By Erin Flaherty
Climate change undoubtedly poses a threat to the entire global community, but its impacts are hitting closer to home than most may think. When you consider that New Jersey’s coastline is 130 miles long and is home to 9 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, it's no surprise that climate change disproportionately impacts New Jersey in comparison to many other states. A Rutgers University report states that the “sea level in New Jersey was rising more than two times faster than the global average; Since 1911, the sea level rose 1.5 feet, compared with the global mean of 0.6 feet.” The impact that rising sea levels will have on coastal residents and businesses will be detrimental; in fact, the Rutgers study further concludes that, by 2050, Atlantic City will most likely experience high-tide flooding 120 days a year. On top of that, New Jersey’s yearly temperature average has been increasing at a rate that’s double the average for the continental United States.
These environmental issues have already led to several detrimental economic impacts, including a loss in revenue from tourism and agriculture. With a staple of the state economy under strain, local politics have become increasingly focused on the unmitigated impacts of global warming, and how these issues can be confronted efficiently and with the urgency needed to lessen these impacts. Current New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy ran his campaign with a strong focus on environmental reform. He sees environmental progressivism as entirely necessary considering the impact that climate issues are having on the entire state, which explains why he signed Executive Order No. 100 in January, also known as Protecting Against Climate Threats (PACT). This executive action has been labeled the most aggressive and comprehensive climate change regulation plan in the United States.
Governor Murphy’s PACT sets a sizable goal for New Jersey’s energy usage: 50% clean energy by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2050. He claims that this type of goal will stir up the urgency needed to combat the threat of climate change, stating that “New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution.” Despite its lofty ambitions, there has been heated controversy over the efficacy of PACT. In the past, Murphy’s environmental plans have received criticism for being superficial and not inciting enough action. Fred Fastaggi, a consultant with Shoreline Energy Advisors, an energy efficiency consulting firm explains this in his opinion on New Jersey’s past energy goals: "Visions and strategic plans are two different things. Energy master plans have been visioning statements without the nuts and bolts of a true strategic plan to successfully attain that vision." This time around, Murphy came prepared with a detailed Energy Master Plan that has seven main clauses, from reducing energy consumption in the transportation sector to the building sector. These clauses outline and address different areas where the state can reduce emissions and include regulations that will be put in place to ensure that these plans are put into action.
The most controversial clause is Murphy’s plan to strictly regulate new infrastructure construction. New Jersey is the first state to require builders to consider the impacts of climate change in their planning and usage in order to be granted government approval. In the past, Murphy has stayed silent and allowed fossil fuel infrastructure projects to run without much regulation. Jon Bramnick, the republican minority leader in the New Jersey General Assembly, believes that this type of developmental regulation will hamper business growth. Another perspective that clashes with Murphy’s plans for clean energy is the idea that the transition away from natural gas is being rushed and isn’t ideal for the economy. New Jersey could keep natural gas sources in its energy portfolio for important and urgent development projects while targeting environmental reform in other areas.
Despite expressed disapproval from republican assembly members, Murphy’s PACT has received support from some prominent republicans, such as Michael Egenton, the executive vice president of governmental relations for the state Chamber of Commerce. He has supported the regulation as long as the business community is considered in the process. This is why Murphy has invited both business and environmental leaders to the table to participate in the rule making process. His efforts to include varied voices in the conversation show that his intent is not to slow down business growth, but to create an economy that considers the impacts of its practices and works in a sustainable way.
Ultimately, Murphy’s goal signifies an important shift in focus from rapid state development to sustainable practices. The governor hopes to set a powerful precedent and example from the rest of the country. “We are going to make New Jersey the place that proves we can grow our economy, create jobs, and fight climate change all at the same time,” he stated in response to backlash from the Trump administration in regards to his lofty goals. If the governor's goals are met with tangible action and fierce enforcement of his clauses, the Garden State’s PACT agenda will set a nationwide standard for future climate progress.
By Logan Aviles
All applicants are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This paradoxical phrase rang true just a few months ago, following the biggest college admissions cheating scandal in the nation’s history. 51 defendants have been named in a conspiracy to game the college admissions system, doing everything from bribing coaches from colleges as elite as Yale to cheating on standardized exams. Parents have paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to Rick Singer, the college admissions officer who created the scheme, to falsify athletic credentials and inflate standardized test scores. Those who have pled guilty have gotten off with little punishment. The lightest sentence of those who’ve confessed is barely more than probation. Other light sentences include the impressive 14-day debt to society incurred by Emmy-winning actress Felicity Huffman. The heaviest sentence given so far is a mere five months, and in all cases, sentences have been reduced from what the prosecutors originally requested.
Considering that we’ve reached the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation surrounding the scandal, it is an opportune moment to analyze the scandal’s implications for the broader educational system.
