Friday, April 20, 2018

Conservatives Shouldn't Want Jarrar Fired


Recently, an English professor at Fresno State posted a rather opinionated and careless comment on twitter, in response to Barbara Bush's death. Randa Jarrar stated that the former first lady was an "amazing" racist and she can't wait for the rest of the Bush family to die. As a person in academia, one who's job is to teach and expand the knowledge of students, a lot believe that Jarrar made a horrible and stupid mistake expressing this opinion online, and that she should be fired.

Furthermore, the writer of the article argues that conservatives especially should not oppose Jarrar's statement because on the Fresno State Campus, they are considered minorities because of their political views, and the first amendment could be argued to protect minorities. So, if conservatives wish for Jarrar to be fired, they are only hurting themselves and their future ability to speak their mind.

I think what Jarrar said was incredibly disrespectful and uncalled for; however, the first amendment does exist to protect ones right of free speech, and this comment on twitter is included under that amendment, so she should not be fired for speaking her mind.

Do you think Jarrar should be fired? Is Jarrar's comment protected under the first amendment? Should conservatives support or oppose Jarrar?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/04/19/conservatives-shouldnt-want-randa-jarrar-fired/?utm_term=.5df056c0d2fc

Treaty to Formally End Korean War Is Being Discussed, South Confirms



Chung Eui-yong, second from left, the South Korean president’s national security adviser, visiting Washington 

Officials from America as well as South and North Korea have been negotiating to formally end the Korean War after over six decades. Kim Jong-un has told South Korean officials that North Korea would be willing to relinquish their nuclear arms in exchange for security guarantees, which would include a peace treaty and the "normalization of ties" with the US, meaning that the US has to recognize North Korea diplomatically.

This peace treaty would have to involve China, who had fought on the North's side in the Korean War. China is supportive of the Korean War's end but has not endorsed the idea of a treaty. Analysts speculate that China's enthusiasm for a peace treaty has been dampened by rising tensions with the US over trade, especially after Washington decided to prevent American companies from providing parts to ZTE.

I think that if the treaty comes to pass, the relationship between the US, South Korea and the DPRK would definitely improve, but I doubt that the US would ever consider North Korea an ally, nor do I think that they would truly consider us their ally. China has, in the past, suggested a peace treaty to the Korean War, but with the trade conflict we have with them as of now, I do not think that they would want to cooperate with the US until tensions die down.

Treaty to Formally End Korean War Is Being Discussed, South Confirms
Chinese Tech Company Blocked From Buying American Components

Do you think that Kim Jong-un is sincere about giving up his nuclear arsenal?
If the treaty is successful, do you think that our relationship with North Korea will improve, to what extent?
Do you think that China would be willing to cooperate with the US to formally end the Korean War?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who Is Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s New President?

Recently, the country of Cuba sees Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, Raúl Castro's handpicked successor, take the presidency. After Cuba and the Obama administration agreed to restore diplomatic relations freed up decades of stagnation and allowed interaction between the two countries to flow free. Díaz-Canel has been a bit of a mystery for onlookers in and out of Cuba. While being born after the revolution, Díaz-Canel slowly and steadily rose through the ranks of the bureaucracy through his strong belief in and loyalty to communism and the revolution. For most, he holds a stubborn duality in his views. On one hand, this fierce advocation of the socialist cause unaccepting of critics and willing to shut down their ideas; he has allegedly "led a campaign to stifle students who read and discussed literature that was not approved by the Communist Party", and was leaked in a video to verbally attack the U.S. claiming that Cuba "had no responsibility to meet its demands under the reconciliation brokered by President Barack Obama", before moving on to criticize a website he considered "subversive". However, he has also demonstrated a more liberal, approachable and friendly, modern side. He has been described as a "good listener", and has proved himself to be a strong ally of one of the country's only gay clubs. Díaz-Canel is reported to mix well with the intellectuals, artists, and youth, among whom he is well-liked and praised. He also biked to and from work instead of taking a government vehicle, although he was always trailed by personal security in vehicles. Moreover, he has pushed for internet access in Cuba to connect the country to the rest of the world. The National Assembly voted him into presidency unanimously on Thursday, welcoming him with a standing ovation.

