By Victoria Lu
Democrats and Republicans are once again entangled in a gridlock due to the recent nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. This fight for the ninth Supreme Court justice position had been never-ending tug-a-war battle in the recent few months. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the Obama administration had appointed Merrick Garland, a moderate, for the Court in the hopes that this nomination would pass through with both sides compromising. However, the Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings, arguing that a new presidential administration would soon be coming in and that the Republican-held Senate would hold the hearings off until then. After the Trump administration was ushered into office, it appointed Neil Gorsuch, a conservative who some compare to Antonin Scalia. In response to this action, the Democrats had vowed that they would reciprocate the Republicans’ deliberate delay of the nomination.
A filibuster is when senators stand on the floor and deliberately make long speeches to delay or block legislation. With the Democrats pledging to filibuster the Supreme justice nomination, the Republicans used the “nuclear” option, which would allow a Supreme Court justice to be approved with just 51 votes (majority) rather than 60 votes (supermajority). The Democrats had used this tactic in 2013, when Senate Majority Harry Reid lowered the voting threshold for lower court judges; the Republicans now use this action as precedent and justification for their current plan to lower the limit for Supreme Court justices. While this action would certainly allow Gorsuch to be approved if all 52 Republicans voted in his favor, many still are skeptical towards the future of this option.
So how will this “nuclear” option affect future nominations? Since a supermajority will no longer be required, many argue that the tradition of the Senate being built upon consent from all the senators may be eliminated. Invoking cloture for nominations by just a simple majority may possibly remove the tradition of filibustering in the Senate altogether. This change would result in a very different Senate than the one that stands today and that has existed in the past few decades.
Additionally, this choice of the nuclear option suggests of the increasing partisanship and polarization in the government. When 60 senators confirm a Supreme Court justice, it indicates that the justices appointed satisfy the demands of both parties and are deemed more moderate rather than extreme. However, with the Republicans deploying the nuclear option , many predict that future federal judge nominations and confirmations will be more extreme and will side with one particular party agenda, a cause for concern for both parties. Because the Senate does not need 60 votes to confirm the justices, presidents will need to serve the interests of the majority party in power in order to have their nominations appointed. This action also signals the possibility of the minority power losing more power in the Senate, as they may not be able to have the chance to filibuster or express their disapproval towards a nomination if only 51 senators are needed to approve the nomination.
The public fears a future filled with partisanship and party polarization. They wonder that if both parties are unable to compromise on nominations for Supreme Court justices and other nominations, it is likely that in the future, they are less likely to agree on legislation and public policies. This inability to agree reflects the heightened partisanship in the government; many Americans have expressed their desire for the government to compromise and advance policy. Whether or not the senators and government heed this advice is up to them to decide.
By Kevin Tang
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Similarly, as America’s working class suffers from Trump’s policies and automation taking over jobs, many economists have started to look to universal basic income for hope.
Becoming more prominent after president Nixon advocated for it in his Family Assistance Plan during the 1960’s, the concept of universal basic income is not new and is appealingly simple; all citizens would receive a regular governmental stipend in addition to whatever they already make.
It stands to reason that this is gaining traction, especially for the lower and middle classes. Not only has the Trump administration rejected new overtime protections and lower mortgage insurance premiums, but also its proposed tax plan would reduce taxes by an average of 13.5% for the top 1% while increasing taxes for over 8 million middle-class families, reports Associated Press News. Since these proposals disproportionately hurt people with lower income, the poor believe that an unconditional nationwide income would help remediate these problems.
This income is also advantageous because instead of finding certain jobs to pay off their bills, people would have more room to explore new jobs that are more suitable to their abilities. This would boost productivity as well as innovation and flexibility.
However, universal basic income provides a solution because as shown around the world, it provides not only material economic benefits, but also intangible societal benefits that we often take for granted such as improved physical and mental health as well increased productivity. In the Canadian town of Dauphin, the idea was put to test. For four years, the town saw a decrease in “ill-health and mental stress.”
Similar findings were reported in North Carolina, Namibia, and India who all saw better nutrition and health when instituting a similar program. The most recent experiment in Finland shows us how it can and will work too. The first of a kind in Europe, the study observes 2,000 citizens who receive 560 euros (615 US dollars) over two years, starting in January 2017. And already, The Independent reported that there was a “notable reduction in stress levels.”
