Monday, December 31, 2012

The Countdown Begins...for the Fiscal Cliff

As of now, negotiations regarding the fiscal cliff have moved forward in terms of tax rates. For one, households making less than $450,000 will continue to face current tax rates. On the other hand, estates worth more than $5 million will see a tax raise from 35 to 40 percent. Changes will also be made to the Alternative Minimum Tax in order to save middle-class workers from unjust taxes. Finally, unemployment insurance benefits will be extended for another year, and cuts that were supposed be made to the paychecks of Medicare doctors will be avoided.

However, another aspect of the fiscal cliff has yet to be addressed: the nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts to defense and domestic programs. Thus, despite the progress, Congress is not yet ready to squash the potential for a fiscal cliff before the new year.

Earlier today, President Obama stated, "There are still issues left to resolve but we're hopeful Congress can get it done." However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disapproved of the president's words. "Well, he kind of made fun, he made a couple of jokes, laughed about how people are going to be here for New Year's...I guess I have to wonder, and I think the American people have to wonder whether the president really wants this issue resolved or is it to his short-term political benefit for us to go over the cliff?" he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had a slightly different view, "Something has gone terribly wrong when the biggest threat to our American economy is our American Congress," he said.

At this point, there is no telling whether Congress will sweep in with a last-minute plan or start the new year with a fiscal cliff--we will just have to wait and see as we have been all along. Hopefully, though, this issue will soon be resolved; after all of the negotiations and coverage, I'm sure that everyone is starting to tire of the fiscal cliff. In fact, according to this article (and the graph pasted below), 27.8% of voters want to ban the phrase.



Which word or phrase would you most like to see banned? (from NBC news)
Total of 7,623 votes - click on the "Display Comments" bar below to sort comments

YOLO
 
30.4%
(2,318 votes)
Fiscal cliff
 
27.8%
(2,120 votes)
Job creators/creation
 
12.1%
(919 votes)
Trending
 
8.2%
(627 votes)
Bucket list
 
4.9%
(373 votes)
Kick the can down the road
 
3.6%
(278 votes)
Superfood
 
3%
(229 votes)
Double down
 
3%
(225 votes)
Boneless wings
 
2.3%
(173 votes)
Guru
 
1.8%
(141 votes)
Passion/passionate
 
1.8%
(136 votes)
Spoiler alert
 
1.1%
(84 votes









Friday, December 28, 2012

Speaking of Russia, President Vladimir Putin deemed it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children last Friday when he signed the Dima Yakovlev Bill. 
Russian police officers detain demonstrators protesting against the bill. A poster reads "Destroy Putin's authoritarianism. Don't pass the bill written by scoundrels." (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze) (Misha Japaridze)
The bill is believed to be a response to legislation (the Magnitsky Act) recently passed by President Obama. Named after famous Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, the act implements U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia. The Dima Yakovlev Bill also includes sanctions against U.S. officials who may have  abused human rights and makes illegal all political activities of nongovernmental organizations who enjoy funds from the U.S. (should they interfere with Russian interests). 


Though Putin's move was purely political, it has stirred outrage among many due to its implications for Russian children. According to UNICEF estimates, 740,000 children in Russia are not in parental custody, and only 18,000 Russians are waiting to adopt. With Russia being the third most popular country from which Americans adopt children, the bill will undoubtedly keep many Russian children from finding homes. 

Politics is prevalent in many spheres of life these days, but it is situations such as this that cross the line. I don't see why these children have to be punished as a result of animosity between two countries. In fact, I don't see any relevance in this aspect of the bill. I happen to know a family who adopted a child from Russia five or six years ago, and I am heartbroken by the fact that other children will not have the opportunity to be adopted into loving families of their own. 

For a full translation of the bill, click here


Russia Interested in Talks with Syrian Rebels

Sergei Lavrov suggested that war crimes had been committed in Libya since the fall of the Qaddafi regime.With military and commercial interests in Syria, Russia initially backed the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. But with constant progress on the side of the rebels, Russia is reconsidering its status (questionable motive, but at least supporting a dictatorship is becoming less appealing to the country).

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, revealed an interest in beginning talks with opposition leader Ahmad Mouaz al-Khatib--an offer that was promptly rejected by al-Khatib. Stating that the opposition was unwilling to travel to Russia, al-Khatib also said that he wants an apology from Russia for supporting Assad's regime. He expects a "clear condemnation of the crimes committed by the Syrian regime." Perhaps a fair request, but seemingly puerile within the given context.

However, this does not mean that the opposition's cooperation is out of the question. Russia has already expressed that they are encouraging Assad to come to a political settlement , and Putin recently said that Russia is "not preoccupied that much with the fate of the Syrian regime." Furthermore, negotiations could take place in a neutral country rather than within Moscow.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns, and UN-Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi plan to meet in January in order to discuss and incite change.