In spite of Díaz-Canel's rigidity in his communist support, I believe Díaz-Canel to be an appropriate candidate for presidency, based on this article's descriptions of him. He's very open-minded and listens to people's concerns, which I consider to be essential qualities of a leader. He may be uncompromising when it comes to the traditionalist socialism ideas of his predecessors, but everyone has a belief they support fully and refuse to compromise on. If he is open to change and receptive to those he interacts with, I believe he will be a decent leader. What are your thoughts on Mr. Díaz-Canel and his firm standing for his predecessors' communist ideals? Do you believe Díaz-Canel has the qualities of a leader? Does he have the abilities to take on the many responsibilities of presidency of Cuba at this time, including reigniting the economy and accommodating the population's impatience with the country's change of pace?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/19/world/americas/miguel-diaz-canel-bermudez-cuba.html

Report Says Sean Hannity Linked To Other Trump-Connected Attorneys, Besides Cohen

A report from The Atlantic has connected Fox News host Sean Hannity to at least two other lawyers connected to Donald Trump, several days after he was revealed to be a client of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, in a raid on Cohen's office and hotel room. On an Oklahoma radio station, conservative activist Debbie Schlussel accused Hannity on the air of being "creepy" and inviting her to his hotel room. Following these remarks, Hannity claimed that the accusations were fabricated, and attorneys Jay Seulow and Victoria Toensing sent a cease-and-desist letter on Hannity's behalf to the station charging Schlussel's accusations as defamatory. Sekulow is employed by Trump, and Toensing had been prepared to join Trump's legal team as well before unidentified conflicts suddenly prevented the addition. Toensing has refused to reveal whether she still represented Hannity, saying she was unwilling to disclose her clients' identities. Toensing and Sekulow have also frequently been guests on Hannity's program.

In response to Alan Dershowitz, retired Harvard law professor and frequent guest on the show who called him out for not disclosing his relationship with Cohen, Hannity said the relationship was "minimal" and "minor". The next day he declared to have "occasional, brief conversations.... about legal questions I had or I was looking for input and perspective", but that he'd never been represented legally by Cohen. While I believe Hannity should have divulged that he had a personal connection to Cohen before defending him on air, but that the privacy of all involved parties (i.e. Hannity, Toensing, Cohen, and Sekulow) should be respected unless there is reason to suspect foul play. Do you believe Hannity's claims not to have been legally involved with Cohen? What are the implications of Hannity's indirect links to Trump? How much right to privacy should Hannity hold in this situation?

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/18/603471930/besides-cohen-other-trump-connected-attorneys-linked-to-sean-hannity

How To Clean Up The Student Loan Mess

Image result for how to clean up student loans



A huge issue that has been prevalent since the beginning of time is student loans. A majority of people who attended college have an enormous amount of debt due to their student loans. In a new study by a doctoral student in economics at Princeton, Daniel Herbst, Herbst discovered that the person who answers the phone at the loan company can determine the loan the person receives. It was determined that those enrolled in the income-based program, led to them obtaining a mortgage which would increase their chance of becoming a homeowner, while others received worse plans and were at higher risk for bad credit, reducing their ability to obtain a job or house. This reminds me of the film we watched in class, "Your Life, Your Money," where the college student Amanda McCormick ended up with $30,000 of debt. Her solution was to organize her payments based on needs versus wants. However, how could we have prevented Amanda from even acquiring this debt in the first place?

Two solutions have been proposed: Making the loan process easier to navigate and automatically placing people in an income-based program if they fall behind with their payments. Or, using the ideas of England and Australia and using a system of payroll withholding where one's loan payments would automatically change based on one's earnings. Which solution do you think would be the best to preventing bias in the loan company's, ensuring equality of student loans and decreasing their debt?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/06/business/how-to-clean-up-the-student-loan-mess.html


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Israel warns Iran on military buildup in Syria, won't send jets to U.S. drill

Israel has decided not to send F-15 jets to their joint military exercise with the U.S. in Alaska due to fear of Iranian attack. Many Israeli officials have recently promised to respond to international threats, warning Iran that Israel will not hesitate to fight back if prompted. This is relevant to their fear of the increased influence of Hezbollah, which they have been targeting in more than 100 attacks within Syria. This includes, reportedly, the bombing of an air base that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Iran has threatened to retaliate to this attack. Israeli military officials claim (albeit without evidence) to have discovered that an Iranian drone that crossed the border in February was "armed with explosives" and "tasked to attack Israel". The former head of research at the Israeli Defense Force's military intelligence division, Yossi Kuperwasser, has expressed his lament at the lack of international help in keeping Iran in its place.

Experts believe in spite of high tensions that neither Israel nor Iran are seeking open conflict. Personally, I believe that if we can help, the U.S. should send support to ease the tension, though I fear the possibility of making things worse if we appear to be picking a side. At the moment at least, I hope that if it's true that neither party actually seeks to escalate the conflict that a Cold War situation where both sides avoid taking too drastic of measures to avoid full-on war. Do you think the U.S. should send support to Israel? Will the situation between Israel and Iran escalate? Trump has opposed the 2015 agreement (ending May 12, 2018) for easing international sanctions on Tehran if it abandons its nuclear weapons program; do you believe he will re-certify the pact? What are the consequences if he doesn't re-certify it?

