Monday, May 23, 2016

Virginia Governor McAuliffe under investigation over illegal fundraising

The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe for illegal campaign fundraising in his election in 2013. While it is not clear currently what exactly triggered the investigation, they are looking into a possible $120,000 donation by a wealthy Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. According to law, foreign nationals are not permitted to donate to federal, state or local elections. The investigation is ongoing.
Mr. Wenliang has has also donated 2 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation in 2013, and has held numerous important business positions, including holding a position in China's parliament, controlling a port, and owning Rilin Enterprises, a conglomerate that builds Chinese embassies worldwide. His intrusion into American affairs seems to suggest he has some sort of interest in American politics, and he wants his voice heard in American government.
This is not the first time Mr. McAuliffe has faced scrutiny over possibly shady dealings. In 2011 and 2012, Mr. McAuliffe headed a foreign auto company, GreenTech Automotive, and helped bring it to the United States. However, despite hundred of thousands of dollars in foreign support from investors into the newly- imported company,production was well below and job creation never met expectations at the plant in Mississippi. Mr. McAuliffe resigned in December 2012.

Washington Post 

- Should foreign interests be restricted in donating to American political campaigns?
- How can we reduce the power of special interests in government from affecting and possible overruling the voice of the people?
- Do you think that groups like the Clinton Foundation ought to be able to receive those sums of money (up to 2 million) in the name of a organization, when it really goes to political figures?
- Seeing as Mr. McAuliffe's predecessor, Gov. Robert McDonnell was convicted of corruption in 2014 due to receiving illegal campaign donations, do you think that the US is becoming more orrupt, or has this always been the norm?

Washington Times
Washington Post

Baltimore cop Edward Nero found not guilty

About a year ago, a young African American male, Freddie Gray, was killed when in Baltimore, Maryland after he was involved with the police. He was accused of carrying an illegal switch blade, and while initially unclear, Gray was taken to a trauma center where he died. Six officers were suspended without pay, including Officer Nero.
Today, Officer Nero was acquitted of all charges against him: assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. According to CNN, the officer sat in a packed courtroom as the judge read that there was not enough evidence to support any accusations against him. Nero is the first of six total officers that were suspended and charged. Now, his colleagues will face the same ordeal he has faced. Despite his innocence, protesters yelled at Nero's brother as he left the courtroom, and were outside the court as well today.
Source: WBALTV

- Since double jeopardy is unconstitutional, should we assume his innocence and move on? This doesn't only apply to this case but others as well.
- Do you believe that the acquittal of law enforcement officers such as in this case is fair, and how do you react to it?
- Do you think all six officers will be let go? Will public opinion influence the decisions on other suspects, as pressure will likely increase to find the officer(s) guilty?

New York Daily News

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What will be Bernie Sander's legacy of the past year?

As the primary election cycles comes ever closer is clear: Bernie Sanders has not been able to close the gap between him and Clinton. And at this rate, it seems that Bernie may not receive the delegates he needs to be the primary candidate. however, Bernie is determined to stay in the race. as sanders explains, he does not want America "voting for the lesser of two evils." With this in mind, it seems that Bernie is fighting to the end, and trying to garner as many votes as he can, regardless of the projections. 
As Bernie looks to stay in the race, people are looking to Bernie's future impact on the political climate. He has served as a sort of "wake up call" to Americans, inciting pent up frustration towards the establishment. Furthermore, he has drawn an amazing amount of support in the past year, allowing him to gain a real position of influence on American opinion. Bernie Sanders' supporters have been seen as somewhat of a resilient if not stubborn group, with some going by the motto: "Bernie or Bust," and as the NYT points out, 

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

-How do you think the Sanders campaign has affected the American political atmosphere, and how long will it last for?
-Will we see the rise of more candidates like Bernie, or is this a one- and- done phenomenon? 
-What IS Bernie's legacy? How has it affected how you think of the American system? 


