President Oprah: a Glamorous but Dangerous Fantasy

On Jan. 7, philanthropist and talk show host Oprah Winfrey took to the stage of the Golden Globes and delivered perhaps the most iconic speech in the award show’s history. Her words were certainly eloquent and empowering – but not, as most of the Internet has already labeled it, presidential.

The fact remains that Winfrey is not a politician and never will be. Her rhetorical prowess that night reflected decades of success in the entertainment industry, not political skill. And should she eventually concede to media pressure and announce a presidential bid, America will enter another era of crippling partisan polarization with dire consequences.

The thought of Oprah Winfrey as president in 2020 is a glamourous fantasy in contrast to our current administration, which is likely why it appeals to so many people. It’s true that Winfrey surpasses Donald Trump in everything from ethical soundness to command of the English language, but they both share something in common: utter lack of political experience.

Candidates for office should only be judged by their capabilities as a politician and leader in an increasingly complex political landscape. The world stage today is an intricate and dangerous system, and the United States is at the forefront of most political conversations. The only way a president will be able to handle leading the most powerful nation in the world in times like these is if they have had direct experience with everything from foreign policy to domestic economic issues. A good president in an era like ours, in addition to being compassionate, is necessarily a practical leader, hardened by experience, with a profound comprehension of every dimension of society and government.

Winfrey has never had to stand her ground on the Senate floor and face down dozens of livid political adversaries; she has never had to push for plausible and specific action across the world; she has never coordinated with intimidating world leaders who have the power to wipe out all known civilization. She has never been exposed to the many nuanced processes that compose the federal government, so she is not qualified to lead it.

According to a recent NPR poll, many people are drawn to Winfrey not only because of her personality, but because she would break the trend of white male presidents in office. This is not an unreasonable consideration, but there are other women of color in politics right now who are far more qualified to lead our nation.

Kamala Harris is an African-American, Indian-American senator from California with extensive experience as a district attorney, Attorney General of California and congresswoman. Her history of activism for prison reform, environmental justice and gun control has already made her a particular favorite for the 2020 election among African-Americans in California. And, according to USNews, she is already strongly considering throwing her hat in the ring when election season rolls around.

Harris has direct experience in the chaotic world of politics and would serve our nation better than Winfrey. She may not have the advantage of being a pop culture icon, but all she needs, as we saw in 2016, is one spark of media attention that will grow into a wildfire that will make her known as a Democratic candidate.

As a nation, we gave Trump the absurd amount of attention that let him win, and we are now witnessing the consequences of fueling that fire. Even disregarding his heinous morals, Trump’s political strategies have been divisive and dangerous, pushing us closer towards nuclear war and completely deconstructing the little order remaining in Washington DC. And yet, even after experiencing the damaging failures that incited by an unqualified president, Hollywood and the media are nudging another politically incompetent celebrity into the 2020 race. We can not afford to make the same mistake and allow media attention to concentrate around Oprah Winfrey instead of other capable politicians.

By Melanie Lust, Staff Writer

ZIP Codes & Unions: Education Tyrants | OP-ED

On January 21st, President Donald J. Trump issued a proclamation inaugurating National School Choice Week; school choice is the policy of allowing families, through an array of different programs, to select which public school they wish their student(s) to attend. These programs are typically offered to students who reside in school districts that are either underfunded, ridden with crime, or not equipped to provide students with an adequate education. The simple premise: families know what school is best for their children. However, most of the United States has not enacted any such policies. Many politicians, particularly those left of center, are beholden to teachers’ unions, and have refused to support legislation to afford families the choice of what school they wish to go to.

Here are the facts: school choice is beneficial for students who are snared in decrepit public schools: one improvement is within academic performance. Professors Patrick J. Wolf, M. Danish Shakeel, and Kaitlin P. Anderson of the University of Arkansas found, in a meta-analysis study they conducted analyzing eleven school choice programs in the United States, Columbia, and India, that, on average, students participating in a school choice program improved their test scores by twenty-seven percent and fifteen percent in reading and math, respectively. Wolf et al. believed this result to be “highly statistically significant”, signaling “meaningful achievement gains” in education. This is likely a result of competition within schools.

In the free market, when two entities with to compete for customers’ business, the entities will try to improve their product as much as possible in order to attract the business of said customers. The public education system typically doesn’t function like this: your zip code determines the “business” you will “buy” your service from. In effect, school districts mandating your children attend the designating school is a monopoly, and schools are given no incentive to innovate. The only option out is to opt for private schools, which are economically unfeasible for many families enrolled in the public education system.

