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.
by Erin Flaherty
"Servant of the people”, a popular TV show in Ukraine, tells the story of a high school teacher named Vasiliy that goes viral for speaking out against corruption and becomes president of Ukraine. With a captivating storyline and timely message, the show became the 5th most popular show nationwide after premiering. For years, Ukraine’s government has been plagued by elite officials backed by special interests. For Ukrainians, a trustworthy government seemed like an unattainable relic, and “Servant of The People” showed a Ukraine where justice was restored.
After watching 3 seasons of Vasily fighting for democracy, the Ukrainian electorate could only dream of a candidate like Vasily. The approval rating for their current government was at an all-time-low, with 91% of people saying that they had little to no confidence in their government. In a twist of fate, their dreams would come true, when the actor who plays Vasily ran for office. Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he was running for office under the Servant of the People party, named after the famous show.
But he didn’t just run for office, he won! Ukraine had its first round of its election in early April, and over 5.7 million voted for Zelensky out of the 18.9 million who voted. Behind him was current incumbent Ukrainian President, Pyotr Poroshenko, who has been linked to several treason scandals involving bribery throughout his time as president. The second round of elections was held April 21st, and Zelensky won by a landslide, receiving over 70% of the popular vote.
After the first round of elections, Zelensky and his team began to campaign their anti-corruption plan. "For old politicians, corruption is the same as water for fish. The old political elite against corruption is the same as bees against honey”, his team told Telegram channel. With the help of the International Supreme Economic Court, they hope to decriminalize the economy in Ukraine. "The Ukrainian economy is clearly built for the continued success of its wealthiest members. Zelensky will be handed the difficult task of breaking up a system corrupted by private monopolies and oligarchies. His administration's plan is what Zelensky has called a “common sense” way to approach corruption; they reward those who expose corruption while working with officials to scope out individuals contributing to scandals.
Much of Zelensky’s attention will be drawn to foreign issues regarding Russia. Ukraine and Russia have had ongoing conflicts since Russian soldiers annexed Crimea, a peninsula formerly under Ukraine’s control, in 2014. Some say that Zelensky would engage with Russia well, compared to Poroshenko who has offended the Russian government with his comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, others expressed concerns that Zelinsky's inexperience would make him vulnerable to Russian manipulation. “Russia sees Zelensky as a new Macron or Trump, a novice to be exploited and played with,” said foreign policy expert Vladimir Frolov.
Frolov brings up the parallels between other recent elections where the “common man” has unexpectedly won an election. However, Zelensky differentiates himself from these candidates in his appearance as a less polarizing figure, and more of a moderate politician. Zelensky also differs from other figures in his religious identity as a Jew. Ukraine is now the only country other than Israel to have a Jewish Prime Minister and President. Zelensky didn’t focus on this during his campaign, as he believed his religious identity didn’t affect his stance as a politician. As Yaroslav Hrytsak, a history professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University said, “People in times of war and crisis don’t care that much about who is what religion. They care about the agenda he or she represents.”
Overall, Zelensky has been much less focused on dividing the people of Ukraine with party politics and more focused on uniting the people against Ukraine’s most prevalent issues. As Washington Post Columnist Anne Applebaum said, Zelensky is “a symbol of success and national unity in a country that has often felt divided.” Zelensky's presidency marks the start of a fresh and new era in Ukrainian politics.
By Erin Flaherty
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. An important moment in the movement towards equality, this aimed to overcome the unfair barriers that many state and local governments had put in place to stop African Americans from voting. Unfair measures like using literacy tests and grandfather clauses were officially illegal. However, over 50 years later, this act is being used by the Trump Administration in a way that critics argue would bring the United States further away from equality.
The Trump Administration announced in March of 2018 that they are adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. This question would ask “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” for each family member that the survey pertains to. The Trump Administration says that this is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination against any citizen’s voting rights on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group”. They argue that minority communities can’t elect the representatives that they want in elections without this data being available to the government, since their districts have many ineligible voters.
Since this announcement, many have come out against this decision, citing several reasons as to why it would be a bad idea to add this question. Critics have worried that this added question will scare many immigrants away from filling out their survey. Having the census produce an accurate count of the population is essential, since the government uses this count in various ways, like when funding infrastructure or determining districts for congressional appointments. Cities where immigrants live could receive less funding if immigrants are scared away from filling out the census, leading skeptics to believe that this is an attempt by the Trump administration to hurt Latino and immigrant-heavy communities.
