Untitled: October 2020

by: Gowri Somayajula

In all honesty, this week’s article was supposed to be about the FinCEN files and the impact of discovering that billions of dollars have been laundered by large financial giants since the early 2000s. 

But I couldn’t bring myself to write it. And then I thought long and hard to myself: about what I did want to write. 

Firstly, reader, I ask you how you are. Are you safe? Are you happy? Are you in a good place in life? 

Or do you feel alone? Adrift in times of confusion, aloof in times of duress. 

I guess we’re all alone, aren’t we? I think we’ve forgotten how much interactions shape our lives, how much interactions have become a part of who we are. I think we’ve forgotten how much we rely on each other, as a community that thrives and grows as one. We breathe as one, laugh as one. We’re alive as one. Well… at least we were. 

And I miss it. The sound of full playgrounds, children, and laughter. The sound of bustling classrooms and hallways, the sound of shoes on tile. The sound of voices and heated discussion. 

Quarantine has dragged on for 6 months, and as each month passes it feels as though time is turning into molasses. Time seems to stretch into forever and every day has somehow turned into an unidentifiable pattern of something that is much of the same. 

Secondly, reader, I hope you are safe. I hope this virus has not disrupted your life (and if it has, I can only pray that it will get better). I hope that tomorrow will be a better day. I hope that the elected officials of the United States make better decisions and that this year-long torment ends. 

I want to go back to the way things used to be, picnicking with friends on the glade or participating in Dandiya and Diwali celebrations on campus. As a senior, I realise my time at Cal is coming to an end, and while I choose not to think about it, the little voice at the back of my head nags me that these moments are fleeting, this time is wasted and life is too short. After my three odd years here, I know that I will miss it. Miss north Berkeley and farmer’s markets on the weekends. The traffic and bad roads. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge. I will miss the people I’ve met (and the people I haven’t). I will miss the conversations that have changed my life and my perspective. But mostly I will miss who I am (or was? Am I the same?). I will miss the young, curious, inquisitive mind, looking to learn. I will miss the frustration and anger and the growth as tough classes gradually get easier (and I grow a year older). 

But reader, as was once said in the Lord of the Rings: 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. 

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

And those are the words that I chose to live my life by. Not out of choice but out of necessity of circumstance. I can’t control what isn’t in my hands, and perhaps it’s time to let go, if just a little. Of things beyond my control, and things beyond my capabilities. Tomorrow is a new day but today, for the moment, I will cherish what I have.

For it is not The End, but the Beginning

by: Gowri Somayajula

You are not alone in these times. The times when the world closes around, the wind seems cold and aloof, the sky is quiet and the earth so still. 

You are not alone in these times. The times when the voices of people shouting raise louder and louder, demanding to be heard as the silence of their oppressors becomes deafening, the fires lick higher and higher, a dangerous red, a beautiful red, the ring of a siren screeches farther and farther as hospitals fill and uncertainty lingers caressing us as she passes. Life has become a question. Questions of who, what, when. Questions of where, why, how.

You are not alone in these times. The times when waking up has become a struggle, a question of what each day of new reality will bring. When each night sheds a shroud, a cover, a blanket of broken spirits, and quelled rebellions. A peoples broken, a prayer unheard.  

There’s a song in the wind. It’s singing to you (don’t you hear). Singing of better times, different times. We will be eternal, the voice says. Cherished, held, loved. We are no longer silent observers of fate, unrestrained unbridled unchecked. 

It is in each other we will find our peace, our quiet, our homes. It is in each other we will find our voices. It is in the small actions of kindness, the unsung acts of courage, the silent gestures of love that we remember the resilience of our kind.

As we plunge into chaos, we question what it means to be human. What it means to be a human. The human condition, afflicted with conflict, rage and greed. We suffer, imperfect and flawed, unlike the heroes of our myths, the gods in our religions. We are petty and jealous, selfish and cruel. We are not beautiful. Not the beautiful elves of Tolkien, nor the mermaids of Andersen. We fight, we fall, we break. And like all else on this gracious Earth, we die.

We are not permanent. 

