Monday, January 22, 2018

Government Shutdown Ends

Image result for congressImage result for we are open sign

As most of you already know, the government was shut down for a brief period of time because the budget could not be agreed upon in Congress and a deadline forced a shutdown of our government. Today (Monday), a short-term spending bill was passed by the House, the Senate, and then signed by Trump. This bill does not mean that congress has come to an agreement on the budget and its passage only provided funding until February 8th. There will still be much debate in the future about many government policies like DACA, immigration, military spending, disaster relief, and health care before a full budget bill can be passed.

Our government has been especially problematic recently on agreeing on certain topics which makes it very difficult to pass legislation in Congress like budget bills. This makes me worry because the Republicans control every branch of government and therefore should be able to implement their policies without much opposition. This phenomenon either signifies a divided Republican party or an ineffective American governmental system. Either way, I feel like the remaining years of Trump's presidency are not going to be any easier.

1. Do you think both parties will be able to come to an agreement on immigration policies before the short-term bill expires?
2. Do you think that the government shutdown will make the Democrats and Republicans want to work together more or will it just drive them farther apart.

Communication Breakdown Leads to Government Shutdown

Article Link
                                           President Trump at the White House on Friday, Al Drago, NY Times

Two weeks ago, President Trump promised to agree to a bipartisan deal that would protect dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children). Yet when that deal was presented to him he balked, complaining of the shi*hole countries where these immigrants come from. On Friday he would not agree to a plan presented by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer leading to a weekend government shutdown, which is unprecedented when one party controls both the executive and legislative branches. While financial markets have responded well to Trump other nations have not and the damage to American credibility remains to be determined.

Discussion Questions
1. Are Senate Republican, Senate Democrats, the President, or some combination of them to blame for the recent government shutdown?
2. Should Trump be credited for the growth of the economy over the past year or should he be criticized for potential damage to American international credibility?
3. What do you expect that Trump may say about the budget and foreign policy in next week's State of the Union address?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

9 of 12 National Park Service advisory board members quit in disgust

Article Link


9 of the 12 members of the advisory board for the National Park Service resigned because of Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. The board members stated Zinke ignored their requests to meet and has "set aside" protection of the National Parks. 
The Board chairman, Tony Knowles, stated in his letter that "Our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new department team are clearly not part of its agenda. I have profound concern that the mission of stewardship, protection, and advancement of our National Parks has been set aside."
Knowles has also informed the media that the board has yet to convene since Trump took office, despite regulations, and the board has been left out of recent decisions about the park systems. 
Along with Knowles, Gretchen Long, Paul Bardacke, Carolyn Finney, Judy Burke, Stephen Pitti, Milton Chen, Belinda Faustinos, and Margaret Wheatley have also resigned, leaving only 3 members.


1. Why do you think Zinke wad "freezing out" the former board members?
2. What do you think the National Park Service will do in response to the protest/resignation?

US Cuts Funding for Palestinians Following Trump's Twitter Threat

Article Link


The US announced the funds given to the UN that support Palestinians will be cut by more than half. This action occurs two weeks after Trump threatened to pull funding. This controversial decision has received negative feedback from Palestine, positive praise from Israel, and it has caused concern from the UN because of the humanitarian impact of the decision.
 The United States was supposed to pay 125 million dollars to the United Nations Relief Works Agency, but now will only be paying 60 million dollars. This agency provides aid, medical care, and education to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. 
The State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, claims this decision was made with no intention to punish the Palestinians for refusing to negotiate with Israel. But a few weeks earlier Trump tweeted, "It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue..." 
The UN had spoken out about these actions, and hopes that the US and Trump Administration will reverse the cut before it severely effects the Middle East.


1. Do you believe Trump was justified in cutting the funds, or do you believe the Trump Administration should try to reverse the cut, and why?
2. If the funding remains as is, what do you think the UN should do?

First Amazon Go Store to Open to the Public on Monday

Image result for amazon go

The first Amazon Go store in Seattle, Washington will open to the public tomorrow. The store's design allows for a shopping experience that requires no long checkout lines - customers simply scan their phone at the entrance and then the Amazon Go store's hundreds or cameras and weight sensors detect what each customer is buying. While there are chefs that make food and people who restock the shelves, there are no cashiers. Customers simply walk right out the door with their tracked purchases, which some people say "feels like shoplifting." Amazon has also taken many measures to prevent shoplifting. All of their cameras use computer vision for object recognition and motion tracking in order to track each one of the customers inside the store, although Amazon claims that their cameras do not use facial recognition. Amazon has not made their future plans for this technology clear yet.

