Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gadhafi Escaped Death while NATO Attack Killed His Family Members

Moammar Gadhafi and his wife escaped death today when a NATO missile strike in Tripoli struck the home of Gadhafi’s youngest son, Seif al-Arab, who died in the strike along with his wife and children.

A U.N. Mandate to protect Libyan civilians has lead NATO to perform air strikes for the past month. The strike that killed Gadhafi’s son was the first strike targeted towards his family. British Defense Minister, Liam Fox, and U.S. Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, have stated that the NATO strikes are not targeted at Gadhafi himself but instead are targeting his command centers. NATO promises to cease all strikes once Gadhafi forces return back to their bases, once all his threats and acts of violence against Libyan people come to an end, and once humanitarian access is welcomed into the country.

Gadhafi called for a cease-fire and negotiations with rebels and NATO powers only a few hours before NATO’s attacks struck his family. NATO officials and rebels do not see his offers has being sincere since in the past Gadhafi had spoken of peace but continued to attack his people. Many rebel fighters welcome NATO's attacks and hope that they make Gadhafi feel the fear that his people are experiencing and hopefully inspire him to change his violent behavior.

Do you think it is appropriate to attack the family members of enemy leaders? Seif al-Arab had been studying in Germany for a while until recently, and is known to keep a very low-profile. One of Gadhafi’s other sons, Seif al-Islam Gadhafi, has even been called a reformist. I think it only appropriate to attack a leader’s family if the family members themselves are helping to rule the country. If someone only holds the fault of being related to notorious leader and has done nothing to hurt others, they do not deserve to be attacked in any way. What are your views? Do you think his son’s death will affect Gadhafi’s plans?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Regulations Against the Length of Beards in State Prisons

Virginia’s Department of Corrections grooming policy was challenged last week by a minimum security prisoner, William Couch. Couch, who is a Sunni Muslim, is claiming that the policy goes against his religious rights because it does not allow him to grow a 1/8-inch beard. His attorney, Jeffrey Fogel, argued that a beard of that length should be allowed since it would not greatly change an inmate’s appearance or allow an inmate to hide anything in it.

This policy was once challenged by a group of Rastafarian and Muslim inmates in 1999, but the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals chose to uphold the policy. After the ruling, inmates who did not shave were segregated and put into a separate living area from prisoners were did follow the policy. To sway the men into properly grooming themselves, the challenging inmates were given privileges such as more recreation time and personal property.

The department’s spokesman, Larry Traylor, has stated that many inmates follow the grooming policy despite their religious beliefs, including about 300 Rastafarian inmates and 3,800 inmates who attend Muslim services.

Only about a dozen states regulate the length of inmates’ beards and hair and many of those states have rules that try to accommodate different religious beliefs. Federal prisons do not have any polices concerning hair. In the past, Congress passed a law that says that prisons can limit religious freedoms for serious reasons, such as to maintain security. This law does state, however, that such policies must be the least restricting possible.

Personally, I do not see how a 1/8-inch beard can do anyone any harm. 1/8-inch is equal to 3.175 millimeters, aka tiny. If he feels religiously inclined, I think an inmate should be allowed to grow such a beard as long he keeps it to that length. I do not think that inmates should be able to greatly change their appearance since that would make it hard to find them if they were to escape, but I seriously doubt that a 1/8-inch beard will make a man unrecognizable. However, I do see how changing the policy may make things sticky. If Virginia’s Department of Corrections does decide to let the inmates grow beards, such a change may force the department to change their policy completely. For example, if the policy were to allow a religious man to have a beard, then an inmate of Native American decent may argue that the policy’s rules behind long hair should also be changed since many tribes have beliefs against cutting ones hair. One change may end up leading to many changes, and this could be exactly what Virginia is trying to avoid.

Maybe Virginia holds such a policy because they do not want to pay for beard trimmers? If you think about it, one beard trimmer is probably cheaper than buying a large amount of razors and lather and over time… I’m just saying.

What are your thoughts on religious freedoms within prisons? Would you challenge the policy if you were an inmate?

