By Julia Roos
What defines art? We know by now that art is not confined to brush strokes on a canvas, since art is even found in the clothes we wear. Fashion brands dedicate their businesses to create wearable art; to encompass expression, emotion, and inspiration. Many designers look to other countries and cultures for inspiration. Enter: cultural appropriation. Often referred to as misappropriation, cultural appropriation occurs when fashion brands are accused of trivializing and misinterpreting non-European artifacts in a way that disrespects and exploits a minority culture for the prospect of financial gain. But is all cultural appropriation done with malicious intent? The fashion industry embodies the opposing arguments: is cultural appropriation beneficial or harmful to society? Cultural appropriation can take many forms, and it is up to the public's interpretation of the designs to determine if they are acceptable or not.
A clear criterion for cultural appropriation is using sacred artifacts of a culture as an accessory. Gucci showed a traditional Sikh turban during their 2018 Autumn/Winter show. The use of the headdress on the runway reduced a sacred element of the Sikh religion to a “trend” for a season. The item, sold as the “Indy Full Head Wrap,” represents one of the five articles of faith and symbolizes spirituality. This action establishes a problem that transcends the act of just exploiting indigenous designs. When designers’ are inspired by another culture, it is often a historically marginalized one. The people of the Sikh religion habitually deal with persecution and discrimination for wearing a turban that Gucci could retail for hundreds of dollars. When it comes to introducing cultural elements on the runway, especially those regarding religion, it is the brand’s responsibility to understand the symbolism and the religious practices associated with it before advertising it as an accessory.
The real issue, however, lies in the realm of social media outrage and sensitivity. Self-appointed “woke” users on social media litigate numerous, and often harmless, acts of cultural appropriation against popular fashion companies. The first issue of Vogue Arabia launched In March of 2017, with American model Gigi Hadid on the cover. Embellished in a heavily jeweled veil, Hadid faced criticism for appropriating Middle Eastern culture, even though she is half-Palestinian and her father is Muslim. Critics argued that she should not be wearing a hijab because she is not Arab enough to represent the region on the cover. A person’s ability to wear pieces that are inspired by their own heritage should not be shamed by social media users. Cultural appropriation allegations have become so frequent and popular because “the term [has] trickled into mainstream fashion discourse, becoming a buzz-word.” Discussion about offenses like cultural appropriation are important to have and are good measures to take for change. However, most online users have misguided judgements.
Cultural appropriation claims limit innovation and self-expression and therefore hinders cross-cultural appreciation. It is an important aspect of fashion, as “cultural exchange and the intermingling of forms, ideas and styles [...] are at the heart of the creative enterprise.” The power of cultural inspiration can be seen at fashion’s biggest night: the MET Gala. Every year the attendees dress according to the varying themes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The Gala provides an opportunity for designers to celebrate various cultures through their garments with themes like Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. The most renowned garment that has ever walked the MET Gala’s red carpet was Rihanna’s dress during the 2015 theme China, Through the Looking Glass. This theme provided an opportunity for designers, celebrities, and viewers to reflect on China’s influence on Western fashion and culture. Rihanna wore a regal, yellow, fur-lined cape embroidered with floral scrolls created by Chinese designer Guo Pei. The dress is celebrated for its tactful appreciation of Chinese culture that allows for education through wearable art.
For the Dior 2020 Cruise Collection, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri gracefully connected African and European culture that celebrated collaboration and globalization. The fashion show was located in Marrakech, a city in Morocco, and the theme of cultural exchange was prevalent as the Moroccon inspiration of color and craftsmanship was deeply rooted in the collection. Chiuri appointed local artists, artisans, and designers to help fuel her design aesthetic. This is an example of a designer doing the right thing regarding the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Designers should be consulting artists of the targeted culture to educate themselves while creating a collection to appreciate and not appropriate that culture.
Regardless of the context, cultural appropriation will always be seen as a negative action. However, the notion that artists should not use elements of other cultures would be counterproductive for society. To try to untangle all ties of culture is impossible, “and the impulse to do so is ahistorical and philistine.” Truly innovative ideas arise only when the inspirations of culture are mixed. Society needs to reframe the construct of appropriation in fashion as a discussion of ideas and inspiration, not an act of malice. At times this “inspiration” is carelessly and excessively offensive; other times the utilization of another culture is artistically purposeful. At times the controversy sparked from these productions is pettily misinformed; other times the discussion is enlightening. Fashion is a language, and we should use it to spread knowledge, inspiration, and positivity.
By Jedson Boyle
Over a century ago, the railroad was virtually the only way that Americans would travel from city to city. In fact, in 1916, 98 percent of intercity travel was done by train. However, around that same time, Henry Ford began production of the first automobile that the average American could buy. Fast forward to 1970, the year of Amtrak's creation, and the railroad industry was broadly displaced by a system of highways and widespread ownership of cars, meaning most Americans seldom traveled by rail.
In order to rescue passenger rail services from near collapse, Congress passed the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act, unifying twenty of the railroad companies in the United States into the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, typically known as Amtrak. Amtrak was still a for-profit organization, but it was to be owned and controlled by the U.S. government. Despite its nationwide presence, Amtrak has not drawn a profit in any year since its creation, and this year the (relatively) new CEO Richard Anderson, is trying to put a stop to that streak. Although the initial goal of Amtrak was to connect all of America by railroad, Anderson posits that it might be better if the federal government cut down on certain routes. After all, Amtrak services a variety of routes that differ in distance, demand, and profitability.
The first category of Amtrak routes are those that run short paths along the East Coast, the most famous being the Acela Express (the line that runs from Boston, to New York, to D.C.). There are 26 of these routes and they carry 25.8 million passengers per year, comprising approximately 80 percent of Amtrak’s ridership. These are the lines that Amtrak generates a profit from, most likely because they are less time-exhaustive alternatives to flying between East Coast travel hubs. For instance, a train ride from New Jersey to D.C. may require less time than a flight from Newark to Dulles.
The other type of passenger rail service that Amtrak offers is long-distance routes, which are the routes that connect one part of the country to the other instead of just major cities in the same geographical regions. An example of this would be the Southwest Chief line connecting Chicago to Los Angeles or the Silver Star which connects New York to Miami. It is these routes that cost Amtrak money and prevent them from reaching a point of profitability. Even though most riders on long distance routes do not travel the whole route, these trains often go through less populated areas with lower ridership. In fact, ridership was down 4 percent on long-distance routes in 2018 alone.
Another major problem with these long-distance routes is that the trains on those routes tend to be late, only making it to the destination on schedule around 43 percent of the time. Most of the 21,400 miles of track utilized by Amtrak are owned by freight companies. Only 3 percent of the track is owned by Amtrak itself. Although federal law states that Amtrak trains have priority over freight, freight railroads often disobey this regulation. Freight companies are incentivized to flout this federal policy because the DOJ has only brought one enforcement action against a freight company throughout Amtrak’s history. Resultantly, the long-distance routes’ reputation for lateness has driven away potential riders, because delays don’t make an already long and grueling trip any more enticing.
It is not surprising that it is the long-distance routes that Anderson wants to cut, or even completely eliminate. Anderson has made it clear that he regards these routes as only appealing to “hobbyists” and “experience seekers,” groups that do not make up a large share of the population. Anderson reasons that, the distances between major cities outside the Northeast Corridor are so vast, no one will ride from endpoint to endpoint. Therefore, he believes, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in routes that don’t draw a profit.