 “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; for, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

Margaret Mead

And yet our spirit lives on. Lives on to tell tales of the past, to remind us of our histories and who we are. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that civilization cannot be determined by buried vases, pots, or mosaics, but rather by the number of healed bones (thighs, arms, ribs) found in skeletal remains. If we were wild animals, our packs would have left us to die, weak and frail. And so we must perhaps redefine the human condition, as one of love and support, and unbridled affection. Of listening and encouraging, and furthering the conversation on topics we hesitate to vocalize. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; for, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

We have won before. We will win again.

Listen and you will hear:
The people are speaking, the winds are shifting
There’s a voice in the air (don’t you hear), and she will not be silenced. 

UWEB stands with BLM.

Below are some links and resources. Donate if you are able:
https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/
https://www.reclaimtheblock.org/
https://bailproject.org/
http://cuapb.org/
https://www.knowyourrightscamp.com/
https://www.joincampaignzero.org/



At the World’s End? Let’s Not Lose Our Heads Just Yet.

By Gowri Somayajula

It’s 9:30 am Eastern and the trading bell has rung. It sounds a little like a train rattling on its tracks, uncertain where it’s journey will take it. Much like what happened this particular Monday morning. A mere five minutes into trading, the S&P 500 fell by 7% triggering a trading curb (a temporary halt in trading that prevents people from going insane and repeatedly pressing the panic button to sell) that halted markets for 15 minutes. The markets calmed and traded resumed again. Almost as though everything was normal. At the time of writing, the S&P is still down 6.21%. This panic wasn’t caused solely by Coronavirus (it would be unfair to shift the entire blame of the stock market, but rather due to drastic price decreases in the oil prices (the lowest they’ve been since 1991, caused by the beginning of the Gulf War). To quickly summarize what is happening here are a few key bullet points that I won’t go into the details:

  • Coronavirus has significantly impacted transportation and export businesses around the world, leading to low demand for oil which led to drastically falling prices.
  • OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting consists of 14 oil-producing companies that account for 44% of all oil production and 81.5% of global oil reserves) decided to cut oil production. This was in hopes to prevent oil prices from falling further by cutting supply by 1.5 million barrels a day. Saudi Arabia is the second-largest producer of oil. Russia (not an OPEC member) is the third. Russia and Saudi Arabia as of 2016 worked together on their production quantities. But not this time.
  • Russia decided to go against the OPEC decision, choosing to scale production up. Reducing production would benefit American shale producers, and Moscow wanted to retaliate in response to sanctions placed on Russian energy companies. They want to flood the market with their oil (making buying Russian oil cheaper than buying OPEC oil) which would increase the consumption of Russian oil. 
  • Saudi Arabia reacted in retaliation by also choosing to ramp up production, stating that it would decrease prices for Asian consumers in hopes to increase their global market share.
  • The problem: both Russia and Saudi Arabia rely heavily on oil production: Saudi Arabia increasingly so. Petroleum production and sale accounts for 42% of its GDP. Russia’s oil and gas sector only accounts for 16% of its GDP. They both may not be capable of sustaining their economies without diversifying (or seizing the opportunity to gain market share).
  • So now we have a 30% price reduction of crude oil prices and since oil is a commodity sold on the stock market, and there are multiple assets linked to the sale of oil, people start selling assets when they face uncertainty. Being unsure means they would rather not take the risk, but instead, sell of toxic assets. And that means the world is going into more panic. While it’s already panicking. 

But the general gist of the above was that there was panic. So much of it in fact that the financial markets plummeted so rapidly it triggered a countermeasure that hasn’t been used since the night President Trump won the election. But what can be said about this panic is that we have in fact seen it before. Throughout history, we have had epidemics impact our economies and our stock markets. We’ve had SARS and MERS, we’ve had H1N1, Ebola, and influenza. There was once the bubonic plague. During 2003, the SARS outbreak lasted 7 months, cutting travel back with Asian carriers losing $6 billion and American carriers losing $1 billion. The Brookings Institution conducted a study on the economic impact of closing schools in the United States. ¼th all civilian workers in the US (at the time) had a child under 16. One adult staying home would lose between $5.2 and $23.6 billion in just two weeks. Four weeks could have seen losses of $47.1 billion dollars. But we recovered, did we not? The economy has been a bull market (a market that has seen consistent growth, upward market prices, and faith that these upward market trends will persistent) since 2009.