Killer Strom in the South

A total of five states have been hit with a massive storm that has officially killed 178 people. Alabama has been hit the hardest, reporting a total of 128 deaths. Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee are among the states that were also hit by the destructive storm on Wednesday. The city that suffered the most from the tornado was Tuscaloosa, which is also the home of the University of Alabama. Although the campus wasn't significantly damaged, many students are staying at a shelter in the campus recreation center. This shelter only contains 125 beds, if the campus were terribly damaged where would the other thousands of students sleep? In Tuscaloosa, there have been at least 15 deaths, and another 100 people in hospital beds. The governors from Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia have declared a state of emergency. President Obama has agreed to help the state of Alabama by deploying about 1,400 National Guard soldiers. Many people have been awe struck by the powerful tornado, and its damage to their community. Many streets are blocked, while others have faced the reality of losing their home. While the troops arrive, many, like the university students in Tuscaloosa, are helping one another in this disastrous event.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guantanamo Bay

As requested...
Starting a few days ago on April 25, some small independent organizations like WikiLeaks began to release information about the prisoners that are being held in Guantanamo Bay. The information released includes classified assesments, interviews and much more. Some details were also released about the prisoners including ages and physical and mental state. The leaks revealed that there is a man of 89 years old and a boy of 14 years at Guantanamo Bay. They also leaked that around 150 people were held there for years without charges, many of which are believed to be innocent.

This also raised the question about the outcome of Gunatanamo Bay. Part of Preident Obama's campaign was the closure of Guantanamo Bay and a couple years later it doesn't seem that it is happening.

Do you think it will ever be closed? What are your thoughts on the information that was leaked? Any other thoughts?

Presidential Birth Certificate

White House releases Obama's birth certificate
President Obama released his original birth certificate yesterday after saying that all the suspicion about him being born out of the US has becomes a "sideshow" and that "there is not enough time for all this silliness." The President said that he feels that this has been dragged along for too long and that it was time to put all suspicions to rest.

Other famous businessmen, like Donald Trump, feel that they have accomplished something but still have their suspicions. Trump feels that it should have been released long ago when the rumors first began. It is said that 1 out of every 4 Republicans thought that President Obama was born in his father's home country of Kenya.

Still about 75% of Americans think that the President is a natural born US citizen and follows the US Constitution. Why do you think the President chose now to release his birth certificate? Why not before or later?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More Bullies

More on the topic of bullying...
A boy was removed from his Riverside High School classroom in Florida for his choice of clothing. The boy came to school in high heel shoes and the teacher asked him to leave and go to the principle's office. The administration asked him to take them off and he did so willingly. Some students believe it is his way of expressing himself, while others feel that it is just to be a class clown. The principle told reporters that he was afraid that the kid would be bullied. There was nothing in the dress code about the types of shoes that boys and girls could wear. This relates to all the sexuality and AIDS talk that was going around last week. Any thoughts to add? Will bullying ever cease to be such a huge problem?

Friday, April 22, 2011

How Change Really Happens, Continued

This morning I took my 1st period to see the AIDS quilt display in the Student Lunch Room and later made the connection between AIDS, coming out of the closet, and the ultimate success of the gay rights movement. People raised in an anti-gay culture were much more likely to change their views if they realized that someone they already had come to respect was in fact gay. AIDS forced many people out of the closet, so while there was an immediate homophobic backlash to the emergence of the disease, resistance to funding research, etc., the longer term effect was to humanize a previously obscure population.

I read Andrew Sullivan about twice a day, but I did not catch this post on the same theme made about 10 minutes before class began today. What a coincidence! The letter Sullivan posts says it all better than I ever could. Definitely worth a click. This is why Cleve Jones coming to Aragon is a big deal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Japan Distruction Hitting the California Beaches

Will the coast of California be affected by the tsunami in Japan? University of Hawaii scientists believe so. All the cars and homes that got washed out into the Pacific Ocean from Sendai are believed to be headed East from Japan towards the West Coast of the US. Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa have created a model (seen above) based on the behavior of drifting buoys that were deployed over the years for scientific purposes. This model shows the estimated spread of debris from Japan's coast towards the US from March 2011 to March 2016.

These models can be used also to help guide clean up and tracking of the process. Even prior to the tsunami, marine debris has become a bigger issue globally. The debris and oils have been washed out to sea or come off of tourism or shipping vessels and are harming the wildlife as well as industries like fishing, marine science and shipping.

