By Andrew Falduto
On December 5, the Senate Banking Committee voted to advance the nomination of Jerome “Jay” Powell as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in a 22-1 vote, with the only Senator in opposition to the nomination being Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). This past November, Jerome H. Powell became one of the most recent nominations in the Trump Administration and is expected to become the new Chair of the Federal Reserve on February 3 to replace Janet Yellen, who has served as Chairwoman since 2014. Considering Powell has served on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve since 2012 when he was appointed by President Barack Obama and has proved to be a moderate Republican with years of experience, this nomination is not controversial 10 out of the 11 Democratic Senators on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee voted to further his nomination, including Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and even somewhat far left members such as Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Brian Schatz (D-HI). Although this decision has not sparked as much debate or controversy as many of President Trump’s other federal nominations, there are still massive implications of possible changes that may occur in regards to the economy, federal monetary policy, and changes within the Federal Reserve itself.
In his five and a half years on the Board of Governors, Powell has never dissented from any of the decisions made by the Board or by Yellen. Powell himself has stated, “One factor that favors easier adjustment in [emerging-market economies] is that U.S. monetary policy normalization has been and should continue to be gradual, as long as the U.S. economy evolves roughly as expected.” This similarity in monetary policy poses the question: why would President Trump nominate a new Chair instead of simply renominating Yellen? Primarily because, despite their similar ideologies, Powell is much more heavily favored by conservative Senators than Yellen is, thus easing relations between the Senate and the President, which have been questionable since the President took office last year. This strategy would also ensure a quick and easy nomination process, as it avoids any possible contention of the renomination of Yellen. Ever since the Republican Party took control of the executive branch, the GOP as a whole has been more confident in Congress; therefore, the threat of heavy resistance towards the nomination of a Democrat, such as Yellen, has drastically increased. Not to mention President Trump’s presidency has been filled with unpredictable and sometimes unnecessary decisions, including the nomination of Jerome Powell, a lawyer and investment banker who could become the first Chair of the Federal Reserve not to have a Ph.D. in economics since Paul Volcker, who was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Continuing his string of unusual decisions, the President Trump has stated before that he wants to leave his “own mark” on the central bank as well.,
While Powell’s core economic principles may not have deviated from Yellen or the Board of Governors as a whole, if he is successful in following through with his previously stated intentions as Chairman, there would be lasting effects. Just after the nomination, Ben Bernanke, who served as Chairman from 2006 to 2014, became one of the first to comment on the decision, stating, “As Jay told me, we needed an ‘off ramp.’” The “off ramp” referenced here is the idea that the Federal Reserve must be able to instill new, alternative policies if necessary in case of a recession. This “off ramp” policy would also include a drastic decrease in the Federal Reserve balance sheet, which is the tally of the Fed’s assets and liabilities. In a speech in June, Powell commented on the Federal Reserve balance sheet, showing his support for decreasing the balance from the current $4.5 trillion to $2.9 trillion, or if possible, $2.4 trillion. This decision would primarily decrease the amount of control the Federal Reserve has over overall interest rates, by hindering the Fed’s ability to buy bonds from private banks. While Powell seems to be implying a shift toward less aggressive monetary policy, promoting the laissez-faire capitalism of the Trump administration, his actions on the Board have shown more consistent government support of the economy. “[Powell]’s detailed analysis and highly effective presentation of the day-by-day cash flows of the federal government was instrumental in last year’s efforts to resolve the debt ceiling crisis,” said Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. This odd, but still coherent mixture of ideologies, seems like it will gradually shift the focus of the Federal Reserve from controlling the economy to more passively monitoring it, which many could argue was the original purpose of the Federal Reserve.
By Emily Wang
When I ask you to think of the ideal Internet, your mind probably immediately defaults to the image of a worldwide communication network brimming with speedy websites that can open with a single quick click. However, this idealized notion of the Internet can easily vanish with the repeal of one single protection: Net Neutrality.
This two-worded term, first coined in 2003 by a Columbia University media law professor, means exactly what it seems to describe: the right to be treated equally on the Internet. Sadly, the freedom of the Internet--a precious right that many take for granted--is at risk of being taken away. In fact, on December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to gut Net Neutrality protections, granting major companies the power to kill the open Internet.
