by: Jennifer Huang
The issue of the rising debt has been plaguing America since the onset of 1990s: U.S. debt now totals $19.9 trillion, a startling figure that is equal to 432% of annual GDP. Recent statistics have shown that “$8.3 trillion in liabilities… are not accounted for in the publicly held national debt”. Medicare are Social Security funds are running a startling $76.4 trillion short of promised amounts; this shortfall equates to 90% of all assets in America.
The brunt of the debt, however, is felt by the young generation. With such high expenditures on interest payments, increasing amounts of money are being cut from investment on infrastructure and education, which are two crucial factors of long-term growth. Even more threatening is the fact that interest payments on the debt are almost certain to increase: With the baby boomer generation on the verge of retirement, Social Security and Medicare payments will continue to increase.
Yet, Washington, which controls and determines the level of debt, has done nothing in face of impending doom. Politicians serve at the pleasure of their constituents, and constituents serve at the pleasure of themselves. Baby boomers, as the largest group that will ever benefit from entitlements, are also the age cohort with the most political power. Notorious as the most "entitled" generation in American history, baby boomers have either unknowingly or willingly neglected the growth of future generations in favor of their immediate comfort. Their monopoly in Washington bounds politicians as their puppets; no politician wants to get elected out of office for defying the baby boomer monopoly. As a result, Washington has implemented tax cuts and spending increases to increase popularity amongst constituents, rather than exercising fiscal caution: The result is an even faster growth of debt; coupled with persistent entitlements and a culture of instant gratification, it's unlikely that America will ever reverse its path to economic doom.
Like most difficult issues, there is no “quick fix.” The young generation currently holds minimal political power – many of us are not old enough to vote – yet we can take small steps to resolve these issues. Perhaps the greatest tool at our disposal is education, and we can harness its power in two different ways: First, we can educate others on the threat posed by the debt burden, portraying it as a vital issue that people can’t ignore. Second, we can educate ourselves, to increase our future levels of productivity and use our human capital to ensure that we do not shoulder the entirety of this debt. However, as with most issues, we must also tackle the root cause: Future generations should implement political reform, entitlement reform, and allocate fixed amounts of the budget to investment in the future.
The debt burden is large, but so is the potential of our upcoming generation. We must throw off the burden and live, debt-free, into the future.
By: Rayhan murad
Perhaps no crisis can better embody the complexity, death, and suffering that has pervaded the Middle East for the past 50 years than the Syrian Civil War. It has already claimed the lives of 500,000 people, displaced millions, and torn apart one of the most historically rich countries in the Middle East. It would have been near impossible to predict the extreme stances and actions each side had gravitated towards; with Bashar-Al Assad using chemical weapons on his own people, and some Syrian rebels aligning themselves with the Islamic State. At the surface of the conflict lies a deep rooted sectarian divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and an inability to trust the government. Deeper however, lies a power struggle between the Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, and a series of dangerous provocations between the Russians and the Americans.
Despite the conflict in Syria seeming like a mostly regional conflict, it has turned into a chessboard for global superpowers to exert their power. The United States and other Gulf countries back rebel groups across Syria; Russia backs Bashar Al-Assad, who remains one of Russia’s only allies in the Middle East; and virtually no one supports the Islamic State. In addition to all of these sides, Kurdish rebel forces who seek to create an independent Kurdistan and other different minority groups have also taken up arms against both the Islamic State and the current Syrian government. The plethora of different sides in the Syrian conflict drives home the need for further cooperation between the biggest global players- the United States and Russia.
Russia’s role in the conflict in the Middle East cannot be understated, as they remain one of the primary reasons Bashar Al-Assad remains in power. Russia’s motives to help Bashar Al Assad against the wishes of most of the international community come down to a deep distrust with western powers such as the United States and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). As the Economist explained in September of last year, Russia’s backing of Assad is representative of the Kremlin’s intentions to increase their influence inside the Middle East, and their desire to inhibit the West’s ability to instill pro-American democracies in the region. Furthermore, Russia has blocked and vetoed any attempts by the United Nations to impose harsh sanctions on Bashar Al-Assad's government, despite the various war crimes his government is responsible for. In addition to blocking effective sanctions, Russia is also guilty of preventing partial ceasefires across the country, indicating their willingness to allow the war to continue for longer. And while the United States can take some of the blame for not compromising with Russia on a host of issues for the good of the Syrian people, it is Vladimir Putin’s administration that has dragged the war on for these 5 years.The diplomatic fight of Russia in Syria is just as important as the military one, and has unfortunately resulted in some very real deaths.