But let’s look at a study conducted by Wolf and Anna J. Egalite (North Carolina State University), in which they analyze the effects competition had on voucher school (schools that one may attend outside of their school district as a part of a school choice program). In the study, Wolf and Egalite found that schools made adjustments to the functions of their schools to attract families–or, the customers–to their business–or, their school. This study found that 28.7% of voucher schools added tutoring services, or other accommodations, and 72.4% encouraged parental involvement in school activities. Furthermore, thirty of the forty-two evaluations analyzed in the study found that, when competition spices “improvement in the performance of district schools appear to be especially large”, reporting that the “test scores of all or some public-school students increase when schools are faced with competition”. As an added bonus, 12.6% of schools inaugurated classes not otherwise offered to attract news students.

But the benefits don’t stop there: graduation rates are bolstered as a result of school choice, particularly among groups who are, statistically, less likely to graduate. In 2003, Congress mandated that the U.S. Department of Education evaluate the D.C. Opportunity Scholar Program’s (DCOSP) impact. The result: there was a twenty-one percent–statistically significant–increase in graduation rate among DCOSP participants, all of whom were from low-income families. Less extreme, but still impressive, results were replicated in the Milwaukee Parent Choice Program (MPCP), which it was found that low-income students enrolled in the program were between four and seven percent more likely to both graduate and enroll in college.

The second benefit to school choice is the impact it has on students with disabilities, or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Low-income families are disproportionately concentrated within urban areas, which are also the areas with the most derelict schools, and through allowing these families–of which are disproportionately black and Hispanic–students can be lifted out of generational poverty. Black and Hispanic students and low-income students, all of whom are marginalized to receive inadequate education, are, through voucher programs, given the opportunity to succeed. In a video made by Prager University, a conservative outlet that works, partially, to promote school choice, Denisha Merriweather, a beneficiary of this voucher program, proclaimed, “None of us deserve to be imprisoned by our ZIP codes.”

But there exist many opponents to school choice, one of which was the Obama administration, who instead opted to increase funding to failing public schools–and it failed to produce meaningful results. The Obama administration inaugurated the School Improvement Grants program (SIG), a program in which underperforming schools who allocated grants to improve their education, but the Department of Education’s analysis on SIG found that “across all grades…SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.” Furthermore, in another video conducted by PragerU, Rebecca Friedrichs attests to how public schools misuse their funds, stating that “public school attendance in the U.S. has gone up by just five percent, while public school employment has gone up ninety-five percent…[California] ranks forty-fifth in the nation in reading and math, despite spending $55 billion year on education.” Why is this?

It’s because schools have a monopoly on their district’s education, and have no incentive to want to improve, while schools involved in competitive models are incentivized to do so, and, as we have seen, improvement actually occurs. They are incentivized because, through school choice, the money follows the student: when a family decided to send its students to a given school, the money follows, and goes to that school.

This is fairly simple: simply funneling money into schools does not produce meaningful results, but school choice does. Education is the United States is increasingly failing to measure up to international competition, and is, more importantly, failing our students. But why is school choice so hard to enact? The short answer: teachers’ unions.

The teachers’ unions’ jobs have, historically, been to secure the professional positions of teachers: that is why they require dues from all public-school teachers–so they can lobby the government for more money. This money is then invested in hiring more teachers, whether it be necessary or not. However, as students, and their money, flock to voucher schools, the power of the union is threatened, as teachers at these schools typically are not bound by union rules, and they drain union pockets. The goal of the unions is not to better public education: never has been, never will be. Rather, their aim is to secure positions for its members. Teachers’ unions, and the politicians beholden to them, are not education’s friends. The solution to our deteriorating public education system is choice.

By Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

Why I’m Pro-Life

I used to be pro-choice: I supported federal funding of Planned Parenthood, I subscribed to the rhetoric that abortion is a “woman’s right”, and I believed that abortion should be legal. That was a year ago: today, I believe that abortion is one of the greatest evils of the modern world, and, in most instances, should be illegal.

First and foremost, the reason I’m pro-life is because human life begins at conception. Upon the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm, the membrane of these two cells fuse, and create a zygote, in which elements of the paternal and maternal DNA begin to interact, forming its own DNA. The DNA, then, begins to immediately replicate, and the cells begin to duplicate. The overall process in which mitosis–the duplication of the cells–occurs is what is known as syngamy.

An organism, by scientific definition, is “a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole, and an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent.”

Let’s break this down: the paternal and maternal DNA, both of which are present within the zygote, work interdependently to carry out the process of mitosis, which qualifies this zygote as an organism. The maternal and paternal DNA are interdependent elements whose relation are determined by their function within the entirety of the zygote. Furthermore, these two elements independently carry out the activities of the zygote, and are mutually dependent. According to the criteria of an organism, the zygote–upon the ovum being fertilized by the sperm–is a living organism. Thus, zygotes are an organism, qualifying them as human life.

Many have tried to argue that the inception of human life cannot be determined, but Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth of Harvard Medical School contests this claim, arguing “It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive…It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception.”

