Monday, December 30, 2013

Minimum wage: A key issue for 2014?


As the year comes to a close, the Democratic Party is hoping to shift gears and focus on the issue of minimum wage while the battle over healthcare continues. Democrats hope to raise the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25-per-hour) as well as place minimum wage raising proposals on state ballots in competitive states in time for the 2014 elections. Polls have indicated support for raising the minimum wage to $9-per-hour and Democrats are hoping to capitalize on this support and force the Republicans into position against "fairness." Here is a Gallup poll published about a month ago, indicating the increased support for raising the minimum wage:

Source

Republicans have asserted that raising the minimum wage hurts small businesses, and small businesses seem to agree. This Gallup was published at the end of November and asked small businesses whether raising the minimum wage would hurt and help small businesses:

Source
So while the general public seems to favor raising the minimum wage, it remains a more contested issue for small business owners. Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner, are more interested in creating jobs, and Boehner was quoted saying "Why would we want to make it harder for mall employers to hire people?" However, 2014 does seem to a be a turning point - 13 states will be raising the minimum wage starting January 1st. Placing this issue on the agenda for 2014 is definitely a political play for the Democrats who must overcome challenges in certain Senate races, but the execution of what the Democrats promise seems likely as well, seeing as the 13 states have already raised their minimum wage and that support continues to grow. Do you see the minimum wage debate an important issue for 2014? Or perhaps is this issue merely a way for the Democrats to regroup before the 2014 elections as the fight regarding healthcare rages on?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Obama addresses new sexual assault policies in military




On Thursday President Obama signed a defense authorization bill aimed to reform sexual assault policies in the military, a much needed piece of legislation considering the slew of military scandals regarding sexual assault this year. The provisions of this bill include ending the statute of limitations for sexual assault or rape cases in military, so that even after a certain period of time has passed the perpetrator can still be prosecuted for the charges. Military commanders are now barred from overturning jury decisions in such cases  and are mandated to dishonorably discharge or dismiss those convicted of sexual assault. In the Wilkerson case linked above, Wilkerson's commander even attempted to give him a promotion after the commander overturned the jury decision. 

One measure, however, did not make the cut. Many survivors are advocating for sexual assault cases in the military to be prosecuted independently. As of now these cases are prosecuted within the chain of command for the purpose of "order and discipline," but how valid is that reasoning when it's clear that these cases are ignored or even harmful to victims that report them? Changes are happening -- the increased reporting of sexual assault indicate that the definition of sexual assault is becoming more clear to victims, and a decreasing of the fear and stigma that comes with reporting these cases. However, do you think change is happening fast enough? Obama has given a year for the military to conduct a review of its changes regarding sexual assault policies, but how effective can these changes be without the key measure mentioned above?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gateway Drug


Mayor Robert Jacob behind the counter at Peace in Medicine
Photo by Max Whittaker, New York Times

Earlier this month the city of Sebastopol, California unanimously voted in Robert Jacob for mayor. Jacob, 36, is the founder and director of local medical marijuana dispensary Peace in Medicine. Consequently, he has become the first mayor in the United States to have a background in the medical marijuana industry. Sebastopol, a city an hour north of San Francisco, has a population of just over 7,500 and is known for its small town charm. Historically famous for its Gravenstein apples and plum orchards, this city has become home to Jacob’s thriving business. Peace in Medicine produces over 46,000 dollars of tax revenue for the small city, and Jacob has served in Sebastopol’s city council since 2012. With the evident economic prosperity of Peace in Medicine and the city’s election of Jacob, the industry of medical marijuana seems to be gaining influence locally. With twenty states legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and Colorado and Washington legalizing its recreational use in 2012, is it possible that the cannabis industry will grow to become as financially influential as traditional businesses, such as technology and agriculture? Will the medical marijuana industry produce more business owners that have the financial means to run for elected positions? How will the federal government, banning the legalization of marijuana on a national level, respond if this industry continues to expand and facilitate medical marijuana business owners to run for office? 

Read More:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/us/in-california-a-mayors-rise-is-a-sign-of-the-times.html?smid=pl-share 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NSA, FISA, the Protect America Act and the PATRIOT Act

While crediting the blog today, I came across a post/thread http://aragonhitchhikers.blogspot.com/2013/11/aclu-requests-new-york-judge-to-stop.html
regarding the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. A number of students linked the NSA story to the PATRIOT Act and I believe this is incorrect.

Several of the recently disclosed NSA programs are unconstitutional in my view of the 4th amendment, but I don't think that has anything to do with the constitutionality of the PATRIOT Act because the PATRIOT Act did not authorize these particular programs.

Some NSA programs such as PRISM that collect data on Americans in an effort to identify foreign threats were authorized by the 2007 Protect America Act, which revised the 1970s era Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA by itself was not constitutionally controversial, primarily because it regarded foreigners without constitutional protections and was a way of reigning in an executive branch that had made some questionable decisions in secret with no oversight; if anything this was a step in a more constitutional direction at a checks and balances level. The Protect America Act might help the NSA programs survive a constitutional challenge around a Commander in Chief vs. Declaration of War argument, but I'm not sure. The Bush administration didn't think some of these things needed Congressional approval; it may be that government spycraft does not require an Act of Congress to be considered constitutional, because Commander in Chief apparently means almost anything goes, too bad for Congress. It could also be that provisions of any Act that expanded surveillance in some way are inherently unconstitutional if the specific behaviors the Act was trying to legalize violated the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights applies to the entire federal government, so "enabling legislation" shouldn't apply. So, I think the opposite of the Bush administration: the Protect America Act doesn't trump the constitution -- thank you Marbury v. Madison -- and is therefore irrelevant to whether the NSA programs are constitutional. Declaring things legal doesn't make them Constitutional, but it does keep the government officials who had, in some cases, broken the law on orders from their superiors, safe from prosecution.

