Philadelphia homeless population’s possessions discarded 

News

Kylie McGovern, Editor 

Header Image: Philadelphia Inquirer

On Feb. 22, news was released that the day before the city of Philadelphia broke up two homeless encampments in Kensington this past summer. Villanova University professor Stephanie Sena, Villanova law student Delaney Keefe, and ACT-UP Philadelphia activist Jazmyn Henderson put Apple AirTags on belongings of eight of the encampments’ occupants. AirTags are tracking devices designed to act as a key finder to help people find personal objects. Soon after the encampments were broken up, the AirTags showed that four items were in a solid-waste facility in Conshohocken a few miles outside of Philadelphia. Advocates believe that this removal of belongings is a violation of constitutional rights for those experiencing homelessness. 

Keefe posted videos she shot on Aug. 18 that shows city workers pulling a couch out of a tent, and then destroying the tent. Greg Ramseyer, the owner of the tent, explained the tent was his property and he explained to police and city workers that the couch was not abandoned. In addition to Ramseyer’s couch, a black trunk, a plastic container of clothes and a backpack with a wallet and identification cards, which are considered extraordinarily difficult for people who are homeless to replace, were tracked in the waste facility in Conshohocken. 

The Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services’ website explains, “We will store personal belongings for free for at least 30 days” after a clear-out. A spokesperson for the city claims that any possessions collected at the encampment were stored at Prevention Point, a public health and social services nonprofit in Kensington. So, if something is thrown out, it is because the object was considered to be dangerous, abandoned or debris. “The city takes multiple steps to avoid disposing of anyone’s possessions, and offers storage,” the city’s spokesperson said. “For safety reasons, city staff do not go through individual bags.” The spokesperson added, “Individuals are encouraged to take their possessions with them and the city makes reasonable efforts to ensure that items that are clearly identifiable as personal property/personal belongings are not discarded.” However, the city has not addressed the data the AirTags picked up in Conshohocken. 

According to endhomelessness.org, in 2020 13,375 people were homeless in PA averaging about 10.4 homeless people per 10,000. However, the homeless population’s possessions being discarded is a widespread issue throughout urban areas throughout the US, not just Philadelphia. Similar situations have happened on the west coast in Phoenix and Los Angeles. In addition, this is a longstanding issue because, in 2012, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, 2-1, that the personal possessions the homeless leave for a short time on city sidewalks may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public safety or health or constitute criminal evidence. Nonetheless, these rules are up to interpretation–like in Philadelphia which may lead to possessions being discarded. 

Biden’s approval rating is at its all-time low — how does that compare with past presidents’?

Politics

Alina Snopkowski, Editor

President Joe Biden’s approval rating is the lowest it’s ever been. According to recent Gallup polls, Biden’s current job approval rating is 42 percent, down from 57 percent at the beginning of his presidency. Biden’s current approval rating is lower than every other president Gallup has asked about at this point in their presidency — besides former President Donald Trump, who had just a 37 percent approval rating at around the same time in his presidency. The most dramatic difference between Biden and a past president is between him and former President George W. Bush — 301 days into their presidencies, Bush’s approval rating was 85 percent, particularly because at this time in 2001 the country was only a couple months removed from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Of course, these things tend to fluctuate, and only two former presidents — Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy — enjoyed net positive approval ratings throughout their entire presidencies.

This chart is a comparison of the 14 most recent presidents and their job approval ratings from throughout their presidencies, using the numbers from Gallup’s site.

Alina Snopkowski

If Biden is counted, half of the fourteen most recent presidents have had average approval ratings over 50 percent (including him), while the other half have had averages below 50 percent. There is a large difference between the highest and lowest approval ratings throughout the presidencies of both Bushes and Harry S. Truman, but the difference between Trump’s highest and lowest approval ratings is only 15 percentage points — the same number between Biden’s, as of now.

