By Katherine Wang
In the traditionally male-dominated arena of politics, women of color are emerging as political leaders. Although they are small drops in ocean, their presence ripples throughout the country, creating currents of change. From Georgia to Texas, women such as Stacey Abrams and Lupe Valdez are winning nominations for governor, signifying the start of a new, transformative era of politics.
“We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s future. Where no one is unseen, no one is unheard, and no one is uninspired. We are writing a history of a Georgia where we prosper — together,” said Stacey Abrams in her victory speech. As the first black female to win the gubernatorial nomination from a major party (the Democratic Party), she signifies the growing power of black women in politics who use their identities to effect change in a dangerously stigmatized society. She has relentlessly advocated for women’s reproductive rights, higher quality education, and built the growing power of the Democratic party in Georgia. Even before she won the primaries, she already paved the way for other African-American women in politics by being “the first black woman to lead the Democrats in the Georgia House of Representatives as House minority leader” and founding an organization that helps fight voter suppression. Her rhetoric of hard work and personal narrative of determination captivates her voters, culminating in a 53-point landslide victory -- Abrams took 76.5% of the votes, whereas her opponent, Stacey Evans, took a mere 23.5% of the votes in Georgia. With her victory, she plans to “writ[e] the next chapter of Georgia's history, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one is uninspired."
And she’s not the only one. In the state of Texas, Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez made history by becoming the first Latina woman to win a gubernatorial nomination from a major party. "Tonight is a victory for all of us who are fighting for a stronger and fairer Texas. A tolerant and diverse Texas. A Texas where the everyday person has a voice and a fair shot -- just as I had," said Valdez. Although she faces endless struggles, such as a video released after her victory which criticized her weak stance on policy, Valdez has stated that her seemingly weak stance on policy issues will change once she is elected, where she plans to make use of expert opinion and consensus techniques. Valdez is committed to fighting the “uphill battle” against her next opponent, Republican Governor Greg Abbott, and it is an uphill battle that she will likely win — after all, her military and law enforcement experience, immigration stance, and working-class experience will capture the votes of many Latinos, which are crucial to her win. Unlike Governor Abbott, who supports certain aspects of a border wall, Valdez states that she will fight against a wall with everything that she has. She ardently opposes Senate Bill 4, which allowed local law enforcement officers to ask about one’s immigration status during typical interactions, such as a stop at a traffic light. Her pro-immigration stance will most likely be in favor of a large portion of the Texas citizenry.
What do Abrams’ and Valdez’s primary victories tell us about women in politics?
First, that women are rallying together to demand changes to the current political system -- from issues such as education and health care to women’s rights and more equal representation in Congress. According to Aimee Allison, president of the political organization Democracy in Color, “A powerful example lies in the more than 400 black women running for office this year. There’s also been a surge in Latina and Asian-American women seeking election, as well as a historic number of Native American women.” Recent issues have sparked women to step up to the plate and champion their own causes and propel change in Washington.
Second, that more and more people are planning to use their power to vote to create change in our society. The Texas primaries alone demonstrate that there is shockingly high voter turnout this year. Tara Golshan, the politics reporter of Vox, writes that the “Democrats doubled early voting turnout compared to the 2014 midterms and beat turnout numbers from the 2016 presidential election year by 4 percent.” Even though Texas may not be representative of the entire nation, the high rate of mobilization among voters in this Southern state known for its low voter interest rates sparks hope that the rest of the country will only be more eager to get out their votes. Particularly among women of color, an increase in mobilization leads to hope that more women can bring their voices to tables formerly dominated by white men.
Although a groundbreaking number of women of color are beginning to dominate the primary elections season, they still face a difficult battle before them. Their opponents will criticize them. Others will mock them for stepping beyond their boundaries. Still others will attempt to downplay their importance in bringing women forward in politics. But as long as these fearless women and their voters keep up their dedication and energy, they will definitely achieve their goals in November -- and that will only be the beginning.
By: Katherine Wang
In a sweeping gesture, China’s parliament voted to allow President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely, rousing both support for a more unified leadership and criticism of a potential dictatorship.
In a move to reform the existing political laws, China’s parliament voted to repeal the current presidential two-term limits as part of a broader package of constitutional amendments.
Their proposals also include a myriad of other factors:
Although these amendments are still fresh out of the parliament, China has already deeply incorporated these amendments into its political system. For instance, it has already censored images that criticize President Xi’s power grab on social media. Images of Winnie the Pooh (which, to some people, bears a striking resemblance to Xi) and search terms like “lifelong” and “emperor” have been removed from the internet and social media due to their subversive natures. According to a China policy analyst, “Dissenting is becoming riskier. The room for debate is becoming narrower. The risk of a policy mistake could become higher and correcting a flawed policy could take longer.”