As it relates to the balance of power among the branches, on one hand, the Protect America Act law put some of the arguably illegal programs ("warrant-less wiretapping") under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), not unlike some of the provisions of the revised PATRIOT Act, and in the process Congress legalized things that had been executive branch actions justified via the Commander in Chief powers and implemented via secret executive orders. Providing some oversight while giving law enforcement immunity was seen as a trade-off to make these programs more palatable.

On the other hand, the FISC reviews and approves an impossible volume of requests and it doesn't seem to act as much of a real check on the NSA or anything else. The judges on the FISC aren't known to be civil libertarians, either, although they apparently ruled some of the NSA operations unconstitutional when it came to their attention.

The PATRIOT Act has a number of provisions, some of which I believe are perfectly understandable and good changes, while others, like the national security letters, are really creepy. National security letters are not an NSA specific thing and were known about in the abstract well before this summer. The problem with the letters is that most of them are never known about by the subjects being investigated (they are secret unless they result in a criminal prosecution) so no one can challenge one having been issued about them, having one impose a cost on their business, or the constitutionality thereof. Most of the PATRIOT Act is not constitutionally controversial but the NSLs lack proper oversight by the judiciary and raise probable cause issues.

Terrorism doesn't fit the foreign/domestic distinction as well as previous eras with uniformed soldiers and declarations of war between nation-states. The idea that the federal government has a need and responsibility to identify threats from within, and that this will require changes to the legal environment doesn't shake most people. Throwing out the concepts of 'probable cause' and 'individualized suspicion,' however, have created an unaccountable domain of government power. This isn't just about privacy today; it's about the norms of government and potential tyranny in the future. Majorities in Congress have been too willing to enact laws that expand government power with limited oversight, and the only remedy left is constitutional judicial review by Article III courts, which, not incidentally, is hard to rely on when the programs are secret in the first place. I'm increasingly thankful for Mr. Snowden's choices, without which we wouldn't know what was happening. "LIVE FREE OR DIE" -- I'll take a marginally higher chance of being killed by a terrorist over massive, unaccountable, and imperfect databases collected without warrants becoming normal and used for domestic law enforcement.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The lesser-known story about mass killings

Students being escorted out of Arapahoe High School in
Colorado, yet another tragic public murder this year
I found this article and analysis of mass killings by USA Today brought up an interesting point. Although there have been many horrific tragedies this year, including Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon, mass killings are not on the rise, and the average deaths per year have remained relatively the same. In fact, mass killings represent only 1% of all murders, although they still happen about once every two weeks. Admittedly, the paper uses an arbitrary number to define mass killings—four or more people killed, the point still holds. Is the media being overly hysterical, when instead they should focus more on the other 99% of murders?

In regards to mass killings, public massacres that attract the most media attention, such as Sandy Hook, only comprise 16% of mass killings. Most of the time, the killings are family-related, or the killer knows the victim.

When a gun was used in mass killings, 72.9% of the time the weapon of choice is a handgun—which are not banned in most proposed gun control laws. In addition, most guns are obtained legally. The analysis also states that mass killings often involve a "failed safety net," such as issues with the mental health system and immigration bureaucracy. Should we be pushing for new laws in these sectors rather than focusing on increased gun control? Or should more effective gun laws still be prioritized?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Polygamy decriminalized in Utah

Cody Brown and his four wives, who brought up the lawsuit

Yesterday, the United States District Court in Utah ruled that the state's law banning polygamy was unconstitutional. Although most of the several thousand Mormons who believe or actually practice polygamy live in Utah, Utah is one of the strictest states in laws regarding polygamy—cohabitation, living together in a polygamous relationship, is even outlawed. Polygamists had argued that it violated their privacy and religious freedoms. With this new ruling, a man still cannot have more than one marriage license, meaning he still cannot marry more than one wife, but he can now legally live with more than one partner.

Do you think that the previous anti-cohabitation law violated the First Amendment right to freedom of religion? The court ruled that it did, citing the changing interpretation of the Constitution and the strengthening of individual freedoms in recent years; the state is expected to appeal the decision. Seeing as same-sex relationships have gained increased rights in past years, should polygamy and other forms of cohabitation that were once prohibited be legal as well?

Friday, December 13, 2013

A step toward allowing in-flight phone calls

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to seek public comment regarding lifting the ban on in-flight cell phone calls. Another vote would be required to actually end the ban. This proposal is far from being approved legislation, and the process would definitely take more than a year. The FCC previously banned calls for technical reasons, but improved technology has made that obsolete: in-flight voice calls are already allowed in various countries. In fact, two months ago the Federal Aviation Administration allowed the use of portable electronic devices for all phases of flight.

Reaction to this proposal has been mixed to negative, however. An AP poll released Wednesday found that 48% oppose voice calls, while only 19% support calls, the main reason being noise and terror concerns. Among those who have flown more than once in the past year, the percentage that opposes grows to 59%.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee introduced a bill to ban cell phone calls but to allow text messaging. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Lamar Alexander introduced similar legislation. Should phone calls be allowed, or only text messaging?

Kansas v. Cheever: a Fifth Amendment case



On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on the case Kansas v. Cheever that prosecutors can counter a claim of self-induced mental incompetence.