Many people have concerns about the store. There are hundreds of cameras throughout the store, causing many customers to worry about their privacy since their every movement is tracked. Many people are also worried that cashiers will start losing their jobs, but Amazon claims that they are simply "changing the role" of cashiers.

Cameras on the ceiling of the Amazon Go store:

What do you guys think of this new technology - do you think it will spread beyond the first Amazon Go store? Also, do you guys have concerns about privacy and the jobs of cashiers?

New York Times

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lil Pump Drops i Shyne

"2017 has proven to be a banner year for Pump, as he scored a top 5 single on the Billboard Hot 100 with 'Gucci Gang.'" Many are familiar with the lines:
"Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang
Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang (Gucci gang!)"
Just a few weeks ago, Lil Pump released dropped "Designer."  This song was a response to the criticism of his huge hit "Gucci Gang" that was filmed at "a local catholic school." Recently, he dropped "i Shyne" after leaving his label company.

A young rapper, almost the same age as us, has proven to be extremely successful. But can he continue it? What are your thoughts on Lil Pump's career? Do you think he can release more songs that scores a top 5 single?  How has he changed the rap culture and the music industry?

Some people out there think his lyrics are offensive, but this is a country of free speech. What are your opinions on free speech in music, especially in the rap culture?

Delta Air Lines Tightens Rules for Service and Support Animals

On Friday January 19, Delta Air Lines announced that it was "tightening its rules for transporting service and support animals in an effort to reduce misbehavior by dogs and other creatures." Support animals are specially trained to assist people with disabilities and emotional support animals provide comfort and companionship to their owners (training not required). By law, air carriers are required to allow service animals on board. This policy is by far the most demanding among other carriers as it asks for documentation about the animal's health and promise of good conduct starting March 1, 2018, largely due to people attempting "to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.”

After reading this article, I kinda understand why Delta Air Lines have decided to increase the rules for service and support animals, but I feel like most of the people who do carry animals on board depend on them, hence should not be restricted to bringing them. With the Disabilities Act in place, Delta Air Lines are about to get troubled waters.

What do you guys think of this new regulation? Can it potentially violate the Disabilities Act? Is Delta Air Lines taking this issue way too far?

Chinese Car Manufacturers Wants in on U.S Market

Enverge Electric Concept Vehicle made by GAC, a Chinese auto company headquartered in Guangzhou

American car companies like Ford and General Motors have always wondered when a Chinese Manufacturer would enter the U.S Market because of the fact that China is one of the world's largest producer of automobiles. They are finally given an answer: 2019. Days after the Detroit auto show on Monday, GAC Motor announced that they plan to operate in the U.S and begin selling vehicles next year. Currently, the GAC Motor car company is looking at a possible partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Fiat Chrysler is an Italian-American company (Fiat: Italian and Chrysler: American). 

I believe that this partnership could boost revenues for both GAC Motor and Fiat Chrysler if this partnership is made possible since Fiat Chrysler is currently the 8th biggest automobile company. In addition, I strongly feel that more Chinese Car Companies will start to invest in the U.S Market. Not only does this benefit the automobile makers, but it also can boost our economy. I like that. 

Do you think the partnership with Fiat Chrysler will make a huge difference for both companies? Will this deal greatly impact other American car companies? Or do you think that this investment will be a disappointment to Chinese Car Manufacturers?

Pay to Drive in Manhattan?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed a Congestion Plan that charges drivers $11.52 to drive a car into the busiest parts of Manhattan. There have been similar traffic charges in major cities like Singapore, Stockholm, London and Milan; however, New York has previously rejected this proposal. The intention of Andrew Cuomo's Congestion Plan is to improve traffic flow in Manhattan while raising urgent revenue for the city's failing subways and buses. The cost for vehicles vary. For example, driving a truck in Manhattan would cost $25.34 while a regular sedan would only cost $11.52.

I personally believe this Congestion Plan to be ridiculous. Just think about all the tilt that would immediately arise from this plan. I understand that the city needs a source of revenue, but charging drivers to drive in Manhattan is just absurd. Even though driving is often said to be a privilege, it shouldn't be a payment of any kind.

What are your thoughts on this new Congestion Plan? Do you think this plan will improve traffic flow in Manhattan? How would the residents and tourists respond to this plan?