There’s no doubt that education is key. And access to that education ought to be afforded on a meritocratic basis. With parents receiving light sentences and prosecutors compromising on punishment, it has become clear that the justice system does not fully appreciate the importance of higher education. Singer’s scheme and others like it undermine the opportunities of all students who put in the work to become an appealing applicant. When prosecutors let cheaters off with a slap on the wrist, elites are less likely to think twice about inflating their kid’s academic prospects, further widening the educational gap between the rich and the poor. Applications cannot fulfill their intended purpose if it comes into the best interest of all applicants to find new and inventive ways of misleading college admissions officers and exploiting vulnerabilities in the admissions process.
But besides Rick Singer and the parents who participated in this scheme, there is another party accountable: the schools themselves. The most alarming part of this story is not that elites are willing to game the admissions process—it’s that exploitable weaknesses in the admissions process ever existed in the first place. The college admissions scandal cannot be soon forgotten; it is a terrible mark on the integrity of higher education. Hopefully the arrests will lead to a new age of increased scrutiny and accountability that will improve the meritocracy of the educational system.
By Logan Aviles
Big Brother is watching you.
Governments across the globe are currently expanding their facial recognition technologies. With decreasing accountability and transparency, facial recognition could pose numerous threats.
There’s no question that facial recognition has taken the private and public sector by storm. It’s beginning to be used everywhere — from airports, to shopping malls, border patrol, and especially law enforcement. Moreover, a recent research report projected that the facial recognition industry will grow from $3.2 billion in 2019 to $7.0 billion by 2024 in just the U.S. alone. These technologies function by creating a “facial signature,” measuring the dimensions of a human face and placing its unique dimensions into a data set. These data sets are often used by law enforcement agencies to identify and locate criminals.
But the technology has still drawn some well-placed skepticism. One could cite the lack of federal regulation as a source of concern. Even assuming that the technology is accurate and effective, there still isn’t enough transparency (or, in some cases, accountability) for how that data will be used, interpreted, and applied in law enforcement efforts. There’s no clear authority in place that could put private companies and law enforcement agencies on the right track.
Further, the usage of facial recognition within China has proven just how severe an impact the technology can have on privacy and democracy. With over 500,000 faces scanned per month, China uses its facial recognition technology to profile and keep tabs on Uyghur Muslims under the pretext of security. These systems identify minorities so that they may be better tracked and surveilled by Chinese surveillance systems. Facial recognition has contributed significantly to the Chinese surveillance state.
Facial recognition programs may also exacerbate the already existing racial biases of police officers. Even top performing facial recognition softwares still struggle to differentiate between African Americans — misidentifying them at rates five to ten times greater than they do whites, leading to a greater number of false positives, further solidifying police officer’s racist associations between criminality and minority status. These biases are irreversible; facial recognition algorithms fed with data coming from human beings with innate and unconscious racial biases will inevitably reflect that racial bias.
Biased algorithms are even more dangerous than biased people. People are accountable for their own actions — but when an algorithm inadvertently encourages racialized policing, biased behavior can then slip by undetected, settling underneath the veneer of scientific authority and the dazzle of exciting new technology.
Facial recognition has exploded into the modern technological mainstream, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. The best one could ask of a nation and its citizens is that they stay vigilant. Facial recognition technology has shown that it is capable of doing bad things on a terrible scale; it is the obligation of all governments to do what they can within their power to keep pace with the development of this new technology. If the good voices of the world cannot keep pace with this new technology and all of its destructive capabilities, then the risks of facial recognition will continue to imperil society.
By Benny Sun
“Truth is like poetry and most people… hate poetry” - The Big Short (2016)
The Great Recession of 2008 has become one of the darkest moments in modern history, permanently shaking up millions of American households and international markets. Within a few short months, America experienced a total financial meltdown with the bankruptcy of investment banks such as Lehman Brothers, foreclosures of 10 million homes, and the wiping out of 20 trillion dollars in total American household assets. Unfortunately, at the heart of America’s crisis was criminal negligence and sheer greed from politicians and higher-ups in the banking sector. This is because while major banks were bailed out by the US government, the brunt of the economic burden was placed on the very poor. Although the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform sought to address the recession’s root cause, new trends in global banking seemingly seek to only replicate the same recklessness prevalent among banking institutions prior to 2008. Here, this article will address the main culprit: shadow banking, now a 52 trillion dollar global industry which represents a 75% increase since 2008
The shadow banking system, often in the form of hedge funds, has the same goal as traditional banks of providing access to loans and liquidity. However, there are numerous differences between both categories. Foremostly, shadow banks, because they don’t provide typical deposits, are subject to little or no regulations, often only required to register and have assets worth around 150 million dollars. Consequently, shadow banks are more easily able to loan towards unqualified borrowers considered too risky to loan to (which under certain conditions can expand economic growth and financial access). However, as in the cases of 2008, mass defaults across these loans could trigger bank bankruptcies as well, as these banks often profit off the promise of future money, rather than their current financial situation.
Moreover, shadow banks also lack access to government safety nets like deposit insurance or central bank funding, making their operations considerably riskier. Instead, these corporations rely on money from short-term investors to fund these operations. Thus, as unregulated institutions, many shadow banks simply skirt away from the rules designed to avoid a financial crisis. For instance, as their investment is reliant on investors, any market downturn could decrease investor confidence which forces shadow banks to either shut down or sell off all of their assets at depressed prices to return their money to investors, causing a downward price spiral in derivatives, bonds, and stock markets. Overall, Economist Paul Krugman demonstrates how shadow banking creates vastly more volatile markets and economies, concluding that it “makes the good times better, but the bad times far, far worse”.
