Emily Betz

Opinion: President Trump: The First 100 Days


On January 20, 2017 Donald Trump will swear in as the 45th president of the United States of America and begin the crucial period know as “the first 100 days.”

Trump’s win has come as a shock to many, as the polls showed Hillary with a fair lead heading into the election. Not only did the country get Trump, but they got a Republican House and Senate, giving the president-elect an assumed sympathetic Legislature for at least two years if not four.

There has been some fear at the news of a Trump presidency, coming off almost apocalyptic, with protests breaking out all across the country, Californians even going as far as petitioning to secede from the United States. We have to wonder what a Trump presidency is going to be like. Well, if it is anything like his plan for the first one-hundred days, people have reason to worry.

In Trump’s plan for his first 100 days he lists out some very big changes he has planned for America. This includes lifting oil and fossil fuel restrictions, canceling any future payments to the U.N for the Paris Agreement.

The agreements which took effect a few weeks ago will help dozens of countries including the United States cut back greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in the next twenty-years. He also stated that he will be pushing through with the construction of the Keystone pipeline.

These policies send a strong message about his stance on global warming and clean energy, even more so with the possible appointment of Myron Ebell as administrator, who once said talking about global warming was a waste of time and “the vast majority of scientists think [global warming] is silly”.

Trump ran his campaign on immigration reform, deportation and building a wall. So it comes as no surprise that those things are listed as top priorities on his plan. He plans on beginning deporting illegal immigrants, canceling federal funding to sanctuary cities (cities that protect illegal immigrants), creating laws that would put jail sentences on immigrants caught entering the United States illegally multiple times, and suspending any and all immigration from “terror prone” regions. In interviews this has been specified specifically as a possible ban on Muslims entering the United States.

In health care Trump plans to abolish Obamacare which has lead to some concern over birth control, now free under Obama’s health care policy. And if there was any comfort in the fact that Obama’s administration ruled to protect Planned Parenthood’s funding, Trump has stated that he will turn over every executive order Obama has made that he views as unconstitutional. And when asked what his plans were for Roe v. Wade, the case decided in the supreme court to legalize abortion nationally, he said he would pick Supreme Court Justices who were pro-life.

And during his term in office that could be as many as four. Trump in an interview with 60 Minutes said the state’s should be able to decide abortion laws, and that women who wished to get abortions may have to “go to another state”, however in presidential debate’s he went as far as to say there should be “some sort of punishment” for women who get abortions. Vice president-elect Mike Pence has also taken a strong stance on repealing abortion laws.

The people have spoken, or at least the electoral college has, and President Donald Trump will be sworn into office in just a short 55 days. As of right now that presidency looks like one of racism, sexism, and ignorance over proven scientific fact. A Trump administration seems to be attempting to time travel back to the 1950’s where everything was great and prosperous—for white-anglo-saxon-men. From breaking the Paris agreement, banning muslim immigrants, deporting millions of people, canceling healthcare for millions, to attempting to reverse Roe v. Wade. It seems that maybe Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan should have been “Make America Polluted, Suppressed and White Again”.

The Lost City of Havana: America’s first look at Cuba in over 50 years

By Emily Betz

August 31, 2016 marked a momentous day in United States history: it was the first time in over 50 years that a U.S. flight flew directly into Cuba.

After just a short 51 minute flight from Fort Lauderdale, Jetblue flight 387 landed in Santa Clara. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, along with many Cuban-Americans visiting home for the first time in many years, disembarked to crowds of people holding both Cuban and American flags.

Cuba has always held an appeal to the people of the United States. In the 1950’s it was as the party spot filled with bars, strip clubs and casinos. Now it holds a mysterious allure, a country frozen in time since October 19, 1960. It’s taken almost two years of work for relations between the two countries to be restored, but now anyone can take a direct flight to the long lost country. Well—as long as it falls under the 12 reasons for allowed travel listed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets control.

I flew out of John F. Kennedy Airport to Mexico City on Aug. 1, and after an eight hour layover, flew to Havana, Cuba. With relations on their way to being restored, I wanted to be among the few Americans to experience the country before it became changed by the influx of American tourists that are sure to come with the increased accessibility of travel.

Tourism is not included among the 12 sanctioned reasons for travel to Cuba. I traveled on the basis of journalism.

