with a 51% drop in investment. NGP Capital partner Bo Ilsoe attributes this to Germany being “more conservative and more prudent in reigning back spending” while the pandemic unleashes its claws on German businesses. Others, however, present optimistic outlooks: Berlin is less expensive to operate in compared to other tech hubs, including San Francisco, so many V.C. firms are not too worried for the long term.
The impacts of the coronavirus on society have also reshaped the process of venture capitalism. Firms have begun encouraging clients to “focus on extending the runway both by increasing capital efficiency as well as taking on additional funding.” Different industries have been impacted differently as well. With the communications industry consolidating into an “oligopolistic market structure” featuring Zoom and Google Meet as its two lead stars, Berlin V.C. firms are wary about prospects for startups in the technology sector.
In any case, the city’s progress of the past decade cannot be ignored. There remains still a considerable amount of hope for startups in the German capital city. And where there is hope, there is venture capitalism. Or is it the other way around?
By Benny Sun
Running for re-election, incumbent Mayor James Baldassare is a Republican candidate for the Bernards Township Committee. His main stances include making Bernards Township debt-free, eliminating overdevelopment, and improving transparency. To better understand Mayor Baldassare as a candidate, here is more information about his beliefs, background, and insights.
Q: How did you get your start in politics? What is your background?
I got involved in politics because I enjoy helping people, finding solutions to problems and want to make our community a better place to live. I was elected to the Bernards Township Committee in 2017. I am Bernards Townships’ current Mayor and I am seeking another three-year term on the Township Committee. I have over thirty years of experience in the contract surety industry from both surety company and agency perspectives.
I am a United States Marine Corps veteran and graduated first in my class from Parris Island. I attended Northeastern University studying economics and participated in the 2015 Somerset Leadership Program. I am also a licensed New Jersey Property and Casualty Agent- Broker. Both my wife Tracy, who serves as a Bernards Township Police Officer, and I are lifelong residents of Bernards Township, and Ridge High School graduates. We have six children all of whom have attended or currently attend township schools and one grandchild.
Q: What are the main local-level issues facing young people that you plan on fixing?
Managing overdevelopment is a challenge being faced all across New Jersey and Bernards Township is not immune from that challenge. We enjoy great schools, outstanding parks, wonderful open space and many other enviable public facilities which enhance the high quality of life that Bernards Township is well-known for. Overdevelopment has the potential to seriously affect our quality of life and have serious adverse financial impacts in addition to adverse impacts on our schools, traffic, and emergency services.
As noted in the October 29th 2019 Affordable Housing Taskforce report, the majority of Bernards Townships’ current residential development is being driven by court-mandated affordable housing obligations. Under the Affordable Housing Law and associated mandated obligations, municipal zoning laws are preempted and municipalities are forced to comply. In our view the courts should not be deciding how local zoning works.
We can only make progress on the challenges of overdevelopment and finding solutions for meeting future affordable housing mandates if we work together in a collaborative manner. I am fortunate that my running mate, Kate Grochala, is an attorney knowledgeable about the Affordable Housing Legislation. We urge all voters to review the Affordable Housing Taskforce report which is available on our Bernards Township website. The Taskforce report includes information on how to contact the appropriate New Jersey State Officials and elected representatives. This is especially important during this critical election year.
Q: A major part of your campaign has been remaining financially responsible. What is an example of wasteful town spending that would go away under your candidacy?
Kate and I are fiscal conservatives and we will work hard to control taxes and keep Bernards Township 100% debt free. Avoiding debt is one of the ways Bernards Township controls taxes. We enjoy outstanding parks, open space and other public facilities. These are some of the things that affect the high quality of life that Bernards is well known for and which we will continue to support. Working with Bernards Township staff, we will continue to make prudent improvements and investments in our infrastructure and protect our open spaces. We do not believe that BT engages in “wasteful” spending. We believe it would be “wasteful” to enter into debt.
When municipalities borrow, they are robbing the future for the present. Every taxpayer dollar spent on interest is a dollar squandered, a dollar that could be spent on something else, a dollar that you could be spending on your family and your future. Through good Republican leadership, Bernards Township has avoided debt. Looking ahead to the future, “paying as you go”, carrying no debt, keeping adequate reserves on hand, maintaining accurate and current tax base valuations, exploring shared services with other municipalities, sound long term planning, and vision are the keys to good governance including managing the effects of unforeseen events such as the COVID-19. This is the approach BT has taken through solid Republican leadership and should continue to follow.