Although Trump blames outsourcing of jobs to countries like China as the source of unemployment in America, there is a less well-known but even greater issue – automation. As technology evolves to become a cheaper and more efficient alternative for a large variety of jobs, more low-skill workers are finding themselves with no jobs. Even though the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, manufacturing output has been increasing “roughly 2.2% a year” reports Ball State University. These millions of jobs were not outsourced because the same report indicates that 88% of them were lost due to automation.
Even more, management consulting company McKinsey and Company estimates that before 2040, 45% of jobs will be replaced by automation. This makes universal basic income “necessary” said Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.” With this regular payment, workers who have lost their jobs can be compensated.
For many, financial insecurity is a consistent problem. An unconditional basic income granted to every citizen regardless of his or her background would not only improve health, as studies prove it, but also financial stability. Although it seems impossible under the current presidency, universal basic income remains a glimmering hope for a growing number of people in America.
By Katherine Wang
President Donald Trump’s dramatic firing of FBI director James Comey has aroused a political explosion of both anger and approval in the American public.
On Tuesday, May 9th, President Trump fired Comey as a result of several factors. Trump claimed that it was due to Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email investigation, but the press argued that it arose from personal tensions in Trump and Comey’s relationship and the FBI’s Russian inquiry. Although the relative importance of each of these factors is still being debated, they are predominantly agreed upon by the majority to be the main causes of Comey’s dismissal.
In a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with respect to Comey’s dismissal, Rosenstein wrote that Comey’s termination was due to his recommendation that Clinton not face criminal charges for her private email server while she served as Secretary of State. In addition, Comey chose not to turn over his findings concerning Clinton’s email to federal prosecutors. This incident set off bitter tensions between Trump and Comey, with Trump arguing that Clinton was being shielded by a powerful and rigged system. Furthermore, Trump’s administration suspects that Comey has been investigating into US-Russia relations. Although the truth behind this factor is still being heavily debated, it is one of the largest impacts behind the constitutionality of this dismissal.
However, the majority of citizens are not nearly concerned with the reasons behind Comey’s dismissal as much as their concern with the broader impacts on the extent of presidential powers and Constitutional implications.
For years, Comey has been viewed as an independent, non-political leader of a crucial government agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Trump’s firing of Comey has provoked to suspicions over the president’s executive powers. If Trump finds a more favorable -- someone who is more submissive and less independent -- FBI director, then suspicions will arise regarding his intent to co-opt an investigative team in his favor. Any slight attempt to weaken the checks and balances system will lead to a public outrage over the accountability of the Supreme Court and Congress to investigate the incident.
Comey’s dismissal has also precipitated in debates regarding the constitutionality of a president’s ability to fire the person who is responsible for investigating the legality of his campaigns and various activities. The day following the firing, a debate ensued among law professors. Some professors, such as ACLU’s legal director, argued that it was a grave public concern when the dismissal of the FBI director correlated with the FBI’s criminal investigation into Russia. Others argued that the president was constitutionally justified to fire principal officers; in other words, Trump’s actions did not violate the Constitution itself.
There have been many parallels drawn between President Trump’s Comey firing and Richard Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre”. In 1973, President Nixon fired the Watergate Special Prosecutor Cox in order to cover up his political scandal. This historical precedent led to a constitutional crisis and public displays of anger; in a similar manner, Trump’s dismissal of Comey could lead to questions concerning his possible relations with Russia.
While the majority of the public appears angered and suspicious at Trump’s sudden timing and decision to fire Comey, there are many others who express their approval. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 29 percent of citizens approve of Trump’s decision, 38 percent disapprove, and 32 percent hold no opinion. Those who approve of Comey’s dismissal believe that it will maintain the integrity of the FBI and bring a fresh, new start to a crucial agency.
The debate between those who oppose and support Trump’s firing of Comey has extended to politicians and citizens alike. Unfortunately, this debate brings to light the a democracy’s worst fear: distrust in the populous. If the people are doubting those in elected positions, it will cause more populist sentiment -- the exact reason behind Trump’s election in the first place. Trump’s campaign as an outsider is evidently being questioned as a result of his relations with Russia. Ultimately, questions concerning the Constitution and executive power will inevitably emerge as the forefront of a democratic government’s response to an impending executive crisis.