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-warns-iran-military-buildup-syria-won-t-send-jets-n866921

Secret Pompeo Mission to North Korea Shows Trump’s Trust in Spies Over Diplomats


Over Easter weekend, Donald Trump sent his CIA director and nominee for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on a secret meeting with Kim Jong Un. Trump intends Pompeo to replace Rex W. Tillerson, who Trump disliked and had little trust in, thus firing Tillerson after accepting Kim's meeting invitation. The two had openly disagreed about opening a diplomatic channel to negotiate with North Korea, although Trump is now open to negotiation with Pompeo in charge. James R. Clapper negotiated the release of two other Americans in 2014, but three Korean-Americans are still currently being detained in North Korea. Some are surprised Pompeo did not return with any visible concessions, specifically regarding the release of the three Americans. No date has been confirmed for the upcoming meeting between Kim and Trump as they have yet to determine a location. Trump has been in direct contact with Kim, and Pompeo has maintained contact with North Korean representatives and South Korean intelligence. On Pompeo's mission to North Korea, Trump has stated that it "went smoothly and a good relationship was formed", and that "denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!"

Because the details of the communication between Trump and Kim are so obscure, I am unsure what to think of this, though I don't trust Trump and Pompeo to negotiate properly themselves without supervision. Hopefully his alleged "good relationship" with Kim is maintained when he meets with Kim himself. Some have expressed concerns over the CIA taking charge of orchestrating such a meeting; do you believe we have reasons for concern over so much control from the CIA? Why do you think Trump is keeping these meetings as secretive as possible? How successful will Trump be in negotiating with Kim?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/world/asia/trump-pompeo-north-korea.html

Monday, April 16, 2018

Putin warns of "global chaos" after U.S. led strike on Syria


Summary:
On Saturday, the Pentagon announced that it "overwhelmed and evaded Syrian air defenses overnight to strike every target at the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program, in a multi-pronged attack from the air and sea alongside British and French allies." This was in response to an alleged sarin and chlorine gas attack on a Syrian rebel stronghold.

The Pentagon mentioned that Syria's air defense system was overwhelmed, and Russia's air defense system did not activate.

Russia, an ally to Assad, notably tried to introduce a U.N. resolution to condemn the joint airstrike, which was voted down by a majority of countries in the U.N.

Putin, the President of Russia, also made a call to Iran condemning the airstrike. The Kremlin released a statement saying, "Vladimir Putin, in particular, emphasized that if such actions continue in violation of the UN Charter, this will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations"

Analysis:
Russia and Syria notably signed a U.S. framework to destroy Syria's chemical weapons in 2014. While the chemical attack is still alleged, Assad has a clear motive to attack rebel bases and western countries say they have proof that the attack was committed by Assad...

The United States probably could invade Syria and install our own government like it did in Iraq if Syria wasn't backed by a nuclear power (oversimplification, obviously there are rebel groups to deal with). How far can we go without bringing on "global chaos" like Putin warns about?


Questions:
1.) How should the U.S. respond to violations of human rights?
2.) What should the role of the U.S. be in the middle east?
3.) How can the U.S. further its interests without causing a larger conflict?

Sources/Further Reading:
https://static01.nyt.com/images/2018/04/16/world/16syria1/16syria1-master768-v2.jpg

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-pentagon/u-s-strikes-cripple-syrias-chemical-weapons-ability-pentagon-idUSKBN1HL0WE

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/putin-warns-global-crisis-after-u-s-led-strike-syria-n866151

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in A Life or Death Crisis


Summary:
This article was published in the New York Times Magazine and tells the story of Simon Landrum, an African American woman who suffered a stillbirth in 2016. Landrum’s story corroborated with many others demonstrate the crisis in black maternal and infant mortality in the United States.
Landrum noticed early signs of discomfort different than her previous pregnancies: sensitivity to light, headaches, and swollen feet and hands. Her doctor told her to take tylenol for the headaches and brushed off her concerns. At another appointment, Landrum reported that the headaches had intensified, and a handwritten note wedged in the files of her medical records notes a high blood pressure reading of 143/86. Nearly all of her symptoms pointed to pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy), however her official medical records to not mention high blood pressure or swelling. When Landrum complained more forcefully, her doctor offered to deliver the baby by C section before he went on vacation, a full 6 weeks earlier than the due date.
Four days later, Landrum lost her child and nearly bled to death in the process, needing nearly half a dozen of blood platelets to survive. Her story is one of many documented in this article. Studies have shown that black infants are more than twice as likely to die as white infants, and black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes. The racial disparity in infant and maternal mortality has been cited as a result of societal and systematic racism that creates toxic physiological stress. The dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms, hesitation to prescribe medicine, and neglection of care all contribute to the racial bias in health care that explains the black-white divide.