Q: Voter engagement has been a crucial part of your election. How will you continue to get residents in Bernards Township involved in committee affairs?
One of the many great things about Bernards is the high level of engagement by many of our citizens. Their service is a testament to their commitment to the community and its improvement. For example, volunteers have undertaken many laudable and successful initiatives to help our community, including our senior citizens and businesses, cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. There are numerous ways for residents to initiate, sponsor, or otherwise support a variety of community service-related activities. We will continue to encourage all residents to become engaged and we will support opportunities for engagement. Similarly, we will continue to recognize those who have dedicated their time and resources as volunteers to make our town the great place that it is. Our campaign website recognizes that voter engagement is a crucial part of what makes Bernards Township such a desirable place in which to live.
It is interesting to note that community engagement and transparency go hand in hand. We believe that openness, accountability and honesty coupled with community engagement define transparency in government. Therefore, we will encourage our residents to follow the issues, attend public meetings, and become engaged. We will listen to our residents and their concerns with an open mind, encourage honest and candid discussion and respond to questions, to the best of our ability. In particular, we will ensure that proposed municipal budgets are published well in advance with ample opportunity for review and discussion by the public prior to any approval.
Q: As the only incumbent in this election, what is your most proud accomplishment over your career as the mayor of Bernards Township? What is your biggest regret?
During the pandemic, I worked hard to keep everyone apprised of the situation and evolving events surrounding COVID-19. My letters to the Township residents have been well received and intended to both provide residents with information but also to be a reassuring voice in an uncertain time. I am also very proud of the work that our health department has done in providing vital information to the public regularly. In addition, because the Township’s finances are in such a strong position, we have been able to weather this storm without having to curtail essential municipal services. I have done my very best in everything I undertake on behalf of Bernards Township and have no regrets.
Q: How will you balance the safety of Bernards Township residents during the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring that our economy keeps chugging along?
The health, safety and welfare of all residents is of course our primary concern as elected representatives. The Township has strictly complied with all of the Governor’s mandates concerning COVID-19 and has encouraged all residents to likewise comply. However, during the pandemic, the Township took judicious actions to ease certain restrictions on business while still maintaining high standards for the health, safety and welfare of the public. We continue to actively look for ways to help our businesses and residents during these challenging times.
Q: What are some ways we can get Ridge High School students to get more involved in local politics?
The best way to be productively involved is to be informed. I would encourage everyone including high school students to follow the issues, understand what the municipal governments role is and be aware of what is happening in the community. One of the best ways to do this is to attend the Bernards Township Municipal meetings where the Township’s business is discussed and various issues addressed twice monthly, usually on the second and fourth Tuesday. It is best to attend in person but all meetings are also televised and recorded for future viewing. In addition, there is a great deal of information on the Bernards Township website including opportunities for volunteering.
By Benny Sun
In the 2020 election for the Bernards Township Committee, there are two Democratic candidates: Jon Sandler and Dr. Sophia Chadda. Jon is a lifelong resident of New Jersey and attorney in the Commercial Litigation practice group of Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland Perretti, LLP in Morristown since 2007, has lived in Bernards Township since 2015. Dr. Sophia Chadda has lived in Bernards Township for over 20 years and, with her husband, Dr. Konstantine Trichas, raised her three children here. She has been practicing as a board-certified periodontist for 20 years and established her thriving dental practice on Stonehouse Road in Basking Ridge in 2004. Here is the audio transcription of the interview that transpired.
Q: What is your background and what moment made you realize that you wanted to run for local office?
Chadda: I was never involved in local politics until last year. I told myself that there are the same old people all the time. And we need different voices. We need different and diverse people. We need leadership that is transparent, inclusive, and innovative. I kept watching our property taxes increase and our home values continue to decrease. I also said to myself that we have seen the same Republican party running the show for the longest time, except two Democrats in the last forty or fifty years. We don’t know what kind of problem we’re gonna have in the future, but what we do know are what values our leaders are gonna have, so that’s important to me. I want to ensure that Bernards Township remains a place that people want to live, work, shop, and do business. We need people that have a fresh perspective, a different perspective. I have a science background, so I thought that it would be helpful as well to bring some evidence-based knowledge to the township community.