Fake Bomb: Reality TV Crew Arrested For Trying To Smuggle Pretend Explosives Onto Plane

Now that I've talked about an event revealing the flaws of airport security, here is an instance where security actually succeeded (kind of). A film crew was arrested at Newark International Airport, New Jersey on Thursday for allegedly attempting to smuggle a fake bomb through security. The crew, who was reportedly contracted by CNBC, was filming for a reality TV show called Staten Island Hustle. According to the New York Daily News, the TV crew knew they were going to get caught, but wanted to capture on film the reactions of the officers and the subsequent panic that would ensue. After the TSA discovered an item which had the makings of an IED, a TSA bomb tech who happened to be at the checkpoint investigated the "bomb" and determined that it was fake.

Even though the bomb was fake, this event does show that the TSA have a system that works in the event of a real situation, which is reassuring after the news about Marilyn Hartman the "serial stowaway". Without this happening, it would have been hard to show the public that the TSA can be reliable when it comes to stopping potential attacks (other than an actual attack, which would suck). However, I can't comprehend why the TV crew would think it's a good idea to smuggle a fake bomb into an airport. The only logical reason I could think of would be for some kind of test to make sure that airport security was safe (if they did this, they should close the airport, not stage an actual bomb threat), but this doesn't seem to be the case. It was irresponsible and immature to pull this kind of stunt in a public area, especially in an airport, with something as threatening as a bomb.

Source 1
Source 2

Facebook To Prioritize 'Trustworthy' Publishers In News Feed

Mark Zuckerberg announced through a Facebook post yesterday that there are some changes that will be made to Facebook's "News Feed," in which users see posts and activity of their friends and family as well as organizations, news sources, and other sources. Facebook will begin surfacing news content based on the "trustworthiness" of those news sources, as determined by ongoing user surveys (rather than by Facebook itself).

In my opinion, I am tentative about these changes. While they may be a good measure to eliminate untrustworthy news sources, I think that the political views of users will influence how they rate the "trustworthiness" of news sources. For example, someone with conservative political views may rate a liberal-leaning news source, such as the New York Times, as not being very trustworthy simply because it is a "liberal" news source (and vice versa).

What do you guys think of these changes to Facebook's News Feed? Do you think it will stop the spread of misinformation or become a sort of user-driven censorship? For those of you that use Facebook somewhat regularly, do you think this will affect your news feed?

Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook

Serial plane stowaway foils TSA again

Marilyn Hartman is a 66-year-old "serial stowaway" who has made a habit out of sneaking through airport security Serial plane stowaway foils TSA againSerial plane stowaway foils TSA againonto airplanes. She was arrested last Thursday on January 18th at Heathrow Airport in England after stowing away on an airplane and flying all the way from O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Hartman has been arrested at least 10 times attempting to duck through airport security, getting caught eight times in 2014 and twice in 2015. According to Chicago Police, Hartman was able to avoid the gate attendant by "blending in with the passengers". They did not however, reveal how she was able to get past the TSA checkpoints. While a TSA spokesperson did say Hartman was screened at the checkpoint, she was somehow able to get through without a ticket. Once on the aircraft, she hid in the bathroom then proceeded to find an empty seat. Upon reaching Heathrow, Hartman was caught without a passport and was sent back to the US where she was arrested upon arrival.

What confuses me in this event is the fact that Hartman was screened by the TSA, yet was able to get through the checkpoint without being asked for a ticket. Normally at airports, passengers are asked to show their boarding passes before going through security. These checkpoints are often tightly managed and it is easy to catch someone attempting to get passed them. The airport's inability to catch Hartman poses some serious questions about TSA's methods or the employees working there. While Hartman herself is (hopefully) not a dangerous individual, the revelation that somebody could get through the checkpoint is problematic.

Government Shuts Down After Senate Fails to Pass Spending Bill

Late Friday night, the Senate failed to pass the short term spending bill. It was a close party-line vote, with almost all Republicans voting yes and almost all Democrats voting no. Five republicans, including Lindsey Graham (SC) and Jeff Flake (AZ), voted against the bill while five Democrats, four of whom are running in the 2018 midterm elections and one of whom is the recently elected Doug Jones (AL), voted for the bill. John McCain was undergoing cancer treatment and was unable to vote, so the final vote was 50-49, far from the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.

To see how senators voted: CNBC's tableau graphic

As soon as (and before) the government shut down at midnight, many Senators and other politicians began pointing fingers and shifting blame to the opposite party. Senate Democrats claimed that the Republicans were at fault because they controlled both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency. Senate Republicans claimed that the Democrats were at fault because not enough Senate Democrats voted to pass the spending bill (60 votes were needed). Senate Democrats also claimed that Trump had ruined negotiations by changing his mind so often on the bipartisan immigration deal.