Questions:

  1. What steps can be taken to improve black infant and maternal mortality rate?
  2. Do the statistics surprise you? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think the US still has this crisis even though we are a developed and wealthy nation?

Friday, April 13, 2018

600 Questions: Mark Zuckerberg Testifies Infront of Congress

Summary:
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, was called to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees and later the House Energy and Commerce committees following the 2016 election and Cambridge Analytica scandals.

He was asked a variety of questions, from whether Facebook uses your phone's microphone for ads to how they will handle data breaches in the future.

Zuckerberg reportedly prepared for his hearing like it was a presidential debate with a team of experts that even included a former special assistant to George W. Bush. The hearing was described by many media outlets as a "grilling session", however, Zuckerberg handled the hearing incredibly well. He did say he felt personally responsible for the current events.

A quick summary of the hearings:
  •  Zuckerberg had to dispel common myths about Facebook "listening in" on conversations and also explain how its business model works to senators who didn't quite understand. Many Senators also criticized Facebook's business model.
  • Addressing concerns about foreign countries buying election ads, Zuckerberg said that Facebook is going to “require a valid government identity and then verify the location”, however when pressed if he was able to identify shell companies with this method he said he couldn't. He also said that Facebook is successfully blocking fraudulent ads in other countries with AI and that technology will be applied to US elections in the future. 
  • When asked why Facebook didn't report the data leak to the FTC, Zuckerberg said that Facebook requested that Cambridge Analytica delete the data it received in violation of Facebook's ToS and that they believed it was a "closed case" (obviously, that didn't happen). Zuckerberg also said Facebook has restricted third party apps' access to user data and that they are currently investigating all current apps.
  • Many congressmen called for varying degrees of regulation on user data. Zuckerberg said he wasn't opposed to regulation as long as it's the "right regulation". He was okay with a call for companies to be required to notify consumers about data breaches within 72 hours.
Analysis/Opinion:
For starters, the 'scandals' surrounding Facebook are blown way out of proportion. The Facebook ads that the Russians purchased during the 2016 election weren't really meant to change anybody's vote, instead, they were designed to divide the country, giving people on both sides of the spectrum simple-minded slogans and rhetoric to reinforce the views they already have. Cambridge Analytica didn't 'hack' Facebook, they bought the data from a third party Facebook applet in violation of Facebook's policies. I don't like how social media shelters people from opposing views, nor do I like how Facebook handled the leak, it's just that it's not as big of a deal as people are making it out to be.

Many congressmen pressed Zuckerberg, going as far as saying "your user agreement sucks". Undoubtedly they do not like Facebook's business model of giving you free content in exchange for your data and eyeballs. There is a discussion to be had - is it ethical to collect and store preference data for targeted ads? How clear do companies need to be in their privacy policies? If users consent to this business model, is Facebook really violating people's privacy? Personally, I believe it to be ethical and beneficial if Facebook, Google, etc continue to be the middlemen. Companies that collect data and simply sell it are a different story.

Regulation can improve market outcomes, but it can also hurt them. Other nations like the EU have data safety laws and the "right to be forgotten". However, the U.S.'s lenient approach very well could have allowed the tech giants to grow and prosper here in the first place, bringing jobs, wealth, etc. I don't think we should go as far as the EU, but making privacy policies clearer and notifying users about a data breach should be on the table.

Questions:
1.) Are you personally concerned about how much companies like Facebook and Google know about you?
2.) Do you believe in data regulation? To what extent?
3.) Should internet content continue to be funded by ads, or should companies explore different business models?
4.) Is social media a net good for society?

Sources/Further Reading:
https://media.wired.com/photos/5acd15fe4e39060f2e49e9a2/master/pass/HowtoWatchZuck_18100667406080.jpg

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy-zuckerberg/zuckerberg-resists-effort-by-u-s-senators-to-commit-him-to-regulation-idUSKBN1HH1CU

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/mark-zuckerberg-testimony.html

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy-zuckerberg/facebooks-zuckerberg-unscathed-by-congressional-grilling-stock-rises-idUSKBN1HI1CJ

https://youtu.be/woEq42aKEI4

https://qz.com/1248979/senate-testimony-on-cambridge-analytica-mark-zuckerberg-is-standing-trial-for-the-entire-tech-industry/

