By Andrew Falduto
On the night of August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in eastern Texas as a Category 4 storm, with winds of over 130 mph. Being the first Category 4 storm to hit the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004, it brought massive devastation to southeast Texas and southern Louisiana, killing at least 23 people and displacing millions. Less than three weeks later, Hurricane Irma struck western Florida as a Category 3, causing similar destruction. Considering it is arguably the most destructive storm in almost 15 years, Harvey has many asking why Hurricanes and Tropical Storms of this magnitude have become so common in the United States. Storms such as Katrina, Floyd, Sandy, and Irene, have terrorized the United States over the past 20 years, just to name a few. When asked about the issue, Gabriel Vecchi, a Princeton University climate scientist, stated, "Even though we expect that the intensity of storms should be fueled by global warming, it's really tough to say that that's already happening." Hurricane Harvey could have easily happened with or without global warming’s effects, thus further complicating the issue. Climate experts have studied and debated the effects of global warming on hurricanes and “hurricane season”, but the question still remains: does climate change, caused by humans, increase the amount and intensity of Earth’s hurricanes?
President Donald J. Trump believes the answer to this question is no, calling global warming “a total, and very expensive, hoax!” Due to his disbelief in climate change and a desire to save taxpayer money, President Trump announced his plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, a global effort to prevent climate change through government intervention, on June 1, 2017. This was met with overwhelming backlash from leaders of almost every nation in the European Union, and from Democrats and leftists in the United States. In some of the most left-leaning states, such as California, New York, and Washington, there has been such a strong disapproval of the decision that the three governors of these states, 30 mayors, 80 university presidents, and over 100 businesses have pledged to uphold the conditions of the Paris Agreement. The intentions of these states to essentially enter into the agreement without federal approval leads to three main questions: Can they? Will they? Should they?
First, can states act on their own to be a part of the Paris Climate Accord? The answer to this question lies solely in the U.S. Constitution. In Article 1, Section 10, it states, “No state shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation;…[or] pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts.” Based on this, it would seem that it is not within a state’s rights to enter into any sort of contract, treaty, or agreement without federal consent. However, the Paris Climate Agreement does not qualify as a treaty, alliance, confederation, or contract, as there is virtually nothing legally binding involved in it. Thus, the Constitution gives regards to this issue once again in the Tenth Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” This is essentially saying that since there is nothing prohibiting the states from entering the Paris Climate Accord, they are fully free to uphold it if their governors and state legislative bodies make such a decision. Therefore, can these states uphold the Paris Climate Agreement? Yes.
The next factor in this issue lies in the question of “will these states actually be a part of the Accord?” Considering that the conditions of the Agreement state that the earliest possible time of withdraw is November of 2020, and the agreement does not call for any financing until 2020, the chances that any immediate action will be taken is very low. In November 2020, when the United States will officially withdraw from the Climate Accord, the United States will be having a presidential election, and President Trump could likely only have a mere two months remaining in office, due to his recent approval rating of on 35%. Therefore, it is probable that, assuming President Trump runs for a second term, he will lose to a Democrat, possibly Cory Booker or Kamala Harris. The probability that this Democrat will support re-entering the Paris Climate Accord is very high, considering that the left is very much in favor of fighting climate change through government intervention. Thus, these governors and mayors will most likely recognize the high chances that the entire nation will re-enter the Agreement under the new democratic president. However, due to Hurricane Harvey’s recent devastation of eastern Texas and southern Louisiana, the nation could easily see a fresh outcry for climate change regulations. Therefore, will these states uphold the Paris Climate Agreement? Possibly, but most likely not.
The final issue in regards to the Accord, lies in whether or not these three states, or any others, should uphold and strive for former President Barack Obama’s commitments to the Paris Climate Accord. These commitments would mainly involve lowering greenhouse gas emissions by over 25% by 2025, contributing a large portion of the financing for the $100 billion goal per year, and attempting to limit the rise in temperature of the globe to 1.5-2 degrees celsius. While the reduction of carbon emissions and the increase in the usage of renewable energy seems like a worthy cause for these states, it is almost an unnecessary cause. The percentage of energy that is renewable produced in these three states, California, New York, and Washington is 24.38%, 44.79%, and 92.25% respectively. These are all significantly higher than the national average of approximately 13%, showing that these states have already gone a long way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making participation in the Accord harmful to themselves. The other huge factor in the conditions of the agreement is the financing requirements. Due to the Agreement’s pledge to keep global temperature increase from pre industrial era below 2 degrees celsius, the Accord would be in need of financing of $100 billion each year from 2020 to 2025, and then financing needs would increase after that, according to the conditions of the Agreement. Many economists and climate experts have estimated the overwhelming load this would place on the main economic contributors, such as members of the European Union, the United States, and Canada. According to Renee Cho, an educator at Columbia University, “fulfilling all the climate pledges would entail investments of $13.5 trillion in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies between 2015 and 2030.” While this seems like to much of a burden already, it is also important to remember that there is nothing legally binding about the Paris Climate Accord, hence why President Donald Trump was able to withdraw so easily. Due to this lack of legal obligation, the Accord would have no real effect, as every nation sets its own regulations and funding goals. Therefore, while the United States could hypothetically cut their emissions in half, and contribute $250 million, China, the nation that contributes to most to air pollution, could hypothetically keep their emissions the same and contribute $1. Neither nation would be rewarded, and neither nation would be penalized, making the Paris Climate Accord essentially useless. There is effectively no benefit for being a part of the Agreement, nor is their a real drawback to being a part of it. To conclude, should these states uphold the Paris Climate Agreement? No.