Sandler: I am a Jersey guy, born and raised. I grew up in Bergen County. My wife and I moved to Bernards Township five years ago. I am a practicing attorney and part of my practice involves representing municipalities in outside litigation as special counsel. So I’m uniquely qualified in that I’ve got an understanding of how to assist municipalities with hedging risk and advising with local and state ordinances and regulation, as it relates to all sorts including affordable housing. I’ve negotiated with developers in litigations with municipalities. So I see both sides of it, and that perspective brings something unique to the Township Committee. I’ve been a guiding voice to help reverse difficult legal landscapes. This is also the first time I’ve ever run for a local office. I have been a district representative to the Somerset County Democratic Committee for a few years. I’ve realized that I love Bernards Township. Bernards Township has suffered lapses of leadership over the past five years, and it’s been disappointing. And these last new leadership have led to senseless and expensive litigation which has not only cost us in the pocketbook but also soiled our good name. We've been splashed across the news, local and even federally as a result of poor, decision making and poor leadership that has been displayed by a township committee. What happens with that the same core group of people who have been in charge of the town for many, many years. There's a certain complacency that comes with that. There's a certain paternalistic attitude that “We know best. Residents don't worry about what we're doing. We'll take care of it”. It just got to a point where I couldn't watch it anymore without at least throwing my hat in the ring to say no. We need to start looking at things differently. We need new people involved, people they're gonna look to experts to make sure that when we proceed going forward, we're doing so in the best interest of the town, not just maintaining the status quo.
Q: What do you think is the main local level issue facing young people and Bernards Township that you plan on fixing specifically?
Chadda: We've got to address our mental health crisis and the increasing anxiety and depression. Especially the unprecedented amount of stress that high school students are facing. And I talked about this last year when I ran. This year, we've been talking about COVID and businesses because that's been taken over the whole discourse, for the most part. But last year, when COVID-19 wasn't around, we could talk about that being a huge issue. And I remember, last year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published this study indicating that suicide levels are at their highest level in 20 years in youth. And they attributed that to two things, social media and the opioid epidemic. Wellness needs to be a priority in our community. And that wellness issue, that mental health issues encompasses a lot of things because a lot of things that in general I don’t think John and I are facing. We didn't have social media growing up, so our every move wasn't documented or every failure. We didn’t have to worry about likes and how we looked at all times. So there are a lot more challenges that the teens are facing.
Sandler: No, I couldn't agree more. The stress levels that young people face today are so much greater than anything that I saw as a kid. The pressure to get good grades, the competitive nature of the admissions process. The requirement that you have to be good at everything but specialize in one thing has created a huge amount of anxiety amongst our young people. College counselors say that the kids around that time have more anxiety than they’ve ever seen before, to the point where they worry about their health and safety. I'm 40 years old and I didn't go to high school that long ago, but the pressure just wasn't there. Social media is adding so much to that level of anxiety. People put on social media only the best of what's going on in their life, and they paint a rosy picture of everything going on. And so it automatically makes everyone who sees these posts feel as though they're not enough and they're not good enough. That clear anxiety contributes to drug addiction. That contributes to issues that need to be addressed. The Bernards Township has the municipal alliance, whose mission is to talk about drug addiction. But as council committee members we can work with the Board of Ed to ensure that there are places where our kids can go and talk to those that can be compassionate. That can help them to reverse these difficult waters so that their mental health is a priority.
Q: I know during the last discussion that there was mention about having a youth advisory board. So I was wondering if you could elaborate more on that issue or how exactly that would work.
Chadda: There have been some complaints or concerns about the lack of activities for teens in town. That was why I recommended having a teen advisory task force. I know the library has some activities. Parks and Recs have activities, but let's say you're not into sports. You like chess or you like drama. There should be stuff for everybody. Some people are oriented towards athletics, and there are teams. There could be more recreational activities. It doesn't have to be so competitive. So it should be some sort of task force that incorporates different ideas and suggestions. There aren't a lot of places for teams to congregate in town. If we have a place like more coffee shops, dessert places that would help. As far as teen involvement goes, it's so important for teens to get involved in this election cycle. This is the second most important election of our lifetime. The most important time was the election of 1860 where we were gonna go to civil war, determining the future of America. So this election is so important because you have two competing visions for the future of this country. It's important for everyone if they can vote to be involved in the political process. So I would just say to all teens out there if you're 18 please exercise your right to vote. It's just of paramount importance.