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/11/facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-testimony-key-points.html


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Oklahoma Teachers End Walkout After Winning Raises and Additional Funding


Summary:
Oklahoma’s largest teachers union ended their walkout on Thursday after winning a pay raise of about $6,000 per year for teachers and $1,250 for school support staff. The raise comes in the midst of a wave of teacher protests, as West Virginia teachers won a raise of 2,000 earlier this year and Arizona teachers are advocating for increased funding for education.
Despite the win, many of the teachers’ demands will not be met because of Oklahoma tax laws. Teachers demanded the repeal of tax exemption laws for wealthy individuals, however Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin instituted taxes on oil and gas production. The tax raise is not nearly enough to cover the costs of new textbooks and furniture that teachers need. Oklahoma is a notably red state that has instituted many tax cuts and public service cuts in the last 10 years, and the outcome of the walkout has persuaded many teachers and parents to reconsider their political stances on taxes going into the 2018 midterms.

Analysis:
The debate over taxes and school funding relates directly to our study of taxes this semester in economics. The teachers demanding higher pay wanted taxes based on the ability to pay principle, in that they wanted to ban a tax that exempted wealthy individuals. Instead, they got an excise tax with negative incentives, as the tax passed by the Oklahoma Governor included taxes on oil, gas production, and gambling.
I think that the most efficient way to raise funding for schools would be through the repeal of tax exemption laws and using more money from income taxes. Oklahoma receives $1 billion annually in personal income tax, and more of this money should be put towards education given that many taxpayers and their children benefit from public education.
Oklahoma teachers have textbooks that are old and inaccurate, teach in classrooms with furniture that is falling apart, and often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Raising their salaries is not controversial; it is crucial to the future of Oklahoma students. Eliminating exemption taxes for the wealthy and using more money from income tax would be fair and effective.

Questions:

  1. What do you think is a viable solution to raise more money for Oklahoma education?
  2. Do you think they should stop the walkout or continue pressing the government to change existing laws?
  3. How do you think the issue of education funding will be addressed going into the 2018 midterms?


For the ACT and the SAT, Pencils No Longer Required, but Sometimes Necessary

Article: For the ACT and the SAT, Pencils No Longer Required, but Sometimes Necessary









Summary:
ACT Inc and the College Board have begun to offer digital testing for the SAT and ACT. Digital testing has been in development for some time, however the transition is extremely challenging. Many high schools cannot provide a chrome book to every student and technological malfunctions such as power outages and wifi issues can affect students’ scores and exacerbate testing anxiety. A transition to a different format always results in a score drop, and no students want to be guinea pigs for the new format on an extremely high stakes test. While scores do rebound, studies have shown that scores typically remain low for students who do not use computers every day for schoolwork.
Despite the complications, there are also many advantages to online testing. Eliminating test booklets lessens the risk of cheating, prevents scoring errors, and lowers the overall cost of the test for students. Online testing would make college entrance tests more similar to graduate school tests, as the GRE, MCAT, and GMAT are all in digital format. Many students are already using digital format when preparing for the SAT and ACT through use of KhanAcademy.

Analysis:
I believe that accessibility is the most important issue related to standardized testing. While the College Board preaches inclusivity and recites their “equal opportunity” speech before every test, the fact remains that standardized testing is not standardized. Students with money to buy expensive test prep books or pay for private tutoring have a clear advantage given that both the SAT and ACT are extremely strategic.
I understand that it is impossible to make the test same for every single student, but I am afraid that the shift to online testing would further exacerbate score inequalities. Students without consistent exposure to technology would not be used to the testing layout, and students living in school districts without access to laptops would have to travel to take the online test. Online testing is obviously inevitable, however testing companies need to do more to adjust for the change. Easier access to free online practice, providing aid to schools that do not have enough laptops for every student, and offering more information about the layout of the test would be a good start.

Questions:

  1. Would you be comfortable taking high stakes standardized tests online? Why or why not?
  2. Would you prefer online testing or paper testing?
  3. Do you think that online testing would make standardized testing more or less accessible?
  4. Do you think that scores will improve with online testing?




Link: BBC ArticleImage result

Summary: I really like this BBC article because it discusses not only the significance of the suspected chemical warfare attack in Douma, Syria , but the international politics of the response. This is a delicate situation which demands tact, careful thought, and a willingness to discuss the problem with other world leaders. We have Trump, who has showed a lack of ability to do any of those things. Right now the international community is still working to obtain solid proof that the Syrian government did indeed use chemical weapons, but early reports from US officials and others seem to indicate that is the case. For the West, especially France, the UK, and the US chemical attacks in Syria were the threshold for getting involved there. Russia is a major ally to the Syrian government, and definitely does not want the West to get involved. French President Emmanuel Macron is in a particularly difficult position, as after his election only a year ago he announced that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would result in "an immediate response" and, calling out President Obama five years ago, called those who failed to act on their red lines "weak".  Trump has been very ambiguous about possible US action, first promising missiles, but now saying that he needs to meet to consider the matter further.  UK prime minister Theresa May and Trump have already spoken regarding the issue, and Trump is slated to speak with President Macron soon.  Russian ambassador to the UN has stated that Western action is Syria so against Russia that he "cannot exclude" the possibility of war.

Questions:
1. Do you think that France, US, or the UK will act independently, or will they decide to pursue the same course of action? What would the consequences be if someone "broke rank" and went against the group?
2. What do you think the Russian response to the West getting involved in Syria?
3. How well do you think President Trump is handling this crisis?

American Guns Plaguing Mexican Society


Article Link

                                          Illustration by Nicolas Ortega

As President Trump continues to focus his attention on following through with his campaign promise to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico and speaking out against the drugs and criminals that flow north he has ignored the guns that flow south. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, more than 250,000 guns were purchased in the U.S. and were trafficked to Mexico where cartels buy and use them to kill. These weapons include sniper rifles, Kalashnikovs, and semiautomatic AR-15s that can be converted to fully automatic weapons. While America grapples with its own epidemic of gun violence, the inability to effectively regulate sales has made life more dangerous in Mexico, which has much stricter regulations on gun sales.

Discussion Questions
1. Should the U.S. government be blamed for not regulating gun sales more carefully or should the Mexican government be blamed for not patrolling its border more carefully or both?
2. In what ways could the U.S. and Mexican governments work together to address this problem?
3. What can people or NGO's do to address this situation if government fails to address the problem?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Paul Ryan’s Retirement Makes His District — And The Whole House — More Competitive

Link: 538 Article
Image result for paul ryan

Summary:
The articles linked to in the further reading section are intended to give more basic information about Ryan's retirement, but the focus of this post is based on 538's consideration of not just how Paul Ryan's departure from the role of Speaker of the House will change how the House runs, but how his departure is likely to have an effect on the makeup of the House itself following the midterm elections this Fall. The basic story is that Paul Ryan is retiring from the House in order to spend more time with his family. Ryan is from a fairly Republican district in Wisconsin, and he has previously defeated Democratic challengers for his seat by a comfortable margin, but, as we learned last semester, incumbency is a powerful factor in determining who will win a House or Senate election. With Ryan out of the picture the competition between Democrats and Republicans for his district will be fierce. It is also important to note that Ryan is not the only Republican abandoning ship, a record 38 House Republicans are not running for reelection, with 25 of them retiring from politics altogether. The point 538 makes is that while although a large number of retirements is not always indicative of poor electoral prospects, it definitely can be, especially if Ryan's retirement causes other Republicans from other competitive districts to retire as well.

Questions to Consider:
1. Will Paul Ryan run for president in 2020?
2. Do you think 538 is right about the possible effects Ryan's departure will have on the midterms?
3. Do you think Ryan's only reason for retiring is his family, or are there other factors involved? What might those other factors include?

Further Reading:

Politico Article
Wall Street Journal Article

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Federal Budget Deficit Projected to Soar to Over $1 Trillion in 2020

Link: New York Times Article



Summary: The federal government's annual budget deficit has been growing steadily in recent years and, according to new projections released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday, is expected to top 1 trillion dollars by 2020. The national debt, which has already exceeded 21 trillion dollars is expected to top 33 trillion in 2028, representing nearly 96% of the GDP (as we learned in class on Monday a health debt to GDP ratio is considered to be only 77%). Republicans have claimed that the economic growth generated by the tax cuts, would more than compensate for the losses in government revenue, but the data does not seem to be backing up that claim. There is a lot of concern that the budget deficit will not be addressed until it is too late.

Analysis: Like we studied in Econ earlier this year, a large federal budget deficit leads to a stagnate economy, as private borrowers are pushed out of the borrowing market by the federal government. This leads to fewer investments on the part of business owners and corporations because they are unable to secure the capital they need to expand. Expansion of business correlates directly with a growth in GDP, which we saw earlier is very closely related to a country's standard of living. Anything that slows the growth of GDP also hurts standard of living in the long run. Trump's tax cuts without a massive decrease in government spending are not good for the country.

Questions: 
1. What do you guys think needs to be done to decrease the budget deficit?
2. Why do you think the Republicans, who have traditionally advocated strongly against high government spending and budget deficits, are now the ones increasing the annual budget deficit so much?
3. Do you think it is better to decrease government spending or increase taxes in order to help the budget?

China's President Xi Jinping announces Tariff cuts

Summary:
Today, Xi Jinping, (president of China) announced that his government would significantly lower tariffs on vehicle imports this year in a speech at the Boao Forum for Asia.

Xi didn't say anything about President Trump or the United States, however his announcement comes at a time where our president has made many remarks about a 25% tariff on vehicles sold in China and threatened to put tariffs on $50 billion of imports from China. Instead, he says that this is part of a ongoing plan to improve China's investment environment and increase acceptance of international free trade standards.

Recently, China has filed a WTO complaint against the United States in response to Trump's threats. This complaint can be seen as odd or hypocritical as China is generally protectionist, but it seems that Xi wants to be seen as a leader of the free trade movement telling investors at the forum: "Human society is facing a major choice to open or close, to go forward or backward... In today's world, the trend of peace and cooperation is moving forward and the Cold War mentality and zero-sum-game thinking are outdated."

Analysis:
As it's my opinion that trade benefits all countries involved, I'm happy to see steps taken to avoid a trade war between the two largest economies. The stock market seems to agree - the Dow went up 1.5% in response. However, given both China's and our president's historical liking of protectionism, I'm skeptical of Xi's claims that he wants to open up the country voluntarily.

Questions: 
1.) China has had a plan to open up for a while, but the timing of Xi's announcement is suspicious. Did Trump's threats succeed in getting China to open up?
2.) Is trade with China beneficial to the United States? Should we worry about trade deficits?
3.) Will China keep its promises? Will Trump take back his threats?

Sources/Further Reading:
1.) http://money.cnn.com/2018/04/09/news/economy/china-xi-jinping-economy-trade/index.html
2.) https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/10/601059471/xi-says-china-ready-to-lower-import-tariffs-and-trade-barriers
3.) https://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stocks-primed-to-rally-hard-on-xis-promise-to-open-chinas-markets-2018-04-10 
4.) https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/983284198046826496



Monday, April 9, 2018

F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen; Trump Calls It ‘Disgraceful’

Link: New York Times Article


Summary: Earlier today the FBI executed search warrants for the offices and temporary residence of lawyer Michael Cohen. A long time member of the Trump organization, Cohen has recently come into the public eye as the one responsible for 130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, supposedly of his own money, as part of a non-disclosure agreement about any details relating to her alleged relationship with the president. The search warrants were granted following information from the Robert Mueller Russia investigation, but seems to be for a matter unrelated, as Mueller turned the execution over to another set of prosecutors. Of course anything that relates to Russia that is uncovered by the subpoenaed documents would be turned over to Mueller and his council.  Trump reacted in his usual way, denouncing the FBI and Robert Mueller, and calling the search warrants "an attack on our country in a true sense".

Analysis: If the FBI was able to get a search warrant for Michael Cohen they had to have had at least reasonable belief of criminal wrongdoing. They followed the law, and got a search warrant, and so they are free to look at Cohen's documents, despite any whining from Trump. I would be very concerned if the FBI had not received a search warrant, because that would be violating our right to privacy. Everything the FBI did was above board, something I am not sure will be the case with Cohen's business transactions, especially is 130,000 dollar payment to Stormy Daniels.

Questions:
1. Do you think it is likely that will Trump will attempt to fire Robert Mueller like he threatens to do so? If so, what possible repercussions might that cause?
2. What do you guys think about the whole Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump/Michael Cohen thing?
3. Do you think we will see more of Trump's allies being investigated as the Mueller probe continues, or do you think that the investigation into Cohen is more the result of the Stormy Daniels thing?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Peril of Taxing Elite Higher Education



Link: The Peril of Taxing Elite Higher Education

Summary: This is an editorial by Mankiw, the writer of our Econ textbook. He talks about the part of the recently passed tax plan that placed a tax on large university endowments. While he admits obvious potential conflict of interests (attended Princeton and MIT, works at Harvard, all have very very large endowments), he argues that the tax is unecessary, won't raise a whole lot of revenue, and is counter-productive. If Republicans and the government in general wants economic prosperity, the University system of the US must thrive, as higher education is becoming more important to learn the skills necessary to compete in today's job market. He finally argues that the tax likely stems from wanting to punish liberals, which those big-endowment schools tend to be seen as.

Analysis: Ultimately, for me, Mankiw points out that the tax won't have a huge impact on the colleges being taxed, and won't raise a lot of revenue for the government, and I think this illustrates that the tax is pretty petty. I think since the tax won't have a huge impact on the schools themselves, the government isn't really hampering or discouraging investment in "human capital" - really, this tax will raise little and negatively impact little.