As the Paris Climate Accord is ineffectual, it may very easily prove to be a waste of time, money, and effort, making the re-entering into Agreement on a state level futile. The only real purpose the Accord is guaranteed to achieve is furthering the globalist agenda of many on the left, the European Union, and the United Nations. Even with Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, the outcry against climate change will not be large enough to affect the President’s stubborn administration, nor will it actually cause any states to re-enter the Accord, at least not in the near future. Only time will tell if the Paris Climate Accord will become relevant again in the United States, but it seems America will not be involved in any way, whether on a state or federal level.
By Catherine Chen
On Thursday, June 8th 2017, the House of Representatives passed the Financial Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs (CHOICE) Act, a bill that would repeal many of the regulations under the Dodd-Frank Act.
Dodd-Frank, short for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was passed by former President Obama after the 2008 financial crisis that caused a loss of $19.2 trillion and 8.8 million jobs. The act was signed into law in 2010 in order to “promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”
Since its passage, Republicans have hoped to dismantle the act, arguing that the law stifles business growth, and entails excessive regulations that hurt firms and banks that did not cause the crisis.
President Trump had also repeatedly vowed to roll back the legislation, stating that Dodd-Frank is a “disaster” because “Friends of mine, who have nice businesses, who can’t borrow money. They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow, because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”
If passed through the Senate (which is unlikely) and signed by Trump, the Choice Act would limit the oversight of several federal agencies, most notably, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which Republicans deem its scope too large and accountability too low. Under the new reform, the CFPB would lose control of its budget, its authority to restrain abusive practices, and its director would be appointed by the president.
The bill would also repeal the Volcker Rule, which prevents banks from making certain speculative investments that do not align with consumer interests. Other changes include decreasing bank regulatory requirements, reducing stress tests, and eradicating orderly liquidation authority (a process in which the government takes over and liquidates a close-to-failing bank).
Opponents criticize that the Choice Act has gone too far in the other direction and fears that the changes will put the economy at risk to another crisis.
Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen concurs, believing that although there is room for improvements, the bulk of the law should remain intact.
In her speech on Friday, August 25th in Wyoming, Yellen defended the Dodd-Frank Act, asking lawmakers to make only “modest” changes and contending that the act is essential in protecting the economy and preventing future crises.
“We can never be sure that new crises will not occur, but if we keep this lesson fresh in our memories — along with the painful cost that was exacted by the recent crisis — and act accordingly, we have reason to hope that the financial system and economy will experience fewer crises and recover from any future crisis more quickly” Yellen stated.
Without Dodd-Frank to hold firms accountable, it remains uncertain whether or not the financial sector will go back to pre-recession practices.
By James Gao
Brash, unpopular, term-limited New Jersey governor Chris Christie lacks a career plan once he leaves office next year. In the final months of his governorship, Christie held a brief stint as a sports radio show host, taking advantage of his natural talent at antagonizing the people of New Jersey. In fact, his part-time job was quickly cut short after an aggressive shouting match ended with him calling one of his own constituents a “bum” and a “Communist”.
Christie, once a serious contender for president and potential leader of the GOP, has seen his approval ratings plummet in the final months of his second term, now sitting at a whopping fifteen percent. Controversies riddled Christie’s second term, from the infamous “Bridgegate” that involved a chaotic lane closure on the George Washington bridge, to pictures emerging of Christie lounging on a state beach that budgetary failures kept shut from the general public. Christie’s eight-year tenure, largely viewed as a failure on both sides of the aisle, have dropped New Jersey’s credit ratings and left the state with inefficient transportation infrastructure. However, as the governor puts it himself, “I don’t care.” As he approaches the last stretch of his time in office, Christie has little reason to worry about his constituents; when his term ends in January, most New Jersey residents will not be sorry to see their governor go.
Yet, despite the general population’s discontent with Christie, there has been very little interest in who succeeds him this November. The two candidates vying to rejuvenate a post-Christie New Jersey have found that the race to replace the nation’s most unpopular governor has been unusually low-profile. In fact, despite Joe Biden labelling it as “the most important race of the year for Democrats,” a poll ahead of the primaries in June found that over one-third of all voters didn’t know enough about the candidates to form an opinion. The election’s results will be a strong indicator of the ever-changing American political scene after the first year of Trump’s presidency, and has significant implications for the future of both political parties, both on the state level and nationally.
Kim Guadagno of Monmouth County is the Republican candidate in November’s general election. She is notable for being New Jersey’s first Lieutenant Governor (second-in-command) under Christie, where she has served since 2009. With Christie’s deeply unpopular shadow looming over the state, her close ties to the governor and his controversy-riddled administration have proven to be much more of a curse than a blessing in this year’s election. Guadagno faces the seemingly impossible task of defending her achievements and experience as Lieutenant Governor while simultaneously distancing herself from the boss she achieved them under. So far, this difficult juggling act has proven crippling for Guadagno’s campaign. Christie’s inability to step out of the limelight makes it impossible for her to differentiate herself enough from him in the eyes of voters. Instead, he continues to spar with his own running mate, leaving an impression of a fractured Republican Party and setting Guadagno up to fail.