Net Neutrality is the principle that all Internet service providers--AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, to name a few--must not discriminate on the Internet through speeding up, slowing down, or blocking any content their users attempt to access. Additionally, when put into action, this law would prevent Internet Service Providers (ISP) from creating “fast lanes” for those who pay them more money. These protections ensure that all Internet users receive equal access and treatment no matter which site they visit.
For most, the enforcement of these regulations seems like common sense. These protections may seem so obvious, so fundamental, so innate to the purpose of the Internet’s creation, that some may even wonder why they exist in the first place. Isn’t it given that all Internet users should be treated equally? In truth, the mere existence of these protections implies that these rights to the Internet have been violated in the past--when given too much power, many companies seek ways to expand their revenues through mistreating their customers. Take, for example, the well-known telecommunications company AT&T: In 2012, it was caught disabling access to FaceTime for users who did not pay for their expensive new data plans. No one should be mistreated simply because others paid more money, much less be forced to pay for something they cannot afford or do not need.
Net Neutrality is a basic protection that all Internet users have the right to receive; repealing this fundamental right signifies the deterioration of freedom in something designed to expand our freedom. Help preserve your ideal version of the Internet by preserving Net Neutrality.
By Injae Lee
When the Washington Post published an article reporting how the Trump administration had barred seven words and phrases, such as “diversity,” “fetus,” and “science-based,” from usage by the CDC, the condemnation was quick and relentless. Protesters projected the banned words on to Trump International Hotel’s front entrance, LGBTQ+ and many other activist and civil rights groups criticized the decision, and late night host Seth Rogen suggested that “Donald Trump” be added to that list. Rogen’s joke was sharp and his sentiment shared by many -- if not the majority --of Americans, but this controversy only helps shed light on several flaws of President Trump and his administration. The Trump presidency has proven to be one of incompetence and unreason, often butting heads with the press and its own party and having little regard for science and the will of millions of Americans. President Trump’s move to shun scientific knowledge and reason is an embarrassment and affront to the American people and the globe, and many hope that his regress can be reversed.
Embarrassing and outrageous as it is, the Trump administration’s decision is not wholly surprising. Even before President Trump became President, and long before he chose to run, he has abandoned fact and science for falsehood and slander. In the early years of predecessor Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump claimed that Obama was not born in the United States, implying that thus, he was unfit to inhabit the Oval Office. The incumbent President also claimed that man-made global warming is greatly exaggerated and a hoax spun up by China, even though 68% of Americans and nearly 100% of scientists believe that the human race has contributed to a rise in global temperatures. Trump’s track record has not been much better since he has entered the Oval Office, either. He claimed that his presidential inauguration crowd was significantly larger than President Obama’s in 2009, despite photos to the contrary. He has claimed many successes, such as the growing economy and several diplomatic and budget victories, despite the fact that they were planned during the Obama administration. He is waging war on the nation’s established and well-respected journals of record, the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with dozens more news sources, for keeping the American populace well-informed. His hatred of the media goes so far, in fact, that the President has actually barred certain news outlets - such as the Times, Post, and the Hill - from daily press briefings. This war on knowledge unsurprisingly has extended to include science. Trump has cancelled useful and widely supported scientific research and studies, such as a coal mining study in West Virginia, and many have noted that the number of executive research grants to scientists containing the words “climate change” have decreased. So while the Trump administration’s choice to censor science and progress in the C.D.C. is disappointing and unacceptable, it is not unprecedented, nor surprising.
Some may wonder why the President’s inadequacies and his controversial beliefs are so troubling and a problem that the people need to confront. The answer: Donald Trump holds the presidency, an office with a history of reason and knowledge. The White House has always had a role in innovation and progress. Washington established the two-term precedent and showed that power can be limited. Andrew Jackson’s firebrand populism invigorated the common man. Lincoln emancipated the slaves. F.D.R’s decade in office saw the U.S. rise from economic ruin to become the global hegemon, with access to the awesome and terrible power of the atom. Truman desegregated the Armed Forces. Kennedy showed that nuclear war was not an inevitability, and Johnson enshrined the principle that any and every body can and should exercise the right to vote. These presidents, and dozens more, have done much to advance our nation forward, and try to steady the tide of progress, whether through a televised address or legislation in Congress. Not Trump - he has shown that through his calling global warming a hoax, through his ad hominem attacks on the Fourth Estate, and through his decision to censor the EPA, that in these days, progress and democracy can no longer be trusted in the hands of the President - that this power must come back to whence it came, the people.