An implication of shadow banking in the United States has been its major role in procuring a private debt and loan conundrum, a ticking time bomb for America’s economy. Economic columnist Steven Pearlson specifies that the increased accessibility of loans in the market is only fueling increasingly severe credit bubbles such as auto loans, student loans, and credit card debt. The reason why risky lending is so harmful is that while providing this capital can prove vital to low-credit households and companies if they are unable to pay it back and are forced to issue a default, the shadow bank loses precious money for operations and investors. Multiply this by the thousands and an economic catastrophe becomes tangible, such as the case of increasing mortgage defaults and the popping of the Housing Bubble that preceded the 2008 recession. Even after recent legislative attempts to regulate the Shadow Banking industry, much of the industry is still considered to be as risky as before and still as dangerous.
Alarmingly, these effects of shadow banking have already manifested in debt markets. A recent economic report shows that the private debt market as a result of shadow banking has tripled, accounting for a 1.2 trillion dollars of American debt. This only breeds instability for businesses and individuals, as any economic shock, such as mass layoffs, lower spending, or dips in the stock market, can push corporations into insolvency or families into bankruptcy which makes them unable to pay off their debts or loans. For this reason, household debt is seen as a good indicator of the future economy, with the last five economic recessions being preceded by high levels of household debt. Even now with the Coronavirus pandemic, stock markets are cascading to all-time low never seen before since 2008, members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council have identified shadow banks as a major risk amid economic anxieties. Thus, the Coronavirus will simply compound the difficulty of keeping shadow banks afloat as they face a new financial crisis.
Overall, Bond Ratings Agency DBRS is calling on federal legislators to increase regulations on the shadow banking industry, as existing loopholes and lack of oversight could generate incidents of rapidly recurring recessions. They conclude their letter with a very clear and price message: with the Coronavirus pandemic around the corner, the banking industry is “not ready to handle an economic crisis” and Americans should be “very worried”.
By Julia Roos
What defines art? We know by now that art is not confined to brush strokes on a canvas, since art is even found in the clothes we wear. Fashion brands dedicate their businesses to create wearable art; to encompass expression, emotion, and inspiration. Many designers look to other countries and cultures for inspiration. Enter: cultural appropriation. Often referred to as misappropriation, cultural appropriation occurs when fashion brands are accused of trivializing and misinterpreting non-European artifacts in a way that disrespects and exploits a minority culture for the prospect of financial gain. But is all cultural appropriation done with malicious intent? The fashion industry embodies the opposing arguments: is cultural appropriation beneficial or harmful to society? Cultural appropriation can take many forms, and it is up to the public's interpretation of the designs to determine if they are acceptable or not.
A clear criterion for cultural appropriation is using sacred artifacts of a culture as an accessory. Gucci showed a traditional Sikh turban during their 2018 Autumn/Winter show. The use of the headdress on the runway reduced a sacred element of the Sikh religion to a “trend” for a season. The item, sold as the “Indy Full Head Wrap,” represents one of the five articles of faith and symbolizes spirituality. This action establishes a problem that transcends the act of just exploiting indigenous designs. When designers’ are inspired by another culture, it is often a historically marginalized one. The people of the Sikh religion habitually deal with persecution and discrimination for wearing a turban that Gucci could retail for hundreds of dollars. When it comes to introducing cultural elements on the runway, especially those regarding religion, it is the brand’s responsibility to understand the symbolism and the religious practices associated with it before advertising it as an accessory.
The real issue, however, lies in the realm of social media outrage and sensitivity. Self-appointed “woke” users on social media litigate numerous, and often harmless, acts of cultural appropriation against popular fashion companies. The first issue of Vogue Arabia launched In March of 2017, with American model Gigi Hadid on the cover. Embellished in a heavily jeweled veil, Hadid faced criticism for appropriating Middle Eastern culture, even though she is half-Palestinian and her father is Muslim. Critics argued that she should not be wearing a hijab because she is not Arab enough to represent the region on the cover. A person’s ability to wear pieces that are inspired by their own heritage should not be shamed by social media users. Cultural appropriation allegations have become so frequent and popular because “the term [has] trickled into mainstream fashion discourse, becoming a buzz-word.” Discussion about offenses like cultural appropriation are important to have and are good measures to take for change. However, most online users have misguided judgements.
Cultural appropriation claims limit innovation and self-expression and therefore hinders cross-cultural appreciation. It is an important aspect of fashion, as “cultural exchange and the intermingling of forms, ideas and styles [...] are at the heart of the creative enterprise.” The power of cultural inspiration can be seen at fashion’s biggest night: the MET Gala. Every year the attendees dress according to the varying themes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The Gala provides an opportunity for designers to celebrate various cultures through their garments with themes like Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. The most renowned garment that has ever walked the MET Gala’s red carpet was Rihanna’s dress during the 2015 theme China, Through the Looking Glass. This theme provided an opportunity for designers, celebrities, and viewers to reflect on China’s influence on Western fashion and culture. Rihanna wore a regal, yellow, fur-lined cape embroidered with floral scrolls created by Chinese designer Guo Pei. The dress is celebrated for its tactful appreciation of Chinese culture that allows for education through wearable art.