This ruling is on a grotesque 2005 murder, when Scott Cheever, after smoking methamphetamine, fatally shot a sheriff with an arrest warrant for Cheever. The warrant was for stealing firearms, unrelated to the methamphetamine incident. Cheever shot the sheriff in the chest, left, then returned and shot him again.

In court, Cheever claimed he was mentally incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, but was convicted and sentenced to death anyways due to evidence from the prosecution. However, the Kansas Supreme Court rejected the conviction, declaring it unconstitutional due it being against the Fifth Amendment right preventing self-incrimination, or " the state trying to use [his own] words to execute him." The state rebutted Cheever's defense using testimony from the psychiatrist who examined him.

The Supreme Court then countered this claim, ruling that the state could provide evidence when the incompetence was not due to mental disease or defect. Justices focused on the fact that the defendant could rely on a possibly shaky mental health defense without a counter, essentially "tying one hand behind the government’s back." What do you think; does it violate the Fifth Amendment, and what should the ruling on Cheever's case be? NPR also mentioned an interesting fact of the case, which the Supreme Court did not address—the prosecution's psychiatric witness "testified in the first person, as if he actually were Cheever." Should this affect the ruling of the case?


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Obama-Castro handshake: potential thaw in US-Cuba relations?


During a memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela, President Obama briefly shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro. Cuba and the US have been at odds for decades, to put it mildly, although in recent years relations have been improving.

Following the handshake, various news sources described it as "a message of openness" and "a deliberate seizing of the moment to edge forward the prospect of a thaw in relations." Obama emphasized after the memorial the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, and although he was talking about Mandela, his words could have very well applied to Cuba. However, this gesture was not without its controversy. Several Republicans, including Senator McCain, denounced the handshake—McCain called it propaganda to improve Castro's image. He took it even further, remarking, "Neville Chamberlain shook hands with Hitler," and comparing Hitler to Castro. Reactions by other Republicans were more muted, many of which declined to criticize Obama. Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban American, simply stated Obama should have questioned Castro on human-rights issues.

Is this handshake a monumental step forward to improved US-Cuba relations? Or was President Obama simply channeling the memorial's message of forgiveness? Was this "symbolic gesture" mere sensationalism? And should the US even attempt to thaw relations with Cuba, or continue with its existing sanctions instead?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What's happening to humanities?

In this day and age, much of our focus as students and as citizens are on technological and scientific advances. It appears that the future will be largely defined by the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The article discusses how, throughout the world, research in humanities and the number of students studying humanities are facing a general decline. It notes that, at the college and university level, research funding for humanities is rather low when compared to research funding for other fields. This cut in funding for humanities may be due to the prevalent mindset that STEM fields will allow for greater, and more efficient, breakthroughs for generations to come.

Do you think that there is still value in studying/researching humanities today? What do you think might become of our society is people continue to be so antagonistic towards humanities?

Also, seeing that most of us are applying to colleges and deciding what to study now, how many of you are planning to major in some type of humanities? Why will you, or why won’t you, choose to study liberal arts?  


http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/02/us/humanities-studies-under-strain-around-the-globe.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&src=rechp


Marijuana editor for The Denver Post

Ricardo Baco
Article
Last month The Denver Post announced that Ricardo Baco would be its first marijuana editor ever. Baco and The Denver Post have both received significant amounts of media attention for introducing the role of an editor for something as controversial as marijuana. Baco's new role is largely because Colorado will legalize the sale of recreational marijuana beginning on Jan. 1.

While marijuana once was, and still is, quite taboo, do you think Baco's new role will lead to more tolerance towards recreational marijuana; do you think that marijuana will become legalized throughout the U.S. someday? Will other newspapers will follow suit in naming a marijuana editor? Is Baco's role of marijuana editor indicative of a trend that there will be more specialized editors in the years to come?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/09/business/media/quips-follow-denver-posts-naming-of-marijuana-editor-but-its-intent-is-serious.html?hp

Anniversary of Sandy Hook and media coverage

Article

Nearly a year has passed since the Sandy Hook shooting which left 26 dead and the town of Newtown looking for ways to heal. As the anniversary of Dec. 14 approaches, Newtown is shying away from media coverage.


The healing and recovery process for the citizens the town of Newtown has been a gradual and painful one. In particular, it seems that the media has played a questionable role in this healing process.


While it is somewhat commonplace for media outlets to flock to scenes of tragedy (9/11, Aurora, Colo. shooting) for anniversary coverage, the town of Newtown is asking the media to refrain from doing so. The town of Newtown is citing reasons like wanting to keep grieving private in their tight-knit community and not wanting to be defined by a single tragedy as explanations for their aversion to coverage.


Although major networks like ABC and NBC have decided to refrain from covering the anniversary, CBS News is adamant about covering the event. Tim Gaughan, director of special events for CBS News, says "Our goal is to have the smallest footprint possible. We don't want to be intrusive, but we're confident we can report the story and not get in the way." 

Do you think that media outlets should comply by Newtown's requests, or do you think that media has an obligation to cover the anniversary of such a tragedy? What is the role of the media in calamities like this, and how should they approach coverage?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/nyregion/as-a-school-shootings-first-anniversary-nears-newtown-asks-for-privacy.html?pagewanted=1&src=un&feedurl=http://json8.nytimes.com/pages/business/media/index.jsonp

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Fed up with Congress? Then help elect more Republican women."



Many Americans have expressed their unhappiness with the 113th Congress and its ineffectiveness. (See Cristina's post from last week discussing the low productivity levels of our current Congress.) In fact, a Gallup poll from November revealed that our current Congress has received the lowest approval ratings thus far.