Even before this question was added, in the 2010 census, many researchers had already expressed concerns about possible skewed census results since immigrants were already avoiding taking the survey. In 2015, a respondent told researchers that “the possibility that the census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.” This concern among immigrants would only be heightened and intensified by adding a citizenship question. The Trump administration, nor is any immigration agency allowed to access specific Census Bureau information, but many immigrants are fearful of giving a government organization this info regardless.
In late March of 2018, a group of 14 states, led by California filed a lawsuit against the Census Bureau. These states arugethat in adding this question, the Bureau will violate the Constitution, since the Constitution requires that every resident, regardless of whether they are or are not a citizen, is counted in a census. These states argue that having this question would skew data and allow for funding to be allocated incorrectly, along with allowing incorrect political boundaries to be drawn. According to them, Trump’s citation of the Voting Rights Act is merely an excuse to hurt immigrant communities. “The census is supposed to count everyone”, says Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, a backer of the lawsuit. “ This is a blatant and illegal attempt by the Trump administration to undermine that goal, which will result in an undercount of the population and threaten federal funding for our state and cities.”
Judge Jesse M. Furman from the District Court of New York was the first federal judge to rule against the question. Trials are just beginning in California and Maryland, and many involved in the lawsuit had been expecting that the issue will make its way to the Supreme Court. Recently, it was announced that the Supreme Court will be making a decision regarding Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary of the Census Bureau. However, this decision won’t necessarily be in relating to the citizenship question; the trial will focus on whether Ross and others involved with the Census Bureau can be compelled to answer questions about the addition of the question. This is only really one component of the case and wouldn’t directly change the fact that right now, the Census is still planning on including this question.
It is getting closer and closer to when census surveys need to be printed. The deadline is in July of 2019, and many of the plaintiffs involved in the case are worried that trials won’t finish in time to change the current plan to include the question. This time crunch could cause various scenarios to play out, according to law expert Thomas Wold, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. He speculates that the Supreme Court could rule against the lower courts and ask the lower courts to reconsider their rulings. However, he also doesn’t doubt the possibility that the Supreme Court doesn’t get to hear the case in time, and therefore the question is kept on the census. “The government could ask to leap over the appeals case in all three cases,” he adds. “The Supreme Court can move very quickly if it has to, but it doesn’t really like to do that because it doesn’t make for the best decisions.”
Whether it has been surrounding the legality or the morality of the question, this decision by the current United States administration has definitely brought light to significant conversations regarding the treatment of immigrants under the Trump Administration. “This decision comes at a time when we have seen xenophobic and anti-immigrant policy positions from this administration,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Many immigrants have told news organizations that they will not fill out their Census survey no matter the stance of the citizenship question come 2020, since their fear has already been stirred up enough. Will we ever be able to get an accurate count of our population with the current climate surrounding immigration? Perhaps, the census is no longer a viable option to do so.
By Erin Flaherty
Poverty, airstrikes, water insecurity, terrorism, blockades, and disease have all been components of what many have deemed “the forgotten war”. The conflict stems from the efforts of the Houthi group to overthrow the government. The Houthis, which are a group that stems from Zaidi Islam, had control of the Yemeni government until the 1962 revolutions, which led the country into the North Yemen Civil War. The war ended with the Yemen Arab Republic taking control of the nation, and since then, the level of animosity in the Houthi community towards their government has only risen.
In 2011, Many of the Houthis citizens were angry at their new leader, Saleh, for the rising unemployment and his abuse of the Yemen oil profit. Their protests continued, and in late 2011, Saleh stepped down. His Vice President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, took his place. Hadi’s want for more liberal and constitutional reform threatened the conservative values of the Houthis. In January of 2015, the Houthis captured the presidential palace in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, and continued to take control of the entire city.
Hadi and his government moved to the city of Eden in the South, but because of their successful capturing of Sanaa, the Houthis have been able to establish themselves in most of the country’s North. Since then, the war has been between pro-government forces from Saudi Arabia that have been supported by Riyadh’s new coalition, and the Houthis who have been partially supported by Iran. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have gotten involved by aiding opposing sides, making Yemen essentially another proxy war in the struggle for power between Sunni and Shia Muslim sects, and those who support either side.
The humanitarian crisis in the country only escalated after the start of the conflict. In response to Iran sending in weapons to aid the Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia imposed a full-blown blockade around the entire county. In attempting to stop Iran’s efforts to aid the Houthis, they essentially cut off all access to food and medical supplies. Fuel-driven pumps transfer the majority of water in the country, especially near the cities where the conflict is occuring, so water insecurity became a massive issue for citizens of Yemen when the blockade took effect. Saudi Arabia lifted its blockade from the largest port in Yemen, Hodeidah port, but the effects of the water and food insecurity that Yemenis have faced will not be over anytime soon. The Red Cross reported that Yemen had over 1 million cases of cholera in 2017, and many of those infected still have not received medical attention due to the lack of medical centers and workers in the country.
