Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Gang Violence

A shooting in DC leaves four dead and another six injured on March 30th. Authorities say that this is related to gang violence. The police chased these shooters for hours until finally arresting the three men. Metro Police Chief Cathy Lanier says "We've made a lot of progress to stop gang retaliation and violence, and in the end if this ends up being some kind of gang retaliation -- then shame on all of us."

I wonder how much the government can really do to prevent gang violence. Am I underestimating the government? The details aren't clear yet because the Metro Police have declined to release much information. Regardless, I think it is unfortunate that ten people were shot and four dead.

Obama's Drilling Plan Draws Much Criticism

Both the environmentalists who discourage drilling and the Republicans who encourage drilling have been criticizing President Obama's new oil drilling plan. The plan which Obama thought would be a good compromise between the two sides of the debate, would allow drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska.
The director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, said that “Drilling our coasts will doing nothing to lower gas prices or create energy independence, it will only jeopardize beaches, marine life, and coastal tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit.”
On the other hand, House Republican Leader John Boehner, criticized the plan for keeping too much of the oil in America off limits.
As a rebuttal to all of the criticism, President Obama said “Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again. There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling, But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake.”

Although I agree with President Obama's remark regarding the notion that we need to strengthen our economy before we can start building a new system with homegrown fuels and clean energy, I don't necessarily agree that oil drilling has to be the source that strengthens our economy. It seems almost hypocritical to drill more oil and ruin more environments in order to save our environment later. Doesn't it?

Ban Censorship!

As some of you may know, China has blocked Google's search engine because Google has refused to censor its searches. Google has attempted to bypass China's Great Firewall by rerouting all searches to a server based in Hong Kong. It appears that China has now stopped all traffic to Hong Kong's servers. Google's stance on censorship is that they believe that no one should be refused information and China's censorship is preventing an informed populous.

It seems, now, that the censorship battle has spread to Australia. Most of the info is summed up in the article, so I won't write it out here. My question to you all: Should countries be censored, if yes, why and by how much? If no, why not?

Screw Democracy, We Need Climate Change

I recently read this article (embedded in title) and it got me thinking, are we, as a population, too ignorant and too selfish to realize what we are doing to this planet? It seems so, considering the steps we are only now beginning to take, as a whole, towards better climates and stopping (and hopefully reversing) global warming. I think that the world's population has not reached the point that we need to suspend all choice for climate change. With Obama's energy bill for nuclear power, I believe that in itself is a large enough step to get us going in the right direction. I won't leave too much in this post, but what are your thoughts? Do you think that we are smart enough to realize what's going on, to step up and do something about it? And on another somewhat related side-note, what do you think is the best way of going about these changes?

Earth Day: April 22


The 40th anniversary of Earth Day is coming up. (April 22nd 2010) Though it seems far away, several people are getting excited and many events have been planned. Some believe it has potential to be a turning point to advance climate policy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green jobs.
Although I think that it is slightly naive to think that one day could be a turning point of decades of bad habits, I do think all the planned events could increase awareness and promote better habits. Although climate change has presented us with a great challenge, I think it could also be seen as an opportunity for us to build a healthy, prosperous, clean energy economy. Although it will take a lot of time and several billions of dollars, I think it is needed, and beneficial.

Study: Chocolate could reduce heart risk

According to a new study in London, small doses of chocolate everyday can decrease the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 40%. Studies showed that people who had an average of 6 grams of chocolate per day (or one square of chocolate bar) had a 39% lower risk of either a heart attack or a stroke. Studies in the past suggested that dark chocolate could be good for you, but this study is the first study to track the effects over a long period of time. Experts suggest that the flavonols (contained in the chocolate) help the muscles in blood vessels widen, which leads to a drop in blood pressure. Eckel, a professor of medicine, said "it was amazing to find such a small amount of chocolate could have such a protective effect, but that more studies needed to be done to confirm its conclusions."

Since I am a big fan of junk food, I was quite excited when I came across this article. For some reason i always believed that the whole "chocolate relieves stress" was a myth and tried to limit myself from eating chocolate as much as possible. but according to research, the cocoa beans in dark chocolate are filled with these "flavonols" that appear to have anti-aging properties! The flavonols are strong antioxidants that help maintain healthy blood flow and blood pressure. These healthy flavonols in cocoa beans prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from clogging the arteries. but of course it's still important to look at how much sugar the chocolate contains... eating chocolate that's loaded with sugar is definitely not going to help reduce any health risks no matter how much flavonols it has!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SCO vs. Novell update and other news

It seems Novell has won the case over the IP rights of Unix. No surprise there, in my opinion. It seems that over the ages, SCO has made attempt after attempt to claim rights to IP that it just didn't have.

On another somewhat related side-note, it seems that in New York, patents on gene sequences are no longer valid. This raises the question if genes are something to be patented, considering finding out exactly which gene does what can have many repercussions in the financial and medical world, as they can be sold for research or other medical uses. I, however, agree with the ruling as patenting one's discoveries will only hinder the pace of science. I believe that such information, though it may be attributed to one person, should not be attached to that one person for use.

And on another and slightly sillier note, it seems 59 year old Arthur Firstenberg is attempting to sue Raphaela Monribot for her use of wireless devices because he is electromagnetically sensitive. I cannot understand this in the slightest and most likely, many of you will laugh, some of you will find sincerity. Either way, it's quite an interesting case.

Surprising Number of Suicides in India

There have been more than 200 suicides committed in India for the political cause to separate Andhra Pradesh. Suicide is becoming a troubling trend, a phenomena. "According to Indian government statistics, bankruptcy or poverty provoke less than 5 percent of Indian suicides." -Lydia Polgreen
Although suicide among indebted farmers and the rural poor were frequently reported, they now accommodate only 5% of Indian suicides according to Indian government statistics. The bigger proportion of the suicides come from political dissent, family conflict, love affairs and illness. "The deaths illustrate the increasing stress on young people in a nation where, elections notwithstanding, the masses often feel powerless" say mental health experts. “Young people see this as a way to give meaning to what seem like meaningless lives,” said Sudhir Kakar. "It is a way to become a hero, to take a stand."

I think it is unfortunate that people try to become heroes by committing suicide. Some of the people such as Sai Kumar Meegada, a 20-year-old straight-A chemical engineering student at a prestigious university, have such bright futures and I think that they could have helped their region in India better through using their education, money, social status etc, as opposed to killing themselves.
While there are many working to discourage this suicide phenomena, there are also many encouraging it. "'Those who commit suicide for Telangana, we salute you,” the text on the poster says. “Wake up people and fight for Telangana.'” -Hari Kumar (Telangana is another region in India where there is much political dispute)
Don't you think it is a bit self centered to encourage other people to commit suicide so your region can be liberated?