However, Guadagno’s challenges extend far beyond the state borders. An outspoken critic of Donald Trump from the very beginning, her previous words about the sitting president are coming to bite her back. During last year’s campaign cycle, she was quick to attack Trump after his previous comments about women became public, and publicly stated that she would not vote for him. Now, her actions have isolated her from the rest of the Republican Party, with key donors such as the RNC and the Republican Governors Association opting to stay out of the race and not provide critical funding for the Lt. Governor. Sources mention that the RNC views Guadagno as being disloyal to the president, and that “officials view her race as a losing cause.” Without the Trump-centric GOP backing her, Guadagno’s desperate need to raise more money quickly may have been the key factor in choosing the former fundraising chair of Marco Rubio’s campaign as her running mate. Carlos Rendo, the state’s only Republican Latino mayor, has promised that he will “reach out to Marco” and attempt to tap into new funds, and capitalize on anti-Trump sentiments in New Jersey with the help of one of the GOP’s leaders. Rendo, if successful, will prove crucial to saving Guadagno’s gubernatorial bid.
Guadagno attempts to avoid the controversy surrounding Christie by making tax reform the key priority of her campaign. She has repeatedly labelled property taxes as “New Jersey’s ‘number one’ issue,” and promises to cut taxes for homeowners. She is socially moderate on most major issues, favoring school choice, a decriminalization of marijuana and a mild increase in regulations for greenhouse gases. But for the voters of New Jersey, Guadagno’s policy positions won’t matter in November. Her main task now is to stand on her own two feet and cast aside two of the nation’s most unpopular politicians - which proves extremely difficult to do when the politicians are as outspoken and loud as they are hated.
Democrat Phil Murphy, also from Monmouth County, seeks to capitalize on Guadagno’s struggles. An accredited former Goldman Sachs leader who spearheaded the investment bank’s Asia division and later served as the German ambassador under President Obama, Murphy fits the model of an “establishment” politician perfectly. He used his impressive resume, high-profile endorsements, and swathes of funding to coast to an easy victory in the Democratic primary over several Bernie Sanders-esque grassroots candidate. His victory came across as a symbol of the strength of the “establishment” in the ongoing struggle that divides Democrats across the nation. Murphy’s main message is that of helping New Jersey turn over a new leaf after Christie’s disastrous second term, seeking to paint himself as a progressive who works for the New Jersey people.
While Guadagno’s funding falls short, Murphy suffers from none of the same pitfalls. With a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars, Murphy has not been hesitant to tap into his own personal wealth to further his gubernatorial campaign. He spent over $20 million in the primary campaign (in contrast, the second highest spender spent around $2 million) - but agreed to cap his spending at $13.8 million for the general elections. His gubernatorial ambitions extend back to 2014, when he founded the non-profit organization “New Start New Jersey” that was widely viewed as preparation for a 2017 bid that has now come to fruition. Murphy has also spent millions donating to Democratic committees and organizations across the state, which made their subsequent endorsements this year unsurprising. Backing from major Democratic party leaders like Joe Biden and Cory Booker made it clear that the struggling party would fight tooth and nail on Murphy’s behalf. Phil Murphy entered this election with all the cards stacked in his favour. Now, he just has to play the game correctly.
Despite being a member of the 1%, Murphy wants to make it clear that he will do his best to fight against them. Addressing criticism from far-left grassroots activists and anti-establishment conservatives alike, Murphy faces the difficult task of shaking his image as a “Goldman Sachs big banker” and appealing to many who are tired of “establishment politics”. His running mate - Sheila Oliver, a former Speaker of the Assembly who was the first African-American woman to hold that role - differs greatly from him in their upbringing and professional experience. Her appeal to the “ordinary person” may prove key to garnering support for Murphy come November.
Policy-wise, Murphy’s viewpoints align with those on the centre-left: progressive enough to capture most Democratic votes, while centrist enough to not scare away moderates. In contrast to Guadagno, Murphy believes that an additional $1.3 billion tax increase on New Jersey’s wealthiest is necessary for continued economic growth - and he hopes to supplement that tax by fully legalizing (and taxing) marijuana in the state. He intends to use these funds to help relieve New Jersey’s growing pension debt, which now exceeds $50 billion. In addition, to the particular pleasure of public school students across the state, Murphy hopes to end PARCC testing and decrease the role of standardized testing in New Jersey’s schools.
Barring any fatal campaign mistake, Murphy’s path to victory looks clear. A poll in late July found that Guadagno trailed her rival by 21 percentage points, a clear indicator that Christie has marred his former ally’s political chances. Additionally, Democratic turnout in the primary, which outnumbered Republicans two-to-one, grimly foreshadowed a shaky path to victory for Republicans. With Phil Murphy’s powerful momentum and Guadagno’s continued difficulty fundraising and appealing to voters, Murphy’s November victory is likely. However, continued indifference from New Jersey voters may well put the election’s results back up into the air. The aforementioned poll found that 44% of surveyed voters do not know enough about Murphy to make an opinion about him, while 49% felt the same way about Guadagno. After last year’s presidential elections, Democrats are wary of celebrating prematurely.
The implications of a Murphy victory would be huge for the Democratic Party. One of the first elections to follow Trump’s presidency, the outcome of the race for governor will send a clear message on how voters feel about the unpopular 45th president. Murphy himself has not shied away from sending a strong message to Donald Trump, repeatedly emphasizing that he will challenge the president on major issues like immigration and climate change. If he wins, Phil Murphy would become another strong Democratic advocate and a champion of the fight against Trump’s policies, potentially even taking on a much-needed leadership role in the party.
Guadagno winning, however unlikely, would send a similar message to the White House. A victory against all odds would make clear that a moderate Republican candidate could still succeed without succumbing to Trump-style GOP politics, weakening the President’s grip on his party.
