By Chloe Yang
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Putin has been working to increase Russian influence throughout the former Soviet zone. However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has been working to advance its own interests, but with democratic values in mind instead. Since the early 1990s, several Baltic nations from the former Soviet Union, including Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and more, all joined the NATO alliance. Now, numerous NATO states directly border Russia. NATO has now expressed interest in enrolling Ukraine into the alliance, which set off the beginning of the conflict.
The Kremlin has been especially angered by the fall of Russian power in formerly-Soviet areas, with President Putin describing Soviet disintegration as “one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century that robbed Russia of its rightful place among the world’s great powers.” Having spent his past 22 years in power building up the Russian military and growing the nation’s geopolitical power, Putin now believes that Russia is ready to face the West.
Specifically, Putin has his sights set on integrating Ukraine with Russia. Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine should be a part of Russia, both culturally and historically. In 2014, Putin acted on these hopes of integration, when he annexed Crimea, a region in Ukraine. Since then, Western pressure has been mounting on Russia to demilitarize the region, yet Russia has ignored these calls.
In December of 2021, Russia presented NATO with a set of demands, including a pact that Ukraine would never join NATO and that NATO would pull back forces in NATO member Eastern European countries. The NATO alliance quickly dismissed these demands, and Russia quickly began mobilizing on the Eastern border of Ukraine. By the beginning of 2022, over 100,000 Russian troops had mobilized on the border.
February 24th, 2022 marked a devastating day for countless Ukranians, as Russia invaded Ukraine, declaring the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states. Just two days later, Russian airstrikes began across the nation of Ukraine and Russian forces invaded the country from Belarus, Crimea, and Russia, essentially attacking the nation from all sides. After the first day of Russian invasion, many key Ukrainian zones, such as the Chernobyl exclusion zone, had been captured by Russia.
On the second day of invasion, Russian troops stormed the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, where they faced surprisingly strong resistance from troops and civilians alike. By early March, Russia began attacking civilian areas, shelling the towns of Kharkiv and Mariupol. Dozens of civilians had already been killed by Russian forces, following numerous artillery attacks and airstrikes.
As of March 18th, the United Nations estimated that over three million people have fled Ukraine following the Russian invasion. Thousands of Ukrainians fled the country by train with thousands others attempting to drive out, creating long traffic lines out of the country. Ukrainian refugees have primarily been fleeing into neighboring countries, with Poland taking in nearly 2 million refugees, as of March 16th. Refugees entering Poland, primarily women and children, face wait times of over 24 hours, although they do not need documents to enter. Ukrainian citizens—those who are legally living in Ukraine—have been granted refugee status in Poland. If they do not have friends or relatives to stay with, many Eastern European countries have allowed Ukrainian refugees to stay in reception centers where they are given food, medical care, and information about their further travels away from Ukraine.
While Poland has been very accommodating towards refugees, the government of Poland has stated that it will need more money from the EU to continue to host more refugees in the future. Moldova, a nation with the largest concentration of refugees per capita, has also requested international help to deal with the influx of migrants.
In addition, an estimated 12 million people inside of Ukraine are also in need of assistance, according to the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In southern Ukraine, bedding, medication, and heating are scarce, while in Eastern Ukraine, even basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter are needed as well. While the UN has been offering humanitarian assistance inside of Ukraine, the EU puts the total number of Ukraine refugees at up to seven million.
While the US Congress has passed legislation giving billions of dollars in aid to the Ukrainians, there is still much that the US can do. For example, the Boston Globe proposes that the Biden administration issue humanitarian parole visas to Ukrainian refugees so they can seek asylum for two years. Additionally, they advocate for the creation of a program that would allow ordinary citizens to host refugees.
The Russo-Ukrainian conflict took the world by surprise and is continuing to unfold each and every day. Hopefully, the conflict can be resolved by the international community soon, and peace can be brought to Eastern Europe. As European Commission foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says, “these are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War.”
By Chloe Yang
Based on the results of the 2020 census, state and local governments across the nation are beginning a new cycle of redistricting, or redrawing district lines in accordance with population shifts. However, through redistricting, politicians now utilize a practice known as gerrymandering, or redrawing district boundaries with the intention of favoring the electoral chances of one group over another. Partisan gerrymandering, which is redistricting to favor one political party over another, has been utilized frequently by politicians from both sides of the aisle. This practice has only been heightened in the most recent redistricting cycle following the Supreme Court ruling in the 2019 Rucho v. Common Cause case, which decided that partisan gerrymandering cannot be challenged in federal court, although they can still be challenged in state courts.