However, not everyone shares this vision. “Not one element of Anderson’s stated rationale stands up to even superficial scrutiny. The easiest place to start is the nonsense about customers of the company’s business segment being mere ‘experience seekers.’” writes President Andrew Selden of the United Rail Passenger Alliance. “Catering to ‘experience seekers’ is a huge, profitable and rapidly growing business. Except apparently at Amtrak.” On the other hand, proponents of Anderson’s vision would argue that, while the tourism industry is large and rather profitable, most families don’t have the time (or the patience) to spend two days on the Empire Builder (a long-distance line that runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland) to say, Spokane, Washington, as beautiful as the scenery may be.
Now the answer to Amtrak’s profitability problems seems simple, and that is to just cut the long-distance routes. But remember, Amtrak is publicly funded, and to keep funding from Congress, Amtrak has an obligation to consider the demands of congresspeople. Thus, cutting routes from, say, Kansas, might lose the support of Kansas’s Senator Jerry Moran (who happens to be fighting Amtrak over the Southwest Chief). And why should Senator Moran vote to fund Amtrak if Amtrak isn’t doing anything for his state or his voters?
Another wild card is former Vice President Joe Biden, often nicknamed “Amtrak Joe” who may be elected president this year. As a Senator for 36 years, Biden rode the Amtrak to and from Wilmington, Delaware each day on his way to work, and if he is elected president, Amtrak likely can count on receiving plenty of funding but may be subject to new political stipulations.
Just like any corporation or for-profit organization, Amtrak leadership must walk a very fine line. Allow Amtrak to turn a profit for the first time in history, but not anger too many members of Congress. Given the inherent contradiction in these two goals, this task will prove to be quite a challenge. It may no longer be 1916, and the American railroad may never relive its glory days, but if Richard Anderson succeeds, Amtrak could restore America’s status as a railroad capital. Only time will tell if Anderson’s plan truly gets Amtrak back on track.
By Benny Sun
“I begged them to kill me” Here, Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur Muslim, describes her experiences in China’s infamous Muslim re-education facilities, evoking historic sentiments similar to those found during Nazi Germany’s brutal persecution of Jews in the 1930s and its meager international response. “I still have scars on my body from the constant beatings and pain in my wrists and ankles from the chains. I cannot hear on my right ear caused by heavy beatings”. As a sufferer under China’s systematic oppression, Mihrigul Tursun’s experiences are not a rare occurrence, but rather a part of a broader trend towards authoritarianism and human rights abuse now being propped up by the digital and internet age. With innovations in computer science, such as social media and artificial intelligence rapidly increasing, so too is a voracious wave of “techno-dystopia” utilizations that are threatening to sweep Asian countries in a flood of increasingly intrusive and prevalent surveillance.
A prominent manifestation of the surveillance state in Asia is China’s attempt to dismantle the livelihoods of ethnic Muslims across the Chinese region. Since its military occupation by China in the 1950s, the communist party has utilized the autonomous region of Xinjiang as a prison to oppress 10 million Uighur Muslim minorities through constant surveillance, burdensome restrictions, and dehumanizing policies. As a part of China’s “de-extremification policy”, Chinese officials attempt to coerce Uighur Muslims into relinquishing their Muslim beliefs and praising Chinese communist ideology. While China notoriously describes the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang as a part of the “peaceful vocational process” to inhibit “religious extremism” and “separatism”, investigative reports from the Economist, in contrast, paint a horrific narrative of coercive torture and inflicted violence.
Armed with state-of-the-art recognition software from recent technological advances which can distinguish between different facial features and skin tones, Chinese authorities can effortlessly target and track the movements of individual Uighurs. Every piece of biological data imaginable is entered into government records, with China storing fingerprints, blood samples, and voice recordings for each Uighur individual. On the internet, every single word on online chatrooms and social media is monitored by authorities where a single jab against the Chinese Communist Party may mean the difference between freedom and confinement. Overall, by silencing the minority voice through the extreme censorship of political expression, China has erected a technological surveillance state similar to that found in Orwell’s 1984, almost following it faithfully like a guidebook on the repression of rights.
China’s experiment in Xinjiang has also become a standard to be replicated by other authoritarian countries, with China exporting the same surveillance technology to over 60 countries, including Iran, Venezuela, and now India. Amid the rise of anti-Islamic views and Hindu-nationalism spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more Muslims are increasingly under the control of blatantly exclusionary policies and enhanced government surveillance. For instance, over the summer of 2019, Modi passed legislation that erased the statehood for two Muslim-majority regions, Jammu and Kashmir. Modi also kicked off around nearly 2 million Muslims from citizenship in India, causing a divisive domestic and international uproar among Muslims who all protest in large groups across the country to fight off Modi’s tyranny. Unfortunately, this only served as a pretext for India’s further expansion of repression through surveillance and technology.
When delving more deeply into India’s treatment of its Muslim-majority regions, one can see glaring resemblances to China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. In these regions, India has cut off internet access and mobile and postal communication, measures even more extreme than those in China, isolating millions of Indian Muslims from the global world. In Kashmir, Chinese corporation Hikvision has set up thousands of CCTV surveillance systems, and India has also utilized its drones to monitor local mosques and movements of Muslims in India. Unfortunately, under this expanding surveillance state, this technology has already been used to oppress, with law enforcement agencies in India in February using facial recognition software to identify over 1,100 individuals at a recent riot for Muslim rights. Unlike China, however, there is still some hope left for India’s minority population; recently, local groups and even the United Nations Human Rights Council have sued Modi’s administration under India’s Supreme Court for violating an article under the Constitution which promotes equality among all citizens in India. As many of the justices in the Indian Supreme Court have been critical of Modi’s previous actions, many hope that their judgment could roll back months of racist legislation originating from Modi’s religious war on Muslim Indians. Even still, these actions cannot unduly reverse the destructive effects of Modi’s surveillance regime.
However, without regarding the consequences of religious discrimination, China’s and India’s actions betray the possible rise of a broader, dangerous trend across Asia this pattern of mass surveillance continues, a multitude of consequences could result. First and foremost, their actions could embolden dictatorships and democracies to encroach upon the precious privacy of its citizens, enabling politicians to discriminate against entire populations based on race, religion, and gender. On the bright side, although the Western World has adopted surveillance to monitor its people, Time Magazine writer Charlie Campbell explains that “Western democracies have enacted safeguards to protect citizens… while China [seeks]... to exploit it and weaponize it”. China’s actions to utilize its technology could leave behind a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world to follow, where more susceptible democracies such as Bolivia and South Africa could perceive China’s surveillance expansion as a greenlight to strip away their citizen’s own privacy as well. Therefore, many see China’s rise in surveillance sales as a new opportunity for China to export its model of authoritarianism and dictatorship over democratic ideals.
Moreover, the rise of techno-digital dystopia could be further impacted by other crises, primarily China’s own coronavirus outbreak. With a rising number of coronavirus cases quickly becoming a global pandemic, New York University’s Rina Chandran predicts that Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand could be using the COVID-19 epidemic to clamp down on free speech via the use of Big Data to and AI to track and locate protestors of their governance. Unfortunately, by suppressing potential criticisms in these governments, it is also slowing down the spread of awareness for the Coronavirus. For instance, China, expanding its surveillance technology from Xinjiang into the mainland, imposed strict information controls while also arresting and punishing people who criticized Chinese authorities for mishandling the outbreak. “There’s a danger that when you increase surveillance and information controls, it can undermine the public health system,” said Chandran, who cites the instance of a Chinese doctor who initially warned the international community about the virus and was subsequently arrested.
With more governments in Asia seeking surveillance as a method to control crises and gain greater control, many must first understand the political implications of such a decision: it’s potential to drive dictatorship and fall under corruption. Thus, Chandran concludes: “Surveillance itself can never be a solution”.