Either way, the results of this year’s election symbolize two different approaches to mending a New Jersey broken by Chris Christie. Irregardless of who wins, the new leadership in New Jersey will significantly change politics, both in-state and across the nation. Voters must stay informed and prevent apathy from prevailing in this crucial race.
The last day to register to vote in New Jersey is October 17th. The election is on November 7th.
By Shiam Kannan
Recently, Confederate monuments in the South have been generating considerable controversy, with protesters and counter-protesters clashing at the sites of monuments that have been scheduled for removal. Most notably, there was a violent showdown between white nationalists and counter-protesters surrounding the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017. Many have declared these monuments to be nothing more than glorifications of a dark past, odes to a bygone era of slavery and racism. However, there is much more behind the history of the Confederacy than just slavery, and its legacy still remains a source of regional pride for many Southerners.
In Memphis, Tennessee, there have been proposals to remove statues of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general, and protesters have even attempted to exhume his grave. In Richmond, Virginia, there have been numerous cases of vandalism of Confederate statues. Throughout the country, there is a push to purge Confederate history from the public sphere, by bringing down Confederate statues, and renaming schools dubbed after famous Confederates. In light of this recent push, one has to wonder: what will this really accomplish? Will the suffering of Black slaves 150 years ago suddenly disappear? No. Will the removal of Confederate symbols change history? No. The only goal that the expulsion of Confederate symbols will accomplish is that it will humiliate many Southerners, to whom the Confederacy is a symbol of pride. It will be a stab in the eye to many Southerners whose ancestors fought in the Civil War, tantamount to the defacing of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. It will antagonize millions of southerners, many of them Black, by forcing them to accept that their heritage is nothing but shameful.
Many opponents of Confederate public expression will resort to a common, widespread claim: that the Confederacy seceded to protect slavery, and therefore all Confederate symbols are inherently racist. History, on the other hand, paints an entirely different picture — the Confederacy was more concerned with their independence than they were with the fate of slavery. Perhaps the most blatant example of this would be the Confederacy’s response to a proposed Constitutional amendment known as the Corwin Amendment. This amendment, if enacted, would have permanently protected the institution of slavery throughout the United States, and was passed by both houses of Congress in an attempt to prevent the Southern states from seceding. The Confederacy seceded nevertheless, rather choosing to fight for independence and sovereignty from what they saw as a tyrannical northern government. The South’s fight was one for self-determination and self-government, not one for slavery. To portray the Confederacy as a group of racist bigots is not only an injustice to history, but an injustice to the millions of Southerners who celebrate their heritage and their ancestors with pride and admiration.
Many who oppose the display of Confederate statues will be quick to point out the moral shortcomings of many Confederate leaders, that they owned slaves, that they espoused racist beliefs, or spout other similar accusations. However, these statues can just as well stand for the virtues of these men. For example, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is vilified for creating the Ku Klux Klan (which, surprisingly, was not a racist organization at first, but rather a volunteer police force), was a strong advocate of equality for African Americans after the Civil War, working tirelessly to promote Black employment in the South during Reconstruction. Furthermore, he spent his final years advocating for the advancement of African Americans. Why must we only see one side of the story? Why can’t the statues of Forrest not only represent that he owned slaves and founded the Ku Klux Klan, but also represent that he dedicated the last years of his life to helping African Americans improve their condition in the South? That he sought to promote harmony between Whites and Blacks in his home state of Tennessee? Why can’t his statues embody his words to a Black audience in 1875: “I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going?” We should allow these statues to tell the entire truth on these historical figures, not just what revisionists want us to hear.
We have much to learn from both the positive and negative aspects of our history. By attempting to censor our history in the name of “political correctness,” we are setting a dangerous precedent that it is acceptable to remove symbols and speech we do not necessarily agree with. Furthermore, when we remove the reminders and symbols of history from our society, we also remove the lessons that these symbols embody. And as the adage goes, “If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them.”
To this day, Confederate symbols are interpreted differently by different people. In the eyes of Southerners, they are emblems of regional pride, uniting the people of the South under a common history, heritage, and culture. Confederate monuments honor those that fought and gave their lives for their homeland, defending it from Northern aggression. The controversy surrounding Confederate symbolism should not warrant censorship, but rather discussion. Let us not violently clamor to tear down these reminders of our history. Rather, let us sit down with those that we disagree with, and converse with them why we see these symbols differently. Most importantly, we must learn from history, and not divide ourselves due to a lack of understanding and compromise, lest we be headed for another Civil War.
By Injae Lee
Seeing as Oriol Junqueras is a politician, one would not be surprised that he is a skilled orator. However, in an interview with the International Business Times on June 29, Junqueras, a senior member of the pro-independence Catalan autonomous regional government, used his hands more than his voice to explain the centuries-old Spanish-Catalan conflict: Spain, literally on one hand, had its own history, ambitions, and priorities; Catalonia, on the other hand, diverged from the rest of Spain. If Junqueras and his government has their way, on October 1, the Catalan people will go to the polls, and the future of their homeland—and all of Spain—will be squarely in their hands.