Although this may seem like an issue that lacks connection to the US, the opposite couldn’t be more true. The US is Saudi Arabia’s top supplier of weapons, and has backed their coalition that started the blockade in the first place. Many in the United States political sphere have criticized US support for Saudi Arabia not only because of the Saudi-imposed blockade of Yemen, but also because of their inaccuracy with airstrikes intended to hit rebel groups. Several stories have come out over the course of the war about Saudi-led airstrikes hitting funerals, hospitals and schools– one of the most controversial being the Saudi airstrike that hit a Doctors Without Borders medical facility. The Trump administration has faced condemnation for continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons when they recurrently hurt innocent citizens in an attempt to suppress the rebel groups.
US involvement escalated even more recently, when news came out that the Green Beret US soldiers were secretly deployed to Yemen in 2017. They were sent, supposedly, to train the Yemen troops and take down Houthi bases with them. This marked a huge step in US involvement, since beforehand the US was only involved in 'refuelling and logistics', as the Pentagon said.
Until recently, not much had been done regarding US involvement in Yemen, but on November 28th, the Senate voted to stop all US support of the Saudi-led coalition. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a heavy advocate for this bipartisan action, said on the 18th that “the time is now to tell Saudi Arabia that we are not committing to partner with them in this horrific crisis.”
But this bill did not pass all of a sudden; it precipitated from the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi died at the hands of Saudi government agents who tortured him at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Despite this assassination, Trump continued to support the Saudi Arabian government, angering many lawmakers. The 63-37 vote in the Senate was quite bipartisan, since many Republicans have turned against their original stance on the issue which aligned with Trump’s view. U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was at least aware of the plan for the murder of Khashoggi. This news has been denied by several members of Trump's cabinet, but has ultimately confirmed for many that Khashoggi’s death at the Saudi consulate was no coincidence or accident.
United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has condemned the Senate’s decision, saying that “degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies.” Trump has also continued to reinforce the importance of the United State’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, even advocating for a new proposed arms deal that would supply Saudi Arabia with more weapons from the United States, saying that it would provide citizens of the United States with new jobs. Though Trump has touted that Saudi arms deals provide 500,000 additional jobs, Reuters estimates between 84,000 and 168,000.
This decision brought up a huge question that could set precedent for many issues in the future; Who has the right to pull our country out of war? Well, Senators cite the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which says that if US troops are involved in any hostile conflict abroad “without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.”
This means that the House would need to pass the bill, which does not seem as unlikely as it has before, since Democrats will be taking the majority in the next House due to their midterm victory. House Democrats have been advocating for an end to US involvement in Yemen for a while and would most definitely vote in accordance with the Senate. Then, only Trump would need to approve ending American assistance in the war. If he tried to reject their decision through a veto, it would still go back to Congress, which logically would still end in a vote to end United States involvement.
The Senate’s decision speaks volume about the increasing concerns among lawmakers in regards to the United State’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The vote on the 28th may not ultimately end our questionable role in the war in Yemen, but it signifies an important step in possibly changing our country’s current role in said foreign affair.
By Erin Flaherty
If you’re an avid Facebook user, you’ve most definitely been exposed to Facebook’s advertisements. Maybe you’ve even noticed that many product advertisements that you’ve received are things you would consider buying. This is made possible by ad targeting, a system available to advertisers on Facebook that allows them to tailor their advertisements to people who meet certain demographic requirements. This may seem unproblematic until you consider advertisements that aren’t product placements, like job postings. The question that many are asking is: is it legal to target job-recruitment advertisements at specific groups?
On Facebook, advertisers have the ability to target advertisements to a certain demographic based on factors like location and other information included in your profile. Under said “other information” lies gender, meaning that through Facebook's ad system, advertisers can choose what gender will view their advertisements. This is where controversy surrounding job-ad targeting stems from: is it just or even legal to recruit based on gender?
Galen Sherwin, an ACLU lawyer, provides an answer to this question; she argues that this practice is indeed illegal. She brings up precedents, such as when the Supreme Court outlawed the use of phrases such as “Help wanted - men” in advertising for employment.. Sherwin argues that this policy should still apply to online advertising, claiming that “ the ads themselves are illegal, it’s been established for five decades.”