Source

Look at the above graph. We see the growth, the changes in the global economy that have been made. This current economy is unprecedented. Through globalization, we have the power to trade in an instant, transfer money in seconds and communicate so rapidly that changes across the world have more direct impacts on the economy then has ever been seen before. What we do today has never been done before. Then it will come as no surprise when we will term it this global catastrophe a Black Swan (as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Probable). Any event described as such can be categorized by the following: 

  1. The event occurs as a surprise to the Observer.
  2. The event has a major effect. 
  3. After it has been recorded, it will be written off as though it should have been predicted, as if the occurrences leading up to the event are observable and in plain sight. 

The rise of the Internet was a Black Swan. World War 1 was a Black Swan. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was a Black Swan. And the thing that links them all (no matter how different they appear, is that we will explain it away in the future and eventually the world will continue as usual. 

“infectious disease outbreaks such as the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of 2002– 04 and the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic of 2009, behavioral effects are believed to have been responsible for as much as 80 or 90 percent of the total economic impact of the epidemics”

The World Bank Economic, Impact of the 2014 Ebola Epidemic

A study done by the World Bank in 2014 looked into the economic impacts of disease. In the study, they found that “infectious disease outbreaks such as the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic of 2002– 04 and the H1N1 (swine flu) epidemic of 2009, behavioral effects are believed to have been responsible for as much as 80 or 90 percent of the total economic impact of the epidemics”(1). We attribute most of behavioural economics to things we perceive to be true: things that we perceive will affect us in the future, and that’s what the research reflects: when people panic, it’s not in response to the epidemic itself, but rather a response to the actions taken by individuals, corporations and governments.

 Just last week on March 3rd, Jerome Powell (head of the Fed) recently cut the federal interest rate by half a percentage point (0.5%) in response to slowing demand and in hopes of encouraging consumer spending. It wasn’t stated but the underlying message was clear: warning bells are tolling. “It will support accommodative financial conditions and avoid a tightening of financial conditions which can weigh on activity. And it will help boost household and business confidence,” he stated last Tuesday. But interest rates are already low so investors find it impossible to maintain their confidence. 

As Captain Jack Sparrow once said in the third Pirates of the Caribbean (At World’s End): “Let us not, dear friends, forget our dear friends the cuttlefish… flipper conories little sausages. Pin them up together and they will devour each other without a second thought. Human nature, in’it? Or… fish nature. So yes! We could hold up here well-provisioned and well-armed and half of us would be dead within the month!”(2). We can’t all expect to be holed up forever (in fact, there isn’t enough toilet paper for us to be holed up forever if Costco shelves are a measure to go by). Humans aren’t predictable, and that’s ok (we would be robots if the models and the theories could accurately contain the entire spectrum of human response and emotion). Worry and concern are natural responses to a pandemic, but it is completely unreasonable for us to expect that things will stay this way forever: be cautious and wary. Dark times are coming. Woe to us all. 

Just kidding. Stay safe, wash your hands for 20 seconds and reduce unnecessary social contact and as Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore once said: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”


Citations:

(1) The, World Bank. Economic Impact of the 2014 Ebola Epidemic : Short- and Medium-Term Estimates for West Africa, World Bank Publications, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/berkeley-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1903364. Created from berkeley-ebooks on 2020-03-09 10:37:40

(2) Verbinski, Gore, director. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 2007.

SparkNotes: Must be funny in a rich man’s world

By Gowri Somayajula

Right. To recap on where we left off. We had learned about what the geographical boundaries of the EU constituted of, as well as some basic requirements to join the European Union. We haven’t yet looked into the financial operations of this organization, and that’s what this article aims to explore. 

We have all heard of the Euro: €, the EU’s adopted currency. But we also must know that not all countries in the EU have chosen to adopt this currency. The Eurozone comprises 19 countries (out of 28) who choose to use the Euro as their national currency. The currency was first introduced in 1995 as a monetary union but physical banknotes didn’t come into circulation until 2002.  343 million people use the Euro, making it the second-largest and second most traded currency after the dollar. Like the United States has the Federal Reserve to monitor trade and to the circulation of currency, the Euro has two banking entities that serve the same purpose:

  • The European Central Bank (in Frankfurt):
    • The ECB has the sole authority to set and decide monetary policy. 
    • Its tasks involve setting and implementing monetary policy, taking care of foreign reserves and operating financial market infrastructure. 
    • While the ECB is governed by European law, it does have shareholders and stock capital, with its €11 billion capital held by the 19 members’ central banks as shareholders.
  • The Eurosystem – which consists of all the individual country central banks and the ECB:
    • The Eurosystem mints and distributes notes and coins to member countries. 
    • They conduct foreign exchange operations, as well as holding and managing the official foreign reserves for member states. 