By Mason Krohn
Of the many groups president Donald Trump has targeted in this past election cycle, one was America’s favorite snack: the Oreo. After finding out that Mondelez, the company that produces Oreos, invested $130 million in an existing plant south of the border instead of pursuing production in Chicago as an alternative, he launched his own form of a boycott through Twitter claiming, “I’ll never eat them again” . In a similar criticism, Trump called out Ford Motor Co. for its plans to expand factories throughout Mexico. When the corporation pulled out of the proposal following Trumps demands and cancelled the $1.6 billion Mexican investment, Ford’s stock rose close to 4% . Given the complete sway that Trump’s social media presence has over a company’s value, there have even been speculations of companies reaching out to insurance companies in order to cover the risk of a Trump supported boycott or tweet . Preceding his presidency, Trump’s heaviest weapon against outsourcing to Mexico was Twitter. However going into the future of our economic and sociopolitical relations with the Mexican people, Trump’s vision and the trend of inter-governmental distrust toward the country can only translate to a decline in our partnership.
Beyond threatening tweets, under the current American presidency, America’s strong economic ties with Mexico will come under fire due to opposition towards the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). First, Trump has thrown several tariff plans up in the air regarding Mexico as a tool to pay for his border wall plan. In January, Trump suggested laying out a 20% tariff plan to gather funding for his wall and divert imports from Mexico who he has deemed as an industrial enemy to the United States. This will no doubt prove to be problematic for both nations if Trump follows through given that the US’s trading with Mexico is incredibly intertwined. The trading connection is so vital that Mexican exports to the United States contain about 40% US content . If the tariff is ever put in place, it is sure to backfire, but nonetheless it will leave our relationship with Mexico tarnished. Trump’s disdain for NAFTA has echoed throughout Congress, and bipartisan opposition to NAFTA has taken hold. On May 11, 37 Democrats and 45 Republicans confirmed Robert E. Lighthizer acs the United States’s new trade representative. Despite all the clashing and gridlock in today’s Congress, on both side of the aisle, there was support for a man who wishes to renegotiate and hamper NAFTA. Isolation against our southern neighbor has become the new norm no matter party affiliation.
While economic stances are deteriorating Mexican American relations, America’s cultural change against Mexicans is causing even deeper cuts. Election rhetoric included calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists which was followed by Trump accusing a Mexican judge for being bias because of his heritage. By claiming that this judge was biased because of his descent, Trump has essentially confirmed that his statements were racist. Nonetheless, even before Trump was thinking about taking office, prejudice against Mexicans has been on the rise. In 2012, according to the National Hispanic Media Coalition, more than one third of non-Hispanic Americans believe that half or more of the American people with Hispanic heritage are illegal immigrants with a lack of education . On the other hand, these racial issues will be brought even further into the limelight with America’s rapidly expanding Mexican population. By 2050, only 47 percent of Americans will identify as white, while Hispanics, the majority of which are Mexican, will surge to 28 percent of all of the United States’s population, up from 19 percent in 2010 . Either white Americans will push against this ever growing minority, expanding already existing prejudice, or the integration of Mexican-Americans throughout American culture will nullify racism because of increased exposure. Hopefully we will see the latter, but only time will tell.
While these economic and social issues continue to swirl, they are worsened by the dropping of communications between the American president and Enrique Peña Nieto. In January, Peña Nieto cancelled a planned visit to initiate conversations with the White House. Ironically, Peña Nieto announced the cancellation on Twitter because of Trump’s intentions to bring up the wall at the meeting. Directly afterward, Peña Nieto tweeted a video of him reaffirming his commitment to uphold the interests of the Mexican people demonstrating that a meeting with Trump would be a contradiction to what the Mexican people want. The toxic relationship between the two presidents only serves to raise antagonism between the two nations, meaning a more hostile connection between the US and Mexico going into the future.
Despite these conflicts, it is important to remember that a president does not entirely represent his or her nation. America is not Donald Trump and Mexico is not Enrique Peña Nieto. While the American Mexican political relation may be in turmoil, the American people have protested against Trump’s racist rhetoric. The deep rooted history between Mexico and America does not end here or tomorrow or frankly ever. The border between these two nations is slowly becoming a chasm and few politicians are willing to reach across.