Saturday, May 21, 2016

One-third of all cash holdings in the United States belong to just five companies

Just a handful of US companies hold a majority of the cash in the United States by a large margin. According to USA Today, five US companies, Apple, Alphabet (Google holding company), Cisco, Microsoft, and Oracle made up 504 billion of the total 1.7 trillion dollars in cash and cash equivalents in 2015. This is about 30 percent of the US's total cash and cash holdings. This is an increase in comparison to 2014 (27%), and 2012 (25%). Additionally, the use of offshore accounts to avoid US taxes is increasing as well. USA Today states, "unfortunately for U.S. investors, 72% of total cash held by all non-financial U.S. companies is stockpiled outside the U.S., up from 64% in 2014 and 58% in 2013."
- How do you think that the holding of so much wealth by so few corporations affects the economy, as the majority is held offshore?
- Does this much cash ought to be taxed more heavily than now, in the case of it being brought back to the United States?
- Should there be more regulation of industries in this sector as we see the increase in wealth and increasing disparity of wealth in the US? Sources:
USA Today
Win Beta
International Business Times

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Female Soldiers Face Enemies on Both Sides

While the Army wouldn’t upgrade Emily Vorland’s discharge, Texas thought enough of her service to give her a veteran’s license plate Emily Vorland is one of the many women soldiers within the United States army who have encountered the tragic event of sexual assault. Emily did file a complaint that one of her superior officers had raped her. However, instead of helping and supporting her or discipline her attacker, the army decided to discharge Ms Vorland. As they took the attackers side, who claimed that Emily consented to sexual relations. Ms Vorland would have brought up the fact that she had identified herself as a lesbian, however this was during the time when Don't Ask Don't Tell was still enforced. As a result Emily lost her position in the United States army.

Emily is not the first woman to get discharged from the army because she reported a rape. There are thousands of female soldiers who experience rape while on duty. Instead of helping these women, they are discharged by the army due to small technicalities, (such as not saluting a higher ranked officer.) and personality disorders caused by the rape. As a result these soldiers are unable to acquire the mental help provided by the army that they need to cope with such an tragic event. They are also unable to obtain the VA benefits also provided by the military after serving their time overseas.

To make matters worse, the process of upgrading one's discharge is a long, emotional, stressful, time consuming, and difficult one. Most of the time, the review boards who handle upgrading discharges are not approved. Most of the time the boards just agree with the initial discharge. As a result women soldiers are in danger on both sides of the battlefield, as they could get sexually assaulted, not get any support to cope with. Then shortly afterwards get honorably discharged, and have little chance of upgrading their discharge and not receive VA benefits.

What regulations do you think should be enforced in order to protect female officers from experiencing such a tragic event?

What regulations do you think should be enforced in order to support women soldiers who do experience sexual assault while in the line of duty?

What is your opinion of the United States armed forces now that you have been informed about the terrible events that take place off the battlefield?

South Carolina Joins Ban on 20 Week Abortions

 Yesterday, the legislation within South Carolina had passed a bill that would ban a woman's right to the procedure of an abortion after being pregnant for twenty or more weeks. The bill would also make no exceptions to women who got pregnant due to rape or incest. Under this bill the only times a twenty week abortion is justifiable is if the fetus poses a threat to the mother's life, or it is already discovered that the child will not make it to brith.

 With a republican majority in the chamber, the bill passed with a vote of 79 to 29. Supporters of the bill such as representative Wendy K Nanney, has defended the bill through the idea that many women would not wait up to twenty weeks before getting an abortion: "That is usually done very quickly. They don't wait until they are five or six weeks along."(Nanney) One of the more surprising facts about this story is South Carolina is not the first state to make such regulations on abortion policy. In fact there are actually sixteen other states that have enacted such restrictions. A policy analyst by the name of Elizabeth Nash has that there have actually been 322 enactment in the United States (since the conservative shift in 2010) that have had a negative impact on abortion.

With the alarming statistics what effect do you think these restrictions will have on the future of abortion? Do you think we will keep regressing until abortion is illegal?

Do you think the states that pass these legislations are over extending their power? Why or Why not? Either way also explain if you think the Federal Government or Supreme Court should intervene?

Group Advocating Pardons for American War Criminals

Mark Heyrman, center, clinicallaw professor, and law students Michael Lockman and Hayley Altabef talk about the Combat Clemency Project, which Heyrman heads, at the University of Chicago on May 4. (NATHAN WEBER/NYT) A 72 year old conservative U.S veteran by the name of Herbert Donahue has come into contact with an unlikely ally. Donahue is the head of a group known as the United American Patriots. Their organization has advocated for the pardons of U.S war criminals charged with assaulting or killing civilians. Their unlikely ally is a group of young left wing law students studying at the University of Chicago.