The system ensures that capital transfer within EU countries can be counted as domestic transactions rather than international so typical ATM withdrawal fees don’t exist within the EU. 

Important happenings: 

While the United States faced the 2008 financial crisis, Europe too, dealt with the Eurozone Crisis where several eurozone member states were unable to repay their government debt (these countries were Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Iceland and have the unfortunate acronym of PIIGS). They were also unable to bail out banks within their own national jurisdiction, resorting instead to borrowing money from the IMF and the ECB. It’s hard to say exactly who was at fault here, but economists generally agree that the rapid globalization of markets in the early 2000s followed by lenient lending practices (easy credit) led to the 2008 financial crisis in the United States (or as we know it to be called – the Great Recession). This had a rippling effect across the globe, finally culminating in weeding out poor fiscal policy in European countries. For instance, Ireland (following a period of rapid growth through increased foreign investment) expanded lending in the 2000s, and the sudden ‘08 crisis led the country into recession for the first time since the 1980s.

An expansion in the credit line, low corporate tax and interest rates (set by the ECB) as well as poor supervision over the banking industry led to a burst in the Irish property bubble, exposing the market to increased foreign bank borrowings (rising from €15 billion to €110 billion in 4 years). The money was borrowed to fund building projects, and when the real estate bubble burst, the values of these properties plummeted, leaving the banks to be illiquid (a term which means that the assets cannot be sold for cash money that easily) by €4 billion. Businesses closed, immigrants left and the rise in unemployment was catastrophic:

Source

Ireland was saved from bankruptcy with a  €67.5 billion bailout loan from the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission and was the first debt-stricken country to repay its loan. In September 2011, all banks were declared financially stable again (and we can see that in the graph above as the unemployment rate fell again in 2013 when Ireland officially exited the bailout). But the effects were devastating. In what was described to be “one of the most expensive banking crises in history”(1), thousands lost jobs, lost money and lost faith. The recovery was long, and slow as Ireland increased its supervision over financial entities. The Financial Regulator resigned. In 2016, for the first time in seven years, net migration was positive as people returned home. Taxes were high while social spending fell (efforts to balance the budget). Foreign companies chose Ireland to start off their European expansion citing its low corporate tax rate of 12.5% (with countries such as Apple, Google and Microsoft booking revenue in Ireland) leading to an increase in foreign investment, and the export rates increased, supported by a weak euro(2). Economists termed the revolutionary turnaround Leprechaun Economics, with  Ireland reporting 26% growth in 2016. The other countries didn’t have it so lucky.

PIIGS isn’t just Ireland though and the other stories are much worse (not all of them found the pot at the end of the rainbow if you catch my drift).  If the picture I am attempting to paint to you doesn’t scare you if you wonder how bad could it really be, you haven’t seen the effects of a recession. You haven’t seen the harrowing effects of job cuts or wage reductions. I had a friend from Greece who was studying at a summer camp in 2015, seven years after the crisis. Having just received a phone call from her father, she told me that she wouldn’t be able to spend a dime for the remainder of the trip. Not on food, not on transport. “The banks have frozen our accounts,” she had said. There were no tears, I remember. But that was their money, was it not? And it was gone. Just like that. 