Of course, Biden is a different case, considering he hasn’t even been in office for an entire year yet, but it is interesting to see the variations in approval ratings over time among other presidents. Truman, for example, had very high approval ratings after the end of World War II, but they had dropped dramatically by the end of his presidency. Lyndon B. Johnson’s approval was on a downward slope for most of his time in office, while from the end of his first year onward, former President Barack Obama trended mostly around or just under 50 percent.

Four of these former presidents also lost their reelection bids, and all had approval ratings right before the elections in the 30s or low 40s — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Donald Trump. Obama and George W. Bush both had approval ratings just below 50 percent but still won their second terms, while Truman had an approval rating of just 39 percent right before the 1948 election, which he still managed to win. The 2024 election is still far ahead of us and there’s no certainty that Biden will (or won’t) seek another term, however, so it might be premature to talk about that now.

Alina Snopkowski

So, something that we can discuss now — when compared to past presidents, Biden’s job approval rating was low right after his inauguration, too. Gallup’s first poll after his election showed a 57 percent approval rating, which beats Trump again (44 percent) as well as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (51 percent each). The younger Bush’s initial approval ratings were tied with Biden’s, which means that the other nine presidents had higher first approval ratings after they took office (Truman, Johnson, and Ford weren’t elected, which might count for something).

What I find particularly interesting, however, is the percentage change between Biden’s post-inauguration approval and his approval now roughly 300 days in. The comparisons with former presidents aren’t perfect here, because the polls were taken at different points in their presidencies, but every president back to Truman (besides Johnson) has a rating from within about a month shy of 300 days in office. These numbers show that most presidents have a lower approval rating at these later times than just following their elections, but Biden still ranks among the top (or bottom, depending on how you look at it) here — his approval rating fell by 26 percent from his inauguration until now, which beats every former president besides Truman and Ford (both at 28 percent), who weren’t elected to their first terms anyway. The most dramatic increase is 54 percent for George W. Bush, again due to Sept. 11.

No poll is perfect, and there’s many other ways of gauging how a president is doing in office, but public opinion polls can be an interesting and valuable way of measuring what people think about the president’s job performance. Historical trends can show how our current president stacks up against those in the past and give us a metric to see how the public’s opinion on a particular president has changed over time.

Biden isn’t even a year into his presidency yet, so just about anything could happen in terms of what the American people think about him. Compared to past presidents, Biden’s approval rating is not the worst in just about any way you slice it, however, his falling ratings since January do show that he has lost some support since then.

The Votes Are In: Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

Politics

Rachel Phillips, Staff

Header Image: Alex Brandon/AP

Despite the Democratic in-fighting and senate stalemates of recent months, Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill was finally passed on Friday, Nov. 6. While the plan does not include the passage of Biden’s ambitious economic plan, it does currently quell inter-party conflict and could bolster confidence in the Democratic platform, both of which were much-needed outcomes for the party following the election results of the previous week and in preparing for the upcoming election seasons. As for now, however, Biden’s administration can celebrate the 228-206 vote of this historic legislation, whose size and anticipated effect is comparable to Eisenhower’s interstate highway agenda in the 1950s.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will provide increased funding for federal investments of national infrastructure, particularly by expanding America’s roads, bridges and public transport systems. In addition, this legislation will also increase the accessibility of drinkable water, by replacing lead pipes in both urban and rural areas with safer alternatives. Furthermore, the bill will also invest in broadband infrastructure, to mitigate the professional and education disadvantages certain demographics still face. By investing in high-speed internet, the Biden administration is hoping to lower the cost of internet service and close the digital divide that currently affects nearly 30 million Americans.

The administration was also careful to include environmental stipulations within each infrastructure program so as to continue to progress green initiatives nationwide. Moving forward, Biden’s team is hopeful that his economic bill, also known as the Build Back Better agenda, will experience similar bipartisan success. The next anticipated vote on the bill is scheduled for Nov. 15, and, if successful, could pass a variety of Democratic priorities and pillars of Biden’s campaign. 

