the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By James Beit ’22
The air of change has arrived, and with it, a new president and cabinet. Yet President Joe Biden’s cabinet can be considered more the same than different. While the cabinet is truly revolutionary, being the most diverse one in the history of the United States, its policies will be as hawkish and warmongering as we have seen under previous administrations.
Biden’s pick for Secretary of State is none other than Antony Blinken, who served under the Obama Administration as Deputy Secretary of State and Nation Security Advisor. He is most notable for supporting the Iraq war and advocating for arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s war with Houthis in Yemen. This is notable as the war in Yemen has proven to be among the bloodiest long-lasting conflicts, and remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It is also important to note that both sides in the conflict have committed numerous human rights violations and war crimes. Certainly, Antony Blinken will continue to support an aggressive and robust American military presence in countries all over the world.
Next, it is the legendary replacement for Jeremy Powell. I know Wall Street Bets loved his stimulus and money printing abilities. Frankly, if you have made money in the modern-day stock market, it’s most likely because of him. To replace him is the old favorite Janet Yellen. She has previously been Chair of the Federal Reserve and is known as a “dove.” She believes in Keynesian economics and will most likely continue to provide economic stimulus, perhaps in greater numbers than ever before. There are fears of significant single-digit inflation for this year. The actual number we will not know for a long time; however, modern-day guesses sit at 2%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If the Federal Reserve takes the right actions, it can be limited; nonetheless, this will come at the cost of the economy since it is a delicate balancing act and a great challenge. Yellen & Co will be handed an economy on fire.
Then we have the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. An African American born in Alabama and raised in Georgia. He graduated from West Point as a second lieutenant. He has received much decoration for his participation in the Iraq war and his service as a four-star general. During the Trump administration, he served on the board of military defense companies, most notably Raytheon. In his time, he has also made significant contributions to preventing suicide and improving the army’s mental health.
Merrick Garland, Obama’s attempted Supreme Court pick and while it never came to a vote because of republicans in the senate, he will be serving as Attorney General. He is known as a moderate when it comes to his court cases and is notable for his ruling on the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, an act of domestic terrorism killing 168 people. When it comes to criminal cases, he leans towards the prosecution in a majority of cases.
Alejandro Mayorkas is the new Secretary of Homeland Security. His primary work before his nomination was his stay as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security under Obama. In his previous job, he spent most of his time dealing with the Zika and Ebola virus epidemics and negotiating agreements with China and Israel regarding cybersecurity.
Then we get to Willam Burns, the new Director of the CIA. A lifetime diplomat and member of the foreign service, he is known for solving “tough” foreign policy decisions. He will be a key player in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal. It will be interesting to see the future of American policy in the Middle East. Hopefully, we will not approach another war with Iran in the near future as we did under the Trump Administration.
If anything, the rest of Biden’s cabinet represents a return to normal. Overall much of the “Old Guard” of the Bush and Obama administrations have returned to see action. They represent the spearhead of a new experienced hawkish foreign policy. As opposed to Trump’s failed interventionism, we have powerful people who pose a serious threat to America’s enemies.
By Keegan Bankoff ‘22
Image Credit: The New York Times
The date is Jan. 22, 2021, the third week of the new year. In the previous three weeks, the United States has witnessed an attack on the Capitol building, the impeachment of President Trump, and the inauguration of President Biden. It seemed as if things couldn’t get crazier -- but then the stock market spiraled into a frenzy. It all started as a joke when members of a Reddit forum decided to mass-invest in the stocks of crumbling companies, specifically Gamestop.
This forum, known as r/WallStreetBets, is composed of over four million members who discuss stocks, shares, and where they are going to invest their money. These ordinary day-traders had very little experience in the stock market but believed if they all invested in the same company, they could make an impact. Their focus shifted to GameStop, and the joke morphed into a meme-driven movement. It gained a ton of attention; an army of people invested in Gamestop, causing hedge funds to lose billions of dollars, with some of these “investors” gaining quite a bit of money. Even billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk got in on the action.