Sandler: Also, there was a discussion at the committee level about whether or not to create the Human Rights Advisory Committee. And the purpose of that committee was to study biases in town and to work towards creating a welcoming, open environment for all of our residents, regardless of sexual orientation or identity or race or gender or religion, or able-bodied. There was some pushback at the township committee level initially, but the voices of the people that came out in the community were young people. I was so overwhelmed to see the support and to see young people coming to the township committee members, making public comments on the record, participating in local government. It's through the voice of the young folks that came out and made their feelings known that ultimately the town committee was swayed. And now there is a diversity and inclusion committee that was voted on just the other day. I think that shows the importance of community engagement and particularly the engagement of young people. Because I'll tell you that if there wasn't much significant backlash towards the township committee and in favor of creating this diversity and inclusion, there's no way it would have gone through. I saw young teenagers come out and participate in local government and tell everyone what they believed in and it worked, so that was nice to see.
Q: That leads to my next question about the diversity inclusion committee. I was wondering if you had any examples or stories about the hostility towards inclusion in Bernards Township.
Sandler: I don't personally thankfully. I didn't grow up here. I moved here five years ago, and we have never felt anything other than welcome by everyone. One of the things that occurred at the township many meetings were stories of young folks that did experience unfortunate situations here, including someone, dressed up in a way that is derogatory towards Mexicans during Mexican Day. There were articles in the newspaper a couple of years ago about Swastikas that were found around town. There were some flyers for white supremacist organizations posted around towns. These things have happened in Bernards Township.
Chadda: I have never really experienced anything like personally. Last night, in the last township committee meeting, some community members put forward the notion that there's no institutional racism which I was surprised and shocked to hear because I just think that’s very tone-deaf. This Human Advisory Board is so necessary because there are so many people in our community that feel they are different. And as Bernards Township is becoming increasingly diverse, our approach to governance has to evolve, and our township committee members should work together to ensure that everybody feels welcome and heard. So this committee is going to be 11 people. They're going to report to the township committee twice a year. It's going to include the police, clergy, school administrator, and person trained in diversity and inclusion. So, I look forward to that committee, and I think it's long overdue.
Q: Going on to the issue of businesses and Basking Ridge and Bernards Township. We all know that a pandemic is bad for business. What are your plans to promote local business spending while ensuring safety during the pandemic?
Sandler: I'm not sure if you follow our campaign on Facebook, but we did the 30-day shop Local Challenge with Sophia and me. For 30 days over the summer, we patronize the local business every single day. And the purpose of that was to encourage residents to get out there and support the local businesses, particularly, during COVID -19. I think our small businesses are hurting in such a significant way. It's so critical to support them anyway we can. And one way to support them is by shopping locally. But another thing that the town committee can do: ease ordinances and zoning restrictions that allow for outdoor dining and outdoor shopping. Maybe you have a street fair, maybe you close off downtown for a day and let the merchants put their goods outside to be sold. So you get these businesses an opportunity to make some money, and will also operate within the confines of what's been put in place at the state level. If and when Sophie and I get elected, the COVID pandemic is not as severe, although I certainly don't take that for granted. But if it's not, you can be certain that we're gonna work hard to make sure that you do everything we can for local businesses to safely drive shoppers and foot traffic to these businesses to spend their money.
Chadda: We proposed creating an economic development commission to stimulate our economy. And that would comprise all businesses. Everything from large Verizon to small mom and pop shops, and to come up with strategic immediate short term and long term goals to stimulate our economy and revitalize our business districts. They were already suffering before and I'm sure they're suffering even more now. As John said, we did our 30-day shop local campaign. Our goal was to encourage people rather than going to Amazon straight away or big box stores to shop locally. Because without small business, the local economy will fail, and we need our local money to work to preserve our property values to help with our tax base. It's very important for keeping our taxes at a reasonable level to support our local businesses and develop the local economy.
Q: So you mentioned about stabilizing property taxes and just making taxes generally lower. And also, another part of your campaign has been just increasing more money for maintaining infrastructure. So I was wondering, what is something that our town spends too much on where it's being wasted right now?