That is why I’m pro-life: it is a human life. But often times, I met with the same question: if you are conservative–which I am–why do you want the government to regulate abortion? The assumption here is that, as a conservative, I am supposed to support every small government measure. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of conservatism. Conservatism, while supporting small government, also believes in the institution of a government that has a clear directive: protecting the unalienable rights of its citizens. And one of these rights is the right to life. To say that abortion is a matter of the scope of government is to say that the government has no intrinsic duty to protect the right to life.

There has been much attempt to circumvent this argument by maintaining that the ability of a woman to acquire an abortion is a constitutional right, as per the Supreme Court decision: Roe v. Wade. Roe was the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled state bans on abortion are unconstitutional due to the “right to privacy” indicated in the Ninth Amendment. Let us not forget that “separate but equal” was ruled constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson and slaves were ruled to be property in Dred Scott v. Sandford, rendering judicial decisions susceptible to imperfection.

This imperfection is rampant in Roe, as this “right to privacy” does not exist within the Constitution, but instead, was derived from the Ninth Amendment, which establishes that American citizens have rights beyond what is enumerated in the Constitution. The “right to privacy” exists on a shaky legal basis. Additionally, Chief Justice Harry Blackmun maintained that “the word ‘person’, as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn”. In summary: the right to privacy is not present anywhere in the Constitution, and, if it did, it wouldn’t be able to subvert the right to life, but this right to life was undermined by Blackmun set the precedent that the unborn weren’t “people”.

But they are people. The rhetoric that has dehumanized the unborn was a strategy to make abortion acceptable in the public eye, despite most science confirming the personhood of a fetus. However, through this, abortion has shifted from a matter of rights to a matter of “choice”. I used to be of the persuasion that abortion was a woman’s choice, and that it should be left to the individual to choose, because it was not the government’s job. I soon came to realize this was wrong. The rhetoric espoused by the pro-choice camp exists typically in the vein of “my body, my choice”, but a zygote, as established earlier, has distinct DNA from both the mother and father, and fulfills the criteria of personhood. In every instance, the zygote is an entity separate from the mother–the only thing connecting them is that the mother provides the nutrients for the fetus. It is, by all means, an independent entity. Being unable to survive independently does not negate its personhood: many people–of all ages–are entirely dependent on medicine.

Thus, abortion is not merely about a woman’s choice, because the zygote is not an extension of the woman, is just dependent upon the woman. For all intents and purposes, it is a human life that lives as a separate entity. It was president Ronald Reagan who said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” Pro-choice does not afford the child any choice, and abortion makes the unilateral decision while ignoring the most vulnerable in society. The Constitution does not exist to protect those able to protect themselves, but to protect those who cannot help themselves.

The final argument I am faced with is that abortion is always going to happen, so there should exist a safe environment in which to conduct them–but this is to assume that a violation of unalienable human rights is acceptable. One would not say the same thing about the murder of a person outside the womb, or robbery. Just because something happens does mean it should be facilitated. Rather, society should act to assist struggling women through their pregnancies.

That is why I’m pro-life: I believe in the sanctity of human life, and through denying the right to life to certain sects of our society jeopardizes the existence of the rest of our rights.

By Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief       

 

Trump Administration Should Keep TPS for El Salvadorans

The Department of Homeland Security announced on January 8th that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of Salvadorans has ended and that citizens of El Salvador that hold this status must leave the country by September 9, 2019. Temporary Protected Status is a legal status that the US government grants to applicants who come from countries struck by natural disaster or an ongoing armed conflict. This decision comes after last year’s official termination of TPS status for Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants. It also trails President Trump’s repeal of  President Obama’s policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the US and have the opportunity to work without fear of deportation.

 

The Trump Administration does not fail to make immigrants question why they chose America as their country of choice. The granting of TPS status to Salvadorans came after the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that rattled the small Central American country of El Salvador in 2001 and left 20% of the population displaced. The initial action was to allow TPS-holding immigrants to stay in the US for 18 months, but because of repetitive declarations that the country had not fully recovered and was not safe enough for its citizens to return, many of the TPS-holding Salvadorans have lived in America for more than a decade. As of now, CNN and Vox both estimate that 260,000 Salvadorans are currently living in the US with TPS protection. After 17 years of protection, Salvadorans have been here for too long to be deported to a country in which they would have to start again from nothing.

 

El Salvador has a higher homicide rate than any other country in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, its homicide rate was 108.6 homicides per 100,000 people in 2015, which is 42 more homicides (per 100,000 people) than the second highest homicide rate, which belongs to Honduras. A majority of this violence comes from gang rivalries and severed peace agreements between gangs and local police. The extensive presence of gangs leave parents fearful of their children joining a gang one day. It makes no sense to repeal Salvadoran TPS status briefly after the new year because no dip in the country’s homicide rate conveys that the country is in any safer conditions to welcome back its citizens. Since 17% of El Salvador’s GDP is derived from financial support that Salvadoran immigrants in America send back home, the termination of TPS status for Salvadorans could potentially cause economic instability and segue into a larger extent of crime and violence.