Will efforts to reach peace prove successful with Russia involved? If these efforts are successful, will they be sustainable or will they eventually lead to the production of another corrupt regime?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Wants to be a Mayor?

John W. Adkisson for The New York Times
As the government struggles to come to an agreement over the whole fiscal cliff business, a small town in South Carolina faces a crisis of its own: no one has run to be its next mayor.

The rural town of Little Mountain has a population of 292, a number that has been declining over the years. No one participated in the November election for mayor, and the two write-in candidates refused the job. Despite the $100 a month salary, Snoop Dog and Mickey Mouse, who also received a number of votes, will most likely decline the role as well.

According to this article by Robbie Brown, the job has no takers because "politics has lost its luster," a statement with which Marty Frick (one of the write-in candidates) agrees. In fact, "The biggest dispute in Little Mountain lately has been over whether to serve alcohol at the annual Little Mountain Reunion," says the article. 

Frick and Brown have a point. As state and federal governments deal with issues that determine the fate of individual states and the country, this small local government must decide between the inclusion or exclusion of alcohol at a family event. However, does this mean that the town should not have a government at all? America's government is complex and multifaceted, going beyond federal and state to include bureaucracies and local governments. Is this a positive aspect of the government, as it contributes towards the decentralization of power and allows for more individual focus in separate spheres, or does it simply lead to triviality and confusion? Should local governments take on more responsibility, or will any increase in power lead to trouble with state governments? Let me know what you think. 


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

House Market Rebound

We all remember the big market crash in 2008. It was caused by an over anticipation of house prices which crashed because houses were overvalued. For a while it seemed as if the market would be plagued by housing crash for quite a while. However by 2011, our economy was starting to pick up. (Though it was not as fast as some people hoped for). And for a while people didn't believe that that economy would get any better under Obama, so in the 2012 Presidential Race, the economy was a hot topic.

However, it seems the home prices in the U.S. are also making its way back up. The reports from October have just recently come out (with some huge delay) and it shows 4.8% increase rather than the 4.0% that was predicted by market analysts. And it doesn't seem that number is going to let up anytime soon. With the mortgage rates very low, people will continuously buy/refinance their property. With people able to hold on to their houses, the prices of houses will only go up from here.

But how long can this really keep up? People are willing to buy houses because the house prices are low by the "slowing economy." The mortgage rate is going down as well because of the "slowing economy." As soon as people realize that the economy is "slowing," the prices of houses will go up. Also, with no real tax deal coming through for the new year, we can expect some kind of raise on housing taxes. Is the housing market actually in a real rebound? Or is it some effects because of a slow economy?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Finger-pointing Left and Right...but Mostly Right

The potential fiscal cliff and the hasty attempt to address it with legislation before the end of the year has escalated into a prime example of the intense polarization that plagues our political system. Though not much has been agreed upon in the past few weeks, especially with a gridlock in the House, one point has made itself clear: the Republican Party is not in the best shape.

In fact, most of the negative press surrounding the fiscal cliff includes finger pointing towards Republicans. Speaker of the House John Boehner has faced much scrutiny since his attempt at a compromise was rejected by his fellow party members. Conservative Tea Party members have not helped the cause, claiming that falling off of the fiscal cliff is preferred to any sort of tax increase. Also, Grover Norquist, whose pledge against tax increases was signed by many Republicans, has warned that violating his pledge will lead to primary challenges against the violators.

Public opinion reflects the above, as a Pew Research Center poll revealed that 53% believe that Republicans are more to blame if an agreement is not reached by Jan. 1 (versus 27% who blame Obama). Though the argument is now in the less-polarized Senate, insiders believe that an agreement will not be reached by the first of Jan.

Are the Republicans to blame for the failure to pass legislation to fight the potential fiscal cliff, or has the media unjustly stirred public opinion against them? How large of a role does Obama play in the issue? Is the Republican Party on a downward spiral? Will they be able to rebuild soon, and will that mean a (slight) move towards the center?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guns Galore: the Bad Guys, the Good Guys and, heck, Everyone in Between

                                               PHOTO BY MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA
Today, the National Rifle Association (NRA) finally responded to the shooting in Connecticut in a press conference. The highly anticipated resolution by the most prominent gun rights interest group in the nation? More guns. Shocker. 

Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre advocated the implementation of armed guards at all schools, stating that "Gun-free school zones tell every insane killer that schools are places to inflict maximum pain at minimum risk." This and other statements spoken by LaPierre were noted by House Democrats, who expressed their opposition. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said, “The way the NRA is approaching this now is irrational,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued, "For the NRA and others to sort of shield themselves by saying it’s the mentally ill or something and therefore we have to have more armed cops in the schools or more guns in the school -- it just doesn’t make sense."