Maximenko's work has also been able to track currents and can predict where debris, that doesn't wash ashore, collects. These regions where debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean are known as "garbage patches." The location of these "garbage patches" is important to helping clean the oceans.

Hopefully, Maximenko's work will help the marine clean up and keep the CA beaches safe from the ruins coming east from the Sendai area. This hopefully will help keep the oceans cleaner and keep the marine organisms from eating the garbage. Any thoughts? Do you think the remains will make it all the way across the Pacific to the US coast?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dozens killed in Many Tornadoes

In North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, more then 240 tornados were reported hitting in just over 3 days, including 62 hitting North Carolina. Many believe that these numbers given by the US National Weather Service are lower because many tornados touched down more then once. As of this morning, the total deaths in North Carolina rose to 24 and an estimated 45 nationwide after 50-year-old Mary Williams of North Carolina died.

Govener Beverly Perdue of NC declared a state of emergency and rescuers are still searching for survivors. An Iraq War Veteran said he was stunned by what he saw and that the devastation is worse then in Iraq. There was an estimated 200,000 homes in North Carolina without power on Sunday. Last night, the President signed a disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to help state and local recovery efforts. Federal funding is available in Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Halifax, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Wake and Wilson counties. Assistance includes grants for home repairs, low cost loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals, families and businesses. More damage assesments will take place to see the extent of all the damages.

There seems to be a lot of natural disasters recently, from Japan to this. There are so many disasters that there is also now a lack of money to help fund the reliefs. It is crazy that there is so much damage all over the world. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's in your lunch?

    Lunch was an exciting part of the day in elementary school. When the bell rang, kids swarmed into the lunch yard with their action figure lunch boxes eager to unveil what goodies were packed for them. The feeling of accomplishment you got when you traded with another student for the tastier treat.These are the memories you keep with you. Imagine not having that opportunity, the students at Little Village Academy in the west Side of Chicago know how that feels. One day they have their own packed lunch and the next they have to eat from the chosen foods in the school cafeteria that the dissatisfied administration chose for them because they disagree with the choice of foods that the kids had packed in their lunch. the only exception is if you have a medical condition.

    Yes, eating healthy nutritious food is obviously an issue, but who's to say what the kids have in their lunches every day. Just because one student wants to treat himself to a soda doesn't mean that the rest of the school has to be punished for it. In an interview with the principal Elsa Carmona "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunch room). Its milk vs. a coke." From a young age, these children are being taught that some decisions are not up to them, even if it involves them. 
     They are telling them what to eat, telling them what they learn, some schools how to dress, what will they do next, come to my house and tell me what I can eat? During an observation at the school, there were two options, you eat the food that you are given or you go hungry. A large majority of the students would take the food, but as the end of lunch was near, they threw out most of it with only little pecks taken out. Both parents and students are angered in the choice that administration made because the food is not meeting the child personal interests. I believe that as Americans, this is taking away our rights to freedom. We should have the choice of what we want to put in our bodies, not have someone regulating it. So, whats in your lunch?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Apple sues Samsung and accuses them of copying

On Friday, Apple filed a lawsuit against Samsung for copying their iphone and ipad designs and violating their patents and trademarks. Apple says that Samsung has "slavishly" copied their designs, from their touch screen mobile devices to the size and color of the screen icons offered on the phones. The "Galaxy" line of Samsung merchandize is a particular target to the unhappy Apple, as it directly competes with Apple's mobile software.

Apple is also involved in a large amount of litigation at the moment, with their involvement in this case, but they are also being sued by Nokia on different charges. But Samsung is Apple's main competitor, and Apple brings 16 charges against it. Apparently, Samsung's new line of phones copy the "look and feel" of Apple's products, and according to the Times of India, "Rather than innovate and develop its own technology and a unique Samsung style for its smartphone products and computer tablets, Samsung chose to copy Apple's technology, user interface and innovative style in these infringing products," the lawsuit allegedly states.

To me, someone who isn't all that up to date on the latest technology, many of these products seem incredibly similar. What with their touch-screens, their bubble-looking icons, and their weird and wonderful features, it can be hard to tell them apart. Apple, to me, has always stood in a category of its own. But is does this accurate to those of you who actually follow technology? Can you tell the difference in the tablets in the picture at the top? Does Apple have substantial claims that their designs, including the "look and feel" of them, are being copied? Or is it just the new era of technology that requires sleek, smooth, touch-screen design?