By Ellee Tomaru
Two is company and three’s a party… but what is more than three? Competition. Netflix is being bombarded with not three but five rising streaming competitors: Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Prime Video and HBO Max, and Hulu plus. What once was a solo market is being flooded with content, so how will Netflix hold under the growing pressure? Netflix, the original streaming service from 2007, has held all the power in the streaming world until recently. Luckily, Netflix has three main factors on it’s side: Netflix Originals, a wide variety of content, and the decline of cable.
A large source of Netflix’s attraction is its addictive original content. This is a key component because in 2018, 57 percent of streaming consumers said that they had subscribed to access original content. Netflix originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror have people hooked. What makes these originals so original, to say the least, is that they are catered to a specific audience, rather than attempting to satisfy a wide audience. Many plotlines of other TV shows are told through a filter, needing approval from various audiences. The creators of Netflix Originals are able to create content to cater to a specific viewer. Forbes found that “an approximate 13% of ex-Netflix users signed up again to watch the third season of Stranger Things.” People would rather re-subscribe to Netflix than miss a season of the action-packed Stranger Things. According to Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, around 85% of Netflix’s spending will be going towards new original content–around $8 billion. So we should begin to see a myriad of original content coming our way which will inevitably keep Netflix relevant into future decades.
Netflix is also suitable for any age range or types of interest, unlike Disney Plus. While I can count all the types of content Disney Plus has released on my one hand (Disney Originals, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic), “Netflix’s originals slate for 2018 includes 80 films, ranging from “sub-indie” low-budget pictures to ‘100 million blockbusters.’” Netflix is an endless library offering over 13,300 films and tv shows worldwide. That’s another advantage that Netflix has over the competition. Netflix is experienced. Netflix is on a global level. Netflix is on an adaptable degree. Most of these newer streaming services such as Disney Plus are still testing the waters and are limited globally. For instance, Disney Plus currently is only offered in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. On the other hand, Netflix is available globally in over 190 countries. Additionally, Netflix is adaptable to all types of streaming devices such as Rokus, Chromecasts, Fire TV Sticks, Game Consoles, phones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops, Blu-ray players, and cable box providers such as Dish, RCN, and Xfinity. This wide variety of content, countries, and capacity gives Netflix the accessibility that most streaming services lack.
And lastly, Netflix should not be concerned about their relevance or revenue in the oncoming years because luckily for them, cable is on the decline. No one has the patience to sit through commercials anymore. Everyone is switching to subscription streaming services. It’s not a question of which, but how many. According to Market Watch, the average monthly cable bill of 2019 was $157, while most popular streaming platforms are under $20 a month. Given that everyone has become obsessed with binging TV shows and watching select movies, cable TV has become a thing of the past. Conclusively, people will be willing to spend the $157 budgeted for cable on multiple streaming services to escape the ads and tailor to their specific interests. This projection has already taken action as Deloitte Insight’s survey from 2019 found that a higher percentage of households subscribe to a streaming service rather than traditional pay TV and 44% of respondents said that “no ads” was the reason they switched over to streaming services. Fortunately for Netflix, with the decline of traditional tv services already beginning, consumers already pay for an average of 3 streaming services and with Netflix being the largest, they should not fret about losing subscribers just yet. With the added benefit of having name recognition, Netflix is an easy choice for consumers when switching over from cable.
Conclusively, Netflix will stand strong with their addictive originals, range of attraction, and the decline of cable. So what if there is growing competition?
By Benny Sun
On September 16th, 2015, Martin Shrekli, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur known as “ Pharma Bro” and infamous for his online feud with the Wu-Tang Clan, acquired the living-saving drug Daraprim which had initially cost $13 per pill. The very next day, he jacked up the price up to $750 – a price hike of over 5000%. Soon Shrekli became the most hated face in America, an embodiment of the greed of the pharmaceutical industry. Unfortunately, Shrekli’s actions are not a rare occurrence. Rather, they follow an alarming trend of rising healthcare prices which are leaving thousands either at the brink of death or nearing poverty to pay for their exorbitant medical costs. In fact, near the beginning of 2020, average price hikes on prescription drugs rose by over 10% across the board. To address this impending issue, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed HR3 or the “Lower Drugs Costs Now Act” in September 2019, which implemented sweeping reforms across the healthcare system. HR3 contained two major components: first, it would drastically decrease all drug prices for anyone covered by private insurance and second, it would reinvest the savings into new breakthrough treatments. All in all, HR3 has become a controversial bill supported by the majority of Democrats but despised by many Republicans.
Congress’s debate over drug pricing mainly centers around the trade-off between accessibility and innovation. Many Republicans claim that only the small pharmaceutical companies would suffer under these barring regulations, which can drastically reduce America’s drug innovation output. A report from the Congressional Research Service finds that US companies could lose over $358 billion dollars in profits annually, resulting in significant cuts to research and development budgets and decreasing the new innovative drug output from small companies by 88%. This could be catastrophic for the pharmaceutical industry; as CNBC writer Lori Ioannou explains that because startups need a way to appease new investors to fund their projects, they often produce the most innovative and risky drugs in the market, accounting for 63% of new drug approvals in 2018. With a drastic reduction in the profitability of the pharmaceutical industry, venture capital investment and seed funding into startups could suffer, preventing many companies from creating innovative drugs in the first place. This political discourse over drug pricing is especially vital, as the importance of pharmaceutical innovation cannot be understated. Republicans such as Mitch McConnell argue that promoting innovation helps consumers in the long term, as general improvements on existing drugs could lower drug prices along with generics development. Moreover, innovation in the United States not only benefits Americans but also the dozens of other countries that are able to buy these essential medicines at often discounted prices. The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that US pharmaceutical innovation accounted for an incredible 73% increase in life expectancy in developing countries. In conclusion, while critics demonize the Republicans for supporting the “greedy” drug corporations, many downplay how drug innovation impacts both the developing and developed world.
However, many Democrats argue that HR3 would save the thousands of suffering and desperate Americans who are unable to take their medicine and could jumpstart innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. A Center for American Progress reports finds that the bill could give the government authority to negotiate down the prices of over 250 pharmaceutical drugs each year. This would be incredibly important for many consumers, as American drug prices are four times higher compared to other countries, causing one-fourth of all Americans to commonly skip out on their medication. Nicole Rapfoegel, a writer from the Center for American Progress, finds that “reform is desperately needed. Today, pharmaceutical companies set excessive prices that they increase over time in order to maximize profits.” A report in the New York Times on April 17th of 2017 which studies comprehensive data from all 50 states from 2012 to 2017 finds that nonadherence results in over 125,000 deaths in America annually. Additionally, while some critics/Republicans forewarn that drug price caps could stifle innovation, House Democrats argue that implementing HR3 could actually benefit innovation. A Statnews report finds that big pharmaceutical companies use the majority of their profits to invest in killer acquisitions to buy out small pharmaceutical startups rather than investing in their own research and development budgets. In fact, over 81% of drugs from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer actually originate from third-party developers bought out. Thus, reducing drug profits would not affect Big Pharma’s already small budget on innovation. With mortality rates rising from America’s broken medicine industry, the implementation of this policy could mean the literal life or death for thousands of Americans annually.
