Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ice on Mercury, the Closest Planet to the Sun

Go NASA!   Team Nasa has made an important discovery on the planet Mercury.  All the way back in 1991, radio telescopes had found evidence that there may be ice on the poles on Mercury.  A surprising thing to see on our solar systems smallest planet (sorry Pluto) which is also the closest to the Sun, bearing temperatures up to 700K or ~800 degrees Fahrenheit.
How could there possibly be ice?  Well, these radio signals sent from a telescope in Puerto Rico back in 1991 reflected off of certain patches of Mercury, scientists figured there could be ice.  A recent spacecraft called MESSENGER visited Mercury and confirmed these bright radar patches were indeed very indicative of ice.  Because of the tilt of Mercury's axis, certain parts of Mercury never see the sun.  Presumably these are the places where ice could have a chance of forming.
Image from Press Conference 11/29/2012

Using a science fictiony sounding thing called neutron spectroscopy, NASA determined that this hydrogen rich layer, just beneath the surface of the areas indicated by the radar bright-spots, has a very similar level of hydrogen concentration as ice, confirming their long held suspicions.

It is fascinating that the planet closest to the sun has these patches of ice water.  Water is the molecule to be when it comes to life, and finding it in places as foreign and desolate as Mercury shows that we are getting better at finding water's hiding places.

Pat Robertson says what?

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and former Republican primary contestant for presidency in 1988, has made another controversial comment.

Robertson has interestingly spoken out against creationism, claiming that to go against science is to "lose your children." He also says that the 17th century Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher who posited the idea that the earth was created 4004 B.C was wrong and not following the word of God.

The statement seems to put Robertson in the 32% of Americans  (poll also mentioned in the CNN blog) who believe God assisted human evolution but did not create them in their present form. Robertson did not directly state support for the theory of evolution, but in saying dinosaurs did exist, he sort of indirectly supports the evidence of the fossil record which has a lot to do with evolutionary theory.  Regardless, the comment seems a little hypocritical considering this remark made back in 2005 that warned a town in Pennsylvania that removing supporters of intelligent design from it's school board would provoke the wrath of God.  It seems like sometimes even the most deeply held beliefs can change over time.  Fortunately, our country protects the rights of those with big voices like Pat Robertson to say their thoughts. Even if it is potentially disastrous for their political careers (Akin, Mourdock).

Democracy is Harder than it Looks

Egypt is among the Middle Eastern countries that the United States have been feeling uneasy about for awhile. After Mubarak was kicked out of the dictatorship role, a Muslim Brotherhood has been gaining power in the government. Right now Egypt does not have real democracy, but more of a pseudo democracy like China. (ie. You can vote, but you can only vote for the communist candidate)  And what's been going on inside of Egypt does not seem to be the way to true democracy.

Currently in Egypt there is a conservative panel, who is sympathetic to the Islam Brotherhood, creating the new Egyptian Constitution. They are trying the best to make the process quick in attempt to stop opposition. In attempt to stop this forced constitution, 30 panel members (consisting of liberals and Christians) have left the board. The 30 members that left are protesting that what the panel is creating is a new Muslim controlled State.

The current in place President, Mohamed Morsi, created more laws about giving himself more power until the Constitution is complete. He was supposed to make an announcement today. Because of the statement, there has been outrage in Egypt and protests on the streets. The protests have caused Morsi to rethink his plans. But the real stoppage of power came from the enraged judicial courts of Egypt.

Egypt seems to be in a big mess. The road to democracy is still a long way off, and it wouldn't be surprising to have another dictator in Egypt. I'm curious to see how the UN and the US will respond to this. I'm pretty sure the United States won't stand for another dictator (who is probably sympathetic to an Muslim Brotherhood) in a Middle Eastern Country.

Should We Lower our Moral Standards?

This Time article poses a highly interesting question:  are our moral standards for politics too high?  This question stems from the history of political journalism-from muckraking to Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the relationship between journalists and politics has increasingly become about scandals and moral deviousness in our government.  A little less like cat-and-mouse and more like mouse-trying-to-expose-cats-corruption.  Justice must be served! Well, there seems to be reason to be prudent in how these affairs are exposed to the public.

The particular type of political corruption the author of this article, Joe Klein, discusses is earmarking.  Earmarking is basically the direction of funds towards a specific project or program. The author remembers the "Cornhusker Kickback," a controversy back in 2009 where the federal government promised to send extra Medicaid funds to Nebraska to secure the 60th vote needed to stomp out the filibuster.  He considers earmarks like this "a useful lubricant for the great gears of legislation."  Something Lincoln would have done.  A highly effective leader, the author argues Lincoln moved forward pragmatically, "via the low arts of patronage and patronization."

Are these type of manipulative earmarks justified?  I think in a situation as desperate as the fiscal cliff, morally-dubious negotiations are almost justifiable, but to a point.  If the media were to let corruption slide now, however well the issues may be solved, the permissiveness may come back to haunt a future political landscape. Is looking back to Lincoln appropriate?  It was well over a century ago.  The main question again seems to be one of pragmatism versus morality.  

edit: sorry the link was wrong before but now it is fixed



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Friendly Side of Politics?

Well, Obama and Romney are going to have lunch on Thursday.  Although inevitably there will be some massively awkward elephants in the room (no GOP pun intended), the event is somewhat heartwarming.  Two battle-hardened rivals, one leaving politics bitterly defeated, having his last shot at president taken away, and the other facing the honor and responsibility of another 4 years in office.

I think these friendly gestures are especially valuable for Romney, because although he isn't running for political office anymore, gracious public appearances are his last chance to leave a favorable impression on the American people.  The gracious loser is especially commendable, like McCain in 2008, who vowed to work with Obama moving forward at a similar post-election meeting.  However, McCain had a Senate seat to return to, unlike Romney who is presumably leaving the political scene.  This puts Romney in an interesting situation where he is not necessarily beholden to any party pressure.  He has already earned berate from fellow Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, over his remarks that Obama won the race by essentially bribing interest groups.  That's not a nice note to go out on.

But Romney's concession speech was so nice! (there were some rumors about him not writing the speech beforehand, although I feel like he did and made that remark as a sort of lighthearted confidence-booster sort of thing). Despite all the mean political battles that characterize the election, can the candidates simply forget it all after the election is over?  How much of these larger-than-life people do we not see, given the intense pressure of political campaigning? I think it's comforting to imagine that Romney and Obama will have a genuinely nice lunchtime together, maybe as a symbolic representation of a bipartisan future, and maybe for the sake of knowing our political icons are gracious humans.