Those who support the elimination of term limits believe that it will lead to a more efficient style of governing by unifying leadership and speeding up the pace of President Xi’s reform agenda. One spokesman for the National People’s Congress stated that "It's conducive to upholding the authority of the Central Committee of the party with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core and also to unify leadership. Also, it will help strengthen and improve the country's governance.” Instead of being a bureaucracy that is stuck in a slough of controversial issues, China should have one absolute ruler, these supporters state, so that decisions can be made more speedily and without resistance.
On the other hand, critics such as Li Datong, who was once an editor for the China Youth Daily newspaper, argue that these new constitutional amendments are a “historic retrogression”. Datong notes that “throughout history, only Chinese emperors and Mao Zedong had lifelong tenure until their deaths. And what came out of that was a disaster for the society and many painful lessons.” Datong and others believe that centralized control is the recipe for political catastrophes and something not fit for a country that is supposedly part of the modern world. “Most of the modern countries in the world adopt this two-term presidency. That's why people find it unbelievable that Xi is going to stay in power more than two terms," said a political commentator. Instead of acting like the global superpower that it is, China seems to be transforming back into its previous dynastic and dictatorial states -- a red flag towards many critics who have studied historical power dynamics.
Still, this amendment received more support than opposition in the National People’s Congress, with 2,958 people who voted in favor of passing it, two who opposed it, and three who abstained from voting at all. The future of China’s political system rests in the hands of these parliament members, as well as how the government interprets these amendments.
By Katherine Wang
A recent series of leaks exposes the secrets behind how wealthy political and celebrity figures and corporate giants evade taxes.
Made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Paradise Papers reveal offshore tax havens that protect the wealthy from paying their taxes. First leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, these 13.4 million documents have included stories of how Queen Elizabeth II, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and even Apple managed to avoid paying high taxes. For instance, Apple has avoided income taxes by shifting its earnings to complex offshore structures, allowing it to keep more than $128 billion free from taxation.
While the Paradise Papers focus on several companies, about 6.8 million of the 13.4 million documents come from Appleby, a Bermudan law firm that “caters to blue chip corporations and very wealthy people”. Appleby helps its customers establish offshore trusts, reduce their taxpaying burdens, and conceal their ownership of sizable assets like private aircrafts and real estate. Like all legal firms, Appleby uses the term PEP, or politically exposed persons, for clients with prominent profiles. The Paradise Papers focus on these PEPs, and how they have used tax havens to their advantage.
What exactly are these tax havens? Tax havens are countries where taxes are assessed at an extremely low rate. Some ways in which tax havens facilitate tax avoidance include corporate profit-shifting, in which a multinational company can book its profits in a country with low tax rates instead of the country where it actually makes its sales. Companies like Facebook and Google have been involved in this process to lowers their tax bills. Not only are they places where powerful companies evade taxes, but they also perpetuate inequality. Economist Gabriel Zucman states that tax havens “are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality. As inequality rises, offshore tax evasion is becoming an elite sport.”
Although they represent the fifth major leak of papers dealing with financial issues in the past four years, the Paradise Papers are unprecedented in their exposure of upper-end offshore dealings. Yes, the Panama Papers were the biggest leak of all, but the Paradise Papers concerned companies that were seen as part of the high end of town; while people might have dismissed the Panama Papers’ findings regarding Mossack Fonseca, they would definitely have not overlooked findings regarding Appleby, whose corporate clients include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank. Appleby was also named offshore firm of the year by Legal 500 UK. According to Gerard Ryle, this leak deals with the “gold-plated [companies]”, not “rogue players who would take any client”.
But why are the Paradise Papers significant? Not only are they dealing with roughly $10 trillion in the offshore financial centers, but they also bring to light concerns regarding global income inequality. They reveal the disproportionate impact the wealthy and powerful have on the law, and just how common it is for wealthy people to evade paying high tax rates without getting caught by the law. These papers have resulted in a myriad of investigations that have forced politicians and ministers from office. They will also put pressure on world leaders like Trump and Theresa May, who have promised to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes.
While the questions raised by the Paradise Papers do not deal with legal principles (as it is not illegal to establish companies abroad), they certainly deal with moral principles: Is it morally right for the wealthy to stash their money abroad and allow the taxpaying burden to fall on less fortunate citizens?