That being said, I agree with Mankiw in that this is a cheap shot and a misguided one at that. While those big schools tend to be liberal, there are plenty of conservatives at them as well, and as it happens, higher education isn't just for liberals - conservatives also need a good education. I think the worst part of this tax is that it implies otherwise - and perhaps by doing so, implies that true "conservatism" can't or in the very least doesn't stem from those top schools with large endowments. Or, even worse, that true "conservatism", or at least Republicanism, stems from not having a higher education... and that's not the message the American people should get. Whether or not one agrees with the Republican party, it shouldn't be the party attacking higher education.

Questions: 
1. Do you agree with Mankiw and myself? Do you think that this was just a petty tax aimed at liberals? Or do you think there is some merit behind it?
2. Depending on your previous answer, what do you think this says about the Republican party, and about their tax plan?

White House Announces Plan to Send National Guard to the Border




Link: White House Announces Plan to Send National Guard to the Border

Summary: The White House will be sending National Guard troops to the border to help assist the border patrol already there. This has been done before, both by Obama and Bush. The move has been temporary and been appreciated by southern Governors, but it was costly for Obama - it cost over 6,000$ for each person the Guard helped apprehend. The NG will act as support as it has in the past, without the permission to arrest anyone at the border. Exact details such as duration and number of deployed troops was withheld by the White House.

Analysis: This move by the White House comes after repeated failures from the Trump administration to achieve its border patrol policy goals, especially the construction of the wall, which neither Congress nor the Mexican government will pay for (and neither will the Defense Department, despite Trump asking, mostly because that would be... well... illegal, but of course Donald doesn't know that).

I don't think this is a huge deal, as it has been done before by Presidents, and while the omission of details might be unsettling to some, it seems routine of the government by this point to try and operate as close to secret as possible. This draws back to last semester, specifically to the Presidents role as Commander in Chief, meaning he can make deployments such as this without Congress writing off. This is one way Trump is trying to crack down on illegal immigration as promised, even though he is experiencing some success already, as crossings are at a low. I also think, however, that this move - while not major - is unnecessary, given the success in protecting our border seen now, and it will just end up as inefficient allocation of recourses (as it kind of was during Obama's years).

Questions: 
1. Do you think this is a necessary allocation of the National Guard?
2. What do you think of the current border situation? Are you happy with current low crossing rates, and do you attribute this to Trump's initiatives?


Ralph Northam pushes for Medicaid expansion in Virginia



Link: Ralph Northam pushes for Medicaid expansion in Virginia

Summary: Virginia's recently elected governor, a Democrat, is trying to fulfill a major campaign promise: to expand Medicaid for around 300,000 uninsured Virginians. The federal government would cover most of the expansion costs due to the ACA, but there is still dispute among the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature. While it seems it may pass one house, the Virginia Senate, which more influence from farther right-wing Republicans, is divided.

The budget Northam tried to pass, which includes the Medicaid expansion, was shot down due to Republican v. Republican disagreement, but he is trying again soon. He also has to deal with Republicans trying to include work-for-benefits legislation with the medicaid expansion, which he personally opposes but may have to concede to get the necessary votes. Virginia has until June 30th to pass the budget, so we will see whether or not the medicaid expansion is included by then.

Analysis: This has to do with what we have just been learning - government budgetary processes within the macroeconomic field. While this is Virginia's and not the national budget, it does include national spending, as a medicaid expansion in the state will be largely funded by the federal government.

I think our recent studies have illustrated that the government has a pretty crappy budget, putting us into greater debt each year. Whether or not this is a serious issue is a matter of contention, but I personally feel I'd rather not have our government be in debt, especially to foreign powers, which do hold a sizeable chunk of our debt.

While I'm not expressly against Medicaid, the last chapter showed us it is a huge expense for the government to fund, along with things like Medicare, Social Security, and the Defense budget. Personally I'd like to see spending for all of these go down drastically and for some more money to flow into things like scientific research and education, but since national policymakers have already decided to put more money into both the Welfare state and the Defense budget because they claim economic growth will create enough revenue to offset it (haha), the Virginia grab for those funds seems like a reasonable thing for Northam to do. Conceding a work-for-benefits legislation won't be the end of the world, and will still result in a lot of people being insured.

Questions:
1. What is your opinion about the Medicaid expansion? Do you agree with it?
2. What is your opinion on things like welfare/defense, the biggest expenses for our government, receiving even more funds recently? Do you think all this spending is good/safe, or do you think it will bite us later?
3. What about the work-for-benefits legislation? Does this seem like a fair concession?