Summit Scaries

Politics

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Rachel Phillips

On Oct. 31, 2021, world leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland to conduct the largest climate change conference since the implementation of the Paris Accord in 2016. The conference, which runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, will hopefully encourage not only transparent discussion but immediate action to combat the climate crisis with a more unified global strategy. It is predicted that the primary topics of the conference will be emission reduction, particularly from leading contributors like the U.S., China and Russia, as well as possible solutions for minimizing global dependency on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the climate summit is hoping to enforce the previous policies of the Paris Accord more strictly. In 2016, it was predicted that the benefits of many global environmental programs were contingent on their ability to be successfully implemented by 2030, and with that year fast approaching it becomes increasingly crucial that the COP26 conference is successful. However, while many national leaders have enthusiastically responded to the criteria of the conference, others remain noncommittal in their attendance. Leaders from China, India and Russia are not currently expected to attend the COP26, despite being amongst some of the largest contributors of carbon emissions and reoccurring victims of climate change induced natural disasters. Many world leaders, including the Queen of England, have expressed disappointment at the unwillingness of countries to act, rather than just talk about the current and future issues prompted by climate change. Similar disappointment regarding inaction has also been expressed within the U.S. While Biden is attending the Glasgow summit with former President Barack Obama in an effort to prove the shifting dynamic in the United States following the Trump administration, his environmental plan has yet to be passed. This inaction has already been criticized on a domestic level by both Democratic voters and Senators, but the greatest punditry is likely to occur in Glasgow by leading environmentalists. The United States’ inability to implement substantial changes within their own environmental structures weakens their pleas for global solidarity against climate change. If a country who leads in global carbon emissions remains hesitant to change, it becomes increasingly likely that smaller, less culpable countries will mimic the complacency. If this ripple effect occurs, the goals of the Summit are likely to be unsuccessful. However, beyond just the success of this single Summit, Glasgow may represent one of the final opportunities to minimize the potentially devastating effects of climate change on a global front. 

Women Are Not Ovary-Acting: 2021 Women’s March

Politics

Jada Urbaez, Staff

Header Image: Jasmine Rivera

This past Saturday, Oct. 2, the nation unified and marched for women’s reproductive rights as thousands gathered in cities around the United States. Some major participating cities included New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Honolulu. The first nationwide Women’s March took place in 2017, but this year was extra unique due to the recent controversial abortion ban in Texas. The Texan government prohibits access to abortion procedures once a heartbeat can be detected in a fetus, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This law was enacted on Sept. 1, 2021, causing major distress amongst Texan women and women across the country. 

Great passion was once again brought to this year’s Women’s March, with artistic signs reading “My Body, My Choice,” “We Are Not Ovary-Acting,” and other creative phrases to express the importance of reproductive rights. The Philadelphia march in particular began at 12 noon Saturday Oct. 2, beginning from Philadelphia’s Museum of Art to  City Hall, a brisk-thirty minute walk, a distance of 1.2 miles. 

A Rutgers University student, Jasmine Rivera, tells of her experience at this year’s Women’s March, stating “Every woman should be included in this fight- transwomen, Asian, Hispanic, Black and every other racial group”. Rivera recalls feeling a sense of racial divide amongst the participants at Philadelphia’s 2021 Women’s March, saying she hopes it changes and that all people can unify for the cause of women’s rights. Rivera shares the sentiments of many women, not only those who marched in Philadelphia the past weekend, but across the U.S.

Which states have the most say in elections? It depends on how you count.

Politics

Alina Snopkowski, Editor

With the talk about Washington, D.C. possibly becoming its own state, conversations have arisen about D.C., which traditionally votes strongly Democratic, gaining its own senators and representatives. “Taxation without representation” (or, in some cases, “end taxation without representation”) is the slogan on D.C. license plates, and a reason often given for why D.C. should have representatives in Congress. But with a population greater than only Vermont and Wyoming, D.C.’s representation in congress, which would almost certainly mean two more Democratic senators and an additional Democratic representative, means many Republicans are opposed to the plan.