Anyways, I stumbled across an opinion column in the Washington Post by Danielle Thomsen which asserts that election of more Republican women would remedy the ineffective Congress. I found this piece particularly interesting because it reminded me of something in our chapter 7 reading. Our book talked about some data from the “NBC/Wall Street Journal poll [which] found that a majority of people agreed that it would be ‘better for society’ if ‘most of the members of Congress were women,’” (page 252). The book explains that voters might believe that women are more interested and perhaps better qualified to make decisions on domestic issues.

Thomsen's column essentially asserts that Republican women are able to compromise and generally tend to be moderate which leads to their success. Do you think that there should be more Republican women elected? Should more women, regardless of their party, be elected?
Considering that our current Congress is comprised of 98, or 20 percent, of women, how do you feel about the gender imbalance that Congress currently boasts? There are a total of 98 women in Congress - 20 on Senate (16 Democrat/ 4 Republicans) and 78 in the House (59 Democrats/19 Republicans). The Democratic party has roughly three times the amount of women that the Republican party has. How do you feel about the imbalance of women in the two different parties?  

Check out this really, really cool, albeit slightly dated (it's the 112th Congress) infographic graphic detailing the demographic of Congress (here's a small preview)! 

Here's another infographic; this one is just on women senators in the 113th Congress.


Disclaimer: The clever post title is taken from Thomsen's original column.



Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela and his legacy


CNN Article
I’m sure that by now most of you have heard about Nelson Mandela’s death. Mandela died peacefully today at the age of 95 after a long battle with illness. Mandela certainly left a legacy behind - he helped reunite South Africa after decades of apartheid, which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for in 1993. Mandela was also the first president of South Africa elected in an open election.


As Obama aptly stated, “"We've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth." Similar to Mandela, Obama is also the first black leader of his country. "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said Obama.


Obviously, Mandela hasn’t been in power in South Africa for a while given his old age and his mental state that was gradually deteriorating, but what effect, if any, do you think his death will have on the South African government? Many have speculated that Mandela was a uniting force in South Africa - do you think old tensions will be exposed now that Mandela has passed away? How might Mandela’s death change how other nations interact with South Africa? Oftentimes, prominent, influential leaders, like Mandela are the ones that bond two nations together. Do think the death of Mandela will result in the severing of some ties?  

How do you think South Africa will fare in the years to come? What do you think was Mandela’s greatest contribution to South Africa, or the world as a whole?


Chicago Tribune article

Timeline of Mandela's life

Washington post opinion piece celebrating Mandela

NO MORE VALUE MENU!?!?!

Fast food workers and laborers across the nation are protesting for higher wages. Though the number of participants who are workers is unclear, walkouts and rallies are planned in over 100 cities. They are trying to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25, which amounts to $15,000 a year for full time workers, to $15. Raising the federal minimum wage would combat the growing income inequality.

Though support is growing, it is still an uphill battle since the fast food industry is a "price sensitive business". If wages increase to this amount, the prices of the food will increase at least by 20%. Also, higher wages might also mean eliminating jobs within this industry. 

President Obama supports the Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. How do you stand on this issue? Is $15 per hour reasonable?

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/fast-food-strikes-return-amid-push-wage-hikes-21107127

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

People can "GROW"

Prison garden programs are becoming more popular across the nation. These programs allow inmates to grow fruit, vegetables, and plants. They are used to rehabilitate inmates, providing them with a therapeutic effect and  teaching them landscaping skills that they can use to get jobs. A participant of this program stated that it allowed him to receive a "sense of serenity in such a hostile environment." 

This program has an economic benefit as well. For example, all 18 state prisons in Connecticut have garden programs, none of which cost taxpayers money. These Connecticut prisons have produced over 35,000 pounds of produce in the past three years,  which saves taxpayers $20,000 a year since that produce is put into the prison system. The extra produce also benefits communities since it is donated to charities. 


Furthermore, the return rate for former inmates who have gone through the garden program is significantly smaller than those who did not. To be qualified to participate in this program, prisoners must be eligible for release. Do you think it would be wise to open this program up to inmates who are not?

See you at the Pole... or maybe not.


A middle school in Kansas City is facing a federal lawsuit; they are accused of violating a student's First Amendment rights by prohibiting that student to post fliers with bible versus promoting the "See you at the Pole" event, a national event in which teens pray around their school flagpoles. The school district does have a strict policy of prohibiting the distribution of religious materials on school grounds. Although school sponsored prayers at public schools are unconstitutional, should prayers organized by the students themselves be allowed by free speech rights? If these fliers are permitted, should Christmas trees in public schools, executed by the students, be allowed as well?


http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/12/03/kan-school-reportedly-prohibits-student-from-posting-poster-with-bible-verses/

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not so much love from the Love Canal?


Love Canal Lawsuits2.jpgIn the 1970's, the public discovered that the Occidental Petroleum Corporation had previously buried over 21,800 tons of industrial toxic waste in the Love Canal, a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, New York. While the property built over that former dumping site has been permanently closed, streets north and west of that landfill have been merely refurbished. Nearly $230 million was spent to cap the canal. Though homeowners are being assured that the waste is contained and that the area is safe, to this day, several reports of birth defects, miscarriages, mental disabilities, anomalies, cysts, and other illnesses persist. Many families believe that this site was never properly contained and that these toxins are leaching out. They also feel trapped in this area because they can not afford to live elsewhere. The Occidental Petroleum Corporation is now a target to several lawsuits. They, however, insist that the waste is properly contained and that the monitoring and containment system is effective; state and federal agencies support these claims. What do you guys think is really going on? Are the homeowners trying to make some money or is the government trying to protect the petroleum industry?