“Crisis-driven economic insecurity is a driver of populism and political distrust”

“On the Causes of Brexit”, European Journal of Political Economy

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with the UK. The crisis happened to everyone, you say. But that’s where you’re wrong. It’s been theorized that the Eurozone crisis was one of the factors encouraging an already polarized UK to separate from the increasingly interconnected EU financial market, in preparation for another potential crisis. The European Journal of Political Economy published an article in 2018 (titled “On the Causes of Brexit”)  stating that the “crisis-driven economic insecurity is a driver of populism and political distrust”(3). Other studies conclude along similar lines: distrust for the stability of an international market has forced the United Kingdom to reconsider its position in the EU. Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer (UK’s National Treasury – I had to look this one up too) Alistair Darling was quoted to have said that “ people’s faith in structures and authority was shaken… A financial crisis became an economic crisis and that the economic crisis became deeply political.”(4) His words echo what research has shown – a rising “them and us” culture. And the UK isn’t alone. We see it here, too in the United States with a large rise in nationalism, closing our borders and markets. It’s rippling through the world, a fear that of the outside, of the unknown. And it’s hurting relationships, severing decades of partnerships and leaving the future a little more unsteady. 

I fully accept that all opinions are my own and that I am no expert on these matters. Having said that, I had fun researching and writing this article and I hope to see you here again next time! (Yes these articles will be more regular, I hope).


(1) Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland

(2) Side note for non-econ majors out there a weak currency implies that it becomes expensive to purchase foreign goods. This is because the foreign currency is worth more than the domestic currency. But it also means foreign countries are more willing to buy exports because, in relation to their own currency, the goods exported by the weaker country are cheaper to buy.

(3) Arnorsson, Agust, and Gylfi Zoega. “On the Causes of Brexit.” European Journal of Political Economy, vol. 55, no. December 2018, Dec. 2018, pp. 301–323., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2018.02.001.

(4) Source

Is This Me?

By Gowri Somayajula

I’ve been a CS10 (the Beauty and Joy of Computing, an introductory computer science course run by Dan Garcia. I highly recommend it to any first time coders looking for a non61A experience!) Academic Intern for 3 semesters and there’s a lot that I’ve learnt going to lab four hours a week every week for almost a full year now. But what shaped me the most (and I suppose what keeps me going) is that there are always graduate students and non-Berkeley industry professionals looking to grow their skill set and pick up a thing or two about programming. At first it puzzled me; my perception of the adult world has always been muddled by misconceptions. I think as children we all assume that ‘adults’ have their lives together, that adults know the right answers. But I was wrong. 

It’s impossible to imagine how different you and I are, Reader. We probably came from different places. We heard different stories growing up, ate different food and lived different lives. Yet somehow we are here, sharing the same sky, the same sun and moon. We all choose our own way in life, in whatever way it took us. Whether you transferred from a community college, or took a gap year or even took a semester off, we are all here, looking forward at the rest of our lives. Our steps waver as internship offers present themselves, or our URAP application gets rejected. Our steps waver as we decide whether to go to graduate school or to graduate early. Our steps waver as we head off from the place we call home, to a world more scary and more unsure. We’re not in Kansas anymore. 

And that terrifies me. In Fleabag season 2, we see Fleabag crying to the Priest saying “I just think I want someone to tell me how to live my life, Father, because so far I think I’ve been getting it wrong.” And her words resonate strong. Some days I come out of my Econ upper div classes wondering if I’ve made the right decision. I see job postings in career fairs for engineering majors, for elite EECS positions, for 6 figure business analysts. I see friends getting Fortune 5 internship placements, friends with their futures laid out to graduate schools, friends who’ll be moving on (uncertain but surer than I am). And I wonder if I made the right decision. I sometimes think I hear myself, questioning if everything I’ve done that’s led me to this moment was wrong. If only I could’ve been better. 


But if these graduate students, if these adults can put themselves out there, come to every class and take the essence of CS10 (anyone can code) to heart, why can’t I?  Why is it so hard to see what my future has laid out? Why do some steps feel like fumbling mistakes and why do others feel so instinctually right? And why can’t anyone answer my questions. It’s just that though, isn’t it? One day, things will fall into place. For me and you, Reader. One day, we’ll realize that things make sense and we’ll finally, finally know what Carpe Diem means. We’ll wake up in the morning, forget what’s on our Google Calendars and have fun. Live life as it’s meant to be lived. We don’t know what the future holds and that’s alright. One day you’ll find your yellow brick road. And oh the Places You will go.