 

Although 95% of crimes in El Salvador are left ignored by the police, the country’s Catholic-institutionalized rigid anti-abortion policies punish women who are under suspicion of having an abortion. Women who have miscarriages are often suspected of aborting their children by the end of their treatment. Such suspicion can land a woman in jail for 40 years, which is the sentence given to those convicted of murder. Again, no striking, or even subtle improvement is evident in Salvadoran abortion policy that proves an increase in personal securities for the country’s women. The only viable explanation to this sudden decision by the Trump Administration is that President Trump is still caught up in countering policies supported by President Obama and the Democrats, such as laissez-faire immigration policy.

 

Numerous TPS-holding Salvadorans have had children in the US or married US citizens. In fact, Vox estimates that 192,000 US-born children will be affected by having to bid farewell to at least one Salvadoran parent. Many Salvadorans also own businesses in the US and their deportation could harm local economic climates. A 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies also found that 34% of TPS-holding Salvadorans are homeowners who pay mortgages. These people are practically fully-immersed Americans who are burdened with the fear of exclusion because of their distant pasts. If Congress does not take advantage of this 20-month window to push back on this anti-immigration act, then there is no reason for Salvadorans to stay hopeful that they can keep pursuing the American Dream.

By Aditya Acharya, Staff Writer

The Republican Party Must Discard Steve Bannon

To those who think this is preaching to the choir: The choir is becoming increasingly small, distracted and quiet. There must be a strong rejection of Bannon and the direction he aims to move the Republican Party and the country. I write this not as a snowflake, a liberal, or an ignorant blogger, but as a conservative activist who feels increasingly the black sheep in a party that is losing its roots and values.

The Senate Special Election in Alabama to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions seat is the just the most recent installment in a string of electoral losses for the GOP. The fault for the loss lies not with the Republican Party, it’s voters, the President, or even the Democrat who won the election. While some have pointed to the loss of a Senate seat in ruby red Alabama as evidence of an energized liberal mass, to credit Democrats with the defeat of Roy Moore would be very misleading and incorrect. The sole individual who is responsible is Steve Bannon, former special advisor to the President and executive chairman of Breitbart.

No democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama since 1992 when former Democrat, now Republican, Richard Shelby was re-elected to the U.S. Senate. To point to Doug Jones as a unique candidate that overcame tremendous political odds to win election to the Senate is not accurate. Jones did not so much win, as his opposition lost. And to be clear, Jones’ opposition consisted not of the GOP, but of the Alt-Right and its crown Prince, Steve Bannon. The Republican Senate Election arm, the NSRC fought hard to defend incumbent Luther Strange who had been appointed to fill the seat after President Trump appointed then-Senator Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. But Steve Bannon, seeing an opening to begin his war against the Republican Party, gave perennial candidate and State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore a tremendous amount of financial and public support. Under the guise of helping enact President Trump’s populist agenda, Steve Bannon sought to increase his influence by trying to elect someone in his own image. Intent on waging a war with establishment Republicans over control of the party, Steve Bannon’s reckless actions have led to an accused child molestor being nominated, a Democrat winning in Alabama and a more divided party than ever.

While Bannon’s many disciples agree with the rhetoric that he spews, those who backed Bannon’s Moore ticket in the Alabama Primary are in the dark on the Alt-Right’s true intentions. What the primary voters who delivered Moore the nomination didn’t know is that Bannon is not concerned with advancing policy, but rather elevating himself. He is unconcerned with promoting good governance, American values, or a more unified country.

If Republicans can take one lesson away from Alabama, it should not be that their party is doomed in 2018, it should be that Steve Bannon is wrong for Republicans, wrong for decency, and wrong for America. If he continues to peddle influence and be trusted by conservatives, than far more will be at stake than control of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. The very institutions themselves could be irreparably damaged by the Bannonites who the Alt-Right are desperately trying to push over the finish line in primaries across the country.

With that, I urge fellow Republicans to reject Bannon’s bigotry and nationalism, and instead embrace American values and Conservative Values.

By Patrick Burland, Staff Writer

President Nikki Haley

The Republican Party is at one of its strongest points in its history: controlling the White House, both houses of Congress, thirty-three governorships, and full control of thirty-two legislatures, and maintain partial control over another five. But before McConnell and Ryan get cocky, it’s important to realize this: this power won’t last for much longer.

Aside of Democratic galvanization, millennials have reached voting age, and they lean heavily to the left, with 51% identifying as Democrats, as opposed to only 35% identifying as Republicans. And this is largely due to Republicans abandoning primary the concerns of millennials, namely LGBT rights and climate change. The solution? President Nikki Haley.