By Camille Shen
In a world where Donald Trump communicates to the American public through Twitter, the prospect of a global leader ruling his nation through social media seems plausible some time in the near future. For ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont, that time is now. Puigdemont suggested in early January to preside over Catalonia through Skype, and it seems that with the results of the December elections, Catalans won’t have to take him up on that offer (for now).
Puigdemont, of course, is in exile after a series of tumultuous events occurred in Catalan politics. On October 1, Catalonia held an independence referendum that Madrid deemed illegal under the Spanish Constitution. As such, the Spanish police were ordered to physically bar Catalonians from voting; unionists were urged not to vote at all. The result was a referendum in which 90% voted in favor of independence, but only 42% of the electorate participated. In response, Rajoy invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, a passage that allows the national government to adopt “necessary methods” to force a regional government to comply with its interests. This effectively removed Catalonia’s regional government, imposed direct rule on the area, and dismissed its Parliament. Puigdemont called Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s sacking of the entire Catalan government one of the “worst attacks against the people of Catalonia” since Franco. On December 21, the Catalan people elected a brand-new Parliament to fill those empty seats. The outcome: a majority in Parliament for the secessionist movement, but a majority popular vote for the unionists.
Polls have consistently predicted a hung Parliament; however, Catalonia’s three pro-independence parties, JuntxCat, ERC, and CUP together won an absolute majority of 70 seats of the total 135. Secessionists won 47.5% of the popular vote, while the unionist bloc took 57 seats and 43.4% of the vote. Puigdemont’s JuntxCat party took the most seats, the former President describing the victory as won under “exceptional circumstances, with candidates in prison, with the government in exile and without having the same resources as the state.” This comes as a significant blow to the Spanish government, who had hoped to put an end to the independence movement with the election. Furthermore, Rajoy’s conservative People’s party saw a major defeat, securing only 4 seats and hence, for the first time, rendering them unable to form a parliamentary group of its own in the Catalan parliament. This loss has implications that reach far beyond Catalonia, as it could signify the end of its hegemony over the center-right in Spain. Rajoy’s already low popularity ratings coupled with this crushing loss may spell out end of the People’s Party’s control in Madrid and usher in an ever-growing far-right movement.
However, while the separatist movement’s triumph may reinvigorate its supporters and grassroots, this can only lead to further tensions with the Spanish government. Madrid has been a staunch opponent of secession, and given their response to the October 1 referendum, it can be expected that Rajoy will continue to do everything within his power to prevent secession– possibly even an extension of direct rule. But with little power in the Catalan Parliament, it is unclear how Rajoy’s People’s Party will fare in the future. On the other hand, the Catalan Citizens party, which won the most seats of any party, 36, believes the election has demonstrated strength among Catalan unionists. Inés Arrimadas, the party leader, stated, “We have sent a message to the world that a majority in Catalonia is in favour of the union with Spain. For the first time, a constitutionalist party has won a Catalan election.”
As 2017 draws to a close, the new year seems to bring only uncertainty for the future of Catalonia as the region battles between separation and union. While the outcome of the election gave pro-independence parties a much-needed advantage in Parliament and bolstered morale among secessionists, pro-union leaders still came out with a victory of the majority of the popular vote. However, one thing is clear: even under the “worst attacks”, the election has demonstrated that Madrid’s previous hardline tactics will not work to suppress the voice of the Catalan people.
By Caroline Sha
It has left children parentless and parents childless. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids kill about ninety Americans per day and has cost the United States $75.8 billion dollars a year. Understandably, it is often broadcasted across the front of the headlines with debates over how to confront the issue that is raging across the country. However, most of the discussion has focused on the effects of opioids on white Americans, leaving out another important group impacted by this epidemic: Native Americans.