 Donahue having served in the army during the Vietnam War, has defend the vets by reason that they are subjected to the orders of Senior officer who don't have experience on the battle field. For example, Donahue and other soldier have to ask for permission to shoot an enemy. After his first patrol Donahue never asked for permission to kill someone unless "he was on a pile of bodies."(Donahue) He describe the current situation of permission before killing as "Requiring a guy to have a lawyer with him in the fox hole."(Donahue) On the other hand the law students at the University of Chicago, are defending these soldiers on the status of their mental states. One soldier they are attempting to pardon for,(Robert Bales) was arrested for killing 16 Iraqi civilians seven of which were children. However, even before he joined the army Bales had experienced PTSD, and the terror on the front line only made it worse. However, the group will not represent criminals with charges such as rape or murder.(Will Bales being a special case.) Henceforth, the two groups have come together, and made the consensus that there are some U.S soldiers who are or were wrongfully imprisoned while serving their country. Thus, they have decided to push President Obama for the pardon of these war criminals. 

Personally I do not believe the soldiers should be given a pardon for such a crime. People should not get benefits within the legal justice system just because they have served their country. Unless they proven to be mentally unstable. There are many other soldiers out there who have served their country without committing a crime.

Now given the circumstances do you believe that these soldiers should be pardon? Does the fact that the criminals in question are veterans affect your answer? Why or why not?

Shouldn't the Officers who gave these soldiers the orders to kill innocent civilians be prosecuted as well?

Do you think these two groups working together will make any difference? Why or Why not?

House GOP strikes down LGBT rights bill

Today, a LGBT rights amendment sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY was struck down in the House of Representatives following a narrow vote. Initially, the amendment had enough votes to pass at 217 in favor. Following a time extension, seven Republican representatives changed their vote, resulting in the amendment failing 213 to 212. After the result was announced, Democrats repeatedly chanted "Shame" - check out a video here:

This is clearly a step backwards for LGBT rights, especially following the series of recent advances for said cause. As usual, those opposed to the measure cited the protection of religious freedom as their justification. Additionally, the Republican whip team blatantly used the time extension to scrounge up more votes - practices that I find quite unpleasant. It's a practical move that I can respect, but that doesn't stop me from finding it objectionable.

What kind of symbolic meaning does this vote have? What does it mean for LGBT rights? How does this reflect on the character of the Republican representatives and party as a whole? Was the Democrats' display of emotion appropriate?


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Donald Trump Releases His Picks for Supreme Court

Donald Trump released a list of his picks for the supreme court this Wednesday. The 11 candidates on his "includes six federal appeals court judges appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush, as well as five state Supreme Court justices with conservative credentials" (1).

Trump's announcement comes as good news for the G.O.P., who have generally responded positively to the list. In fact, "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) [said] Mr. Trump had 'laid out an impressive list of highly qualified jurists' " (1). Trump's announcement may also be a move on his part to try and unify the G.O.P. before the upcoming general election.

The burden of choosing a new Supreme Court Justice has unofficially fallen on the presidential candidates due to the Senate's reluctance to approve any new appointments so late in Obama's term. Do you think this is the right choice to make? Should a president elected on 4-year-old public approval have the ability to influence the United States perhaps for decades to come? What do you think of the list of Trump's nominees? Do any names particularly stand out?

The Supreme Court of the United States
Source: WikiPedia

(1) Wall Street Journal
(2) New York Times
(3) Huffington Post

Eric Fanning confirmed as the first openly gay Secretary of the Army

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the White House's nominee Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. The landmark confirmation comes after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan dropped his hold, which was related to Guantanamo Bay detainees rather than Fanning's sexuality. Roberts wanted to ensure that detainees would not be sent to his state, and has dropped the hold due to the high likelihood that the Obama Administration will be unable to close Guantanamo Bay before President Obama leaves office.

Fanning has served as acting Air Force Secretary, and as chief of staff for the Defense Secretary. Regardless of his high qualifications, Fanning has had a surprisingly difficult time being confirmed. After his nomination in September of last year, Sen. John McCain held off confirmations for Defense Department nominees in protest of Democratic rule changes and a veto threat on the 2016 defense policy bill by President Obama. Fanning later served as acting Defense Secretary after former secretary McHugh's retirement in November, but was stopped in January by the Senate.