By Dilara Shahani
The purpose of the environmental protection agency is to preserve the environment and protect human health. However, in order to do so, it requires the support of the government and a fair share of funding. Since 1970, the EPA has worked to pass and enforce laws to reduce the harm being done to the Earth and work to promote a more sustainable lifestyle. In the past few years, the EPA has been a target for several politicians to belittle. But without the EPA, human beings might no longer have clean air to breathe or clean water without regulations being actively enforced. Under the new presidency, the EPA faces detrimental funding cuts, as Trump has proposed to cut budget funding by 31% and allocate more money to immigration and defense programs instead. This will lead to about a quarter of the EPA to lose their jobs, and more importantly, endanger public and human health. Currently, under the safety of the EPA’s multiple programs that allow humans to live safe and healthy lives, we do not understand what is at risk and how our lives will be negatively affected if almost ⅓ of the EPA’s budget is taken away.
Americans need a reality check. One of the more well-known acts of the EPA is the Clean Air Act, which controls air pollution. As of right now, many people question the necessity of this act as they argue they can breath fine and the air is not polluted. However, this is true as a result of the Clean Air Act! Look at China, for example, and how the Chinese government failed to effectively enforce pollution restrictions and regulations. The smog in Chinese cities are so thick that it has forced the Chinese government to declare a red alert: factories must be shut down, hindering the economy, and schools are forced to be closed, hindering children’s education. The misconception that the EPA only protects nature does not take into account long term effects. Without a thriving environment, the human population cannot grow and function properly. Our lives rely on how we treat the Earth, and if neglected, we will face the consequences.
Contrary to several politicians’ arguments, the EPA’s programs are actually saving lives and money. Businesses and factories can continue to run, and water and air is not filled with toxins that kill citizens.
Robert Percival, director of the environmental law program at the University of Maryland, said taking away funds and repealing the EPA, “Reflects a lack of understanding over the US legal system, you’d have to fundamentally repeal or change all our environmental laws”. Repealing the EPA would only cause difficulties in the legal system; Congress has delegated numerous of duties to carry out to the EPA, as well as a large collection of databases that is managed by the EPA to keep control over nation-wide health. Some Americans support transferring funds from the EPA to other programs, but without the EPA, there is no agency on the national level to continue the jobs like regulating pesticide use or keeping record of toxins. The federal budget must have priorities, and the EPA may not be at the top, but it is undeniable that the EPA is an imperative component to keeping the country safe and functioning. The progress since the addition of EPA programs is undeniable; The Clean Air Act, for example, has allowed for new passenger vehicles to be 98-99% cleaner for most tailpipe pollutants compared to the 1960s and sulfur levels are now 90% lower than prior to regulation. These changes are saving lives and allowing the global population to do the simple task we take for granted: breathing.
by Emily Wang
Disney princesses are breaking female stereotypes, igniting a feminist fervor across the globe.
With a box office of more than $1 billion, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast has come to not only dominate the movie realm, but also to influence controversial topics in the real world. Ever since its first release in 1991, Belle is seen as a nonconformist to normal “princess” standards: her deep infatuation with books and education and her refusal to marry based on appearance showed her as the embodiment of a female who defies gender status. Lately, the newly-released 2017 version of the renowned fairy tale includes even more feminism than ever before.
The story is simple: a bookish girl helps a beast come out of his shell, simultaneously removing a witch’s curse that was placed on him and his household objects. Simple, right? Actually, not at all. In reality, there are a myriad of hidden aspects in the new version of the movie that appeal to the feminist viewer.
For example, while Belle adored books in the 1991 film, she turned that passion into action by teaching a young girl to read in the 2017 version. In the original movie, Belle was an assistant to her inventor father; contrastingly, the new film transforms her into an inventor to make it clear that intelligence-- rather than beauty-- is her greatest asset. The 2017 film also reveals that Belle does not accept her fate as a permanent prisoner of the castle; on the first night of her captivity, she begins to construct a long chain of dresses in order to aid her eventual escape. Later, when a supernatural cupboard dresses Belle up in luxurious clothing, she immediately frees herself of it, defiantly claiming, “I’m not a princess.”