The history of Catalonia begins far back in the classical age. Six hundred years before the birth of Christ, Catalonia and southern neighbor Valencia were colonized by the Carthaginian empire, only to be conquered by the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War. For the next six centuries, Catalonia became part of the Roman province of Hispania Citerior, prospering and progressing under Roman rule. Following the Fall of Rome, Catalonia underwent waves of conquest, warfare and instability spurred by conflicts with the Visigoths, Arabs and Franks, until finally emerging from the ashes of the Spanish March as the independent County of Barcelona. Catalonia’s history becomes intertwined with Spain at this point, becoming unified under royal rule with the neighboring kingdom of Aragon. When King Ferdinand married Queen Isabella of Castile, Catalonia became part of the new Spain, unified for the first time in centuries. However, Catalonia mostly stayed autonomous until the 1700s, when the new Bourbon dynasty introduced new reforms to unify and preserve the Spanish Empire. Although the reforms were successful at first, Imperial authority was shook in the nineteenth century by war, civil unrest and disorder; at the same time, Catalan identity was renewed, with a revival of the dying Catalan language, a new cultural movement advocating for Catalan art and literature, and push for more autonomy for the region, if not outright separatism.
The roots of the modern democratic Catalonia are most clearly visible in the Second Spanish Republic. Under the benevolent Republican rule, Catalonia had near-complete autonomy, basic freedoms and rights, and Catalan culture flourished. However, in 1936, right-wing military generals resentful of the monarchy’s removal launched an uprising against the left-wing Republican government, and Spain was soon plunged into civil war. Although Barcelona and the region quickly became a bastion for the Republic, holding off the Nationalists for most of the war, factionalism between the Communist and Anarchist groups led to the Republican collapse, and in the closing months of the war, Catalonia was conquered by Franco and his fascists. Under Franco’s tyrannical rule, the Catalan culture was suppressed, Catalan autonomy revoked, Catalan nationalism silenced and Catalan language oppressed. During this dark period, resentment and resistance against the central government in Madrid began to brew, and the core of today’s modern separatist movement can be linked to the Nationalist repression.
Following Franco’s death in 1975, Juan Carlos I became king of Spain, and instead of preserving the autocratic, fascist government that had lasted for nearly 40 years, the King modernized and democratized Spain, returning broad autonomy to provinces such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, and holding the first free elections in Spain since the Republic had fallen. Catalonian culture underwent a kind of renaissance during this time, with the Catalan language being taught in schools again, and individual culture once again being revived and even encouraged. However, the financial crisis of 2008 greatly damaged the bonds that democratization had largely succeeded in healing. During the recession, Catalonia’s unemployment rate went up to 19% (just below the national average of 21%), and resentment has brewed among Catalans who feel that their province—the wealthiest in Spain—contributes more to the central economy than the others and that the central government has started to underfund services to help ailing southern regions. With this combination of lingering resentment from Franco’s rule, a weakened economy and a neglectant central government, the perfect formula for separatism began to emerge yet again.
Despite all this resentment and controversy, whether Catalonia will leave Spain is still up in the air, rocked by instability and terrorism attacks in the region. On June 9, the New York Times reported that Catalan president Carles Puigdemont announced an independence referendum on October 1. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the central government in Madrid has responded furiously to the referendum, vowing to block efforts to hold it, with the support of the courts, and to maintain Spanish unity no matter the cost. As the date of the referendum nears, uncertainty and instability have grown. It will be very difficult to hold a binding referendum in the first place. The central authority can invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to personally take control of the regional government—although this would be a drastic and unprecedented step for Madrid. Even without the invocation of Article 155, the courts would most likely declare the referendum illegal and non-binding, as they did with one in November 2014. Although that referendum did go in favor of independence by over 80 percent, only 2.3 million of Catalonia’s eligible 5.4 million voters participated. With another referendum—this one possibly binding, due to increased political interest—coming closer, polls show that those opposed to Catalan independence are slowly increasing and those in favor dropping steadily. Although the result of the referendum is still uncertain, the vote has most certainly split Catalonia in two. According to the Guardian, the separatist campaign is splitting apart, with a minister in the regional government sacked for suggesting the referendum will fail, and three more members—including the police chief—stepping down. Instability and terror have also wracked Catalonia in recent weeks, with a terror attack in Barcelona killing 16 people and injuring dozens. With instability and uncertainty taking their toll on the province, on October 1, when the people of Catalonia go to the polls, they will take matters, as Junqueras would say, into their own hands—with the fate of Spain squarely in their palms.
By: Hitha Santosh
Women sit on the dusty ground as infants wail in their laps, brightly colored headscarves bracketing their weary faces. Children play among the makeshift shelters, where ragged tarpaulin stretches tight over rickety frames. These are just a few of the Rohingya refugees who have been flooding into Bangladesh over the past week, following an outbreak of violence in their home state last weekend. Thousands more remain stranded on the other side of the border, blocked from entering by Bangladeshi security officials. The UN has issued an appeal to Bangladesh’s authorities, urging them to continue allowing the Rohingya to seek safety.
This abject situation isn’t a novelty for the Rohingya, who have long been viewed as one of the most persecuted groups on the planet. Numbering approximately one million, they are a Muslim ethnic minority living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state. They hold no legal status in the country: despite their having lived there for generations, the government views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuses to grant them citizenship. For decades, they have been denied basic rights, such as land ownership, health services, and even the freedom to leave their villages to find work.
Resentment reached a boiling point last Friday, when armed Rohingya insurgents carried out a series of attacks against police and army outposts, leaving nearly 80 militants, 12 security officers, and 6 civilians dead. In retaliation, government troops allegedly burned down villages and shot civilians. The government insists that its retribution was proportional and blames the insurgents for any harm to the civilian population. But satellite imagery has found evidence of extensive burning in at least 10 areas in northern Rakhine state, many of which are consistent with witness statements.