Obama and the Budget

President Obama promised one thing during the campaign, and that is a balanced budget. Obama is now starting his plan to balance the budget. From the campaign, all we heard was one side of Obama's plan and that was to raise taxes on the higher class. But, it seems he does another half of the plan. Budget Cuts.

Originally, many wealthy business men were disgruntled about how Obama wanted to raise high class income taxes while, lowering middle classes. The way Obama explained his plan during the campaign seemed like a big blow to rich people, because they would take most of the taxes. To make the seeming pain worse, Obama said that he would alleviate the middle and lower classes taxes. With a description like that, I'm sure upper class members were afraid their taxes would go up many percentage points. But it seems, Obama had another plan.

Many media men are enraged that Obama won't delve on his plan on budget cuts, but there are going to be some. Some people are afraid on what Obama plans to cut, but it seems like social security is definitely off the table. One big area that Obama is looking at is healthcare. (Ironic isn't it?)

Finally, Obama had a meeting with 14 big executives from companies like Yahoo and Goldman Sachs. Most if not all of the executives came out of the meeting satisfied. One even gave a quote namelessly, "He seems flexible, but he said taxes should go up on the top 2%." It looks like big business and the President will find a way to settle this. If everything goes smoothly, maybe this economic crisis is something that the American people can get through. FDR got us through the Great Depression, maybe Obama will get us through the "Great Recession."

BP Again: Energy is Risky Business

So as a reminder of how complex and interconnected our globalized, energy-hungry world is, BP is back on the headlines.  After recently pleading guilty to several criminal charges against their disastrous misconduct  in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010, BP is facing a temporary ban on getting new contracts in the U.S.  BP America is the second largest producer of oil in the United States and the biggest division of BP.
Now BP's conduct can be properly punished by the EPA because they have pleaded guilty to 11 of the criminal cases filed against them.  The EPA is punishing BP by preventing them from leasing new contracts, which seems strange as they have filed 50 new contracts since the disaster and just now they are being banned from participating in auctions.   How severe of a consequence this will be for BP depends on how long the ban lasts, and considering that the EPA has agreed to lift the ban once BP demonstrates it can measure up to our nations business standards, this ban may not be very long or consequential for BP.

The ban brings up a few interesting ideas.  One, actions like these show the importance of being careful with energy projects.  With energy being so important and such a huge industry, there are large scale projects with lots of investment and complex operations and thus and a potential for catastrophic failure.  Or are we getting better at avoiding that? Is there even hope that we will?  Also, there is this whole idea of globalization and the importance of energy in today's society makes the incident a reminder of how high the stakes are when it comes to large scale energy projects.

Are large scale energy disasters, like nuclear power plant disasters and oil spills, isolated incidents? Is it a matter of incompetence and mismanagement that can be solved by greater investment? Or are these projects so complex as to be inherently risky and unpredictable, so that greater investment is not a satisfactory solution?  Should we suck it up and take the risk in order to secure U.S energy independence?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Currency Manipulation

Currency, Money, Moolah, Bank, whatever you want to call it; it is an important aspect in life. Many people might even call it their motivator in life. It seems like it's a big enough motivator to stop the U.S. from calling China, "Currency Manipulators." Many people have been complaining that China is trying too hard to artificially keep the value of the yuan down to make their market goods cheap. However, why won't the United States call China "manipulators?"

China is the number one growing economy in the world. Everyone expects China to become the next economic super power. China will definitely surpass any western country in a foreseeable future. And that is the root of the problem. No country will have the courage to call China out on manipulating currency because they risk having bad trade relationships with China. Having a trade-war with China is economic suicide. Especially with the current state of the European and United States Economies the chances are no one thinks it is worth it.

There have been many pleads by the United States Congress for China to let the yuan grow as it naturally would. However the Chinese policy say that the yuan is going to reach its "equilibrium point soon." Even with these statements, many economists know that China's bank controls the fluctuation of the yuan and decides when to increase the value.

China's economic manipulation might seem faraway from all of us, but it really is much closer. Because of manipulation, big businesses will continue to see it favorable to outsource jobs to China. American companies who make their goods here will fail, as they cannot compete with the cheaper prices. I love my cheap goods. I am not going to lie on that part, but to help our economy, maybe it's time for someone to call out China on what they are doing.


An Update on Egypt: Tyranny?

Recently, President of Egypt Mohammed Morsi has expanded his presidential powers quite a bit, basically making his word a final authority immune to any countering force.  However, there is evidence that Morsi may not be expanding his powers for the mere purpose of strengthening his stake and the Muslim Brotherhoods stake in government.  A large problem with Egypt's new government has been the lack of any real legislating body.  A council of generals served called the Supreme Council of Armed Forces stood in place while the country's new government was being established, however, this body dissolved and the judicial body of Egypt has blocked the a formation of a new parliament.  Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's main obstacle has been the judicial body, a court with old members of Mubarak's regime called the the Supreme Constitutional Court.  The court's rationale for blocking parliament seemed to be that the parliament would be largely Islamist, creating a government that might push a theocratic agenda.

Morsi's power grab could be explained as an effort to fight back against the SCC and eventually restore some kind of order between the executive, judicial,  and legislative branches of government.  However, his action seems inherently against this idea as he has refused to back down from his decree and because he hasn't reinstated parliament yet, effectively creating a government where his power goes unchecked.

The people of Egypt, well acquainted with the idea of tyranny, have staged a long protest in Tahrir Square against Morsi's decree.  Clearly, the ideals of democracy are very important to the people of Egypt and the pragmatic argument for Morsi's power grab has fallen short.

If Morsi were to go ahead and use his power solely to speed up the transition to democracy, would that justify his actions?  Would we necessarily frown on tyranny if it was somehow for the greater good of advancing a democracy?  Is there a lesson here in how delicate the implementation of a foreign system of government is?  Situations like these may influence how the U.S may consider dealing with the difficulty of facilitating or aiding the formation of democratic governments in the future given how complex the process is.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff: An Update on Norquist and the Issue of Compromise

With the impending "fiscal cliff" of 2013 promising to bring the worst nightmares of both parties (tax hikes and program cuts),  some sort of compromise in the form of a mutual sacrifice seems necessary to cut the economic losses looming in the future.  Is a win-win situation possible? Maybe, but the lingering political pressures on Republicans stemming from harsh ideologues like Norquist has kept the issue a political ordeal rather than a which-policy-is-best-for-our-future ordeal.  Norquist's ideologue minded stand against compromise on the issue of taxes seems to be having a diminishing influence according to this CNN contributor, who notices that some Republican lawmakers like Scott Rigell have broken from Norquist in the name of progress and without fear of political repercussion   Interestingly enough, Rigell claims he did not have any troubles with big money donors or campaigning after breaking the pledge.  Despite seemingly isolating his constituents,  Rigell received praise and  a check from Warren Buffet for his bold move. In a bit of drama, Norquist has made another "pledge" to actively try to unseat these disobedient Republicans, but hopefully given the urgency of the situation this sort of threat will seem petty.