Most notably, partisan gerrymandering has been heavily weaponized by Republicans during the 2021-22 redistricting process. This gerrymandering scheme began back in 2010, when Republicans unveiled the REDMAP initiative which targeted swing states in the 2010 election to gain power in the corresponding redistricting process. The impacts of this initiative were effective, and as REDMAP’s own website puts it, that party that has power over the redistricting process “shap[es] the political landscape for the next 10 years.”
Twelve years after the start of REDMAP, Republicans are continuing to unjustly use partisan gerrymandering to their advantage. In Ohio and North Carolina, for example, although the redrawn maps have since been struck down, Republicans have attempted to pass maps that have both received an “F” grade on the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s partisanship scale.
As the 2021-22 redistricting process begins to wind down, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current system of partisan gerrymandering is becoming less and less democratic. The primary nomination system is largely to blame––partisan gerrymandering removes any real competition from general elections, meaning the primary election of the dominant party all but determines district representation. Not only does partisan gerrymandering skew representation and create extreme polarization, they also impact a multitude of social and political issues.
The passage of gun prevention legislation, for example, has been hindered by the proliferation of partisan gerrymandering. Public support for increased gun control legislation has been rising in the US within recent years, largely due to the increase in mass shootings and gun-related homicides. However, while 88% of Americans support requiring background checks on all gun sales, many states have failed to take this action because of the disconnect between the representatives and their voters. For example, in 2017, Democrats won a majority of the popular vote for the Virginia House of Delegates. However, thanks to the gerrymandered districts, Republicans held on to control, and the following year, the same thing happened in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. These Republican-controlled legislatures have repeatedly refused to allow gun restriction bills to have a hearing or come to a vote.
Similarly, partisan gerrymandering has also limited access to health insurance. While states can receive federal funding to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, the states themselves must approve it. Because of partisan gerrymandering, conservative politicians from Wisconsin, to North Carolina, and Georgia, have opposed ACA policies that are estimated to have insured 1 million more people and prevented around 3,000 deaths in 2019.
Partisan gerrymandering has also hindered the expansion of child care and education programs. Expanding programs that provide support for children have long been a bipartisan issue: 70% of Americans favor increasing funding for expanding pre-K education — 53% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats. Although policies like tax credit for child care have been proposed in states like North Carolina, the effort for adoption was quickly quashed by the Republican dominated legislature. Similar efforts, which have been proposed in Michigan and Pennsylvania, were also defeated in the gerrymandered state legislatures.
In addition to partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing political boundaries to favor one racial group over another, still continues to plague our redistricting process as well, even though the practice was outlawed in the Shaw v. Reno Supreme Court case. While partisan gerrymandering is constitutional, racial gerrymandering is not. However, because it is difficult to distinguish between the two, racial gerrymandering still takes place under the guise of political partisanship.
Specifically, Republicans have been using racial gerrymandering to dilute the power of African American voters to push Democratic leaders out of office or dilute their electoral chances. Racial gerrymandering is more prominent in this redistricting cycle in particular because it follows the Shelby County v. Holder. Supreme Court decision that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which defined the rules for redistricting based on voter turnout. Essentially, this decision gave states the ability to create more restrictive voting laws without federal approval. In Texas, and in nine other states primarily in the South, redistricting maps no longer needed federal approval.
The New York Times found that “the number of Black legislators being drawn out of their districts [in this cycle] outpaces that of recent redistricting cycles.” And Leah Aden, deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc concedes that, “Without a doubt [racial gerrymandering is] worse than it was in any recent decade.”
This pattern is proven in numerous Republican-led states. For example, while people of color account for more than 95% of Texas’ population growth since the 2010 redistricting cycle, the Texas State Legislature drew two new Congressional seats with populations that were predominantly white. States like Alabama and South Carolina are also continuing their decades-long tradition of packing African American voters into a single Congressional district to minimize the power of their votes, even though there were attempts to have a second majority-Black House district created.