The recent violence is a sobering echo of the events of late 2016, when, in October, hundreds of Rohingya insurgents attacked Burmese border posts. In the following months, approximately 85,000 Rohingya civilians fled to Bangladesh, escaping the Burmese military’s ensuing crackdown. Many described rampant human rights abuses committed by the soldiers, their accounts painting a grim picture of mass rape, indiscriminate executions, and widespread arson. Military leaders decried such reports as “false” or “distorted”; nevertheless, human rights groups have called the military’s actions tantamount to ethnic cleansing. The authorities refused such organizations access to the area, however, so it has been difficult to gauge the extent of the violence.
These dismal events stand in stark contrast to the hopeful atmosphere in Myanmar in November 2016, when free elections were held for the first time after 50 years of military rule. People across the country, as well as international spectators, hoped that the victorious NLD (National League for Democracy) would score sweeping gains for human rights.
Yet the Rohingya have not reaped many, or in fact any, benefits. They remain confined to bleak villages and squalid government camps in the north of Rakhine state, and as the recent violence and ensuing exodus show, they still face a surfeit of danger and uncertainty.
Myanmar’s new leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has been widely criticized for turning a blind eye to the plight of the Rohingya. She has stayed largely silent on the issue, skirting the question during her rare encounters with the press. In an interview with the BBC, Suu Kyi denied accusations of ethnic cleansing. “It is not just a matter of ethnic cleansing,” she said, “It is a matter of people on different sides of the divide, and this divide we are trying to close up."
Admittedly, Suu Kyi holds little power over the country’s military, which still controls a quarter of Myanmar’s government and retains sole authority over all security operations. There is also the political aspect to consider: some belonging to the country’s Buddhist majority see the Rohingya’s religion as a threat, and condemnation of the group has become increasingly mainstream. In last November’s elections, neither party fielded any Muslim candidates, seeing them as a turn-off for Buddhist voters.
Yet many prominent individuals have lambasted Suu Kyi, who had been vaunted as a champion of human rights, for failing to resist domestic pressure and take a stronger stance in favor of the Rohingya. Last year, she appointed a commission to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Rakhine, but it is not expected to deliver anything of substance. Meanwhile, offices under her government continue to churn out propaganda, denying the Rohingya’s accusations and denouncing the international media for highlighting their predicament.
For the Rohingya, denied opportunities and vilified by their countrymen, leaving Myanmar often seems like the most promising option. Over the past several years, those who could afford to buy a boat or pay the smugglers have risked the harrowing sea crossing to Malaysia and other nearby countries in search of work and a better life. This situation grabbed international attention in May 2015, when boats crammed with thousands of men, women, and children were turned away from multiple shores, leaving them stranded in the middle of the Andaman sea. Recent events have drawn the global spotlight back towards the Rohingya, but while there is much in the way of attention, there is little in the way of aid.
A commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan recently released its long-awaited report on the status of the "the single biggest stateless community in the world,” a mere day before the latest violence broke out. It urged the Burmese government to grant the Rohingya citizenship and freedom of movement, and warned that further oppression and unrest could create a breeding ground for extremists. The 63-page report deliniates recommendations in numerous policy areas, such as economic and social development, health care, and cultural cooperation. The report has been hailed as a milestone, as Aung San Suu Kyi’s government had previously promised to abide by its findings.
Yet talk of commissions and experts and ambitious development plans can cause us to lose sight of the very human tragedy unfolding in the present—what a Red Cross coordinator has called a “silent crisis”. And as each new day dawns on new crowds at Myanmar’s western border, the suffering of the Rohingya seems set to soldier on.
By: Kunal Damaraju
It’s been roughly two months since the most surprising snap general election in UK history came to an end. The Conservative Party was expected to win more seats in Parliament, maintain their mandate over Brexit negotiations, and solidify unity and strength within the party. Instead, the Conservative Party lost thirteen seats, losing the power and control that they once had to oversee their vision of successful Brexit negotiations. So what exactly happened that took the world by storm?
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act of 2011 had laid out the procedure and timeline for each general election in the UK, stating that it must occur every five years. However, it also states that snap general elections can be called before the five-year term only when two-thirds majority of Parliament vote in favour of an election to be held. But with the Conservative party already holding a majority in the House of Commons with 331 seats, what was the need to call a snap general election?
For Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the Conservative Party, the reason is simple: Brexit. With approval ratings of the Conservative Party high, it seemed like an opportunity for tighter political power over Parliament for the Conservative Party. In a statement to the citizens of the UK, she stressed that "If we do not hold a general election now, their political game-playing will continue... and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election." The political games Theresa May was referring to involved the other MP’s from parties such as the Labour party, SNP, and the Liberal Democrats who aimed to make the process of negotiating for Brexit very hard for the Conservative Party. The additional time from an extended five-year term, it seemed, would also allow May and the Conservative Party to create free trade agreements for UK’s post-Brexit era.
Before the election occurred, the Labour party held 230 seats, while the SNP and LD held fifty-four and nine seats respectively. The Conservative party held 331 seats, and it was expected that the number would grow. However, overnight, the results were not what most expected. The Labour party gained an unprecedented 32 seats and now have 262 MP’s. The Liberal Democratic Party gained three seats and now have twelve MP’s, while the Scottish Nationalist Party lost seventeen seats and now have thirty-five MP’s. The biggest surprise was for the Conservative Party, who lost thirteen seats. In Parliament, a 326 seat majority is needed in order to gain control. Since no party reached the required number of seats, Theresa May and the Conservative Party were forced to form a minority government. Under this process, the party with the most MP’s is allowed to form a coalition with another party in order to reach the required 326. In this case, the Conservative Party chose the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who hold ten seats in Parliament. The Democratic Unionist Party also support Brexit, but do not want Labour Party leader James Corbyn to have power in Parliament due to his relationship with Ireland Republicans, making the party a candidate for May to form her minority government. Minority governments tend to be weak and short lived. Stanley Baldwin, a former Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, formed a minority government in 1923 that lasted for only 10 months.