Regardless of the current fierce debate over HR3, the bill is unlikely to be passed in its current form. Paul Hastings, CEO of Nkarta Therapeutics, explains that the House had “another near party-line vote in the Chamber” with Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against it. Because the Republicans control the Senate, many analysts predict that the bill will easily be thrown out. Instead, politicians will likely make bipartisan compromises to ensure that some reforms are made in America’s dying healthcare industry. For instance, Erik Watson from Bloomberg argues that the most likely result would be to keep reforms on capping out-of-spending costs for Medicare beneficiaries in HR3, as it benefits the gray vote or America’s elderly voter population, an essential constituency both Republicans and Democrats must win. Other bipartisan agreements under Pelosi’s HR3 bill could include the measures to promote price transparency among American consumers and possible antitrust policies that restrict killer acquisitions to increase competition among existing pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. The result could benefit a large portion of America’s elderly population who see reductions in their medical expenses. Furthermore, improving price transparency and competition could still lower drug prices, but to a lesser degree, ensuring that some of the thousands of Americans can afford another night of medicine. All in all, Congress’s compromise bill over drug pricing will most likely implement some minor common-sense reforms which could further progress in increasing accessibility while still allowing companies the budget to pursue productive innovation. Unfortunately, with the 2020 presidential elections coming up, many Democrats are choosing to forego negotiations because they believe that bipartisan bill could potentially give Trump a political boost. Thus, it is likely that Congress’s fierce debate over drug pricing policy will be delayed until 2021.
By Erin Flaherty
Popular rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft have reinvented the public transportation industry. In 2017, these applications generated 65 percent more rides than traditional taxi services did in New York City, and since then, their popularity has continued to rise. Getting an Uber or Lyft is a simple and reliable way to get around. Users can hail a ride on their phone, get picked up from wherever they are, and payment is automatic once the user puts their information into their profile.
With the convenience of rideshare apps, however, comes many safety concerns. Uber, the leader of the rideshare app industry, has a multi-step driver registration process, which, according to The Street, a technology news outlet, includes “their Social Security information, driver's license, insurance and car registration - all of which are run through private background-check firms.” However, many individuals, especially female users, have expressed concerns that these steps are not enough to protect riders. According to The New York Times, Uber received 3,045 reports of sexual assaults during its rides in the United States in 2018, and 42 percent of those reporting sexual assault were drivers. Female drivers and passengers are a disproportionately large percentage of the victims of these attacks.
Uber has responded to these accusations, saying that “there's nothing more important than the safety of the drivers and riders we serve … we will continue to put safety at the heart of our business and expect to roll out more features this year”. In early 2019, Uber released a "Women Preferred" feature for female drivers in Saudi Arabia, where they can request to only drive female passengers. Despite pleas from US drivers for this feature to be introduced in the United States, Uber hasn’t taken any legitimate and concrete actions to ensure the safety of female drivers and riders in the United States. When asked why they aren’t considering implementing this in the US, Uber has simply responded by saying that they have “no plans to make that an option at the moment” , and that they believe that they have "built the safest transportation option in more than 290 cities around the world”.
Sexual assault is just one of the fundamental problems that female drivers for Uber face. They also earn 7% less per hour than their male counterparts. These factors combined explain why only 14% of Uber’s drivers are women. Nick Allen, the founder of Shuddle, a ride service for children, further explains this phenomenon; “this economic opportunity has excluded women -- not purposefully, but women have self-selected out of it. And the number one reason they do that is the perception of safety or lack thereof.” Uber’s idleness in regards to this issue has created clear gender disparities within their employee demographic.
Michael R. Pelletz, an entrepreneur from Charlton, Massachusetts, former Uber driver, and father of 2 teenage daughters, decided to take matters into his own hands after being made aware of Uber’s female-user safety issues . He started Safr, which he planned to make the first female-only rideshare service. The service was successful in the few cities where it was launched, with its annual sales coming in at around $7 million a year. This success was short lived; as described by Pelletz, “the team that was put in charge of carrying out these goals failed as they were too afraid of getting sued, so they started to allow men to ride and drive”. The concerns that Safr’s legal team were addressing were in regards to Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination in employment at the federal level. However, legal supporters of Safr have stated that Bona fide occupational qualifications, or BFOQs for short, allow Safr to only hire women since this is essential to their purpose and mission as a company. BFOQs are employment qualifications that employers are allowed to consider while making decisions about hiring and retention of employees. For example, a casting company can exclusively interview women if they are casting a female role in a show.
And, as Pauline M. Tarife explains in her paper for Rutgers Law Review, “employers have been successful in establishing gender BFOQs for Playboy Bunnies, female-only gyms, prison guards at correctional facilities, psychiatric health care specialists, locker room attendants ,and custodians for single-sex facilities."
Nonetheless, despite the prevalence of BFOQs, they still posed too great a risk to Safr for its woman-only business model to continue. Ultimately, legal discrimination concerns could go either way if lawsuits were to arise. This unpredictability stems from the case-by-case nature of Civil Rights Act and BFOQ questions. Both policies leave much room of interpretation of specific situations. When asked about these legal concerns, Pelletz refuted them, stating that “before [he] started [Safr], [he]went to civil rights attorneys … this is all about solving a health and wellness problem for women who cannot participate fully in ride-sharing because of safety issues”.
This decision both undermined Safr’s original mission and made its chances at financial success much more slim since it was no longer differentiated from Uber and Lyft in any sort of way. Nonetheless, Pelletz plans to start a new female-only rideshare service in the future under the name WOKE. He hopes to fulfill the plan that he had for Safr before discrimination concerns led the company astray from its mission. He says that he plans to stick to his guns and isn’t afraid to face legal charges since he is certain that is mission is legally justified. Although past attempts at launching this type of service have failed, the demand and need for a safer option for riders and drivers alike is still present, and individuals like Pelletz are not willing to rest until there is a solution.
By Benny Sun
With Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to win her primary elections and almost attaining the presidency, and with President Donald Trump becoming the first real-estate-baron-turned-reality-television-star-turned-orange to win the presidency, the Presidential Election of 2016 was an event of both groundbreaking progress and curious intrigue. For instance, the use of social media by politicians to directly connect to the millions of political constituencies under the swipe of a keyboard skyrocketed, championed by Donald Trump in his persistent nocturnal toilet tweeting sessions. However, under the surface of technological progress holds a darker sinister secret revolving around foreign intervention and its threat to democracy.
Russia’s disinformation operations on social media have become infamous for their intervention to sway the results of the election in favor of Trump. For example, Russian agencies swarmed Twitter with Twitterbots which promote false information about Hillary Clinton, inaccurate polling results favoring Trump, and even cropped images depicting pro-Trump rallies internationally. However, lesser-known is Russia’s attempts to exploit racial tensions in order to demoralize and divide African Americans, discouraging them from voting; over two-thirds of Russian fake ads during the 2016 campaign season targeted Black Americans with the intention to lower turnout. In a country rife with racial discrimination and a history of suppressing the black vote, Russia is now only another group to disentangle African Americans from the political process. More specifically, reports indicate that Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) on social media has depicted false movements such as “Black Matters US” or “Don’t Shoot” where 96% of all Youtube activity focuses on police brutality on black victims in left-leaning areas. In 2016, the unfortunate police shooting of African-American, Keith Lamont Scott, gave rise to numerous protests for ending police brutality across Charlotte, North Carolina. However, Russian internet trolls attempted to manipulate the mood over these protests through its focus on instigating hate and violence over rightful anger. By injecting negativity of lies among social media and by pressuring African-Americans through antagonism, Russia’s spread of misinformation detrimentally dissuaded real political actions in favor of more violent and hateful alternatives.
Through their numerous means to divide Americans, all Russian ads have one common message: to skip out on Voting Day. Unfortunately, in 2016, Russia’s strategy worked. The voter turnout for black Americans was 7% lower in swing states in 2016, and a study by the University of Tennessee quantifiably found that every 25,000 retweets connected to Russia’s Internet Research Agency correlated to a 1% increase in Trump polling results. With significant efforts by Russia to destroy the legitimacy of American elections, has the United States shown equal efforts to protect American elections from the foreign intervention? The answer is more nuanced than it seems.