The potential for a win-win situation may not be entirely ruled out, with the vague hope of the loopholes-and-deductions revenue still at bay.  The question is of whether these can be cut to save revenue while avoiding tax increases.  An interesting opinion on the compromise from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones thinks that liberals actually have much to gain by breaking a deal with the Republicans on Social Security, potentially taking it off the table for "decades" if the deal is done right.  This would leave Republicans, hopefully no longer trapped by Norquist, in a position to make their own sacrifice and let tax revenue increase.

Feel free to share your own knowledge and opinions on the issue of the fiscal cliff.  Is a future where Republicans can have their tax breaks, thanks to cracking down on loopholes and exemptions, possible?  Should we be more worried about recession or truly unmanageable debt?

On the topic of representatives, in times like these being a real trustee and decision maker on behalf of inherit knowledge is particularly admirable, but with the way elections work, it's not entirely encouraged.  Is this gridlock an inevitable result of the way our countries democracy elects lawmakers?

The world and Carbon Emissions

In the most recent U.N. meeting, a huge topic of consideration is the rising temperatures and climate change. Rising sea levels and huge storms ie. Hurricane Sandy, have been appear much more frequently. Even with the world economic slowdown carbon emissions reached their peak in the year 2011.  Many other nations pointed fingers at the United States and claimed that we have to lessen the amount of Carbon Emissions each year. However, other big countries were attacked as well, notably China. However all nations don't plan on reforming their current plan to lessen the damage.

First, the United States was not willing to take Obama's plan on cutting gas emissions. In 2009, Obama proposed a bill which would make USA's goal to cut emissions by 17% by the year 2020. However, the bill was cut off by the US Senate. The problem is Obama wants to do something about the climate, but is always cut off by Congress. Obama promises for his second term that he'll spend more time on the climate. It looks like the United States might have another Al Gore appear.

Another group that the U.N. told off were 100 developing nations, which of course include China and India. The U.N. pleaded with the nations to not create damage on a "previously unimaginable scale."  China has recently overtaken the United States as the leader of greenhouse gases and there are other countries that are trying to expand as well. If everyone starts producing emissions as much as the U.S., Russia or China, the world will be no more than a baking oven.

I'm inclined to state that the world is going in a path of self-destruction. Nuclear warfare was the idea of self-destruction in the Cold War Era. However, the big issue is how do we stop ourselves from suffocating ourselves. Maybe carpooling and riding public transportation will be the way to go. Proposed ideas include limiting the amount a country can use by a certain date, working to limit per capita, or flat out "fair distribution." Whatever the solution might be, we need to come to one. Fast.

Pot Shenanigans

         So, we all remember that Marijuana was legalized in both Washington and Colorado. Many seem to hail this as a good thing, but why? The main argument for marijuana is the revenue it can raise. If the government can regulate the marijuana industry, they should be able to tax it. Considering the copious amount of support that has been predicted for the drug, the government should be able to make quite a bit of money off the sale of marijuana. Furthermore, with marijuana under government control, they should be able to control it and make it safer to consume.
http://static.ddmcdn.com/gif/marijuana-leaf.jpg
         However, there seems to be trouble in paradise and pot isn't necessarily what its cracked up to be. Mainly, all the problems with marijuana's legalization comes from the lack of regulation the provisions have. Because there is very little control, the government really can't do much in the way marijuana potency and the tobacco industry. In terms of potency, stronger marijuana causes much more damage to an individual and is has a much higher chance of causing a car crash or some other physical injury. This results in increased spending for the government, balancing out the revenue gains marijuana originally offered. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is able to take advantage of the small amount of regulation and sell marijuana easily (which includes possible advertisements aimed at attracting younger kids). You know something's up when the tobacco industry likes something.
          It's very difficult to weigh the issues with marijuana legalization. Each side, pro or anti, both have something to gain by taking their side, causing fairly strong bias. If one supports marijuana, it's probably just because they want to smoke it, or they want to make a profit (hello there tobacco industry). On the other hand, those that want it gone may just think it's icky or have some fundamental disagreement with marijuana consumption. Then there are the people who really just don't care either way who can just sit back and watch.
         So, is marijuana legalization important, and should we care at all? Is it ultimately harmful in the long run, or is it helpful and this is just a biased article?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Republican Tax Conflict

http://www.bestoftheblogs.com/ClientFiles/960b84cf-95e6-4f4f-bfc1-faa534513ac7/norquist.jpg
         Are Republicans actually changing their stance on taxes? My gosh, they might be. After so many years, their plan has generally remained the same: no tax increases, but instead, cut government spending. However, recently the question of "where should those cuts be?" has been asked again and again. The cuts could be in the health system, but conflicting with heath and treatment gets a great many people riled up (to say the least). There's the military, but would Republican's really cut a significant amount of military spending. Forecast says no. Ultimately, the Republican party has few other options to turn to. Other than cutting loopholes (which is a generally universally liked idea), tax increases are really one of the only remaining options. At the very least, the Republican party is considering Obama's tax reform that goes into effect January 1.
         However, we do have something BBC News likes to call the Norquist Factor. Grover Norquist leads the group Americans for Tax Reform which has important Republican officials make a pledge to never raise taxes. If anyone breaks the pledge, then they will have to deal with their party turning against them. That's a pretty good deterrent from voting towards tax raises.
         Norquist has also mocked Obama's tax ideas, basically stating that they will fail. He said that the rates will stay the same as they had the past two years. It's somewhat hard to tell if this will be true or not. Will things stay the same without changing, or will Republicans start to change their opinion? Will they be able to with Norquist's restrictions in play?

Outsourcing: The Debate Outside of 5th Period Gov

        A fire in a clothing factory in Dhaka (the capital of Bangladesh) broke out late yesterday afternoon, killing more than 100 people. The Tazreen Fashion factory was multistory and had no fire exits on the outside of the building.  Of course, the owner of the building claimed the factory was perfectly safe to work in. The fire, which may have been caused by an electrical short circuit, started on the ground floor and quickly spread to the entire building.  Firefighters were able to contain the fire this morning but not before 112 people had died.