On the other hand, Facebook insists that they aren’t doing anything wrong, citing the Communications Decency Act, a law that protects media and internet companies from liability for content created by third parties. However, since Facebook created the ad-targeting technology, many argue that this would not be considered third-party content. Whether Facebook can be held liable for allowing companies to use ad targeting is still up in the air.
Although Facebook has recently taken away the ability for advertisers to target based on race, religion and national origin, advertisers still retain the ability to target based on gender, and Facebook has ignored most reports it has received on the issue. In fact, they still promote the use of gender specification in job-ad targeting, saying in a recent ad campaign that you can “target the people you want to reach” and listing gender as one of the possible attributes.
In late September, ACLU filed a lawsuit against Facebook, claiming that they are violating laws that “prohibit employers and employment agencies from engaging in sex discrimination (including discrimination based on gender identity) in employment advertising, recruitment, and hiring, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” In their lawsuit, they discuss the impact of social media on the hiring world, stating that “social media has become a primary means for big and small employers to identify, recruit, and hire workers, particularly through the use of targeted ads.” They specifically focus on the unfair advantage that this ad-targeting poses on women, mentioning several large corporations, like Uber, who specifically target males in their recruitment ads. Studies have shown that over 95% of Uber ads on Facebook are targeted at men.
However, a study done by Propublica over the past year shows that ad-targeting has been placing both men and women at a disadvantage in certain fields, as both are commonly targeted with ads that fit classic gender stereotypes. In their study, they found that women received job-ads about positions like civil rights investigator, counseling service provider and nursing jobs. Men, on the other hand, received employment ads about truck driving, trooper and software jobs.
In their lawsuit, ACLU also brings up the disadvantage that those who don’t identify as male or female are being placed at. When creating a Facebook account, you are required to select male or female as your gender. Afterwards, you can go into your profile settings and adjust this to “gender fluid” and select a pronoun that you would like to be used for instances like birthday posts. When selecting neutral pronouns, a birthday post notification would read “Wish them a happy birthday” instead of “Wish him” or “Wish her.” Those who select neutral pronouns and gender fluid don’t fall into either category of male or female under Facebook’s system, so when advertisers choose to target ads based on gender, these people will not see these ads at all.
Job ad-targeting isn’t seen by all as a negative. Some argue that one of the benefits of targeting job-ads based on gender is the ability it has to balance out imbalances in fields between men and women. For example, both T-Mobile and Boeing have used Facebook’s system to target engineering job ads at women. This comes off as a disadvantage if you subscribe to the idea that affirmative action is an unfair process. Those who support affirmative action would see this as a positive since it is a method for companies to even out gender imbalances.
When asked about the issue, Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said, “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies. We look forward to defending our practices once we have an opportunity to review the complaint.” The idea of giving unequal opportunities to women is something that would go against the goals and values that Facebook states to have, as expressed by their 2018 diversity report where they boast that “the number of women at Facebook has increased 5X over the last five years.” Facebook’s reaction to this controversy will reflect what their true values are, and whether or not they believe they should be held accountable for the technology that they’ve created.
By Erin Flaherty
Since late 2017, the Chinese government has forced one million Uyghur muslims into detention. The government maintains that these detention centers are “re-education camps”, but some have even gone as far as to label them as modern day concentration camps. Prior to their detention, the Uyghurs had already been facing unjust laws and poor treatment from the Chinese government.
The Uyghurs are a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims that inhabit the Xinjiang area of upper-west China. They declared independence In the early 1900s but were brought under the control of communist China in 1949 and have stayed under it since. The Chinese government has accused the Uyghurs of being Al-Qaeda supporters, saying that they have received training in Afghanistan, regardless of the little evidence to back this claim. Despite them now being the minority in the Xinjiang region, the Chinese government has blamed the rise in violence in the region on them. However, this rise is most likely linked to Beijing's recent repressive reign in Xinjiang.
Last year, Chinese authorities enacted an anti-extremism law banning long beards, veil-wearing in public and homeschooling. After observing this repression, many human rights organizations called for the UN to take action against the Chinese government.
Since last year, Chinese forces have been taking Uyghurs from their homes in Xinjiang and bringing them to detention centers in the region. In these camps, detainees undergo what many human rights organizations have called “brainwashing tactics” such as studying the thought of Chinese leaders, learning Mandarin, praising the Communist Party and singing revolutionary songs.
Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch described the camps as completely unlawful, saying that “the authorities provide no legal documentation to the families and there are no time limits (on the length of detention),".
The number of Uyghurs being held in these centers has continued to rise. A UN human rights panel reported that “two million have been forced into so called reeducation camps for political and cultural indoctrination”. The Chinese government denies this statistic and says that this number is fabricated.