America’s own cybersecurity and election infrastructure are still incredibly vulnerable to malicious manipulation from foreign and domestic threats after 2016. In Georgia’s sixth congressional district’s election in 2017, leading Democrat Jon Ossoff had 50.3% of votes, enough for him to win the vote, but soon after a computer crash saw his vote share drop to 48.1% which allowed the Republicans to win the district. While initially blamed as a technical error that miscounted the number of Democratic votes, many were looking towards Russia as the culprit behind this cyber attack. However, Georgia is not the only state with a vulnerable election infrastructure today. Alex Halderman, a leading cybersecurity expert at the University of Michigan explains that “Many states are making progress, but the progress is patchy and there are major gaps … Forty states are using computer technology that is a decade old or more and often they are not receiving software updates or security patches”. Critically, with consistent cyber tampering looming over America’s elections and with Republican states passing stricter voter ID laws which disproportionately affect minority voters, more and more African Americans are choosing to remain home on election day. However, even if the states completely renovated their online infrastructure with state-of-the-art technology, many would still face issues. The ISC(2) reports that North America will face a cybersecurity shortage of over 800,000 professionals in the field. With over 51% of cybersecurity professionals citing that their organization is at extreme or moderate risk due to staff shortages, the United States is completely unprepared to defend its minority population from the delegitimization of American elections.
Instead in 2018, rather than “defending” America, the United States has adopted an “offensive” position actively hacking Russia’s agencies before they hack America first. Under the newly-adopted US Cyber Command which gained new powers in 2018, the federal government is currently targeting individual Russian operatives to deter them from spreading false information in the next election cycle. Dubbed “Defending Forward”, the US Cyber Command pursues an offensive strategy of disrupting, denying, and shutting down enemy networks as a measure of preventing the hacking election. For example, in the 2018 Midterms, US Cyber Command successfully took out the online capabilities of Russian Troll Farm, the Internet Research Agency, thus severing their abilities to spread online propaganda without the need for the United States to defend their networks. Additionally, the United States also took out numerous agencies funding the IRA and indicted over 13 individuals connected to the IRA who face prosecution in the United States. Senator Mike Rounds corroborates “the fact that the 2018 election process moved forward without successful Russian intervention was not a coincidence.” While taking the operations of the IRA offline may seem temporary, America’s strong cyber capabilities can act as a deterrence factor that discourages other countries from hacking into US elections.
Overall, America’s decision to ignore cybersecurity and instead focus on offensive cyber operations against Russia will play an important role in the upcoming 2020 elections. With the legitimization of America’s elections and the voter turnout of minorities at stake, the success of Russia’s hacking could very much shake the foundation of American democracy.
By Caroline Sha
Colloquially known as the “oldest occupation in the world,” sex work has existed for centuries in almost every part of the world. From references in the Hebrew Bible to the yūjo of Japan, prostitution has had some manifestation wherever humans have settled. In the modern day, prostituion remains pervasive, with 40-42 million people in working in the field. Although some countries, such as Germany, have legalized it, sex work remains punishable by law, both for the solicitor and worker, in many other nations, including the United States.
However, despite the illegality of their work, it is estimated that in the United States, there are one to two million prostitutes. They solicit clients on the street, online, or in the case of Nevada, through legal adult brothels. While most sex work transactions occur between two consenting adults, sex trafficking (in which people, especially women in children, are forced into prostitution) often uses the same channels and networks as consensual sex workers. In response to this problem, Congress passed FOSTA-SESTA on April 11, with Amy Wagner as a key sponsor. This piece of legislation subverts parts of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, which ensured that websites could not be held accountable for content users post. Under this new law, if ads for prostitution are found on a website, the site’s publishers can be held legally liable for it. Supposedly, this will help stop trafficking, as websites, fearing legal action, would shut down any avenues for sex work advertisements on their websites, both consensual and non-consensual.
Yet, for a law that’s intended to combat sex trafficking, FOSTA-SESTA worsens the problem. When traffickers are pushed off the internet onto the dark web and on the street, law enforcement officers have a harder time gathering evidence of trafficking and finding trafficking victims in the first place. According to a 2018 State Department report, the internet has made it easier to identify victims of trafficking, allowing for the identification of 58,000 more victims worldwide from 2011 to 2017. This phenomenon is possibly due to the increase in victims advertised online rather than in physical manifestations. Hence, taking such a resource from law enforcement would be detrimental. Moreover, websites who have hosted ads by traffickers have been able to aid law enforcement, providing valuable pieces of evidence to investigations. Proving sex trafficking already requires a high burden of proof, and without this digital evidence, it may be harder for traffickers to be brought to court. Considering the already miniscule number of traffickers convicted, with conviction rates as low as 8% in Massachusetts since 2011, this law only further muddles the legal path to achieving/obtaining a conviction.
Even though Amy Wagner claimed that trafficking ads have decreased by 90% because of this law, in reality, she is referencing data regarding all sex work ads, not just trafficking ads. What’s more, the 80% drop in ads occured right after the shutdown of Backpage, a site used by many sex workers, which came before FOSTA-SESTA, and the percentage of sex work ads has been steadily rising back to its original levels ever since, partially because of the rise of other sites that can be used for the same reason. Having all these major websites used for solicitation shutting down or getting rid of certain parts of themselves are doing little to tackle the major issue
In addition to its inefficiency, FOSTA-SESTA is instead putting sex workers, who already experiance an incredible amount of risk, in more danger. Websites such as Craigslist and Backpage allowed for prostitutes to make transactions that were safer than street work. With technology, they could screen possible clients beforehand by messaging them and negotiate safer sites of work. Or, sex workers could share “bad date lists” in which clients who were aggressive or possibly dangerous are named, allowing for prostitutes to lower their chances of something going wrong on the job. Now, without the protection of online tools, many sex workers are moving back onto the streets, which makes them a greater target for predators. Already a very vulnerable population, sex workers who engage in consensual transactions have just had their lives put in more peril.
Furthermore, by holding websites liable for ads promoting consensual sex work as well as nonconsensual, law enforcement may waste more resources on targeting voluntary sex work instead of trafficking. Rather than helping end trafficking, as the law was promised to do, we will end up diverting valuable resources towards exchanges that aren’t related to sex trafficking; this will end up lowering the amount of victims identified even more and hurt the finding and prosecuting of traffickers even more. Though websites should of course be held accountable for when they knowingly enable trafficking, as in the case of Backpage, they should not be punished for hosting voluntary sex work ads which ultimately makes the lives of so many sex workers safer.
If the United States wants to truly combat sex trafficking, efficient reform must be made, starting from the civilian level to the legal system. To start, in order to actually identify more victims, the public must be informed on the signs of trafficking and how to report it. Though law enforcement is able to do things like go undercover to find victims, having citizens who are able to identify signs of trafficking themselves would facilitate the process. Even so, even with a higher number of identifications, the courts should also be reformed so that prosecuting and convicting traffickers is easier. In some states, their attorney generals aren’t even allowed to prosecute these cases, leaving the burden of trying and convicting on district and county attorneys, who may be less equipped to go through these cases. Combined with law enforcement who may have not gotten the proper training to identify and deal with trafficking cases, a gross overhaul of the legal system is required. Finally, in order to decrease the amount of sex trafficking in the United States, more support needs to be given to victims, who may have no means of supporting themselves or may be too scared to speak out. There are many ways to help stop trafficking but FOSTA-SESTA is not one of them.