        Fatal fires like this are fairly common in Bangladesh, where there are about 4,500 factories employing more than 2 million people.  Clothing like the textiles produced by the Tazreen Fashion factory make up up to 80% of Bangladesh's exports, and much of this clothing is exported to Western countries like the United States.  US businesses obtain cheap labor by outsourcing and cheap materials by buying from foreign countries.  When we think about political issues like outsourcing, we tend to focus on the domestic side of such issues while ignoring the international side.  Yet the actions of US businesses clearly have large repercussions for the citizens of foreign countries.  Should US businesses be allowed to continue outsourcing jobs to countries like Bangladesh (where working conditions are far below those of the US)?

The Next Kyoto


Starting tomorrow, nearly 200 countries will meet for the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  This year, the annual conference will take place in Doha, Qatar.  This is the same UN group that negotiated the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997.  However, since the Kyoto Protocol (under which countries agreed to reduce their carbon emissions by a certain percent of 1990 levels) is set to expire at the end of this year, agreeing on an extension of Kyoto or creating a new protocol is especially important for this conference.

        The Kyoto Protocol is widely considered a failure due to its lack of punishment for countries not adhering to its guidelines, the ease of withdrawal (Canada withdrew last year), and the exemption of developing countries (China and India's greenhouse emissions are virtually unregulated).  The United States, one of the largest countries and one of the biggest contributors to worldwide greenhouse emissions, rejected Kyoto due to the exemption of developing countries.

        As very few countries have agreed to negotiate a second commitment period under Kyoto, the delegates in Doha will likely begin work on a new worldwide treaty to be ratified in 2015 and take effect in 2020.  Whether or not they're able to come up with a treaty that actually works remains to be seen  Financing such a treaty is also an issue, requiring wealthy countries to support less wealthy countries.  Regardless, global warming remains a problem that needs to be addressed soon.  Can the UNFCCC finally come up with a good way to lower worldwide carbon emissions?

Voting Rights Act Repeal?

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-C6vD_bGMDyA/Tj171_PneaI/AAAAAAAAARI/3qpogXOlINk/s1600/vote+4.jpg
         Do we still need the Voting Rights Act, or is it extraneous? In 1965, it was needed to combat the severe racism that African-Americans had to face. Restrained from voting due to their skin color, the African-American population was not being heard. However, now, racism (although it still clearly exists) is not nearly as much as a rampant problem. As a result, section 5 of the Act seems somewhat pointless. Section 5 specifies that states with histories of racism must get all changes to voting rules pre-approved by the Justice Department before they can enact the change. Since racism isn't quite so relevant any more, shouldn't this pre-approval be pointless and a waste of time? Maybe.
         However, there really doesn't seem to be any big problem with it being there. It's a protection against racism, who would care if it is in place or not? For people to have some motivation to get rid of it in the first place, they would have to have some quarrel with that protection. That alone is enough to warrant suspicion towards why someone would want the Voting Rights Act gone.
         Should the Voting Rights Act stick around? Does it even matter at this point? Why would anyone actually want it gone in the first place?

Abortion in Ireland


        Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian immigrant to Ireland, recently passed away due to complications with her pregnancy.  Seventeen weeks after conception, Halappanavar sought medical help due to extreme back pain and was told that the baby would probably die.  Halappanavar and her husband requested an abortion to relieve her of the pain, but were denied.  They were told that, because Ireland is a predominately Catholic country, an abortion could not be carried out while the fetus was still alive.  Under Irish law, an abortion is legal is a mother's life is at risk.  However, this apparently differs from situations where a mother's health is at risk (yeah, it doesn't make too much sense to me, either).  Doctor's believed that Halappanavar's life wasn't at risk.  Three days after requesting an abortion, Halappanav's fetus died and was removed; four days later Halappanav died from a blood infection.

        After Savita's death, her husband, Praveen Hallapanav, made an inquiry about the circumstances of his wife's death.  However, the medical records seem to have been tampered with.  According to Praveen, there is no record of a request for an abortion.  Are healthcare workers in America just as capable of ignoring the law?  Many American women are denied abortion when the pregnancy threatens their health even though denying abortion in such a case is illegal under Roe v. Wade.  Aside from the blatant corruption of healthcare officials, it seems completely illogical for officials to have denied the Hallapanav's an abortion when they knew that the baby would die.  Savita's death has prompted outrage not only in Ireland but across the world, for Ireland's strict abortion laws are not all that different from the de facto laws in some parts of our country.  Is Savita's death more proof that we need to reform our system of dealing with abortions?


The Biebs has been Beaten

Note: this won't be a terribly political post.

        Today marks the end of an era.  As of today, Psy's "Gangnam Style" video officially received more views on YouTube than Justin Bieber's "Baby" video (808 million to 804 million views), making it the all-time most viewed video on YouTube.  Remember, there are only a little over 300 million people in America.  Aside from the absolutely insane number of views, the content of the two videos is remarkably different.  "Baby" details Bieber's love for some unknown girl. Gangnam style, on the other hand, supposedly mocks the consumerism of the wealthy Gangnam District of Seoul (and, by extension, I suppose it also mocks American consumerism).  Anyway, that's about as serious as this post could possibly get.  Most listeners probably don't even know what Psy is singing about (it's not all about sexy ladies!).

For your listening pleasure:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is it Democracy?

An article from the Washington Post this time:

Protesters in Tahir Square
         Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi recently made a declaration which essentially gave him unlimited powers.  It didn't take long for Egyptians, including some of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's supporters, to rise in protest.  Even though Morsi won 52% of the presidential vote, protesters are calling him an even more autocratic dictator than Mubarak, who (as most of you know) was overthrown earlier this year.  Morsi claims that his new powers were enacted to protect the constitutional committee, which is in the process of creating a new constitution for the recently revolutionized country, from the court (which has hinted it may disband the committee). Morsi claims that his extension of power is necessary only to ensure the establishment of a new constitution.  Once a new constitution has been ratified, he claims he will relinquish his somewhat dictatorial powers.

The lovely Morsi
        Whether or not Morsi does indeed relinquish his powers, by attempting to override Egypt's court he has already set a precedent for abusing the system of checks and balances that most experts agree is necessary for a successful democracy.

        Many people think Morsi has far overstepped the boundaries of his position as president of a supposedly democratic country.  Do you agree?  Furthermore, people around the world saw Mubarak's defeat in Egypt's revolution as a sign of future democracy for the country.  Yet it seems that Egypt is headed for yet another autocracy.  What do you guys think - can Egypt attain democracy?  