Writer’s note: There would still be 435 representatives, but D.C. would get one, which means another state would lose one of theirs. To be honest, I’m not sure how they calculate that, and it’s not really the point of this article, so I’m not going to go into it here.

But how valid are these claims, anyway? And are there states that are better off than D.C. in terms of how many votes they get compared to the size of their population? I was curious.

So, using the 2019 state population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau (the most recent numbers available) and some Excel tables, I determined which states get the most “bang for their buck,” so to speak, in terms of how much of their population is represented by a single representative in the House of Representatives and electoral vote in presidential elections. Here’s what I found.

How many people are represented by one electoral vote?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Here, I divided the state’s total population by the number of electoral votes that state (and D.C.) gets. I used the total population, not the voting-age or voting-eligible population. Oftentimes the claim arises that the electoral college favors the states with smaller populations and gives them more than their ‘fair share’ of electoral votes, which appears to be pretty true — large states such as California and Texas have over 700,000 people to each electoral vote, while Wyoming has less than 200,000 — but, as shown in the map above, some states are certainly ‘better off’ under this system than others.

Which states are above and below average for representation per electoral vote?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

By dividing the country’s total population by 538, the total number of electoral votes, I got the average amount of people that one electoral vote would represent if these votes were allocated based on that system (if you’re curious, it comes out to about 610,000 people per electoral vote). The above map shows which states are currently above and below that average.

In 2020, which party got more votes than they ‘should have?’

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Here’s where it gets interesting. To find the numbers for this map, I divided the state’s total population by the average-per-vote number I found earlier (the ~610,000). By subtracting the state’s actual number of allocated electoral votes from that new number, I was able to see how many votes each state would get if they were divided up this way. Using this system, each state would get at least one vote (we’d have to round up just a little bit for Wyoming, since the state’s population is less than 610,000), and some would get many more — Texas and California would both gain ten votes, bringing their totals from 38 to 48 and 55 to 65, respectively.

The above map compares the current system for dividing electoral votes with the division system I used and breaks down which states, by party, received more or fewer electoral votes in the real 2020 election than they would have using the other system. For example, in the current system of allocating electoral votes, Pennsylvania gets 20. If these votes were divided up using the ~610,000 number, Pennsylvania would have roughly 21 electoral votes — a difference of one that, in 2020, would have gone to the Democrats. In Delaware the situation is opposite — the state currently has three electoral votes, but with the other calculations it would get two, which means the Democrats in 2020 got an ‘extra’ vote there.

When all these ‘extra’ and ‘missing’ votes are tallied up, states that voted Republican in 2020 had about 21 ‘extra’ votes and about 19 ‘missing’ ones. For states that voted Democrat in 2020, they were ‘missing’ about 20 and had about 18 ‘extra.’

Note about Nebraska and Maine: These states split their electoral votes instead of having a winner-take-all system, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that. Nebraska’s votes were 4 republican and 1 democrat and Maine’s were 3 Democrat and 1 Republican, and each state has one ‘extra’ vote, so I just factored Nebraska into the Republican count and Maine into the Democrat one).

How many people are represented by each state’s representatives in the House?

Image by Alina Snopkowski, created with mapchart.net

Last but not least, let’s go back to D.C. I did the math on this one in the same way as the first electoral college map: total population divided by number of representatives in the House. I found this one a little bit perplexing — Delaware and Montana are at the bottom of the list with the most people ‘sharing’ a representative, and, while Wyoming is, not surprisingly, again in the category with the fewest people to one representative, West Virginia, which also had a fairly low number of people to one electoral vote, but not that low, is also included at a similar level as Wyoming in this map. The state with the fewest people to each representative is actually Rhode Island, with about 530,000 people sharing a representative. Montana, at the opposite end, has a whopping 1,068,778 people for their sole representative.

Where does D.C. fall into all of this? If D.C. got one representative, the district’s population of about 706,000 would all be represented by that single person — putting it in twelfth place overall when states are ranked by the fewest-to-highest number of people accounted for by their representatives.