New York Times
CBS News
NPR Politics Podcast

1. Who do you think is most at fault for the government shutdown?
2. How do you think this shutdown could have been prevented?
3. What do you think are the best next steps from here?

Friday, January 19, 2018

All the goodies that were at CES this year!

With the impending government shutdown, we’ll have no access to national parks, monuments, or the Smithsonian. But don’t worry: the products announced at CES 2018 will no doubt keep you entertained (I mean, what even is nature, after all?)

Probably one of the most recognizable products at the show was a new version of the HTC Vive VR headset. It’s now wireless, solving the problem of getting tangled up in cords during intense gaming sessions. I personally am still not interested in VR because I think it’s too expensive, but what are your thoughts? How cheap would VR have to be for you to be willing to buy it? Do you think VR is every truly going to become big, or will it stay a niche area for hardcore gamers?

Another cool thing: fingerprint scanners below the display glass of a smartphone. No button needed. Just touch the screen and your phone is unlocked. I predict this will be one of the big features on 2018 smartphones.

What are you most excited about?

All the goodies:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

How the American opiate epidemic was started by one pharmaceutical company

My original inspiration to cover this topic comes from this incredible New Yorker piece. It’a a 1-1.5 hour read, so I don’t exactly expect you to go through all of it right away, but if you at all have the time, or can split it up over multiple days (like I did) it’s completely worthwhile. For those of you who are less ambitious / more realistic, here’s a similar article that’s much shorter.

The gist of them is that the current opioid crisis is thanks in large part to the unethical practices of Purdue Pharma. Purdue released OxyContin, a synthetic painkiller, in 1995. What made it stand out was that Purdue Pharma begin an aggressive campaign encouraging doctors to prescribe it in large doses.

Although most opioids are prescribed for only short periods of time to prevent addiction, Purdue encourage doctors to use OxyContin to treat chronic pain, claiming that the time release mechanism of it prevented addiction and abuse. There was little research to back this up, and the research that did was often funded by … Purdue.

As people became addicted, Purdue did little to stop it. They kept track of sales volumes, but didn’t bat an eyelash at shady doctors who were prescribing thousands of pills a day.

Tying all this into what we are studying in gov right now, I think that a good amount of criticism should also go to the FDA. Not only did the FDA do little to regulate Purdue’s misleading advertising, but also, without any addiction studies, “approved a package insert for OxyContin which announced that the drug was safer than rival painkillers.”

With that in mind, do you think the FDA should have more stringent regulations on painkillers? Do you think that the government should take action against Purdue? Should a rule be issued that makes Pharma companies more responsible for the negative consequences of their drugs?

Republicans scramble to try to avert government shutdown as deadline nears

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (Source)

In an attempt to prevent a government shutdown, House Republican leaders are attempting to pass a stopgap measure on Thursday. It is unclear whether the Republicans will be able to get this to pass on time with Donald Trump's confusing tweets possibly hindering their efforts. In an attempt to gain support from Democrats in the Senate, a sweetener deal to re-authorize CHIPS (Children's Health Insurance Program) for six years was included by House Speaker Paul Ryan. President Trump seemed to be against this idea, tweeting out this statement: "CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!". Despite this statement, congressional Republicans later stated that Trump was fully on board with their plan, making this tweet even more confusing. Furthermore, Trump's tweet is inaccurate, as the sweetener deal will extend CHIP for six years rather than the 30 days that Trump mentions. According to Ryan, the tweet was not "causing problems at all" and is confident that the deal will be passed.

As I predicted in my previous post, it looks like the Republicans are doing everything in their power to prevent a shutdown from occurring. With the Republicans being in control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, they will most likely be blamed for the shutdown. Despite the damage that Trump's tweet may cause, I agree with Ryan and think that a deal will successfully be passed. To quote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "there's not going to be a government shutdown. It's just not going to happen". If I'm wrong and a shutdown does happen, it will not be good for the Republicans at all.

Source: CNN Source 1 (Includes timeline of past government shutdowns)  Source 2

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Senate Democrats Make Hard Left Turn in Warming Up for 2020 Race

Although the 2020 Presidential election is still over two and half years away, several Democratic senators are already preparing to become the next Democratic Presidential candidate. There are around six senators that are said to be possibly considering Presidential bids: Cory Booker (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Elizabeth Warren (MA), as well as Democrat-ish Bernie Sanders (VT).