Friday, November 23, 2012

What the Frack (oh gosh I'm so sorry)

         Now that Obama has been voted into a second term, people wonder what he will do in the way of environmental progress. Niall Ferguson (a Republican Harvard history professor) claims that Obama will make use of hydraulic fracturing to get us out of the economic crisis and even lead us into some new "golden age." 
http://i2.cdn.turner.com/money/2012/05/04/news/economy/fracking_rules/fracking-rules.gi.top.jpg         Ferguson is definitely right in saying that fracking can be beneficial to our economy. It will most certainly make jobs, and, perhaps more importantly, it will make jobs here in the U.S. rather than overseas. Furthermore, fracking will help out the U.S. economy as well, perhaps combating against our debt. This may be partly due to the fact that, if we can get enough natural gas out of fracking, we can become nearly energy independent from the rest of the world. We will no longer have to buy oil and other resources from other places, allowing us to keep money flowing here at home.
         Ferguson claims that "most people are still a little bit slow to appreciate just how big [fracking] is." However, other people aren't the only slow ones. Ferguson is certainly appreciating the financial opportunities fracking offers, but he is failing to acknowledge the dangers that fracking causes. If you don't know how fracking works, take a look here (in wonderful info-graphic form for your viewing pleasure!). Basically, fracking is drilling far down through the ground (bypassing aquifers) in order to pump water mixed with various chemicals into the ground to fracture it, allowing the natural gas to escape up the passageway where we can collect it.
http://www.frackfreesomerset.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/FRAC_DIAGRAM.jpg         So, while fracking may be great economically, it has a slew of environmental issues. First, the drilling. You have to have a drilling site which involves clearing out the area around the drill point. This involves taking down trees, animal habitats and whatnot--not exactly good for the environment, especially since the habitat takes time to reestablish itself once the drilling process is over. Also, there is excess pollution such as exhaust that is left over from the drilling machinery and transportation equipment. Second, aquifer disruption. When drilling through the ground, the drill must pass through underground stores of water. This can cause cracks in the aquifer which may end up leaking some of our water supply. Also, your putting a drill full of chemical water through there. If the chemical water leaks, it gets into our drinking supply. I don't know about all you, but I don't like drinking this stuff. Third, residue chemical water stuffs. In the actual fracturing process, the water that breaks the ground is usually left over in the ground just to stay there. Just leaving chemicals underground is just a bad thing. They can seep into aquifers or other places and generally wreak havoc.
         For a nice list of pros and cons on the subject click here (in wonderful slide show form for your viewing pleasure yet again!).
         So, while there is a clear economic motivation for using hydraulic fracturing, are the costs to the environment are worth it? If not, what other forms of energy would be better to invest in and why? Or, do you agree with Ferguson?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

http://www.e-forwards.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Thanksgiving-funny-turkeys.jpeg         This is just a quick post to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope that your turkey (or tofurkey, if you are vegetarian) is delicious and that you have a wonderful evening.
         Oh, and if you are going to partake in Black Friday tomorrow (shopping, people watching, or otherwise), have fun with that. Also, be safe--try to not get trampled in the Wal-Mart rush. I recommend not bringing a rifle to protect your Toys R' Us item.
         Funny thing about Black Friday--it's Friday. Now I don't know what genius thought it would be a good idea to make a repeat of Rebecca Black's oh so wonderful contribution to society, but apparently changing the the theme of the song but including the exact same amount of auto-tune seemed smart. Was it? Here's a hint: no. It wasn't. At any rate, if you feel like letting your ears burn off, here's a link (I recommend not clicking).

Since I feel obligated to ask a question for any blog post: What do you give thanks for?
(Sorry about the cheesiness).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nuclear Power: Back at Last

        Here's another CNN article for you guys.  Yesterday, the Department of Energy announced its decision to sponsor Babcock & Wilcox (an energy company) and the Tennessee Valley Authority in designing a new generation of small-scale nuclear reactors.  They aim to have these reactions functioning by 2022.  The last time any ground was broken for nuclear reactors was in 1974, so this is a big deal to say the least.  Furthermore, this is only the first award out of a $452 million program to facilitate the development of small-scale nuclear reactors.

          The new reactors are known as small modular reactors (SMRs) and are about a third of the size of existing nuclear reactors.  These reactors could also be manufactured in large factories before being transported to sites (these sites could also include areas that until now were too remote to support large reactors).  They are also less expensive and safer, they can be located underground, and they can run longer on the same nuclear fuel compared to current nuclear plants.  However, each can produce only 180 megawatts of power while the largest reactors can produce 1,000 megawatts.  Then again, the relatively small energy output could allow reactors to increase our nuclear energy output in small increments as demand increases rather than in huge leaps.
       
        For the time being, the designs also haven't gained federal approval yet.  Advocates of this new technology claim that it has the potential to transform and expand the nuclear energy industry, while critics contend that the concepts haven't been tested thoroughly enough.  Some critics also claim that this new nuclear source can't complete economically with the cost of natural gas and coal.  Given the cost of nuclear energy and the recent nuclear meltdowns in Japan's Fukushima plants after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, is it a good idea for the Obama administration to pursue nuclear power?

Hamas-Israel Conflict: Resolution (We Hope)

         Well, it seems that we are back to looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over in the middle east. Again. However, it is thankfully good new this time. Egypt has successfully led peace talks that have allowed leaders on each side to reach a ceasefire. The overall death count of the conflict was 5 Israelis and more that 150 Palestinians.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-G3JAoM5GVVc/UAh3wiV6PpI/AAAAAAAAG3U/889Gnso0vn4/s1600/Khaled%2BMeshaal.jpeg         You can find a copy of the ceasefire treaty here.  The treaty seems balanced fairly equally on both sides. Israel can no longer treat the Gaza Strip with hostility, and Palestinians may no longer launch rockets or fight across the border. To make a long story short, the ceasefire says "both of you, stop your shenanigans. Now."
http://www.jewwatch.com/gif-leaders-netanyahu.jpg         Frankly, it's nice seeing attempts against fighting so soon after the conflict began. Although the fact that there was even a conflict in the first place means there is malice on both ends, the immediate action towards a ceasefire points to a desire for peace on both sides. To help with this pursuit of peace, the United States has involved itself in negotiations. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, although satisfied with the stopping of attacks, has called for a "focus on reaching a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security, dignity and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike." Furthermore, President Barack Obama has praised the ceasefire. He also plans to help fund the Iron Dome Missile Defense System.
         Now, there is obviously still deep-rooted hatred in both Palestinians and Israelis; however, this swift ceasefire seems to be a step in the right direction. But, will the ceasefire last, and if so, will it actually hold some significance in the overall scheme of things or will it be ultimately irrelevant?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taliban members... from California?

        According to a CNN article today, four men from L.A. were charged with conspiring with the Taliban and "supporting terrorists who conspired to kill, kidnap or harm U.S. officers and other U.S. citizens, as well as bomb public places and government facilities."  Ironically, the men were discovered in part through their posts on Facebook, which included "radical jihad content."  Two of the men also told an undercover FBI agent (via online chat) of their intentions to join and aid al-Qaeda and took the same FBI agent to a firing range and a paintball center.  At this point I'm questioning how intelligent these men really were: they told other people about their plans and openly professed their support for the Taliban in a country that (at the moment) fears anything remotely related to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. 

        Moving on: interestingly enough, only one of the four men was actually born in the U.S., although all are U.S. citizens (one was born in Afghanistan, one in Mexico, one in the Philippines, and one in Riverside). Furthermore, although we traditionally associate the Taliban and al-Qaeda with Middle Eastern countries, only one of the four men was racially Middle-Eastern.  Also interesting is the fact that the Afghanistan-born citizen exposed two of the other men to radical Islam teachings through online sources.  Although this may be one isolated example of domestic terrorism, to me it demonstrates the far-reaching influence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  What do you think - is domestic terrorism and recruitment of Americans by radical Islamist groups a threat to our national security?  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hamas-Israeli Conflict: Revisited

    Last week, we discussed the implications of the missile exchanges between Gaza and Israel. Well, now it seems that we have some decent results. As of today, Hamas reports that at least 105 people have been killed by the violence within the Gaza Strip. Although I suppose that result is to be expected, it is horrible nonetheless. However, there are further implications from this whole conflict, mainly in the form of a hopeful resolution to the trouble that has been building up.

http://i3.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article1442321.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/Smoke+rises+following+an+explosion+after+an+Israeli+forces+strike+in+Gaza+City    For one, Egypt is taking a peacekeeper role by trying to negotiate peace talks between Israel and Hamas. Each side has presented conditions to an agreement (which are unknown at this time), and Egypt is actively trying to work towards some sort of ceasefire.

    The UN is also getting involved. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has gone down to Egypt to attempt to help the situation. He will be meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to further discuss ceasefire options.

    On the American side of things, Obama has involved himself in an attempt to pacify the situation in Gaza. Obama discussed the importance of ending rocket fire into Israel as well as his regret for the loss of lives in Gaza.

    It seems that the conflict here is  drawing many different minds trying to work towards the same solution. What kind of solution do you think would be best? What other actions might result from this conflict and how much longer will it last? If you have any change in opinion since the last Gaza post, feel free to share.


The Fate of Twinkies: An Update

        As George informed us, Hostess Brands (maker of Twinkies, Wonderbread, Ho Ho's, Ding Dongs, and all sorts of other artery-clogging baked products) is now filing for bankruptcy and liquidation of its assets.  Although this is second time in last decade that Hostess has filed for bankruptcy, there is still hope for the company.  A bankruptcy court in White Plains, New York ruled that Hostess would first have to try mediation talks with its labor unions.  These talks are scheduled to start tomorrow; however in the event that no compromise is reached, the liquidation hearing will resume on Wednesday.  Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn commented that the company is losing about $1 million a day to keep afloat; as a result Hostess is under financial pressure to resolve its financial difficulties soon.

        Despite the media's attempt to enlighten us regarding Twinkies' unnaturally long shelf life and lack of nutritional value, Twinkie sales surged after Hostess's bankruptcy was declared as consumers tried to stock up on the product.  Yup, even the media can't overcome 80 years of Twinkie's status as a cultural icon. By the way, if you're worried about not having access to Twinkies ever again, worry not.  You can buy a box on Ebay at the starting bid of $200,000.  Or you could wait until another company inevitably buys out Hostess and starts fattening America up all over again.

Yes, this is real.

Student Expelled Over Refusal to Wear Tracking Device

    In recent news, San Antonio student Andrea Hernandez has been expelled over refusal to wear the school's mandated RFID tracking device. John Jay High School's idea behind this is so that they know where kids are whether they are hiding, ditching, off campus or even after hours. The Hernandez family claims that this act is an invasion on their "privacy, religious beliefs and constitutional right."
   
Now after about a month, (seemingly less bias article) the program is in full swing and the daughter has been offered a choice as to either wear it without the batteries installed, or forgo the education and other activities offered at the school. The hefty 2 million dollar program says it will combat tardiness and absents associated commonly with students. But opposition to this claim says only the best school with the best attendance records were chosen so it made no difference. To many, this chip seems like an invasion on one's individual liberties, privacy and freedom.
 
    I can only say to myself, what comes next? Schools may find it necessary to implement this anywhere where they feel technology can benefit and possibly add more. It seems a little reminiscent of that book we read called "1984".  Constitutional abridgment or not, invasion of privacy or not, necessary or not, what do you think?

Obama's Hope for Change in Myanmar

     President Obama has made steps towards increasing US relations with Myanmar, the country  formerly (and still officially) known as Burma. Obama was the first US President to enter the country. In his recent visit to the East Asian country, Obama showed his support for the budding democracy saying that the US will willingly give aid where it is needed. In additional efforts to display increasing relations, Obama has eased US sanctions on Myanmar and sent an ambassador to represent the US in Myanmar. Myanmar, which is making efforts to distance itself from military control, has progressed towards democracy under President Thein Sein. New changes in Myanmar have included the release of many political prisoners, loosened restrictions on media, and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi  holding a position in Parliament.
     Obama's trip, however, has not come without its share of controversey. Many human rights activists discouraged the trip as democracy is still incredibly new to the country. While progress has been steady, many political prisoners remain captive and violence is still ever present in many regions of Myanmar. Some say that an early showing of support from Obama and the US may detract from the necessary time that Myanmar needs in order to fully rebuild and become a true democracy.
     Most of all, Obama's trip is one of hope. As he stated earlier, “This is an acknowledgment that there is a process under way inside [Myanmar] that even a year and a half, two years ago, nobody foresaw.” While more progress inevitably must take place, Obama's trip endorsed the country's fight for change. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Surfing in a Hijab

 
     In a slight departure from politics, I was so inspired to come across this article on the BBC News website today. Easkey Britton, a 5 time Irish surf champion, recently traveled to Iran on a mission to become the first female to surf in the Islamic nation. Not only did Britton enter the "extremely hot" Iranian waters, but she dawned a full body wetsuit and hijab in order to follow the country's strict cultural dress codes.
    However, Britton's trip symbolizes much more than merely battling extreme heat. Britton helped bridge two vastly different cultures and was met by a community of welcoming locals along the way. Though she came with a video crew to film a documentary surrounding the trip and was unsure of how the country would receive her, Britton met little resistance to her project. She instead found that the Iranian people were incredibly interested in her sport, something they had never seen before.
     Britton has stated that she hopes to teach surfing to more people in the Middle East and around the world. To me, surfing is a true form of empowerment. I love the idea of selflessly spreading this empowering sport to all people, especially to those in areas that are burdened with poverty and turmoil. Most of all, as a surfer myself I have experienced the great sense of tranquility that accompanies riding a wave and joining nature. For once, it is nice to think that war-filled nations such as Iran and regions like the Gaza strip also have the capacity to hold one of the purest forms of peace.

