by Camille Shen
At its creation, the New York Specialized High School System presented an avenue of opportunity for those without wealth, privilege, or a family name. In an effort to value pure merit rather than background, eight magnet schools offer a world-class education, free of charge, to the city’s brightest students: those who earn a high score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT. For years, the children of impoverished Jewish families dominated these schools, which still remain racially homogeneous today – though now, an influx of Asian-American immigrants have taken their place, while admissions for other minority groups have only abated. Due to rising investments into the New York educational system, one side sees black and Latino students as systematically disadvantaged, while the other side believes that low-income Asian students gain admission through rigorous preparation; to rectify this issue, New York City ought to increase funding for middle schools in impoverished areas to narrow the preparation disparity and invest in the academic potential of low-income minority students.
Emboldened by the injustice of racial inequity, one side believes the current educational system inherently stymies the academic endeavors of black and Latino students. Many of these students find themselves ill-equipped to perform well on the SHSAT and thus comprise just slivers of specialized schools’ populations. In fact, Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times finds that though this demographic “make[s] up nearly 70% of New York City’s public school system as a whole”, they accounted for a mere “10% of students admitted into... specialized high schools”, with Stuyvesant, one specialized city school, “offer[ing] just seven out of 895 slots...to black students”. The chilling reality of this disparity lies not with the academic incapabilities of black and Latino students, but rather, with the public school system that fails to prepare them in the first place. In desperate need of proper funding, such schools simply do not possess the teachers, resources, or capacity to prepare students for the advanced concepts encompassed by the SHSAT. Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic expounds the direct correlation between low-income schools and a lack of educational opportunities, noting that “poorer communities...have less local resources...and a harder time attracting the best teachers”, leading to an overall deficit in “both economic and social capital resources” for their students. Given that nearly all black and Latino students in New York City attend these majority low-income schools, those already crippled by poverty find that they must also hurdle the numerous educational barriers strewn on their pathways to upward social mobility. The black and Latino students locked out of these prestigious institutions remain relegated to a perpetual cycle of generational poverty that stems from inadequate education. Lacking a proper foundation of knowledge, most black and Latino students struggle on the exam, leaving them underrepresented in elite high schools and without comparable educational options. This perspective maintains that the scarcity of black and Latino students at specialized schools derives from their maltreatment by the structure of public education as a whole.
Conversely, the opposite side contends that many of the Asian-American students at specialized high schools also come from low-income backgrounds but surmount these hardships to excel on the SHSAT. Often, poor Asian-American families will scrape together every penny to afford expensive prep classes for their children in hopes of securing them a spot at a specialized school. This mentality is a defining characteristic of Asian households; in my own family, education is non-negotiable. Rooted in a cultural belief that education breeds success, my parents were willing to spend thousands of dollars for a full-time summer program dedicated to preparing students to take the SAT. For us, it meant sacrificing a sunny stint in Europe. But for others, the costs of test preparation could mean forgoing heat, light, or gas– for months. Indeed, a study conducted by New York University affirmed that the city’s majority-Asian neighborhoods are more economically depressed than that of other racial demographics, with less than one quarter of the residing Asian adults possessing an undergraduate degree or higher. This bleak reality falls far from the “model minority” perception of Asian-Americans as high-earning, white-collar citizens. Rather, it echoes the story of the working-class immigrant that New York’s specialized high school system was designed to help in the first place. Like other children of first-generation immigrants, the wheels of my life often revolve around the axle of hard work and the idea that nothing comes free; thus, Asian-American parents believe that the SHSAT is simply another test that can be conquered with enough determination– and hours poring over practice exams. Through this lens of results-oriented dedication, Asian-Americans conclude they rightfully earned the seats allotted to them the same way anyone else could have attained one. As such, this opposing viewpoint believes that impoverished Asian-Americans succeed on the SHSAT by virtue of their unique cultural upbringing, prioritizing the exam as a passage to prosperity.
In order to close the gaping racial disparity in specialized schools, New York City ought to increase funding for middle schools in impoverished areas and decrease the budget for the Department of Corrections. Allocating more funds to public education in low-income districts targets the academic inequity at its root: the systemic correlation between poor neighborhoods and poor education. Although public schools in low-income areas of the city receive slightly more funding in the status quo than their affluent counterparts, the vast discrepancies between schools with the highest and lowest levels of impoverished students renders the difference ineffectual. This disparity becomes profoundly critical as increased school spending has led to a prominent development in student learning. Black and Latino students living in low-income neighborhoods not only lack access to and means for test preparation, but underfunded public schools leave them without a foundation to perform well on the advanced SHSAT. However, with well-financed schools, poverty-stricken students from all minority racial backgrounds – African-American, Latino, and Asian-American – will reap the benefits of more enriched academic resources, alleviating the need for expensive test preparation as the sole means to pass the SHSAT. Further, financing the costs of such indispensable resources could easily come from the city’s ever-expanding budget for the Department of Corrections. A 2017 report from New York City’s Comptroller’s office revealed that despite record-low prison populations, annual costs continue to ascend due to “mismanagement” and “failure of accountability”. By redirecting squandered funds to public schools, the city both reduces bureaucratic inefficiency within one agency and buttresses another in dire need of repair. This appropriation acts as an investment in the city’s future, one where not only the white, privileged, and wealthy can expect to succeed, but also those whose abilities have been historically hampered by a system of educational inequity.