The preparation for the 2020 race has caused many of the senators mentioned above to lean left, with some senators refusing to vote for any bill that doesn't include protections for the people previously protected by DACA. However, many senators running for re-election in 2018 in "Trump states" are nervous about leaning too far left and alienating their base, causing a division between Democrats who would like to avoid government shutdown and Democrats who are willing to let the government shutdown in order to ensure that DACA passes.

1. Do you think individual Democratic senators preparing for the 2020 election is severely fracturing Democratic party unity?
2. Should the Democratic senators try to focus more on solving issues that are important in their party instead of the 2020 Presidential election?
3. Do you think any of the possible 2020 Democratic party candidates have a strong chance to win the general election if Trump runs against them?


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Washington edges closer to a government shutdown

Background context: DACA was an immigration policy set forth by President Obama which allowed individuals who entered the U.S. illegally as minors to be eligible for a work permit as well as a two year period of deferred action from deportation (essentially, they could delay deportation for two years). DACA was rescinded by Trump in September of 2017 with March 5 being the end date for DACA.

Government shutdown seems to be looming on the horizon for Donald Trump and Congress with a compromise for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) sorely in need. With the end date for DACA quickly approaching, Democrats as well as ex-Homeland Security secretaries are urging Congress to pass a deal on DACA this month so that applications for DACA can begin being processed. However, it seems extremely unlikely that a deal on DACA can be made soon due to the current lack of trust between the opposing sides. Following Trump's comment about "shithole countries" (or "shithouse" depending on who you ask), hope for a deal seems to be at an all time low. This is not the first time that a government shutdown has almost occurred during the Trump administration. A shutdown almost occurred in December of 2017, but was narrowly avoided due to a stopgap bill being passed by Congress to keep the government funded through December into January.

Personally, I do not believe a government shutdown would happen due to the danger it would pose to the Republicans. During and after the government shutdown of 2013, a majority of the public blamed the Republicans for the shutdown. With a midterm election approaching, the Republicans cannot afford to be seen in any sort of negative light, or they would risk losing important seats in Congress to the Democrats.

1. Is Trump's "shithole" comment alone a justifiable reason for the Democrats to refuse compromise, or is it just an excuse to not let Congress get a more favorable deal?

2. Do you think the government will actually shutdown or do you think the two opposing sides will actually compromise? If the government were to shutdown, what do you think the public opinion would be?

Source: NBC (Includes a timeline of the DACA standoff)

Doctor Declares Trump's Health Excellent, With Perfect Score on Cognitive Test

Trump had his first physical examination as President of the United States recently, and the results seem to be relatively normal for both his physical health and mental health. Trump asked the White House Physician, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, for a short mental health examination last-minute, so Dr. Jackson administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which is a short screening exam. While not extensive, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment mostly clears up any major mental concerns.

Many articles and even books have been published in recent months questioning Trump's mental health, so this mental examination addresses many of these concerns. In addition, people on Twitter often weigh in on their opinion of Trump's mental health, such as when Trump slurred his words during a speech in December (Dr. Jackson concluded that it was due to Trump's medication at the time).

My own opinion is that the debate over Donald Trump's mental health has been exaggerated out of proportion. We should be discussing other issues and allow doctors to clear up these issues rather than making "armchair diagnoses."

Source: New York Times

1. Is the Montreal Cognitive Assessment enough to clear up the doubt over Trump's mental health?
2. Do you think that the debate over Trump's mental health is reasonable or has it been exaggerated?

Tesla is about to suffer the same fate as Ford

Here’s the summary straight from the beginning of the article:
  • In the 20th century, General Motors out-competed Ford.
  • Ford was the early innovator, but GM was able to improve on Ford's achievements to become dominant.
  • The same dynamic is now playing out between GM and Tesla, with electric cars and autonomous vehicles.
My own analysis of this economic issue: I think the author presents a fair point. Tesla will maintain its cache as a luxury EV brand, but will never manage to have the mass market appeal of GM. Although Tesla was the first to create a commercially-successful electric car, their advantage of being the first into the market is fading, and other brands are learning from Tesla’s success. I actually hope for this to be true. Tesla simply does not have very high manufacturing capacity and cannot provide electric cars for all those who want them. We need other manufacturers to create attractive products so that everybody has access to good electric cars.

Every manufacturer seems to be more interested in electric cars, but do you think that Americans are interested in buying them?
If you had the money, would you buy an electric car?
If yes, would you want it to be a Tesla, even if it was more expensive?