If you're interested in watching a video of Britton's expedition, just click here!

Early Prison Release For a Rapist?

    In our own state of California, an appeals court granted Steven Martinez early release after he was deemed too expensive to keep in the system. In 1998 Steven Martinez was convicted of assault, kidnap and rape of a woman. But in 2001, Martinez was stabbed in the back of the neck by inmates making him completely paralyzed. The now quadriplegic Martinez was released due to the extensive care needed to take care of him and was released because he posed no threat to others. 
    Now because of Martinez's actions, his parents must look after him 24/7 because he needs constant attention due to his loss of any motor skills. Many neighbors of the Martinez family in San Diego say that “They’re just nice people."
    In my own opinion, Martinez's own actions and consequences shouldn't have any effect on his family. Having a son in jail for serious crimes is bad enough, but now having to house their son in their own house again and giving him constant attention is now a punishment for the family instead of for Martinez. Even though he is now paralyzed, he escaped and is now in the free world. Since he was costing the taxpayers of California $625,000, there were little options left on the table for him. Release or more sucking of the taxpayers money. What do you guys think? Should he have been left in jail to serve out his 157 year sentence, or was release the best option? Are there any other options not brought up, ie. death penalty? Martinez is undoubtedly a sick man, but was releasing him the best choice? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hamas Now Has Rocket Capability to Reach Jerusalem

     In a move that is sure to escalate the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, today Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel. One of these rockets, which was launched from Gaza, landed in a field just south of Jerusalem. Though it did not cause any casualties, the placement of this rocket was significant.
Gaza is located 50 miles from Jerusalem. This is the first time thus far Hamas has sent rockets on a trip of such a long distance.
     Hamas has now demonstrated its capability to reach the contested city. For years, Hamas has been firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. They have repeatedly hit land in Southern Israel, an area with a low population density. These rockets have forced residents to repeatedly take shelter. With the new capability of the rockets to reach farther distances and large urban areas, many more lives are at risk. For further background on Hamas' new capabilities and Israel-Palestine relations, please click here.
     While the bombarding of rockets from Palestine undoubtedly is incredibly serious, Israel has taken full security measures to strike back. Over the past few days Israel has retaliated,  sending rockets to hit over 800 targets in the Gaza strip. In addition to a full offensive attack on Gaza, Israel has called troops to line the Israel-Gaza Strip border. This could signal a ground invasion in the near future. There has been a great amount of speculation concerning Israel's quick retaliation and use of force, so what do you think? Was israel's response to these rockets too extreme?

Not the Twinkies!

    Well folks, it looks like our favorite snacks of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and WonderBread are no more. The company, Hostess, which sells these products has announced its closing. In an interview on the Today Show, CEO Gregory Rayburn said that they will lay its 18,500 person workforce due to a lack of concession on agreements between its union. Hostess had told its union members that if they didn't return to normal by Thursday they would close "33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes and 570 bakery outlet stores in the United States.." 
    Although Hostess was able to strike a deal with its largest union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, it was not able to do so with its second largest union. Union members went on strike to protest the cut in wages and benefits that occurred in September of last year. This inability to negotiate has cost Hostess dearly and is a direct result of the strike says the CEO. Although Rayburn claims he has been, "straightforward" in his approach, the Baker's Union says that the union members and workers have no responsibility for the failure of the company. Some are hoping that this was a last ditch effort to get the members back to work, but Rayburn says "that's it." 
    While the company is blaming the unions, the unions are blaming the company. They claim it was a result of mismanagement and "Bain Style Wall Street" tactics. Union members are saying it was a needless layoff and now thousands are going to be unemployed, despite the fact that the company was running under 50% capacity and customers weren't getting products due to the workers being on strike.
    Who is to blame here? Were the workers in the right to have been on strike for as long as they did despite attempts by the company to negotiate? Now that 18,500 people will be out of work, will it be a direct result of the company or the unions? Many talk of unions being a nuisance and not a necessity in today's modern America. Let me know what you think of all this.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rejecting the 47% - Again?

     While on a conference call this Wednesday, Governor Romney made comments concerning Obama's win. In talking with campaign donors and people who helped fundraise for his campaign, Romney  claimed that Obama's win came as a result of him promising "gifts"of policy to minorities, especially African Americans, Hispanics, and voters aged 18-29. According to Romney, these gifts included help with college loans, free contraceptives, and Obamacare. He said these policies, rather than the overall issues such as foreign policy, the military, and the economy, were merely part of a "playbook."
     To me, Romney's comments seem to imply that these minority voters were looking for handouts that Obama promised. While I don't agree with this implication, it seems awfully reminescent of Romney's infamous 47% line. Similarly, many in the Republican Party also did not agree with Romney's comments. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal immediately rejected Romney's idea that minorities were gifted policy. He voiced what that Americans must "stop dividing" and that congress should work together towards shaping new policy in the future. Gov. Jindal has not been the only politician to distance himself from such ideas and the party appears to be looking forward to change and reform. What do you guys think? Did Romney come full circle back to rejecting the 47%? Do these comments carry the same meaning as before, or is this a completely separate issue? I'm curious to hear where you think the GOP is headed and whether this inner split will grow.