So, what’s the point of all of this information? Really, I just like math and maps and was curious about how the states compare to each other. I’m not a political scientist and I’m not suggesting we change the current electoral college allocation system to the one I used for my calculations, but I do think it’s interesting to think about.

Writer’s note: If you’re interested in any of my numbers and whatnot, email me and I’ll send you the Excel spreadsheet.

The election we often forget

Commentary

James LeVan, Staff

Header image: nyclu.org

We are only four months into 2021 and a brand-new president, and already there are discussions about the 2022 midterms and if the Republicans can take the House and the Democrats can build on their majority in the Senate. You would think after a turbulent election beginning with a confusing Iowa caucus and ended with an attack on the Capitol that everyone would be fed up with elections and politics. However, with the senate divided fifty-fifty, a slew of bills being proposed in state legislatures designed to complicate the voting process (that is the nicest way I can put it) and states beginning to redraw their congressional districts, the stakes have never been higher for both parties. While 2022 is certainly going to be an important election year, and one that absolutely no one should ignore, there is another election about to occur in six months — local municipal elections across the country.

Local elections occur between the presidential election and the midterm and consist of offices that don’t hold the same national notoriety as president or congressman, but are more instrumental to our daily lives — elections for people such as school board members, district attorneys, sheriffs and local township council members. These are the office holders who can actually help you or really hurt you and your community if you choose to ignore them. The wrong people on your school board can result in your local school being underfunded, or worse, closed down. The right district attorney can determine if actual criminal justice reform happens. Likewise, these offices can be the starting ground for future politicians who seek higher office. President Joe Biden may be more well known as a senator from Delaware and Barack Obama’s vice president, but he started his political career in running for New Castle County Council in Delaware back in 1970. Today’s local sheriff may become your state’s next senator, so you want to make sure that person is good for the position.

I take great pride in the fact that the first election I ever got involved in was the local 2017 election for the school board in my area. A friend of mine, Adam, was running for school board and I told him I wanted to help in some way. Adam and I knew each other from back when I was working at a comic shop and the two of us remained friends after I left. Like me, he felt off about Trump’s election and even though I was a Republican at the time and he was a Democrat, I told him I wanted to support his campaign. I helped hand out campaign literature at the polling place. While my role was small, it felt good to be involved in the political process and make a difference by helping a friend win an election. It gave me a sense of control and being a part of something that really can’t be felt with national elections. Local elections are smaller, more intimate and if you are a history or political science major, it’s a great way to learn about local government from the ground up.

So when you go home this summer, please look up local elections in your community. Research your township’s Republican and Democratic (depending on your personal leanings) parties, offer your time to being a part of a campaign, or go to a couple of committee meetings. Government is not some alien far off institution, it’s local people trying to solve the issues of their communities — and you never know, it could lead to the beginning of your own personal future in public office.

Why stop at statehood for D.C.? All U.S. states to become their own countries

Foolegian

Alina Snopkowski, Professional Political Analyst

“So, what do you all think about this D.C. situation?” When Virginia Governor Ralph Northam posed the question at the weekly U.S. governors group Zoom meeting on Monday, March 29, he was just trying to spark some conversation so National Governors Association Chair and Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo wouldn’t put them into breakout rooms.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan shared his opinion right away. “Some people are saying Maryland might just absorb D.C., but, frankly, we don’t really want them.”

“Honestly, I wouldn’t mind,” Daniel McKee, governor of Rhode Island, said, “then Rhode Island wouldn’t be the smallest state.”

“D.C. as a state,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott scoffed, “that’s ridiculous. They just want to have their own senators. If they become a state, Texas will just leave and become its own country. Don’t mess with Texas.”

Silence fell over the zoom call as the governors pondered Abbott’s comments. Although they would only admit it later, many senators had considered proposing such a thing, but Abbott’s words made them realize that someone else had a similar idea.