For the Dior 2020 Cruise Collection, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri gracefully connected African and European culture that celebrated collaboration and globalization. The fashion show was located in Marrakech, a city in Morocco, and the theme of cultural exchange was prevalent as the Moroccon inspiration of color and craftsmanship was deeply rooted in the collection. Chiuri appointed local artists, artisans, and designers to help fuel her design aesthetic. This is an example of a designer doing the right thing regarding the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Designers should be consulting artists of the targeted culture to educate themselves while creating a collection to appreciate and not appropriate that culture.
Regardless of the context, cultural appropriation will always be seen as a negative action. However, the notion that artists should not use elements of other cultures would be counterproductive for society. To try to untangle all ties of culture is impossible, “and the impulse to do so is ahistorical and philistine.” Truly innovative ideas arise only when the inspirations of culture are mixed. Society needs to reframe the construct of appropriation in fashion as a discussion of ideas and inspiration, not an act of malice. At times this “inspiration” is carelessly and excessively offensive; other times the utilization of another culture is artistically purposeful. At times the controversy sparked from these productions is pettily misinformed; other times the discussion is enlightening. Fashion is a language, and we should use it to spread knowledge, inspiration, and positivity.
By Jedson Boyle
Over a century ago, the railroad was virtually the only way that Americans would travel from city to city. In fact, in 1916, 98 percent of intercity travel was done by train. However, around that same time, Henry Ford began production of the first automobile that the average American could buy. Fast forward to 1970, the year of Amtrak's creation, and the railroad industry was broadly displaced by a system of highways and widespread ownership of cars, meaning most Americans seldom traveled by rail.
In order to rescue passenger rail services from near collapse, Congress passed the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act, unifying twenty of the railroad companies in the United States into the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, typically known as Amtrak. Amtrak was still a for-profit organization, but it was to be owned and controlled by the U.S. government. Despite its nationwide presence, Amtrak has not drawn a profit in any year since its creation, and this year the (relatively) new CEO Richard Anderson, is trying to put a stop to that streak. Although the initial goal of Amtrak was to connect all of America by railroad, Anderson posits that it might be better if the federal government cut down on certain routes. After all, Amtrak services a variety of routes that differ in distance, demand, and profitability.
The first category of Amtrak routes are those that run short paths along the East Coast, the most famous being the Acela Express (the line that runs from Boston, to New York, to D.C.). There are 26 of these routes and they carry 25.8 million passengers per year, comprising approximately 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership. These are the lines that Amtrak generates a profit from, most likely because they are less time-exhaustive alternatives to flying between East Coast travel hubs. For instance, a train ride from New Jersey to D.C. may require less time than a flight from Newark to Dulles.
The other type of passenger rail service that Amtrak offers is long-distance routes, which are the routes that connect one part of the country to the other instead of just major cities in the same geographical regions. An example of this would be the Southwest Chief line connecting Chicago to Los Angeles or the Silver Star which connects New York to Miami. It is these routes that cost Amtrak money and prevent them from reaching a point of profitability. Even though most riders on long distance routes do not travel the whole route, these trains often go through less populated areas with lower ridership. In fact, ridership was down 4 percent on long-distance routes in 2018 alone.
Another major problem with these long-distance routes is that the trains on those routes tend to be late, only making it to the destination on schedule around 43 percent of the time. Most of the 21,400 miles of track utilized by Amtrak are owned by freight companies. Only 3 percent of the track is owned by Amtrak itself. Although federal law states that Amtrak trains have priority over freight, freight railroads often disobey this regulation. Freight companies are incentivized to flout this federal policy because the DOJ has only brought one enforcement action against a freight company throughout Amtrak’s history. Resultantly, the long-distance routes’ reputation for lateness has driven away potential riders, because delays don’t make an already long and grueling trip any more enticing.
It is not surprising that it is the long-distance routes that Anderson wants to cut, or even completely eliminate. Anderson has made it clear that he regards these routes as only appealing to “hobbyists” and “experience seekers,” groups that do not make up a large share of the population. Anderson reasons that, the distances between major cities outside the Northeast Corridor are so vast, no one will ride from endpoint to endpoint. Therefore, he believes, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in routes that don’t draw a profit.
However, not everyone shares this vision. “Not one element of Anderson’s stated rationale stands up to even superficial scrutiny. The easiest place to start is the nonsense about customers of the company’s business segment being mere ‘experience seekers.’” writes President Andrew Selden of the United Rail Passenger Alliance. “Catering to ‘experience seekers’ is a huge, profitable and rapidly growing business. Except apparently at Amtrak.” On the other hand, proponents of Anderson’s vision would argue that, while the tourism industry is large and rather profitable, most families don’t have the time (or the patience) to spend two days on the Empire Builder (a long-distance line that runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland) to say, Spokane, Washington, as beautiful as the scenery may be.