While one perspective asserts that black and Latino students face intrinsic disadvantages in the structure of education, others affirm that Asian-American students overcome their own economic burdens to earn admission into specialized schools; nonetheless, increasing funding for impoverished middle schools would bolster academic preparedness across all low-income ethnic groups. One hundred years ago, New York City was the symbol of the American dream. To this day, the city’s symbolic landmark – the Statue of Liberty – still proudly beckons over the “poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to reverse their fortunes and achieve prosperity. New York City public magnet schools ought to do the same for the city’s disadvantaged and impoverished, and open the door for its own young, brilliant minds who, too, yearn for a better future.
by Jonathan Nemetz
On January 18th, two-thirds of students in the Los Angeles United School District didn’t show up for school. It wasn’t because of a freak snowstorm in the city, or because of Los Angeles’ famously gridlocked traffic, but because of the solidarity that the local community had decided to throw behind the 30,000 teachers and education workers who had been striking that week. Since the 16th, teachers had been striking for reforms to their working conditions and compensation as a part of the first strike of its kind in the city in over thirty years.
Originally, the teachers were protesting for increased wages, smaller classroom sizes, and regulations on charter schools, which were seen as shifting funds out of the public district and into private hands.
Looking at the district that these teachers are striking from, it isn’t hard to see why the educators walked out on the 16th. While the district claims the average class size is about twenty-six students, 35% of the classes can still range from thirty to forty students per teacher. On top of that, another 6% of teachers have to manage over forty students in a single class period. Teachers fear that they aren’t able to adequately teach or control classrooms that are so large, and the personal connections that can make education so compelling are often lost in a large environment.
In addition, Los Angeles school teachers have had problems in the past with securing wages that make sense for the relatively expensive area. While Los Angeles teachers make, on average, $76,000 annually, this usually is not enough to cover local costs of rent and transportation. Cities with similarly expensive costs such as New York compensate for the higher cost of living in the area by offering average wages closer to $88,000. This high cost of living in Los Angeles means that teachers cannot afford to live locally, with many of them having to commute into their work from over an hour away.
However, negotiations for improvements to these conditions were initially stalled.
Even after twenty months of negotiation between the Los Angeles United School District and United Teachers Los Angeles, both sides could not agree to a deal as neither side would budge on particular issues important to the groups that they represented. While small differences could be negotiated, like the difference between a 6% and 6.5% pay raise, other disagreements proved harder to bridge. While the union requested an $800 million allocation at minimum towards more support staff such as nurses, librarians, and counselors, the school district said that they could only come up with about one-eighth of the initial request. On the topic of class sizes, conflicts grew even larger as the school district met the union’s hopes of a thirty-student class cap with a cap of thirty-five students on select subjects, far from what they had hoped.
Above all, though, looms the fear of charter schools for many teachers. Already, the Los Angeles school district has more students enrolled in charter schools than in any other district in the nation, and before the strikes, that trend was only growing. With political backing from wealthy and famous icons of the city, such as Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, charter schools have received generous amounts of public funding that go towards private use. Despite having ⅕ of LA students, their funding is disproportionately high for that amount of students, funnelling away more equitable funding. School administrators say that charter schools are much more effective ways to create efficient schools, especially those in low-income communities, where the combination of public and private capital is especially useful. Due to the fact that they benefit from both the oversight and reliability of public funds, as well as the autonomy and wealth of private capital, the marriage of these two systems supposedly makes schools more productive at a lower cost. Due to the often more rigid structures, some students, especially minorities, get effects from public schools as if they attended 36 more days of school because of how much more instruction is included in curriculums as an efficiency measure.
However, teachers are afraid that these charter schools are diverting money that could be used for their undersupplied classrooms, into the pockets of wealthy charter school owners. With The rising popularity of charter schools is a source of anxiety for many school teachers, who fear that their already thin budgets will be further stretched with the construction of more and more charter schools. After national charter school enrollees reach 2 million students in 2013, that number has only continued to climb, but the funding allocated has not. That is why the 1,000 charter school educators that are a part of the union report drops in as much as $2,000 annually in salary when switching to charter schools as they try to cut costs. This not only reduces who wants to go into education and their well being in it, but also takes out of things such as a school’s budget for basic school supplies for their students.
During the six day strike though, teachers were clear that the strike wasn’t just about their pay and their funding, but about the educational system in the city as a whole. Steven Bilek, a union representative and science teacher at Paul Revere Middle School said that “the idea that teachers just want a raise is just not true”. Rather, teachers argued they were striking for better educations for their students. In a district where 80% of the families are eligible for food assistance programs, support that students receive at school is everything. Many students in the LA United School District rely on the counselors and nurses of the schools. But as funding for support staff that fill those roles are pulled back, teachers fear that those sources of stability in students’ lives will be gone. Yet this isn’t just a fear for well being, but also in the past, mental health has been proven to be a major indicator of a low income child’s success. A study by the Urban Institute determined that 21% of low income families would see mental health problems that could seriously harm a student’s performance if not properly addressed. Yet with a reduction in funding for school counselors, that much needed attention may not arrive for the low income families most susceptible to it.
However, these fears were addressed on January 22nd, when the school district and teachers’ union both announced that they had reached a labor deal that would end the teachers strike. Alex Caputo-Pearl, the head of Teachers United Los Angeles, called the deal ‘historic’ in the progress it will make towards better equipping local schools for problems that teachers have been facing for years. While the raise was not as generous as teachers had hoped (with no change to the initial offer of a 6% raise), there was still a lot for teachers to be happy about when they returned to classes on Wednesday.
One of the most important parts of the deal was the commitment to health in the schools. Whereas before, most schools were only given funding to have one nurse present, one day a week, the district has now pledged to have at least one full time nurse in all schools next year to help reduce the strain on school’s discretionary budgets that often were drained paying for extra days for the nurse.
Class sizes were also set to be reduced, but it would be a slow process. Now, most schools will reduce their student-per-class limit by one for next year. It will then be reduced by two for the following year, and three for the year after that and so on. At the moment this is going to continue for an indefinite amount of years, hopefully a sign that in a few years, schools will be adjusted to more manageable class sizes.
However, some of the biggest advancements came from outside of the contract. In this school year, Los Angeles has added its name to the list of teachers from Oklahoma, to West Virginia, to Arizona who have all gone on strike for better conditions. As tensions from charter schools grow, and states continue to lower education spending, it seems unlikely that strikes will stop any time soon. But as the Los Angeles strike showed, productive and cooperative change from both sides is still possible and is still happening in our country.
By Jed Boyle
On November 6 2018, voters went to the polls. Despite the bouts of Americans biting their nails that evening, by midnight, it became clear that voters delivered a stunning rebuke of President Trump. Facing their worst Senate map in history, Democrats limited their losses to just two seats. They picked up seven governorships, seven state legislative chambers, and 40 seats in House of Representatives, thus capturing control of the chamber.
In the days following the midterm elections, however, a number of questions emerged: would Democrats retain Pelosi as their leader and return her to the speakership? Or would moderate Democrats that won promising to oppose Pelosi prevent that from happening? The media attention focused on one type of freshman Congressperson - the progressive. However, they failed to mention a different brand: the moderate.
These moderates would likely be part of an often overlooked group - the Problem Solvers Caucus. The Problem Solvers Caucus is a bipartisan group of congressman chaired by Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Tom Reed (R-NY). There are about the same number of Republicans as Democrats. Now that the Democrats control the House, the focus will mostly be on the Democratic members.
A central focus of the new majority was who would become the speaker of the house. Nancy Pelosi was Speaker before the Republicans captured the House in 2010. She became a figure of disdain and was often the target of many Republican attack ads. However, her supporters say she is a legislative genius and vital for fundraising efforts. Her critics, on the other hand, say that the 78 year old Congresswoman is taking positions that should belong to younger leadership in an increasingly young and diverse party. As a result, many freshmen pledged not to support her for speaker and won in their districts on that promise. In fact, 50 Democratic candidates in total pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker.
After the Democrats retook the house, Nancy Pelosi set to work getting votes for her to be Speaker again. In her path to the speakership, Pelosi had to make promises and compromises to opposition. Many of those who opposed her were members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. To quote an article from the New York Times, “Ms. Pelosi, of California, has traded committee assignments, promises to prioritize lawmakers’ pet issues, rules changes to empower centrists and, ultimately, to relinquish her speakership.” In order to convince the Problem Solvers of her commitment to their goals, Pelosi has bargained by offering committee assignments to Caucus members, rule changes to uplift centrists, and, most notable of all, a promise to relinquish her speakership in 2020. After these abundant negotiations, Pelosi was able to seize just enough votes to become Speaker.
This is a prime example of the influence the Problem Solvers Caucus has had and could have in this new Congress. They may push the Democratic Party further toward the center, away from the progressive direction it appears to be going in right now. Furthermore, they might try to push bipartisan legislation on issues like immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, the opioid epidemic, and an infrastructure package.
The Problem Solvers have been known to attempt to push legislation to break the gridlock in Washington, but they have faced multiple criticisms. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin has criticized the group as being merely a fast track for lobbyists. It has also faced criticism as a hack for vulnerable incumbents to win re-election. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), for instance, barely won a tough battle for re-election this year and utilized his membership multiple times in the debates and just about every time he spoke in public.
The Republican members have voted with their party 93% of the time ,and Tom Reed, one of the co-chairs of the committee voted for the Republican-led 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Some on the progressive side claim it is a front for conservatives to push their policies. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has said that they have no track record whatsoever, and has termed it a “political cover operation.” Reportedly, even Republican staffers say that the caucus has not gotten anything done.
No matter the underlying purpose, there is no doubt that the Problem Solvers Caucus will have a large impact on this Congress. It is unknown how the caucus will impact the investigations of President Trump that will likely soon begin. However, it is very likely that they will attempt to curtail the power of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. It is also likely that they will sometimes serve as a foil to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican leadership. Tom Reed, as mentioned earlier, a co-chair, voted with the Democrats to end the recent government shutdown. During the middle of the shutdown, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus went to the White House to meet with President Trump. However, it seems as if nothing was accomplished in that meeting. Freshman representative Max Rose (D-NY) said, “The president spent a lot of time with us, the vice president spent a lot of time with us, his team spent a lot of time with us. This is about trust building and opening the government back up. It’s a very slow process.”
Since President Trump never got the border wall he so desired, many speculate that he will close the government again. Some wonder if the Problems Solver’s Caucus will play a role in solving the next potential shutdown. Others question if the Caucus might try to break with the Democrats (like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia did) and support a shutdown deal with a wall in it. Representative Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) says that if experts say a wall is what is necessary, he would support a deal with funding for the wall. However, many Republicans found themselves in unexpectedly competitive races this year and just want this whole charade to end. So the question is, will the Problem Solvers work to change Washington? Or it it just for politics? Time will tell.
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 Caroline Sha
Race. Nothing has determined the lives of so many people than this construct. From slavery to affirmative action, it has been a source of fierce contention in politics since the founding of the nation. In fact, it is such a complex topic that today, even some of the most liberal politicians can still manage to fall while tiptoeing around it. Elizabeth Warren learned this the hard way when she released a DNA test which supposedly proved that she had a Native American ancestor. Warren has openly touted having an indigenous predecessor for years, attracting taunts of “Pocahontas” and accusations that she lied about her heritage on university and job applications. Though Warren has railed against the racism latent in these statements and published proof on her website that her reported Native American ancestry played no role in advancing her career, many, such as Donald Trump, have continued to mock her. As a result, Warren decided to ask Stanford scientist Carlos Bustamante to perform a genetic test which revealed that although she was largely white, her DNA, when compared to the DNA of those from places such as Peru and Mexico, did show that she did have an indigenous ancestor six to ten generations ago. Though these results may seem like a positive gain for Warren, the actual act of taking the test has garnered outrage from the very group she sought to win over.
The heavy criticism Warren faces from various tribes results from their perception that she is utilizing genetics as representation of native heritage. The Cherokee Nation decrees that "using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong”. By basically conflating her genetic results with undeniable proof that she is truly Native American, Warren advances the view that race is the determining factor in tribal heritage. According to many tribes, this type of thinking takes away their sovereignty in determining membership. Rather, it gives the power of deciding identity to genetics, as opposed to the Native concept of close social ties. In fact, the reason Bustamante could not use Native DNA as a reference for his test was that mistrust of racial genetic testing and their potential ramifications for tribal autonomy have stopped many from the Native community from offering up their blood. After all, the study of heredity in America has historically been used as a tool of white supremacy. For example, starting from the 1700s, the federal government enacted blood quantum laws to limit the growth of tribes. Under this system, federal employees recorded how much “Indian blood” individuals had and used those records to decide who could be considered a part of a tribe. Often, because of ignorance toward Native definitions of membership , people were falsely marked as “full blood” or non-natives based solely on appearance, not actual involvement with a certain tribe. This was problematic as white settlers basically redefined “Native American” as a race, throwing out previously established tribal standards for native identity. To many, Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test echoes this cultural imperialism, suggesting that she, a non-indigenous person, can choose her own interpretation of native heritage, and override existing indigenous benchmarks.
But will this tarnish on Warren's progressive image harm her in the context of her future political career? Though a likely hurdle for her presidential run in 2020, this misstep doesn’t seem to be completely destructive. Despite her base caring ever more about racial issues, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 60% of Democrats still have a favorable view of her. Moreover, on the republican side, the criticism against Warren for her DNA test has been scant. Though Donald Trump recently tweeted a meme about Warren’s results, it carried the same message and intensity as the attacks he made before this controversy. While issues such as climate change, immigration, and the economy take their place as the top issues of the 2020 race, Warren’s blunder may not come back to bite her.
By Mason Krohn
For most of the FDA researchers at the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, May 3, 2017 was a somewhat uneventful day — except for those who kept their eyes peeled on the campus televisions. Alas, as a leaked email from the department reveals, the Trump administration instructed the department to lock every screen in the building on the Fox News channel. The lack of remotes and plethora of Laura Ingrahams yelling into the halls of the FDA may seem inconsequential, but, in truth, the gesture symbolizes the growing conservative tilt within health agencies under the Trump administration. As RPR contributor Injae Lee investigated, within his first year in office, Trump banned words including “evidence-based”, “fetus”, and “transgender” from CDC reports. Furthermore, in surveys conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 32 percent of FDA staff and 48 percent of CDC workers reported that the consideration of political interests at the agencies hinder science-based decision making. The Trump administration has even gone so far as to terminate federal recognition of trans identities by commanding the Department of Health and Human Services to alter the definition of gender under Title IX. In all cases, it appears that the federal government is chipping away at the research and study of LGBTQ+ issues through politicized attacks. However, these curtailments of governmental science are minor when compared to the slow and silent persecution of transgender communities perpetuated by the FDA, the healthcare system, and the pharmaceutical market in the form of injectable estrogen shortages.
For trans women, high doses of injectable estrogen are necessary to achieve desired feminine characteristics such as curvy hips, breasts, thinning face and hair growth. Though medical intervention is not necessary to be considered trans, a great amount of trans people opt for hormone therapy as a life-saving tool to alleviate their gender dysphoria. Researchers note that, for many patients, sex reassignment therapy (including hormone therapy) contributes to significant reductions in anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, hostility, and overall psychoneurotic distress. Any reduction in these symptoms is vital for members of the trans community in America, which faces a suicide rate 26 times the national average as reported by the largest survey of trans Americans to date. As renowned actress of Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox, eloquently remarked, “Healthcare for trans women is a necessity. It is not elective. It is not cosmetic. It is life saving.”
Regardless of the evident cruciality of trans medical access, the path to hormone therapy is strenuous.Trans women seeking estrogen injections must first seek out a provider to write out a prescription. It seems like a simple task, but for trans women, this procedure is laden with barriers. First of all, 31 percent of transgender Americans lack regular access to health care. Discrepancies in access stem from stigma and ignorance from healthcare professionals; in fact, 22 percent of transgender people report avoiding doctors for fear of discrimination, which is of particular concern for sexual minorities in rural areas. Under the Church Amendments passed by Congress in the 1970s, medical practitioners in the United States reserve the right to reject any patients if the service contradicts their religion. Hence, even if trans women can overcome the fear of stigma, many doctors can turn them away out of hostility or sometimes out of pure lack of experience with trans patients. After all, in a Stanford University School of Medicine report, only 40 out of 132 U.S. and Canadian medical schools included content on gender transition in their curricula. Ultimately, stigma, inexperience, and legal discrimination have driven transgender patients away from medical spaces.
After jumping through the many hoops of trans primary care, severe shortages of injectable estrogen compound the difficulties of hormone therapy. Presently, a duopoly controls the market for injectable estrogen, leaving trans women with Delestrogen (a product of Par Pharmaceuticals) or Estradiol Valerate (a generic manufactured by Perrigo). A shortage of both substances commenced in July of 2016 and endured until June 12, 2017, but the only reasoning listed by the FDA was “shortage of an inactive ingredient component” for Estradiol Valerate and “other” for Delestrogen”. When the 2016 shortages took effect, Perrigo refused requests for comment by the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, and Vice, offering no explanation for their withdrawal from the market. Par Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, disclosed that when their supplier of Delestrogen’s main active ingredient pulled out, they had to alter their supply chain. By August 9, 2016 (within a month of the shortage commencing), Par representatives stated that thousands of Delestrogen vials were ready for sale. Nevertheless, Par had to await FDA approval of its new supplier before distributing the new Delestrogen. Therefore, the FDA is culpable for injectable estrogen shortages for over 10 months. It is understandable for the FDA to review the manufacturer for safety concerns, however, given the nature of the shortage, the FDA’s disregard for timeliness is more of an affront to the trans community than a sign of caution. Moreover, the FDA’s long winded scrutiny is suspicious given that there are 17 estrogen medications with approval from the FDA for cisgender menopausal women. Due to partial FDA incompetence and the lack of distributors in this field, trans women were left to suffer the consequences.
The question then arises: how did trans women who had been injecting high doses of estrogen last almost a year without any available supply? For some, the shortage entailed turning to the black market. Vendors on Deep Web marketplaces like Hansa and Valhalla link trans women to illicit producers largely based in India and the Philippines. Participating in these markets is dangerous, because hormones found there might be diluted or laced with harmful ingredients including but not limited to chalk and boric acid. Unfortunately, the only alternatives to the black market are estrogen pills or patches. Pills are less effective than injectable estrogen vials, come in lower doses than necessary, and pose the risk of blood clots. Patches are prohibitively expensive and are just as ineffectual as pills. At the end of the day, the shortage left trans women vulnerable and cut back on the progress many of them achieved with hormonal therapy.
Even though the combined shortage of Delestrogen and Estradiol Valerate concluded last year, the supply of injectable estrogen is still broadly sporadic and inaccessible. The cheaper generic, Estradiol Valerate, has repeatedly gone out of stock; in fact, the FDA currently lists the drug as “in shortage”. Hence, trans women’s only option is the name brand version, which is often outside of their budgetary restraints. Even then, Delestrogen tends to only be available in urban areas with steady demand, including New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. For Par Pharmaceuticals, there is little incentive to keep a supply in rural pharmacies, given that the trans community is only 0.6% of the US population and many trans Americans move to urban areas. Since Par faces little competition in the field, it can single-handedly decide the fate of trans citizens seeking hormone therapy by deciding price and distribution of the product.
So long as market barriers remain steep, no trans woman can count on the ready availability of the next prescription of estrogen. Without this access, issues of gender dysphoria and outrageously high suicide rates that are already alarming will proliferate in the trans community. Put simply, a quintessential treatment has been withheld from a disadvantaged group. It ultimately prompts the question: would trans women still face this reality if, instead of Fox News clamors, it was their painful stories that reverberated through the halls of the FDA?
by Camille Shen
In the wake of Tumblr’s recent ban of all adult content site-wide, user stravinskow commented, “I can’t believe the last meme of 2018 is tumblr’s death.” Stravinskow’s lamentation is just one of many in the flood of complaints, criticism, and of course, memes against Tumblr’s latest corporate decision to censor “not-suitable-for-work” content. This modification was precipitated by the blogging site’s removal from the App Store in November due to the existence of child pornography on the website, but still came as a sudden shock to many. Now, as users ready themselves to press “f” to pay respects to Tumblr as a whole, it is likely that their beloved community is indeed in danger of an early funeral– even if the platform itself survives.
This is not the first time Apple has removed an app from its store for violating its guidelines. In 2015, it pulled the plug on a war-simulation game for portraying a real terrorist group as the enemy, and more recently, an app formed by a religious group that denounced homosexuality as sin. As a private market, Apple has every right to discern what goes on its “shelves” for consumers to buy and download– even if it means purgation of more popular apps, such as Tumblr. And without Apple’s permission to sell a product in their sanitized, wholesome environment, starting or maintaining a mobile business is nearly impossible. So from this perspective, Tumblr’s decision makes sense: if it wants to survive, at least in our pockets, it needs to stay on Apple’s good side.
But the pull from the App Store was just one deciding factor for Tumblr to prohibit all NSFW content. In fact, the ban was a long time coming: according to Vox, the company could not continue selling ad space next to the pornographic content that often appeared on its website. This decline in profits was part of a series of disastrous years after Yahoo famously bought Tumblr for over a billion dollars in 2013. Since then, Yahoo has written down the blogging site’s value to a less than half of that: a mere $482 million. Now, both Yahoo and Tumblr have become Verizon’s newest acquisitions, and the telecommunications giant plans on learning from Yahoo’s mistakes by finding a way to profit off of the huge fandoms and communities comprised of young people. And, as it seems, the only way to maximize profits is to monetize safe-for-work content and discard the rest.
But what does this mean for Tumblr users? It is no secret that Tumblr has had a problem with porn and porn bots since its early days– many users have called for their removal on multiple occasions, though never with any success. However, while 20% of people on Tumblr consume pornographic content, it is only produced by 1% of its users. The vast majority that this ban affects are regular people participating in niche communities: artists, writers, cosplayers, and other content creators. So, decidedly not child predators, but rather, users who produce NSFW content for specifically targeted audiences. While Tumblr has attempted to differentiate between sexually artistic expression (allowed, in most capacities) and sexual obscenities (prohibited), the rudimentary algorithm it hastily implemented has created a blurred line between the two and left many mistakes in between. In fact, a post that has now gone viral shows that the Tumblr staff’s post announcing the new nudity policy was flagged as inappropriate by its own algorithm. This is just one example of the countless incorrect bans of safe-for-work content, ranging from memes to cat pictures to even classical paintings of Jesus Christ. There is a fine line between nudity used in a sexual context and nudity used for educational or artistic purposes– one that Tumblr expects a few lines of simple code to walk.
But moreover, to institute a blanket ban on all adult content, including the particularly vague “female-presenting nipples”, would stifle the culture of open discussion of sexuality that Tumblr has built its success upon. A large part of the adult content that existed on Tumblr was aimed at the queer community and celebrated a sexuality that is often rejected by mainstream media. This exposure to a spectrum of normalized sexuality was especially important to marginalized LGBT+ groups, who often cannot find accessible and secure spaces to bond over sexual identity. Now that “female-presenting nipples” have been banned, many queer women find their interests and orientation vilified by yet another popular social platform, discouraging further discourse and interaction within LGBT+ communities. In addition, sex workers who appealed to queer groups once flocked to Tumblr for its low-risk, easy-to-use structure and free communication around the topic of sex. After the ban, they are left to search the Internet for an alternative, though few websites exist that are safe and suitable for their line of work. Queer and sexual communities, paired with the staggering number of fandoms, constitute the overwhelming majority of Tumblr’s user base. As they flee to other websites in wake of the purge, they take with them an undeniably vital aspect to Tumblr’s identity: uncensored self-expression. Now, what is left is a pale imitation of “positivity” marked by the fear of flagged content and banned blogs.
But even after a torrent of scathing criticism from its users and speculation of imminent collapse circulating the Internet, Tumblr probably isn’t going anywhere– for the time being, at least. The reality is that there simply aren’t many better alternatives to such a uniquely structured, established blogging site: other platforms similar to Tumblr are either still in beta mode or have dwindling user populations, such as the ancient LiveJournal, the start-up PillowFort, and the new Twitter-like Mastodon. Fearing they will lose an audience and community that is often built up over several years, most users are planning to stay on Tumblr and adapt to the new policy change, whether they like it or not. In this sense, the ban may prove beneficial for Tumblr, and perhaps be the change it “needed” all along to foster growth: it will easily be able to monetize more content and generate more ad revenue than before, even if it means giving up some users in the process.
However, the ban will only ensure that the business side of Tumblr makes it out alive. It won’t meet its end here, but by destroying its hundreds of niche fandoms and communities, it certainly will lose what made it different. Tumblr was once a space for people to candidly and unashamedly express themselves, and that is what gave them the edge over hyper-sanitized, more mainstream platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. This is not to mention the pivotal role it’s played in the growth of Internet culture, absurdist gen Z humor, and of course, the modern meme. Now, the latest memes about the ban all share a similar theme: whether it is “staff” shooting “tumblr” in the head, “staff” as Oprah freely handing out bans, or “staff” as the iceberg that S.S. Tumblr is headed toward, corporate always seems to be the bad guy. And for good reason, too– because at the end of the day, it won’t be Tumblr the company that takes the fall, but Tumblr the community.
By Shiam Kannan
Recently, support for a plan which used to be a fringe idea espoused only by the leftward-most members of Congress has been gaining traction within the mainstream Democratic party. Its name? “Medicare for All.” At first glance, the idea certainly sounds compelling. After all, who wouldn’t like free, universal healthcare? However, this program, just like any other form of centralization, would be devastating to the economy (the healthcare industry in particular), and would certainly cause the national debt to skyrocket. America’s healthcare system is definitely flawed, but more government is not the answer.
To analyze the effects of the Medicare for All legislation, it is important to look at what the plan actually entails. Under this single-payer plan, tax revenue collected by the federal government would be used to pay for everyone’s healthcare. The plan would have very low, if any, copays and deductibles, and would ensure that Americans’ healthcare status is not dependent on employment. All current government-sponsored healthcare programs, such as Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and CHIP, would be eliminated and replaced with a single Medicare for All system. The proposed single-payer legislation would outlaw private and employee-sponsored healthcare plans which provide any of the same services the government provides. These are certainly ambitious ideas, and a lot of them are very appealing, so it is no surprise to see how quickly the Democratic Party has jumped onto the Medicare for All bandwagon. But a closer look at the effects of the plan show that it is most definitely not the right path for America to take.
Perhaps the biggest concern involving Medicare for All is its effect on federal spending. According to a study done by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the single-payer plan would cost a whopping $32.6 trillion over the first 10 years following its enactment. The same study projects that federal healthcare spending, as a result of this plan, would total over 10 percent of the American GDP by 2022. The costliness of single-payer stems from several factors. The plan makes the federal government responsible for basically all of the healthcare spending in the United States. In addition, the plan greatly expands the number of services that federal insurance covers. Of course, this massive hike in spending leaves us to wonder how we are going to pay for Medicare for All. In short, we aren’t. Because we legitimately can’t. Even if the corporate tax rate and every personal income tax bracket were doubled, the cost for this program would still not be covered. Therefore, if enacted, Medicare for All would end up as just another monstrosity of a federal entitlement program, eating up more and more of the budget every year while driving up the debt.
However, this program would not only be harmful from a governmental perspective, but also an economic one. If we are going to conjecture the effectiveness of Medicare for All, it would do us good to look at an existing example of socialized medicine in America: the Veterans Affairs system (VA). The VA scandal in 2014 revealed the inefficiency of government healthcare for our veterans, as many were placed on waiting lists for months on end (the average wait time for all veterans was an appalling 115 days for initial care), with some of them committing suicide while waiting for healthcare. If the government cannot even properly administer healthcare to our veterans, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision how terrible government healthcare for 315 million Americans would be.
Defenders of socialized medicine frequently point to single-payer systems in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other European countries, claiming that if it works there, it should work here. But is it really working in Europe? Let’s take a closer look. Earlier this year, the NHS, Britain’s government healthcare system, cancelled over 50,000 non-urgent operations due to an overload on the system, following claims from British physicians that their patients had to endure “third world” conditions. The overload was due to a spike in winter flu, and left many patients with the disease waiting for over 12 hours to receive treatment. This scenario illustrates one of the worst aspects of government healthcare: rationing. When the government controls all the healthcare, if the system is overloaded, the government gets to decide who receives treatment and who doesn’t. If the condition of a patient is bad enough, government rationing could very easily be a matter of life or death for him or her. And even worse? Rationing is inevitable if healthcare is socialized. It’s basic economics: all resources are finite. The market will always allocate these resources more efficiently than a centralized authority. If a centralized authority is in charge of allocating healthcare resources, then it has the power, essentially, to determine who lives and who dies. I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly a power I would feel comfortable with the government having. If I had a serious injury, I wouldn’t want to be hauled off to a hospital, only to be denied service because the government determined that someone else’s condition was more severe.
Even if we were somehow able to magically make the laws of economics disappear and eliminate the rationing problem, socialized medicine still would have negative consequences on the people it should supposedly help. Let’s go back to the United Kingdom for a moment. It is a fact that the British spend far less than the United States on healthcare. But they also receive less. The United Kingdom has fewer doctors and nurses per capita than most other developed nations, and patients have less access to technologies such as MRIs and CT scanners than in the United States. It should come as no surprise that British doctors and nurses are also paid much less than healthcare professionals in the United States. Once again, the laws of economics prevail. Human beings are driven by the profit motive. When you turn physicians into government employees and pay them a public sector salary, less people want to become doctors. Therefore, the supply of healthcare decreases, which then feeds into the rationing problem discussed earlier.
However, the havoc that single-payer would wreak on the United States does not change the fact that our current healthcare system is flawed, and in dire need of reform. But real reform, which would help all Americans get quality, affordable healthcare, has to go the other way. Reform should be driven by decentralization and deregulation, not government ownership of an entire industry. Some policies we should implement include allowing insurers to sell healthcare plans across state lines, and allowing people to import prescription medications from foreign countries, such as Canada. Such legislation would increase competition, and drive down healthcare costs. Most importantly, we must repeal Obamacare and its onerous burdens on the healthcare industry. Such regulations as the 10 Essential Health Benefits (EHB) mandate do nothing more than make health insurance plans more expensive, by forcing people to buy coverage for services they may never need. For example, maternity/newborn care is included as one of the essential health benefits that all healthcare plans must cover. Obviously, this coverage is useless for demographics such as young, single men, who biologically cannot bear children; nonetheless, due to Obamacare’s EHB mandate, they cannot buy cheaper plans which don’t cover this service. Obamacare has also driven healthcare costs up at a faster rate than if the law were not implemented, which only goes to show that government intervention in the economy, however well-intentioned, only ends up harming the people it attempts to help.
Our healthcare system has many issues, not least of which are rising costs. But big government is not the solution. While the proponents of Medicare for All have good intentions, they are proposing an overly simplistic solution to a complex problem. The answer to America’s healthcare crisis is less government, not more, and the sooner members of Congress across the aisle come to realize this, the sooner we can fix this issue. But it is neither wise nor sensible to implement a $32 trillion behemoth of a government program which will only serve to accelerate our perpetual debt, while doing nothing to help, if not actively hurting, patients and consumers throughout the country.
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 Raheel Abubakar
All throughout 2018, multiple sources from the Business Insider to NPR to CNN referred to Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, as the “former cricket champ playboy turned politician”. However after Pakistan has endured decades of corruption on every political platform, his populist and inspirational view should spark hope for Pakistanis all around the world. Whether it’s my own parents cheering from the couch or the 20 million homeless people in Pakistan who just found out that they might have a future.