After that instrumental Zoom meeting, the governors moved quickly and contacted their state governments. By Wednesday, March 31, all state governments had drafted some sort of proposal to officially become their own countries. Every state will vote on these proposals within the next two weeks, and it is expected that all will pass with overwhelming margins. Every state has something to gain from becoming its own country, and every governor has held a press conference in the past few days explaining why their state — soon to be country — will be in a better position in the future.

“We used to be our own country,” Vermont Governor Phil Scott explained, “we can go back to the good old days when we didn’t have to answer to the U.S. government.”

“When we become our own country,” Delaware Governor John Carney said, “Delaware will continue its proud tradition of having no sales taxes. We also have a great tourism sector with the Delaware Beaches, and we will now be able to generate extra revenue for the country by charging visitors from other countries special prices to visit these areas.”

“We’ll finally be moving the capital from Harrisburg to Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf said, “most people think the capital is Philadelphia anyway, and it has a cooler nickname — ‘the City of Brotherly Love’ — Harrisburg’s nickname is literally just ‘Pennsylvania’s Capital City,’ which it won’t be for long.”

“I think one of the most important symbols of a country is its flag,” Maryland’s Hogan explained, “and Maryland has the best state flag in the country, currently, so as our own country we’d have the best flag in the world.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Current governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf is excited to change the future country’s capital to Philadelphia.

There will be 50 new countries in the world after the U.S. splits apart, although not all the states will retain their current borders. Washington D.C. will become its own country, while the states of South and North Dakota will merge into one entity simply called “New Dakota” in a bid to increase the future country’s population to at least a million people. The border between Wisconsin and Michigan would be redrawn so the upper peninsula would belong to Wisconsin.

In regards to the proposed change in borders, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer remarked, “This plan makes perfect sense. Only 3% of Michigan’s population lives up there, so it’s not like we’re losing much. We also wouldn’t have to pay to maintain the Mackinac Bridge, and we can funnel that money into Detroit tourism instead. It’s a win-win.”

However, there are, of course, some expected problems when changing these states into countries.

“We have a slight issue because there’s already a country called Georgia,” Georgia (the state) Governor Brian Kemp said, “I didn’t know about it until last week, actually, when one of my staffers brought it to my attention. I think it’s in Asia or something. So we’d have to change our name. Or we could sue them for rights to the name. I think we have a pretty good shot at winning that.” In a similar vein, governor of New Mexico Michelle Lujan Grisham remarked that “with New Mexico in the process of becoming its own country, we have already begun a conversation with President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador in regards to the name situation. We might be changing our name to North Mexico, and they would be South Mexico.”

These new countries will still be strongly connected. All former U.S. states intend to belong to a newly proposed union called the Union of Former American States (UFAS), not to be confused with the UFAS that is the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, which will no longer exist because the U.S. federal government will not exist. UFAS would help put regulations in place for trade, travel and work between the new countries.

With the recent news that President Biden is rolling aimlessly through the White House in a wheelchair, babbling incoherently, this move to separate the states could not come at a better time. Taking control of the U.S. away from Biden is both a necessary move and one that, given his current state, the president will likely not be able to oppose (or even notice).

Andrew Cuomo is rightfully in hot water, for all the wrong reasons

Commentary

Cianan Meagher, Staff

Header Image: MarketWatch

Over the past two weeks, a slew of sexual misconduct allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have come out. The allegations have ranged from inappropriate comments that contributed to an uncomfortable work environment to violations of personal boundaries and inappropriate touching. It should go without saying that these allegations, if found to be true, are contemptible. I have to admit that it is somewhat gratifying to see such a media firestorm around a figure so deserving of one, especially after being so shamelessly fawned over by the press just a year prior. However, I am somewhat dissatisfied that Governor Cuomo seems to be getting off relatively lightly, all things considered. While these allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace are explosive for the Democrat, it seems as if this story has completely overshadowed the much more scandalous story concerning the Governor’s office: New York’s mismanagement of nursing homes during the pandemic and subsequent attempts to cover up the true number of deaths reported from them.