LaPierre criticized the media in his speech, blaming it for "demon[izing] gun owners" and exposing children to too much violence. He also censured Congress for failing to create a national database of the mentally ill. He then explained that one way to combat the bad guys is to arm the good guys. Perhaps he was attempting to tie into the media theme by whipping out a superhero analogy? Or perhaps he needs a lesson in logical fallacies. 

In the meanwhile, President Obama is working towards legislation that will ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Of course, passing such controversial legislation will be no easy feat. But president's are supposedly the most powerful in terms of getting legislation passed during the beginning of their second term, putting Obama in the perfect position. 

According to a recent Pew Research Center Poll, 49% say that it is more important to control gun ownership than protect the rights of Americans to own guns (which 42% find more important). This marks only a slight increase since previous months. Still, the percentage is nowhere near 58%  which described public opinion back in 2008.

What are your opinions on the NRA's response to the tragedy? Are the House Democrats justified in their criticisms of the response? Will Obama be able to pass legislation restricting gun access? What do you think of the lack of substantial change in American opinion regarding gun control after the shooting?



Sunday, December 16, 2012

John Kerry Likely Nominee for New Secretary of State

It seems very likely that President Obama will name Massachusets senator John Kerry as Hilary Clinton's successor for Secretary of State. However, some concern has been raised about the idea of Obama selecting a security team with higher-up positions filled pretty much only with white males, a discomfort that illustrates some of what may be warped American ideals about diversity in government. (When does it become tokenization, using someone from a minority group just so that you can say you're diverse?)

 The decision will be delayed at least until later this week, partially because as a result of Friday's shooting and its aftermath.

You can read more here.


The Best Year Ever?

This week has certainly had its low points, and this year has had quite a few as well (fiscal cliff, anyone?). It can be very easy to bemoan the state of the world, nation, and humanity as a whole when most of what you see in the news is about financial crisis, violence, ideological divisions, and other negative topics. Some might even say the world is ending. However, this article presents an entirely different view: that "we are living in a golden age."

The article cites the fact that the global number of people in extreme poverty has been halved as one of its reasons for this naming of a "golden age." However, this information didn't come to light until this year, despite having become true in 2008. In addition, it talks about how the world's economies have been growing, yet fossil fuel consumption has actually decreased. It also cites advances in technology and medicine, longer lifespan, and a lower deathcount as a result of war. Even despite violence in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, this article paints the world as a more peaceful place than in past decades.

Now, all that doesn't necessarily make it any less worrying when a downturn in the economy sends people onto the streets or when you've just heard of mass violence, but it's a new and refreshingly optimistic look at the world. Despite all of the unhappiness and harm we may witness, there's still some kind of improvement going on--so maybe we don't need to panic after all.

What do you guys think? Do you agree that the world is improving/has improved? Or is it really heading downhill like the media tends to portray it?

Japanese Election Overshadowed by American Horror

Japan PM candidates Shinzo Abe Yoshihiko Noda
Let me start off by saying that the majority of American news sites I looked at today barely addressed this, instead focusing nearly exclusively on yesterday's shooting. Is it a good thing that our minds are so dominated by this event, or would it be better if we were to focus more on international affairs and other, less tragic goings-on?

On December 16, voting in the Japanese elections will take place to select the country's seventh prime minister in six years. The challenges in this election include a struggling economy, regional tensions, and debate over what role Japan ought to play in Asia (strikingly similar to some of the issues in this year's American elections). It is forecasted that Japan's center-right Liberal Democratic Party will win the vote, placing Shinzo Abe in power as prime minister. Before the Democratic Party of Japan gained power for three years beginning in 2009, the LDP enjoyed more that 50 years in power.

You can read more about this here, here, and here
.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rememberance (Newtown Shooting Update)

The Connecticut gunman has been identified Adam Lanza, 20, and the names of the children and teachers who fell victim to this violence have also been released:

Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hocksprung, 47
Madeline Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

Lanza's mother, Nancy Lanza, was also found dead.

After seeing this list, what do you think of the way that people react to shootings by focusing on the the shooter and their motivation, as opposed to focusing on those who died? What about the obsession with gun control that I've seen in the comments on the following post? There are other factors, after all--mental health, among other things.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Shooting at Connecticut Elementary School Kills 27





This morning, a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut left 27 people dead, including 20 children and several staff members. The shooter was also found dead in the school, and is suspected to have committed suicide. Coming just months after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, this is the second most deadly shooting in US history.