Though there are fewer hoops to jump through to get there now with direct flights, there are still many complications Americans face upon arrival. As of now, the Cuban government does not accept American debit or credit cards, which means Americans have to travel with all the cash they need for the entirety of their trip. They also can expect to pay a 10 percent fee when exchanging American currency into CUC’s or convertible pesos. As for cell phone service, you won’t find any for your U.S. phone and if you want a wifi card you can expect to wait for hours online, and $5 only gets you an hour of service in the few designated wifi spots. Car rentals need to be booked months in advance as quantities are limited, and transportation is unreliable at best as I found out stranded on the side of Route 1 for hours when our taxi stopped to cool down its engine and pick up more tourists. But all of this is to be expected, and will hopefully improve over time as the country adjusts to the increase in tourism, which from the United States alone rose 77% this last year.

In his first presidential speech on Cuban soil, President Barack Obama said “Cuba, you should take ideas, steal ideas from wherever you see something working. There are some economic models that just don’t work and that’s not an ideological opinion on my part. That’s just the objective reality.”

Over the years, the United States has tried many forceful tactics to help Cubans overturn the Castro regime. However, restoring relations and attempting to seduce Cubans to want to fight for their own freedom and entrepreneurship is a first. Obama looks to be hoping to use the United States as something of a big brother leading Cubans away from the Castro regime on their own accord.

In my travels I had the opportunity to talk to many locals and ask how they felt about the changes in their government, and about the opening of flights sure to bring American tourists. Though many were careful not to say too much, due to laws preventing speaking badly about the government, those who spoke expressed excitement and hope about the changes to come. One of the hosts I stayed with at a Casa Particulares proudly exclaimed that we were his “first Americans. First of many I hope.”

This is the first time in decades Cubans have been allowed to own their own business, or even hold currency, giving them more control over a previously government-decided income. Most of the cab drivers I met were previously employed as everything from doctors to teachers, but quit their professions to work in the tourism industry—where I was told they make as much as five times what the government pays doctors. And though the government still does take heavy cuts out of Cubans’ profit, tourism is allowing them opportunities they didn’t have before.

Cuba is in for some big changes as they adjust to the increased tourism, changing government legislation, and an ended embargo. And I would encourage anyone up for a challenge to go see it first hand. Because although experiencing the real Cuba isn’t all pina coladas and pristine beaches, witnessing the country now feels like watching a child takes its first steps.

And it truly is everything that has been whispered about over the years, taking a walk down the malecon or a drive in a 1940’s Chevy convertible, dancing salsa in Casa de Musica—oh and drinking mojitos, of course.

But I wonder how much of it will survive the changes Cubans are so excited about, as the country begins to thaw and push forward towards a more government independent future. As the European couple I met in Trinidad said, “Let’s hope the Americans don’t ruin it.”1

A novel idea: reading found to improve health

Opinion Editor

We have always been told reading was better for us than watching television, but until recently there was no concurrent evidence to support that theory. It was just something our parents told us to get us to turn off the television and pick up a book. The unfortunate truth however is reading is declining. In a techno-centric world, less and less people are picking up books and even fewer finishing them. The Pew Research Center surveyed people over the age of 18 back in 1978, when 92 percent of the country had read at least one book in the last year. In 2014 that number had dropped to 72 percent. In contrast, Americans are spending around 7.5 hours of their days passively browsing the internet, using their smartphones, and watching television.

A recent study published by Tohoku University found that there was, in fact, a negative impact of excessive and prolonged exposure to television. They monitored 276 children, from the ages 5-18 who watched between 0-4 hours of television a day. Finding that those children who watched more television had lower IQ’s, specifically in verbal intelligence. There was also a discovered correlation between those children who watched the most television, and an increase in grey matter in  the frontal cortex. The University stated they would have to run a larger experiment in order to prove causation, however this information by itself is still troubling.

On the opposite side, Emory University ran a study to see the impact of reading on the brain. 21 students were asked to read “Pompeii” by Robert Harris, 30 pages a night. Then in the morning they would come in for MRI’s and for 5 days after they finished reading the book. The study found a connectivity, specifically in the sensorimotor region and in the part of the brain responsible for language. But what was most shocking was the flare in the part of the brain that associates sensation in the body, called grounded cognition. In other words, reading can cause a physical sensation depending on what is happening in the book, to an extent. And these changes to the brain lasted for as long as 5 days after the novel was completed.

“The fact that we are detecting them over a few days for a randomly assigned novel suggests that your favorite novels could certainly have a bigger and longer-lasting effect on the biology of your brain,” said Gregory Berns, author of the study.