Chadda: Well, I'll say this on the 65% of our budget. About 90 million goes to our school. I think about two million was in the library, but the school board is the one that has control over that budget. So the town committee has no control over the school budget. That's why our taxes are so high. That is the main reason. But what we can do is like we mentioned just now, it's trying to stimulate our local economy to broaden in our tax states so that the burden doesn't fall so squarely on the homeowner's shoulder. So that is something that we can do.
Sandler: There has been money that has been spent poorly, relating to litigation, relating to certain studies. I know that they did that study in Pleasant Valley Park about looking at a little trickle of water that cost a ton of money. It just comes down looking at the budget, sharpening the pencil, and figuring out where we can spend our money most wisely. Because at the end of the day, as council committee members, you're acting as a shepherd of the town’s people's money, and you should make sure that it's not being wasted and that you're spending as wisely as you can and any savings you're able to attain to the diligence or efficiency should go back in the taxpayer's pocket, one way or another.
Chadda: The Township committee has wasted money on medical benefits for part-time elected officials and PR consultants. So those are unnecessary expenditures that can be, and there have been consulting projects that the county has spent tens of thousands of dollars that didn’t need to be that way.
Q: Nationally, we've been more polarized than now than any other year in American history. Do you think locally there are major differences in ideology between our two partisan committees and how will you ensure to create policies and ideas that everyone likes?
Chadda: Local politics is related to national politics. If you're a supporter of Donald Trump, then you follow and believe in his line of thinking. That can be problematic. We need leaders that have empathy. We need leaders that will promote American values of diversity and unity, cohesiveness. That's important. To look at who our local leaders are, we need leaders that have values. That's incredibly important. We don't know what problems our community is gonna face, but what we can know is what values elected officials have. And if you are supporting this current administration. then you are complicit with what Donald Trump is doing.
Sandler: There are certainly some ideological differences between the council committee members on the Democratic side, solely being Joan Harris and four Republican Town Committee members. But it's so important that you're able to reach across the aisle and to work with everyone because, at the end of the day, that's what every county community member should be interested in. The primary interest should be: What's in the best interest of Bernards Township? These are local issues. Now all politics are local politics. That much is true. But we can defer on national policy. We can differ on the larger national political issues. But ultimately, when it comes to local issues, there's no reason why we can't work together: Democrat, Republican, Independent. To put forth, in Bernards Township policies and ordinances and regulations that are in the best interests of folks, no matter what their political affiliation is. The Democrats have been either not represented at all on the township committee or have been vastly outnumbered. We've had to be willing to work with our Republican counterparts. Even if Sophia and I win, I think Sophia and I can commit to working with the Republican Committee members and not just forcing ideas through. That it has to be a partnership among the five members, regardless of the party affiliation.
Chadda: No matter who gets elected, we have to work together, reach across the aisle. Otherwise, we just have gridlock. Nothing gets done. And ultimately, we live in the town. We love this town, and we want what's best for the town. So absolutely we will work with our Republican colleagues for the betterment of our town.
Sandler: One of the things that's interesting that I've found about running local policies. You're running against your neighbors. You're running against your kids' friends. We don't get that on the national level. We have to go to Shoprite and we see our political opponents and we see people that are part of their campaigns. Our kids are friends with their kids and it's so important that we keep this race civil and cordial to the issues. Because these are our neighbors, and regardless of what happens in November, they're gonna continue to be our neighbors. And that's in my mind what makes local politics very unique.
Q: Just generally outside the election. What is something unique that you like about Bernards Township? And why is it that you love this town so much?
Chadda: Bernards Township is just the most picturesque town you’ll ever see. Their school districts are top-notch. We have a great quality of life here. It's a wonderful place to raise a family and to have a business.
Sandler: I echo the sentiments. Bernards Township is a beautiful town. It's also strategically located. It's so commutable, no matter where you work. And I think that's what makes it unique. we got 78. You've got 287. You've got two train stations which are direct lines to the city, and you get that accessibility with the picturesque nature of the town, the beautiful foliage. The people here are really, truly exceptional. I grew up in Bergen County, and then I lived in Jersey City during law school and so my life before here was so congested with everything close together and people on top of one. Bernards Township is such a beautiful community where there's so much green, so much space. I think it's just a wonderful place to raise a family. I love the fact that my kids in the public schools here we've had nothing but a wonderful experience. Thrilled to welcome a newborn a little over a month ago and get her involved locally as well as soon as she's old enough. So I think it's just a wonderful, wonderful town.