A teary-eyed President Obama proclaimed of the event, “Our hearts are broken today” and stated that
“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between five and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own." Truly, this is a tragic day.

So what do you think? How will this, as well as the other shootings in the past few years, affect US policy? How has it already affected us? As we mourn the loss of these children and adults, what can we as a nation do to help prevent more such tragedies?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Susan Rice Ends Bid for Secretary of State

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, has withdrawn her candidacy for the position of US Secretary of State. Citing her reason to the president, she stated that "I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly - to you [President Obama] and to our most pressing national and international priorities."

Ms. Rice lost public favor, especially among the GOP, following her incorrect initial response to the 9/11/2012 attack on the US consulate in Libya. Although she acknowledged that she had made a mistake in stating that the attack had been the result of protests over an anti-Islam film, she still gained a bit of a bad reputation from the incident. However, President Obama did defend her from criticism of her ability to serve as Secretary of State. He claims that, regardless of her mistake, she is still fully capable of serving in this position, thanks to her "character and commitment."


The president's support didn't seem to be enough, though, not when faced with strong opposition and a significant past mistake.

So what do you think? Is this an example of Americans fixating too much on simple mistakes? Was the president right to focus more on individual traits rather than experiences where error has led to incident? Or should we only support politicians that have spotless track records? And what about international relations--how would Susan Rice becoming Secretary of State worked out globally after this incident?

You can read more about this here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

HIV Kills...Cancer?


 Let's take a a break from politics for a moment and talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: cancer research.

Recently, the University of Pennsylvania has been researching a way that HIV (the precursor to AIDS) could act as a cure for cancer (specifically chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common form of leukemia, or cancer of the white blood cells). This process (which you can read a description of here) utilizes a modified form of the HIV virus to alter the patient's T-cells (a form of white blood cell that fights both viruses and cancer) so that they recognize and attack the cancer. They then remain in the patient's bloodstream, continuing to act against the cancerous cells and aiding remission.

There is hope that this new treatment could replace bone marrow transplants, which are risky, painful, and expensive. Although pricey chemotherapy drugs are still needed with this new treatment to ensure that unmodified T-cells don't interfere with remission, it is far less expensive than bone marrow transplants ( about $20,000 vs between $300,000 and $600,000). This could mean a tremendous change for families of those with leukemia, a disease can be terminal not only to patients but also to bank accounts.


This research is still in its early stages, but doctors are optimistic about it. So far, three adults who received this treatment have experienced complete remissions, though it has also had no effect on two. In addition, this treatment managed to save now-seven-year-old Emma Whitehead's life after she relapsed two times, even after receiving chemotherapy treatments.

So what do you think? Is this the future of cancer treatment? And, though medical professionals are wary of tossing around the c-word, could this perhaps signify a chance that we are creeping up on a cure for cancer?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Michigan Right to Work Legislature Weakens Unions

 Today Michigan legislators approved "right to work" laws that prevent unions from requiring employees to join unions and pay dues to them. Michigan is the 24th state to pass such legislature. However, it is the most union-heavy state to do so (it is the home of the United Automobile Workers). Many argue that the two bills passed today hurt workers by decreasing the power of unions to fight for better pay and rights. Among those who opposed the bills was President Obama, who claimed that these are less laws that about giving people the right to work and more about "giving you the right to work for less money." In addition, the Michigan capital was flooded with protesting unions members (including those from the United Auto Workers Union and teachers. A few schools even closed in order to allow teachers to go protest the passage of the bills.).

So what do you think? Do these bills help make employment more fair by not forcing people to pay to work? Or are dues worth it in order to have the protection of a strong union? What would you think of it if this sort of legislation was passed in California?

You can read more about this issue here, here, and here.

Right-to-Work States vs. Forced Unionism States:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Obama and Boehner Meet to Discuss the Fiscal Cliff



Yesterday (Sunday, December 9), President Obama met with Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) for their first one-on-one meeting since July 2011 to discuss how to avert the end-of-year fiscal cliff. They both issued statements that “the lines of communication remain open,” which may indicate the possibility for a solution to be worked out between the two parties, which have had considerable conflict over the budget in the past months.

However, time is running short, if lawmakers are actually going to prevent a financial crisis before the end of the year. While both sides do have written proposals on the table, they still need to be shaped into a solution that is acceptable to all involved. With only three weeks remaining in 2012, Congress will likely be rushed in their debate over any plans that are made.
What do you think? Will the government be able to sort out a solution to the fiscal cliff by 2013, even with the party differences that we've already seen?

You can read more about this subject here and here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cyber-Complimenting


Has the time come for a new era of social networking where compliments rather than hateful comments are posted? According to this article from NBC News, it certainly looks that way. “Cyber-graciousness”, as it has been called, originated with Queens University Compliments in Canada and has spread to at least 98 other schools in Canada and the US.