Three Cups of Tea author in hot water

According to CBS's 60 minutes, Greg Mortenson (famed author of the philanthropic book 3 Cups of Tea) has been using his charity as a "private atm" and his book is full of inaccuracies. Mortenson claims to have established 170 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, supposedly inspired by the kindness and charm of the local people when Mortenson became lost while trekking through Pakistan. His book has become a best seller since it was published in 2006 and which has been responsible for the $160 million donated to the CAI, The Central Asia Institute that Mortenson founded.

But 60 minutes has accused the folk hero of spending $1.7 million on tours of his book and flying around on a private jet, as well as more seriously accusing him of fabricating parts of his book. 60 minutes claims he has taken credit for building schools that do not exist in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Principals of some schools claim they haven't recieved financial assistance from Mortenson or his charity for years. Jon Krakauer, best selling author, former friend, and financial supporter of Mortenson told 60 minutes "It's a beautiful story and it's a lie." He offered strong evidence that Mortenson never got seperated from his fellow trekkers, had never visited or heard of Korphe (the town where he was inspired to start his first school) until a year afterward, and that the men Mortenson identified as his Taliban kidnappers were actually his tour guides.

People across the globe have donated, bought his book, and promoted Mortenson's ideals; even President Obama was so inspired by the author's actions that he donated $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize winnings to the CAI. If these allegations about Mortenson's fraud are true, he will have to suffer the consequences of a ruined reputation and an angry global community.

But Mortenson stands by his book. While these allegations have yet to be proven, he says that his book is completely true.

What are your opinions on these allegations? We've seen this kind of fraud before, so how do you think it can be prevented in the future?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Use by", "sell by", "best before": labels contribute to shoppers' confusion and waste

On a lighter note...

After discovering that about $1109 worth of food is thrown away yearly by the average UK family, the British government wants to take steps to reduce that number and save people more food. But how?

New government rules aim to target "sell by" and "display until" labels which confuse shoppers and lead to unnecessary waste. "Best before" labels will be thrown out and replaced more with "use by" labels, which will be placed on items such as yoghurt and prawns, which have definite shelf lives. According the, "A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: 'By law, pre-packed food must show a 'best before' date - even though many foods are still safe to eat after that date. This is very different from the 'use by' date that shows when food is no longer safe and should be thrown away. Being clear on the difference between the two could help us all to reduce our food waste.'"

In other words, shoppers' confusion is causing this massive amount of waste in the UK. 8.3 million tons of food are thrown away in the UK each year, which is enough to fill 4,700 olympic-sized swimming pools. The British government's anti-waste branch, Wrap, claims that 5.3 million tons of that wasted 8.3 million tons could have been eaten. And with a recent survey confirming that half of all consumers do not understand the difference between such "sell by" or "use by" or "best before" labels, it seems obvious that the labels are the culprits of such waste and therefore should be reformed. According to, that same survey confirms that "More than one-third believe any product past its best-before date should not be eaten and 53% never eat fruit or vegetables after they have reached that date."

British Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn suggests that sell-by dates be eliminated and best-befores ignored. However, some retailers argue that food labels are good for consumers, and will not reduce food waste. They say that while the elimination of food labels may not reduce food waste, "Customer education will," says Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium. "Date labels are there to help customers but they need to understand what they mean."

What are your thoughts on these labels? Do you understand them? And are they the key in reducing food waste?

1 tragic fire, 76 deaths, and 18 years later, Branch Davidians believe Koresh was God

On April 19th, 1993, after months of standoff, 76 people perished in a fire following an FBI raid on a Branch Davidian compound known commonly as "Waco". Led by David Koresh, the supposed final prophet and messiah of the Branch Davidian sect, the Branch Davidians refused the demands of the FBI and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) for 51 days. According to the Justice Department and interviews with survivors, Koresh fathered at least 13 children with sect followers and engaged in sexual acts with underage Davidian girls. Clive Doyle, one of the followers who managed to escape during the fire and the father of one of Koresh's "wives", says, "I couldn't argue because [Koresh would] show you where it was in the Bible." He insists that although his daughter was only 14, she was capable of making her own decisions on whether or not to sleep with Koresh. Doyle's daughter, Shari, was one of those who perished in the fire. However, Doyle still today sees Koresh as God, just as Shiela Martin also does, whose children burned alive. Martin says that "God wanted it that way."