While beneficial in theory, in practice, gerrymandering has unfortunately become far too politicized and favors politicians over people. Gerrymandering, both partisan and racial, are frankly undemocratic practices that arbitrarily minimize the voices of some citizens and amplify the voices of others. Politicians must strive to leave the game of elections and partisanship behind for the betterment of their own constituents. In our current system, it is no longer our voters who chose our representatives, but rather our representatives who are choosing their voters.
By Chloe Yang
On December 22, 2021, the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission adopted a new congressional district map. The six Democrats on New Jersey’s bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Commission drew their own proposal for the new map whereas the six Republicans on the commission drew a separate proposal. Because they could not agree on a map, NJ Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, who had been selected as the tie-breaker, had an enormous amount of power in deciding the future of the state’s congressional districts. On December 22nd, Wallace announced that he would vote in favor of the Democrats’ map, citing his reason for doing so being that the Republicans controlled the state’s last redistricting process in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, the new map is relatively favorable to Democrats, for out of the twelve congressional districts of New Jersey, six districts are now solidly Democratic and three districts are Democratic-leaning. In comparison to the previous map, the new map includes three more Democratically-leaning districts: one less Republican-leaning district and two less highly competitive districts.
Most notably, Democratic Representative Andy Kim’s 3rd Congressional district had the most dramatic partisan swing, going from R+5 to D+9 (data based on FiveThirtyEight’s Partisan Propensity Index). Similarly, Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill gained much bluer districts following the redistricting, improving their reelection prospects in 2022.
However, while Representatives Kim, Gottheimer, and Sherrill all benefited from this redraw, District 7’s own Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski is at an increased risk, with the district going from D+4 to R+3. During the redistricting process, Malinowski supporters testified at meetings of the NJ Redistricting Commission to try to save Malinowski’s reelection chances, with one supporter stating that, “[m]aking our district safe for the scion of any political dynasty would be unacceptable to the citizens of NJ-7”. However, these efforts were ultimately not enough and Malinowski’s seat may have been sacrificed in the redistricting process.
In 2020, Malinowski’s opponent, New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean Jr., came just one point away and 5,000 votes from unseating the incumbent. Kean has announced that he will be seeking a rematch with Malinowski in 2022. Although this time around, Kean has primary opponents to face off against, State Assemblyman Erik Peterson and America First Rev. Phil Rizzo, Kean is likely to remain on top as the Republicans’ candidate of choice. But no matter how difficult his reelection chances may seem, Malinowski announced early last month that he would be seeking reelection for a third term. Malinowski himself admits in a fundraising email that “redistricting hasn’t made things easier for us” but also contends, “I’ve only ever won hard races. And my likely opponent, Tom Kean Jr., has only ever lost them — for good reason.”
Contrastingly, Kean is increasingly confident going into election season. Dan Scharfenberger, Kean’s campaign manager, for example, thinks that the new district lines were a reflection of Malinowski’s increasingly slim reelection prospects: “Democrats on redistricting rated him a loser, now analysts rate him a loser”.
The Congressman’s reelection chances are far from entirely gone. In fact, Malinowski has only ever run in highly competitive races. Malinowski has a leg up in fundraising: Malinowski raised around $2.1 million in campaign financing by October, 2021, in comparison to Kean’s $648,000. Additionally, in 2018, Malinowski was one of the few Democrats who campaigned in the race as a moderate and won. Going into the midterms, one of Malinowski’s primary strategies is to appeal to the voters who backed Biden for President and Kean for Congress in 2020. This election may test whether a Democrat with an independent persona, much like Malinowski, can withstand a Republican wave.
As in every new decade, the redistricting process has come and gone. However, for residents of New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional district, the new lines may cause great political change in the 2022 midterm elections, possibly flipping the balance of power for the next two years, or even longer. As Malinowski himself states, “The stakes have never been higher.”
By Chloe Yang
In many ways, the world was impacted the most by the pandemic because of a lack of precautions. As the Omicron variant continues to surge and countries struggle to keep cases low, the oversight in providing the proper health precautions has led to the number of total worldwide COVID cases skyrocketing to 400 million. But beyond that, a failure to bolster the global supply chain has led to nearly every single aspect of it being affected by the pandemic. From manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and more, the efficiency of the supply chain was greatly slowed following the spread of COVID-19.
Primarily, manufacturing was one of the first steps in the supply chain to be impacted by the pandemic. In industrial and manufacturing giants like China, South Korea, Vietnam, and even Germany, thousands of factories were forced to shut down or reduce production due to quarantine restrictions and sick employees. As a result, shipping companies subsequently cut down their schedules, anticipating a global drop in demand for transporting goods.