In Whitman High School, Maryland, the page Whitman Compliments was well received in the time that the page was up. Some students had even tried to out nice other commenters.  The compliments were anonymous and most people who had posted on the compliment facebook page took it seriously. The creator of the page, Eyal Hanfling only kept the page open for four days because he believes that face to face complimenting is always more meaningful, plus the fact that managing the page takes up homework time. How does the facebook page “Aragon Compliments” sound? For those who do not have a facebook, myself included, how would you feel if somebody you ran into complimented you just because they felt like it?

And the Lucky Numbers Are...


The Powerball Lottery, which last month had its largest jackpot in history of $587.6 million, has been going for a couple of weeks now and has seen a few winners in Missouri, Ohio and most recently Arizona. The man who won is staying anonymous for now but his name is planned to be released to news organizations on Monday.

The man from Arizona has chosen to take his winnings in cash, $192.5 million before taxes. He also said that he plans to keep his job despite winning the lottery, stating to an Arizona executive lottery director, “You know, I like my job; I'd like to continue working my job,” and that it is "just a regular job, like yours or mine -- it's not a high-level job."
The winner’s earning will have a 5% tax on the prize money and Arizona’s state taxes will also apply, making the winnings approximately $114 million after taxes.  Most people who buy lottery tickets don't even end up winning, and those who do will essentially be known by every major news company and won't win as much as is really advertised. In your opinion, does winning the lottery significantly change anything about a person's life? Should it?

Notre Dame University Providing Gay Student Services

This week, Notre Dame University announced that it will now provide services for students in the LGBT community.  Known primarily as a premier catholic school that is good at football, this new development is a step in the right direction when it comes to equality for all.

The university said it will create a student organization that will offer support and services to GLBTQ students and form an advisory committee to provide guidance on such matters. 

There has been some backlash from some Catholic groups that are anti-gay, but it is engouraging that despite that, the university is creating these services.  In a time when the gay community is becoming more and more accepted, it is great to see that even strong catholic institutions can accept that change is necessary.  


Romney '47 Percent' Quote Chosen as Best of 2012

Mitt Romney's '47 percent' quote was selected as the best quote of the year by Fred Shapiro, an associate librarian at the Yale School of Law, in his annual list of most quotable moments.  

Romneys quote saying that 47 percent of the people will vote for the president because they are dependent on the government was one of his two quotes that topped the list.  His second was hist statement about having "Binder full of women."  

President Obama then followed him up with the next three, most notably his comment that "If you were succesful, somebody along the line gave you help."  

"Shapiro picks quotes that are famous, important or revealing of the spirit of the times, not necessarily ones that are the most eloquent or admirable." 

The quotes aren't necessairly all mistakes though.  Obama's joke about bayonets in the Presidental debate made the list, along with Psy's quote "Oppan Gangnam Style." 

Regardless, the list does contain many political blunders. These men are under such constant surveillance and it seems almost inevitable that they will eventually trip up.  How much do you think is just a missuse of words or do you think some could be a possible look into some of their actual beliefs? In the campaign trail, they are all constantly being polished to appear as the perfect candidate.  That is probably makes these quotes fun; that they finally make the candidates appear as actual people.  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Gay Marriage to be Reviewed in Supreme Court


The US Supreme Court has decided to review California’s same-sex marriage ban which was put into effect after Proposition 8 passed in 2008.
The Defense of Marriage Act, a.k.a. DOMA, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996, will also be reviewed. The law states that the definition of marriage pertains to legal union of a man and woman. Because of the law, same-sex marriages that have been performed in states where it is legal are not recognized under the federal government, meaning that they do not have access to certain federal benefits.

State lawsuits that have been filed against DOMA and the Obama Administration believe that the law denies equal protection under the Constitution. If the Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional, that means same-sex marriages need to be recognized by the federal government but only in the states that have legalized it. The decision is expected to be finalized in June of next year.

 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Morsi Refuses to Cancel Vote on Constitution


For the past two weeks, Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi has been fighting opposition on a vote for a new charter that would give him extended powers as leader, as Morsi himself stated in a televised speech. Among the protestors are soldiers from the Republican Guard have stayed outside of Morsi’s barbed-wire surrounded palace with tanks. Additionally, several of his government officials have quit.

Morsi claims that the expanded powers are necessary because of pre-Mubarak officials “disrupting the country’s political transition.”

Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group backing Morsi, has called protestors “secularists” and “thugs”, implying that they are not true Muslims. Protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square say that they respect the religion but not how it is being forced upon them.