As stated in the previous Maya Wang quote, the Uyghurs have been told no length of time that their detention will be. Currently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is reviewing the issue along with many others, and it seems that they most likely won't come to any sort of plan of action. Many families are left split and wondering when their loved ones will return.
Recent satellite images have shown that the centers are being expanded, suggesting that the collection of the Uyghur people isn’t stopping any time soon.
Those who are not brought into detention centers are still facing many changes in their day-to-day life. The regional government has started using many new technologies to rule the population. This includes surveillance cameras, DNA collection of most residents and GPS tracker installation in all cars.
One of the newest methods of surveillance that has been released by the Chinese government is an app called Jingwang (“Clean Net”). This app essentially allows the government to search the users entire phone for any suspicious activity, which the government says includes and overly religious content. Xinjiang residents were told on July 10th that they had 10 days to install the app. Then, checkpoints were installed around Xinjiang, where authorities would verify that each resident had downloaded the app. Some say that the Chinese government is using Xinjiang as an incubator to test out censorship methods, leaving us to wonder if these policies will ever go nationwide.
The international response to the events in Xinjiang has been varied. Many countries are complicit, giving the Chinese government their unwavering support due to the dependence many of these countries have on China economically. In the United States, Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey are leading a bipartisan movement to impose sanctions against the Chinese government for their abuses towards the Uyghur population. 15 other senators and representatives signed the letter calling for said sanctions, which was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The countless humanitarian crimes that the Chinese government had committed in Xinjiang makes it hard to believe that no countries have taken any sort of action to stop the suppression. It is truly heartbreaking to think that if the Chinese government continues to force Uyghurs into these “re-education camps”, the world may lose the Uyghur culture completely. This sort of cultural genocide must be stopped before we see severe damage to the rich Uyghur culture that had been around for centuries.
by: Erin Flaherty
Have you ever wondered why there’s a North and a South Dakota? Probably not, to be quite honest, but the reason why dates back to 1889 when the Dakota territory entered the union. Instead of entering as a single state, the territory split into two. This move was orchestrated by the Republican party, and would give the party more electoral votes in presidential elections. This sort of territorial trick is called gerrymandering, and it dates back to nearly 100 years before this particular incident.
Gerrymandering, by definition, is the manipulation of the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class. To put that into simpler terms, legislators will move around the boundaries of districts so their party wins more representatives despite being the minority in the state. If this still seems confusing to you, consider this example; if a five district state is made up of 40% Republicans and 60% Democrats, it’d make sense that the Republicans would win one or two of the districts. However, through gerrymandering, legislators could pack most of the Democrats into two districts and make them the minority in the other three, giving the Republicans a win in three districts instead. You might be thinking, “Does this actually happen?” or “Is that even legal?”. But you might know that this is actually fairly common in the United States, especially recently in some 2016 state representative elections.
But when did gerrymandering start? And why does it have such a peculiar name? Well, the first instance of gerrymandering dates back to 1788, when Patrick Henry, a founding father and a former governor of Virginia, convinced legislators in the state to redraw districts to give James Monroe a better chance against James Madison, which ultimately failed.
But the instance that coined the term was in 1812, when Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, passed a bill that created a strangely shaped district to stop the Federalist party from winning the election that many thought looked like a salamander. With the combination of his last name and the quaint shape of his new district, the legal method of vote manipulation was named.
After these two gerrymandering situations arose, Congress put in place the Apportionment Act of 1842, which required that congressional districts be as compact and contiguous as possible. However, gerrymandering still continued after this act. It is hard to argue that gerrymandering is actually against the law. This is because it doesn’t necessarily violate the Constitution and there is no established standard to judge cases off of. This is why many court cases against gerrymandering ultimately fail.
Gerrymandering has been brought to the attention of the Supreme Court several times in recent years. In October of 2017, the case of Gill v. Whitford, regarding gerrymandering in Wisconsin was brought to the Supreme Court. Wisconsin was a part of the REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) plan. This was a plan facilitated by Republicans that used sophisticated software to regain majorities in several states. In 2017, Wisconsin's republicans won 53 percent of the assembly vote but took 64 of 99 legislative seats. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court due to disagreement on whether legislators should continue to draw legislature boundaries or if it is necessary for judges to do this to prevent gerrymandering.