While some praise the election results, others find it to be grimacing. Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, believes that the UK’s future with Brexit is unclear. She states that "One year after their referendum, we still don't know the British position in the negotiations on Brexit and it seems difficult to predict when we will.” Only time will tell to show the world the consequences of the UK’s 2017 snap general election.
By Emily Wang
Though seemingly a local issue, the devastating effects of Flint’s contaminated water revealed a widespread epidemic that many had not even come to recognize. After the federal emergency in Flint, Michigan, in which the city’s contaminated drinking water caused many children to suffer from lead poisoning, the safety of water has become a national concern.
In Flint, the source of the drinking water was changed from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River in order to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the already contaminated river water ran through lead pipes, causing severe lead contamination in the water for those without water filters-- namely the lower-income population.
This dangerous water not only caused health problems for the low-income community, but it also infected local schools’ drinking water. This issue is also prevalent in many schools nationwide: dangerous lead levels have been reported in schools in Ithaca and Binghamton, N.Y., and in Howell, Mich. Due to poor school water infrastructure and lack of funds to further examine the detrimental effects of aging water delivery systems, more and more children are becoming diagnosed with lead poisoning. However, Flint only comprises a small piece in the larger puzzle of dangerous drinking water; research indicates that there are roughly 3,000 locations in the United States in which the amount of lead in the water was more than double that of Flint’s.
Lead poisoning is especially risky when it comes to children, as their bodies are still growing; even in small doses, it can greatly affect organs such as the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, which in turn affects hearing, brain development, attention span, and behavioral mannerisms. However, it is not just water that contains lead-- in fact, the main source of lead poisoning for children does not come from water, but from paint. Even though it was banned in 1978, lead-based paint is currently being used in about ten million homes nationally. Oftentimes, children may accidentally get chips of this toxic pain in their mouths, making them even more prone to lead poisoning.
It will take about an estimated $542 billion to help schools reach the health, educational, and safety requirements. Because the problem of aging water infrastructure occurs in less-funded school districts, and these schools do not have the budget to actually fix the system, this resulting cycle of poverty will only cause endless devastation to its helpless victims. The lack of federal funding for public schools’ infrastructure forces them to turn to the state and local level for help, but many states do not provide funding mechanisms, limiting schools’ options even more. If this issue cannot be resolved soon, analysts predict that in a few decades, this widespread contamination of water will affect almost people of all socioeconomic statuses.
Fortunately, the situation in Flint is improving: on March 17, 2017, the EPA awarded Flint $100 million to upgrade their drinking water infrastructure, and roughly two weeks later, a federal judge approved a $97 million settlement that allowed Flint to replace their lead or galvanized steel water lines.
Even though financial aid seems to be capable of allowing recovery from the effects of the lead problem, it does not account for or completely resolve the reason for why the problem existed in the first place. In fact, simply providing funding is like sticking a bandaid on a massively bleeding wound-- it cannot heal the injury because it does not address the reason for the wound, and is, at most, a temporary solution; the root of this issue lies within the discriminatory and neglectful manner in which society treats its poorer inhabitants. Health threats that occur in lower-income communities and communities of color often take longer to be acknowledged, and take even longer to fix. Take, for example, Porter Ranch, California, a city which suffered from a massive gas leak in 2015 that caused severe headaches and nosebleeds for many of its citizens, especially schoolchildren. Compared to the predominantly white Porter Ranch, the public officials in the predominantly black Flint not only took a lot longer to respond to concerns of local citizens, but even at first tried to dismiss the pleas of Flint’s citizens to fix the deadly water crisis. As such, it is important to first acknowledge our mistreatment of lower-income populations and strive to satisfy their needs efficiently and effectively.
Although change is slowly happening, this water crisis reveals that as a society, we must recognize and attempt to remediate the various issues that plague less fortunate communities. Our systematic neglect of the low-income areas is not only morally wrong, but also leads to more dilemmas in the future, as revealed through this water crisis.
By: Mason Krohn
On December 9, 2015, French students celebrated a holiday unknown not only to the country's citizens but also to everyone in the world. France’s former president, François Hollande, announced it as the Day of Laïcité, or the National Day of Secularism. Hollande marked the 110th anniversary of the 1905 law that strictly established the separation of church and state. The unexpected celebration of the century-old decree came in the wake of the terror attacks that killed 17 Parisians at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that poorly portrayed Islam, and Hyper Cacher, a kosher deli. Hollande’s improvised holiday was part of his ten-point plan to combat radicalization of youth by educating students about the importance of secularism.
In many ways, the roots of secularism in Europe are being misused to persecute the growing presence of Muslims in the continent. For instance, Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in France’s 2017 presidential election, campaigned on the idea that she was a defender of secularism and used laïcité to justify her proposed policy of banning headscarves and turbans in an effort to gain support from alt-right voters. Besides the misconstrual of church and state separation to propagate a form of discrimination, others argue that a rise in secularism has also benefitted Europe by removing corruption and bias from its government. Yet, while politicians raged on with debates on the meaning of secularism and its related policies, many students admitted that their schools took no part in the celebration as some teachers either refused to spend time on teaching laïcité or they simply had no idea that the holiday was happening. France’s lackluster holiday and politically extreme uses of secularism are a microcosm of religious battles across Europe.