Not only would elevating United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to a higher position, potentially secretary of state, and eventually president, provide some diversity the GOP, which has earned the reputation of being hostile to minorities and women, but her policies, if her past tenure is any indication, would attract millennial voters.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Survey of 207, 30.8% of millennials believe human rights and equality were “concerning issues”, making it the third most important issues to millennials. The Republican Party’s hard stance against same-sex marriage, as well refusal to address LGBT issues has alienated millennial voters who have come to believe the GOP is hostile to sexual and gender minorities. However, Ambassador Haley, while serving as governor of South Carolina, expressed opposition to the transgender bathroom laws, which may signal a warmer attitude towards LGBT citizens, necessary to better the GOP’s image amongst young people.

More important to millennials is climate change, with 48.8% identifying it as a “concerning issue”, making it the issue of foremost concern among millennials. Serving as governor, then-Governor Haley signed into law an overhaul of solar power regulation in the state of South Carolina, and implemented incentives to draw solar power to the state. At the same time, Haley opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to impose carbon taxation. If her tenure as governor is any indication of a Haley administration’s environmental policy, it wouldn’t be an abandonment of conservatism, but rather addressing an issue important to their constituents in a way that aligns with their free-market values.

Finally, as ambassador, Haley has repeatedly demonstrated a strong, principled approach to international affairs. Diverging from President Obama, Ambassador Haley has taken a hard stance against both Iran, Hezbollah, and North Korea, and strong support of Israel, as well as Russia, in contrast to President Trump.

If the GOP wants to remain solvent in the coming elections, it will redefine itself from the populist, opportunist party of Trump, to the principled, responsive party of Haley.

By Louis Gleason, Editor-in-Chief

President Trump’s Twelve Day Trip to Asia

President Trump embarked on a twelve-day trip to Asia on Friday, November 5th. His itinerary outlined his first stop to be Japan, followed by South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. His main diplomatic goals for the trip were to form an alliance against North Korea’s nuclear threats and establish bilateral trade agreements to compensate for America’s departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

 

Trump kicked off his trip in Japan by landing at the Yokota Air Force Base outside Tokyo. There, he indirectly addressed North Korea’s belligerence by telling American soldiers, “You are the greatest hope for people who desire to live in freedom and harmony and you are the greatest threat to tyrants and dictators who seek to prey on the innocent.” He emphasized the importance of an American-Japanese alliance by signing white-and gold baseball caps that read, “Donald and Shinzo: Make Alliance Even Greater.” He then spent a leisurely time with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during which they played golf together and invited the world’s fourth best golf star, Hideki Matsuyama, to play. People on Twitter fueled a non-troversy when Trump emptied a wooden box of fish food into a koi pond, promptly after Prime Minister Abe emptied his. The media exaggerated the event as only Trump had poured all the food at once, and a sample “meme” that resulted from the coverage is shown below.

After his stop in Japan, Trump ventured on into South Korea. There, Trump held a joint news conference with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, saying that the U.S. was committed to finding a diplomatic solution with North Korea but willing to use the “full range” of military options if it became necessary. He called for China and Russia to force North Korea to end its missile programs, citing the strong strategic position the U.S. has in relation to North Korea. This contrasts from Moon Jae-in’s view, as he supports peaceful negotiations, because any violence would likely kill millions of South Koreans in Seoul. The presidents also discussed trade in their meeting. Trump had threatened to pull out of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, known as KORUS, because he said that it is creating an economic disadvantage for the US. He was very vague about any negotiations during the trip, but thanked Moon for “instructing trade negotiators to work closely with us to pursue a much better deal, a deal that frankly has been quite unsuccessful and not very good for the United States.” In contrast to several presidents before him, Trump did not visit the demilitarized zone on the border given time constraints, as President Trump would only be able to visit either the DMZ or Camp Humphreys, a U.S. overseas military base, which the Trump administration saw as more important. Camp Humphreys, upon its completion in 2020, will become the largest overseas United States military base in the world.

 

Trump also ate lunch with Moon along with U.S. and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys, which, following an expansion that will be complete in 2020, will be the largest US overseas military base in the world.

 

In China, Trump spoke at the Great Hall of the People and sought to alleviate tensions with China by blaming the US for its own annual $300 billion trade deficit. “I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its own citizens?… But in actuality I do blame past [US] administrations for allowing this out of control trade deficit to take place and to grow,” Trump said. He also encouraged President Xi Jinping to “act faster and more effectively” against North Korea, as China is one of North Korea’s most prominent economic suppliers due to their bilateral trade agreements. Trump also allowed Jinping to dictate whether the media could ask questions or not. After Trump’s depart, Jinping told Beijing reporters that he would try to relieve pressures with North Korea through “dialogue and negotiation.” He also acknowledged his communist state’s and the United States’ differences in policy and government. Jinping admitted that “our two sides may have different views or differences on some issues. This is only natural. The key is to properly handle and manage them.”