A standard by which gerrymandering can be measured was proposed during the Gill v. Whitford case, called the efficiency gap. This gap would “ count the number of votes each party wastes in an election to determine whether either party enjoyed a systematic advantage in turning votes into seats”, as described by the Brennan Center for Justice. This standard, that was developed by Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, at the University of Chicago Law School, still has its flaws. The results are only accurate if each district has an equal amount of people voting. It's hard to explain how this affects the formula that is used when calculating an efficiency gap, but when tested, a state where a party wins 60 percent of the vote and receives 60 percent of the seats is flagged for partisan gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court is also currently addressing the case of Benisek v. Lamone in regards to Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland. Seven of the eight congressional seats were taken by Democrats. The results of both cases are set to be decided sometime in June of 2018, and many are wondering what role the Supreme Court can and will have in cases of gerrymandering. The sides arguing against gerrymandering in both of these cases say that gerrymandering violates the first amendment’s protection of political association, and whether the Supreme Court agrees with this could potentially change the way that district lines are created.
Many wonder what the Supreme Court would be able to do to prevent gerrymandering. It’s unreasonable to ask that they overview every map, and even then, how would they evaluate them? One of the possible solutions that's already been implemented in the US is the use of independent commissions in the drawing of district lines. In most states, like Maryland and Wisconsin, lawmakers draw legislative in congressional districts. This leaves room for gerrymandering since the legislators draw their own boundaries and can easily manipulate them. Only a handful of states, however, have independent commissions where committee members draw districts. This helps keep politics and the potential for gerrymandering out of the process of drawing districts, since lawmakers and officials cannot be on the commission. Although it's impossible to create a commission that is free of any bias and partisanism, it seems like a great choice considering the success these states have had in avoiding gerrymandering scandals.
Another proposed solution is the use of advanced algorithms to insure the fair redrawing of districts. Brian Olson has developed an algorithm, somewhat similar to the efficiency gap, that puts into consideration how compact districts are and if they have equal amounts of voters when creating district maps. Still, this method has its flaws, as deciding the priorities and ideas that algorithms would use would ultimately still run into partisan disagreement.
The role that the Supreme Court will have in either implementing a solution to gerrymandering or letting the issue continue will speak volume on the matter of the true power of the citizens in the US. The refusal to choose a solution because of its possibility to be partisan in some way is nonsensical considering the alternative of allowing states to continue partisan gerrymandering. We will see throughout June what is the true limit of power on state legislators, because after all, is it the voters who choose their representatives or the representatives who choose their voters?
By: Erin Flaherty
In the past month, a handful of states have announced new mandates on natural gas plants. This has sparked controversy, as many have different opinions surrounding the productivity of natural gas. Some argue that mandates are jumping into renewable energy too quickly, saying that natural gas is the “”bridge fuel” that will help the energy transition, replacing coal while buying time for renewable energy to scale up”. Others argue that a “bridge fuel” is unnecessary, and that leaping from coal use to renewable energy is ideal for most states.
One state where the “bridge fuel” mentality is being seen is in Massachusetts. The state has a mandate to get 40% of its energy usage to clean energy by 2030. However instead of pulling projected plants out of Massachusetts, NRG Energy, a gas plant producer, is instead using this mandate as a way to justify more natural gas energy. Their spokesman David Gaiser said that “Unlike a nuclear plant or even a coal plant, if more renewables are integrated, [a gas plant] can be ramped up or down to accommodate them,” Construction of this gas plant has already begun.
In Arizona, however, using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” is not on the minds of regulators. These regulators have dismissed upcoming plans for gas plants and instead ordered the use of renewable energy. They also have put in place a 9 month moratorium on certain gas plants that are over 150 megawatts. This means that for 9 months, there will be a temporary ban on plants that have the power to produce over 150 megawatts of energy. Many of the state’s biggest plants are well over this limit, like the state’s second biggest natural gas plant, Gila River Generating Station, that has a capacity of 1,250 megawatts.
These new changes in the future of energy use in Arizona came as a surprise to many. Many officials from Arizona Public Service argue that natural gas and renewable energy should both be used, since Arizona has high demands for air-conditioning, consuming a profusion of the state’s available energy. Andrew Tobin, one of the regulators against the creation of new natural gas plants mandates, called what the state is demanding for new energy production erratic, saying that he is ” nervous that we will end up building a lot of capital plant that doesn’t stand the test of time.”
As states have been releasing these new mandates, many companies have been pulling their projected plans for new plants out of these states. Michigan released a mandate that calls for 15% of the state’s energy used for utilities to transition to renewable energy by 2021. Since this plan was released, CMS Energy (a natural gas company) has canceled their proposed expansion plans for plants outside of Detroit.