Furthermore, one of the major ways to help the population this law was meant to protect is to decriminalize the profession. Laws that make sex work illegal, even if they are sometimes meant to decrease the violence prostitutes face, only end up worsening the dangers for them. First off, the criminalization of enablespolice harassment; many sex workers report being assulted by law enforcement and being exploited for things such as money or food in exchange for not being arrested. In addition, when sex workers are arrested or fined for their work, it can end up taking some sex workers away from their families and lowering the amount of income they recieve to support the aforementioned families. Many prostitutes go into the business because they don’t have another more reliable source of income so by imposing penalties on the field, the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable people are completely hurt. In addition, if sex workers are given a criminal record for their work, their chances of finding housing and other employment are decreased dramatically, further decreasing the quality of life for them. Compounding the rationale for decriminalization, a legitimate market would empower prostitutes to take more control of their transactions. By making the field decriminalized, sex workers have more of a voice to do things like demand the usage of condoms, which decreases incidence of STD’s. And perhaps most importantly, the criminaliztion of sex work encourages violence against sex workers because in order to avoid arrests, they may move more underground, giving them less autonomy over things like where they work. Furthermore, this also compels prostitutes to not seek legal help when they do experience violence, either out of fear of arrest and police abuse, or simply because law enforcement officers are less impelled to investigate such crimes. We can’t decrease the amount of violence against this vulnerable group if we have set up a legal framework where victims won’t come forward. In order to truly help voluntary sex workers, we must decriminalize the profession.
And to answer those who truly believe that we must lessen the prevelance of sex work, the solution is not to focus on criminalization, but to solve the issues that compel so many to turn towards it. Though stopping people who truly want to be in this profession would be a major violation of their rights, alleviating problems like inequality may decrease the number of those who turn to sex work out of desperation. Poverty and a lack of a social support net are major reasons for why so many become sex workers. Instead of making laws that just endanger those already involved in the field and wasting resources on enforcing a ban on prostitution, the United States government should focus on passing legislation that would give people alternatives to sex work. For example, by strengthening our education system, especially in lower performing schools by allocating sufficient funding to them, we can help equalize the imbalance in educational opportunity that faces our country today.
In the end, the prohibition of sex work ends up endangering the very people they are said to protect and laws like FOSTA-SESTA end up exasperating the risks sex workers already face. Sex trafficking, especially of children, is a pressing issue that must be solved but FOSTA-SESTA is not the answer. A fundamental change in the legal system is required to truly make a dent in this issue; we should not be punishing sex workers by making their lives more dangerous because of our failure to make effective legislation. In the bigger scope of things, laws like this which implicitly continue the crimilization of sex work also only expose the need to actually decriminalize the profession. By making sex work not punishable by law, not only can we improve the lives of prostitutes but focus more resources on things that actually matter. It is time to take into account the lives of those we claim to protect for once and actually help them. We must repeal FOSTA-SESTA and decriminzlize sex work instead of feigning empathy with harmful laws.
By Jedson Boyle
On June 23, 2016, 51.9% of the voters in the United Kingdom voted to bring the country’s membership in the European Union to an end. Since its creation, the United Kingdom has had a complicated and often testy relationship with the rest of Europe, as manifested by centuries of wars from the Norman Conquest, through the Hundred Years War, all the way to the world wars. Often, as the UK went through times of war, so did Europe, though removed from the rest of the continent turned out to be a blessing as it was mostly safe from invasion. However, this blessing was a bit of a double-edged sword.
After the death, destruction, and devastation of the Second World War, the countries in Europe wanted to find a new way to keep the peace. There were growing calls for the countries in Europe to come together and to stop fighting. As a result, in 1957, six nations in Europe signed the Treaty of Rome, thus creating the European Economic Community. However, the United Kingdom was not one of the countries that joined. The UK applied three times to join this union. Twice, this application was rejected by President Charles de Gaulle of France, who was worried that British membership would weaken the French position in the EEC.
Finally, on January 1, 1973, the United Kingdom officially joined the European Economic Community. Though British Prime Minister Edward Heath considered this achievement to be his greatest accomplishment. He and the Conservative Party were voted out of office in the 1974 UK General Election. Former Labour PM Harold Wilson returned to office vowing to put the new membership up for referendum. The British voters approved membership in 1975 by approximately a two-to-one margin.
The UK didn’t integrate with the EEC as much as many in Europe had hoped. In 1979 the European Monetary System was created, encouraging countries in the EEC to coordinate their currencies, creating an Exchange Rate Mechanism. This was seen as a step in the creation of a single currency. The UK was the only country not to join this, which was one of the first displays of how the UK, even in the European Union, was still often isolated from it.
More than a decade later, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the early 1990s seemed to be a promising time for Europe, as it appeared as if further European integration was assured. On February 7, 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht was signed. This lead to the official creation of the European Union. The organization made laws relating to justice and home affairs and adopted a foreign and security policy. A significant part of the European Union was the Single Market which allowed for the free movement of goods and services. This was made possible by a customs union, which eliminated customs barriers between the EU member states. The people of each of the member states were still citizens of their own respective country, but now had EU citizenship as well. Anyone could now move about and live in any European state. They could also vote for the European Parliament and in any local election in the country in which they lived in.
It took a couple of years and a couple of failed referendums for everyone to ratify the treaty, but every single state eventually did. It was very difficult for Conservative Prime Minister John Major to get ratification through the parliament. Even more, the UK did not actually integrate with Europe regarding the social chapter, which dealt with worker’s pay until after the 1997 UK General Election in which the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, swept to power. The UK later on also refused to adopt the Euro, the single currency.
Many people in Britain wanted out of the EU. However, these people did not really have a lot of actual political power until after the 2010 elections when Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (alongside a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats) took power.
After the 2010 elections the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a right-wing Eurosceptic party led by Nigel Farage, began to rise in the polls. They surged into third place, ahead of the Liberal Democrats. This party was peeling away the right wing of the Conservative Party. So in the leadup to the 2015 elections, in an attempt to garner right wing support, Cameron announced his support for an In/Out referendum on British membership in the European Union. Polls in the weeks and months leading up to the election showed that Labour and Conservative would likely have about the same number of seats, and be far short of the 326 seats needed to form a majority.
However, as Big Ben struck ten on May 7, 2015 and the polls closed, the exit poll was revealed and the result was shocking. The Conservatives, while they would be short of 326, would gain seats and would be even further ahead of Labour. The next day, not only did Cameron return as PM, the Conservatives won 331 seats, 5 more than needed for an overall majority.
Given the narrowness of the new majority, and the weaker-than-expected showing of UKIP, it was clear that David Cameron owed much to the Eurosceptics; if he were to remain politically viable, he would have to follow through on his promise to call the referendum. Eventually, a referendum was called for June 23, 2016.
Cameron himself was opposed to Brexit and most of the British political parties were against it, including Labour and a large portion of the Conservative Party Some Conservatives and all of UKIP supported leaving the EU. The polls in the last weeks and months showed Remain winning by a relatively narrow margin.
The polls closed at 10 PM on June 23 and two hours later the votes came trickling in. Early in the morning, the BBC projected that Leave would win. The political fallout was shocking. A couple hours later, Prime Minister Cameron announced his resignation and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England was forced to call for calm. The financial markets across the world plummeted that day, as did the pound sterling.
The race for Leader of the Conservative Party wrapped up fairly quickly. Home Secretary Theresa May was voted in on July 11 and she became Prime Minister on July 13. Some people did not want Theresa May to enact Brexit, but she believed that “Brexit means Brexit.”
Brexit, of course was not going to happen right away. May had to trigger Article 50 on March 20, 2017, which would be the start of a two year process for Britain to leave the European Union. However, May would have to negotiate a deal with Europe on the terms on which the UK would leave and the closeness of the UK to Europe would have to be determined. Then, May would have to get this deal through the British Parliament. Unfortunately for her, her party only had a narrow majority in the House of Commons. However, polls showed that if a general election were held that day, she could expand her majority to over 100.
On April 18, May announced she would call a snap general election for June 8, 2017 to ensure “certainty and stability” for the years to come. Polls showed the Conservatives leading Labour by 20 points. However, in the weeks following, the lead narrowed. However, it still seemed likely that she would still expand her majority. Not as much as she initially hoped, but life was supposed to become easier for Theresa May. However, when all the votes were counted, though the Conservatives were the largest party, no party received an overall majority.