The tragic fire was started after the FBI and ATF tried a second attempt to gain access to the compound. The authorities had a search warrant to look for supposed illegal weapons that the compound was holding, and they were also there to investigate allegations of statutory rape by Koresh and make arrests of those who had killed the ATF officers murdered in their last standoff. The authorities had tried to gain access to the compound on February 28th, which is when 4 ATF officers where shot. After attacked the compound with teargas, Koresh asked for a ceasefire, which the authorities granted. It was after this that Koresh ordered his followers to set fire to the compound, which killed 76 people, including around 20 children.

While this horrific event may not seem all that relevant today, it is in fact resurfacing as followers plan to meet on Tuesday with a memorial service for those who lost their lives. Martin and Doyle still believe Koresh is God, and they condone his acts (which include statutory rape and murder). A picture of Koresh still hangs in the new chapel that was rebuilt on the land where the compound once stood, which is where the memorial will take place. The views of the Branch Davidians who accept and praise Koresh's are very different from most of ours, and they themselves admit that they don't expect us to understand.

But are they crazy, as many people label them? Are they valid in following their beliefs, even if those beliefs condone murder or rape? While this may have happened nearly 20 years ago, what are your opinions on this sensitive and tragic event and what are your opinions on people's views of it today?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Side effects of Middle Eastern conflicts: higher food prices and poverty?

We all know about the Middle Eastern and North African conflicts occurring at the moment, what with Egypt and Libya and Tunisia, as well as other countries falling into turmoil. We all know that these conflicts have plagued the front pages of our papers and have cost so many lives and have pushed for democracy and liberation. But are there other, less obvious side effects of such conflict?

Higher transport and fuel costs due to problems in the Middle East and North Africa have in part caused world food prices to become 36% higher than prices one year ago, reports the BBC. This change in prices mean that 44 million people across the globe have since been pushed into poverty because they are now struggling to buy food. Even just another increase of a 10% rise would 10 million more people would fall into the "extreme poverty" category, which makes $1.25 a day. Some of the raw statistics are that the price of corn has risen an amazing 74%, the price of wheat has risen 69%, and the price of beef has risen 30%. Surprisingly, the price of rice has actually dropped 2%. But it's not only geographical problems that are causing these drastic and detrimental changes in food prices. The Guardian reports that fertilizer costs are also driving the prices up, in addition to the high fuel prices that are being caused by the problems in the Middle East.

But what does this mean for the population? Well, with wheat, corn, and soya considered basic necessities, it means that more and more people are being pushed into poverty trying to afford their basic nutrients. Corn has become the most important staple food crop in Africa, and is a major source of the world's starch, which is used in industrial products. The World Bank estimates that there are 1.2 billion people living on under $1.25 per day.

The World Bank wants to encourage food-producing countries to ease export controls, as well as discouraging production of biofuels when food prices exceed certain limits. They also want to have more investments in agriculture, as well as bringing in new technologies so as to help poor farmers with their crops. Something needs to be done about these rising food prices and these rising poverty levels. What are your thoughts? How should this problem be fixed, if at all?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 and the extinction of languages

We've all heard of the popular site Twitter and "tweeting". But what about This website is promotes communication, just like Twitter, but promotes communication in minority or endangered languages. It aims to prevent dying languages from going extinct by establishing which Twitter users embrace their "mother tongue" most often and then helps those speakers communicate and get in contact with one another. The site says which languages are being tweeted in across the globe and how many people are tweeting in that language. The list starts with Kreyòl ayisyen, spoken by some 12 million people, mostly in Haiti, and goes through 68 languages all the way to an almost extinct language in New South Wales, Australia known as Gamilaaray. According to, only one user tweets in the lesser known Gamilaaray.