Fanning's appointment is a historic one, and it's been a shame that it took so long to go through. It's frankly rather ridiculous that such a critical confirmation for the LGBT community and America as a whole was delayed in the name of politics. President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay has been incredibly contentious, but I feel that placing holds on these sorts of symbolic confirmations is a unpleasant negotiation tactic.

What does this nomination mean for the future? Is Obama truly out of time to close Guantanamo Bay? With a possible President Trump on the horizon, what would happen to current and future possible LGBT officials like Fanning?

Mercury News

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Waze Carpool Enters Market

Yesterday, Google parent company Alphabet announced an experimental carpooling service in the Bay Area. The service is built on top of the Alphabet-owned navigation app Waze. As described in the promotional video below, the new Waze service will allow users to automatically be matched up with carpool drivers, which means less hassle for everyone involved in carpooling.

Waze's new carpooling service.
Source: Google

As of now, the pilot service is only available to employees at a handful of tech firms within the Bay Area (1). However, coming from Alphabet itself, it serves as a significant threat for competitors Uber and Lyft. Moreover, considering Alphabet's significant progress with self-driving vehicles, a foothold in the ride-sharing market might translate into a fully-autonomous transport system (2).

Do you think the growth of the ride-sharing market is healthy for the economy? While it may let drivers make money, the work is part-time and comes at the cost of more traditional taxi services. Additionally, as more and more drivers start working for ride-sharing businesses, should companies like Uber, Lyft, and now Waze be responsible for their "employees" and their actions? Waze for instance is adopting an extremely low pricing model that skirts much of existing regulation (2). How should the government approach regulating this new market? Lastly, who do you think will win out?

(2) Quartz
(3) Telegraph
(4) Verge

CIA Torture Report Drama: Watchdog Agency "Accidentally" Destroys Report

News has recently surfaced that the CIA Inspector General "mistakenly" destroyed its only copy of the Senate torture reports last summer (1). According to IG, the report was accidentally destroyed both physically and digitally due to a miscommunication. As of now, the only copy of the over 6700-page report lies with the CIA itself, the very agency that the report heavily scrutinizes.

A destroyed hard-drive.
Source: MTC Recyclers

The torture report concerns the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, which was enacted as part of the war on terror. The report details the CIA's use of torture on suspected terrorists, and calls into question both its efficacy and legality. 

Though a 500-page summary of the report was released to the public in late 2014, many of its details still remained classified. Whether or not the entirety of the report should be made public is still an ongoing point of contention (2), though federal judges have recently exempted it from disclosure laws (3).

Though both the news media and Congress have questioned the nature of this "accident," the mistake has been made and there is little use in pointing fingers. The underlying concern is that of effectively overseeing the CIA. Since the War on Terror, the capabilities of intelligence agencies have greatly increased, resulting in abuses as documented in the Senate reports. How can Congress effectively oversee these organizations moving towards the future? Keep in mind that oversight and transparency efforts were obviously inadequate during the height of the war on terror. 

In addition, do you think the Senate reports should be made public? Would keeping such information private set a dangerous precedent for the future? Withholding information from the public may result in clueless constituents electing representatives which have different interests in mind.

(2) Salon
(3) Fox

Monday, May 16, 2016

Supreme Court dodges major decision on Obamacare birth control

Supporters of insurance coverage for birth control rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in March.
Today, the Supreme Court was unable to decide a case about Obamacare's mandatory birth control coverage. The Court handed the case down to lower courts.

Since Scalia's death earlier this year, the court has been split 4-4 liberal to conservative, so the justices decided they couldn't make a decision. This move to send the case down to lower courts may mean that they hope those courts will come up with some sort of compromise.

What do you think of all this? Do you think it was a good idea for the Supreme Court to send the case to lower courts? With so many other courts making decisions, what do you think will come out of this? Finally, do you think the Supreme Court will take the case again sometime?


Private Discussion on a Synthetic Human Genome Raises Ethical Concerns

Last Tuesday, a group of 150 scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs met in private at Harvard University to discuss plans for a synthetic human genome. The discussion was directed at achieving the goal of "[synthesizing] a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of 10 years" (1).