Native Americans on reservations are in fact some of the most affected people in this crisis. Their death rate from opioids is about 8.4 per 100,000 people. This is more than any other racial group in the United States, including white Americans, whose death rate is 7.9 per 100,000 people. But why is the opioid crisis so severe in reservations? The answer is that the pre-existing conditions on tribal lands make many Native Americans susceptible to drug abuse. And those conditions go back a long way. In fact, it all starts with the exploitation of Native Americans in the nineteenth century. During the 1850’s the government forced children born in reservations to go to boarding schools all around America for the purpose of assimilation. When the children came back as adults, they lost their identity and because of discrimination, were unable to make a living away from the reservation. This continued until 1978 when Native Americans were finally given the right to not send their children to schools outside tribal lands. However, by that time, the damage had been done and the low quality of life in which they lived in had destroyed any sense of their former way of life. Families had already developed lineages of violence and bad habits like drug use and were unable to bring themselves up out of poverty, continuing the cycle of poorness and psychological trauma. Even today, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, incarceration, mental illnesses, suicide and drug addiction are commonplace on reservations. And it is all those factors that lead to a higher chance for drug addiction which means that when the opioid crisis swept America, it hit Native Americans hard. But despite all that, nothing much has been done by the government or other citizens.
This indifference is markedly different from the fervor over opioids in rural America . When opioids started ravaging white communities, outpourings of sympathy and pity flooded the internet. Articles and videos exposed the humanity behind this issue and pulled on audience’s heartstrings. They portrayed the victims of the epidemic as either people who were recklessly given painkillers or those who had turned to drugs because of something wrong with their lives. One can also find this empathetic view of the problem in the government’s reaction to the current epidemic. Donald Trump declared it a national health crisis and during that speech, brought up his brother, Fred Trump Jr, who had struggled with alcoholism. He stated that his brother was a “great guy” who made a bad choice and related that to why young people should avoid drugs. It is clear that Trump does not intend to villainize those struggling with opiods. This gentle approach is also reflected in the current goals of the government regarding the epidemic. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), the Department of Health and Human Services intends to fund the prevention and treatment of addiction. In addition, Congress also passed a law in 2016 that provided money towards things such as training people to prevent overdoses.
These actions are unlike what has been done for the Native Americans, which is frankly very little. Finding anything talking about this problem is extremely hard. Sure, the CDC has statistics about the high Native American overdose rate, but no talk on how to reduce these numbers have been found. There is no tide of support for drug issues on reservations and people have raised very little outrage over the removal of Native Americans from the national opioid story. And because there is no huge backlash, the government has gotten away with barely doing anything. Much of the funds Congress has given out to solve the opioid problem are not going towards reservations, causing tribes to not have access to prime treatment and prevention resources. In addition, state programs are not targeted towards Native Americans , leaving Native Americans out of the recovery process of many states. And despite his campaign promises to wipe out opioid abuse in the “entire” nation, Trump has not taken any significant steps towards giving tribal lands the things they need to stop the continuation of drug usage.
However, there is a still a glimmer of hope among those in this terrible situation. The Cherokee have taken the matter into their own hands and are attempting to sue pharmacies like CVS and drug distributors like Cardinal Health. Over in Washington, the Muckleshoot reservation contains recovery houses, needle exchange programs and pass out Naloxone, which can save people who have overdosed, despite low funding. Perhaps if more attention is brought to this issue, bigger changes can occur and a precedent of Native American inclusion can be set. But for now, the issue still remains on the table.
By Jonathan Nemetz
A unified Africa seems like something that could never, and should never work. A multitude of religions, cultures, and languages sprawl across the massive continent, not to mention a diverse biome of massive deserts, dense jungles, and breathtaking savannas. Yet despite all of its differences, the African continent came together on December 2, 2017 to agree upon the final draft of an agreement that creates the Continental Free Trade Area.
The Continental Free Trade Area (Or CFTA) is an economic zone across all 55 nations of Africa that aims to eliminate up to 90% of intercontinent tariffs by 2027, and lays the groundwork for a central African government, similar in style to the European Union1. It unifies many regional free trade zones that had already existed in Africa into a single agreement that is far larger and far more ambitious. The announcement of the agreement has many excited both about the prospects for African economies and a new experiment on large-scale free trade for developing economies.
The Continental Free Trade Area receives many of the same benefits as other free trade agreements, namely a massive swell in economic growth. The combination of so many economies leads to more competition and easier transfer of capital and information, creating an economic boost, which has been estimated for Africa to be as high as 9% annual GDP growth3. In addition, supporters claim that the free trade area could create much needed diversification in the African economy.