One of the most noticeable European surges in secularism took place in Norway on New Year’s Day this year. After 500 years, the government split off from the Church of Norway, removing 1,250 priests and bishops from their government titles and salaries while converting the religious institution into an independent business. The separation signifies a step in the right direction as freedom of all religions are preserved and no single faith is given financial or legal priority. However, this constructive example of secularism is contrasted with Norwegian politicians who misrepresent its meaning. Take, for example, Norway’s minister of migration and integration, Sylvi Listhaug, who caused an uproar in the Syrian refugee crisis. In April of 2016, Listhaug decided to float in the Mediterranean Sea to simulate the experiences of refugees, except she decided to equip herself with a bright orange and inflatable “survival suit” and only stayed in the sea for a few minutes until a boat “rescued” her. Her stunt received comments like, “[she should] sit on a chair for five minutes to feel what it's like to be paralysed.” Listhaug followed her April extravaganza by telling Norway’s Muslims in October, “Here we eat pork, drink alcohol and show our face. You must abide by the values, laws and regulations that are in Norway when you come here.” Here is where Listhaug fails to follow through with Norway’s true secular commitments. Rather than embracing the division of government and religion, she goes after the personal rights of Muslim citizens. Secularism does not call for the removal of religion in society, but instead the isolation of religion from the government.
In addition to Norway’s Listhaug, the legal systems of Europe perpetuate the use of aggressive secularism to deny Muslims religious freedom. In January, a claim made by a Muslim couple living in Basel, Switzerland was brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The couple fought against the Swiss school that denied their daughters the ability to opt out of compulsory mixed swimming lessons. Nevertheless, the ECHR rejected their claim in support of the government’s control. The ECHR added, “The Court observed that school played a special role in the process of social integration, and one that was all the more decisive where pupils of foreign origin were concerned.” While this case may seem small, it has far-reaching consequences. If the Court considers co-ed swimming lessons a prerequisite to becoming European, it calls into question what else Muslims must abandon to be a part of European society. Given the results of a plethora of similar cases from Belgium to Turkey regarding bans on burqas and headscarves, the ECHR has proven repeatedly that, according to the court, state rights trump the religious beliefs of Muslims no matter how sacred the tradition is. This continued misapplication of secular values has even driven some former members of the ECHR to speak out such as Roberta Medda-Windischer who stated, “the Court has more frequently sustained a form of strict secularism, or even a sort of intolerant secularism or enlightenment fundamentalism. This is especially so in cases when individual religious manifestations do not display any signs of political intentions … making these prohibitions difficult to reconcile with the necessity to protect a democratic society.” While Syrian refugees flood in through Europe’s southern borders, an increasing amount of European nations will be faced with religious disputes over nationality, freedom, and secularism. Sylvi Listhaug’s belief that it takes pork and alcohol to become European may seem outrageous, but in reality, it’s no worse than declaring mixed swimming lessons necessary for integration, which the ECHR has now ingrained into European law.
While the subject of separation of church and state may be uninteresting to French teachers and students, laïcité has been an integral part of France and almost every European nation as they transition into secular societies. Norway is joining a number of countries who freed their governments from church influence through inclusive secularism. On the flip side, no matter the claims of far-right leaders like Le Pen and Listhaug, secularism does not mean intolerance, and the furtherment of this misconstrual hurts religious minorities like Muslims who are being stripped from their traditions. While the 2015 Day of Laïcité may have been a letdown, hopefully France can revitalize its holiday, so that students and adults alike can celebrate the true form of secularism and understand its proper usage before the healthy separation between church and state falls apart.
By: Jennifer Huang
POTUS. Businessman. Media mogul. Corrupt salesman. Loser of the popular vote. Liar.
No matter what you think of Donald Trump, there’s one thing he’s undeniably good at: deflection.
In primary debates, he avoided his dirty track record by mercilessly shitting on his opponents. In presidential debates, he eluded scandal with “alternative fact”, leaving fact checkers aghast when he labeled concrete reality as mere interpretation. And now, as president, he is taking advantage of the media’s profit hunger and its need for “shiny titles” to distract the American people from what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the White House administration.
To be fair, Trump isn’t intentionally using Russia as his distraction, but it certainly is facilitating the passage of his policies through Congress. With the media focused on his Twitter mishaps and his past track record, and the people meme-ing his use of “covfefe”, Trump has established a culture wherein media fights over stories covering his simple gaffes, and ignores the alarming changes being passed through Congress as we speak.
Mr. Trump is the media’s perfect fixation: easy to criticize with his strange speech habits and penchant for dumb mistakes in public settings. The Russia investigation is certainly (Fitting? Disastrous? Distracting? Dire? Bad?) for Trump, and yet the (single-focus?) focus is “shiny news,” with a catchy title, attention-grabbing for the common citizen.
While the media and the American people have been fixated on Trump’s Russia scandal and the power struggles in “TrumpCare”, Congress has forced some terrifying bills onto the floor, including a proposal to cut the EPA and a de-funding of Planned Parenthood, all of which received less coverage than Trump’s description of his chocolate cake.
Trump is the face of the Republican party, but nothing more. And while the American people may cringe and laugh at his silly mistakes or be outraged by the scandal in Russia, their Congress is destroying our country under the radar. Maybe Trump has said a few things that go against the Republican platform, or blatantly lied about his political record. But it’s all vastly outweighed by the Republican Congress’s free reign.
Donald Trump: POTUS, liar, media fixation. A distraction.