Now the answer to Amtrak’s profitability problems seems simple, and that is to just cut the long-distance routes. But remember, Amtrak is publicly funded, and to keep funding from Congress, Amtrak has an obligation to consider the demands of congresspeople. Thus, cutting routes from, say, Kansas, might lose the support of Kansas’s Senator Jerry Moran (who happens to be fighting Amtrak over the Southwest Chief). And why should Senator Moran vote to fund Amtrak if Amtrak isn’t doing anything for his state or his voters?
Another wild card is former Vice President Joe Biden, often nicknamed “Amtrak Joe” who may be elected president this year. As a Senator for 36 years, Biden rode the Amtrak to and from Wilmington, Delaware each day on his way to work, and if he is elected president, Amtrak likely can count on receiving plenty of funding but may be subject to new political stipulations.
Just like any corporation or for-profit organization, Amtrak leadership must walk a very fine line. Allow Amtrak to turn a profit for the first time in history, but not anger too many members of Congress. Given the inherent contradiction in these two goals, this task will prove to be quite a challenge. It may no longer be 1916, and the American railroad may never relive its glory days, but if Richard Anderson succeeds, Amtrak could restore America’s status as a railroad capital. Only time will tell if Anderson’s plan truly gets Amtrak back on track.
By Benny Sun
“I begged them to kill me” Here, Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur Muslim, describes her experiences in China’s infamous Muslim re-education facilities, evoking historic sentiments similar to those found during Nazi Germany’s brutal persecution of Jews in the 1930s and its meager international response. “I still have scars on my body from the constant beatings and pain in my wrists and ankles from the chains. I cannot hear on my right ear caused by heavy beatings”. As a sufferer under China’s systematic oppression, Mihrigul Tursun’s experiences are not a rare occurrence, but rather a part of a broader trend towards authoritarianism and human rights abuse now being propped up by the digital and internet age. With innovations in computer science, such as social media and artificial intelligence rapidly increasing, so too is a voracious wave of “techno-dystopia” utilizations that are threatening to sweep Asian countries in a flood of increasingly intrusive and prevalent surveillance.
A prominent manifestation of the surveillance state in Asia is China’s attempt to dismantle the livelihoods of ethnic Muslims across the Chinese region. Since its military occupation by China in the 1950s, the communist party has utilized the autonomous region of Xinjiang as a prison to oppress 10 million Uighur Muslim minorities through constant surveillance, burdensome restrictions, and dehumanizing policies. As a part of China’s “de-extremification policy”, Chinese officials attempt to coerce Uighur Muslims into relinquishing their Muslim beliefs and praising Chinese communist ideology. While China notoriously describes the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang as a part of the “peaceful vocational process” to inhibit “religious extremism” and “separatism”, investigative reports from the Economist, in contrast, paint a horrific narrative of coercive torture and inflicted violence.
Armed with state-of-the-art recognition software from recent technological advances which can distinguish between different facial features and skin tones, Chinese authorities can effortlessly target and track the movements of individual Uighurs. Every piece of biological data imaginable is entered into government records, with China storing fingerprints, blood samples, and voice recordings for each Uighur individual. On the internet, every single word on online chatrooms and social media is monitored by authorities where a single jab against the Chinese Communist Party may mean the difference between freedom and confinement. Overall, by silencing the minority voice through the extreme censorship of political expression, China has erected a technological surveillance state similar to that found in Orwell’s 1984, almost following it faithfully like a guidebook on the repression of rights.
China’s experiment in Xinjiang has also become a standard to be replicated by other authoritarian countries, with China exporting the same surveillance technology to over 60 countries, including Iran, Venezuela, and now India. Amid the rise of anti-Islamic views and Hindu-nationalism spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more Muslims are increasingly under the control of blatantly exclusionary policies and enhanced government surveillance. For instance, over the summer of 2019, Modi passed legislation that erased the statehood for two Muslim-majority regions, Jammu and Kashmir. Modi also kicked off around nearly 2 million Muslims from citizenship in India, causing a divisive domestic and international uproar among Muslims who all protest in large groups across the country to fight off Modi’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this only served as a pretext for India’s further expansion of repression through surveillance and technology.
When delving more deeply into India’s treatment of its Muslim-majority regions, one can see glaring resemblances to China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. In these regions, India has cut off internet access and mobile and postal communication, measures even more extreme than those in China, isolating millions of Indian Muslims from the global world. In Kashmir, Chinese corporation Hikvision has set up thousands of CCTV surveillance systems, and India has also utilized its drones to monitor local mosques and movements of Muslims in India. Unfortunately, under this expanding surveillance state, this technology has already been used to oppress, with law enforcement agencies in India in February using facial recognition software to identify over 1,100 individuals at a recent riot for Muslim rights. Unlike China, however, there is still some hope left for India’s minority population; recently, local groups and even the United Nations Human Rights Council have sued Modi’s administration under India’s Supreme Court for violating an article under the Constitution which promotes equality among all citizens in India. As many of the justices in the Indian Supreme Court have been critical of Modi’s previous actions, many hope that their judgment could roll back months of racist legislation originating from Modi’s religious war on Muslim Indians. Even still, these actions cannot unduly reverse the destructive effects of Modi’s surveillance regime.
