Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NFL Players and Brain Disease: Are They Really Connected?


Everyone knows the risk of getting a concussion when playing football. Yet, how often does a concussion, or multiple concussions, lead to a serious brain injury? More often in the National Football League, than anywhere else...

Just recently, a government agency compiled a workplace safety fact sheet which was based on a study of degenerative brain disease in retired NFL players. While many suggestions were made, one comment stood out: a request that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (also C.T.E.), a disease resembling Alzheimer's, be removed from the list of ailments linked to repeated head trauma in NFL players. 

Despite spreading awareness and making rule changes regarding head injuries in past years, the NFL was hesitant to accept the link between injuries incurred by NFL players and C.T.E., a serious, life-threatening condition. An NFL doctor, who expressed doubts over the validity of the connection due to a lack of evidence, proposed that a substitute, traumatic brain injury (T.B.I.), be used instead. 

Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist at the University of Michigan, responded with disapproval, stating that the proposed change was a digression from the results of the original Niosh study. 

Richard Ellenbogen, the chairman of the University of Washington’s neurological surgery department and a co-chairman of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee, also agreed to proceed with caution, stating that T.B.I. was a clinical diagnosis that could be observed in living patients where as C.T.E. is a pathological diagnosis that is relatively difficult to identify.

Whether C.T.E. or T.B.I. is included on the list, it should be noted that several thousand retired NFL players have accused the NFL of purposefully downplaying the dangers of head injuries.

Questions: Do you think it's important to provide information regarding not only concussions but also other serious diseases which stem from repeated head trauma to all football players, especially NFL players? Do you think the NFL is doing more harm or good in spreading awareness while simultaneously hushing severe illnesses in NFL retirees? Should C.T.E. or T.B.I. be placed on the list of diseases / disorders linked to NFL head injuries / concussions? What's more important: medical accuracy or addressing a potentially serious condition?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Gay Marriage: Is the Time Right?




On Tuesday, the Supreme Court weighed the question of whether or not it should be constitutional to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. However, six of the nine justices questioned whether now was the right time to make a decision regarding the issue.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated, "I wonder if the case was properly granted."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced a similar concern, stating, "If the issue is letting the states experiment and letting society have more time to figure out its direction...why is taking a case now the answer?" 

Many justices who appeared to support same-sex marriage understood that there was no way to issue a ruling that could apply only in California or only in the nine states with strong civil union or domestic partnership laws. 

Unfortunately, such justices feel, at the time being, that they are left with an all-or-nothing choice. The options: allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states or allow all states to do as they wish. 

Five court members indicated that they might dismiss the case on the basis that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to appeal a decision granted by a lower court. Interestingly, when justices  have second thoughts about agreeing to hear a case, they sometimes dismiss it as "improvidently granted." 

Mr. Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer arguing on behalf of opponents of same-sex marriage stated that, "the key to marriage...is procreation." Rebutting his argument, Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out that there are plenty of married couples incapable of having children -- does that insinuate that the government could ban a man and a woman who are over 55 from marrying because they would not be able to have children? 

Even if the case isn't dismissed, Justice Kennedy commented, "We have five years of information [concerning gay marriage] to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more [concerning traditional marriage]." It should be interesting to see whether or not the justices follow through hearing the case, and, if so, what their explanations are given their ruling. 

Questions: Do you personally feel that the time is right for the Supreme Court to decide the constitutionality of marriage equality? If so, why? If not, when will a better time arise? Do you think the justices are really left with an all-or-nothing choice? If not, what are some better solutions? Do you agree with Mr. Cooper that marriage is centered around procreation? Is the comparison between gay marriage and traditional marriage really that one sided as Justice Kennedy mentions above? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obama visits Israel for the first time during presidency


http://www.gannett-cdn.com/media/USATODAY/USATODAY/2013/03/20/ap-us-obama-mideast-israel-4_3_r536_c534.jpg?1b79b3da202957124496e3768cfb7b67cdb10c81
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu
President Obama is finally visiting Israel for the first time during his two terms as president. Today, he met with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and "expressed an unusual degree of solidarity" as the Washington Post described. The two leaders have never strayed from disagreeing publicly before, so it's fair to say that this gentility may be more than just show.