These 3 states have certainly set forward huge mandates for the future of their energy, but by far the state that is taking the most action towards lessening their use of natural gas and coal energy is California. In the future, the amount of natural gas resources in California will be rapidly declining. Robert B. Weisenmiller, the chairman of the California Energy Commission, even said that “at some point soon, we’ll be permitting the last gas plant in California”.
California's mandate states that 50% of all the state’s used energy must come from clean and renewable energy sources by 2030. California is already at the 30% mark of their goal. This mandate may seem impossible, but for California, it is quite possible, since wind and solar power are becoming increasingly popular in the state due to their affordability. The prices of both energies have gone down in the past years, and the amount of natural gas being used has fallen with it. Natural gas and coal usage for energy fell by 7.7% from 2016 to 2017, according to the Department of Energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted in their Energy Outlook released in 2015 that by 2050, we will have increased our usage of natural gas by almost 1%. However, they are now seeing a large unexpected decline in the supply of natural gas. If states continue to release mandates at the rate that they are now and truly implement policies to achieve them, we could be looking a significant decrease instead.
A decrease in natural gas production would have huge impacts, both economically and environmentally. Mark Jacobson, a professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, outlined in a recent study how the transition from natural gas to renewable energies would benefit the economy. In an interview with CNN, he said that when accounting for the jobs lost and created overall, 22 million more jobs would be created globally by this transition, and argued that “one does not need to believe in climate change to want to transition energy”, since the economic benefit would be so impactful.
The transition from natural gas energy to renewable energy could substantially lessen the issue of global warming that we are facing. Natural gas plants emit a high of 2 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. In comparison, wind turbines emit a high of 0.02 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per kilowatt-hour. The implementation of renewable energy sources would have a large impact on our issue of global warming, if implemented on a large scale.
By Erin Flaherty
On February 14th, 2018, at approximately 2:21 pm, Nicolas Cruz entered Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He proceeded to use his AR-15 style rifle to kill 17 students and staff, along with injuring more than 15 other students. The shooting has resulted in intense political discussion on gun violence around the country and even globally. But how has the town of Parkland been reacting to such tragedy? How have the survivors and family members of those lost been recovering?
Anthony Borges, a 15 year old student at Stoneman Douglas High School, is one of the many heroes that rose during the shooting. He was shot 5 times by the shooter while locking the door to his classroom, securing the lives of his 20 classmates. Like many other students who were injured, Anthony has started some of the many surgeries on his long road to recovery. When speaking on Anthony’s invitation to an FC Barcelona game in Spain, his father said that “when you see your child is happy, nothing else matters. The cost or effort involved is insignificant next to seeing your son happy.”
Many students from Stoneman Douglas High School have become powerful voices all over the news, most notably Emma González. An 18 year old survivor from Parkland, Emma has spoke at many events, including the CNN Town Hall and the March for Our Lives. Her powerful speech at the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. consisted of minutes of her silently standing on the stage, after which she then said “In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 more were injured, and everyone — absolutely everyone in the Douglas community — was forever altered,”.
Another survivor whose voice has been quite impactful is David Hogg, a 17 year old student at Parkland. During the shooting, Hogg was taking videos of what was going on around him and interviewing his classmates. "I want to show these people exactly what's going on when these children are facing bullets flying through classrooms and students are dying trying to get an education," , Hogg said to CNN. Since the shooting, Hogg has been all over the media, taking interviews with many sources like CNN and Fox. At the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., Hogg said in his speech that “to those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready”.
Hogg has been criticized by many for being “anti-gun” due to his criticism of the NRA. On Fox, David said that “We’re calling out the NRA a lot and 99.9 percent of the people that are in the NRA are responsible, safe gun owners and I respect them for that. Joining an organization that wants to support safe gun ownership is excellent.” He has stated to several sources that he is for the 2nd Amendment and does not believe in taking that right away, saying that "We have a right to live just as we have a right to bear arms". He simply believes that we should all advocate for “trying to save kids’ lives, what can be more nonpartisan than that?”
Having the students rise up ”is kind of a wake-up call for people, because it’s the kids saying ‘enough is enough’”, said the daughter of David Sanders, a teacher who had been killed in the Columbine shooting in April of 1999. She thinks that the students speaking up is more powerful than any adult could be, saying that “These kids are going to change the world”.
Other powerful voices that have been circulating the news are those of the family members who lost their children in the shooting. Andrew Pollack lost his daughter, Meadow Pollack, in the shooting. Meadow had just got accepted to Lynn University. “We’re here because my daughter has no voice — she was murdered last week, and she was taken from us, shot nine times,” Andrew said at a meeting with Trump.