But more common languages are also going strong on Twitter. "I was shocked that there are almost 1000 people tweeting in Irish", says Kevin Scannell, a professor of Computer Science at St. Louis University and founder of the site. "There are just over 3000 people tweeting in Basque. The numbers keep growing." The site aims to connect these people together, but it also aims to keep minority languages alive. While modern technology is blamed for "homogenizing our ever shrinking world", sites that encourage such diversity and link minority language speakers together have the potential to change that.

But what are your opinions on this? Should we encourage the maintenance of dying or minority languages? What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a linguistically diverse global community? Wikipedia lists 82 languages under the headline "recently extinct" ( , and The Guardian claims that "Half of living languages face extinction" ( But with 6,500 living languages currently being used around the world today, what does it matter to us if nobody speaks Akkala Sami or Modern Gutnish anymore?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Former leader of Ivory Coast arrested...but by who?

After a four-month standoff in which hundreds were killed, Laurent Gbagbo, the former leader of the Ivory Coast, surrendered to UN and French forces today. After losing a presidential election last November, Mr. Gbagbo refused to give up power to the elected winner and his rival, Alassane Ouattara, sparking a civil war in the Ivory Coast between pro-Gbagbo forces and pro-Ouattara forces. French and United Nations helicopters attacked the presidential offices this weekend and the palatial residences where Mr. Gbagbo and his wife had been hiding underground for several days. Finally, Mr. Gbagbo sent his chief of staff out to wave a white handkerchief and signal his defeat. Mr. Gbagbo and his wife were subsequently arrested for illegally holding power these past couple of months.

In the city of Abidjan where Mr. Gbagbo held residence, the reaction was relatively subdued. There is no clear proof that the civil war that has been raging in this country. There have been hundreds killed and thousands having fled the war-ravaged Ivory Coast, yet there are still armed youth and pro-Gbagbo forces who have yet to show their reaction. However, in more regions across the country, celebrations are taking place. Most notably, the Abobo district saw today as a holiday. The Abobo district is where Mr. Gbagbo focused much of his anti-Ouattara repression in bloody and violent battle against the civilians and rebels.

But many are beginning to question France's role in bringing down Mr. Gbagbo. Firstly, there is some confusion as to who actually arrested Mr. Gbagbo. If it was Mr. Ouattara's forces, then it will be justified because he is the internationally recognized winner of last November's election, and he was bringing down someone that had illegally seized power. But if it was the French forces that actually arrested Mr. Gbagbo, then France might be accused of neocolonialism in a country is its former colony. French and UN forces were adamant that their role in the country was to remove the heavy weapons outside Mr. Gbagbo's residence and to protect the civilians of the Ivory Coast. Cmdr. Frédéric Daguillon, a French military spokesman in Abidjan, says, “There was not one single French soldier in the residence,” and Thierry Burkhard, another French military spokesman, said that Mr. Gbagbo’s enemies had “taken advantage” of the attacks by the UN and France to go in and arrest him themselves. But all this international help in bringing down Mr. Gbagbo may not be good news for Mr. Ouattara, who's legitimacy in ruling may now be tainted by the fact that he received outside help, and may even be "accused of being a puppet of the outside world", according to Those close to Mr. Gbagbo say that the French forces were the ones to arrest him, a claim that has been denied by French diplomats.

So what do you think of the controversy? Was it France and the UN trying to impose a pro-Western government? Should the Ivory Coast have even received international help? And what does this controversy over bringing down the leader of a civil war mean for the Ivory Coast in the future?

P.S - check out for more info!

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Soviet Russia, Olympic Mascot Chooses YOU!

And now for something completely different...

Apparently, there's been some heated debate over the 2014 Winter Olympics mascot! The games are to be held in the town of Sochi, Russia, and, for some bizarre reason Russian politicians have been chiming in their thoughts. None of them are positive.

The three choices, narrowed down from nine at the start of voting, are a polar bear, a snow leopard, and a rabbit. Russian politician Vladimir Zhrinovsky claimed that all three choices "are an insult to Russia." Even President Dmitry Medvedev wondered if the outcome reflects "the will of the people," a statement that could quite frankly apply to pretty much any Russian election.