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/11/02/suits-claim-love-canal-still-oozing-35-years-later/


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thai Citizens Advised to Stay Inside During Anti-Government Protest


Anti-government protesters remove part of a barricade to
occupy the government house (CNN)
On November 30th, three people have been killed in a bloody clash between protesters and government supporters. The conflict of the two sides have been escalating in the past month, and resulted in a violent outburst at the Governor's House in Bangkok, Thailand. Protesters are fighting to remove the current Pheu Thai party Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, out of office.

The origin of this conflicts originates from Yingluck's brother's, Thaksin Shinawatra, time in office. Thaksin, described by CNN as a "deeply polarizing figure", won power in 2001, with the support of Thailand's rural villagers. Many elites and critics accused him of corruption, and was subsequently deposed of in a 2010 coup. He is currently in exile.

His sister, Yingluck, took over the office, much to the chagrin of those opposed to Thaksin. The head of protesters and former deputy prime minister of the Democrat Party, Suthep Thaugsuban, states “Yingluck should listen to the people and return power to the people." He has accused the current Thai government as being autocratic and lacking true democracy.

Anti-government protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by riot police on December 1.
Protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police (CNN)
Yingluck has promised to "absolutely not use violence".  However, the police have thrown tear gas at protesters, and recently issued an arrest warrant against Suthep.  The violent protests center in the capitol, Bangkok, which has many elites and middle class citizens.  According to Bloomberg, there are tens of thousands of anti-government protesters.




It is unclear what the outcome of this conflict will be.  It is predicted that Yingluck will continue to stay in power.  What is known is that there will be political unrest in Thai for some time.

-----

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/26/world/asia/thailand-protests-explainer/index.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-01/thai-protesters-seek-yingluck-s-ouster-as-one-killed-in-bangkok.html

Black Friday Protests at Walmart.




Protesters picket outside a Walmart store as holiday sales commence in San Leandro, California, November 22, 2012. (Reuters/Noah Berger) 

On Black Friday, amongst the chaos, several protesters at Walmart across the nation were arrested. In Ontario, California, a man dressed as Santa Clause holding a sign that read, "Santa Clause supports workers, why doesn't Walmart?" was amongst those arrested.

According to a 2012 study by the National Employment Law Project, "Walmart is the worst paying company in America". Walmart has also been cited as retaliating against workers who protest.

Amongst those protesting is Anthony Goytia. "I'm a hard worker and take pride in my work," said the 31-year-old. "I'm not a slacker. I'm there on time. I give it my all, and it's only fair I should be compensated for that." Like other protesters, he believes that retail should increase the wages by 42%, raising the current wage of $8.81 an hour to $12.50 an hour.

It is interesting to note that the majority of the protesters are not workers themselves. The protests were primarily organized by Our Walmart, a group closely associated with the United Food and Commercial Workers. The opposition criticizes Our Walmart for it is acting not on behalf of the workers. In a sense, the group acts as a trustee, who does necessarily not act in accordance to the people it represents. I wonder if this helps or hurts the workers. On one hand, it is advocating change that may benefit the workers. On the other hand, it is not representative of the workers. Our Walmart states they speak on behalf of the workers for they fear retaliation, however, I feel Our Walmart may unintentionally portray Walmart workers in a negative light. Do you think Our Walmart should continue working as a trustee to its workers? Or do you think the labor group should function more of a delegate?

-----

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/arrests-made-wal-mart-black-friday-wage-protests-2D11673668

http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2013/11/19/walmart-will-win-black-friday-despite-worker-strikes-labor-violations-and-food-bank-woes/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/black-friday-walmart-faces-employees-protests/

U.S. Citizens held in N.K.



(CNN) -- The U.S. government pleaded Saturday for North Korean authorities to release 85-year-old Merrill Newman, with a spokeswoman saying officials are "deeply concerned" about him and another American being held in the isolated East Asian nation.
"Given Mr. Newman's advanced age and health conditions, we urge (North Korea) to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Washington's plea came on the day North Korean state media released print stories and video showing what they called Newman's "apology." University of California, Berkeley professor Steven Weber characterized it as "highly scripted political theater."
So how did an elderly retired financial consultant and Korean War veteran become the central figure in an international dispute? Why is there such animosity still tied to a conflict, the Korean War, that ended six decades ago? And why is this all unfolding now?
Weber, a former consultant to the U.S. Commission on National Security, has a theory: "They are trying to get the Western media to pay attention."
With the notable exception of its longtime ally China, North Korea is in many ways a pariah state bogged down by what many view as decades of repressive leadership. At the same time, the communist nation has had difficulties getting enough energy to power their country and food for their people.
Largely shut itself off from the rest of the world, its leaders and state media often use saber-rattling rhetoric to unite citizens against what Weber described as "nasty outsiders" -- which, not coincidentally, are chiefly South Korea and the United States, just as during the Korean War.

The discord in recent years has centered mostly on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, with the international community taking punitive measures such as economic sanctions to hold Pyongyang in check.
North Korea hasn't been alone. Iran, too, has long been an international target because of its nuclear program, though that landscape has changed with the recent diplomatic accord.
That fact may not be lost on Pyongyang, said Weber, who surmised North Korea may be particularly eager to get the world's focus and, ideally, concessions in the process.
Added Weber: "If the Iran thing gets settled peacefully, then guess who's left?"