Protestor Mohamed Fawzi said, "We are facing two scenarios: civil war or another military takeover. Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood have given us a worse dictatorship than Mubarak. They have a bad man's dream for the country. The opposition is doing its best, but we don't know what will come. Our opposition leaders are bad, full of self-interest."

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood seem to have advantage in the vote because the religious group probably has enough members for the referendum to pass, but the protests do not seem to be letting up as the referendum will occur on December 15.

 

Mitch McConnell Filibusters Himself

Fillibustering your own proposal? Yup!

From a New York Times Article today:


"On Capitol Hill, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, moved Thursday to vote on Mr. Obama’s proposal, in his broader deficit package, to permanently diminish Congress’s control over the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit, assuming that Democrats would break ranks and embarrass the president. Instead, Democratic leaders did a count, found they had 51 solid votes, and took Mr. McConnell up on what Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader, called “a positive development.”
Mr. McConnell then filibustered his own bill, objecting to a simple-majority vote and saying a change of such magnitude requires the assent of 60 senators."
Although kind of humerous, I do think it brings up some dismal pictures about the Senate.  The attitude that McConnell brought to the debate seems like one of a man who is completely unwilling to compromise. In a time when the fiscal cliff is looming and we may need to raise the debt ceiling again by January or February, Sen. McConnell had to resort to back tracking in his own political games.  
Compromise is so essential in getting things done, especially in a divided congress like we have.   It can be dangerous to have politicians that have to constantly resort to filibustering threatening filibusters in a time when we desperately need to get things done.  Keep in mind that McConnell is the same guy who stated 4 years ago that he wanted to make President Obama a one-term president.   
How do you think congress should actually compromise? Is the filibuster and issue that should be looked at and reformed?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Medical Study: Prevention of Breast Cancer Recurrence and Death


 
A new study finds that taking the hormone blocking drug tamoxifen for ten years instead of five after breast cancer diagnosis better prevents the risk of relapse and death in premenopausal women. The University of Oxford study found that after ten years of taking tamoxifen, only 12 percent of women died from it compared to 15 percent in patients who took the drug for five years and the rate of recurrence dropped from 25 to 21 percent. The study also found that the risk of endometrial cancer nearly doubled after prolonged use of tamoxifen, but not for premenopausal women, who are the targets of the drug.

There are newer alternatives called aromatase inhibitors, for post-menopausal women and women that became menopausal due to treatment, which reduce breast cancer recurrence without the risk of problems such as uterine cancer. These drugs have side effects such as joint pain, bone loss and sexual problems but previous studies have shown that the newer drugs significantly reduce risk of recurrence more than tamoxifen did. The standing results deem both tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors generally safe for premenopausal and post-menopausal women, respectively and believe that potential benefits outweigh possible risk.

Dave Brubeck Dies at the Age of 91


I understand this isn't necessarily national affairs, but I figured, if we could talk about Psy, we could talk about Dave.

Today, jazz icon Dave Brubeck died of heart failure the day before his 92nd birthday.

He was born and raised in the California Central valley and started his jazz career by forming a group with saxaphonist Paul Desmond in San Francisco.

He reached wide spread fame with the release of his album, Time Out, which reached number two on the Billboard Top 40 and became the first Jazz album of all time to reach 1 million copies sold.

Brubeck played concerts and continued to create music for nearly 60 years.  For you musicians out there, Brubeck is often given credit for being the first jazz pianist to escape the 4/4 rythm and add an extra beat to his measures.

If you haven't heard his music before, you definitely owe it to yourself.  Here is his most popular song, "Take Five."

I guess if we want to end with a question,  how feel about the current state of music.  There are goods and bads and it would be interesting to see how you all feel about the pop culture we are experiencing now.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bob Costas Speaks About Gun Control

   Bob Costas is facing a lot of heat right now for comments he made during Sunday Night Football regarding gun control.
 
 Speaking about the Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Javon Belcher murder- suicide that has gripped national attention for the past couple days, Costas began to comment on the nature of the gun culture we have in our society right now.
   
Quoting from Fox Sports Commentator, Jason Whitlock, Costas said that "Hand Guns do not increase our safety... In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

Costas recieved much backlash through social media, particularly from country singer and long time NRA member Ted Nugent.  

Following such a tragic event, it really puzzles me how people can still be in favor of so many protections on gun rights.  The US is averaging 20 mass shootings per year.  I get that the pro-gun side is trying to be safe, but I personally haven't heard many stories of gun owners using the gun for protectional purposes that they claim they need them for. 

In the words of Bob Costas in a later interview regarding NFL players and guns, "Even if all those guns were obtained legally, you can’t have 65 guys in their 20s – aggressive young men subject to impulses, without something bad happening."  