Among Russia’s other incentives to keep an oppressive Shia president in a country with a majority Sunni muslims is Russia’s other regional power in the area, Iran. As the Wall Street Journal furthered in October of 2016, Russia has been given the ability to use Iranian bases to fly jets in and out of the Middle East, in return for Russian backing of Assad inside Syria. Perhaps the only reason that Bashar Al-Assad’s government has been able to stay in power is because of Russian military strength. As the Telegraph explained in October of 2016, Russia has sent various fighter jets and aircraft into Syria, in hopes of destroying and pushing back rebel groups. While Russia publicly claims to be focusing the brunt of their attacks on the Islamic State, much of the international community realizes that the fight against terror is just a front for Russia to fight rebel groups. As Russia continues to prop up not one but two dangerous, oppressive governments inside the Middle East, it overlooks the international consequences it’s actions have.
Perhaps the people that Russia poses the greatest threat to is the people of Syria themselves. In addition to have killed nearly 4,000 civilians since the beginning of 2016, Russia’s military and diplomatic stance has helped spark a global refugee crisis. With their innumerable civilian casualties, compared with the fraction of ISIS deaths, Russia seems to overlook the humanitarian consequences of their actions. This exacerbates the numbers of refugees that are flowing into Europe and fearing for their lives. Despite international efforts to help curb the amount of deaths inside the country, Russia has only taken steps to destroy even more of the vital aid and infrastructure the citizens need to survive. As the New York Times found in September, Russia has even attacked United Nations aid convoys attempting to deliver vital food and medication to the thousands of undernourished children inside the country. Having already suffered five years of a bloody war, the Syrian people have long been hungry for peace, but with Russia unwilling to compromise with the Western world, it is clear that peace will continue to evade their plates.
by: Dilara Shahani
This year, on March 18, the European Union created a deal with Turkey to lessen the chaos and disorganized mess of the refugee crisis. This hasty agreement was implemented in a time of panic as the numbers of illegally smuggled refugees skyrocketed. At the time, the main method to attain a legal, safe way to displace refugees was simple: For every one Syrian refugee who failed to find asylum in Greece deported to Turkey, a Syrian asylum seeker in Turkey will be relocated in Europe. The Turkish government would receive money to transfer the refugees, and if they held up their end of the deal, speed up the process of visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. However, this simple solution comes with a list of circumstances and unanswered questions. For example, one of the rules being the vague term of “refugees” only applies to Syrians, excludes refugees like pakistanis or afghans. Furthermore, the relocation of asylum seekers in Europe faces the dilemma of which country would be willing to take in more refugees?
As refugees finally arrive on the shores of Greek islands, ready to be relocated in Europe, they are often held for months in the camps that are most accurately describes as prisons. Each individual must go through a series of interviews and assessments topped off with a long period of waiting to either be welcomed into Europe or sent back to poverty and war. One of the main camps “Vios” located on the island Chios was created to hold around a thousand refugees, but currently holds a population over the double the intended population. Another one of the terms of the EU-Turkey agreement to better the sanitation and safety of refugee camps has been swept aside despite humanitarian groups like the Human Rights Watch declaration of the inhumane conditions. Furthermore, the terrible conditions in the camp has led to what is trying to be prevented in the first place; Refugees who grow impatient with the lengthy wait for their relocation turn to smugglers, human traffickers, or even recruitment from ISIS. This same island refugees in Turkey were willing to risk their lives to reach now would do anything to escape anywhere else.
Furthermore, many refugees have realized the EU-Turkey agreement is not entirely enforceable, and have found in the desperation to control the oppressing number of refugees entering the already economically weak Greece that there are too many refugees to maintain in order. One of the regulations was to send back any illegal refugees who crossed the sea from Turkey into Europe, but implementation has been mostly absent. The European Union has been forced to turn a blind eye to maintain the agreement itself and receives criticism for ignoring Turkey’s persecution of freedom of expression, under the growing authoritarianism of Turkish President Erdogan. The EU treads on tricky water as Erdogan has complained of the insufficient amount of money received from the deal and threatened to release a massive group of refugees into Europe if the EU does not fulfill all of its requirements in the agreement to Erdogan’s liking.
By: Kishan Gandham
A series of unfortunate events. It seems like those are the only five words that can truly encapsulate the Syrian crisis. The impact of conflict in Syria however, stretches far beyond the region, affecting people and governments across the world. Therefore, in order to comprehend the scope of Syria—let’s start from the beginning.
There are three major parties in Syria. The first, Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Next, the rebel factions fighting against Assad’s corrupt government. And finally, the third, ambiguous party, involved in the conflict: the Islamic State (ISIS).