Oprah Winfrey: from poverty to America's first black billionaire … to #Oprah2020?

We all know Oprah Winfrey as the talk show host. However, there has been recent buzz that she may run for the presidency in 2020. Previously, Oprah has shot down suggestions stating that she "will never run for public office. That's a pretty definite thing." However, she has teased the idea more recently.

People seem to be backing her up and supporting her as well. One Republican strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns said "her chances of winning? 100%. If she runs for the Democratic nomination, I think it's over." Bill Kristol, the original promoter of Sarah Pali tweeted "Oprah. #ImWithHer."

Just a couple of years ago, it would seem somewhat absurd to see a TV star running for the presidency. However, ever since Donald Trump, it does not seem as ridiculous, meaning Oprah has a legitimate chance at running and winning. I think it is interesting how celebrities and TV stars are trying to become involved in politics. Even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is considering running for president, and apparently he is "seriously considering a run," or how Kanye West wanted to run for the 2020 presidency as well. As the article states, "have we lost our mind? or are we coming to our senses?" I personally think that, in most cases, people who .have worked mainly in TV are not as qualified as most other politicians to run for the presidency because of their lack of experience and political awareness and knowledge.

What do you think? Do you think Oprah will run and if so, will she be a good candidate? What are your thoughts on the recent surge of TV stars on the political scene like Trump and Oprah?


Melania Trump, America's enigmatic first lady

Melania Trump is unlike many other previous first ladies. She is the first with English as her second language, the first foreign-born wife of a president in almost two centuries, and a former model who once posed nude in President Trump's jet. Many are calling Melania Trump an "enigma -- a first lady whose opinions, marriage and goals remain a mystery to millions of Americans."

So far, Melania Trump has not done anything with her position as first lady and is "infrequently seen in Washington and [is] costing law enforcement tends of thousands of dollars a day in protection." This lack of initiative and cause on her part is in sharp contrast to former first ladies likeMichelle Obama, who was started anti-obesity campaign, or Laura Bush with her literacy program. People close to Melania Trump, however, believes she "intends to announce a signature initiative in the coming months with a focus on the overall well-being of children," which is encouraging news to hear.

Interestingly, a Gallup poll taken in December said that she was viewed favorably by 54% of Americans, which is much more popular than Donald Trump. Why do you think this is? Some are even praising Melania, arguing that it is impressive that "she has not made huge mistakes in this arena."

What do you think? Is Melania Trump doing well as a first lady, and if not what do you think she should try and do?


Past Presidents Volunteered On MLK Day. Donald Trump Is Spending It At His Golf Club.

President Trump spent this Martin Luther King Jr. Day at his golf club in Florida, marking his "95th day Trump as spent at one of his golf clubs since becoming president." Not only does Trump have many golf days, but he is also on vacation a good amount of time. In fact, Trump is on pace to take more days of than Obama and George W Bush. As a result, Trump's trips are costing a huge amount of taxpayers' dollars, dollars that can be used elsewhere that I feel is more needed.

In the past, presidents have done community service or visited memorials on MLK day like Barack Obama and George W Bush. Trump's decision to have an open schedule and not participate in any Martin Luther King Jr Day events comes at a time when there are already tensions over his reported remarks of calling Haiti and African nations "shithole countries," which can only make tensions rise further and increase controversy and criticism.

However, President Trump did retweet a video posted by the White House, which featured his weekly address, in which he says "on this cherished day, we honor the memory of Reverend King. And we rededicate ourselves to a glorious future, where every American from every walk of life can live free from fear, liberated from hatred and uplifted by boundless love for their fellow citizens." Regardless though, some people are still mad, such as John Lewis, a civil rights activist who marched alongside King Jr, who said "the MLK holiday is a day on, not a day off. It is a day of service to our communities, to our brothers and sisters."

What do you think? Does Donald Trump take too many trips and days off? Does this lack of participation on MLK day heighten already high tensions?


Trump’s Medicaid Work Requirement Will Backfire

Although Republicans in Congress have failed so far to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, they are still attacking the program, and are even attempting to “[kick] economically vulnerable people off Medicaid.” Both Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration are trying to work with states to set up work requirements for Medicaid. This means than unemployed citizens could quickly lose access to medical coverage. This could take away health care for thousands of low income families and individuals. This could lead to a number of negative consequences, including less access to care, financial security and overall health for low income adults.