That's about all there is to say in the realm of restating facts. I do think, however, that this process (besides being pretty hilarious) shines a light on the twisted world of Russian politics. The country is extremely corrupted, so much so, in fact, that to attract foreign investment the Russian government has been constructing a special area for businesses to run that lists, as one of its big features, the rule of law. The cause of the problem is a result of both the remnants of the old Soviet power structure and the new influx of money to private oil executives that rival Soviet officials for power and connections.

So what do you guys think? Leave a comment about what kind of state you feel Russia is in, the influence of corruption of politics, or even about the mascots themselves.
*Clicking on the title will take you to an article about the mascot controversy. It also contains info about the Iranian Olympic logo "scandal" from a few months ago.

The Ballad of Jerry Brown, Part 5: Tax Fun

Well, as my swan song for the week, I'm going to talk about a couple of topics. One is of great relevance to our future, and one, well, isn't. This is the relevant one.

Jerry Brown's life seems to get harder by the day as he hits wall after wall while trying to pass a budget. His budget plan, as you may know, fell short by a few Republican votes to get on a ballot for voter approval. The Republicans demanded, among other things, "changes in employee pensions and environmental regulations [and] restoring money to county fairs." Now, Brown seeks a way to make a budget pass while not passing exclusively cuts. Republican leaders claim that the governor is using scare tactics to put pressure on them to cave in, and claim that they are open to negotiations.

While this is interesting in and of itself, what I find more discussion-worthy about the article is the way it points out what I find to be a major flaw in how the state runs. The supermajority required to pass tax increases seems to clog up the state budget process every single year. Can you imagine such a requirement at the federal level? The government would probably be unable to pay for almost anything, even things that majorities of Americans would consider critical, such as entitlement programs. I'm not passing judgment on whether we should have said tax increases. That's for you guys to decide. (It's not that I don't have an opinion, I'm just not going to say it.) But I do know this much: You can't have it both ways. Either you can have your programs and pay for them, or you can not have the programs. Trying to do both only creates a huge hole later, a hole that the state has clearly fallen into. That's not to say a government shouldn't spend; it just needs to realistically figure out how it could be paid for. Take, for example, Denmark. It has one of the most comprehensive arrays of social programs in the world. It also has one of the highest tax rates. That isn't a bad thing per se: the people of Denmark get what they pay for. Their government works well for them. (It must be doing something right, since the Danes are some of the happiest people on earth, according to recent studies.) The point is, you have to pay somewhere along the line, and that's going to mean higher taxes. Suck it up.

So that's my opinion. What do you guys think about what's going on with the budget right now?
*Clicking on the title will take to the SF Chronicle article I used in part to write this post; however, you won't be able to actually see it for two days because of an annoying marketing gimmick they use to get people to buy the print edition. Ah well. If you're that curious, come back on Wednesday.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Entitled To What?!

Within the next week, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Of The Republican Response Fame), R-Wisconsin, plans to reveal his plans for the 2012 Republican budget. His plans appear to include making numerous cuts to Medicaid and a complete overhaul of Medicare.

According to his plan, Ryan would insure that in 2021:

"Americans would no longer enroll in the Medicare program, but instead receive vouchers for private insurance, according to the GOP sources, who stressed anyone 55 or older now would not be affected by the change."

Although the details of the entire voucher concept are still a bit murky, Ryan said:

"(T)he amount of the voucher -- a lump sum payment from the government -- would be calculated in part by taking the average federal cost per Medicare enrollee."

The Republican Party hopes that by revamping Medicare they will save billions of dollars, in addition to tackling one of the biggest culprits of the national debt.

Ryan's plan also calls for cuts on Medicaid that could be as much as $1 trillion, as well as it becoming block grants to the states. Surprisingly, Ryan's plan barely holds any mention of Social Security, despite its place as an integral figure among the many problems associated with the national debt. Discretionary spending is expected to be cut as well, according to GOP sources. A permanent extension to the Bush-era tax cuts is also expected to be addressed.

Many are saying that Ryan's proposals are not only risky but also coming at a risky time, in the midst of negotiations with the Democrats. Ultimately, Republicans have been planning to mount an attack on entitlement programs because of their role in the budget deficit and debt and this could be their moment.

So, what do you think? Is Ryan's plan too liberal? Too conservative? Too risky? Too safe? Is this the answer to balancing the budget? What does this mean for entitlement programs, a la Medicaid and Medicare? Will we have to wait for the actual announcement? Sound off and don't let the haterz silence you!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ivory?! More Like The Blood-Red Coast . . .