 

Trump’s presence in Vietnam both enforced his fans’ love for him and infuriated those who despised his nationalist rhetoric. His appeal to the Vietnamese was evident prior to his arrival since many of his books are translated into Vietnamese. Most importantly, they hold beliefs that Trump will assert dominance over China because Trump both vaguely and explicitly addressed China for stripping the US of jobs and factories at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Da Nang, Vietnam. These remarks were conveyed merely a day after his praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump’s toughness on China attracts Vietnamese attention because China and Vietnam have been engaging in constant disputes over certain islands in the South China Sea. However, Trump’s “America First” rhetoric made the Vietnamese uneasy ever since his decision to pull out of the TPP, which Barack Obama had enacted during his presidency to improve economic relations within America and East Asian countries by lessening Chinese economic dominance in the region. With the US out of the Asian sphere of economics, Vietnam has to rely largely on China instead of the US. Unfortunately, according to USA Today, Vietnam is losing hope in rejuvenating a trade partnership with America due to Trump’s boasts about domestic economic progress.

 

Trump’s final stop on his trip was to the Philippines. Prior to the trip, each country that he would visit was polled for confidence in Trump, and Philippines gave the highest confidence, with 69%. In the Philippines, he met with president Rodrigo Duterte, who has been extensively criticized throughout his presidency because of his harsh anti-drug policies that practically eliminate due process for those accused of drug crimes. Nevertheless, Trump said he has a “great relationship” with Duterte, and according to the White House, only sparingly discussed human rights in their meeting. Instead, the two focused on fighting the Islamic State, drug trafficking, and trade issues. With Duterte, Trump attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, where he said that a new trade policy would soon be unveiled, which would benefit America far more than the prior ones.

 

Overall, Trump’s primary focuses in his trip were free trade and North Korea. For now, it remains relatively unclear whether either of these issues resolved in a way favorable to Trump and America. Trump was criticized throughout the trip for allowing himself to be influenced by boosts to his ego, especially in the case of Duterte, who is accused of many human rights violations. Trump also seemed to be escalating tensions with North Korea when he began a Twitter dispute with dictator Kim Jong Un. As the results of Trump’s negotiations trickle out, it will become known whether his trip was, in fact, a victory for America. The general lack of conflict during the trip seems to be a positive for President Trump, given his unprecedentedly low approval rating for this point in his presidency.

 

By Aditya Achara and Will Henson, Staff Writers

House and Senate Republicans Try Differing Paths to Tax Reform

Over the past week, House and Senate Republicans have acted on their promises to create legislation reforming the current tax code. On November 2nd, the House released its original tax plan, which passed in the House Ways and Means Committee through a vote along party lines. The committee currently has 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Also on Thursday, the Senate released their tax plan. While both have similar goals in the reduction of the corporate tax and repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is a tax required for individuals whose circumstances allow them to pay a lower standard income tax, there are also key differences between the proposed codes. Should the bills pass through their respective chambers, a joint committee between the House and Senate would have to reconcile the differences.

 

The House bill is different from the current tax code in the way that it divides income tax brackets. The current tax code has seven brackets for joint-filing married couples, with those earning between $0 to $19,050 per year paying 10% of their income, and those earning above $480,050 per year paying 39.6% of their income. The proposed code merges the bottom two brackets into one bracket, with those earning between $0 – $90,000 per year paying 12% of their income. For those in the original first bracket, this is a 2% increase in income tax. There are three higher brackets, the last of which consists of those who earn over $1 million per year paying 39.6% of their income. As a result, there is a significant tax cut for those earning between $480,050 to $1 million per year. The full breakdown is shown in the chart below, courtesy of the New York Times.

 

           The Senate bill diverges from the House bill, and is similar to the current code, in that it retains the system of seven brackets. However, some of the rates are lowered. The rate is lowered from 15% to 12% in the second bracket, 25% to 22.5% in the third bracket, 28% to 25% in the fourth bracket, and 33% to 32.5% in the fifth bracket. In the seventh bracket, the rate is lowered to 38.5%, aligning with the House bill by giving millionaires a significant tax cut.

 

           Further differences between the House and Senate bill include state tax deductions. In certain states, including California, New York and New Jersey, there is also a state income tax, as well as higher property taxes, which are taxes on the value of a family’s real estate. These taxes are then deducted from federal taxes so that families are only taxed once. In the House bill, this deduction is capped at $10,000 for property taxes, while in the Senate bill, the deduction is eradicated entirely. Another difference between the two bills is in the estate tax, which currently taxes inheritances worth more than $5.48 million. The House bill phases out this tax by 2024, while the Senate bill keeps the tax. This is due to the wishes of key voters including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who believe that the estate tax should stay in place. However, the Senate bill does include the provision that the estate tax would not exist for the first $11 million in inheritances. Furthermore, the Senate bill preserves tax deductions on mortgage interest and medical expenses that were removed in the House bill. Another key difference between the two bills is that, while both cut the corporate income tax from 35% to 20% as promised, the Senate bill delays this break until 2019. This goes against a key campaign promise made by President Trump, who promised a corporate tax reduction by 2018 at the latest.