By Katherine Wang
For weeks, The Berkeley Patriot, a conservative student-run campus publication, meticulously planned out its long awaited event, Free Speech Week. Milo Yiannopoulos, the leader of this event organization, had invited notable speakers including political activist Pamela Geller, conservative commentator Ann Coulter, and fired Google engineer James Damore -- as well as other right-wing figures. His intent was to use free speech to “radicalize white youth” by opposing “academic leftists, social-justice organizations, and minorities”. Everything in this right-wing speaking event was going according to plan -- or so it seemed.
On the morning of event, the university sent out a message written by Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof: “It is extremely unfortunate that this announcement was made at the last minute, even as the university was in the process of spending significant sums of money and preparing for substantial disruption of campus life in order to provide the needed security for these events.” The first few words of the message only revealed a glimpse of the mounting disappointment towards the school’s lack of organization and dedication spent into preparing for the event.
Was the cancellation of this event a mere mistake on behalf of the school administration, or was it a purposeful action taken to limit Yiannopoulos’ campaign? This question pervaded the minds of students and citizens alike. Yiannopoulos brought further accusations against the school by stating that Berkeley had set unreasonable deadlines to secure indoor venues and pressured the students to cancel the event. He argued that the school had never intended to permit the event in the first place.
However, Mogulof defended the university’s intentions by stating, “Claims that this is somehow the outcome desired by the campus are without basis in fact. The university was prepared to do whatever was necessary to support the First Amendment rights of the student organization.” Berkeley, in fact, had already spent $600,000 on a speaking event last week, and it was willing to spend $1 million more “to make these events safe”.
Although figuring out the true intentions behind the university is difficult, the future implications of this event are more uncertain. To many, this cancellation can be seen as a small-scale obstacle in the school’s long-lasting struggle for free speech.
Looking back on the history of free speech in Berkeley, it is evident that free speech is facing more disruptions than ever before. In 1964, the students of Berkeley University planted their first seeds of protest for freedom of speech -- the Free Speech Movement. This movement, which was inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, rapidly spread to other college campuses; before long, the nation witnessed university students participating in an unparalleled wave of political and social activism. However, campus disruptions set a pattern for the last few decades of the 1900s, and by the time the 21st century arrived, there was a spike in the sensitivity of students, which led to an increase in disinvitations and shout-downs. This downward trend of free speech has led to increased awareness; as a result, the recent cancellation of Free Speech Week has prompted rising concerns towards the democratic nature of our society.
Therefore, our question should not be “Why did Berkeley cancel the speech event?” but “How are we going to fix this downhill trend of free speech on college campuses?”. Rather than focusing on minor events such as this current cancellation of free speech, we must step back and view the big picture; as a society, we must evaluate our current educational institutions and the importance they place on free speech.
By Katherine Wang
“TODAY WE MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
President Donald Trump’s tweet celebrating his victory on Election Day is now a trending hashtag used by his avid supporters. While some may cringe at the familiarity of this slogan, one fact remains true: it is undoubtedly one of Trump’s many tactics to continuously remind the media of his presence.
Presidential communication has long been regarded as vital to establishing trust between a government and its citizens. Naturally, many presidents have developed ingenious methods to communicate with their citizens, such as Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” or Dwight Eisenhower’s use of TV commercials. However, since his first campaign announcement in 2015 to his ongoing presidential term, President Trump has used an unconventional medium to engage with the public: social media, specifically Twitter.
Today, President Trump’s Twitter has 36.7 million followers and more than 35,000 tweets. Just one look at this account can reveal Trump’s remarks on current news and controversies prevalent throughout the US. It can also exhibit Trump’s popularity with other Twitter users, as well as his complaints towards certain individuals. Despite the seemingly unimportant cascade of news, Trump’s ability to navigate social media provides him with an invaluable asset in politics: the ability to converse with the public without any filters.
Trump’s Twitter conveys the idea of a politician who attempts to be transparent. In May, Trump posted his opposition to news outlets, tweeting, "The Fake News Media works hard at disparaging & demeaning my use of social media because they don't want America to hear the real story!” His firm belief against “Fake News Media”, including CNN and the New York Times, illustrates his desire to communicate with the American people without journalists crowding in his way. Essentially, Trump wants to give people the real, unaltered news without an in-between source.
In addition, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey defends Trump’s Twitter. While there have been many calls to ban Trump’s Twitter account, Dorsey believes that “it's really important to hold them [those in leadership] accountable… [I]t’s really important to have these conversations out in the open, rather than have them behind closed doors.” He brings up the alternative: “So if we're all to suddenly take these platforms away, where does it go? What happens? It goes in the dark. And I just don't think that's good for anyone.”