However, without regarding the consequences of religious discrimination, China’s and India’s actions betray the possible rise of a broader, dangerous trend across Asia this pattern of mass surveillance continues, a multitude of consequences could result. First and foremost, their actions could embolden dictatorships and democracies to encroach upon the precious privacy of its citizens, enabling politicians to discriminate against entire populations based on race, religion, and gender. On the bright side, although the Western World has adopted surveillance to monitor its people, Time Magazine writer Charlie Campbell explains that “Western democracies have enacted safeguards to protect citizens… while China [seeks]... to exploit it and weaponize it”. China’s actions to utilize its technology could leave behind a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world to follow, where more susceptible democracies such as Bolivia and South Africa could perceive China’s surveillance expansion as a greenlight to strip away their citizen’s own privacy as well. Therefore, many see China’s rise in surveillance sales as a new opportunity for China to export its model of authoritarianism and dictatorship over democratic ideals.
Moreover, the rise of techno-digital dystopia could be further impacted by other crises, primarily China’s own coronavirus outbreak. With a rising number of coronavirus cases quickly becoming a global pandemic, New York University’s Rina Chandran predicts that Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand could be using the COVID-19 epidemic to clamp down on free speech via the use of Big Data to and AI to track and locate protestors of their governance. Unfortunately, by suppressing potential criticisms in these governments, it is also slowing down the spread of awareness for the Coronavirus. For instance, China, expanding its surveillance technology from Xinjiang into the mainland, imposed strict information controls while also arresting and punishing people who criticized Chinese authorities for mishandling the outbreak. “There’s a danger that when you increase surveillance and information controls, it can undermine the public health system,” said Chandran, who cites the instance of a Chinese doctor who initially warned the international community about the virus and was subsequently arrested.
With more governments in Asia seeking surveillance as a method to control crises and gain greater control, many must first understand the political implications of such a decision: it’s potential to drive dictatorship and fall under corruption. Thus, Chandran concludes: “Surveillance itself can never be a solution”.
By Ellee Tomaru
Two is company and three’s a party… but what is more than three? Competition. Netflix is being bombarded with not three but five rising streaming competitors: Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Prime Video and HBO Max, and Hulu plus. What once was a solo market is being flooded with content, so how will Netflix hold under the growing pressure? Netflix, the original streaming service from 2007, has held all the power in the streaming world until recently. Luckily, Netflix has three main factors on it’s side: Netflix Originals, a wide variety of content, and the decline of cable.
A large source of Netflix’s attraction is its addictive original content. This is a key component because in 2018, 57 percent of streaming consumers said that they had subscribed to access original content. Netflix originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror have people hooked. What makes these originals so original, to say the least, is that they are catered to a specific audience, rather than attempting to satisfy a wide audience. Many plotlines of other TV shows are told through a filter, needing approval from various audiences. The creators of Netflix Originals are able to create content to cater to a specific viewer. Forbes found that “an approximate 13% of ex-Netflix users signed up again to watch the third season of Stranger Things.” People would rather re-subscribe to Netflix than miss a season of the action-packed Stranger Things. According to Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, around 85% of Netflix’s spending will be going towards new original content–around $8 billion. So we should begin to see a myriad of original content coming our way which will inevitably keep Netflix relevant into future decades.
Netflix is also suitable for any age range or types of interest, unlike Disney Plus. While I can count all the types of content Disney Plus has released on my one hand (Disney Originals, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic), “Netflix’s originals slate for 2018 includes 80 films, ranging from “sub-indie” low-budget pictures to ‘100 million blockbusters.’” Netflix is an endless library offering over 13,300 films and tv shows worldwide. That’s another advantage that Netflix has over the competition. Netflix is experienced. Netflix is on a global level. Netflix is on an adaptable degree. Most of these newer streaming services such as Disney Plus are still testing the waters and are limited globally. For instance, Disney Plus currently is only offered in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Netflix is available globally in over 190 countries. Additionally, Netflix is adaptable to all types of streaming devices such as Rokus, Chromecasts, Fire TV Sticks, Game Consoles, phones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops, Blu-ray players, and cable box providers such as Dish, RCN, and Xfinity. This wide variety of content, countries, and capacity gives Netflix the accessibility that most streaming services lack.
And lastly, Netflix should not be concerned about their relevance or revenue in the oncoming years because luckily for them, cable is on the decline. No one has the patience to sit through commercials anymore. Everyone is switching to subscription streaming services. It’s not a question of which, but how many. According to Market Watch, the average monthly cable bill of 2019 was $157, while most popular streaming platforms are under $20 a month. Given that everyone has become obsessed with binging TV shows and watching select movies, cable TV has become a thing of the past. Conclusively, people will be willing to spend the $157 budgeted for cable on multiple streaming services to escape the ads and tailor to their specific interests. This projection has already taken action as Deloitte Insight’s survey from 2019 found that a higher percentage of households subscribe to a streaming service rather than traditional pay TV and 44% of respondents said that “no ads” was the reason they switched over to streaming services. Fortunately for Netflix, with the decline of traditional tv services already beginning, consumers already pay for an average of 3 streaming services and with Netflix being the largest, they should not fret about losing subscribers just yet. With the added benefit of having name recognition, Netflix is an easy choice for consumers when switching over from cable.
Conclusively, Netflix will stand strong with their addictive originals, range of attraction, and the decline of cable. So what if there is growing competition?
By Benny Sun
On September 16th, 2015, Martin Shrekli, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur known as “ Pharma Bro” and infamous for his online feud with the Wu-Tang Clan, acquired the living-saving drug Daraprim which had initially cost $13 per pill. The very next day, he jacked up the price up to $750 – a price hike of over 5000%. Soon Shrekli became the most hated face in America, an embodiment of the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, Shrekli’s actions are not a rare occurrence. Rather, they follow an alarming trend of rising healthcare prices which are leaving thousands either at the brink of death or nearing poverty to pay for their exorbitant medical costs. In fact, near the beginning of 2020, average price hikes on prescription drugs rose by over 10% across the board. To address this impending issue, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed HR3 or the “Lower Drugs Costs Now Act” in September 2019, which implemented sweeping reforms across the healthcare system. HR3 contained two major components: first, it would drastically decrease all drug prices for anyone covered by private insurance and second, it would reinvest the savings into new breakthrough treatments. All in all, HR3 has become a controversial bill supported by the majority of Democrats but despised by many Republicans.
Congress’s debate over drug pricing mainly centers around the trade-off between accessibility and innovation. Many Republicans claim that only the small pharmaceutical companies would suffer under these barring regulations, which can drastically reduce America’s drug innovation output. A report from the Congressional Research Service finds that US companies could lose over $358 billion dollars in profits annually, resulting in significant cuts to research and development budgets and decreasing the new innovative drug output from small companies by 88%. This could be catastrophic for the pharmaceutical industry; as CNBC writer Lori Ioannou explains that because startups need a way to appease new investors to fund their projects, they often produce the most innovative and risky drugs in the market, accounting for 63% of new drug approvals in 2018. With a drastic reduction in the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry, venture capital investment and seed funding into startups could suffer, preventing many companies from creating innovative drugs in the first place. This political discourse over drug pricing is especially vital, as the importance of pharmaceutical innovation cannot be understated. Republicans such as Mitch McConnell argue that promoting innovation helps consumers in the long term, as general improvements on existing drugs could lower drug prices along with generics development. Moreover, innovation in the United States not only benefits Americans but also the dozens of other countries that are able to buy these essential medicines at often discounted prices. The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that US pharmaceutical innovation accounted for an incredible 73% increase in life expectancy in developing countries. In conclusion, while critics demonize the Republicans for supporting the “greedy” drug corporations, many downplay how drug innovation impacts both the developing and developed world.
However, many Democrats argue that HR3 would save the thousands of suffering and desperate Americans who are unable to take their medicine and could jumpstart innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. A Center for American Progress reports finds that the bill could give the government authority to negotiate down the prices of over 250 pharmaceutical drugs each year. This would be incredibly important for many consumers, as American drug prices are four times higher compared to other countries, causing one-fourth of all Americans to commonly skip out on their medication. Nicole Rapfoegel, a writer from the Center for American Progress, finds that “reform is desperately needed. Today, pharmaceutical companies set excessive prices that they increase over time in order to maximize profits.” A report in the New York Times on April 17th of 2017 which studies comprehensive data from all 50 states from 2012 to 2017 finds that nonadherence results in over 125,000 deaths in America annually. Additionally, while some critics/Republicans forewarn that drug price caps could stifle innovation, House Democrats argue that implementing HR3 could actually benefit innovation. A Statnews report finds that big pharmaceutical companies use the majority of their profits to invest in killer acquisitions to buy out small pharmaceutical startups rather than investing in their own research and development budgets. In fact, over 81% of drugs from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer actually originate from third-party developers bought out. Thus, reducing drug profits would not affect Big Pharma’s already small budget on innovation. With mortality rates rising from America’s broken medicine industry, the implementation of this policy could mean the literal life or death for thousands of Americans annually.
Regardless of the current fierce debate over HR3, the bill is unlikely to be passed in its current form. Paul Hastings, CEO of Nkarta Therapeutics, explains that the House had “another near party-line vote in the Chamber” with Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against it. Because the Republicans control the Senate, many analysts predict that the bill will easily be thrown out. Instead, politicians will likely make bipartisan compromises to ensure that some reforms are made in America’s dying healthcare industry. For instance, Erik Watson from Bloomberg argues that the most likely result would be to keep reforms on capping out-of-spending costs for Medicare beneficiaries in HR3, as it benefits the gray vote or America’s elderly voter population, an essential constituency both Republicans and Democrats must win. Other bipartisan agreements under Pelosi’s HR3 bill could include the measures to promote price transparency among American consumers and possible antitrust policies that restrict killer acquisitions to increase competition among existing pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. The result could benefit a large portion of America’s elderly population who see reductions in their medical expenses. Furthermore, improving price transparency and competition could still lower drug prices, but to a lesser degree, ensuring that some of the thousands of Americans can afford another night of medicine. All in all, Congress’s compromise bill over drug pricing will most likely implement some minor common-sense reforms which could further progress in increasing accessibility while still allowing companies the budget to pursue productive innovation. Unfortunately, with the 2020 presidential elections coming up, many Democrats are choosing to forego negotiations because they believe that bipartisan bill could potentially give Trump a political boost. Thus, it is likely that Congress’s fierce debate over drug pricing policy will be delayed until 2021.
By Erin Flaherty
Popular rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft have reinvented the public transportation industry. In 2017, these applications generated 65 percent more rides than traditional taxi services did in New York City, and since then, their popularity has continued to rise. Getting an Uber or Lyft is a simple and reliable way to get around. Users can hail a ride on their phone, get picked up from wherever they are, and payment is automatic once the user puts their information into their profile.
With the convenience of rideshare apps, however, comes many safety concerns. Uber, the leader of the rideshare app industry, has a multi-step driver registration process, which, according to The Street, a technology news outlet, includes “their Social Security information, driver's license, insurance and car registration - all of which are run through private background-check firms.” However, many individuals, especially female users, have expressed concerns that these steps are not enough to protect riders. According to The New York Times, Uber received 3,045 reports of sexual assaults during its rides in the United States in 2018, and 42 percent of those reporting sexual assault were drivers. Female drivers and passengers are a disproportionately large percentage of the victims of these attacks.
Uber has responded to these accusations, saying that “there's nothing more important than the safety of the drivers and riders we serve … we will continue to put safety at the heart of our business and expect to roll out more features this year”. In early 2019, Uber released a "Women Preferred" feature for female drivers in Saudi Arabia, where they can request to only drive female passengers. Despite pleas from US drivers for this feature to be introduced in the United States, Uber hasn’t taken any legitimate and concrete actions to ensure the safety of female drivers and riders in the United States. When asked why they aren’t considering implementing this in the US, Uber has simply responded by saying that they have “no plans to make that an option at the moment” , and that they believe that they have "built the safest transportation option in more than 290 cities around the world”.
Sexual assault is just one of the fundamental problems that female drivers for Uber face. They also earn 7% less per hour than their male counterparts. These factors combined explain why only 14% of Uber’s drivers are women. Nick Allen, the founder of Shuddle, a ride service for children, further explains this phenomenon; “this economic opportunity has excluded women -- not purposefully, but women have self-selected out of it. And the number one reason they do that is the perception of safety or lack thereof.” Uber’s idleness in regards to this issue has created clear gender disparities within their employee demographic.
Michael R. Pelletz, an entrepreneur from Charlton, Massachusetts, former Uber driver, and father of 2 teenage daughters, decided to take matters into his own hands after being made aware of Uber’s female-user safety issues . He started Safr, which he planned to make the first female-only rideshare service. The service was successful in the few cities where it was launched, with its annual sales coming in at around $7 million a year. This success was short lived; as described by Pelletz, “the team that was put in charge of carrying out these goals failed as they were too afraid of getting sued, so they started to allow men to ride and drive”. The concerns that Safr’s legal team were addressing were in regards to Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination in employment at the federal level. However, legal supporters of Safr have stated that Bona fide occupational qualifications, or BFOQs for short, allow Safr to only hire women since this is essential to their purpose and mission as a company. BFOQs are employment qualifications that employers are allowed to consider while making decisions about hiring and retention of employees. For example, a casting company can exclusively interview women if they are casting a female role in a show.
And, as Pauline M. Tarife explains in her paper for Rutgers Law Review, “employers have been successful in establishing gender BFOQs for Playboy Bunnies, female-only gyms, prison guards at correctional facilities, psychiatric health care specialists, locker room attendants ,and custodians for single-sex facilities."
Nonetheless, despite the prevalence of BFOQs, they still posed too great a risk to Safr for its woman-only business model to continue. Ultimately, legal discrimination concerns could go either way if lawsuits were to arise. This unpredictability stems from the case-by-case nature of Civil Rights Act and BFOQ questions. Both policies leave much room of interpretation of specific situations. When asked about these legal concerns, Pelletz refuted them, stating that “before [he] started [Safr], [he]went to civil rights attorneys … this is all about solving a health and wellness problem for women who cannot participate fully in ride-sharing because of safety issues”.
This decision both undermined Safr’s original mission and made its chances at financial success much more slim since it was no longer differentiated from Uber and Lyft in any sort of way. Nonetheless, Pelletz plans to start a new female-only rideshare service in the future under the name WOKE. He hopes to fulfill the plan that he had for Safr before discrimination concerns led the company astray from its mission. He says that he plans to stick to his guns and isn’t afraid to face legal charges since he is certain that is mission is legally justified. Although past attempts at launching this type of service have failed, the demand and need for a safer option for riders and drivers alike is still present, and individuals like Pelletz are not willing to rest until there is a solution.