The meeting was kept closed to the media and the public, as indicated by internal communications. This move was criticized by members of the synthetic biology community, who argued that the organizers were privatizing an issue with moral implications for all of society (1, 2). These critics pointed out that building a human genome from scratch not only involves science and technology, but also ethics. For instance, if such technology were available, who would have the right to use it, and in what circumstances?

DNA Sequence. Source: Harvard Medical School

The organizers of the event later stated that the meeting was originally intended to be open. However, an article that was submitted by the primary researchers on the subject-matter was yet unpublished, so the organizers did not want to publicize any unofficial claims (3).

Though the details of the meeting are still being with-held, the event itself does bring up many interesting questions. Human experimentation is one area of science that has been heavily regulated by the United States government. However, research into human genetics has generally escaped such regulation due to the cutting-edge nature of its research. As human genetic research continues to progress and gene editing and synthesizing become cheaper and widely accessible, should the government establish firmer regulation on human genome research? Which part of the bureaucracy would have the technical knowledge and ethical authority to make such regulation? And as scientific research is inherently a global endeavor, how can policy be applied internationally?

(1) Cosmos Magazine
(2) Center for Genetics and Society
(3) Washington Post
(4) New York Times
(5) Gizmodo

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Delegate dispute at Nevada Democratic Convention

Yesterday night, the Nevada Democratic Convention ended with 20 pledged delegates won by Hillary Clinton, and 15 by Bernie Sanders. A dispute over delegate rules led to a raucous evening that brought in law enforcement. Complaints from Sanders supporters were as follows:

  • The convention rules were unfavorable for Sanders
  • A large number of Sanders delegates (in the range of 50-70, enough to sway the majority) were disqualified and unable to appeal for various reasons, including not registering with the Democratic Party by the May 1 deadline and missing personal information
Sanders supporters called for recounts and appeals, both of which were declined due to the event being past its scheduled end time for the day. Due to Sanders supporters remaining in the venue after the end of the convention, law enforcement was called in to evict them.

Convention and election rules being unfavorable to Sanders is nothing new, so the news of the convention in Nevada is not particularly surprising. Exactly how much corruption is at work here is pretty questionable in my eyes, and Clinton's lead is still large enough that the few delegates that could have gone the other way here would not have made much of a difference. Sanders just isn't pulling the large majorities he needs to win the nomination at this point.

When is it OK for convention attendees to defy authority and raise a ruckus? Are election rules rigged to benefit establishment candidates? What should Sanders do with his campaign to best benefit the country?

Washington Post

Saturday, May 14, 2016

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela during a meeting with ministers in Caracas on Friday
Yesterday, U.S. intelligence officials announced that they believed Venezuela to be on the verge of total collapse. This week, there were numerous confrontations and clashes between the police and citizens over food shortages, power blackouts, and political gridlock. Even with Obama claiming that U.S. and Latin American relations are doing well, the U.S. was never comfortable with the leftist revolution that started twenty years ago. With the impending doom of a major Latin American country, these U.S. intelligence officials claim that they are no longer actively trying to undermine the leftist government, and are instead more concerned with stabilizing the country, no matter who's in charge. Even with the opposition party's victories in the parliament and the public outrage to oust President Nicolas Maduro like Brazil's President Rouseff, the leftist party still controls much of the government, and the opposition doesn't seem disciplined enough.

So, one outcome is that the opposition continues petitioning for impeachment given this year's recall referendum failure. Another is a "palace coup," in that government officials oust Maduro with help from the military, or an outright military coup. How do you think this ordeal will end? Do you believe there is an alternate solution for Venezuela's problems? Should the U.S. step in the help, and how?

Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times

Chicago mayor to replace police review board with more independent watchdog

Today, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, decided that the city's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was no longer trustworthy, having former police officers and contradict their own findings in investigations into police violence. The mayor, under the advisement of a task force, decided to form a new independent watchdog to get minority groups to trust the police again. This decision also came as a result of the protests against police related killings over the past two years. The mayor hopes that the new group will provide better oversight over the city's police force. The plan will be presented to the City Council on June 22nd, and will decide on whether or not to enact the plan. Do you believe that this change will help reduce and stop police related killings and brutality? Is there something else the city of Chicago can do to further mitigate this issue?

CBS Chicago
IPRA Website