The reason that the Syrian conflict has had such a role in international affairs is because of its implications. Quite simply, the needless violence against the Syrian people prompted a mass migration of nearly 11 million people to other Middle Eastern and European nations. This migration came about because of violence and human rights abuse on all three sides of the spectrum of conflict, specifically, the torture of prisoners of war, the use of chemical agents such as chlorine gas, and the coordinating bombings by the Syrian government.
Additionally, refugees have an impact upon their host nations. The BBC reports in March of 2016, that Germany and Hungary have increasing numbers of asylum applications every single year. But to some degree, refugees have bolstered the economies of the countries they migrate to, taking a toll on the people as well.
Many nationalists believe refugees take jobs from the people living in their respective European nations. Thus, in France, face-veils such as the burqa, the niqab, and most recently the burkina have all been banned. Meanwhile, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and even Germany have either approved or called for bans on ‘Islamic attire’, proving the rising xenophobic tendencies within European nations.
Nevertheless, the desire to put an end to support for people coming out of these Muslim nations has not ceased there. Forbes reports in November of this year, that European leaders such as Francois Hollande, the leader of France, prevented aid from non-governmental organizations by failing to designate certain slums as refugee camps. All that European leaders are doing is creating a negative culture associated with those flocking into their nation just because they are Muslim.
With the rise in coordinated attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Europe, people are afraid. As the LA Times explains in August of 2016, Europe has been riddled by false alarms and terrorist threats prompting religious conflict all across the continent. But, when the people fear, governments cannot work. And when governments do not work, nations fall, and Germany and the United States are no better than the failed state of Syria. However, with the American people apprehensive of admitting more refugees into the country due to their ‘radical tendencies’ and with president-elect Donald Trump proposing bans on people entering the United States from Muslim nations, it seems as if, no matter where these innocents go—governments, including our own, fail them, adding another step to the series of unfortunate events plaguing refugees.
by: Saamia Khan
Just recently, Wells Fargo, a large financial institution, came under massive scrutiny for some mounting misconduct. In an effort to reach quotas and maintain sales targets, thousands of employees illegally opened up fake credit cards and bank accounts in the names of existing customers. Customers only found out about these accounts when charged with fees much later on. This created the façade that the company was doing much better than the reality, an appealing condition for shareholders. It seems as though Wells Fargo will finally be held accountable with a fine of $185 million from the governmental organization known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A multitude of questions remain on if and when high ranking employees knew about the malpractice. The congressional committee on financial issues held a hearing to further investigate the matter. Testifying before them, CEO John Stumpf defended his decision to give up $41 million in his pay in lieu of resigning. Wells Fargo fired about 5,300 employees in different regional banks, who they claim responsible for the fraudulent behavior. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren acted especially adamant when she said to Mr. Stumpf, “So you haven’t resigned, you haven’t returned, you haven’t returned a single nickel of your personal earnings…You push the blame to your low level employees who don’t have the money for a fancy PR firm to defend themselves. It’s gutless leadership.” Finally, however, John Stumpf resigned after increasing public pressure.
Many share Warren’s discontentment with Wells Fargo and large banks in general, which brings Wells Fargo’s fraud into the bigger picture of the banking. Following the Great Recession of 2008, a plethora of mostly leftist senators and representatives seek to gain a stronger hold on banks by instituting more regulations. Warren and Senator John McCain in particular are pushing for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall, the 1930s legislation that separated commercial bank transactions from other firms, prohibiting banks from making risky investments. Bill Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999. However, given that the financial institutions are currently so complex, this proves to be a quite burdensome, if not impossible, task.
Part of the problem stems from the substantial push from higher level executives at the bank to increase profits. Through a specific incentive program, lower level employees felt obligated to make fake accounts just to meet certain quotas. The employees were then rewarded with bonuses in relation to the amount of accounts made. Professor Amiram of Columbia University analyzed that, “If the managers are saying, ‘We want growth; we don’t care how you get there,’ what do you expect those employees to do?’” Wells Fargo has since discontinued this program.
Customers still find themselves in a predicament. One Wells Fargo customer, Shahriar Jabbari claims in a lawsuit against Wells Fargo that employees created seven fake accounts in his name, causing his credit score to greatly suffer. Other customers also assert that their financial reputation has been damaged.
The question of financial regulation remains a key controversy. President-elect Donald Trump promises to repeal Dodd-Frank, a law enacted in response to the 2008 recession. This might prove detrimental to Wall Street transparency efforts, and what some might say, caused the Great Recession.