The story emphasizes the notion that inward beauty outweighs outward appearance; by removing the stereotype that women have to be beautiful, females are given the space to experience a greater sense of literal and figurative freedom. Belle’s emboldened actions and her determination to overcome gender-based barriers affirms her standing as a defiant feminist.
Some may argue that Beauty and the Beast is not a feminist film, but instead, promotes anti-feminist viewpoints. For example, some recall that the only big change Disney claims to have made to Belle’s character is her inventing a washing machine-- even her intelligence is used for domestic purposes, a symbol of pervasive patriarchy. Others claim that while the Beast’s curse is merely his physical appearance, Beauty’s curse is to overcome her prejudice against the ugly; this is problematic, because it makes viewers think that Beauty alone must do the changing, and the Beast is blameless.
Although the movie is not perfect, it represents an enormous step forward in the feminist movement by setting a precedence for future Disney movies. Reform is a continual process to which many devote their entire lives to, meaning that it is difficult for one movie to immediately cause a mindset shift in society; instead, movies, like other cultural entities, is one brick that is added to the foundations of the struggle for equality. By starting conversations regarding the role of females in the modern society, Beauty and the Beast is actively contributing to the feminist movement.
We, like Beauty and the Beast, have the power to use our voice in order to influence those around us. The only question is whether we are willing to do so.
By Jennifer Huang
The infamous United slogan touts that its passengers will “fly the friendly skies,” its informative video flaunts its diversity and acceptance for international cultures, and yet its actions illustrate that neither claim is true.
Using money to fuel its well-glossed corporate engine and profit to steer its way through the unfriendly clouds of public opinion, United is just one part of a trend of shameless corporate greed and corporate refusal to take ownership of misdeeds.
On April 9th, 2017, Asian American Dr. David Dao was violently dragged off a United plane by Chicago police force, suffering a concussion, broken nose, and two lost teeth, and illustrating a growing revival of corporate exploitation in the U.S.
The incident began when United, having realized they needed to transport four extra crew members, offered to pay passengers to give up their seats on an overbooked flight. When no one volunteered, the airline selected people at random, ultimately choosing Dao. The doctor claimed he had patients to see the next morning and repeatedly refused to leave the plane; as a result, local police were called to enforce his removal. Several passengers recorded the ensuing struggle, sharing videos of the doctor being physically assaulted and screaming “just kill me” as he is dragged down the aisle by officers.
The Dao case, from the initial choice to remove the passengers to the company’s excessive reaction, screams “profit hungry” and “greedy corporation”. United’s decision to make room for the crew indicates its disregard for its passengers’ satisfaction and comfort, a blatant injustice against those who already paid for their tickets, in favor of maximizing profits on their next flight. Similarly, the company’s decision to “cap” its payment for volunteers and remove customers by forced selection instead must have been motivated by the thought that the company would operate at a loss if it raised the price to “volunteer” even higher.
The most glaring case of the airline’s avarice is showcased by CEO Oscar Munoz’s refusal to admit any wrongdoing until the company’s stocks plummeted by approximately $800 million the next day. Rather than apologizing for customer mutilation, Munoz’s initial reaction was to demonize Dao by digging up his old criminal records.
What’s even more frightening is that United’s behavior is not an outlier. Companies frequently engage and actively battle customers in the “public relations fight.” The famous McDonald’s lawsuit, in which an old lady sued the billion-dollar company after receiving third-degree burns from hot coffee and a massive healthcare bill, has been twisted and filtered through a corporate lens to portray the victim as the whiny, avaricious demon and the company as the moral defendant; large corporations, who can’t afford to lose business and public glory, bury the real stories to raise their profits.
There is, however, one piece of particularly uplifting news for the exploited or morally concerned customers out there: Public relations is a consumer-directed battle, and while no one listens to a single angry customer, an army of outraged customers can make all the difference. As shown by the Dr. Dao scenario, a dissatisfied public can wield strength in numbers, and even force a profit-mongering CEO to apologize.
Of course, companies will always be profit-driven – it’s embedded into their very nature and ingrained into our capitalist culture – and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to earn a few extra dollars (or millions of dollars), as long as it remains civil and beneficial. United crossed the line when it condoned violence against a paying customer.
In any case, the friendly skies look friendlier without United’s blatant misdemeanor. But how friendly can the skies truly be when their only visitors are ruthless companies and bloodied customers?