 

A difference between the two bills that was amended in the House Ways and Means Committee was the status of the adoption tax credit. The credit allows those who adopt children, with the exception of stepchildren, within the US or internationally to take a tax credit up to $13,750 to cover necessary expenses. Originally, the House bill did away with this credit. However, outcry from conservative groups in support of the credit led House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) to restore the credit in an amendment. The Senate bill keeps the credit in its current state.

 

           For the bills to be able to pass along a party line vote in the Senate, certain provisions need to be made. Not taking into account hypothetical economic growth, which Republicans say the House bill will encourage, a report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the US deficit would increase an additional $1.7 trillion dollars under the new tax code over the next ten years. This is due to the amount of revenue that would be lost by the government through tax breaks. As a result, House Republicans will have to find a monetary solution to replace the tax revenue in order to satisfy skeptics. While the report on the Senate bill has not yet been released, it is probable that the Senate bill will also increase the deficit due to a decrease in the amount of revenue sources available to the government through cuts on income and corporate taxes. However, companies may invest in the United States due to the lowered corporate tax rates, which would spur economic growth. Since this is not taken into account by the CBO in their reports, the Byrd rule will likely be invoked, which prevents legislation from passing by a 60-40 majority if it increases the deficit beyond the budget window. One example of this is that the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush timed out after ten years. Republican senators have already expressed their interest in making their tax cuts permanent, which would force them to find bipartisan support for their bill.

 

It is unlikely that Senate Republicans will find any Democratic support for this tax reform given the cuts given to the wealthy and corporations, making the path to reform given the small majority of Republicans in Congress, one of which, Senator Ron Wilson (R-WI), has already expressed opposition. Additionally, the House bill and the Senate bill are drastically different, which may indicate a need to reconcile differences before passing the bill onto President Trump for signing. Ultimately, it appears these tax cuts won’t make it in time for Christmas.

By Sophia Podolsky, Staff Writer

Catalonian independence would be a victory for themselves, the world, and democracy | OPINION

The history of Catalonia, a culturally autonomous region in the northeast of Spain, is thick with war and insurrection, pride and oppression. While bouncing back and forth across the decades between being politically autonomous and suffering under dictatorships, Catalonia has developed a sense of self-identity that can only merit the label of “nationalism;” and justly so, for by all means, Catalonia is a nation.

The Spanish government has mercilessly berated Catalonia for centuries, beginning, arguably, with efforts in the early 1700s to outlaw the Catalan language. For the next few hundred years there were only brief moments of full autonomy, leaving Catalonia’s people starved for independence.

In 2008, the global recession left Spain with record unemployment and massive public debt. Since then, most of Spain has barely recovered, but Catalonia today is one of the most financially stable regions in the country. In fact, Catalonia sustains 20 percent of Spain’s economy through taxes, but only receives a 14 percent return for public expenses. Efforts to institute laws to for the region to collect its own taxes have been vehemently rejected. Because of this, Catalonia feels economically exploited by Spain, and the movement for separation has never been more popular and impassioned. There have been informal referendums, protests, marches, and rallies attracting millions of people.

On Oct. 27, the Catalan parliament officially declared independence, despite remaining under Spanish rule. These people are tired of being financially taken advantage of. They are tired of barely clinging on to their culture. They deserve a revolution.

But the government has not been so open-minded to these needs. In fact, they have been violent in their efforts to suppress separatist movements. All attempts to host a formal referendum were silenced by police blocking polling stations, confiscating ballots, and physically dragging voters away from polls and beating them, injuring nearly 900 people in the process. The government has called separation “evil,” “undemocratic,” and “the nuclear option.”

Pressure from the federal level has been such that the President of Catalonia had to turn himself into the United Nations just last week. This is not simply a political conflict; it is a crisis of personal liberty, of autonomy, and of natural rights.

Such a chaotic political and ideological landscape should feel familiar to Americans, especially those who are familiar with our own history. When Britain began imposing a rule that American citizens deemed unfair and tyrannical, an independence movement was formed, and it took a revolution for us to sever ties with the mother nation. Similarly, Catalonia never agreed to be part of the Spanish government, and now wishes to sever ties. Britain’s laws did not allow for separation; Spain’s constitution does not allow it, and, ironically, our own living Constitution does not allow it either.