Trump’s tweets also hold accountability for his political actions. For instance, this June, Trump witnessed his own tweets being used to block his travel ban, with a US appeals court citing that his tweets are official statements that cannot be omitted or looked upon lightly. As a result, the court banned Trump’s order to prevent travelers from six Muslim countries from entering the US.
On the other hand, Twitter has also led to negative relations between the president and the people. According to CNN, about seven in 10 Americans believe that Trump’s tweeting habits are a precarious way to communicate, as they are often misunderstood. In fact, nearly half of Republicans believe that his tweets may be misleading to other world leaders. Furthermore, a Post-ABC poll records that more than two-thirds believe that his tweets can be insulting and inappropriate. Polls sometimes portray an accurate depiction of the public’s belief towards a certain event or action, and in this case, it is apparent that Trump’s tweets may not be effective in demonstrating proper etiquette for someone in a high position of leadership.
While Trump’s tweeting habits has its advantages (transparency and accountability) and disadvantages (improper behavior), it is certainly effective in establishing a relationship between the president and the public. However, whether that relationship is filled with trust or wariness differs among various individuals. Trump’s Twitter account serves as a reminder of FDR’s “fireside chats” -- a unique and innovative method in vocalizing his beliefs towards his citizens.
By Katherine Wang
President Donald Trump’s dramatic firing of FBI director James Comey has aroused a political explosion of both anger and approval in the American public.
On Tuesday, May 9th, President Trump fired Comey as a result of several factors. Trump claimed that it was due to Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email investigation, but the press argued that it arose from personal tensions in Trump and Comey’s relationship and the FBI’s Russian inquiry. Although the relative importance of each of these factors is still being debated, they are predominantly agreed upon by the majority to be the main causes of Comey’s dismissal.
In a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with respect to Comey’s dismissal, Rosenstein wrote that Comey’s termination was due to his recommendation that Clinton not face criminal charges for her private email server while she served as Secretary of State. In addition, Comey chose not to turn over his findings concerning Clinton’s email to federal prosecutors. This incident set off bitter tensions between Trump and Comey, with Trump arguing that Clinton was being shielded by a powerful and rigged system. Furthermore, Trump’s administration suspects that Comey has been investigating into US-Russia relations. Although the truth behind this factor is still being heavily debated, it is one of the largest impacts behind the constitutionality of this dismissal.
However, the majority of citizens are not nearly concerned with the reasons behind Comey’s dismissal as much as their concern with the broader impacts on the extent of presidential powers and Constitutional implications.
For years, Comey has been viewed as an independent, non-political leader of a crucial government agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Trump’s firing of Comey has provoked to suspicions over the president’s executive powers. If Trump finds a more favorable -- someone who is more submissive and less independent -- FBI director, then suspicions will arise regarding his intent to co-opt an investigative team in his favor. Any slight attempt to weaken the checks and balances system will lead to a public outrage over the accountability of the Supreme Court and Congress to investigate the incident.
Comey’s dismissal has also precipitated in debates regarding the constitutionality of a president’s ability to fire the person who is responsible for investigating the legality of his campaigns and various activities. The day following the firing, a debate ensued among law professors. Some professors, such as ACLU’s legal director, argued that it was a grave public concern when the dismissal of the FBI director correlated with the FBI’s criminal investigation into Russia. Others argued that the president was constitutionally justified to fire principal officers; in other words, Trump’s actions did not violate the Constitution itself.
There have been many parallels drawn between President Trump’s Comey firing and Richard Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre”. In 1973, President Nixon fired the Watergate Special Prosecutor Cox in order to cover up his political scandal. This historical precedent led to a constitutional crisis and public displays of anger; in a similar manner, Trump’s dismissal of Comey could lead to questions concerning his possible relations with Russia.
While the majority of the public appears angered and suspicious at Trump’s sudden timing and decision to fire Comey, there are many others who express their approval. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 29 percent of citizens approve of Trump’s decision, 38 percent disapprove, and 32 percent hold no opinion. Those who approve of Comey’s dismissal believe that it will maintain the integrity of the FBI and bring a fresh, new start to a crucial agency.
The debate between those who oppose and support Trump’s firing of Comey has extended to politicians and citizens alike. Unfortunately, this debate brings to light the a democracy’s worst fear: distrust in the populous. If the people are doubting those in elected positions, it will cause more populist sentiment -- the exact reason behind Trump’s election in the first place. Trump’s campaign as an outsider is evidently being questioned as a result of his relations with Russia. Ultimately, questions concerning the Constitution and executive power will inevitably emerge as the forefront of a democratic government’s response to an impending executive crisis.