After this shocking results, many speculated that Prime Minister May would resign, but the next day, with her husband by her side, she announced she would remain Prime Minister. She cut a confidence-and-supply deal with a conservative Northern Irish Party called the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This meant that the DUP would allow the Conservatives to govern and support them in budget votes. Formal negotiations began near the end of June.
Negotiations continued throughout the year. Knowing that a parliamentary vote would be tough, May attempted to allow her deal to be enacted without going through Parliament. However, on December 13, the opposition got enough government MP’s to side with them to force Theresa May to have her deal sent through the parliament before being enacted. Two days later, the second phase of negotiations began.
By March, substantial progress in these talks had been made. On March 19, the UK and European negotiators agreed that there would be a transition period after March 29, 2019. The transition period would end December 31, 2020. During this transition period, the United Kingdom would pay into the EU budget and keep access to the EU markets. It would continue to accept the free movement of people into and out of the European Union. However, its part in EU decision making would end.
The negotiators also reached an agreement on the fishing policy. The fishing policy would allow only a British seafood exporters tariff, and in return, the UK would get access to EU fishing markets as long as EU fishing fleets were allowed to continue to fish in UK waters. The status of EU citizens before and after Brexit was also decided. This stage of negotiations was pretty much finished and on July 8, 2018, Prime Minister May presented a general outline of what the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU would look like after the withdrawal. Many hardline Brexiteers were outraged (hard brexiteers support the cutting off of all ties with EU. Soft Brexiteers support the UK still having some formal ties to the EU. The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis (both of whom wanted a more distant relationship with the EU) resigned upon the presentation of the plan. The European Commission rejected the plan made by the negotiators. Negotiations continued until November, 2018 when Theresa May presented her EU Withdrawal Agreement and the political declaration (revised) stating what the United Kingdom’s relationship would be with the EU after Brexit.
The draft withdrawal agreement was 585 pages long. There was rather muddled language on whether the United Kingdom would leave the Single Market or the Customs Union. A very contentious issue was the Irish border. The country of Ireland borders Northern Ireland, a constituent country in the United Kingdom. Ireland is in the European Union, and part of the European Union includes free movement of people. Ireland and the UK have had a contentious relationship since Ireland gained independence from the UK. Relations did improve in 1998, when both sides signed the Good Friday Agreement, therefore ending hostilities. One of the things that had led to stability along the Irish border was the open border. If there was to be a hard border between the UK and Ireland, violence could break out and relations between the two countries would sour once again. Therefore, in the withdrawal agreement, it was agreed that during the current transition period (ending December 31, 2020) a free trade deal would be worked out between the EU and the UK. If there is no agreement six months before the specified date, the transition period could be jointly extended between the EU and the United Kingdom for a period yet to be determined. If this does not occur there would be a hard border.
The Irish border is only a part of this backstop. The backstop has “a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom.”, which would begin at the end of the transition period. There would be certain “non-customs checks” on goods traveling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. When the transition period comes to an end, the final agreement will be managed by a joint committee that would make unchangeable decisions based on what both parties agree to. A joint panel would be created to manage any disputes between the two countries.
Prime Minister May announced that the Parliament would hold a “meaningful vote” on the Brexit Deal in mid-December, but she postponed the vote to January 15 after it became clear she did not have enough time to get the support she needed. When it did occur, her deal was defeated. It was the largest commons defeat for a government in UK history, with the final count coming out to 202-432. Not completely defeated, however, she tried again to have her deal voted on. The second vote was held on March 12. This time, it failed by a slightly narrower margin. The next day the parliament voted to reject and “no-deal Brexit” in which the UK would leave the EU without any deal.
Most people oppose a “no-deal Brexit” for good reason. If this scenario were to occur, it would cause enough chaos; in fact, the UK has already deployed 3,500 troops in case this catastrophe were to occur. Currently, goods move between the UK and the EU with no checkpoints, allowing trade to be very quick across the English Channel. In the event of no deal, the UK would leave the Single Market and the Customs Union immediately. Customs checks would be deployed immediately and trade would ground almost to a halt. In addition, flights would be grounded, and travel to Europe would be practically impossible. Worst of all, there would be food shortages due to trade becoming much more difficult. This could be an event that impacts the UK for a long time and never recovers from.
Consequently, some people are calling for a second referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. The European Commission indicated that it would extend the period if a second referendum is to happen. Polls show that much of the UK public would vote to undo Brexit and remain in the EU. However, after this long and dreadful dispute, it is likely that relations between the UK and Europe would be strained for the years to come, and on March 14, 2019, the UK Parliament rejected a second referendum.
On March 29, the UK Parliament held a third vote. Prime Minister May promised that she would step down if her deal got through. Even so, though the margin was much narrower this time, it still failed. The week before, on March 22, the parliament had voted to extend the deadline to April 12 and on April 10, the British Parliament voted to extend it to October 31.
So far, no substantial progress has been made. On May 23, elections to the European Parliament were held and Nigel Farage’s newly-formed Brexit Party won the most seats in the UK’s share of seats. However, many pro-EU citizens breathed a sigh of relief because more voters cast ballots for pro-European parties that Eurosceptic parties. Across Europe, many were relieved that the wave of far-right Eurosceptics that was expected to sweep into Brussels did not materialize. However, on May 24, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would resign her post effective on June 7. Her resignation as Conservative Party leader took effect on June 7 as a leadership election began. On July 23, Boris Johnson was announced as the winner of the leadership election, defeating Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He moved into Downing Street the following day.
Boris Johnson has said that if he has to take the UK out of the European Union without a deal, he will do it. However, in the last days before October 31, Boris Johnson was forced to extend the deadline to January 31. A few days, Boris Johnson called yet another snap election.
It appears as if the entire Brexit situation has come to a complete stalemate. If Boris Johnson and his Conservatives win the election on December 12, he will still be in a difficult situation, especially if he fails to get a majority. There are many different factions within the parliament, many of which transcend party lines. Some support Brexit no matter the consequences. Some want Brexit but would prefer that the UK and the EU reach a deal. Some oppose Brexit completely and want a second referendum. The problem is, no side seems to command a majority in the parliament and each side is waiting to see which side blinks first. Whether the Conservatives or Labour get a majority, it may not be enough if the parties themselves are divided.
The only way, something may get done, is if the Liberal Democrats, the most pro-EU party in the United Kingdom, win the elections. They would likely call a second referendum and, based on the fact that most UK voters currently prefer to stay in the EU, the UK would remain. Of course the polls were wrong the first time, but overall the polls were closer than they are now. However, the problem for the Liberal Democrats is that they are currently polling in a relatively close third. Overall, Labour, the party currently polling second, is slightly more pro-EU than the Conservatives, but many working class Labour voters (especially in the northern part of England) backed Leave in the Brexit referendum. This uncertainty brings many uncertainties regarding the upcoming election. Is it possible that more educated Labour votes in and around London that backed Remain will ditch Labour and vote Liberal Democrat? Is it possible that the 29% of Conservatives that voted Remain will ditch Johnson and vote Liberal Democrat? Or will Labour and the Liberal Democrats continue to poll close enough to each other so that the anti-Johnson vote is split and the Conservatives secure a plurality, maybe even a majority of seats? Now that the Brexit Party is withdrawing its candidates in constituencies held by the Conservatives, the pro-Brexit votes will no longer be split, thus making it even easier for Johnson to win.