However, to understand their plight, it’s imperative to look back to see how Pakistan got into this state. There has always been a presence of corruption in Pakistan since its establishment in 1947, but they have reached global attention with two major events: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the trial of Nawaz Sharif.
After the the previous Prime Minister died in a plane crash, Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988. She was the first female Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history, and she served for two non-consecutive terms from 1988-1990 and then 1993-1996. Despite her prolonged presidency, Benazir Bhutto was infamous for her embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Pakistani people, massive corruption with her husband, and allegations of being involved in the controversial murder of her brother. The Bhutto family is equally as notorious with their long line of corrupt leaders who pulled the strings on Pakistan’s government. After returning from an eight-year self-imposed exile, her homecoming rally was hit by a suicide attack which killed 136 people. Given the state of crisis, Prime Minister Musharraf declared a state of emergency, which Bhutto opposed greatly. She then threatened to take her supporters to the streets in protest of the state of emergency which got her sentenced to house arrest for nine days. Then, on December 27th, 2007, shots were fire and a bomb went off killing 27 and wounding 100. Benazir Bhutto was killed when her head hit a part of the sunroof in her vehicle. In response, protests erupted around all around Pakistan’s most populated city, Karachi, and eventually all of Pakistan’s major cities. Her supporters threw rocks at hospitals, smashed windows, and burned cars on the street. By the time the riots were over, more 100 cars were burned and the protests alone killed 11 people in Karachi.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination became an impetus for Pakistanis to analyze their own sentiments and became one of the most divisive times in the nation’s history.
Upon her death, a culture of distrust was established. It was in this climate that Nawaz Sharif rose to power. Nawaz Sharif worked closely with Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza Bhutto, to undermine Benazir Bhutto’s government and expose her corruption. Then, when Murtaza Bhutto was killed, controversy followed and accusations went straight for Benazir Bhutto. This series of events is what lead to her downfall and self-exile in 1996. Nawaz Sharif then took his second non-consecutive term and maintained power for two years, from 1997-1999. (His first term was from 1990-1999). He is a dedicated defender of military manipulation and the autocrat protector of the aristocracy. His anti-corruption claims fell quickly and he maintained his power through military control. Nevertheless, he was re-elected for his third non-consecutive term in 2013. This four-year rule was what lead to the controversy that became the final straw for Pakistan. After not being able to show a money trail for how Sharif’s family could afford such expensive and luxurious apartments in London, the Pakistani Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption and sentenced him and his family to ten years in prison.
With prime ministers toppling each other’s regimes, and family politics becoming a dangerous game of backstabbing, mysterious shootouts, and bureaucratic betrayal it is no surprise that faith in government has diminished. 91% of Pakistanis are dissatisfied with how things are going and just 24% believe the government has a good influence on the nation.
But it’s for this very reason that Imran Khan’s victory is so crucial. In the western world, he is mostly known for his record cricket career, but in Pakistan his policy, not his bat is what’s bringing hope to the lower class. His foreign policy sets a standard that Pakistan will no longer play the role of the pawn in global affairs nor simply a nuclear fear anymore. He wants to set a mutually beneficial agreement with the United States and he is willing to try for peace with their arch-enemy, India. He has even endorsed ideas of doing talks about the Kashmir to stabilize the region’s conflict, which is a prime concern of most Indians and Pakistanis. He believes that resolving the Kashmir conflict could be the stepping stone for cooperation between Pakistan and India for food security, energy, and joint civil-nuclear activities.
As for China, Pakistan’s new best friend, Imran Khan will visit Beijing next month to discuss the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China’s economic influence on Karachi has become a contentious issue as Pakistan becomes China’s latest project in its Belt and Road Initiative. Imran Khan’s ability to pay back the billions of dollars loaned out by China for infrastructure will be a test of his capacity to lead the country. Unfortunately, Imran Khan is quite limited in the moves he can make to repay this debt. Pakistan’s main exports, textiles and rice, currently lack the infrastructure to mass produce, which can be both beneficial but very detrimental depending on how it plays out. If Pakistan does establish this infrastructure then it would hugely benefit their economy and lower its current debts, but that is a big “if”. Incapable of paying for these large-scale projects, Pakistan has relied on Chinese construction. China is known for wanting to establish their own infrastructure in foreign countries to gain influence and gain revenue, but if China builds the groundwork for Pakistan’s textile and agriculture industry, then it would only increase their iron grip on Pakistan.
Corruption in Pakistan has also been due to the country’s volume of state-sponsored terrorism and funding to groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After United States aid was unsuccessful to combat terrorism in the region under Nawaz Sharif, the Executive Branch froze over 800 million dollars in military aid based on claims that Pakistan inadequately responded to militant groups in the region. While that is true, it should be noted that this state-sponsored terrorism happened under the Nawaz Sharif regime. Now that Pakistan is under Imran Khan’s leadership and he is fighting corruption of foreign aid, it would be opportune for the U.S. to release some of the frozen aid and place higher levels of accountability on the aid. With these provisions, the U.S. could observe how much the corruption has actually changed, adjusting our aid depending on Pakistan’s success in undermining militants. Instead of shutting the door on cooperating with Pakistan, cooperation should come first as it will steer Pakistan away from Chinese influence and on the right path. In truth, if we can regain influence in Pakistan at the beginning of the Imran Khan era, then we can forge a friendship beyond the corruption and upon a world-class cricketer.