Darren McGee – Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo’s direction of New York’s response to the coronavirus made the governor very popular with the media last year.

A report released by The New York State Attorney General’s office revealed that the number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes had been massively underreported by officials in Cuomo’s office. The report states that as much as 50 percent of COVID-related nursing home deaths were omitted from official tallies of nursing home related deaths released by New York State. Following the release of the report, Cuomo’s aide, Melissa DeLaroma, had reportedly met on a private video conference call with Democrat lawmakers to apologize for the suppression of numbers, citing fears by the Governor’s Office that the enormous amount of deaths would be used against them by then-President Trump to justify an investigation by the Justice Department. These developments are leaving questions about the Governor’s controversial March 25, 2020 New York State Department of Health directive to admit COVID-positive patients into nursing homes, using them as overflow testing and treatment centers. This stunning political cover-up is not only a flagrant abuse of power, but it could also have a serious impact on medical statistics that are crucial for those researching the virus and qualitative analyses of the pandemic. Such a statistical aberration has potential reverberations that travel much further than New York State lines, as this data is used by experts across the country and around the world in the fight against the novel disease.

To be clear, the allegations of workplace impropriety should be taken seriously and, with the sheer volume of alleged victims coming forward in the past month alone (7 at the time of writing), it is definitely a matter that deserves an investigation and the public scorn it has earned Governor Cuomo. However, the media frenzy that has surrounded this story has eclipsed a much larger offense. With all due respect and sympathy to Cuomo’s alleged victims, I think the thousands of lives he has directly or indirectly affected, or maybe even ended, with his handling of nursing homes and the flagrant abuse of power in trying to cover up his administration’s missteps, is a scandal of a much higher magnitude. Yet, it seems as if the Governor and the press would both prefer to address these more salacious accusations of sexual harassment, with Cuomo last addressing criticism of the nursing home scandal almost over a month ago. Cuomo has also been quick to deny the multitude of the allegations of sexual harassment against him; and yet, media coverage surrounding the former seems to have been completely supplanted by the comparatively less severe implications of the latter.

Bearing witness to it all, I have been disgusted by the partisan pandering by the media that has been at play throughout this pandemic. I was incensed, in particular, by the relatively lax scrutiny Governor Cuomo received compared to former President Trump during the throes of lockdown when, in my opinion, both seemed to be equally, if not divergently, incompotent in their responses to the crisis and equally caustic and dismissive to their critics along the way. Over the past year, Republican governors, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, received heaps of criticism over their handling of the pandemic, some of which was completely justified, some overly-critical, in my opinion. Conversely, if you flipped on the news less than a year ago it would have seemed as if Cuomo, the media darling and “America’s Governor,” was beyond reproach. In reality, he was just as, if not more guilty of, mismanagement of this crisis than others. It is unlikely Cuomo will be winning over progressives anytime soon considering the circumstances of his current controversy, and his puzzling statement during a recent press conference that he was not “elected by the politicians, [but] by the people” in a response to a question about the multiple Democratic legislators calling for his resignation reads to me as a pivot towards more populist, Trumpian politics. It remains to be seen what kind of future, if any, lies ahead for Governor Cuomo.

The takeaway of this whole situation should be that we cannot let party lines and partisan rhetoric distract us from abuse of power by officials we politically align ourselves with. I pray that the independent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by the Governor can proceed unimpeded, and that he will resign if these allegations are found to be true, but I also hope that he is forced to answer for his administration’s missteps at the onset of the pandemic and their reckless dereliction of duty in the tabulation of COVID-related nursing home deaths.

meagherc1@lasalle.edu

Catharsis: America needs a reformation

Commentary

James LeVan, Staff

Today, Wednesday, March 10, is my birthday. I have no plans, no desires and, to be honest, there is a part of me that really does not want to celebrate this year at all. After all, this week also marks the one-year anniversary of when the pandemic hit Pennsylvania and the country began to shut down. 