Africa’s current economy is mostly centered around the exploitation and export of natural resources to countries with limited natural resources, mainly Europe. However, African countries have significant overlap between the natural resources they possess, meaning that the more lucrative industries between the now tariff-free African nations will not be the current natural resource industries. There will be no incentive to build up these resource operations when massive new markets do not need many of those goods. Instead, Africa may see a growth of industries found in emerging economies. Manufacturing, production, and even middle-class industries such as credit could begin to emerge with more and more commercial exchange within the continent3. Supporters hope a larger amount of consumers and producers will also drive innovation and competition in an area that has been stuck in technological backwater for so long.
Many of the people that have pushed for the free trade zone said the agreement was not only an economic victory, but a cultural one as well. A unified African economy is a powerful force in seperating Africa from dependence on its former colonizers. A push for free trade is a push for an Africa more free from the shadows of colonialism. The unification could give the new coalition more influence on the global stage, something Africa has lacked for the vast majority of its history. With a combined GDP of nearly $3.5 Trillion USD, the continent will have more leverage in international policy and trade deals in dealing with other nations and organizations3.
However, the plan is not without its opponents. Most of the objections to this plan center around the practicality of i;critics point out that this plan would be undermined by the lack of infrastructure required for such a massive and poor continent.
The first major concern is that Africa is simply too large of an area to manage under a single organization. In the eyes of many, the European Union is already too bureaucratic and slow to draft meaningful legislation that creates a positive difference. The Continental Free Trade Area holds 55 member states which is almost double the EU’s twenty-eight members. The CFTA also has many more diverse factors to be kept in mind: the economic, historical and cultural differences between places such as Algeria and Angola are massive and will have to be very carefully considered. Creating policy to benefit such a large area will be no small challenge for the new organization to overcome4.
The second concern is that the governments of Africa will become far poorer than they already are. Due to Africa’s poor infrastructure and rampant corruption, internal tax collection is extremely difficult. As a result, trade tariffs are a main source of income for many African nations1. However, with the elimination of these tariffs under the CFTA, cash-strapped governments will have to cut back on spending or rely more heavily on illicit or immoral methods to bring in revenue. Not only does this concern citizens of the continent, but charities and global organizations also worry that the progress in education and standards of living may be hindered more than helped when their government funding is cut. Security experts also warn that with less funds, the ability for these nations to fight African terrorists is dramatically decreased, causing terrorists’ threat to the people of the continent and world to continue to grow4.
Despite the possible dangers, many are hopeful that the CFTA can be a model for economic growth and free trade in our global society. Ironically, Africa’s history may actually helpin this situation. When colonial powers began providing independence to many African nations, they drew the borders of new nations arbitrarily to the people actually living there. Some tribes found themselves on either side of a new border. What were once peoples and civilizations were now separated into many different nations. All these new nations now governed several groups of people from different backgrounds. The arbitrary nature of these countries has led to the lowest rates of nationalism anywhere in the world2. Thus, while other parts of the world may worry that their country is disadvantaged in an agreement, Africans have no strong allegiance to such nations. Africans only see more jobs and more prosperity in Africa as a whole. When nationalism does not interfere in global policy, people only see the betterment of people as a whole.
This positive change for humanity extends outside of Africa as well. The data gathered from such a poor area experimenting with extreme amounts of free trade can be used to improve other poor economies in the developing world. It could be an example of both policies to follow and policies to avoid3. Because everyone involved recognizes that this will not be a flawless agreement, but instead a tentative first step towards a brighter African future. A tentative first step with lessons to be taught, and hopefully carried into that brighter future, for the whole world to learn.
Going into 2018, Africa faces a myriad of problems and conflicts that need solutions. But by valuing cooperation and unity within their continent, they are no longer going into all their conflicts alone. As the rest of the world enters just another year, Africa enters a new era where its strength and diversity is utilized for a safer and more prosperous continent.
By Mason Krohn
Every year, approximately 900,000 Hispanics born in America reach voting age and America’s Hispanic population is forecasted to double by 2050. As a result, politicians across the nation are pining for Hispanic votes that are increasingly a deciding factor in the results of elections. Take, for instance, Scott Fistler, an Arizonan who ran for office as a Republican in Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District in 2012. After losing two campaigns, Fistler became a Democrat and renamed himself to Cesar Chavez (a Mexican-American labor rights activist), in the hopes of appealing to his district’s numerous Hispanic voters. In an interview with Arizona Republic, Chavez claimed, “People want a name that they can feel comfortable with.” Thankfully, Chavez lost in the race against two candidates, one of which marched for farmworker rights in the 1970s alongside the actual Cesar Chavez. Yet, Arizona’s tasteless candidate is not the only politician who gave Latino voters ill-suited hispandering, which linguist Ben Zimmer defines as, “political pandering by elected officials or candidates seeking to win over Hispanic voters,” in place of actual promises for change. Both candidates in the 2016 election attempted to use artificial gimmicks in order to relate to Hispanic audiences while ignoring the real issues affecting this prominent American minority group.