Was it not John Locke who argued that citizens under a government had the full right to instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against their interests? An entire movement of enlightenment philosophers who championed individualism, political autonomy, and action against tyranny influenced every word of our Declaration of Independence, and those same ideas were filtered into our Constitution.

We are a nation which has put those ideas into practice when we were able to physically, politically, and culturally distinguish ourselves from Britain.

We are a nation that was birthed directly from these ideas, and yet, our founding document suppresses them. If the Catalan crisis has revealed anything, it is how dangerously divided a nation can become if they don’t allow themselves to peacefully divide.

If a society is distinct enough, it should separate itself. Catalan’s motives are a brewing mixture of Locke’s views on political oppression and the view that cultures must be preserved. No further justification is needed to declare independence. Any region that is able to maintain a separate language, political system, economy, and philosophy must not remain subject to the laws or customs of a larger organization or else it runs the risk of having its culture erased entirely by means of integration.

Catalonia deserves to leave Spain. Texas and California deserve to leave America, if they so wish. America deserved to leave Britain. It all goes back to the basic principles that are, sadly, misrepresented in our Constitution. Although I am a firm supporter of the Constitution in all other respects, the inability to secede – even unilaterally – is one disheartening snag that is almost an insult to our nation’s founding.

Perhaps, after Catalonia’s separation, other regions in countries around the world may be compelled to do the same. All the beautiful and diverse cultures that exist would be able to defend themselves by their means. Even with a small start, such a victory could influence the long-term dismantling of globalist power structures that are already subduing countless cultures.

History has proven it: Catalan independence is not only a right, but a necessity.

By Melanie Lust, Staff Writer

2018 Midterm Elections One Year Away | ANALYSIS

The 115th Congress, dominated by the Republican Party, has failed to repeal Obama Care, pass tax reform or pass infrastructure legislation and will soon have to face their voters back home. Potentially leaving Washington with few campaign promises fulfilled, many expect the Republican Congress to sustain heavy losses across the country. Combining the lackluster pace of congress with unprecedented disapproval ratings, Democrats are aiming to take back the House and Senate in 2018. And typically, it is the party in the White House which loses seats in Congress. Following the first two years of a President’s term, their popularity drops significantly. The result of the President’s decrease in support leads to “Wave Elections” where the party of the President loses seats in Congress. Though, it is important to note that with all things ‘Trump’, this election will be anything but typical.

Map of senatorships during the 2018 midterms

To retake control of the Senate, the Democratic Party must retain control of all twenty-three of their seats up for re-election and simultaneously flip three senate seats represented by Republicans, assuming Senator Angus King (I-ME) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) continue to caucus with the Democrats. The two Republican held seats in the Senate Democrats are most likely to win are Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada and Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona. Nevada has endured a strong liberal tide recently, with Nevada going to Democratic presidential candidates for the past three elections in a row and Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto defeating Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) in a 2016 Senate Race. With a potential primary fight on the Republican side, it is not inconceivable that Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), the Democratic challenger, could win. In Arizona, Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) announcement that he will be stepping down at the end of his term clears the Republican primary for State Senator Kelli Ward to be the Republican nominee. However, should Dr. Ward be the Republican candidate, there is concern that her past controversial statements could pave the way for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

However, President Trump has already started building a large impediment to potential Democratic gains in next year’s midterm elections. While visiting states like Indiana, Missouri and Joe North Dakota, the President has already begun trying to turn the voters who delivered Trump electoral wins in 2016 against their popular Democratic incumbent: Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND). Should any of these incumbent Democratic Senators from red states be defeated in 2018, Democrat’s path to retaking the Senate becomes very improbable.

Map of governorships during the 2018 midterms

While the Senate map offers a structural advantage to the Republican Party with nearly two-thirds of the seats up for re-election being democrats, the Gubernatorial elections present the inverse. Several Republican Governors are term limited which offers Democrats several opportunities to win back control of the states. In blue states like New Mexico and Maine, Republican Governors Susana Martinez and Paul LePage are all term limited, respectively. Over the past few months, the Cook Political Report has rated these races as moving from favoring the Republican nominee to a toss up in Maine and “Lean Democrat” in the cases of New Mexico. Retaking the Governor’s mansion is a crucial part of controlling the redistricting process in 2022 for the U.S. House of Representatives which is used to gerrymander districts in favor of a given party.

In terms of taking back the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting several Republicans whose districts were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. While there was many instances of ticket splitting, there are not enough of such cases to make Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Democratic Leader in the House, Speaker again. The most promising news as of late for Democratic prospects of regaining a majority coalition would be that so many Republicans are retiring providing open races in battleground districts.

Overall, the Democratic prospects of retaking control of Congress seem dim. While there is a lot of time to cover ground and catch up, Republicans are structurally favored to retain control of both the House, Senate and a majority of the governorships.

Stay tuned for more election updates with the Northeast State Election Updates.