What do you think about the gun control we have at the moment? Was Costas wrong in speaking out against guns?

Congratulations Will and Kate!


It’s official! The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their first child. Earlier today, Middleton was hospitalized with an acute form of morning sickness called hyperemesis, which often results in the birth of twins. In addition, since Prince William is second in line for the royal throne, that means the possible twins are third in line to be queens and/ or kings. That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a baby (or babies) that haven’t even been born yet. The royal family is obviously really excited, but what about you guys?
Considering that Kate Middleton was recently involved in a less- than- flattering photo scandal, do you think that this baby fever (or acute morning sickness) is going to be focused on too much and that we should respect their privacy during a time such as this?

US Warns Syria Against Using Chemical Weapons


After information was revealed that Syria has chemical weapons and has the potential to use them during the current war, Hillary Clinton warned that the US would take preventive action if chemical weapons are indeed a part of President Bashar al-Assad’s future acts against the rebels in Damascus. If necessary, the US has threatened to have troops secure the weapons. However, the Syrian foreign ministry claims that the weapons will not be used to escalate the ever-going war.

Syria is believed to have ballistic missiles that can hold chemical warheads, which could threaten Israel and Turkey, allies to the US. Clinton and NATO plan discuss how to protect Turkey against possible missile attacks on Tuesday. Airstrikes or broadening of no fly zones, on the other hand, do not seem to be likely because of chemical deployment risk and further tensions between the Turkey-Syrian border.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Running From the Fiscal Cliff

The House Republicans have sent the president their counteroff in order to avoid the fiscal cliff.  This proposed solution would supposedly cut $2.2 trillion from the country's deficit over the next decade.  The GOP plans to do this by making "$800 billion from tax refom, $600 billion from Medicare reforms and other health savings and $600 billion in other spending cuts."

After the offer was made, the Obama Administraion quickly turned it down saying it was merely a promis to lower rates on the wealthy and take away from the middle class.  "Independent analysts who have looked at plans like this one have concluded that middle class taxes will have to go up to pay for lower rates for millionaires and billionaires,"  The White House stated.  

In a time of fiscal emergency, it still seems like it is hard for both sides to reach any sort of agreement.  Both sides have presented their solutions and neither side wants to back down from their own policies in order to get something out before the Bushera Tax Cuts expire.  One can only wish that the two sides can agree before the looming "fiscal cliff" comes racing in.  How should the sides solve the problem? How do you think things will eventually play out?


Sunday, December 2, 2012

UN Supports Palestinian Quest for Statehood, Israel Reacts

Mahmoud Abbas and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
The UN General Assembly recently overwhelmingly voted to promote Palestine to a non-member observer state (interestingly the same status as the Vatican, who they sit next to in the General Assembly chamber) at a conference in New York on Thursday, an upgrade from their previous status as a non-member observer entity .  BBC reports Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has just returned to West Bank to a large crowd of supporters praising him for his success at the UN conference.  However, Palestine still faces some serious problems with no unified government or control of trade and borders.  The West Bank and Gaza Strip have separate authorities, Hamas being the authority in the Gaza Strip and the PA with Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank .  Abbas has called for unity, and although he has faced some opposition due to failure to successfully negotiate with Israel in the past, this overwhelming recognition by the UN will most likely help Abbas gain support.  This will make Abbas and the PA stand out and look capable, considering the recent rocket assault on Israel by Hamas.

Israel has responded by ceasing its transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, the governing body of the West Bank.  Israel has also decided to go ahead and start building more settlements on the West Bank in an apparent protest against the UN decision.  The Israel government believes that the only way Palestine can achieve statehood is through negotiations with Israel,  and they find Mahmoud Abbas's request to be recognized as a state in the UN to be disingenuous to the accords made between Israel and Palestine in the 90s.  Abbas says he wants to use their new status to not delegitimitize Israel but to help facilitate negotiations.  The upgrade also gives Abbas access to the International Criminal Court, which could allow the PA to file war crime charges against Israel and charges against Israel building improper settlements.

In other news, samples are being taken from former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's body to see if he was poisoned.  If you recall, Arafat of the PLO and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel signed the Oslo Accords with Bill Clinton in the early 90s and Arafat and Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize for the accords.  The suspicion of poisoning arises from high levels of a toxic radioactive isotope called polonium-210 found on some of the clothes Arafat wore before he died. Russian KGB agent (Committee for State Security in Russian, basically Russian secret agents) Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned and killed by polonium-210 in 2006.  

Jacob Lew: Obama's Hope in America's Budget

Since last spring, Obama has been locked inside of a budget negotiation with House Republicans. And it continues even after the election. Obama's budget director tried to explain all the nooks and crannies behind all the budgets problems. However, Obama felt overwhelmed by the great deal of numbers and left all the budget responsibilities to Jacob Lew.