Hillary Clinton’s most blaring offense was an article her campaign team released entitled, “7 Ways Hillary Clinton Is Just Like Your Abuela.” The list included “She reacts this way when people le faltan el respeto” (lack respect) with a gif attached of Clinton looking unimpressed during her congressional testimony about Benghazi. Of course, Clinton’s campaign team was naive to believe that this list could capture the experience of every Latino-American’s relation with their abuela. Shortly after receiving criticism, the campaign team renamed the list to “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela” and today the article is no longer on her website. But, the damage was already done, and Twitter erupted with #NotMyAbuela in tweets like “My Abuela came to this country with a 6th grade education and worked in favorites for 50 something cents to a Man's dollar” as well as “[Hillary] is ... #NotMyAbuela because I was separated by mine by many miles, and a militarized border.” At the end of the day, Clinton was out of touch to claim that, as a privileged white woman, her experience was equal to the struggle of abuelas in America. Perhaps the better call would have been for Clinton to publish more articles about the benefits of her immigration reform plans.
Behind Clinton’s staffers’ mistake, though, was a larger choice that influenced her campaign as a whole: the selection of Tim Kaine as running mate. Immediately after Clinton chose Kaine as her hopeful vice president, her campaign touted his fluency in Spanish through his introduction as her running mate to a crowd in Miami and an interview with Telemundo, all in the language he learned as a missionary in Honduras. However, since Clinton weighed Kaine’s linguistic skills as a factor placing him over potential Latino running mates like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, it calls into question whether Kaine's proficiency in communication and work in Honduras qualifies him as a sufficient representative of the issues Latinos face. Chuck Rocha, the former senior adviser for Bernie Sanders (who many voters affectionately called “Tío Bernie”) and a third-generation Mexican-American, commented, “I was looking for a VP choice that showed my son that one day he could be president — not that he needs to work on his Spanish.” A poll by the Spanish-speaking network Univision supports Rocha’s view by finding that 68% of Hispanic voters say that the fact that a candidate might speak Spanish fluently will not influence their vote. In addition, many Latinos do not speak Spanish today as bilingualism fades into English for third or fourth generation citizens. The Pew Research Center found that 87 percent of U.S. born Latinos and 81 percent of registered voters believe the ability to speak Spanish is "not necessary to be considered Latino." All in all, Clinton misread the desires of Hispanic voters in regards to her running mate for the 2016 election.
Unlike Clinton’s occasional slip-ups in relating to Hispanic voters, current president Donald Trump distinctly alienated these voters with offensive Hispandering throughout his campaign. The prime example of Trump’s problematic message to Hispanic voters was his tweet on May 5, 2016 proclaiming, “Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!” After Trump posted the insensitive message alongside a picture of him smirking with his imitation of Hispanic cuisine, it became clear that Hispanics in no way loved him. The first clear issue is that not all Hispanics celebrate Cinco de Mayo, only Mexicans celebrating a victory in the Second French Intervention in Mexico, meaning 36.7 percent of Hispanics in the United States #cantrelate. Ironically, in 2017, Trump cancelled the annual White House Cinco de Mayo celebration, a 16-years-running tradition that Obama used to connect with members of the Hispanic community including Cabinet members, Latino celebrities and Mexican Embassy officials. Instead, he let Mike Pence hold a private event elsewhere with a limited guest list. Second, taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, adding to the list of evidence that establishes Trump’s tweet as tone-deaf. Never mind the fact that, at the time, taco bowls were not served at the Trump Tower Grill and food critics considered the dish “passable at best, mediocre at worst.” Given the level of falsity and hypocrisy in Trump’s tweet, it raises the question whether Trump knew his post would actually garner backlash. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager and current suspect in the Russia investigation, reportedly warned Trump that the tweet may come off as condescending, nevertheless he failed to heed Manafort’s advice, and later insisted, “the people who were offended were people we wanted to offend.” Therefore, it appears that Trump utilized the tweet to distance America’s Hispanic population in order to closer align himself with his white voters. He hoped to stir the pot and anger Americans who clearly were not part of his voter base (he only gained 28% of the Latino vote). Furthermore, it would be close to impossible to persuade Hispanics already offended by his declaration of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, his forceful removal of Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos from a press conference (followed by him shouting “Go back to Univision”), and his claim that a Mexican-American judge should not rule on a lawsuit against him because of his race. In many ways, Trump behaved far worse than Clinton because he purposely belittled a part of the American population in order to gain closer ties with people that disrespect them.