However, this prediction proved to be a fatal mistake. While demand for certain goods and services, such as airline tickets and restaurant meals, did lessen, this did not hold true in numerous industries. Indeed, people instead redirected money that they once would have spent on experiences and promptly funneled them to home investments, which doubled as offices and classrooms during lockdown. From office chairs to blenders, video game consoles, gym equipment, and even paint for redecoration, demand in the home improvement sector quickly skyrocketed. Peloton, an American home exercise equipment company, for example, saw their stock rise by 350% in just 2020 alone, due to the increased demand in at-home exercise equipment.
But factories soon found it difficult to keep up with this sudden increase in consumer demand. Some items, for example, are critical components in the manufacturing process. Computer microchips were among the items that were most affected by the supply chain crisis, due to their advanced and complicated production process. Because of this, factories struggled to produce items such as automobiles, computers, displays, and other vital electronic products. This shortage especially burdened teachers and students around the world, who needed computers, microphones, and web cameras for virtual learning, widening the supply and demand gap even more.
Physical transportation has also created stalls in the supply chain. Since the beginning of the pandemic, containers have been simultaneously scarce and in high demand. As masks, hospital gowns, and other personal protective equipment were shipped from China and the US to nations around the world as the virus first proliferated, empty containers quickly piled up in remote areas that do not typically ship exports back to China or the US, slowing global container turnaround rates. At the same time, nations began greatly increasing production in order to keep up with the aforementioned increased demand. The newfound scarcity of containers combined with the spike in demand for them led to the skyrocketing of the cost of cargo transportation. China-US container shipping even rates ran as high as $20,000 in 2021.
Physical bottlenecks complicated cargo shipment ever more. Ports and docks across North America and Europe quickly found it difficult to keep up with the heavy influx of container ships following the manufacturing increase from nations like China. Consequently, ships were forced to anchor in the sea for days before having the chance to load and unload cargo. Similarly, with truck drivers and dockworkers in port areas being forced into quarantine, the availability of transportation workers decreased, slowing the cargo transportation process even more.
While the global supply chain crisis was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, without a doubt, the issues embedded within the crisis were present before the virus. Indeed, the pandemic only highlighted existing issues within the supply chain itself. However, nations around the world can take steps to ensure that a similar crisis can be averted in the future.
The United States, for example, can focus on becoming more self-sufficient in manufacturing to guarantee that heightened reliance on Chinese manufacturing cannot cause delays in the supply chain. The world’s reliance on China’s production of goods was one of the largest contributors to the crisis. While the US likely cannot keep up with China in more labor-intensive industries, it can invest more heavily in technological and research-intensive production. Recently, the Biden administration invested $20 billion in American technology company Intel to build a semiconductor factory in Ohio. Increasing domestic manufacturing capacity as well as diversifying suppliers is a crucial first step to alleviate the pressures caused by the supply chain shortage.
Additionally, the labor shortages in the transportation and warehousing industries could be reduced by the increase in global wages for the sectors. With the annual turnover rate reaching 94%, retention is a big problem in the global trucking labor market, but one that can be mitigated by higher wages. Additionally, improving working conditions in the sectors can also make the jobs more attractive to licensed truck drivers. The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed in the US failed to address these issues, overlooking the inclusion of funding for truck parking, for instance. However, by providing more competitive wages, as well as increasing investment in overall infrastructure, nations around the world can diminish the substantial labor shortage to prevent another supply shortage in the future.
While the current supply crisis may be temporary, the underlying issues within the supply chain will undoubtedly persist. If the global community can cooperate to solve these problems using collaborative solutions, another supply chain crisis can hopefully be averted in the future.
By Chloe Yang
Much like a young couple in love, Biden’s approval ratings and the surge of the Delta variant seem impossible to separate, as the bond between the two statistics only strengthens with time. As the United States enters its fourth wave of COVID, Biden’s approval ratings sunk to a new low of 42 percent earlier this week as the Delta variant’s prevalence in the nation only continues to grow. In fact, currently, 99% of all COVID-19 cases in the US are delta variant cases.