Connecticut's Unemployment Benefits

I was shocked to learn that, according to this article, it is possible to earn more money while being unemployed than while holding part-jobs. The Connecticut Department of Labor recalculates the baseline for individual's unemployment benefits every year by using the pay rate of one's last held job. In the case of Roberta Hanson who recently took on a part-time job on the weekends, her unemployment benefits dropped from $483 a week to nothing, even though the new job she took payed only $130 per week. This is because the baseline for part time jobs is significantly lower than that of her previously held full time job; after subtracting a certain percentage of her current pay, the Department of Labor deemed her pay to be too large to qualify her for continued unemployment benefits.

I believe this system to be fairly unfair; people should not be punished for attempting to find work, especially when the pay is considerably less than what they earned at their previous job. Additionally, I think it's unfair for people to benefit more from not holding a job. Since unemployment benefits are necessary and beneficial to the individuals who recieve them and not all individual's situations are the same, I think that Connecticut's process of handing them out needs to be revised. The Department of Labor should consider all of an individual's means of income before determining benefits, and those who are employed (and who are thus helping to stimulate the economy and who are earning money for themselves) should not receive less than those who either can't or aren't motivated to find a job. To achieve this, I believe that the state should be divided up into regions, and different baselines should be established for each region based on the respective costs of living. Thus, if an individual's income level rises above the baseline, they should become ineligeble to receive benefits; if their income level is less, then they should receive enough benefits so their total income is at the established baseline.

While looking up additional information on the matter, I came across this article published by the Connecticut Department of Labor. According to this article, because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the Stimulus Bill passed in 2009), the first $2400 in unemployment benefits received in 2009 were to be tax free. This doesn't quite make sense to me; although unemployment benefits are a form of income, the money comes from that which is payed through taxes. Thus, unemployment benefits seem to me to be a distribution of the wealth from the richer to the unemployed. If the unemployed already receive so little money, should that amount be decreased even further?

Female Suicide Bombers get Bomb Implanted into Breasts

Al Queda female suicide bombers are getting explosives put inside their breasts. The bombs are close to impossible to detect as they are made of PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate). PETN is also one of the most powerful explosives in existence. The British intelligence service who discovered this "tactic" found that the surgeons were trained in the United Kingdom to place the explosives just as they would silicon gel for breast implants.
This is scary because apparently, an explosive C cup could blast a hole in an airplane's fuselage, easily causing it to crash. Also, it isn't just women... MI5 has also found out that men have been putting the PETN explosives in their buttocks.

The only way to detect these PETN explosives are by body scanners, but there has been some controversy over using those in the airports. Many deem them useless and unnecessary. Also, there have been incidents in the past in which airport workers have "abused" the equipment: click for direct link of an example.

I guess some people could call the person who thought of putting bombs inside people is creative, but I disagree. I think whoever thought this is slightly gross. It is pretty scary that it seems like the suicide bombers with PETN are almost impossible to detect.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Long Planned NATO Assault on Kandahar

Kandahar is a souther Afghanistan City that is a Taliban's spiritual home. It used to serve as Taliban's capitol prior to 2001. The long planned assault it supposed to start in June and end before Ramadan ( Muslim Holy Month ) in August. Many believe the two month attack on Kandahar will be an indicator of President Obama's capabilities as a bellwether of the war. The attack will also be a major test of President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan.
Currently, the US is working to secure transit routes and trying to convince regions around Kandahar to cooperate with NATO forces. Obama has ordered a deployment of 3000 more troops to Afghanistan. However, military officials expect "thousands more" to be sent to Kandahar.

I question the necessity of another 3000 +several thousand more troops being sent to Afghanistan. Also, I didn't get a sense of confidence from reading military officials' quotes... They say they hope it will be better than past attacks, but who knows? Since it has already been decided and has been planned for a long time, I guess all I can do is hope that we succeed and if possible, quickly.

No Matter What, We Pay for Others’ Bad Habits

This relates to Mr. Silton's post earlier: "Sin Tax Example: Taxing Alcohol vs. Taxing Drunk Drivers"

"Why should be pick up the tab when so much disease in our country stems from unhealthy behavior like smoking and overeating?" After the health care bill was passed last week Americans began to question why we are paying for other peoples mistakes and bad habits. Most Americans think it is fair for the people with unhealthy lifestyles to may more for health insurance. But that would lead to sticky and complicated situations.

Individual choices are not the only thing that contribute to bad health or disease. Factors such as social status, income, family dynamics, and genetics contribute to unhealthy life styles as well. Forcing healthy behavior is extremely difficult and usually does not work, especially when people are already caught in the lifestyle of obesity, smoking, binge drinking, etc. Reversal of habits in these situations often require a vast amount of time, effort , and money. "It's the context of people's lives that determine their health" said a World Health Organizations report, "So blaming individuals for poor health or crediting them for good health is inappropriate"

More Doubt on Global Warming

Unexpectedly, climate scientists and meteorologists have views conflicting as much as those of Coal State Democrats and coastal liberals regarding global warming.
"Climatologists, who study weather patterns over time, almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change. There is less of a consensus among meteorologists, who predict short-term weather patterns." - Leslie Kaufman
A meteorologist from AccuWeather stated that "it is more likely that the planet is cooling" and that he "distrusts the data."
He is only one of the several other meteorologists who think likewise. Accoding to a survey done by George Mason University, only about half of the surveyed weather casters (571) believed global warming was occurring, and less than believed that the climate change was due to human activities.

Because weather casters dominate communication channels to the public, the disagreement between climate scientists and meteorologists is getting huge political and academic attention. (56% of the Americans trusted meteorologists more than news media or public figures. ) Several deem this dominance as "dangerous" and several are working to shrink the divide. For example, Yale and the National Environmental Education Foundation are working hand in hand to close the gap with research and educational forums.


It basically comes down to this: “'In a sense the question is who owns the atmosphere: the people who predict it every day or the people who predict it for the next 50 years?'” -Bob Hensen, a science writer for University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

SCO vs. Novell

I found this case rather intriguing as it involves technology. SCO, a software and litigation company, is suing Novell over claims of ownership of Unix IP (intellectual property). It seems the basis of either side is that Novell sold Unix to Santa Cruz Operations (which later becomes part of SCO) and thus, SCO owns it, but in the original deal, Novell never actually sold the IP part of Unix, just the revenue section. Now, after many attempts of SCO's to get Unix IP, Novell has filed a writ of certiorari in hopes of settling it once and for all.

I feel the end of a case of such nature will bring about more definitive lines of legislation that will determine how intellectual property is handled. If a developer writes a section of code but is paid by another for that section of code, who owns the right to it?

Here are a few links you might be interested in for a better background of the case.

9 teens charged in bullying that led to girl's suicide

On January 14 after what appeared to be a torturous day, Phoebe Prince hung herself in her family's apartment. Nine Massachusetts teenagers have been charged on the grounds of bullying (verbal and physical abuse, rape, etc) which led to her suicide. Apparently faculty members and several students witnessed the bullying on the day of her death, but no one reported it until after her death.

Prince was the new kid in town who has just moved from Ireland. She was harassed at both at school and on the walk back home on a regular basis. She was harassed the day of her death because of what "appears to have been motivated by the group's displeasure with Phoebe's brief dating relationship with a male student that ended six weeks earlier" But this harassment had been going on for nearly 3 months prior to this date. (which included verbally abusive, assaultive behavior and treats of physical harm)

Hampshire ground jury charged:
  • 17-year-old Sean Mulveyhill with salutatory rape, violation of civil rights and bodily injury resulting, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly
  • 18-year-old Austin Renaud with statutory rape
  • 17-year-old Kayla Narey with violation of civil rights wit bodily injury resulting, criminal harassment and disturbance of school assembly
  • 3 other girls with violations including civil rights with bodily injury resulting and two were charged with stalking
  • 3 other girls named in complaints charged with violation of civil rights with bodily injury resulting, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment and assault by means of dangerous weapon
This story is beyond shocking. This involved teenagers just like us seniors. The part that is most disturbing is the fact that this 3-month campaign of bullying took place mainly on school grounds, where faculty members and administrators failed to prevent it. (students said faculty members had intervened but the school's code of conduct was inconsistently enforced) Fault is equally put on both the students and faculty. This incident could have been prevented, and this just comes to show that bullying and harassment need to be taken seriously. While this kind of behavior is not widely apparent in our high school, everyone needs to take a step back and realize that all those assemblies on respect, and behavior have a purpose.

2010 US Census

I originally wished to make this post about the lack of detail that the US Census form requires members of the household to provide. (The forms only require you to state people's name, sex, age, DOB, race, and place of residence. It makes no mention of economic status, income, employment, etc.) However, after doing some research, I learned that the US Census conducted every 10 years isn't the only one out there, and I decided to share what I learned.

Decennial Census: conducted every 10 years; collects information necessary for determining the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives; described in the Constitution

Economic Census: conducted every 5 years; measures activity of individual businesses with at least 1 paid employee and significant production

Annual Economic Surveys: conducted annually/quarterly/monthly for differect sections of the economy; "measure a wide variety of economic activities, from capital expenditures for food manufacturing companies to annual auto dealership sales"; includes the Annual Survey of Manufactures (ASM), County Business Patterns (CBP), Zip Code Business Patterns (ZBP), Nonemployer Statistics (NES)

American Community Survey: ongoing, provides data about the community every year

Puerto Rico Community Survey: equivalent of the American Community Survey for Puerto Rico
Population Estimates Program: estimates population numbers between censuses

For more information, check out the US Census Bureau Homepage here.

Catholic Church abuse allegations ripple across the globe

In the past decades, the Catholic church is proving to be not so thorough covering up or handling child abuse charges. The Vatican hierarchy has been flooded with accusations about sexual abuse of children in Wisconsin, Germany and Ireland. I have always heard of sexual abuse cases within the church, but I never realized how appalling the numbers are. I was shocked when I read the following information.

Wisconsin
  • Last week the New York time reported that from 1950-1974, Reverend Lawrence C. Murphy molested at least 200 boys at a school for deaf children in Wisconsin He was simply moved to another institution to continue his "religious work" for the next 24 years
  • Cardinal Joseph , Pope Benedict XVI was in charge of the Congregations for the Doctrine of Faith (Vatican department for investigating these allegations)
  • When Murphy was put under trial he pleated "I simply want to live out time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood. i ask your kind assistance in this matter"
  • The trial was halted and Murphy died in 1998 free of accusation

Germany
  • Peter Hullerman working the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising was accused of molesting boys and was approved for therapy in 1980
  • Hullerman was permitted to continue parish work in the path of more young children
  • In 1986 Hullerman was convicted on sexual molestation charges. Only after his criminal history was revealed to the congregation was he suspended from his work as a priest
  • The German wing of the church recently hired an attorney. "The cases are growing everyday," said Thomas Pfister, the attorney appointed by the German church to investigate abuse charges
Ireland
  • The Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse which just ended its 9 year investigations states the the church leaders knew sexual abuse to be "endemic" but did little to stop it
  • 2000 witnesses detailed that the church officials used rape, beatings, and other tactics to maintain a "culture of serving secrecy"
  • More cases of abuse are appearing in other parts of Europe such as Austria, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland

Sin Tax Example: Taxing Alcohol vs. Taxing Drunk Drivers

See here. The comment thread is generally worthwhile. Raising alcohol taxes would also impact the ability of young people to consume alcohol, which, given the rates of binge drinking, might be another good outcome. Or maybe the prudes have found a politically acceptable way to raise taxes on people other than themselves.

Severe storms, tornadoes lash Southeast

Tornadoes in Northern Carolina took people out of their homes and destroyed many peoples lives work. The article reminded me of hurricane Katrina, although it is not nearly of the same magnitude. I think it will be interesting to see how our government responds to this catastrophe. Maybe they will emphasize their help efforts to try to put a new image in Americans minds about how the United States government responds to natural disasters within our borders and make the same mistakes. Have we learned our lesson?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another War?

A South Korean Battleship was sunk today, killing 46 people. "Yonhap quoted military officials as saying that an unidentified explosion tore a hole in the ship's rear, shutting off the engine." says Andrew Salmon from CNN. The area where the incident occurred is a flashpoint maritime border area between North Korea and South Korea.

"The waters in the disputed western sea near the Koreas make up the most volatile section of the border. North Korea rejects a maritime demarcation line drawn by the United Nations at the end of the war. The two sides engaged in naval clashes in 1999 and 2002. In November, naval patrol boats from the North and South exchanged fire after a North Korean boat crossed the disputed sea border." (The International Herald Tribune)
Tension heightened today as North Korea and South Korea had dispute over tourism around
the area....

Is the war that has been put off for fifty years now, finally coming? Is there any hope of
reconciliation between the two countries? If so, it seems most likely that the US would be involved,
but what role would China play? Who really sunk the battleship?

Moscow Subway Kills Dozens

Though the cause of the blasts were ambiguous, there were two huge explosions affecting two Moscow subways today during rush hour. The Russian agencies suspect that the explosions were caused by two suicide bombers yet nothing is clear... The explosions were forty minutes apart according to the New York Times, and thirty minutes apart according to CNN. Approximately a little less than 45 people were killed and many more injured. This is one of several attacks on Russia's subway system, one of the world's most extensive. There have been three only in the past decade all of which had high casualties.

Moth forces wine country's secret into the open

Somehow, a grape-eating moth has found its way from Europe to the heart Napa Valley. No one knows exactly how this pest found its way to Napa Valley, but this puts federal agriculture investigators and researchers under harsh scrutiny. This "contamination" is suspected to have come from "Suitcase smuggling", an act that many Vintners now admit that they used this strategy to help build a handful of exceptional vineyards in the 1980s."A handful of California's best vintners today admit to having used "suitcase cloning" to avoid yearslong waits in USDA quarantine for their vines."

No one knows how the moth was brought in. Many farmers suspect that this is the product of vine smuggling. "Agricultural officials say that had the European grapevine moth (Lobesia botrana) innocently evaded inspectors on a container ship, the first trapping of the grape eater would have been near a port. Instead the pest that has proliferated across European vineyards appeared last September in the heart of the region where fine cabernet can fetch hundreds of dollars a bottle." In other words, this contamination was most likely caused by human vine smuggling.

Who knew such a small bug could cause such huge problems for these farmers. But honestly the people who decided to break the law are the ones to blame. They decided to "cheat" by smuggling vines and taking shortcuts around the USDA, and because of this, Napa Valley has to deal with their problems. Whoever caused this mess is ruining their own business along with everyone else's.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More Doctors Giving Up Private Practices

There has been growing concern about the continuing trend away from small private practices and towards salary jobs at hospitals. Many of us are familiar with small private physicians from dentists and orthodontists, to podiatrists and optometrists. Because young physicians are becoming burdened by medical school debts and the costs of opening private practices there has been a huge drop in physician owned businesses in the last few years. These numbers are expected to drop as doctors decide to accept salaries at hospitals rather than worrying about the risks of a running a private business. The rise of bigger health care organizations may explain the rising costs of private health insurance. As the system continues this trend, more and more Americans will see the health care system as a monopoly.

For patients, this transformation is a "mixed blessing". Bigger health care systems can provide better care, but the the individual patient-doctor relationship that many of us still experience may no longer exist. What do you guys think?

Middle Class?

I thought this was a great article to post because this is exactly what we were talking about during the the Socratic seminar.

This article talks about ways different ways measure whether your household is holding steady or whether you are are slipping down further and further. Everyone knows this economy has put many families in an economic struggle, but this is one way to measure the how much your living standards have actually changed. From Income and Medical expenses to Everyday Spending and Education, the economy has shifted what we determine luxury versus necessity.

Best Week Ever!?!

The Obama administration just had its best week ever, even better than the inaugural. Consider:

1. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is law. Not only that, in a bit of a stunning reversal, the context of its enactment may have helped the Democratic party and hurt the GOP. With "deem and pass" and faux-drama about Senate reconciliation rules, a week ago it looked like the Republicans were creating a winning issue about legislative process on the way down and riling up their base while doing so. That was always stunningly hypocritical given their own use of those exact same procedures, but that didn't mean it lacked political bite. Then Pelosi called an audible and the Democrats ditched "deem and pass," deftly handled the abortion issue (Mark Shields correctly points out that no male Speaker of the House would have had the credibility to pull that off), and it passed. The night of its passage, GOP members of the House described it as "totalitarian" and that it would lead to an "apocalypse." Anti-abortion stalwart Bart Stupak (D-MI) was called "baby killer!" from the gallery.

Some ugly behavior by right-wing protesters has shamed their cause. Before the vote, a man with Parkinson's disease demonstrating in favor of the bill in Columbus, OH, was mocked as "looking for a handout" by, among other insults, having people stand over him and throw dollar bills on his crippled body (one of those has since apologized). In DC, some wingnuts really came off the screw and called members of Congress "N_____" and "F__" as the walked past their rally at the Capitol. Other miscreants have vandalized lawmakers' offices in various cities around the country.

Back inside the capital, Republican Senators offered a series of frivolous amendments to the 2nd "fix-it" bill that came over from the House and Harry Reid kept the Senate in session until 2:30 a.m.!!! Harry, I didn't know you had it in you. The GOP folded the next day, realizing the political theater wasn't going like they had planned. They did rile up their base, but that in turn riled up the Democratic base. It also unified the Democrats in the Congress, who are set to bring up legislation on financial reform (which will be very popular), changing "No Child Left Behind" and immigration. In each case, if the GOP derails the bill, the Democrats have a winning issue, although I'm less sure about how immigration reform will play in a bad economy. It is entirely possible that 2 or 3 more major reform laws will be enacted this year. How's that hopey-changey thing goin for ya?

That in and of itself would be best week ever. But ALSO

2. A major nuclear arms treaty with Russia was finalized. Did Obama just earn that Peace Prize? It is said that Henry Kissinger and George Shultz (2 former GOP Secretaries of State from the Cold War) support this treaty, which will really help as Obama needs 67 votes to ratify it in the Senate. I think the treaty is in our interests and I hope this doesn't get overly political, but if it does, I think it will drive establishment Republicans out into open revolt against the neocons. I think Obama needs to sit down with both George Bushes on this one, because a unanimous group of ex-Presidents can defeat the militarists, even in the Senate. Should be interesting.

3. The student loan reform package is law (bundled onto the ACA). Liberal policy wonks are happy about this. This creates more money for Pell Grants while removing a moral hazard by nixing a bank subsidy. There is probably not much change from a student point of view insofar as the loans themselves are concerned: the costs derive from the credit market and the administration of the loans (the bureaucracy part) is being outsourced back to the existing banks as service providers, which lessens the impact on the existing job structure for them but means you'll be dealing with the same people on the same terms, more or less.

4. The final results of the recent election in Iraq are in and this election was encouraging. Yes, the results are being contested as the the apparent winner (with a plurality) was a surprise, turning out to be a secular Sunni party headed by Allawi, who served in a previous Iraqi administration born from the American occupation. Back then, the country was riven with sectarian conflicts between Shia, Sunni, and Kurd that led to a brief civil war. Now, several leading political parties are emphasizing Iraqi nationalism and they are being rewarded with election victories. This is good for the US because it seems that the Iraqis are making peace with each other, because they want US military forces to leave (and we want to come home), and because they are generally secular in orientation and opposed to al-Qaeda. Now, if al-Malaki doesn't concede eventually then it is a big mess, and even when he does, Allawi doesn't have a majority and will need to put together a coalition government. Nonetheless, with every passing election, democracy in Iraq becomes more normalized and more legitimate.

If it holds, it also means that Bush was right to proceed with "the surge" when plenty of people (myself including) were willing to throw in the towel and let the place burn. If it holds, it will also free up military assets for the Afghanistan theater, which is also heading in the right direction. This is the first time in a long time that both those conflicts are improving at the same time.

The news from the rest of the world is mixed. Relations with Israel are frosty as the balance of power within Israel has tilted to the religious right-wing, but apparently Obama holds a Seder.

The New York Times and Washington Post have published pieces that directly challenge the moral authority of the Pope. The revelations about child abuse in Germany and Ireland were alarming enough, but the story about the deaf boys from Wisconsin actually made me cry.

I believe that justice doesn't just happen when you die. There should be justice on earth, and this criminal pervert is just unforgivable. And it wasn't just the church hierarchy that failed to act in this shocking case. Civil authorities failed miserably in their duties, too.

As much as I criticize the state of journalism, American newspapers have played a part in bringing truth to power here. The Boston Globe broke the story in Massachusetts in 2002. Since then, it has spread all over the world. This is a very sad situation, and I believe the church will come to regret its recent defensiveness. Blaming the liberal media isn't going to cut it.

It's been a big news week. Buried in all this was news that the Social Security trust fund has hit the tipping point 6 years ahead of expectations and that the United States is going to start selling off some major assets acquired as part of a prior bailout, notably Citigroup. The Fed made a point of confirming their commitment to a low Fed Funds rate, which makes me think this asset sale more about properly re-privatizing these firms for the sake of doing so and for the revenue it will raise than as a shift in monetary policy. But another piece of news was that a recent original auction for Government Bonds didn't sell well -- the bond market may well tire of US debt and extract a higher premium.

Bow down to the bond market, slaves.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Obama Administration Aids Homeowners?

Background to the situation:

The foreclosure crisis is bringing down the economy and threatening to put many Americans in a position without homes. Congress pressured the Obama administration to do something. Hence, the initiatives to help homeowners:

  1. Refinancing several million homeowners into government-sponsored mortgages that are cheaper.
  2. Temporarily alleviate payments of those who are unemployed and seeking jobs.
  3. Encourage lenders to write down the value of loans for borrowers in modification programs.

The Problem:

1. The people who have been able to keep up with their payments may protest as the aid is almost solely directed at those experiencing financial hardship.

2. If the plan is successful, it could potentially put taxpayers at higher risk.

a. “If many additional borrowers move into F.H.A. loans, a renewed downturn in the housing market could send that government agency into the red.” –David Streitfeld (NY TIMES)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Indian military to weaponize world's hottest chili

I thought this was pretty funny. It doesn't sound like a bad idea. The world's hottest chili has the potential to be an effective weapon without actually harming its victims. This is really creative.

Check this out: "It has more than 1,000,000 Scoville units, the scientific measurement of a chili's spiciness. Classic Tabasco sauce ranges from 2,500 to 5,000 Scoville units, while jalapeno peppers measure anywhere from 2,500 to 8,000." I can't even imagine how spicy that would be to eat. No way am ever putting that in my food.

The article mentions the "ghost chili" as a use for " aerosol sprays to be used by women against attackers and for the police to control and disperse mobs." It could be used as a new type of pepper spray. I wonder if the chili juice would actually damage one's eyes though. Anyways, I think this is a really creative way for using a type of food. Who knew food could be used as a weapon?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Americans Approve of Healthcare by Slim Majority

Taking a look at the Gallup polls measuring Americans' overall reaction and emotional reaction to the passage of the Healthcare bill, it's heartening to know that a majority, although by a slim margin, approve of the bill's passage. I had trouble loading the polls to this post, so I'll restate their findings for you here:

Overall Reaction to Passing the Healthcare Bill:
  • 49% of adults said the passage of healthcare was a good thing, compared to 40% saying it was a bad thing. 11% had no opinion.
  • As expected, a majority of the Democrats polled (79%) said the passage was a good thing, and a majority of the Republicans polled (76%) said it was a bad thing.
  • Independents were deeply divided on the issue, with 46% saying it was a good thing, 45% saying it was a bad thing, and 10% holding no opinion
Emotional Reaction to Passing the Healthcare Bill:
  • 50% of national adults are either enthusiastic or pleased about the bill's passage
  • 42% of national adults are either disappointed or angry about the bill's passage
  • 8% of national adults hold no opinion
  • Democratic and Republican skews are as predicted (Democrats more pleased, Republicans more disappointed)
  • The curve for Independents, however, is interesting: 10% are enthusiastic, 35% are pleased, 27% are disappointed, 20% are angry, and 9% have no opinion. Although the highest percentage are pleased, Independents are twice as likely to be angry than enthusiastic, which is interesting.
One of the most interesting observances from the second poll is that only about a third of national adults polled felt strongly about the passage of the bill (15% enthusiastic, 19% angry). Given all the national hype about healthcare and all the fierce political debate going on in Washington, you would think Americans would be more passionate about the bill.

I also found it interesting that most of those who oppose healthcare do so because of supposed rising costs of insurance (20%), the bill does not address the real problems (19%), and because they need more clarity on how the system would work (9%). The last point is completely bogus; there have been plenty of explanations out there deconstructing the bill to help the public understand its provisions, so if you don't want healthcare because you're too lazy to read an article explaining it, then I don't know what to say to you. Regarding the second point, I think this bill's a start, and a good one at that. Would you reject a helping of icing because you can't get the cake all at once? And regarding the first point...well, that's why insurance is now mandatory for everyone: to keep costs down, because now insurance companies actually have to cover people who are sick. Also, a main reason the bill was proposed in the first place was to keep costs down; insurance was not getting any cheaper, and people have been seeing their premiums rise all year.

So, what are your opinions? Where do you fit in on these Gallup polls? And why do you think the polls turned out the way they did?


Google Pulls Out From China

Yesterday, Google closed its search engine in China after two months of threatening to leave due to censorship issues and Chinese hackers. The google.cn address does not work anymore, and users from mainland China are now directed to an uncensored Google search engine site in Hong Kong.

The move has spurred conflict between the international company and China. Chinese officials appear angered, citing that Google broke its promise to retain agreed upon censorship contracts. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it would handle the act "according to the law," and that the move should not affect Chinese-U.S. relationships. Google's chief legal officer said that he hoped "the Chinese government respects our decision."

Google's withdrawal from China is only partial, for now. Although the search engine no longer functions, Google will maintain their online maps and music services, as well as its research, development, and sales teams on the Chinese mainland.

Although censored, many believed that Google's entrance into China's market would allow Chinese citizens access to much more outside information. It symbolized China's growing acceptance of foreign influence on its citizens. Now that Google has removed itself from China, many Chinese have grown worried, especially students and professors who have lost access to Google's vast resources.

Looking from a business point of view, should Google have pulled out of China (keep in mind that only a small share of Google's overall profit is from China)? From a political and social point of view, was this a wise decision? Should this even be considered from the latter two points of views, or should it be contained purely as a business matter?

To read more about the official dealings, please read Google's blog post, with details about the situation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

India's newest class=the spending gurus

What is money if we don't spend it? This question does not seem to pose a problem for India's newest economic class of nouveau riche farmers. Many of these farmers have found themselves suddenly rich by selling their land and reaping the benefits.

It is not these new pockets of wealth that are of interest, however; it's what these newly rich farmers decide to do with their money. For many, the influx of cash translates to "Spend Big, and Spend Now." The attached picture illustrates this: the newly rich Yadav family has decided to marry off their son by flying him in a helicopter to his bride's hometown. Although this impulsive consumption could be blamed on poor education and financial planning, as well as the allure of cold hard cash, sociologists say that much of it is due to the desire of lower casts to "show off their social mobility, partly by emulating the practices of the upper classes."

In India, a country with a strict caste system, social mobility is considered a rarity and a well-earned privilege. Everyone wants to be better than their neighbors, and the more material wealth you show off, the richer you are perceived to be. In fact, many of these farmers are truly rich by Western standards. But we're seeing the same effect here as was demonstrated by the Harvard students economics study - it doesn't matter how much money you have; it just matters how much you have in comparison to everyone else.

Reconciliation: What is the Republican Strategy?

Senate Democrats have decided to take up budget reconciliation of the health bill to fix any last-minute errors and add necessary amends to the bill before it becomes law. For more information about what reconciliation involves and procedural details, please look here, but for now I would like to explore the Republican reconciliation strategy.

After losing, to put it bluntly, the healthcare debate, Republicans are now faced with a decision: to make worthwhile amends to a bill that they really have no chance of repealing and face criticism for supposedly "supporting" the bill, or reject all amends and blame Democrats for a lackluster bill, hoping that Americans will forget they didn't want healthcare in the first place. Right how, it's looking like they're leaning towards the latter, and that all Senate Republicans will appose the changes. Their top target to bring down is a list of changes to a proposed tax on high-cost employer-sponsored insurance policies. Obama had negotiated changes to the tax with the heads of organized labor, and successfully blocking the proposed changes could create a political "headache" for Obama.

A new strategy put forth by the Senate Republicans is to portray the changes desired by Senate Democrats as detrimental to the health bill. However, as the article states, "It was unclear that the argument would stick, given that many of the changes in the reconciliation measure are intended to adjust provisions the Republicans themselves had criticized."

But the question is, will these strategies work? Can the Republicans really succeed in portraying healthcare as a bad thing, and Democrats as the real "losers"? Politics is the game now, but when people's lives are saved and sick children suddenly receive care, I think the rules of the game will change drastically, and most likely not on the side of the Republican naysayers.

How Does the Health Bill Affect You?

Visit this interactive and easy-to-understand guide written by the New York Times. The bill will most likely affect everyone in some way or another, whether in a big way or small, so I highly suggest you take a look.

10 Places NOT to Use Your Debit Card

I thought this informative article was pretty interesting because I use my debit card A LOT. I usually use my debit card instead of cash, because I hate getting a bunch of coins back when I pay with cash. However, I guess there's some disadvantages to using debit cards all the time because as the article says, it is a direct line to your bank account. That's scary to think about. The ten places that you shouldn't use your debit card are:

1. Online
2. Big-Ticket items
3. Deposit required items
4. Restaurants
5. When you're a new customer
6. Buy now, take delivery later
7. Recurring payments
8. Future travel
9. Gas stations and hotels
10. Checkouts or ATMS that look "off."

The article explains in more detail why these 10 places are no good for debit cards. I guess i'll be paying more attention to where I'm using my debit card next time. But cash is so annoying!


Oh shoot. Sorry Brian. I didn't know you posted on the same article haha. I started my post yesterday so I just continued it today, and didn't go to the home page of the blog. Sorry! I don't see a delete button to delete my post. :[

10 Places NOT To Use Your Debit Card

Many, if not most, people have credit or debit cards, including many high school students. Although online usage is probably the biggest assumed risk with credit cards, many other surprising places have proven to be risky.

According to research from various sources such as the Credit Union National Association and the National Consumer Law Center, the top 10 places that you should NEVER use your credit card are:

Online
On "Big Ticket" Items
When a Deposit is Required
In Restaurants
When You're a New Customer
"Buy Now, Deliver Later"
On Recurring Payments
Future Travel
Gas Stations and Hotels
and
Checkouts and ATMS that "Look 'Off'"

Although some of these places may seem pretty random, the reasons for each are provided, in detail, in the full article. For example, if you use a debit card at a gas station or a hotel, "some gas stations and hotels will place holds to cover customers who may leave without settling the entire bill".

These ten particular places surprised me, other than "online". Have any of you ever experienced an issue with using a debit card in these or other places?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Classic to the Core: Luxury companies that stayed true to their roots didn't merely survive the recession, they thrived.

The recession. It seems to be a hot topic on many people's minds, and, unfortunately, the damage it did withstands the efforts being put forward to end it.

Many businesses were forced to close or downsize due to the lack of sales profits, but some businesses were able to pull through. Those few lucky businesses may surprise you.

Labels like Louis Vuitton and Burberry were actually able to maintain-or even improve-their sales, by bringing back old classics to their stores.

Louis Vuitton, a 156 year old company, has done particularly well during this time of economic struggle. By viewing and selling products as "almost a piece of art," LV has been able to thrive over the last few years.

It strikes me as strange that luxury brands such as these have been able to bea the recession, while other inexpensive companies have crumbled.

Landmark Healthcare Bill Passes

Today, the House of Representatives made history as it passed the Healthcare bill into law with a vote of 219 to 212.

To pass the bill, House Democrats made a deal with abortion opponents within their party that an executive order would be given restricting taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. This deal gave the Democrats the final votes they needed. The law requires that insurance companies give aid to all, even those with preexisting conditions, and extends healthcare to 32 million currently uninsured people. The latter significantly reduces rising healthcare costs and will eventually reduce federal budget deficits. The bill also adds 16 million people to Medicaid rolls and subsidizes private coverage to low to middle-income people, at a cost of $938 billion over 10 years. This cost will be offset by significant reductions in Medicare and new taxes and fees on businesses and affluent americans.

What are your opinions / outlooks on the law? Does it reach far enough, or does it fall short? Additionally, the vote took place along party lines, with no Republicans voting for the bill and about 35 Democrats voting against it as well. Why do you think there is such a deep divide between parties? Looking to the future, could the success of the bill determine the continuing success of either party?



Democrats had control of the health care votes

President Obama and House Democrats had won the health care votes. The House had a long argument and at the end voted the bill to have coverage of 32 million Americans who do not have insurance. They banned insurers to deny coverage for people because of their medical condition records and they estimate a $138 billion cut in deficits over ten years. The bill that cleared Senate won at the House with 219-212. The article says that the president had 18 days of traveling to four states and lobbying to more than 60 lawmakers. This is the first time that Americans would be required to buy insurance and have penalties if they did not. Most of the money in the bill would be to families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year to have it pay for their premiums.The insurance companies cannot have lifetime dollar limits on not giving coverage to children because of their medical conditions of the past or cancel policies when a policyholder became sick. Now it is said that parents could keep children up to 26 instead of 23 on family insurance plans. To pay for the changes in the health care there would be about $400 billion higher taxes in the next ten years and about half of it is on people with incomes over $200, 000 and couples over $250, 000. The bill also "cut more than $500 billion from planned payments to hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and other providers that treat Medicare patients."

This is definitely could be a huge change to the American people. Depending on if you need health care or your income this bill could benefit or vice versa. Now many people who cannot healthcare could have it and some would have to pay more. This is a bill that I believe could help President Obama greatly as this is a major bill that he and the Democrats successfully got through House. Do you think the health care bill will benefit you or not?

Demise of coral, salamander show impact of Web

The internet...could it really be one of the "greatest threats to rare species" in the world?

According to CITES (the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), this seemingly far fetched thought is now quite a reality.

By access of the internet, many poachers and black market venders are able to branch out their clientele base to other parts of the world that were previously unaccessable to them. According to a survery, over 7,000 illegal animal species were traded online over the course of a mere three months. Ebay was also found to be a large sponsor of online ivory trading.

To combat this devistating issue, CITES has planned out an e-commerce proposal that will hopefully put an end to this.

I was surprised when I read the title to this, and was shocked after reading the article itself. I was dissapointed that there wasn't any information about how I could help out CITES, but I'm sure if I researched the subject more I would find ways.

Toyota shareholders sue over fallen stock price

Toyota shareholders are outraged over the fallen stock price of this automaker. These shareholders are heading to court with lawsuits claiming that Toyota's executives purposely misled investors and the public about seriousness of the accelerator problems in millions of its vehicles.

These shareholder cases are only part of many potentially costly lawsuits against Toyota over the acceleration issue, including those filed by crash victims and their families. Many people also argue that their vehicles are worth a lot less because of the recalls to the vehicles.

The lawsuits argue that the top company executives have known for nearly a decade that faulty electronic throttle controls caused vehicles to sometimes careen wildly out of control but covered it up to protect the company's reputation for safety, and also its stock price.

Even though the shareholders and lawsuits seem to have good arguments, Ford won a recent case over investors.

'In one of the best-known recent auto product liability cases, Ford prevailed over investors who claimed the company made misleading statements about the safety of the popular Explorer sport utility vehicle prior to a massive tire recall prompted by a series of rollover crashes. A federal judge ruled in December 2001 that although some of the company statements amounted to "corporate puffery," Ford could not accurately foresee the impact of the recall when the statements were made."

What do you think the ruling will be when the lawsuits against Toyota are taken to court? It looks like Toyota is in deep doodoo. Even if they do win their case, I'm sure Toyota's reputation will go down the drain.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Media Effects on the Public

According to Doris Graber, a professor at the University of Chicago, "People who are exposed to the mass media already possess a fund of knowledge and attitudes which they bring to bear on new information. Since we do not know precisely what this information is, nor the rules by which it is combined with incoming information, we cannot pinpoint the exact contribution which mass media make to the individual's cognitions, feelings, and actions"

I agree, people do approach the news with their preexisting views in mind, criticizing some bits of information and soaking up others like a sponge. I do believe, however, that they system is much more straightforward than Graber makes it sound.

It is obvious that these effects exist - just take a look at the type of political reporting done around elections. The media can and will sway voters, but just with different levels of intensity and effectiveness. Contrary to Graber's statement that there are no rules, independents and voters who are undecided are much more likely to be swayed one way or another by the media than voters with strong political beliefs on either end of the spectrum. Stated simply, the weaker your political convictions, the more vulnerable you are to media effects.

There is a hiccup, though, in the system. The most apparent way to measure the media's effects on "individual's cognitions, feelings, and actions" is to measure the public's response to certain news reports - but how do we measure the public's response other than through media reporting? This presents a conflict of interest in which Graber is absolutely right about the difficulty of measuring media's effect on the public. The most viable solution to this problem would be to collect data through polls, and measure media effects statistically. In this paper, Larry Bartels, a professor of politics, communications, and public affairs at Princeton does just that. Take a look.

Unfair judge with too much power?

As I was reading the news I stumbled across this article on the daily news. A judge in Hobart Australia allowed this sex offender to see his children on alternate weekends.
I think this is just flat out wrong. I think the children should be cared by their relatives instead. As said "Decisions in the Family Court are supposed to be about the best interests of the child."
Hopefully the children are safe. Do you think the judge did the right ruling to allow the father to be with his children or not?

With cheap food imports, Haiti can't feed itself

After the earthquake in Haiti smashed markets, collapsed warehouses/buildings, and left more than 2.5 million people without enough to eat, the U.S. has aided the victims in Haiti with food, especially rice. Inexpensive imports, especially rice from the U.S. has destroyed local agriculture and left Haiti unable to feed themselves. As the U.S. has been importing cheap rice and other foods to Haiti, it has resulted in a lack of investment in Haitian farming. Furthermore, this has devastated farmers because they are unable to produce agriculture. For the Haitians, "near-total dependence on imported foods has been a disaster. Haiti's government is also asking for 722 million for agriculture to fix the estimated 31 million of quake damage to agriculture, but mainly for projects restoring Haiti's watersheds to improve irrigation and infrastructure.

The policies stated earlier were led by Bill Clinton. He publicly apologized this month for the policies that destroyed Haiti's rice production. He stated, "I had to live every everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else." However, now Clinton and Bush are leading U.S. fundraising for Haiti.

Wow. I never knew that sending food, such as rice to a country in need would actually create negative effects, but now I understand how the importing of food into Haiti has devastated farmers and their agriculture. I also like how Clinton apologized for his mistake, and is now fixing it and doing more to help Haiti.

U.S., Russia will sign nuclear treaty in April

This article says that Russia and The U.S. will sign a new nuclear disarmament treaty in early April inthe Prague. Russian and US negotiators have been in intense talks to agree a successor to the 1991 START treaty,which expired in December. President Obama and Russian President Medvedev agreed last July that the new treaty should reduce the number of warheads on either side to between 1,500 and 1,675. Currently, the US has some 2,200 nuclear warheads, where as Russia has about 3,000. Furthermore, the new treaty also acknowledged a link with the planned US missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe.

I think this is a great idea to create a nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia. I think nuclear warheads are scary because if one country were to release their warheads on another country, it would create a domino affect. I do not want to imagine what would happen to everybody if the world began releasing all their nuclear missiles and weapons on each other. I'm glad that Obama and the Russian president are working to reduce the number of warheads.

Friday, March 19, 2010

She's All Yours...



I thought that this was hilarious.

Gay Men and Lesbians Barred From Some Clinical Trials

Many gay and lesbian couples are being denied participation in medical studies and research. The exact reasoning for this discrimination is unsure, but the New England Journal of Medicine stated that researchers need to be careful "when they develop exclusion criteria that are based on sexual orientation.”

Not only are they being refused from studies about sexual disorders, but they are being denied from studies about other disorders such as ADHD.

Although this is one of the least threatening issues that the GLBT community is facing right now, it is still perturbing that people are discriminating without justification.

Fashion Feels Fur’s Warm Embrace

As you may have heard, the United States figure skater Johnny Weir was pressured by fans into changing his fur costume for the Vancouver Olympics last month.

Unfortunately, it seems that the fashion world is not as concerned with being politically correct. In the New York fashion show, Oscar de la Renta included fox cuffs, Michael Kors featured Cayote Capes, and D&G featured fox mukluks.

Although fur is said to give "a richness in texture", the methods used to collect the fur are cruel, and, unfortunately unavoidable. Many animals are skinned alive and left to die painfully on the floor of factories.

Despite PETA's drastic efforts to reduce the usage of fur in high-fashion, it persists. Tossing dead raccoons and throwing tofu pies at people may be at the far end of the spectrum, but I feel that it is a neccessary evil in order to put a stop to the fur trade industry.

Because many designers may still be unwilling to relinquish the sales of their sometimes $30,000 fur jackets, the message needs to be made very clear to the fashion industry that fur will no longer be tolerated.

How to Report the News

In this hilarious video, Charlie Brooker pokes fun at how TV reporters report the news.
Makes you wonder - have we really become such a soundbite society?

Are school suspensions constitutional?

With the increasing popularity of zero-tolerance policies, there has been an ongoing debate about the constitutionality of school suspensions. Is denying students schooling a violation of their constitutional right to an education? The North Carolina Supreme Court will decide on Monday.

The case involves two North Carolina sophomore girls who got in a fight and were suspended for a semester. As additional punishment, the girls were told they could not attend the county's alternative school for troubled students and were denied aid to study at home. But do these actions really serve their purpose? Does banning these girls from school really make the school and community safer and serve as a proper punishment for their actions? Or is the effect just the opposite- do suspensions send already troubled students deeper into academic failure and dropping out?

Some school districts are revising their methods, and are providing behavioral counseling and mediation to wrongdoers as part of the suspensions. The North Carolina high school district involved in the case, though, stated that severe budget cuts required it to enforce its strict policy. "Are you going to take money from teaching in order to pay for home schooling and conflict resolution because of a child's misbehavior?" said Robert Belcher, chairman of the school board.

Are suspensions proper punishment for wrongdoers? Or do they send the wrong message that education is a privilege, and not a right? Do they truly confront the problem at hand? And the ultimate question: are they constitutional? Keep your eyes and ears open for the court's decision on Monday.

Graduation rate disparities between whites and Hispanics

A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit research organization, found that the college graduation rates of Hispanic students continues to lag behind those of white students, no matter how selective the college. This report complements an earlier study done by the Pew Hispanic Center that found that only 16% of Latino high school graduates earned a degree by age 29, compared with 37% of non-Hispanic whites and 21% of African-Americans.

There are a variety of reasons for this notable discrepancy. Culture has a huge role: many Hispanics are very family-oriented, and social ties to home may restrict some students from completing their education. Language may act as a barrier as well. Additionally, university administrators have described whites as generally being "better prepared academically and financially for college."

Applying this research to the changing demographics of the U.S., where Hispanics comprise the nation's largest minority (and probably its fastest-growing, too), it is essential to close the gap between Hispanic graduation rates and those of whites. Affirmative action may be a viable solution, along with providing more financial aid to Hispanic families and devoting more attention and funds to our nation's community colleges. What do you guys think? What are some of the reasons this discrepancy exists, and how can we close the gap?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Government internet control?

The President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez wants to control the internet. He wanted regulation of the Internet and said a website "falsely reported the murder of one of his ministers." Chavez said "The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done. Every country has to apply its own rules and norms." The President Hugo Chavez is angry with the gossip website Noticierodigital that falsely wrote that Diosdado Cabello was assassinated. Diosdado Cabello is a senior minister and close helper of the president. The president says that the website falsely kept information online for two days. There are websites like Facebook and Twitter where many people use for social networking. These websites are suppose to be very popular for people against Venezuela's current government and they use it to organize protests and other events. The article says that Chavez has complained that people use these sites to "spread unfounded rumors." People who are aginst Chavez are afraid he will have the government oversight the internet like other countries. Some countries that do this are Cuba, China, and Iran.

I think this is just flat out invasion of privacy. I personally believe that it is outrageous that governments would want to control what people do on the internet. Hopefully Chavez will not try to start monitoring the web and people could be free to say what they want online. Do you think the government should be allowed to monitor what you do online because a website made a mistake on their news?

The world's only immortal animal

This is a really short article, but I thought it was pretty interesting. I never knew the "fountain of youth" really existed. This is one unique jellyfish. However, this immortal jellyfish may cause environmental problems. Because they do not die, there is a high chance that they may overpopulate in the oceans. Maybe they might even become invasive species in the future.

Experts debate dangers of wearing popular sheepskin boots

So I was on Yahoo!'s homepage the other day and I ran across this article about Uggs. I thought it would be really interesting to post here, because SOOO many people wear these boots. I've always imagined how comfortable Ugg boots were, but I never knew that they could actually be bad for you. In the article, Dr. Drysdale stated that people's feet are slipping around inside the shoe and "with each step, the force falls towards the inside of the foot and the feet splay. This flattens the arch and makes it drop. The result can be significant problems with the foot, the ankle, and ultimately, the hip." I found this pretty shocking. However, I remember seeing a girl walking around Aragon one day with Uggs. Her foot wasn't even on the sole of the boot anymore! She was stepping on the side of the boot, as it bent to the right each time she took a step. I wondered how she was walking like that. I guess that is one of the examples of how the boot can damage your feet. Ultimately, the experts in the article state that Ugg boots, whether real or fake, just don't provide enough support for the feet. What do you guys think about this?


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's Census Time!

Guess what arrived in my mailbox a few days ago: that's right, the official 2010 U.S. Census! Beginning Monday, more than 130 million U.S. census forms began arriving in people's mailboxes nationwide. This year's census includes only 10 questions, one of the shortest in our nation's history, in an effort to increase the rate of return. Question topics include: age, race, gender, household size, homeownership, and Hispanic ethnicity.

Although many don't fill out the census form due to laziness, some Americans actively reject the census because they feel it breaches their privacy. This belief is unwarranted, though. Federal law protects your privacy and keeps your answers confidential; law enforcement, tax collection agencies, and court cannot access any of the information. In fact, census data only becomes public after 72 years, for historical research reasons.

Filling out the census means building a representative democracy. Census results are used to decide the number of representatives each state has in the U.S. Congress, and also to draw electoral districts and allocate federal and state funds. By mailing that form, you are sending lawmakers a message that you want to be counted. A government is meant to serve its people, but who are those people? This is what the census defines, and it is up to us to make that definition accurate. If the definition is distorted, our government will be too, and we will only have ourselves to blame. So fill out those forms and mail them in. You'll be glad you did.