On the other hand, because of Trump’s adoption of a confused definition of pandering, he has propagated discrimination. When asked about who the Trump campaign might choose for vice president, Manafort explained, “The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group. In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.” Thus, the Trump campaign promised a white male as their running mate, recruiting from just 31 percent of the American population, and that was what we got. Given that Manafort left his role in Trump’s campaign a month after VP selection, he stuck to his statement and influenced today’s leadership in the Executive Branch by excluding minority Americans in favor of a homophobe. What Trump and Manafort did not understand is that representation is not pandering. Having more minority members in office is exactly what disenfranchised Americans need, not pictures of taco bowls nor inauthentically parading a Colombian woman across a stage. In 2020, Trump might regret his marginalization of Latino voters and his failure to properly embrace minorities in his campaign, but in the meantime, America is left with a president that shoots paper towels at victims of Hurricane Maria.
In 2016, Hispanics deserved better. Hispanic-Americans account for 17% of our nation’s population and have a combined purchasing power equivalent to the 16th largest country, but they still face severe inequality in America. The median wealth of Hispanic households is 8 times smaller than that of white ones and 16.9% of Hispanics remain uninsured (more than twice the white uninsured rate). For undocumented Latinos, life is even worse. According to the Pew Research Center, 47% of Hispanic adults, regardless of their immigration status, say they worry “a lot” or “some” about deportation. The lack of resolution on the White House’s repeal on DACA provides even more fear for families that could be split apart. While Washington politicians attempt to sway Hispanic voters with inauthentic lists of comparison to their abuelas, Spanish-speaking running mates, taco bowls, and legal name changes to Cesar Chavez, they have yet to substantially deliver on the issues hurting Latinos in the United States. With a new year brings new elections, so in 2018, we will see if candidates will actually communicate with Hispanic voters or utilize the familiar meaningless tactics of 2016.
By James Gao
One month before the special U.S. Senate election in Alabama, accused sexual predator Roy Moore was poised to take the vacant Congressional seat and strengthen the Republicans’ majority in the legislature. Meanwhile, progressives from all across the nation were furious about the state’s poor choice of candidate. “Poor Alabama,” they lamented.
On December 12th, 2017, those same progressives stood astonished when Moore was narrowly defeated by Democratic candidate Doug Jones. Although Moore’s campaign immediately demanded a recount, Jones’ margin of victory - about 21,000 votes - was large enough to exceed the automatic recount differential of 14,000 votes. Of course, these facts certainly did not impede Moore, who pursued his claim regardless. After all, his actions have proven that he cannot tell the difference between 14 and 21 anyways.
While Alabamians may have been fortunate enough to avoid electing an alleged paedophile to the U.S. Senate, the phrase, “poor Alabama” still rings true — but for an entirely different reason. The Deep South state, oftentimes stereotyped as a Confederate-loving, gun-slinging conservative hotbed, is also infamous for its record-breaking levels of destitution. In Alabama, the sixth-poorest state in the country, nearly one million people - almost twenty percent of the population - lives below the poverty line.
This poverty was the subject of a recent United Nations investigation, spearheaded by NYU law professor and UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. Over fifteen days, his team visited Alabama, California, Puerto Rico and West Virginia among other areas of the United States to construct a detailed report on the threat of destructive poverty and the protection of human rights, which often go overlooked in developed nations. “Some might ask why a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States. But despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality,” he commented. Even in the world’s wealthiest country, suffering cannot be avoided, and Alston’s findings prove that poverty in America is still both rampant and hugely damaging.
Alston’s travels revealed the different faces of poverty across the nation. His investigation found that minorities, unsurprisingly, were disproportionately vulnerable to poverty, with black, Hispanic and Native American citizens mostly likely to be victims of impoverishment. These minorities suffer from an intrinsic system of lower wages, fewer job opportunities and longer working hours, with a poverty rate two to three times higher than whites. However, Alston denotes it misleading to label present-day poverty as a problem for minorities. “The face of poverty in America is not only black or Hispanic but also white, Asian and many other colors,” he writes in his report — that our system of economic inequality is not a racial problem, but an American one.