SparkNotes: The EU but it’s part one

By Gowri Somayajula

Honestly, living in the United States shelters us from global events and happenings: but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have long run rippling effects on our economy. And it comes as no surprise that Brexit: the age-old problem across the pond is much like most global events. But how did it all start? When will it end? Is it unrealistic to say we’ll never actually know how this will impact us until the UK actually leaves the EU? In full disclosure, I was waiting for the UK’s decision on October 31: hoping that they would come to a resolution. That date has long passed and while there’s been no clear conclusion to this 3-year saga, the EU extended the Brexit’s deadline by three months, dragging it out to 4 years. Sounds complicated? It is. If you look like the Spongebob GIF where he’s running around inside his brain with his head on fire right now (honestly if you haven’t seen it, look it up. Go on. I can wait), that’s understandable. But here’s my attempt at trying to break this down. This will be a column dedicated to unraveling the EU, the UK, and unraveling the mysteries of Brexit. Settle in because this will be a long read. 

Famous quotes include: 

  • “Brexit was a fantastic example of a nation shooting itself full in the face.”
    • Hugh Grant
  • “I would delete Donald Trump. I would delete Hillary Clinton. I would delete the man who was responsible for Brexit.”
    •  Matt Hardy
  • “If you look at it ideologically, I would say Brexit is not something that probably is good for the world. “
    • Arundhati Bhattacharya
  • “The British have chosen liberty with Brexit and can congratulate themselves every day.”
    • Marine Le Pen

One of these quotes is not like the others. Yes. That is in fact on purpose. 

EU, Who? 

I think a great place to start unpacking Brexit is from the beginning. As in literally, the very beginning. What on earth is the European Union? Who is in it? What does it mean for people to leave, and what does it mean to join? Are they like the Plastics in Mean Girls: exclusive, incredibly coveted and impossible to get into (You can’t just ask people why they aren’t in the EU, Karen?) Or is this more like the Breakfast Club: everyone’s allowed so long as you have detention at school on Saturday? Honestly, it’s a bit of both. Getting into the European is a lengthy appeal process, and countries can be on the waiting list for years. Countries have to change their regulations (financial, trade and many others) and have to decide whether they’d be willing to adopt the Euro. The last country, in fact, to join the EU was Croatia in 2013.

Source

The EU consists of 28 different countries as shown above. Why would anyone choose to be in the EU? Because it keeps the peace. Imagine the benefits of having 28 countries signed to keep the peace: especially countries prone to historical disputes and discontent. The European Union as a whole has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, for what could be the most successful peace project in history. The EU is also a single market: broken into three main components: 

  1. The ability to travel and work in any country (which removes the need for work visas or business visas).
  2. The ease of financial transaction
  3. Selling and trading goods (this is applicable with services as well) with no trade restrictions in the form of quotas, tariffs or taxes. 

The convenience of a single market comes with its pitfalls too: the EU regulates everything: down to the right to be forgotten (I won’t go into it but the EU has implemented strict data privacy laws for its citizens) and strict flammable material laws (there’s this video of someone supporting Brexit trying to burn an EU flag but he couldn’t). This is expensive and time-consuming and for countries looking to join the EU, these mandatory regulations must mean they shift their production techniques. This means high production standards in all industries: including and especially the food industry. Most of the food produced in the United States wouldn’t be passable in the EU based on their GMO and pesticide regulations.

Source

Take a look at the amazing infographic above. What the United States allows wouldn’t pass in the EU. *cue Mickey Mouse this is a surprise tool that will help us later*. These regulations ensure that consumers are protected with laws of the highest degree. For instance, almost all flight cancellations warrant a mandatory refund.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of all is that the EU gives voice to multiple smaller countries. The countries act in unison together (a real concept in this day and age).

Source

This is not to be confused with being a Schengen country. Schengen countries are areas linked without boundaries or borders: akin to driving over state borders in the United States.  There are 26 countries, 400 MILLION people (larger than the population of the United States) and a combined economy of $15 trillion. These are areas within which citizens, noncitizens’ whether tourists or business officials can travel freely without being subject to border control or passport checks. Schengen countries are not exclusively EU countries though. Schengen areas have broadened to include non-EU countries. Being a Schengen country also means goods traveling between countries don’t take as long anymore. Switzerland is a Schengen country. The UK is not. 

If I could go on about this, I’d be here for another three months. But since I’ve made it my personal mission to understand this, I guess I will be. Welcome to Sparknotes: Brexit for dummies. I’m looking forward to seeing you here again!