The link between these two statistics are no mere coincidence. Rather, Biden’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis is a direct cause of his low approval ratings. At the beginning of his presidency, Biden’s steady handling of the pandemic helped boost his standing. During the first half of the year, there seemed to be hope that the pandemic would begin to recede. However, just months into the summertime, the Delta variant began rapidly spreading throughout the nation. The variant first emerged in India in December of 2020 and infamously wreaked havoc in the country, leading to a massive second wave and over 430,000 official deaths (most experts believe this is a severe undercount and even put the number as high as 3 to 5 million). But soon after, the variant spread to Great Britain and eventually the United States.
Specifically, the Delta variant is much more dangerous than its previous counterparts because it is nearly twice as contagious as other variants and has been proven to be more likely to put the infected in the hospital. Those who are unvaccinated are at the highest risk, with the highest concentration of the variant in the US being in areas with lower rates of vaccination. Yet despite Biden’s once-successful handling of the pandemic, in September—as the Delta variant surged through the nation— for the first time, more voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of the crisis than those who approved of it.
With the Biden administration once promising efficiency in their COVID-19 response, voters are growing disenchanted with the skyrocketing infections. In July, the Delta variant quickly grew to become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US. Due to a lack of action at both the national and state level, the variant was much more destructive than the Biden administration had expected, with President Biden branding it as a “largely preventable tragedy”. Over the summer, for instance, many southern states were facing ICU bed shortages, with five states having less than 10 percent of their ICU bed capacity remaining.
Biden’s response to the Delta variant was also complicated by political motivations as well. With much of the American economy having been shut down since March 2020, Biden was hopeful about gradually releasing restrictions to allow the economy to begin it’s recovery. However, the conflicting advice from advisory agencies has confused both the president and American citizens. The CDC, for example, has changed their stance on wearing a mask numerous times within just the past year. This led to White House officials and CDC advisors often touting conflicting ideas, muddying the rules that citizens were meant to follow.
Additionally, booster shots are another point of contention between the White House and it’s federal agencies. Biden, a strong proponent of allowing all adults to receive a booster shot, did not share the same beliefs as his advisors. After the president steamrolled ahead in creating a booster program (without reviewing with the FDA), Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, two vaccine regulators at the FDA, submitted resignations in September largely due to their frustration with the Biden administration's negligence.
However, this has not quelled the Biden administration's hopes of expanding vaccine booster availability. Recently, the CDC even approved booster shots for adolescents from 16 to 18 years old, with the CDC strongly encouraging booster shots for all amid fears of the spreading of the new Omicron variant.
If Biden does not act quickly to keep the Delta variant in check, it stands to threaten his ambitious economic agenda. In the beginning of September, Biden unveiled a plan to combat the surge of the delta variant. Among the provisions of his plan were mandates for vaccinations for federal workers, contractors, health care workers, and more. His plan also contains recommendations on how to keep schools open.
But although Biden has been relatively wary about any binding, overarching mandates for all Americans, it seems to be the most foolproof solution to beat the surge. It is well within Biden’s presidential power to do so: vaccine requirements for children in school began in the 1850s. With 45% of all unvaccinated Americans saying they definitely will not get the jab, a mandate may be the only way for America to conceivably achieve herd immunity. With the CDC showing that the unvaccinated are nearly 11 times as likely as vaccinated people to contract Covid-19, a vaccine mandate may be the best way forward. By implementing a mandate on vaccination, people still will have the ability to refuse a vaccine, but their involvement in public and social life will be severely limited, incentivizing them to get the vaccine.
Currently, the Biden administration has begun exploring this path. Earlier this fall, President Biden issued an executive order that would mandate companies with over 100 workers to require vaccination among their employees. This plan is estimated to affect nearly 100 million Americans and around 66% of the workforce. However, this mandate has stalled in federal court and has faced significant amounts of pushback and controversy. Namely, the attorney generals from numerous states have banded together to challenge the legality of the executive order. On the other hand, scientists as a whole generally welcome a stronger vaccine push from the Biden administration as the virus becomes endemic in the nation. As Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University in Atlanta puts it: “It’s part of the shift from short-term reactions to long-term solutions.”
It may be a while before the threat of the Delta variant begins to subside and with the Omicron variant already on the rise, COVID-19 will certainly linger for much longer. Thus, the Biden administration must actively work to combat the variant for the sake of the nation’s overall economic and social recovery. It’s time for the US and Delta’s breakup.