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Aww, see? They're friends!
Obama and Netanyahu mostly focused their discussion on the threat of a nuclear Iran. Both are advocating for a diplomatic solution. Netanyahu appeared to be more willing to accept Obama's estimation that Iran is currently one year away from developing a nuclear weapon. This is a major step forward; last fall, Netanyahu stated that Iran's development would cross the line at which Israel would feel compelled to take military action by spring or summer of this year. Both agree that it is an international priority to prevent a nuclear Iran.

President Obama has also agreed to open talks on extending the U.S.'s annual $3 billion military aid package to Israel for another 10 years. The current agreement will expire in 2017.  

Additionally, the two discussed the prospect of al-Assad employing chemical weapons in Syria. While Netanyahu has already accepted this as fact, Obama is still speculative and described this revelation as a "game changer" for U.S. policy if ongoing investigations confirm the allegations. He also stated, "We have to make sure that we know exactly what happened, what was the nature of the incident, what we can document, what we can prove...I won’t make an announcement today about next steps, because I think we have to gather the facts."

In short: Obama and Netanyahu agree on Iran. What does this mean for the future of U.S. foreign policy? Also, feel free to discuss the implications of chemical warfare in Syria.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Equality House making a statement across from Westboro Baptist Church

The recently-painted Equality House stands out in the snow.
After making a name for themselves through hate speech, public protests, and generally being disagreeable people, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is being sent a message straight from  their front porch. Aaron Johnson, one of the founders of nonprofit Planting Peace, purchased a house that lies directly across the street from WBC. Today, he led a group of activists as they painted the house with the colors of the pride flag.

Aside from the Equality House, Planting Peace is primarily involved with charity work involving rainforest preservation, de-worming, and constructing orphanages. The following is their statement on the background and purpose of the Equality House:

"For too long, the Westboro Baptist Church has been targeting the LGBTQ community with messages of hate and discrimination. Often, protesting American soldiers’ funerals and organizations that support equality. This faction preaches extremism in our communities and directly targets our youth. To combat their messages of hate and to support equality and anti-bullying initiatives in schools and in our community, Planting Peace has established the Equality House in Topeka, KS.
  
    Located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives and will stand as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all."

At this time, it would appear that WBC has not made a statement yet regarding the Equality House.

In short: A new anti-protest targets the WBC to promote LGBTQ rights and support equality. Do you view this as a sort of novelty or a more powerful message?
For too long, the Westboro Baptist Church has been targeting the LGBTQ community with messages of hate and discrimination. Often, protesting American soldiers’ funerals and organizations that support equality. This faction preaches extremism in our communities and directly targets our youth. To combat their messages of hate and to support equality and anti-bullying initiatives in schools and in our community, Planting Peace has established the Equality House in Topeka, KS.

Located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives and will stand as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all.

We invite you to support our movement and encourage you to donate today to these equality and anti-bullying initiatives. - See more at: http://www.plantingpeace.org/equality.htm#sthash.NBYYcNxB.dpufFor too long, the Westboro Baptist Church has been targeting the LGBTQ community with messages of hate and discrimination. Often, protesting American soldiers’ funerals and organizations that support equality. This faction preaches extremism in our communities and directly targets our youth. To combat their messages of hate and to support equality and anti-bullying initiatives in schools and in our community, Planting Peace has established the Equality House in Topeka, KS.

            Located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives and will stand as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all.

            We invite you to support our movement and encourage you to donate today to these equality and anti-bullying initiatives.
For too long, the Westboro Baptist Church has been targeting the LGBTQ community with messages of hate and discrimination. Often, protesting American soldiers’ funerals and organizations that support equality. This faction preaches extremism in our communities and directly targets our youth. To combat their messages of hate and to support equality and anti-bullying initiatives in schools and in our community, Planting Peace has established the Equality House in Topeka, KS.

Located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives and will stand as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all.