To listen to the interview in its entirety, here is the link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VtLBttzjDE8HRhJnS1rz_c_ivDHU1hOy/view
By Benny Sun
Venezuela is in chaos. As over four million Venezuelans have left the country, Venezuela's situation continues to worsen every day. The economic pain faced by normal civilians is characterized by widespread poverty driven by hyperinflation and chronic shortages of food, medicine, and necessities. In fact, a recent report now finds that over 9 in 10 Venezuelans live in poverty. In the context of human disaster, it is no wonder that America’s recent actions in January are controversial, as the Trump Administration has chosen to renew their sanctions policy which blocks Venezuela access to food, water, and humanitarian aid amid Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis. Even in international accounts, the U.S. government had frozen over 5.5 billion dollars in Venezuelan funds, preventing the government from attaining the necessary funds to conduct fiscal policy or enact stimulus packages to save their economy. Overall, to better understand the Venezuelan crisis, one must first under its cultural history.
The 1990s saw the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, who soon became the face of Venezuela’s government in 1998 off of his uncompromising attacks on political corruption and state incompetence. Many saw Hugo Chavez’s domestic policy as radical, as he greatly expanded social welfare programs including improving access to health, education, food, and social security to the lowest echelons of society. As Venezuela was an oil state, meaning that a vast majority of their industries relied on extracting oil and petroleum, the boom in oil prices in the early 2000s allowed Chavez to use its extra profits in providing for the people. Unfortunately, because of Venezuela’s lack of diversification, Venezuela’s extreme reliance on oil would later become the beginning of Venezuela’s economic woes. Moreover, Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, would drive his country further into financial chaos with his lack of competent management, rampant corruption, and dismantling of humanitarian services. In 2014, plummeting oil prices triggered a severe economic contraction causing simultaneous hyperinflation. However, rather than aiding his people, Maduro instead announced cuts to major social services that millions relied upon under the guise of austerity. Consequently, even before the implementation of American sanctions, from 2013 to 2016, Venezuela’s food imports had dropped 71%, medicine had dropped 68%, infant mortality had increased 44%, and inflation has risen by 1 million percent.
Under these circumstances, the Trump administration, beginning in August 2017, announced sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industries and international markets. Their main intention was simple: to drive Maduro away from power (who they deemed as the cause of the crisis) and instigate the Venezuela economy away from socialism towards free-market economics. However, the current success record of these sanctions is mixed and has come into dispute because of the views that America is only prolonging the crisis in Venezuela. For one thing, Maduro is still in power and has seen a bolster in his support. Weeks after Trump’s implementation of sanctions, Maduro’s approval ratings rose by 23%. This is because while Venezuela heavily relies on oil for revenue, many of Maduro’s allies including Iran and Russia have responded by increasing their investments to keep Maduro alive. Simply, while Maduro can continue living on, it is only the poorest of the poor who could be suffering under these sanctions. On top of that, Maduro, with his state-controlled media, can shift the blame away from his mismanagement and lack of diversification onto the United States. However, while Maduro might still be in power, there are certainly still economic shifts occurring within Venezuela. For instance, in December 2019, the Maduro government erased price controls, loosened capital controls, and even accepted dollarization into his country. The implications of these policies have been the rise of non-oil private industries including food, service, and technology sectors. Venezuelan business chamber Fedecamaras predicts that for the first time in decades, the private sector will account for 25% of GDP in 2019 and continue to rise in 2020. Consequently, the New York Times in 2020 predicts that Venezuela could potentially follow a path of economic liberalization: by loosening the control of the government, capital inflows such as foreign investment and bond investors could re-enter Venezuelan markets again. However, while this process is slow, American sanctions are also painful for the majority of normal Venezuelans.
By incapacitating revenue streams from the Venezuelan government, American sanctions also prevented Venezuela from purchasing food and medicine imports directly. For example, while Venezuela attempted to buy new water pumps, they were unable because the sanctions prevented these companies from doing business with Maduro’s regime. These reports showed that Venezuela’s clean water input fell by 30% and nearly 20% of the country was facing water shortages as a result. Not only has it been reported that water shortages have occurred, but additional blocks to medicine, food, and even humanitarian aid. Therefore, America’s solution to continue its placement of sanctions still has its varying detrimental effects. As a result, a report from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, analyzed data and found that American sanctions coincided with a whopping 31% increase in mortality or 40,000 additional deaths. On the other hand, since American sanctions froze Venezuelan assets in international markets, Venezuela was unable to commit to debt-restructuring in 2017. Even during the Chavez times, external debt was a major problem that Venezuela had to deal with when arising in Latin America. However, in 2016, Venezuela was on the brink of restructuring and solving many of its debt problems under a major debt-restructuring package that would redirect billions of dollars back into the Venezuelan economy. Subsequently, American sanctions inhibited Venezuela from reaching its economic cure which further pushed Venezuela’s health down the drain.
While US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector and international markets have failed to oust Maduro, there are still some benefits such as their slow economic liberation phase, with increases in diversification and privatization. Unfortunately, Venezuela’s progress is still slow and COVID-19 is only continuing to enact punishment on Venezuela. Thus, millions of civilians are still suffering, unable to access the necessities to live a normal and healthy life. As economic conditions worsen across the globe due to COVID-19, it is crucial for Venezuela to create productive policies to recover its economy soon.
By Daniel Zhang
The world watched in horror as New York City’s Covid-19 infections exponentially skyrocketed. Within the epicenter itself, a different story was emerging — one now echoed across every urban area in the United States. Geographically, in a classic tale of haves and have-nots, Upper East Siders vanished while East Harlemers endured. Rich, predominantly white neighborhoods, such as Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights, emptied out by nearly 50%. While those New Yorkers laid low in the Hamptons, nearly 95% of their compatriots, residents earning household incomes lower than $80,000, remained in what they, now ironically, saw as ‘the greatest city in the world’. As a result, 30% of New York’s Covid-19 hospitalizations consist of African Amercians, who represent 18% of the state’s population. In New Mexico, 20% of Covid-19 cases consist of Navajo tribe members, who represent 5% of the state’s population. In Louisiana, 70% of Covid-19 deaths consist of Black residents, who represent 1/3 of the state’s population. The Brookings Institute reports that “Hurricanes hit the poor the hardest” and the Economic Policy institutes finds that the top 1% captured 85% of post-recession growth between 2009-2013. At seemingly every crisis — natural, social, or medical — low-income minorities lack the resources to avoid the effects. Analyzing this familiar trend through the microcosm of Covid-19 reveals the decades-long buildup to these circumstances: the astonishingly high cost of health prior to Covid and less insulation from the effects of this during Covid.
Before the first case of Covid-19 was discovered in Wuhan last year, low-income minorities were already disenfranchised in terms of health. As writer Eric Schlosser notes in his book, Fast Food Nation, never before has there been a time where a fit and healthy rich preside over an unfit and unhealthy poor. Being plump was once an indicator of financial prosperity, but it has now become a predictor of poverty. While lifestyle brands, such as the ever-popular Sweetgreen, charge upwards of $8.00 for a single salad, McDonalds and KFC provide affordable alternatives with dollar menus and value meals. It’s understandable why a low-income minority family would rather make a trip to a fast food outlet instead of forking over a week’s pay for a bowl of leafy greens. The high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has created a dangerous plight: to meet the USDA dietary standards, low-income minorities would have to spend 70% of their food budget on fruits and vegetables alone. These findings, in combination with the low cost of fast food, reveal that a bowl of salad can be as indicative of wealth as a brand new Mercedes.
While eating healthy is unaffordable, access to quality healthcare is oftentimes unattainable. In addition to problems arising from affordability, low-income minorities face difficulties accessing the same quality of care as their white counterparts. The American Bar Association reports that even when controlling for factors such as class and eating habits, low-income minorities are less likely to receive effective treatments. They are less likely to be offered kidney transplants and less likely to receive innovative heart attack, stroke, and AIDS treatments. When examining medical professionals administering this care, the reason for these disparities emerges: only 5.8% of them are Hispanic and a mere 5% identify as Black. In fact, when Black doctors took care of Black men, a Harvard Business Review analysis found that the men were more likely to receive effective care. In essence, a lack of diversity within medicine means that low-income minorities are less likely to have been effectively treated or diagnosed prior to Covid, leading to a deteriorated state of health before the pandemic struck.
Consequently, as Covid-19 infected our nation, low-income minorities' plight became further pronounced. A lack of sufficient national data on Covid-19’s impact separated by race and income level has led many states to conduct their own research. The results are overwhelmingly similar: poor minority-filled areas have the highest positive-test rates while wealthy communities possess the lowest. This stems from a number of reasons, ranging from employment to living conditions. While higher-income white collar workers could work from home or rely upon savings, low-income minorities often have to continue working contact-heavy jobs, leading to a higher chance of infection. Low-income minorities are overwhelmingly the ones who must deliver InstaCart orders to homes, drive Ubers in cities, and work fast food drive throughs. This is compounded by their higher rates of public transit, where infections are more likely when compared with personal cars. These findings, in addition to compact living conditions, mean low-income families are more likely to receive infections as well as affect each other. Disastrous results have emerged from these structural problems, indicating that an already worse state of health, in combination with less desirable employment and living conditions, have led to higher infection rates amongst low-income minorities.
When analyzing the government’s medical and financial response's effects on low-income minorities, several successes emerge, as well as several failures. For starters, the United States has achieved a ventilator surplus, a product of Trump’s evocation of the Defense Production Act and lower-use states shipping ventilators to places like New York and California, states with large amounts of Covid-19 cases as well as low-income minorities. Additionally, government aid has allowed Pharmaceutical companies to focus on developing Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. Notably, the Federal Drug Administration has already approved Remdisever, a treatment developed by American company, Gilead Sciences, which shortens the average hospital stay of a Covid-19 patient by four days. While the price of the treatment is around $3,120 for those with commercial insurance, it may prove to benefit the wallets of low-income minorities overall, as early intervention with Remdisever may help them avoid hospitalization altogether, a process which costs around $12,000. Despite these overall successes, the main criticism of Covid-19 response for low-income minorities has not necessarily been the absence of mask mandates or the abundance of harmful online ‘cures’. Rather it is the lack of focused resources. The federal government has failed to adequately direct a higher portion of resources towards low-income communities, often distributing an excess of resources to wealthier communities that do not require them. While this has not yet led to drastic consequences, the continued daily increase of Covid cases, especially in low-income neighborhoods, may require concentrated resource distribution.
Another pillar of government Covid-19 response has been financial stimulus packages, which deliver $1,200 to individuals earning less than $75,000. While these checks undoubtedly aid individuals financially, a larger issue remains: the most disadvantaged are often the ones still waiting to receive payment. Employed people, regularly filing taxes with the government, are easily pinpointed to receive proper aid. However, those earning too little to file taxes often did not receive the extra $500 families were promised for each child under sixteen years of age. This is because tax filers state dependents when doing so, while those who do not file are not able directly inform the government of their dependents. These financial oversights, in combination with the design of the stimulus package bill, provide aggrandized benefits to wealthy Americans. While the package could have provided an expanded set of benefits, common in other developed countries, wealthy corporations and Wall Street have been gifted a rescue fund that could be valued at 6 trillion dollars. These concerns indicate another criticism of the stimulus bill. Similar to medical resources, financial resources have been distributed in an untargeted manner. More specifically, it provides funds to those not requiring them while failing to provide enough for those requiring them the most. White-collar workers, who often already earn higher wages, are able to telecommute, not having to spend additional resources on arsenals of personal protective equipment. Blue-collar works, who are often low-income minorities, must continue to interact with others on production lines and delivery gates, having to allocate more resources to masks, gloves, and cleansing products. There are markedly different pandemic experiences for white-collared and blue-collared workers. Amongst those who received stimulus checks, individuals with less than $500 in bank accounts spent half of their payments within ten days, indicating the same check for white-collar families earning $100,000 and blue-collar families earning $1,000 annually creates difficulties for the latter.
As winds howl and storms rage, disasters should, in theory, affect the rich and low-income minorities equally; both rich homes and poor homes are destroyed while rich families and poor families are both forced to evacuate. Despite this seemingly logical rationale, from Katrina in New Orleans, to Sandy in New Jersey, to even the 2008 financial crisis, low-income minorities often bear the brunt of the effects of every storm. Covid-19 appears no different; as a disaster that impacts mental and physical health, in addition to creating financial burdens, this pandemic disproportionately affects low-income minorities. Consequently, Covid-19 continues a familiar trend, where after natural and financial crises, disenfranchised minorities disproportionately suffer.
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.