Now, Jacob Lew has a greater role in the America's budget. Mr. Lew now has to guide the White House in making negotiations with Congressional Republicans as a whole. The big thing is how America plans on its tax increases and spending cuts by January 1 of next year. But the negotiations will define Mr. Lew and President Obama's mark in history. If they're able to work over the aisle they will  be known as two men able to create a new budget deal. If not, it could be a stain in the President's reputation.

Back in 2011, Mr. Lew had talks with Republicans about the debt ceiling. However most of the Republicans painted him as non-compromising person. They feel like the Republican constituents (Big business) would be getting squeezed by the proposed plan. Even in the recent days, there has been no progress with Mr. Lew and the Republicans.

From what it seems, this could be a big problem in the Obama administration. Though Mr. Lew is well-educated in economic policy, it seems as the G.O.P. will not buy anything he says. As the year closes, Mr. Lew tries to make more compromising plans with G.O.P. It seems that there might be some negotiation, but to reach the January 1 deadline, there is only one month left.

I'm curious to see if Obama will do anything and intervene on Mr. Lew's policy plans. Obama did say he trusts Mr. Lew, but to have a big "blotch" at the beginning of his second term would not serve him well. Will this end up being a big problem for Democrats (which could ultimately lead to a big sway of voters in the 2016 election) or a big upheaval which will paint Obama in a brilliant light? Mr. Lew and Obama will have to work hand in hand to make something happen.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Filibuster Reform

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones describes here what he believes the main obstacle to filibuster reform is:  Party unity for the Democrats. Under Majority Leader of the Senate Harry Reid, the Democrats have faced some problems with the filibustering power of the minority party in the Senate.  As Colbert mentions, Reid has faced 386 filibusters in 6 years.  That's approximately 8.21 filibusters per each Republican Senator, also known as a just a ton of filibusters in general.  As Colbert explains, the very large number of filibusters has resulted from a change in rules where the filibuster can be launched by intent of "debate" rather than the actual getting on the floor and reading from cookbooks that we discussed in class.  This new kind of filibustering can be referred to as the "silent" filibuster.

It's easy to imagine why getting rid of the filibuster is attractive for Democrats, but how should they go about doing this?  If the filibuster is entirely removed then Democrats will regret the whole thing if the Republicans ever return to majority. .

Reform probably will look like making the filibuster at least require actual debate.  Article 1 Section 5 of the constitution means the Senate can make their own rules by a simple majority vote, a.k.a enough for the Democrats to pass reform without any Republican agreement.  Democratic Senator Merkley says that the reform will likely prevent the Republicans from silently filibustering.  This would require there at least to be conversation about legislation, potentially constructive and helpful to getting a good compromise passed.  Does this mean that the old filibustering shenanigans where one senator reads a comic book on the floor for hours will return again?  Hopefully the reform will have some provision against this.

This ties back all the way to the Federalist papers we studied at the beginning of the year and the debate over majorities and super-majorities.  When is a more than a majority a good thing?  Well, perhaps when doing things like amending the Constitution.  However for the legislative process, requiring more than a majority puts a damper on progress (assuming that filibuster=requiring the 60%).  James Madison warned against requiring more than majority to pass legislation in Federalist 58.   (In this quote, "quorum" can sort of be translated to the number of members needed to enact a decision).  Madison argues requiring more than a majority quorum would inhibit free government, instead putting too much power in the hands of the minority.

Remember all his warnings about factions?  Well, in the case of the filibuster, it's original intent seemed to be to elevate the minority party to a position where they could have greater leverage in decision making.  Not such a bad thing in theory, however, the problem is this power has been used irresponsibly.  It has effectively made the Senate require a 60 vote majority to pass anything, and that is exactly the kind of quorum Madison warned about.
Madison writes of a more-than-majority quorum:
", an interested minority might take advantage of it to screen themselves from equitable sacrifices to the general weal"
How well do you think this quote describes the current political scene?  Did Madison identify eerily well the pitfalls of party politics?  Should the Democrats be wary in how they might affect the minority party of the Senate with their power to enact reforms of Senate rules?  As far as I can tell, the filibuster reform seems like a good, moderate step in the right direction that will hopefully improve the functioning of the Senate for years to come.  

(Mr.Smith Goes To Washington was  1939 movie about corruption in the Senate that included the filibustering.  The film was considered offensive to the institution of the Senate, and it's amusing to imagine it provoked retaliation in the form of legislation that never got passed.  It was also apparently simultaneously considered pro-communist in America and banned in the USSR, Germany, and Italy)