The extent of the poverty prevalent in the country would appall most well-to-do American families. Beneath the facade of the “American Dream” of hard work and prosperity, millions of Americans’ dreams lie out-of-reach; broken and unfulfilled. In Alabama’s “Black Belt” counties (named after their fertile black soil, which had once brought great wealth in a long-past plantation era), formerly prosperous communities are a shell of their former self. With nearly forty percent of the population in Lowndes, Perry and Bullock counties below the poverty line, southern Alabama exemplifies the meager living conditions of poor Americans and the extreme hardships they face.
In some areas, residents’ septic tanks remain unconnected to public sewage systems, replaced by an inadequate homemade PVC pipe system, which empty into nearby ditches and waste grounds. However, these dangerous open-air systems are often so leaky that they contaminate community water supplies. Flooding - or even just light rain - can spread sewage water rapidly, leading to widespread disease. As a result of these poor sanitary practices, residents of Butler County, Alabama, often fall ill with E. coli and other infectious bacteria. This has even resulted in the reemergence of hookworm, a harmful parasite commonly associated with the developing world. While hookworm thrives in communities with poorer sanitation in South America, Southeast Asia and South Asia, it was thought to be eradicated in the United States over forty years ago. Now, its recording in nineteen Alabamians marks the first known American hookworm infection in decades. Dr. Rojelio Mejia of the Baylor College of Medicine explains that “poor U.S. communities with poor sanitation were at risk for "neglected tropical diseases, which we ordinarily think of as confined to developing countries." While this problem is easily solvable by improving sanitary practices, the average income in these counties is less than $20,000 a year — and a single septic tank costs $15,000.
The problems with poverty in the United States extend far beyond just sanitation, however. Others interviewed by Alston during his investigation had lost all of their teeth as a result of lacking dental care on their healthcare plans, while others did not have consistent electricity provided to their homes. Another time, he witnessed a homeless man being ordered to move by a police officer.
“Where to?” the man asked.
The officer had no answer.
“This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this [in the First World],” Alston wrote of his experiences. “There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country. And that does have significant human rights implications.” Healthcare, access to high-speed Internet and a “decent standard of living” - which includes a working sewage system - are considered basic human rights by the United Nations, but still do not exist in many poorer areas of the country. The United States lags far behind the rest of the Western world in this aspect, with some of the weakest healthcare and welfare systems of any developed country. Since 1996, the amount of Americans on welfare has declined from 4.6 million to 1.1 million — but not for a good reason. The strength of American welfare has dwindled over time as U.S. government officials introduce barrier after barrier to their programs, including higher mandatory work regulations and more prohibitive time restrictions; all the while, their funding for public programs is quietly shrinking. This has created a sect of the population isolated from both the welfare system and the job market. Having used up their quota on welfare money, and lacking basic education, healthcare, shelter or sanitation, these Americans are essentially at a dead end — a bad look for the famed “land of prosperity” and the home of the “rags-to-riches entrepreneur”. Instead, the poor are stigmatized as “wasters” and “lazy” (despite that a full-time minimum wage job does not provide an individual enough to feed himself without the aid of food stamps) and welfare has become a “waste of taxpayer dollars” instead of a tool to protect basic human rights. America has the lowest social mobility out of any “first-world” country, indicating that poverty is not only widespread, but also ineradicable.
This brings Alston to a blunt conclusion: that political problems are the true cause of endemic poverty. “The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government—yes, the government!—to ensure that no one falls below the decent level… civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.” Unfortunately, if Alston’s reasoning holds valid, then poverty is certainly here to stay for the near future: Republicans have just passed sweeping tax reform, expected to increase the national deficit by $1 trillion in the next ten years. Their solution? To offset tax cuts, they choose to make the flimsy American safety net even thinner.
Premilla Nadasen of the Washington Post summarizes the situation aptly: “As children, our parents told us of starving African children as an effort to get us to finish our dinner — but that moniker is an overused cliche. Perhaps they would have been more persuasive had they said, ‘Finish your dinner. There’s a child just down the block who would love to have what’s on your plate.’”