China's "New" Leader

    As of today, political elitists in China have selected Xi Jinping to be the new paramount leader. The new leader is the fifth generation leader of Communist China. Jinping is expected to have to deal with a number of domestic issues arising in the country. Although China sits second in the world's leading economy, trouble has been brewing recently with the economy. The people of China do expect him to take control of the situation as well as dealing with territorial claims with Japan. Jinping claims to achieve "better social services while making sure China stands tall in the world and the party continues to rule." 
    Much of China is at unrest with the current state of affairs. Many people are asking for the end of corruption and to put to rest unjust jailings, beatings and killings. The Chinese have complained of the lack of specifics coming from Jinping's mouth and how he is to tackle these social and economic problems.  One quote from Jinping, "Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in taking over the historic baton and in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation." 
    Being a communist leader, Jinping doesn't alert anyone in thinking he's going to bring any change any time soon. The New York Times headline even states that there are few hints of shift in path. This shouldn't come to anyone's surprise given that Jinping is just another communist leader of China. One can only wonder if or when China will relinquish its power from its top elite to the billions of citizens who live in the country. What do you think of Xi Jinping? Is he full of empty rhetoric? Can we relate him to any politicians we currently have in the US? Do the Chinese need new leadership despite their booming economy? Will he do anything to address the country's needs? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Taking the Edge Off the Fiscal Cliff

 
     This afternoon, President Obama hosted his first news conference since the election, which can be watched fully here. Though some questions were asked regarding the nation's security following the Patraeus affair, the President did his best to set aside such questions and instead focus on the looming budget plans. Obama placed a large emphasis on his plans over the next four years to balance the budget and create an economic plan that will best support a "recovering economy." 
     Obama immediately stated in his opening remarks that he wants to pass a law "right now that would prevent any tax hike whatsoever on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income... It means that 98 percent of all Americans, and 97 percent of all small businesses won’t see their taxes go up a single dime.  The Senate has already passed a law like this.  Democrats in the House are ready to pass a law like this.  And I hope Republicans in the House come on board, too." When asked about other possible solutions and supplements to this plan, such as closing loopholes for the top two percent, Obama made it clear that he would NOT extend tax cuts that could only hurt the economy. Just as he stressed in the debates, Obama stressed that for such a plan the math just does not add up. 
     I believe there are two key elements to this statement and the overall theme of the conference. First, Obama believes that ending tax hikes on the middle class can help lead to recovery. He continually stated that America should not hold the "middle class hostage" while searching for solutions to the deficit. This, leads to his second main idea. Just as he stressed on the campaign trail, Obama emphasized the importance of reaching across the aisle and working with both parties to ultimately reach a bipartisan solution. I am curious to see whether this law ultimately does get passed. Do you think that the stalemate in congress will continue through the end of Obama's first term and into his second? Some criticism Obama has received is that he tries too hard to compromise with both parties, ultimately making a solution very difficult to come across. Do you agree with this criticism? Why or why not? 

Israel Strikes

    Palestinian military group, Hamas, has reported that an Israeli launched airstrike has killed leader Ahmed Jabari in Gaza.  This report becomes the first major news coming out of the area in a while since we have only been hearing talks of attack from Israel. From an article found here, Hamas says that the attack, "has opened the gates of hell" and is equal to a "declaration of war."
    These are some chilling words and exchanges coming from the Palestinian group Hamas due to noting that fact of the troubled history Israel and this group has had in the past.  Many are coming to the defense of Israel stating that they are just flexing their defense as a lone ranger in an area of hostility. Jabari has a lot of Israeli blood on his hands says Avital Leibovitch, and is just getting its justice. Whatever they were doing it has sparked a lot of attention. Iran has just finished testing its latest missile system sparking another worry for Israel.  Could Iran get involved and step in on behalf of Hamas and Palestine if a declaration of war is made? It's pretty scary to think that Iran has the capability to attack US or Israel with their new weapon technology.  
    Also, President Obama has not yet spoken about this incident to the public raising even more questions about whether or not the US will come to the aid of Israel in case of war or further attack.  This leads to many questions including whether or not Obama will wish to continue further relations with our long standing ally Israel if he chooses to stay neutral or come to the defense. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a hot topic and deserves some commentary. Let me know what you think the US should do, what you think will happen or whether this will lead to anything bigger.

   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Social Science and Verbal Hints… The Best Tactics for Campaigning?

     In the wake of the hard-fought presidential election, many Americans took time starting Wednesday morning to breathe, resettle, and anticipate what the outlook may be for the next four years of President Obama's time in office. Others, however, began pouring over the tactics that Obama's campaign utilized in the hopes of finding GOTV strategies that proved to be successful for Obama and may continue to yield success for future political campaigns on both sides of the political spectrum.

     One such strategy was Obama's use of a so called "Dream Team" made up of behavioral scientists and  psychologists. This team provided useful insight into the minds of voters, formulating ideas for what verbal cues and subtle gestures the campaign could use to prompt the average citizen to go out and vote. The Obama campaign implemented the Dream team's ideas by sending trained volunteers with pre-written scripts door to door in swing states. The Dream Team found that if volunteers reminded citizens of past times when they voted, these citizens were more likely to vote in the current election. Additionally, the Dream Team provided strategies to combat negative images that potential voters may have of the candidate. These experts said that rather than directly denying false allegations (such as Obama being Muslim), it is better to firmly state the true counter idea (in this example that the President is a Christian).  Additional tactics the team used included getting potential voters to sign unofficial pledges to vote.

     While such measures may not do much to alter the outcome of a landslide election, they can make quite a difference in swaying the outcome of a close election. So what do you think? Should campaigns continue to use scientific research and behavioral psychology finds to get people to vote? I'm curious about your ideas on why this strategy may not have been implemented in the past and is only being used now.

The Petraeus Scandal

    As of November 9th, former CIA Director and general David Petraeus has stepped down from his position due to an extramarital affair. From an article found here on the Reuters website, the scandal is slowly unwinding with many questions being raised.
    A simple summary of the current details of the affair can be found here at the CNN website. What we know simply stated is that David Petraeus had an extra marital affair with author Paula Broadwell, who also wrote a biography of Petraeus in her book "All In".  The story was uncovered by CIA agents when they were tipped off about harassing emails sent by Broadwell to Petraeus family friend Jill Kelley. Although Petraeus has done nothing illegal, he has stepped down because he claims he is not fit to lead anymore.
    One of the many questions being raised are why now, right when the election has happened and right after the Benghazi attack when this affair has been going on for quite some time? Is there some sort of cover up story happening in the white house that neither the president nor his general Petraeus wants leaked? Has important information been leaked from Petraeus to any outside persons? Or more importantly, does this story even matter as much as the media is trying to portray it to be?
Let me know what you think if this is serious or not, or was it the right decision to step down.




Friday, November 9, 2012

Tired of Politics? Let's Talk About Science!





     Astronomers have recently located a planet which they believe may be able to support life.  They claim that it's the correct distance from its sun for liquid water to exist.  They're calling the planet a "Super-Earth" due to the fact that it has a mass of about 7x of our own planet.  It's official name is HD 40307g.  HD 40307g is estimated to be 42 light years from us, which is close enough that scientists predict near-future technology will be able to directly photograph it. 
     I personally think this kind of stuff is so much more fun to read about than Romney's victory website accidentally being launched, or that Iran fired at a US drone that entered their airspace.
     What do you think about the possibility of alien life?  Yes, no, maybe so?  I personally think there's no way that in a universe as big as the one we live in, that we're the only ones out there.  Call me crazy if you want!