So, you may ask, ‘What led to this?’ Before the pandemonium, GameStop wasn’t exactly a thriving company. Back in the early 2010s, true to its name, GameStop was the prime spot for gamers to buy new and used games for a reasonable price. They were commonly known as a third-party video game retailer for consoles like Xbox and Playstation. Fast forward to 2021, and GameStop is on the verge of bankruptcy. They have become less and less popular because of the transition to digital games — many consoles now use digital codes for games rather than discs, making companies like GameStop virtually useless. The arrival of a global pandemic certainly didn’t help their cause — any remaining customers weren’t shopping in their stores.
Here is where the hedge funds come into play. They use a tactic called “Short Selling,” in which massive corporations like to ‘bet’ on the companies that won’t do well in the future. To do this, they borrow shares in a company and sell them, promising to buy them back at a later date. If the seller is sure the company will lose value, they will make a profit when they buy them back, and the price has fallen. Think of it as gambling — if your bet was wrong, and the price rises, you’d lose money. GameStop was one of the companies that many hedge funds targeted their ‘value loss’ bets on. Among hedge funds, bets like these are commonplace -- they aren’t considered risky anymore. But, r/WallStreetBets was determined to prove them wrong. Large numbers of Redditors bought shares in GameStop, which caused a sharp rise in its share price. None of the hedge funds foresaw this, but since they promised to purchase the shares back, they had to do so. The stock soared up over 500% percent within a few days, shocking the industry.
The trading app, Robinhood, has also played a substantial role in the fiasco. Many of the Redditors associated with r/WallStreetBets use Robinhood to make their investments. Robinhood is facing a plethora of lawsuits due to the restriction of several stocks, including Gamestop. They defended this move by calling it a “risk-management decision” made in the event of “extraordinary circumstances.” Their answer did anything but satisfy the app’s users-- many are accusing the company of negligence and breaching its contract with traders. However, disgruntled users aren’t the only threat to Robinhood. The company’s decision drew condemnation from many prominent figures, including House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev is set to appear before the House Financial Services Committee at some point in the next week. This hearing, which will be conducted virtually, will probe the volatility in shares of GameStop. On top of that, several government entities are looking into the possibility of market manipulation in the case, which, if evident, would cause immense ramifications for Robinhood.
Though the excitement was high during the GameStop surge, the aftermath has been anything but that. Since what goes up must come down, the stock peaked and began to drop rapidly. Many GameStop investors have lost a lot of money, and some are in financial trouble.
“Sticking to the man is a good rallying cry, and it was satisfying to see hedge funds lose billions. But in the end the little guy is going to get hurt.”
By James Beit ’22
It is a well-known fact that companies care most about their profits. It is the jungle law of the free market that directly encourages companies when left alone to monetize as much as their business as possible. Here, in the world of Big Tech, we see its consequence with the monetization of data to sell advertisements. There exist spreadsheets reported by some to contain your address, consumer preferences, job, and sexual orientation. All of this can be sold for pennies, usually to potential advertisers, however this data is valuable and if in the wrong hands can be used for much more sinister purposes. While it may be scary companies are the not only ones who track and keep this data. The National Security Agency (NSA) keeps massive logs and various blacklists of potential threats the scale of which we have only with Edward Snowden’s testimony about P.R.I.S.M
In the recent storming of the Capitol, any phone found in the building was sent to the government. Photos, videos, and even the deleted data were made available to the American security apparatus. Nearly everyone present on the Capitol was put on a no-fly list and arrested. America can be an authoritarian state when it wants to be without much accountability. The strange disconnect between what happened during and what happened after is evident to many. A muted police response began the capitol riot, and the full mustering of the American Security apparatus followed. Moreover, The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security knew about the attack on the Capitol before January 6th. These Agencies knew what would happen, and they did nothing about it, revealing that agencies formerly meant for America’s security can be used as a political tool.
The increasing encroachment of both Big Tech and the Government shows that privacy as a right exists only in platitudes if left unregulated. Phones, keystrokes, and webcams are all tracked and monitored by many, and then all found data is sold. With the Cambridge Analytica scandal, when a British consultant firm stole millions of Facebook users’ data for political advertising, we saw how data could be used as a tool to manipulate a political election. With its ability to predict and sway your politics, this slow but steady advance on your rights is nothing more than a plan to concentrate power and money for the next century.
The lack of privacy measures can lead to information falling into the wrong hands. The power of data to influence our politics is stronger than ever. The Israel lobby has used this to great advantage. In a documentary, Al Jazeera exposed that they can detect and respond to any anti-Israel event on campus within minutes through technical skill and money assistance. This can lead to odd results and skew of American foreign policy as a foreign country can influence our politics with the data Tech companies collect every day.
The scary manipulation of our politics through obscene amounts of money and data is only the beginning of the full-on assault on privacy in America. If knowledge is power, then absolute knowledge is absolute power. Right now, this power lies in the hands of our elected governments; however, our very democratic process is slipping. If our government does nothing, soon, democracy will be undermined and controlled like a puppet with strings attached not to the “consent of the governed,” but to the powerful Big Tech companies.
By Alice Liu ’23
Image Credit: Daily Express
Since the announcement of the new policy in January, WhatsApp has faced tremendous backlash. Many WhatsApp users interpreted the update as an indication that the company would exploit their private conversations and personal data. This interpretation spread on social media and caused the company to lose millions of users. Out of concern for their privacy, many users have opted for alternatives such as Signal and Telegram. Tweets from Elon Musk, advocating for the two alternative platforms, further spurred Whatsapp users to quit the app.
Amid the mass commotion, WhatsApp decided to push the launch of the new policy from February to May. The company is currently working on explaining its new policy to users. WhatsApp said, "We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional.” Niamh Sweeney, WhatsApp’s director of public policy for Europe, added that “there are no changes to our data sharing with Facebook anywhere in the world.” The company ensured users that protecting personal data remains a priority and that private conversations will not be spied on; however, the company did not specify whether personal data, such as phone numbers and locations, will be protected.
The current interpretations of WhatsApp’s new policy remain in conflict. While The New York Times claims that the company’s change merely allows users to message businesses and that users are misinterpreting the new policy, other media outlets such as The Insider and The Guardian point out that the new policy allows businesses to collect WhatsApp users’ data. To fully understand the changes and consequences of the new policy, it is likely users will need to wait until its implementation in May.
By Serin Lee ’22
Many of you may have heard of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases happen when your immune system overreacts and begins to attack your own body. Such instances as this include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others. There is a class of immune diseases known as autoinflammatory diseases, which differs from the typical autoimmune diseases in that they are a malfunction of the innate immune system. For reference, the body’s immune system is divided into the innate and the adaptive immune systems, and the adaptive (a.k.a. acquired) immune system ‘learns’ the pathogens it should attack and produces antibodies for specific targeting. On the other hand, the innate immune system is more primitive and uses white blood cells and inflammation as its weapons.
In autoinflammatory diseases, the innate immune system malfunctions: an example would be a mutation that causes cellular receptors (known as NOD-like receptors or NLRs) to activate frequently. The cell would react by creating an inflammasome to launch an innate immune system response. This leads to the common symptoms of an autoinflammatory disease: joint pain, swelling, rashes, fatigue, and fevers.
Because the class has been recently discovered, many families are finding that their once mysterious illnesses were actually autoinflammatory diseases. As a result, doctors too now know where to treat – the innate immune system, and many patients can live symptom-free. Diseases previously labeled ‘autoimmune diseases’ have been placed into the autoinflammatory category, providing more accurate treatment for their patients.
The autoinflammatory class was recently placed into the spotlight by the categorization of familial Mediterranean fever. A genetic disease thought to have evolved for protection against the plague, the fever caused periodic bouts of illness with symptoms much like other autoinflammatory diseases. Through decades of study, the mutated gene-one misprint in a gene of 3 billion letters on chromosome 16 – was located and labeled as an autoinflammatory disease. Ultimately, similar studies are now being led on other autoinflammatory diseases, helping millions of people regain their health and finally identify once unknown illnesses.
By Grace Yuan ’23
Image Credit: The Economist Intelligence Unit.gif
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to adverse global economic impacts (Huang et al. 2020). The outbreak greatly decreased the global demand for goods and affected supply chains, transportation, international trade, and tourism. How Taiwan dealt with the economic impact of COVID-19 is particularly striking. Taiwan primarily relies on tourism and manufacturing industries for its economy. Initial predictions classified the country as high-risk due to its geographic proximity to the pandemic’s epicenter, alluding to a high likelihood of economic instability. Yet, Taiwan’s economy has been resilient despite the economic constraints.
The increased demand for long-distance communication invigorated Taiwan’s manufacturing sector. Electronics comprise at least half of Taiwan’s annual exports. Remarkably, the country’s finance ministry reported a 24% increase in electronics exports, despite the overall revenue decline by 3.8% in the first quarter (Wang and Ellis, 2020). Such increments mitigated the declining revenue in the country’s tourism and travel sectors. These arguments point out that Taiwan’s diversified economy took advantage of the global demand for communication technology; hence increased national revenue.
Despite the success in the technology sectors, the country’s tourism and aviation sectors accumulated significant losses due to lockdown procedures. However, government stimulus packages for local businesses saw the stabilization of these industries despite extremely low numbers of domestic traveling and declining tourism sector. Interestingly, restricted movements resulted in an increased demand for conducting business and education online; thus a rise in demand for 5G communication and electronic technology, leading to increased revenue (Wang and Ellis, 2020). Furthermore, the rise in demand for electronic communication technology mitigated the declining revenue from the tourism sector, causing a rise in Annual GDP despite adverse outcomes for other Asian countries.
Additionally, global domestic businesses incurred significant losses due to a change in consumption patterns and movement restrictions as a result of the implementation of lockdown measures. Taiwan’s ability to control the spread of the virus resulted in unrestricted domestic movement, maintaining the pre-pandemic levels of the supply and demand for the local commercial activities. Additionally, economic stability generated minimal impact on employment rates, leading to insignificant changes in consumer purchase patterns; hence a boost for local businesses. According to Huang et al. (2020) unemployment rates directly impact a nation’s economy. With disruptions in international trade, maintaining local economic stability contributed to the resilience of Taiwan’s annual GDP.
Taiwan’s strategic ties to China and the US contributed to its revenue increase, especially with the deteriorating politico-economic ties in 2020 due to COVID-19. Zhang and Savage (2020) attribute Taiwan’s increased domestic investments and the rise in demand for its manufacturing products to the competitive ties between the two economic giants. US-China political and trade relations led to an increase in demand for Taiwan’s electronics. For instance, Apple relies on Taiwan’s innovative technology for its electronic devices, since the US government implemented restrictions on China’s Huawei. Also, the onset of the 2018 trade conflict saw numerous Taiwanese manufacturers move their productions from China to home in order to escape the intense sanctions. All in all, the outbreak further stabilized Taiwan’s position as a key player in the communications industry globally.
Taiwan’s successful control of the spread of COVID-19 greatly reduced the effects of the pandemic on its economy. Taiwan’s economic resilience also derived from the trade conflict dynamics between the US and China, which saw increased domestic investments, and a rise in communication technology exports. Overall, the country’s resilience during the pandemic mainly from its ability to maintain international and domestic trade practices despite the high risk geographical and politico-economic global state. Taiwan can utilize its success to establish a leading role in global supply chains, especially in its manufacturing sectors. Given the success of Taiwan’s policy to recover its economy, other countries should take Taiwan as an example to ameliorate their situations.
Huang, C., Hsu, C., Chiou, M., and Chen, C. (2020). The main factors affecting Taiwan’s economic growth rate via dynamic grey relational analysis. PLoS ONE, 15(10): e0240065. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240065
Wang, C. and Ellis, S. (30 April 2020). Taiwan dodges the worst economic impacts of coronavirus. Bloomberg; Economics. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-30/taiwan-dodges-worst-economic-impacts-of-virus-and-keeps-growing
Zhang, J.J. and Savage, V.R. (2020). The geopolitical ramifications of COVID-19: The Taiwanese exception. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 61 (4-5), 464-481. https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2020.1779773
By Sung Min Cho ‘22
It’s almost the end of Aquarius season, and at Westminster, the academic year is at its halfway point. The final stretch of the year poses exciting and challenging perennial traditions: exams, the Lawn Ceremony and Commencement; however, it is also the point at which students feel fully acclimated and involved in the workings of the Westminster community. As such, I sat down with Jaden Goodsell '23, a new Martlet, and fellow Memorial Hall resident, for a quick and “low-key” chat about his time at the school, especially with the changes posed by the pandemic.
How has it been getting to meet new peers within your form? Is it easier or harder than you would expect?
Really easy. I knew some kids before coming: Oliver Hocking '23, Colin Pogue '23, Jack Rockefeller '23. They’re super friendly, so personable.
What do you guys do?
We play sports usually. In the fall, we would sit on the quad and bop to music, watch whatever was going on.
Yeah, you know that’s so similar to what students did before the pandemic. Even with these huge changes to society, I guess there are only so many things teenage students can get up to. Good to hear though! How has it been interacting with upperclassmen and those in different forms? Is there a lack of mixing between forms?
‘Meh, not as much. There are some upperclassmen who I’m close with. They’re mostly in Memorial. It’s harder to know those in different dorms. Not always though — one would be Baker (Baker Morton '22), who lives in Squibb. But I do know most people’s names!
That’s pretty legit, yeah. Even in a normal year, there’s the seniors you know — the ones who are sort of your seniors -- if that makes any sense. They tend to be in the same dorm, like you talked about. But yes, the fact that you know most people’s names is such a relieving thing to hear. One of the greatest quirks of our school is that everyone has an idea of who everyone else is; I was worried the pandemic was going to undercut that knowledge, but I guess the spirit has lived on. It’s cool how resilient humans are to preserving social systems.
Yeah, there’s such a friendly community here and a lot of activities to do even during the restrictions. Next year, I’m excited for more freedom. I hear about what it used to be like. Studs on Saturdays right? Ha, and [I] really look forward to visiting other dorms and open houses. Same with the dining hall. On my tour I was really impressed by it: the options, kids huddled over tables, the panini press, and the salad bar. Also, Simsbury is a cool town, and I know students used to be able to sign out, grab food at the stores and cafes, and take long weekends off. Westminster has been an amazing time, but freedom of movement in town is something I really look forward to.
You’d definitely have fun at studs, and the town experience is something I miss, too. The Westminster experience is so much larger than the physical campus and academic schedule: it encompasses the towns nearby us, the stores, restaurants, and weekend activities like you said. It was sad to see you guys miss a part of that, but it’ll only get better from here. The dining hall is such an eclectic space for friendships and community. It’s crazy to think about the amount of dialogue that’s happened in that one space. Westminster has adapted well though: it's impressive how much the school has managed to preserve in light of this public health crisis.
In so many ways, what makes Westminster an exceptional community lives on. To know that our newest Martlets have a good acclimation to the school is just fantastic. Looking forward, the spring is the season of celebration at Westminster: a time where the earnest effort of each academic year matures to a peak. Let’s keep the energy going, and send off the 2020-2021 academic year as one to be remembered.
By Catie McGuigan ’23
Image Credit: Seshu Photography
Through the second quarantine at Westminster, students entered the dorms with great hope for the upcoming Winter Trimester.