Read the whole story: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/30/world/asia/north-korea-american-detained/index.html?hpt=po_c2 

Any time a U.S. citizen is held in a foreign country it causes much concern, but not nearly the amount that Korean War veteran Merrill Newman has. Clearly North Korea is trying to send a message to the United States by repeatedly detaining Americans in their country. What do you think about their latest hostage? Do you think that these methods are good ways of getting their message across to other countries? Do you think this kind of retaliation against the U.S. is effective? Do you think the U.S. is doing all it can to help get Newman released and is it being given an appropriate amount of attention?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is America "Ready for Hillary"?

(CNN) - In the crucial swing state of Ohio, voters are practically split between Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie in a hypothetical 2016 presidential matchup, according to a new survey.
And in a potentially bad sign for 2014 Democrats, the new Quinnipiac University poll indicates the President's approval rating is at its lowest point in Quinnipiac polling history–nationally or in any state–at 34%.


Clinton v. Christie
The survey, which was released Wednesday, shows 42% of registered voters back the former Secretary of State while 41% support the recently re-elected Republican governor from New Jersey.
"Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are the 2016 leaders to Ohio voters, locked in a statistical tie," Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling institute, said in a release.
The Ohio poll is the latest survey to show Christie gaining ground against Clinton in a swing state. A Quinnipiac poll in Colorado last week indicated Christie ahead of Clinton by eight percentage points.
Three recent surveys in the reliably blue state of New York, however, show Christie trailing behind Clinton, who served eight years as Senator from the Empire State.
In the new Quinnipiac poll, Clinton topples Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, 49%-38%. The governor, who's considered a possible 2016 White House contender, faces re-election next year, and a Quinnipiac survey released Tuesday showed him ahead of his likely Democratic opponent by only seven percentage points.
Ohio voters also support Clinton over other potential Republican contenders, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
None of the mentioned potential candidates have announced bids for the White House, but many of them have made high-profile trips to swing states or have said they're considering a run.
"Ms. Clinton easily defeats a bevy of other potential GOP aspirants," Brown said. "Interestingly, when voters are asked whether she would make a good president, more say yes, than say they would vote for her."
Also of note, voters are divided, 44%-45%, on whether Washington experience or experience outside the nation's capital would help someone be a good President, Brown added.
Another potential candidate, Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, sparked a debate when he argued last week in an interview that the next presidential and vice presidential nominees should be a current or former governor–though he noted his friend from Wisconsin, Rep. Paul Ryan, would be an exception.
Bad news for Democrats
With the President's approval rating dropping in recent polls–including the new Quinnipiac survey–Democrats on the ballot next year are concerned about a trickle-down effect.
At 34%, Obama's approval rating in Ohio is six percentage points lower than his previous low point in the Buckeye State, when it was at 40% this past June.
A majority–57%–say the President is not honest or trustworthy, while 39% say the opposite, according to the new survey.
"Clearly much of the reason for the president's decline in Ohio is 'Obamacare'," Brown said. "Ohio voters oppose the Affordable Care Act 59 – 35 percent. Perhaps more significantly, voters say 45 – 16 percent they expect their own health care to be worse rather than better a year from now."
"If voters still feel that way about their own situation come November 2014, that is likely to create a political playing field beneficial for Republicans," Brown added.
Apologizing for the broken promise that Obama and his fellow Democrats made in order to sell his signature health care plan–"If you like your plan, you can keep it"–the President acknowledged how the program's troubled kick-off could hurt Democrats in the voting booth.
"There is no doubt that our failure to rollout the ACA smoothly has put a burden on Democrats, whether they are running or not because they stood up and supported this effort through thick and thin," Obama said earlier this month.
In fact, a CNN/ORC International poll released Tuesday showed a dramatic turnaround in the battle for control of Congress in next year's midterm elections.
While Democrats had a lead a month ago, the new poll indicates the GOP now holds a narrow 49%-47% advantage over Democrats when respondents are asked to choose between a Republican and a Democrat in their congressional district, without the candidates being identified.
Despite the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov, a majority of Americans still seem to have an open mind about whether Obamacare will work, and more than half of those surveyed in another CNN/ORC poll believe the current problems can be solved.
Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,361 registered voters by telephone from November 19 – 24, with an overall sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

Although there is still plenty of time before the 2016 Presidential election, candidates are already quite competitive. Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and previous candidate in the 2008 election has made it clear that she plans on running. Clinton and one of her biggest competitors, popular New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have been pretty even in polls taken in the infamous swing state of Ohio. Do you think it is too early to tell who could win the nomination for the Democratic party? Do you think that Obama's approval rating will affect the chances of Clinton or Christie in 2016 or not? Do you think obamacare's failures could push the Democrats out of office and get the Republicans in?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Obesity: The governments issue? Nah (according to Republicans)