There is also no proof to show that implementing a work requirement would be beneficial. The main argument for the people supporting this requirement is that Medicare discourages work, but this is also true. Not only can Medicare not be used to get housing or buy food, “among adults on Medicaid who don’t work and could be subject to the work requirement, more than a third have a chronic health problem or disability, about half take care of their family or go to school, and just under 10 percent can’t find work.” Implementing these work requirements could potentially lower the quality of life for many sick, injured, or disabled underprivileged Americans.

This article also claims that there is little that Democratic congresspeople can do, so the states must fight against these Medicaid work requirements.

What do you think? Do you think that that repealing Obamacare is the best choice, and if so, what do you think should replace it?


Monday, January 15, 2018

Russian foreign ministers bashes US's foreign policy tactics

Photo courtesy of LA Times
At his annual press conference, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reprimanded the US for its recent actions regarding North Korea and Iran. He claimed the US's behaviors indicated that "they are afraid of honest competition." Lavrov's main argument was that the US has failed to recognize the rise of power in other areas of the world, and that they "do not recognize the reality of a multipolar world order."

While he did not name President Trump explicitly, he was quite clear that the actions he were talking about were in part the series of tweets between Trump and Kim Jong Un, and how Trump recently wanted to end the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Lavrov bashes these actions as essentially immature and threatening to the rest of the world, and even went as far as to say that if the US went through with backing out of the Nuclear Deal it would undermine any negotiations they could possibly have with North Korea.

Photo courtesy of CNN
Relations with Russia have taken a major downturn since Trump took office. Allegations and investigations into what Russia had to do with the 2016 presidential election started it, but other events prompted from that, like the US tightening sanctions on the country and cutting back their diplomatic staff in the US, only added fuel to the fire. While some of Lavrov's statements have merit, he might be giving too much value to simple tweets, or he might be right and our country might have to undergo a reevaluation of how we interact with countries we aren't allied with.

1. How do you think this looks for the United States in relation to other countries?
2. Do you agree with Lavrov or is he mistaken in his judgement?

LA Times

Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’ could violate ethics rules

Photo Courtesy: Daily Dot
Ever since President Donald Trump announced the upcoming media-bashing “Fake News Awards” to be held this Wednesday, there is very little knowledge about the event (with the exception that it will not include Fox News and the ultimate award is the fake news trophy). However, what is known by ethics experts and government watchdogs is that it if it is held at the White House rather than under the Trump campaign or RNC, it violates federal ethics codes. One specific section of codes it would violate is the executive branch’s Standards of Ethical Conduct, which deems it illegal for employees for using their position to “[endorse] any product, service or enterprise.” Though the president may be exempt from facing the repercussions of the awards event, White House staff involved would be subject to misuse of their position and can face repercussions varying from censure to dismissal from position. According to chairman of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Norm Eisen, “risk violating §§ [section marks] 702, 704 & 705 [of the Standards of Ethical Conduct] forbidding use of gov time & $$$ to harm some media & aid others” (Twitter), regardless of whether they are praising one news outlet and bashing another. Moreover, former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter warns that Trump’s slew of network-biased tweets, the awards, and other administrative actions pertaining to the media careen on First Amendment concerns, which would thus make it easier for a staffer to be subject to questions of ethical conduct and can place the president himself in a troubling position.

What do you think about the whole situation?
  • Do you think the president should be able to hold power over such an event, even if it has the potential for many of his own employees to be fired?
  • Though there are potential legal repercussions associated with the awards, comedians such as Stephen Colbert are treating the event (or, as Colbert calls it, “The Fakies”) as a joke. With that being said, how serious do you think the Fake News Awards are?


The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari

Although there have already been many men accused of sexual misconduct, Aziz Ansari is one of the first with whom our generation has a strong connection. Rather than simply cover this as another casualty in the MeToo movement, I have based this post off an opinion article in the Atlantic.

The author is a woman whose recent articles include “To Hell With the Witch-Hunt Debate: The post-Weinstein moment isn’t a war on sex. It’s a long-overdue revolution.” Thus, her stance -- that the accusations against Ansari are a step too far are -- is surprising but worth being considered.

I think that we all must come to terms with the way that the MeToo movement has flipped sexual assault allegations from “He’s right” to “She’s right.” Should it be a permanent change? Is it equally dangerous that only women are believed? Or is it a necessary danger that must be accepted in order to put women on a more equal footing?
Personally, I believe that the MeToo movement is a necessary step, but I hope that things do eventually cool down. Women must be safe from abuse and innocent men must be safe from accusation. This is not to say that I believe that any of the men accused are innocent -- I am simply saying we must as a society weigh the possibility of persecuting the innocent as we evaluate how to move forward.