We invite you to support our movement and encourage you to donate today to these equality and anti-bullying initiatives. - See more at: http://www.plantingpeace.org/equality.htm#sthash.NBYYcNxB.dpuf
For too long, the Westboro Baptist Church has been targeting the LGBTQ community with messages of hate and discrimination. Often, protesting American soldiers’ funerals and organizations that support equality. This faction preaches extremism in our communities and directly targets our youth. To combat their messages of hate and to support equality and anti-bullying initiatives in schools and in our community, Planting Peace has established the Equality House in Topeka, KS.

Located directly across from the Westboro Baptist Church, the House is a symbol of equality, peace, and positive change. The house, which is painted the colors of the Pride flag, will serve as the resource center for all Planting Peace equality and anti-bullying initiatives and will stand as a visual reminder of our commitment, as global citizens, to equality for all.

We invite you to support our movement and encourage you to donate today to these equality and anti-bullying initiatives. - See more at: http://www.plantingpeace.org/equality.htm#sthash.NBYYcNxB.dpuf

Paul Rand announces path for Illegal Immigrants

In this speech at the United States Hispanic Chamber on Commerce, Rand Paul has announced his views on the pathway for illegal immigrants. He said, “I think the conversation needs to start by acknowledging we aren’t going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants. If you wish to work, if you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.”

Paul's plan has two phases to it. The first one includes heavily securing America's borders to keep the number of illegal immigrants from expanding more. This involves getting bi-partisan congressional support for greater border patrol. 


The second is to create a path for illegal immigrants to have a more permanent status. “After ensuring border security, I then would normalize the status of 11 million undocumented citizens so they can join the work force and pay taxes. I would normalize them at a rate of about two million per year.” Interestingly enough, in his speech he never used the word citizen, rather, it seems like he has something like a long term green card in mind.

Although it has not been announced yet, Rand Paul seems to be starting his campaign for the 2016 presidential elections. This speech shows a more progressive view then typical Republican platform, showing how Paul seems to be trying to attract a wider band of constituencies that has not been popular with the Republican party in recent years, such has Hispanics.

What do you think of Paul's plan for immigration reform? What do you think is the best solution to the 12 million illegal immigrants living in America?

Monday, March 18, 2013

More evidence of water on Mars, favorable conditions for microbes

(CNN) "Sheepbed" such as this on the surface of Mars has veins of deposited sediments that suggest the former presence of water.
For the past 7 months, the Curiosity rover has continued to explore the surface of Mars as scientists hope to discern whether the red planet once contained liquid water and perhaps even sustained life.

Last week, NASA definitively stated that Mars could have once been the home of microbial life. This assessment was made after Curiosity drilled into a rock and identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon. All of these elements are considered the fundamental ingredients for life as we know it. Additionally, this sample was composed of more than 20% smectite, a clay formed in the presence of water.

Today, the Curiosity rover has discovered even more substantial evidence of liquid water formerly existing on Mars. Melissa Rice of CalTech stated, "With Mastcam, we see elevated hydration signals in the narrow veins that cut many of the rocks in this area.These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock matrix."

The Curiosity rover is currently located in Yellowknife bay, 7 months into its 2-year journey that cost $2.5 billion.The rover has been experiencing technical setbacks lately. A software error involving file formatting was enough to put the rover out of commission for this past weekend. The error re-occurred today, and may impede most of the rover's operations this week.

What's your reaction to possibility (and increasing likelihood) of both water and microbial life on Mars? Would you expect a public major reaction if NASA was indeed able to definitely prove the existence of either o these on Mars? Also, feel free to comment on the $2.5 billion price tag that this exploration has entailed.

In short: NASA finds evidence of water and states that Mars may have once been an ideal location for microbial life forms. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Justice in the Digital Age

Day One of Steubenville Rape Trial: Prosecutor Outlines Alleged Rape of Substantially Impaired 16 Year Old Girl
(AP) Trent Mays (left) and Ma’lik Richmond

Two Ohio high school football players, Trent Mays (17) and Ma'lik Richmond (16) have been charged with rape and sentenced to one year in juvenile hall respectively. Mays was also sentenced with an additional year for photographing the victim and distributing nude photographs of a minor. Both will also register as sex offenders.