While most see obesity as a substantial public health issue, there is limited support for the government playing a major role in anti-obesity efforts. Overall, 42% say government should play a significant role in reducing obesity, 54% say it should not.
Partisans Disagree About Government Role in Reducing ObesityWhile majorities of Republicans and Democrats say obesity has broad social consequences, there are sharp partisan differences about whether the government should have a role in reducing obesity. By a margin of 60%-37%, Democrats believe the government should play a significant role in curbing obesity. But just 20% of Republicans say this, while 77% of Republicans do not want the government to play a significant role. Among independents, more say the government should not play a significant role (56%) than say that it should (41%).
There are differences within the Republican Party on this issue. Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party oppose a significant role for the government in reducing obesity. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, 65% oppose a government role.
Not surprisingly, views on what government should do are closely linked to perceptions of what the government can do. About one-in-four adults (26%) think government policies can do “a lot” to reduce obesity and 35% say it can do “some.” Roughly one-in-five (22%) say that government policies can do “not much” and 14% say they can do “nothing at all” to reduce obesity.
Among those who think that government policies and programs can do a lot to reduce obesity, 84% want the government to play a significant role. Nearly the opposite is true of those who believe such policies can do not much or nothing at all – 83% think the government should not play a significant role. Those who think government policies can do some to reduce obesity are split: 47% think the government should play a significant role and 51% say it should not.
Minorities, Young Adults Think Gov’t Should Have Anti-Obesity Role

Clearly obesity is a big issue in modern America, with the alarming number of children and teens who are well overweight, but the issue is whether the government should step in and do something. Pew Research Center polls show that to Democrats, it is the government's issue but Republicans could care less. Do you think the government should implement soda limits or other precautions to reduce obesity? Or is it up to the individual to maintain a healthy weight? Do you think government funds would be used effectively if used to eradicate obesity? Do you think that the government could even achieve the goal of reducing the amount of people with obesity?

"Must-do, to might-do" The 113th Congress

"It's not quite a "do nothing" Congress – but it's not far off.
With only a handful of remaining legislative days on their calendar, this current Congress is on track to go down as one of the most unproductive in modern history.
The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers, whose single-digit approval rating illustrates that the public is hardly satisfied with their trickle of legislative activity.

If that sounds like a small number, it is.
Politico's Mike Allen explains how Democrats and Republicans will handle the problems associated with Obamacare in the new year.
At this point in George W. Bush’s second term as president, for example, 113 bills had been enacted into law, according to numbers crunched by Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver. In the same amount of time during the 110th Congress – from January until before the Thanksgiving recess of 2007 – that number was 120.
The numbers are a little bit different – but no less grim – after you break out bills that are merely ceremonial.
Of course, some of the legislation that has reached the president’s desk this year has involved some hard-fought and highly publicized issues like reverse mortgage rules, high interest rates for students and reopening the government after the lengthy shutdown.
Even the Helium Stewardship Act – despite the fun it provided for headline writers making “deflated hopes” jokes – addressed a worldwide shortage that was hitting America’s high-tech industries hard.
But the list of Washington’s accomplishments gets plenty of padding every year from bridge namings, post office honors and various awards.
So far this year, the president has signed legislation to specify the size of commemorative coins for the Baseball Hall of Fame, to name a subsection of IRS code after former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and to honor baseball great Stan Musial with a namesake Midwestern bridge.
With the ceremonial measures excluded, according to DeSilver’s calculations, Congress has enacted just 44 “substantive” laws so far this year.
That’s well below the average of about 70 substantive bills passed in the equivalent time period between 1999 and 2012.

A major reason for the lack of legislating, of course, rests in the divided government re-elected in 2012. That left Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, with Republicans in charge of the House.
Sarah Binder, an expert on legislative politics at the Brookings Institute, says that other factors are to blame as well, like policy disputes between members of the same party and the dwindling number of moderates willing to mediate tiffs between warring factions.
“Consensus is simply much harder to build if there’s nobody coming to the table,” she said.
The gridlock has meant that major issues – some with likely benefits for members of both parties – have been left on the table.
President Barack Obama talks in San Francisco, Calif., about immigration reform and whether he thinks House Speaker John Boehner is open to working on the issue.
The Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation earlier this year but prospects for a vote in the House are slim. House Republicans have voted some 47 times to either repeal or somehow change the newly enacted health-care law, efforts that have been shelved in the upper chamber.
That sets the backdrop for an election year in 2014. With all 435 House seats up for re-election and 33 Senate seats at stake next November, the balance of power in Congress is very much in play.
Could there be another reason for the lack of substantive laws? Perhaps the seeming eagerness of lawmakers to hightail it out of Washington for recess?
So far, the Senate has been in session 144 days this Congress, while the House has been in for 147 legislative days. They’re still scheduled to vote on at least eight more days before the end of the year.
That’s actually a little bit better than the average over the last decade, according to records kept by the House Clerks’ office.
This Congress is at least on track to beat its predecessor, the 112th Congress, which has been derided as the least productive Congress since 1948, when scholars started keeping official tabs.
That group had passed just 41 substantive laws by this point in 2011.
But after the Senate’s unprecedented move last week to eliminate filibusters for most presidential nominees, both parties are heading into the holiday break with heightened animosity toward each other.
And that doesn’t bode well for a productive second half of the 113th session.

With all of the data and opinions presented in this article, do you think the congress is at it's weakest?
Clearly the government shutdown proved how indecisive they were but does the other evidence justify their weakness? What other reasons can you think of for why the 113th Congress is least productive?

Capitol Christmas Tree a problem?

Washington (CNN) - An evergreen from Washington state is now in Washington, D.C. as workers prepare it to become the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
House Speaker John Boehner will preside over the illumination the evening of December 3.