During the same meeting, Trump pitched the idea of arming teachers and school faculty with weapons. In response to that, Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6 year old son Dylan at the Sandy Hook shooting in December of 2012, said that “Rather than arm them with a firearm, I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place”. In a survey done by The Washington Post, around 42% of those surveyed think that the shooting would have been prevented if teachers were armed, but 58% think that stricter gun control laws would have prevented the shooting.
Districts around the country have announced new policies to prevent such devastating shootings. The Irondequoit Police Department in New York has announced that they will be assigning 1 police officer to stay on school grounds in 15 schools around the area. As officer Bradley Lape from Irondequoit hit on, this would allow officers to familiarize themselves with the building and the students.
But what changes have happened within Parkland? The board members of the Broward County district in Parkland passed a 24-point resolution, calling on congress to ban assault weapons, strengthen background checks, and create larger gun-free perimeters around schools. Robert Runcie, the Superintendent of the district, has called for a 10 week investigation of the shooter’s academic and social history. This would included interviewing the staff that had worked with him and analyzing any social or emotional help he received.
Runcie also sent a notice out to the parents of the Broward County School District that covered their new ID and clear backpack policy. Students of Stoneman Douglas High School will be provided clear backpacks and IDs to carry at all times. Many students have mixed feelings about these new implementations. Kyra Parrow, who is a current senior at Stoneman Douglas High School, tweeted her opinion on it, saying that it was “making my school seem like jail now because legislators don’t have common sense gun reform on their agendas.”
There are hundreds of different stories that have rose from Parkland from students and families who are all facing different traumas. But one thing remains true through all of them: In the face of terror, the families and survivors of the Parkland shooting have came together to make their voices heard. They’ve shown their strength to the rest of the country, inspiring many others to stand up for what they believe will help our country avoid such tragedies.
By Erin Flaherty
As technology has developed, the state of the world’s economy has changed along with it. From the new opportunities it's opened up for businesses to run more efficiently, to the augmenting concerns of artificial intelligence taking the jobs of workers, technology has unarguably transformed labor economics worldwide.
The World Economic Forum, held yearly in Davos, Switzerland, has always had the same slogan, “committed to improving the state of the world”. However, it has had an ever changing agenda as issues surrounding the economy have been heavily affected by advancing technology. The forum has been held for over four decades and brings together world leaders of different economic views under various panels and discussion groups.
The forum’s three main categories of focus are global security issues, global consensus on issues, and mastering the fourth industrial revolution, which the organization that runs the forum claims is happening over the next decade, as technology is reshaping the economy as we know it. The organization says that “potential for positive global change exists at the intersection of these three challenges, and that progress will come through bringing together leaders from all walks of life to forge common understanding, purpose and, where appropriate, action”
The main discussions at this year’s event certainly reflect these focuses. Talk of rising cyber security issues dominated the conversation on global security. This year, the Managing Director of the forum announced the plan for a Global Centre for Cybersecurity in Genova, Switzerland. Most countries currently have private organizations to deal with the rising number of cyber attacks.
”The new Global Centre for Cybersecurity is designed as the first platform to tackle today’s cyber-risks in a truly global manner,” Alois Zwinggi, current Managing Director at the World Economic Forum and future head of the Global Centre for Cybersecurity stated.
The conversations on global issues and the fourth industrial revolution merged as new technology and its resulting consequences were discussed. One of the main concerns put forth was the inevitable possibility of artificial intelligence and automation replacing jobs. At a panel called “Putting Jobs Out of Work”, sociologist Arli Russell Hochschild stated that “I think we’re facing a crisis we aren’t talking about … we need continuing education [in response to automation]”.
Another issue is the implication of these new innovations. An initiative called “Closing the Skills Gap 2020” has been launched in order to encourage businesses to train their workers with the skills required for usage of artificial intelligence. 26 companies have already partnered with this plan and by 2020 nearly 8.1 million workers will be trained with new skills for the industrial changes to come.
This year’s forum has resulted in many plans of action priorly mentioned such as centers to focus on specific issues and technology training programs, but the main and biggest project announced is for the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The goal behind this center is to enhance the benefits of upcoming technology while controlling and minimizing the consequences. Huge companies and associations such as Microsoft and the American Heart Association have partnered with the center.
Plans like this distinguish this year’s forum in Davos from all previous ones. They show the initiative that the World Economic Forum is taking through announcing new programs and projects. If these centers are carried through and announced programs are implemented, they would be major steps towards the forum’s vision and commitment to improving the state of the world in the face of rising issues.