Trick or Sugar Addiction. You decide.

By Gowri Somayajula

Imagine this. Pumpkins, skeletons and spider webs. All in a mere Target. But come November, these will all disappear in a flourish, only to be replaced by turkeys and cornucopia. And then stockings for Christmas, with 15 dollar trees that are plastic and can be stored easily (I have one, I should know). And then hearts for Valentine’s day, and in what seems like an inescapable long stretch: we have July Fourth wrapping up the season in beautiful Reds, Blues and Whites. But you know what the root of all evil is? The candy industry. Why you may ask? Because every single holiday revolves around candy. You probably can’t imagine a time when you weren’t handed M&Ms for Halloween or sweet hearts for Valentine’s Day or even candy canes for Christmas! And I mean it. The candy industry is worth around $35 billion each year. The average American consumes around 24 pounds of candy. 600 million pounds of candy (or if you like tons better: that’s 300,000 tons) are sold during just Halloween. And if that imagery doesn’t work imagine eleven Statue of Liberties weighed together. This rounds to about $2 billion of candy in just one night.

Source

Source: National Confectioners Association (Yes it absolutely shocks me that this exists).

According to this Vox image (from an article written in 2018) American holidays drive up candy consumption. By the tons. It’s almost as though candy companies have settled into this comfortable yearly cycle (March through to February). Holiday candy consumption makes up around 22 percent of this 35 billion dollar industry.  Candy sales jump instantly around these holidays.

With food companies spending as much as they do on research and development, trying to find tastes that leave consumers wanting more (some spending around $1 Billion), it comes as no surprise that where these companies succeed is in their advertising and marketing. Candy has become cheaper, almost $3 per pound of candy.. It is no longer an exclusive treat in the same way it used to be in the 1950s. This rise in affordability can also be linked to the rise in sugar consumption. Children consume 20% more sugar today that they used to in the 1970s. I can’t even really say there’s any certain way to stop this. We cannot expect to make new traditions overnight. But we need to change the power these companies do have. For the greater good.

A Note About Rejection

By: Gowri Somayajula

Rejection sucks. Whether from a job or that dream internship, or even from college it’s hard to pick your feet off the ground again, especially after convincing yourself that you would be the perfect student for your dream university. And that’s the hardest part, telling yourself that despite this rejection, despite this devastating news, you are in fact worth more than the email you have just received. I’ve been rejected in life. By clubs, by internships, by my dream college, by things I thought I held dear to me. But life goes on. Life goes on with every step and every day passing by the pain eventually dulls away. But that doesn’t make it easy in the moment. 

Here are things that I do when I feel at my worst: 

  • Remind myself of the successes I have accomplished: reminding myself of  the challenges I have faced in my life, the times when I have stood up for myself and strove to be a better person. Having reminders of what my hardwork and perseverance can achieve reminds me that there are good days that come after the bad. And somehow, I ended up at Berkeley, which was the perfect academic fit for me. I am thankful for the rejections that I have faced in life, because without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. 
  • Doing a noncompetitive leisure activity outside of school and academics. Driving ourselves into this rat-race like competition, we almost forget that to move forward in life, we must breathe. Whatever hobby you find yourself doing in your passing free time, remember that this is who you are, and the decision of a company cannot change this. I personally found playing instruments or going to the gym liberating. It was hard not to constantly criticize myself for perceived flaws (as I am sure most of you can relate to) but these flaws do not define me.
  • Apply to other organisations. I am not going to deceive you: this one hurts the most. Applying to things after a rejection might just bring up trepidations and self-doubt. Why bother to apply if rejection is the expected outcome anyways. It’s because we can apply to other things. I don’t know why but it suddenly hit me that  we cannot let ourselves be brought down by the hurdles that life throws. If we do not push ourselves to evolve, we will never grow. In Lord of The Rings, the Elves are an elite but beautiful race, who never age and never die. And it is because of this that they do not evolve. They stay frozen in time, living in their homes rarely straying far. They did not evolve because they had all the time in the world. As humans, we do not have this blessing. Life is short, painfully short and it made me realize that it’s not worth just patiently waiting around for opportunities to be handed to you. Carpe Diem.

 Like most pains, this too will weaken over time, and eventually pass.