The 79-year-old Engelmann spruce was selected in August, and for the past few weeks has been on a 5,000 mile goodwill trip from Colville National Forest, stopping at more than two dozen points along the way from the Pacific Northwest.
Finally, Monday morning, with a police escort, a tractor-trailer 103 feet long started up from an overnight parking space on the National Mall and made its way to the edge of the Capitol lawn as cameras covered the arrival.
A large construction crane was parked on the lawn itself to hoist and then move the 88-foot tree from the flatbed trailer to its display location at the West Front.
The tree will be decorated with about 10,000 lights and thousands of handcrafted ornaments from the people of Washington state.
Public donations and corporate sponsorships have covered about $400,000 of the expense, says Jeff Olson, president of "Choose Outdoors," a non-profit group that encourages people to enjoy public lands and other outside recreation.
Olson's group helped organize the fundraising to bring the tree to the U.S. Capitol, including Mack Truck's donation of two, brand-new, 18-wheelers. Alaska Airlines donated tickets to get the transport crews home to Washington State.
Riding along in the big rig for part of the way, Olson said the CB-radio brought "lots of comments about how much this is costing us as taxpayers," including some unkind speculation about certain politicians.
"So it's great, when you hear that, and you're able to respond 'this is paid for by the private sector,'" Olson said.
 http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/25/us-capitol-christmas-tree-arrives-at-the-west-front/

Although this article does not get into the politics of religion and government, do you think there are any problems with the tree being displayed at the capitol?
This headline reminded me of Aragon's "holiday tree" that sparked so much debate and eventually led to its t.p.ing because there was no "holiday menorah".
Should the tree even spark any debate or just be left alone? 
 What are your opinions on the Christmas tree at the Capitol and should celebrating this holiday even be a government issue? What about menorahs?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ACLU Requests New York Judge to Stop NSA Surveillance



Members of American Civil Liberties Union have requested for U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley to halt and investigate the scope of how much the NSA can tap into the privacy of the people. Each day, programs run by the National Security Agency pick up countless pieces of Internet and telephone information routed throughout U.S. networks.

The ACLU appealed for Pauley to declare the program unconstitutional, for it exceeded the congressional authority issued by the Patriot Act. They also defended that in order to protect the Americans' constitutional rights, the courts must narrow and confine only on the collection of certain phone data. 

The government's interpretation of the Patriot Act, which strengthens the security controls of the government in order to regulate and stop further terrorism, has become so broad that it could justify the mass collection of private data of many Americans without their knowledge. 

Wiretapping, according to government lawyer, Stuart Delery, has helped disrupt and prevent potential terrorist attacks, and the analysis of phone records have been an essential key to finding connections pointing towards the terrorists. Intelligence officials also defended that many of their targets are foreign suspects outside the US, emphasizing that they are precise on the idea of not looking too much into the content of conversations of many of the nation's citizens. Further support explains that the surveillance done by the NSA is not ordinary, in a sense that it is supposed to detect and obstruct terror plots. 

To what extent do you think the NSA's surveillance is constitutional?

Article


Thursday, November 21, 2013

San Jose Freshmen Charged with Hate Crime


A tweet in support to stand up to hate crime
Three students at San Jose State University have been suspended after harassing their black roommate with racist attacks. Just yesterday, prosecutors filed battery charges and misdemeanor hate-crime against the three freshmen.

The student, whose identity has not been published, has stated that his three other roommates called him "Three-fifths," referring to how black slaves were counted for representation in the Congress before the Fourteenth Amendment. When he protested, the roommates then continued to dub him as "Fraction." Further aggression involved putting up a Confederate flag in the dormitory suite they all shared, barring the door with furniture so as he could not go in or out, and fastening a bicycle lock around the student's neck and telling him they lost the keys.

In a letter sent by the harassed student's family, they state:

"As a family, we are deeply disturbed by the horrific behaviors that have taken place against our son. Our immediate focus is his protection. We have taken a stand on this matter." 

The three students acknowledged the mistreatment of their roommate, but downplayed the incidents as pranks and jokes - denying allegations of anti-racial actions. The three freshmen are subjected to face penalties from probation to a year in jail if they are convicted. 

While racism is not something that we can fully wipe out, it's disturbing to hear of news like this, especially coming from such a diverse school like San Jose State, which just last month, named their first black couple as homecoming king and queen. It's scary to think that unless the attacked speak up, there is little way in knowing what is going on behind closed doors, and this could happen at any time.

William Nance, Vice President of Student Affairs, urges:

"If you see something, say something." 


Senate Votes for Limiting Filibusters


Nevada Governor, Harry Reid (New York Times)
"The vote was a landmark moment for the Senate, a tradition-bound institution that is slow to change and prides itself on giving power to the minority party."


On Thursday, November 21st, the Senate voted to eliminate filibusters for most presidential nominations. This means the minority party can no longer use a filibuster.


Specifically, according to New York Times, "under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes. The new precedent established by the Senate on Thursday does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or legislation itself."



The voting process was initiated reluctantly by Democratic Governor of Nevada, Harry Reid. According to him, “the Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change as it has over the history of this great country. To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense.”


The elimination of the filibuster was in response to the recent gridlock situation Congress faced that resulted in a government shut down. Many Democrats felt that the Republicans abused their filibusters.

However, the Republicans are spiteful of the outcome. "This is nothing more than a power grab to advance the Obama administration's regulatory agenda," said Republican Leader Governor of Kentucky Mitch McConnell. Some Republicans even threatened the Democrats, stating that if during the next election the Republicans take seat, they will use this outcome against the Democrats.

What do you think will happen as a result of this? Do you think this will yield improvements, deterioration, or no change?  Will this benefit Congress in the long run?

Feel free to add on more information, I just provided the backbones to this news.


Articles:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/11/21/9-reasons-the-filibuster-change-is-a-huge-deal/

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304607104579211881413579404

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/22/us/politics/reid-sets-in-motion-steps-to-limit-use-of-filibuster.html?_r=0