Whatever happens, it is clear that the UK political system will never be the same. Even if the UK decides that it wants back in on the EU, the relationship between the two entities is likely to be damaged for decades to come. The relationship has never been easy, and this recent upheaval will complicate it, as well as the entire European scene even more. Due to the rise of populist Eurosceptic parties throughout Europe, many are doubting whether the EU would even survive a successful Brexit. Opposing this trend, however, are the election results across Europe in recent months which suggest that this tide may be slowing. In Austria, the populist Freedom Party suffered their worst defeat in over a decade. In Finland, the populist Finns failed to win the elections there. And last Sunday, the liberal pro-EU Romanian President won a 30-point landslide reelection victory. Anti-EU populist parties have also taken hits in polls recently. For example, the far-right AFD in Germany has dropped to fourth place as opposed to about 15 months ago when it was polling in second. Perhaps the people of Europe are seeing what it is like to travel down a road of uncertainty and thinking about choosing a different path.
There really is no way to predict the outcome of Brexit. In fact, we cannot even begin to predict the outcome until after the elections on December 12. No matter where the polls stand now, they could be radically different as the election date approaches. And so could the future of Brexit.
By Benny Sun
After one month of his presidency, Trump did the unthinkable; with security experts, defense lobbyists, and military contractors joined together in shock around the globe, Trump discovered the ultimate form of warfare surely to shake the international stage: Twitter. With his right hand furiously tapping away and his left comfortably by his side, Trump has no-doubt altered the method of conducting foreign policy in America, cutting off foreign aid to Pakistan via Twitter, sending in troops to Afghanistan via Twitter, and even bickering about North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un… via Twitter. Unsurprisingly, this past summer marks another time Trump has famously used his Twitter weapon, as Trump announced in April of 2019 that the US is now able to “put tariffs on 11 billion dollars of EU products!”, furthering that “the EU has taken advantage of the US on trade for many years. It will soon stop!” With October marking the end of Europe’s and America's failure for productive trade negotiations, the World Trade Organization has finally given the greenlight for America to impose tariffs on the European Union, an outcome which could potentially reorient international supply chains around the world and even shift major geopolitical dynamics, in this duel launched solely from a single tweet.
Since his nomination to presidency, Trump’s tariffs have been a major element behind his economic beliefs. With years of bipartisan support for unrestrained free trade, Trump’s tariffs are another example of how his political views run opposite to the Republican Party. Under the auspices of protectionism, Trump touts restrictions on foreign trade either through tariffs or other government regulation as a strategy to shield domestic industries from foreign competition. In fact, Trump’s support for protectionist policies stems from his populist backing, as the majority of Trump’s political base, who work in the agricultural and industrial sectors, also feel that foreign goods have the potential to seize American jobs and hurt local domestic growth with their cheaper prices. As such, Trump began initiating many trade wars with other countries by placing tariffs on the imports of other countries like Mexico, China, and now the member nations of the European Union.
Tariffs on the European Union are no different and are a result of similar consequences of foreign competition. In April of 2019, Trump tweeted his plans to target $25 billion dollars of European exports with tariffs, as part of a dispute over Europe’s subsidies to Airbus, an aerospace and defense company. These trade policies followed personal complaints and lobbying efforts from America’s largest manufacturing exporter, Boeing. Boeing argued that Europe was unfairly giving substantial financial support to the European airplane manufacturer Airbus, giving Airbus the opportunity to sell their planes at a much cheaper price which undercutted Boeing’s sales. Trump’s decision has not gone ignored. The European Union also has declared retaliatory tariffs against American imports, pushing both parties towards the negotiating table.While the European Union and the United States sought to establish peace through trade negotiations which would take place beginning in May, these talks ended abruptly in October due to bitter rivalry and lack of agreement.
In order to impose tariffs on another country, the United States must first file a complaint to the World Trade Organization, who then rules on the validity of the complaint. As such, on October 2nd of 2019, the World Trade Organization cleared Trump’s ability to impose tariffs over the European Union, which included a 25% duty on a range of products like Italian cheeses, French wines, and Spanish olives, and also a 10% tariff on all Airbus products adding up to 7.5 billion dollars worth of imports (18 billion dollars less than initially threatened). Inadvertently, America’s tariffs could negatively harm some American workers. Many analysts including the Specialty Food Administration predict that these tariffs could adversely raise the price of some European food products by 33% and the United States could lose 14,000 specialty food retailers and 20,000 other food retailers nationwide. Conversely, a European Central Bank study conducted by Dr. Venessa Gunnella and Lucia Quaglietti concludes that current trade-war outcomes have had “mild impact across the Atlantic”.
However, while the trade conflict may seem mild, recent deadlines placed by Trump previously could potentially escalate the EU-US dispute and cause severe consequences. In May of 2019, Trump announced that he would delay his decision of implementing tariffs on Europe’s automobile industry as high as 25% to November, citing that Europe’s sway over American cars is a “national security threat” to the American economy. Europe’s auto industry holds crucial portion of Europe’s economy accounting for 10% of Europe’s global exports, employing 14 million Europeans, and generating 7% of Europe’s total GDP. Thus, America’s auto tariffs could also greatly affect the European economy. Despite Trump’s claims, many are detesting his actions. Industry group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers claims that implementing “auto tariffs” in Europe would be a mistake and could entail significant negative consequences. With his deadline coming up soon, many are questioning whether or not Trump will actually move forward with his threat.
There is little consensus over Trump’s ultimate goal in the trade war. Given the popular perception that Europe is an American ally, many analysts believe that Trump no longer has the political capital to implement auto-tariffs if he wants to win the 2020 elections as both Republicans and Democrats have pushed Trump away from auto tariffs. Instead, David Hauner from Bank of America Merrill Lynch indicated Trump may only be threatening a large sector of Europe’s economy so that he may gain leverage over current trade talks in Europe. More specifically, Trump may be holding the looming threat of auto tariffs over their heads in order to coerce Europe into accepting more agricultural imports such as beef which would appease his political base of farmers for the 2020 elections. Other analysts predict that Trump will actually implement these auto tariffs. Citing Trump’s his desire to slash his trade deficit with Europe, Economist Hans Buchard suspects that the President’s method of receiving votes is through his confrontational approach to foreign countries. Thus, implementing auto tariffs on Europe could serve as an example for other countries. In fact, many politicians believe that Trump won his 2016 election by portraying China as a massive foreign threat, a strategy that got him the support of his blue collar base. Painting Europe in this light could fortify the loyalty of Trump’s Rust Belt supporters as he enters his 2020 campaign season.
Overall, Trump’s trade war with Europe could provoke massive consequences on the global economy. In a worst-case scenario, analysts from Bank of America Merrill Lynch predict that economic growth could fall from 2.2% to 1.2% as the price of American vehicles, both domestic and imported, could be raised anywhere from 2,000 dollars to 7,000 dollars making the cost of travel much more expensive. Contrary to popular belief, this lesser known trade war may even cause harms even worse than the Chinese-US Trade war. While the total trade between Europe and the United States is worth 1.2 trillion dollars, Chinese-American trade is only worth 737 billion dollars; thus continuing Trump’s tit-for-tat approach with Europe spark an economic catastrophe worse than one with China. Unfortunately, with the last recession of 2008 still burned into the minds of many pushing over 64 million people around the world into poverty, many are worried about the economic consequences of the US-EU trade war. However, there are also greater geopolitical consequences at hand. In contrast to many other nations, China could easily be the greatest winner of the EU-US trade war, as a disruption of the American-European alliance could prompt Europe to shift eastward for a stronger relationship. With China and Europe already working on a free-trade agreement, promises to collaborate on China’s Belt Road Initiative, and greater collaboration on environmental issues (all of which are opposed by the United States), pushing Europe toward China could permanently damage Transatlantic relations.
In conclusion, the EU-US trade war is a conflict that must be monitored in 2019, as just a single tweet can evoke century-lasting changes on the world.