You could say that books are the cure, providing stimulation to the parts of the brain television desensitizes. According to the New York Times, digital format book (or e-books) will inevitably pass print books by the year 2018. So why then, when books are so easily accessible, and a person can press a button to download any piece of literature they desire, are people reading less? Whatever one’s particular preference in format is, an appreciation for literature needs to be emphasized. Books are changing with the times, as they should, having always been a reflection on the world around us. Long winding descriptions are being traded for shorter sentences, and a faster paced storyline, possibly due to our now shorter attention spans. With all of our health fads, let’s make the latest one a technology cleanse with an increase of reading in our diets. The health benefits would certainly be a lot more pleasurable than a juice cleanse, or the newest cabbage diet.

Documentary delves into horror of honor killings

Opinion Editor


“A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” is a documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy that was recently nominated for an Oscar in Best Documentary Short Film and explores the disturbing practice of honor killings.

“A Girl in the River” tells the story of Saba Qaiser, who at 18, was beaten and shot in the face by her father and uncle before being tossed in a river and left for dead. All of this was done in the name of “honor” and “forgiveness.”

Acts like this are, unfortunately, not a rare occurrence in Pakistan and other countries where archaic religious practices hold more sway than modern law. This documentary has received a lot of attention turning people’s eyes towards an issue that is often overlooked, and not just on the red carpet.

Honor killings happen primarily in countries with Islamic roots. When a girl or woman is seen to have committed a sin that has put a tarnish on the family name, her male family members will take her life in order to cleanse the family of the shame that her sin has caused. In many countries the legislation permits these crimes to be committed without any criminal prosecution. These crimes are even often celebrated. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is hoping to help change that through public awareness. Along with the release of her documentary she started a petition to push forward stricter laws prohibiting honor killings. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in response, has pledged to do what he can to eliminate honor killings in Pakistan.

Saba Qaiser was 18 years old when her father and uncle lured her into a van with promises of forgiveness. Saba and her boyfriend had recently eloped against her family’s wishes. Her uncle held her down while her father brutally beat her, then shot her in the head. They stuffed her limp body into a sack and tossed her in the river. She was left for dead.

Luckily, Saba had turned her head at the right moment so that the bullet had only injured her. The rush of cold water roused her, she clawed her way out of the sack, swam to shore and flagged down help.

In Pakistani law, the victim’s family is allowed to forgive a killing, exempting the person from prosecution. Saba wanted justice, but pressures from her new family to forgive her father and uncle outweighed her own desires. So she was forced to have her father and uncle released from prison, uncharged. In a statement to NBC, Sharmeen said that many people they interviewed for the documentary did not feel honor killings were wrong.

“They felt it was acceptable to punish a wife, a daughter or a mother who transgresses from the honor code, even if the ultimate punishment is death,” Sharmeen said.

That is one of the biggest problems activists face in eradicating honor killings.

How do you eradicate something people do not believe is wrong? Her father, after his short time in prison, was unremorseful and willing to do time if it meant bringing honor back to his family name.

“She took away our honor” he said, “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That’s what she has done…so I said ‘No, I will kill you myself.’”

Saba is just a lucky one of many. For every case that gets publicity there are an estimated 5,000 others that don’t. Women advocacy groups, like Humanity Healing, estimate the unreported numbers to be as high as 20,000 women yearly.

Another example is the case of Zahra al Azzo. At just 15 years old, she was kidnapped from outside her home and raped repeatedly until authorities found her and placed her in a women’s prison for protection.

Not protection from the rapist, protection from her family.

Her cousin married her to get her out of prison, and hopefully appease her family. But one morning in January, while her husband was at work, Zahra’s brother Fayyez snuck into her room and stabbed her to death in her sleep. He immediately turned himself into authorities, without concern of going to jail. Her family celebrated in the streets with their friends and neighbors. At the time Syrian law, specifically Article 548, said that if a family member witnessed a woman in an immoral act he may kill her without fear of repercussion. It is because of Zahra’s case that Article 548 was repealed in 2009.

Changing the laws protecting people that commit these atrocious and barbaric crimes is not an answer to the problem, but merely a step towards a solution. Many of these countries can not enforce their laws unless people comply with them willingly, and so it is the mindset that needs to change most of all.

The United States has spent billions of dollars since 2001 trying to reshape the middle east with military force. However, as we are finding, it is not so easy to solve violence with more violence. There is a cultural difference that needs to be accepted, and an acknowledgement that religion is not the sole problem. There have been extremists in every religion, and that should not tarnish the religion as a whole. However a separation between religion and government needs to be established. Rather that increasing armed forces, our money might be better spent on education and women empowerment. It is easy to justify a disregard for another country’s problems in favor of focusing on problems at home, but there comes a time when it stops being a cultural difference and starts being an issue of basic human rights. And human rights issues, should be the whole world’s issue.