This week has made me feel reflective about both my life this past year and the country as a whole and, well, we need change in this country desperately. I am not just talking about making the country pandemic-proof, but about the clashes between protestors and police over the summer as a result of the brutal murders of numerous African American men and women, the economic collapse, the election and then all of it reaching a crescendo with the terrorist attack on the Capitol. 2020 can best be described as a large mirror held up to the American soul and we can no longer deny the existence of its internal demons.

There is a myth that permeates through American society called “American Exceptionalism.” It is the belief that the United States is unique and superior to other nations. Well, as we have seen this past year, this is simply not true. We are not exceptional and are just as likely to collapse as the Romans, the Soviets or any of the numerous Chinese dynasties that lost the Mandate of Heaven. If nothing else, this year has shown us that we are not prepared for the problems of the 21st century and that we run the risk of falling by the wayside. If we do not make changes, then our experiment in the republican government— the first liberal democracy — will perish. 

In short, we need a reformation. What do I mean by a reformation? I mean that we need to start preparing our citizenry, institutions and infrastructure for the potential crises of the 21st century and beyond. We cannot just have a memory hole of this past year and all the crap we endured; we need to look at it and remember it. We need to study 2020 and all that led up to it. We also need to reconcile our history of racism and oppression and begin to bridge the gap between our ideals of equality under the law and opportunity and the reality that we do not live in a meritocracy. All this of course would take a long time to implement and will span three or four presidential terms but this work must be done. What sectors of our society do I believe need reform? Well, there are three in particular: democracy, labor and education.

We are holding onto old institutions and policies that prevent low-income and people of color from voting or being fully engaged in the democratic process. We also have a two-party system that elects leaders who seem more focused on winning reelection or auditioning for their next gig once they leave office than they are at governing or legislating. Ideas such as abolishing the electoral college, rank choice voting and laws to prevent gerrymandering are some of the lofty ideas floating around that will help improve the health of our republican government. These changes will require a lot of grassroots movement and activism from the ground up before they can be implemented. If achieved, however, we will see more pragmatic candidates emerge, more participation and more competitive districts.

Regarding labor, as an essential worker in a grocery store this past year, I have seen firsthand what the workers who have kept the supply chain stable have to go through and the horrors of corporate culture that is incredibly hierarchical and does not allow for a true voice to the people who kept this country afloat. Likewise, we are facing a huge labor shortage in trade skills across the country that if not corrected soon will spell disaster to our country’s infrastructure and economy. Therefore, we need to raise the federal minimum wage and implement a Universal Basic Income while also promoting unions and workplace democracy (allowing employees to have a say in the decision-making process of their work). This will give workers the ability to leave a company if they feel the workplace conditions are too toxic to continue.

Regarding education, universities are facing huge budget crunches resulting in part due to lack of funding from state legislatures and now lack of enrollment, as potential students are choosing to hold off on going to college because of the pandemic. Since universities are one of the United States’ more important sectors, the idea of universities closing or shrinking to where they only offer a small number of programs is incredibly problematic because it would mean the destruction of one of the few sectors of American society that is appealing to the outside world. It will also cause our workforce to become undereducated and therefore leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage to other nations. Encouraging education and making it more affordable to go to school and study while also properly investing in our universities will go hand-in-hand with preparing our workforce for the battles of the 21st century. A well-educated society is a productive and functional society.

During the pandemic, I have had the honor of learning history from one of the best scholars in the United States, Dr. Carly Goodman. In her classes, Dr. Goodman would often explain to us that one reason to study history was to inspire us to imagine a better world than the one we have now, that society is not a static force incapable of change, but a malleable thing that can be altered because we will it to. This idea is, in fact, my reason for studying history. I have always been fascinated with reformers and those who looked at their times and thought about possible solutions. I do not know about the rest of you, but I personally do not want to live through another year like 2020. I have an idea on what the world could look like post-pandemic, and if I had to take a guess, you do too. So, feel free to send your ideas to the Collegian. Maybe we can build a better America, and world, together.

levanj1@lasalle.edu