Trump's Economy - Created 2 million jobs in 2017

Numbers were recently released detailing how good the stock market and job market currently are under President Trump. In 2017, about 2 million jobs were created especially under manufacturing - an industry Trump promised to repopulate in his election. However, while these numbers are impressive, when looking at the percentages of change in the stock market compared to presidents Trump's numbers still don't compare to Obama's. The stock market went up 27% in Trump's first year in office as compared to Obama's 33%.
Chart courtesy of CNN
There's also talk by experts that attribute the growth of the market in one year to the President that held office the year before. Additionally, although 2 million jobs is substantial, it doesn't compare to previous years. In 2016, 2.2 million jobs were created, in 2015 there were 2.7 million, and in 2014 there were 3 million. Of course this is only natural as coming out of the Great Recession more jobs were created at a faster rate and then as unemployment goes down so does the job market.

The job market is so strong actually that employers are complaining they can't find qualified workers for their industries. Because of this, some experts claim that part of the reason wage growth isn't growing at as fast a rate as it should is because of the fact that employers aren't finding people qualified enough to fit their jobs and therefore wage growth is being stumped at whatever level they are qualified at. The interesting point here is that Trump is planning to cut the federal education budget (leaving the education funding to the states) and also cut the amount of student loans given out in the name of jobs. But as time goes on we are seeing that almost every industry is requiring a higher level of education / qualification for its workers, so in the end is limiting students' access to college really going to help the job market? And while Trump has done a good job bolstering areas like manufacturing, some of his reforms have hurt small businesses and retailers who are losing their stores and jobs because of the shift.

When you look at the numbers, they are indeed impressive, and unemployment is at a 17-year low (4.1%), but they might not be as impressive as his tweets indicate considering the other factors like percentage of growth and how good the economy already was when he took office.

1. Do you think Trump is actually doing as well as he claims regarding the economy? Why or why not?
2. What do you predict to happen in the following years of his presidency?


Sunday, January 14, 2018

California Mudslide Toll Rises to 20

Photo Courtesy: Reuters

The destruction of vegetation and property caused by the Thomas wildfire that hit the Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in December has contributed to the occurrence of mudslides in the Montecito region. The slides have left at least 20 dead, four missing, and hundreds more homeless or seeking shelter. As rescue crews plow through mud, boulders, and other debris, highway US 101 is currently closed to protect against any further victims and to enable for effective searching. However, it is unclear as to when on Monday the highway will open (if on that day). Due to the degree of damage caused by the mudslides, the size of the mandatory evacuation zone was increased on Thursday and will be in effect for one week with a possible delay to two weeks.

Though the Thomas fire is now 100% contained, geologists and weather forecasters state that the magnitude of damage to the charred land has rendered the area susceptible to mudslides and may leave it in that state for years to come.

  • The CNN article proposes digging more basins to collect and delay the degree of damage caused by storms. What other means can be used to decrease the magnitude of destruction caused by such disasters?
  • What kind of aid do you think the government (whether local, state, or national) should give to the victims?
  • Aside from federal aid, what other means of raising money for the victims do you propose? What, mainly, should this money go towards?


False missile alert sparks panic

On Saturday January 13th, mobile phone users received the text above reading, "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." According to the CNBC news channel, the alert "momentarily put recipients into a state of frenzy, with scores reportedly running for shelter".  People tried to find outside shelter and this caused clogged highways and scenes of terror. Others stayed home and seeked shelter in their bathtubs. Travelers staying in hotels were gathered in the lobby and brought to underground parking garages for safety.

However, within around 30 minutes the alert was deemed as a false alarm. Although it was only a false alarm, people were really shaken up from this event. “What happened today is totally inexcusable,” Senator Brian Schatz said. “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.” It was said to be sent out on accident by human error.

North Korea's missile and nuclear program is seen as a growing threat to America and Hawaii is one of the US states closest to North Korea. It is because of its location that Hawaii has been threatened by the escalating tensions and the risks of war, more than any other part of the United States. Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the United States Pacific Command, said “While the possibility of a nuclear strike is slim, we now live in a world where we must be prepared for every contingency.”

1. Do you think the sender of the emergency alert should be the only one punished for this mistake?
2. With false alarms like this, do you think there will be a "boy cring wolf" situation if an actual missile were to come along?
3. Do you think this event could trigger actions from Kim Jong Un or President Trump that could lead us closer to war?