Libya isn't the only African country in disarray, as conflict in the Ivory Coast continues to amass numerous deaths of civilians. According to a report from the Red Cross, via a CNN report, 800 more civilians have died because of the political unrest in the country. However, United Nations' officials have only totaled 33o bodies so far.

For approximately five months now, the Ivory Coast has been in a state of crisis. Because of a disputed November election, former president Laurent Gbagbo (left in photo) and candidate Alassane Ouattara (right in photo) both claimed the presidency of the African nation and have since decided to try and impose their will on the other through physical violence. The U.N. and international community recognize Ouattara as the rightful president of the nation.

Interestingly enough though, this specific incident has been connected to Ouattara's forces. Ouattara's supporters have said the deaths have resulted because of offensive military action within the country against Gbagbo's forces. They also infer that Gbagbo's forces have also partaken in many human atrocities.

Gbagbo's forces have repeatedly said that the bloodshed in the Ivory Coast comes as a result of the international community recognizing Outtara as president. However, it appeared that Gbagbo's reluctance to relinquish his power is what has really caused this. Gbagbo and his forces were thought to be on their last leg this past week, but have regained control of integral areas in the Ivory Coast, as well as the taken control of the state-wide television network.

It appears the troubles never cease for Africa! What do you think needs to be done on this "Western Front?" Is the United Nations doing the best they can to aid the situation and save civilian lives? Does the United Nations ever seem to be helping? Does this remind one of Rwanda in some aspects? Sound off and let your opinion be heard!

Friday, April 1, 2011

2012 Campaign Video Leaked!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to National Affairs is pleased to bring you breaking news! Noted politician Howard T. Ackerman has officially announced his bid for president! A few hours ago, an excerpt of an advertisement similar to those which will be used in Ackerman's impending presidential campaign in 2012 was made public. (The ad is dated 2008, as he cleared a previous ad for release.) The candidate wished to make his independence from "special interests" known, while promising to bring "a steaming platter of shame" to all members of the Communist Party. As the ad appears to be geared towards the general election, it seems likely that Ackerman may be trying to build support as an Independent candidate, though it seems that he leans strongly one side of the political spectrum. Ackerman has not commented on the ad or any aspects of his platform as of this writing, other than by stating: "Vote for me, if you want to live." What do you guys think? Personally, I think it's time this country had someone who could stand up to all the darn Reds controlling the government and the media and show them who's boss. It's time to win one for the Real Americans! Ackerman 2012! *Clicking on the title will take you to one of several of the released Ackerman ads. He also has messages on illegal immigration, health care, and Obama's "change you can believe in" slogan.

Human Trafficking: A Scandinavian Saga

Two blog posts in a day, say what??? I am getting too used to this. On a more serious note, the subject of this post isn't as much breaking news as it is a very concerning topic for not only me but many people against human trafficking.

Comparing the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Denmark in terms of its approach to prostitution and human trafficking, this report done by CNN is a very compelling one. In 1995, Sweden decided to crack down on prostitution and passed a bill into law that punished those the "customers" rather than the "producers," with the idea that most of the "producers" were being forced into doing so. Through this law, the Swedes were able to crack down heavily on the prostitution business within their own country. Before hand, Sweden was heavily criticized for this law by its neighboring nations. However, because of their intense reinforcement of this law prostitution and human trafficking in their country has greatly decreased.The same cannot be said for Denmark.

Around the same time Sweden passed their law outlawing the purchase of sex, Denmark went the opposite way by decriminalizing prostitution in an effort, that they thought, would make it easier to catch pimps and human traffickers.However, it seems to have had the opposite effect of what the Danes intended. The amount of women on the streets of Denmark has greatly increased and they are not only Danish, but increasingly more are of African and Eastern European descent.

It is obvious to see that human trafficking has increased in Denmark and greatly decreased in Sweden, so why has Denmark not decided to change its policies regarding prostitution yet? Do you think if more countries implement the Swedish law we could severely limit the practice of human trafficking? Sound off with your comments and concerns over the global issue that is human trafficking.

Here's the link to the news report, if you're too lazy to click the title: