Gov. Cuomo facing multiple harassment accusations

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

Andrew Cuomo, the 56th governor of the state of New York, has recently been facing sexual harassment allegations from multiple women over the course of the past few weeks. Most of New York’s congressional delegation across the country are demanding his resignation.

The accusations towards Gov. Cuomo include sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior, stemming from multiple women, including both current and former state employees. Letitia James, New York’s state attorney general, has opened an investigation into the claims and named two outside lawyers to lead them.

Gov. Cuomo has refuted every single one of these claims and resisted the calls for his resignation, surmounting it to a result of political differences and the negative effects of a newly emerging ‘cancel-culture’. The only apology he has issued thus far is for “acting in a way that made people feel uncomfortable”.

While some of the claims against the 64-year-old governor include only verbal harassment, others are more physical and explicit. In October 2017, Lindsey Boylan, a former administration aide, wrote in an online essay a myriad of uncomfortable and inappropriate interactions she has had with Gov. Cuomo spanning from 2015 to 2018. Boylan wrote that Mr. Cuomo told her they should “play strip poker” during a flight from an event in Western New York.

Boylan also wrote that, in 2018, Cuomo gave her a kiss on the lips that was unexpected and not consented to.

“As I got up to leave and walk toward an open door, he stepped in front of me and kissed me on the lips,” wrote Boylan.

She also wrote that he had gone “out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs.”

The governor’s office has denied these allegations, as well as the several others that have surfaced.

This isn’t the only scandal the governor is facing. Earlier in the year, it was released in a 76-page report that New York’s Department of Health underreported the deaths relating to the coronavirus as much as 50%.

The report contains allegations that the nursing homes failed to isolate residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and also demanded that employees who reported symptoms of feeling sick had to continue to come to work, under the threat of termination.

The report also claims that nursing homes in New York had insufficient protective equipment for their staff, insufficient testing materials for their residents, and lack of compliance with an order requiring communication with residents’ family members.

This scandal is, along with the sexual assault allegations, is currently being investigated.

One of the most interesting facts of these scandals and allegations plaguing Gov. Cuomo is that the demand for his resignation is bipartisan. In a country currently gripped by political unrest, extremely divided with their citizens on “one side or the other,” both elected officials of the Republican Party and Cuomo’s fellow Democrats are calling for him to step down. On March 12, nearly every Democrat in New York’s congressional delegation said that Mr. Cuomo had lost the ability to govern.

Women at Alma College are also voicing their displeasure with the conduct of New York’s governor.

“Men can be so disgusting in terms of how they use their power,” said Sophia Liolli (‘22). “If they have too much power, they can pull terrible events like these, which can traumatize a victim for years or even decades.”

“I think it’s sad to say that I’m not surprised that Cuomo is being accused of sexual assault,” said Racheal Vanloo (‘24). “It seems that almost every man in power is getting a light shined on him and now we’re finding out the disturbing truth.”

Covid-19 Relief Bill set to pass

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

The United States Senate voted 50-49 in favor of passing the final version of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Saturday, Mar. 6.

The voting session lasted for 24 hours. Of all the votes, every single Democrat in the Senate voted for the bill, and every single Republican in the Senate voted against it. Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska was absent for the vote due to being away at a family funeral.

The relief package, also known as the American Rescue Plan and one of Biden’s largest campaign promises, is set to provide a new round of payments to Americans struggling financially due to the pandemic.

The package is also set to provide an increase to the child tax credit, and an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits lasting until Sept. 6, 2021. The bill is currently being prioritized due to the fact that current federal unemployment benefits are set to expire Mar. 14.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stressed how important bi-partisan support on the bill was in order to “save lives and livelihoods” on Saturday. However, bi-partisan support is extremely scarce. Most all Republicans in the Senate have ruthlessly criticized President Biden’s relief package, as well as the Democrats’ strategy of pushing the bill to the Senate by way of budget reconciliation, passing the package without the support of any Republicans.

“Democrats decided their top priority wasn’t pandemic relief,” said Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in an interview with CNBC. “It was their Washington wish list. It was jamming through unrelated policy changes they couldn’t pass honestly. A colossal missed opportunity for our nation.”

Despite this criticism, President Biden is thrilled with the passing of his bill.

“When we took office 45 days ago, I promised the American people that help was on the way,” said Biden. “Today, I can say we’ve taken one more giant step forward in delivering on that promise.”

Biden also stressed the importance of the package, noting the unfortunate milestone of 500,000 American lives lost to COVID-19. He also noted the closings of hundreds of small businesses, millions of American citizens out of work and so many families struggling to pay for food and rent.

“It obviously wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, but it was so desperately needed,” said Biden.

The Senate version added a provision to the bill that makes any student loan forgiveness passed between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2026, tax-free, instead of treating the forgiven debt as taxable income.

Over $128 billion in grants to are set to go to state educational agencies, with 90% of this money allocated to local educational agencies. $39 billion is set to go to higher education institutions, like Alma College.

“I think [the bill] is a step in the right direction,” said David Troyer (‘24). “I’m glad about it. I know a lot of people didn’t get a lot of income this year, because no one really knew what was going on, through no fault of our own.”

Though getting it to pass through the Senate was the big hurdle, the bill has not reached the end of its journey. It is set to be taken up by the House of Representatives the week of Mar. 8, then to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

“I find it considerate that the government is trying to help,” said Troyer. “They’re trying to make sure that us ‘common folk’ are alright, especially those of us who are trying to get ourselves educated in an economy that’s becoming more increasingly demanding.”

Winter storm Uri hits southwestern U.S.

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

Turbulent weather ripping across the Southeastern United States, the cause of the Winter Storm Uri, is likely a result of climate change further heating up the Arctic, say some environmental scientists.

In Texas alone, more than 30 individuals have died because of the harsh snowstorms and cold weather that have left many Texas residents without power and heat. As record-low temperatures moved throughout states like Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and Oregon, power grids overwhelmed by high demand for heat implemented rolling blackouts to ease the strain.

Since Wednesday, Feb. 17 more than 1.6 million homes and businesses in Texas remained without power, and some also lost water service. Texas officials ordered 7 million people, which is a quarter of the population of Texas, the United States’ second-largest state, to boil their tap water before drinking it. The entirety of Austin, Texas is under a water boil notice, city officials announced that Wednesday night.

Many residents of Texas are frustrated with the power outages, wondering when they’ll be through with relying on huddling under blankets as their only source of warmth.

“We have zero confidence in ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) and Austin Energy caring about us or doing anything,” said Josh Sklar, a resident of northwest Austin, in an interview with USA Today.

“We are very angry,” said Amber Nichols, another Texas resident, in the same interview. “I was checking on my neighbor, she’s angry, too. We’re all angry because there is no reason to leave entire neighborhoods freezing to death. This is a complete bungle.”

Texas isn’t the only state in the United States being slammed with extreme weather conditions. On Monday, Feb. 15, residents of a coastal North Carolina community were struck with a tornado, which ripped through killing three residents and injuring 10.

The tornado reached wind speeds of up to 160 mph and several homes were destroyed, with several others left “severely” damaged. In total, at least 50 homes were affected and damaged in the tornado, according to a news release from Brunswick County Emergency Services.

There were four reports of tornadoes on Monday, Feb. 15, caused by the major Winter Storm Uri. Tornadoes also raged on and tore through homes and other structures, leaving at least four people injured in Florida and Georgia.

All in all, the damages from Winter Storm Uri in Texas alone will cost businesses billions of dollars.

Environmental scientists attribute it to the warming of the Arctic. Polar vortexes caused by a warming Arctic aren’t an abnormal occurrence, but they are usually more contained, the vortex and acting as a “lasso” of sorts, according to CBS News, and it keeps the cold air trapped inside. But the warmer the Arctic gets, weaker and longer the jet stream becomes, which allows the cold air to plunge south.

“Growing up in Texas, you’re often taught that Texas is the state that would be most likely to secede due to the fact that they have their own isolated power grid,” said Wiley Delisa (‘24). Delisa was raised in Texas, and more recently, has called Georgia his home.

“The problem with [Texas’ independence] is that now that they’re having a climate change induced extreme winter weather event, there is no way for them to handle their entire power grid going down and there’s not a lot that the federal government can do because they’re on an isolated power grid that was built in the 50s and 60s. There’s also the fact that they have senators who don’t care about them.”

As Texans and all those across the southeast wonder if there’s an end in sight, without power, it seems like hoping is unfortunately all they can do.

“I think this situation shows a lot about the values that we have in our country today, especially how we don’t care about each other,” said Delisa. “I think capitalism has bred this kind of environment where it’s every man for himself, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” extends to updating dangerously outdated technology.”

Senate blocks minimum wage bill

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

Senate lawmakers, in an overnight voting session that lasted for 15 hours on Friday, Feb. 6, dismissed President Joe Biden’s bill to bump the minimum wage to $15/hour nationwide.

The bill, titled the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, and included in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus plan, has stirred up controversy between both senators and citizens across the United States.

At the overnight voting session on Friday (also called a ‘vote-a-rama’ where over 800 amendments were passed), both independent Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican Senator Joni Ernst made their arguments for and against the bill, respectively. According to the New York Times, both of the senators stressed the importance of keeping the interest of the American people in mind, but on different sides of the bill.

“…We end this debate in a moment in which our country faces more crises, more pain, more anxiety than any time since the Great Depression,” said Senator Sanders. “But we have the opportunity to give hope to the American people and restore faith in our government by telling them that tonight we understand the pain that they are experiencing, and we are going to do something very significant about it.”

Senator Ernst was very much against the passing of this bill, his largest argument being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time they can least afford it,” said Senator Ernst. However, Senator Sanders argued that the bill was not to raise the minimum wage immediately, in the middle of the pandemic, but rather gradually over the next five years.

Nevertheless, while the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan was passed by Democrat Senators, the minimum wage bill included was blocked. The minimum wage in the U.S. is currently $7.25 (though many states have already raised it) and has not been federally changed since 2009. Arguments were being strongly made for and against the raising of the minimum wage, all of which were similar to the argument of Senators Sanders and Ernst.

Those in favor of the bill stressed the benefits for those working in fast food, serving, or cashier jobs. The raising of the minimum wage would lift pay for approximately 32 million workers in the United States, and, according to a CBO study, could cut unemployment and poverty rates.

The argument of those in favor of the bill is that so many of those who praised these workers for being ‘heroes’ at the beginning of the pandemic, and for putting themselves in potential harm’s way, are now being forgotten and pushed aside.

Those against the bill mainly voice their concerns for the economy; a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott warned in an interview with Fox News that the bill would “put a boot on the neck of small businesses struggling under the weight of the pandemic”.

Student workers at Alma College oftentimes make minimum wage and would also be impacted by the proposed legislation. Some students recognize the controversy while others endorse the idea of an increased minimum wage.

“I think that we should be cognizant of the area we live, the cost of living, and small businesses as well,” said Alexis John (‘24). “The minimum wage in New York is higher than here, but so is the cost of living in New York. I would say that the minimum wage can be raised, but those factors are really important.”

“I can see how it can be controversial,” said Jason Dunquist (‘24). “But here’s what I think: a fifteen-dollar minimum wage isn’t going to ruin your life, but it’s definitely going to help other peoples’.”

Despite the bill being currently left out of the COVID relief package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a news conference, assured the American people that the bill was still a huge priority for Democrats like herself.

“It doesn’t mean it won’t happen just because it won’t happen there,” said Pelosi. “There’s so much in the package that has to be done right now, and we’ll do the best we can.”

Former MI governor, others facing charges

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

On Thursday, Jan. 14, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced they would be charging former Michigan governor Rick Snyder for his role in the Flint water crisis.

Along with Snyder, seven former officials and one current Michigan official are also being charged for their roles in the crisis. Together, they’re all facing 42 counts, ranging from perjury to misconduct in office to involuntary manslaughter.

Former Republican Gov. Snyder is facing two counts of willful neglect, both of which are misdemeanors which will lead to a maximum of one year in prison and a fine up to $1000. This is the first time in Michigan’s history that a current or former governor is facing charges for alleged misconduct while they are in office.

According to NPR, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the investigation included pouring over “literally millions and millions of documents and several electronic devices.”

“Our work on this case begins with the understanding that the impact of the Flint water crisis cases and what happened in Flint will span generations and probably well beyond,” said Worthy.

The Flint water crisis began in 2014 when the city switched its water supply. Almost immediately, the residents began complaining about the quality of the water, but city and state officials denied for months that there was a serious problem. By then, the supply pipes had gone through major coercion and lead was making its way into the water of Flint, a city where about 40 percent of residents live in poverty.

Finally, after preliminary testing revealed “dangerous” amounts of lead in the water, and an increase in lead levels being found in the children of Flint, the city reverted back to the old water supply. Unfortunately, the damage made to the pipes was irreversible. In Jan 2016, then Gov. Snyder declared a state of emergency in Genesee County, and shortly after then President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency, authorizing additional help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

But the damage had been done. It was estimated that 6,000-12,000 children in Flint were exposed to lead, and the whole crisis left 12 dead and over 80 sick with Legionnaires Disease.

Snyder’s attorney referred to the charges to the Detroit Free Press as “a politically motivated smear campaign”. The Detroit Free Press also reported that Snyder entered a not guilty plea that same Thursday from a Genessee County jail booth, appearing with his attorney over Zoom.

When asked about their thoughts on the charges, students at Alma College had many strong feelings.

“The Flint water crisis is still a relevant issue that this city is facing, as many people in the community were impacted,” said Maria Vostrizansky (‘24). “Even though this event took place seven years ago and was under a different administration, it doesn’t mean that those who neglected to take responsibility cannot still face the legal consequences.”

“The Flint water crisis was a tragic, easily avoidable time period caused directly by the actions of former Governor Snyder,” said Brenna Smith (‘24). “After contaminating a city with nearly 100,000 people, the punishment Snyder will only potentially be facing is laughable. Flint’s population is largely made up of people of color, many of whom already face difficulties due to housing, discrimination, poverty, and more. Snyder’s negligence was both intentional and destructive to a community struggling under the effects of systemic racism.”

On Jan 25, Snyder’s attorneys filed a formal request to dismiss the charges against him. According to the Michigan Attorney General’s office, the next court appearance for the other defendants is Feb 18.

“A $1000 fine and a year in prison is not nearly enough accountability for a man who effectively poisoned an entire city,” said Smith. “His meager punishment is a prominent display of white privilege. Snyder must have more accountability for the life-long effects his actions have caused for the people of Flint.”

Hepatitis C discovery wins Nobel Prize

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

Three scientists, one from Britian and two from the United States, have received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Psychology for their discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Michael Houghton, Harvey Alter and Charles Rice were announced the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize at a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden last week. According to the news release, these three scientists “made a decisive contribution to the fight against blood-borne hepatitis, a major global health problem that causes cirrhosis and liver cancer in people around the world.” Hepatitis C is typically transmitted through shared or reused needles and syringes, infected blood transfusions and sexual practices that lead to blood exposure. Many of those infected aren’t aware that they are infected with it; in most low-income countries, most can’t even afford to be tested for it. This unknown exposure can lead to further transmission of the virus, and liver cancer, later in life.

The discovery of this virus means that for the first time in history, it can be cured, which will save millions of lives, according to the Nobel Prize committee.

In the 1960s, Hepatitis C was an unknown killer, leaving many patients mysteriously infected with chronic hepatitis after blood transfusions that contained an unknown infecting agent. After decades of trial and error, Houghton, Alter and Rice made the discovery of Hepatitis C. Because of this discovery made by the three scientists, the Nobel committee has stated that blood tests for the virus are now available and have essentially eliminated the transmission of the virus through blood transfusions.

About 71 million people worldwide live with the virus, and the Nobel committee has stated that it has killed about as many or more people than the COVID-19 pandemic has, and it has been plaguing scientists and all people across the world for decades.

“For the longest time, we had nothing to treat this virus with,” said Dr. Guadalupe Garcia Tsao in an interview with the New York Times. “For most of my career, it was the bane of my existence. But from the moment they made these discoveries, the numbers of sick people went down dramatically.”

One of the recipients of the award, Dr. Alger from the United States, is hopeful for the future with this discovery of Hepatitis C. He believes that with increased testing, the world can “eradicate this disease over the next decades, even in the absence of a vaccine,” he said.

Students at Alma College also felt excited and hopeful about this discovery and the probability of how many people these scientists have helped and will help.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Racheal VanLoo (‘24). “I think they deserve the award for all their accomplishments. Discovering a virus is just as important as curing it because they have to know what they’re fighting off.”

“I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Rachael Dahl (‘24). “Hopefully a vaccine will come soon and help all these people that have been suffering for so long.”

The process in which the virus was recorded, and then many years later, discovered, seems to mirror the COVID-19 pandemic currently plaguing the U.S. “The nature of biological research doesn’t change much simply because the world is attaching much greater importance to it,” said biology researcher John Timmer in an article for ARS Technica. Timmer believes that a vaccine and eventual cure to the coronavirus is on its way but will also take lots of time to comprehend and understand what tools are needed to fight it, just as the Hepatitis C virus did.

“With the state of the world right now, I think all of us are looking for good news,” said Dahl. Knowing that millions of lives will be saved because of this is the exact kind of thing we need right now.”

Puerto Rico to Receive Billions

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

On Friday, Sept. 18, President Trump announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be sending almost $13 billion, including $11.6 billion in federal funding, in aid to Puerto Rico to help rebuild. This announcement came almost exactly three years after Hurricane Maria caused devastating damage in Sept. 2017. Congress had approved this allocation of funds in 2018.

The grants are two of the largest grants ever awarded by FEMA and, according to the White House website, “illustrate President Trump’s unwavering commitment to rebuilding Puerto Rico and aiding Puerto Ricans as they continue to recover from multiple natural disasters.”

In what was called the “most devastating U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years,” Hurricane Maria slammed the island with winds of 155 mph, killed almost 3000 residents of Puerto Rico (leaving even more of them without homes) and caused about $100 million in damage. Since then, earthquakes, flash floods, an economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic have caused even more devastation to the island.

