Warning: This post discusses sexual violence against children and human trafficking.
By Alicia Kysar
Alicia Kysar is a senior at Columbia University studying English and Political Science with a concentration in Pre-Law.
In June of this year, MasterCard joined Visa and American Express in announcing that it would no longer allow its services to be used for purchasing advertising space on the adult ad part of Backpage.com, a website that hosts advertisements uploaded by users for a wide range of services and products. In recent years, the site has become particularly notorious for featuring advertisements for sex, a large number—more than on other such major websites—of which support the child sex trade or human trafficking. 
Of the five major websites that host advertisements for sex, Backpage.com hosts about 70 percent of the advertising for prostitution. In 2012, the AIM Group estimated that Backpage earned more than 22 million dollars a year merely from prostitution advertisements.  In April of 2015, Backpage.com published over 1.4 million advertisements on its section for sex, and most of them were certainly legal. The significant percentage of those that are advertising children or victims of trafficking, however, cannot be ignored.  Credit card companies, in a move to curb the ability of sex traffickers to advertise their victims on the website, have withdrawn their services from all “adult” ads featuring any sort of prostitution, thus making it impossible for traffickers to pay Backpage.com with any major credit card.
By Lindsey Li
Lindsey Li is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Governor Greg Abbott recently provided new venues for Texas’ proud gun owners to carry their weapons in public, approving Mandatory Campus Carry. The new policy requires post-secondary educational institutions to allow firearms on campus.  Signing the bill into law on a gun range, Abbott proclaimed Texans’ Second Amendment rights “Stronger and more secure than ever before”. 
For the past two decades, Texans have had the right to carry concealed handguns in public spaces, and the state is home to some of the nation’s most relaxed gun laws, as license holders are not required to go through metal detectors at the state capitol because it is already assumed they are armed. However, many Texans believe this right should not extend to students. They believe that any such policy should be left to the discretion of each university’s government and student bodies, an “institutional Campus Carry” policy. In contrast, mandatory Campus Carry allows “license holders to carry concealed handguns on public college campuses – but included a caveat that lets college presidents designate gun-free zones”.  In a vote that took only an hour, the state House of Representatives passed the “controversial measure 98-to-47”.  Advocates of the policy applauded students’ newfound ability to protect themselves, freeing them from any dependence on campus security, and defended the decision, claiming that a “common error made by anti-gun groups…is the failure to logically delineate the differences in the motivations of individuals who would use lethal force to be predators and those that are willing to use lethal force to stop the predation”.  However, it remains unclear how the pro-arms group draws the distinction itself.
By Derek Willie
Derek Willie is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So pledged New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie as he delivered a blunt reproach of Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana in his typically straightforward manner.  The prospects of Christie winning the presidency in November 2016 are slim, yet his harsh edict, albeit premature, is a sobering reminder that as the Obama presidency ends, so does his administration’s treatment of marijuana as a mostly benign “vice.” 
By Ashley Min Joo Kim
Ashley Min Joo Kim is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Over the past few months, the proponents of universal immunization in California made rapid and momentous changes to the state’s vaccination laws. Governor Jerry Brown approved the new immunization bill, SB277, first introduced in February of this year by Senator Richard Pan, only a day after the bill was presented to him.  This bill comes in the wake of the infamous Disneyland measles outbreak this past winter, which affected hundreds of children not in California and across the nation. 
The immunization legislation that existed at the time of the outbreak (and that is in effect today) requires that schools and other similar institutions only admit students that have been vaccinated against the diseases specified by the state of California. However, the law allows immunization exemptions for “medical reasons or… [because of] personal beliefs.”  Senator Pan’s bill, SB277, “eliminate[s] the exemption from immunization based upon personal beliefs.”  Many have welcomed this bill, as a way to safeguard the health of the community. They are supported by studies that show vaccines to be effective 90% to 100% of the time, especially if the vaccinations are given at a younger age.  Many proponents of SB277 also claim that the new law will protect children who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical circumstances. This concept of associative immunization is referred to as herd immunity. In order for herd immunity to succeed in effectively immunizing those that have not been vaccinated, 90% to 95% of the population must be vaccinated. 
By Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s epochal decision in favor of same-sex marriage, lines of couples hoping to become newlyweds flooded local county clerks' offices across the nation. While many were able to obtain a marriage license successfully, others, such as a couple in Hood County, Texas, were met with dismay as their request was denied.  Although their marriage license was later approved and similar non-compliant counties nationwide are now facing civil charges, incidents like these shed light on the underlying bias that propagates throughout the American bureaucracy.
In legal terms, a government is a set of laws and regulations exerted on a group of individuals.  Such an abstract concept, however, would be ineffective without citizens that enforce the established mandates of the government. Thus, the bureaucratic system exists. As the people behind the regulatory entity that seeks to provide order, it is with them that the true power of the government is vested in. Bureaucrats serve as the face of the government, shaping our interactions with our central authority at all levels. The outreach of bureaucratic workers is substantial, as they range from teachers to public officials. As public servants, they are tasked with implementing and enforcing laws equally and without prejudice.  However, like all humans, members of the bureaucracy are subject to act with predispositions. Laws are only as powerful as the individuals that enforce them; bias in bureaucrats can lead to unfair discrimination and institutional racism. This bias can be expressed both explicitly and implicitly.
By Rachel Pomerantz
Rachel Pomerantz is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the 24 states where Republicans control both the legislature and governorship, the casual political observer might expect consensus on important legislative initiatives.  However, no such consensus exists in Raleigh, North Carolina, where disagreement between the legislature and the governorship has led to the case currently being decided by the state Supreme Court in McCrory v. Berger.
The case began when the state legislature established the Coal Ash Management Commission in the aftermath of the 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River from a retired Duke Energy power plant.  The legislature gave itself the power to appoint the majority of the members of the commission, just as it did for the Oil and Gas Commission and Mining Commission. Joined by former North Carolina governors James Hunt and James Martin, Republican Governor Pat McCrory sued the Republican-controlled General Assembly in part because the legislature tasked itself with appointing people to these commissions that perform “executive functions.”  A three judge panel sided with the governors in March, and the North Carolina Supreme Court heard the case on appeal earlier this summer. 
Warning: This blog post discusses sexual violence.
By Dan Spinelli
Dan Spinelli is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying English and Political Science.
For such a wildly popular TV show, Game of Thrones sure inspires a lackluster worldview. Tim Surette of TV.com may have put it best when summing up the show’s Season 5 finale as “Life sucks, and then you die.”
Yes, life sucks for most people in this faux-medieval world, soon to experience winter and the typical round of ice zombies that accompany it. But for whom does life suck the most? The Season 5 finale, which featured a major female character enduring an eight-minute nude walk of shame, answered the question more poignantly than even the show’s questionable portrayals of sexual violence ever could: women — because of their femininity and in a direct attempt to deny them agency — endure the most uniquely awful punishment. The brutal misogyny underlying medieval punishment is of little surprise to anyone, and hardly worthy of even argument. But the way fantasy series like Game of Thrones use the Middle Ages (plus or minus a couple dragons) as their setting reveal the contradictions — and unbridled, unrelenting misogyny — fueling medieval punishment of women.