The announcement of this aid came less than fifty days before the presidential election. President Trump had previously criticized the officials of Puerto Rico and stated that no more money needed to go there because it would be “wasted.”

When asked why he had approved money to go there so close to the election, Trump responded that he had been advocating for this money to be sent for a long time but it had been held up by Democrats in Congress.

The White House announced that $9.6 million included in this aid sent by FEMA will be used to restore electrical grids that had left Puerto Rico with the longest blackout in U.S. history. $2 billion will be used for the Department of Education to help repair school buildings across the island. With this new amount of aid, the White House announced they had thus far sent about $26 billion to Puerto Rico. Congress has approved about $43 billion.

In an interview with CBS news, Puerto Rican resident Angel Perez said the United States government has been of very little help in Puerto Rico’s recovery. “As a community social worker, I can tell you that Puerto Rico’s recovery, if it can be called that, didn’t come thanks to the government,” said Perez. It came from nonprofit associations, it came from the neighbors themselves. It came from foundations. It came from the hands of other people who supported the families that suffered the most.”

When asked about this new announcement of funding, students at Alma had some different opinions. Some felt straightforwardly about the aid. “I believe that the U.S. should fulfill this promise as best they can to help Puerto Rico,” said Lucy Woods (‘24). “I would like for all of that money to get there. I believe that when you promise something, you should fulfill that promise.”

Some students felt rather conflicted about this amount of money sent to Puerto Rico. “I would like for America to send as much aid as they possibly can to Puerto Rico because they’ve got a lot of problems,” said David Troyer (‘24). “The hurricane caused so much devastation and they need all the help they can get. However, national debt has increased and with the election, I think this decision needs to be postponed for a couple more months unless the current administration can figure something out.”

The 3.2 million residents of Puerto Rico are not eligible to vote in the U.S. election, but they will be electing a governor and a few other local officials on the same day. However, all the residents of Puerto Rico that fled the island and now reside in the United States will be voting in the election on Nov. 3.

Alma proceeds with second round of COVID testing

ELLA BRIGHT
STAFF WRITER

New rounds of COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, staff and contract workers began on Monday, Sept. 14 and continued into Thursday, Sept. 17. The testing was conducted on the Dunning Memorial Chapel lawn and was held each day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Testing was split between students alphabetically according to last name. It was conducted in the same way it was when students moved onto campus: polymerase chain reaction via a nasal swab. The testing was completely free to students and mandatory to attend.

Similar to the first round of testing, students would not be informed if they tested negative. They would only be informed if they tested positive for COVID-19. Students who are attending Alma solely online and are not student athletes were not required to be tested.

This new round of testing was not a surprise to most students at Alma; though necessary, it was not necessarily welcomed with open arms. “The first time we did it, I had my mom to hold onto,” said Mishaye Hearn (‘24). “[The test] became so painful to the point where I was physically taking his wrist off me.” When asked how she felt about this new round of testing, Hearn honestly said, “I’m terrified!”

Kara Sutherland (‘24) shared some of the same fears. “[I’m] nervous,” said Sutherland.

She also shared how she felt these tests were necessary. “[It’s] necessary to make sure that the measures that have been taken to protect the students are accurate and proven effective,” said Sutherland. “I am ready and capable to be tested again.”

Hearn also shared that, despite her fears, she felt this new round of testing was extremely important. “It’s a 50/50 thing,” said Hearn. “I know it’s necessary, so I’m okay with it.”

The testing followed an email from President Jeff Abernathy on Friday, Sept. 11, that stated there was recently an increase in likely cases. The email said that while ‘unfortunate’, this uptick in cases was ‘not entirely unexpected’ after the Labor Day weekend.

As of Sept. 17, there were 17 positive cases on campus. As a result of the recent uptick in cases, all non-classroom activities were limited to no more than 25 people. President Abernathy stated in the email that once all the campus-wide testing results were received, this restriction will be reviewed.

At the end of his email update, President Abernathy stressed the importance of social distancing, wearing face coverings, washing hands, completing the daily health screening form and staying home if you are feeling sick.

“It’s up to those of us who are not in isolation or quarantine to stay focused and serious about COVID-19, so as to not overwhelm our campus resources and the local healthcare system,” said the email.

With rising cases in schools all over Michigan, this campus-wide testing will provide a clearer picture of what further steps Alma needs to take in order to ensure the safety of students, staff and community.

“I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and what we’re told to do, we should be able to get back to some sort of normalcy,” said Sutherland.

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