The details of the crime are very graphic and thus will not be discussed in this post. However, the circumstances of their conviction are far more noteworthy in the context of this blog.

Because the victim was inebriated and had no recollection of the crime, much of the evidence against Mays and Richmond was gathered via social media. The teens photographed much of their crime. Other witnesses, identified only as fellow football players after being granted immunity for testifying, used their cellphones to record Mays and Richmond. Additionally, Mays' texts to the victim pleading to not press charges following the crime were presented as evidence.

Judge Lipps, who presided over the case, described the evidence as "profane and ugly." He also urged teens to take caution with "how you record things on social media that are so prevalent today."
  

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(AP) Supporters of Anonymous await the conviction of Mays and Richmond.
This case is remarkable because it is unlikely that Mays or Richmond would have been convicted if this crime had taken place 10 years ago. The prevalence of cellphones in modern society has lead to a new era of legal accountability and justice. However, it is the involvement of hacktivist group Anonymous that makes this case stand out.

The crime received limited coverage in the mainstream media directly following its occurrence due to relatively sparse information available. At this point, Anonymous took the case into their own hands by hacking the football team's website, naming athletes as targets for revenge, and releasing videos related to the crime that the suspects thought they had deleted.  Anonymous continued to dig up more information that was later reported by reputable news agencies such as the New York Times. Anonymous' methods are often questionable. In this case, they hacked and threatened in the pursuit of many saw as justice. Do you view this as justified? 

In short: A rape case is successfully prosecuted due to social media. If Anonymous' hacking actually made this conviction possible (which is also debatable), then do the ends justify the means?

The Future of Republicans: Post CPAC


It is going to be an uphill battle for the Republican party over the next couple years. They are going to need to change their image if they want to stay competitive in national elections, as they lost the 2012 election by a 23% margin in the 18-29 year old category. We have just gotten a taste of what the next couple years may be like, as this past weekend was the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

The theme of the conference this year was very fitting: "America's Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives." This year featured a wide variety of speakers, including Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Donald Trump.

Every year at the CPAC, there is a presidential straw poll of the upcoming star of the Republican party. While very unscientific and criticized by many, it does provide a starting place to see who is most popular in the Republican party, among those Republicans serious enough to show up to the conference. Last year Mitt Romney won the straw poll, one of the three times that the Republican nominee has also won the straw poll. This years winner was Rand Paul, the up and coming star of the Republican party and Ron Paul's son. 

Rand Paul's message was heavily based on the need for change in the Republican Party. He said in his speech, "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered." He also tried to show of his moderate and libertarian values in many issues, saying of teen drug use that, "Ask the Facebook generation whether we should put a kid in jail for the nonviolent crime of drug abuse and you will hear a resounding 'no.'"

Marco Rubio, the second place participant of the straw poll and another rising star in the Republican party, is most known for his position on immigration reform, which is to tighten immigration laws and then create a pathway for illegal aliens living in the US to become citizens. However, he did not mention this in his speech, instead choosing to highlight his conservative views on social issues, saying, "Science has proven that life begins at conception." and "Just because I believe that states should be able to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot."
A notable member of the Republican party, Chris Christie, got snubbed by the event planners as he did not receive an invitation.
Overall, the CPAC showed how splintered and divided the Republican party really is, as many different and conflicting views on the future of the party were shared. What do you think the future of the Republican party brings?







Evaluating costs after 10 years since start of Iraq War

File:US Navy 030402-N-5362A-004 U.S. Army Sgt. Mark Phiffer stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaylah Oil Fields in Southern Iraq.jpg
U.S. soldiers guard a burning oil well in the Rumalia oil field a few weeks after the invasion.
This Wednesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. U.S. troops invaded Iraq on March 20th, 2003 as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The conflict officially ended on December 15th 2011, after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's declaration (although the last U.S. soldiers didn't leave Iraq until the 18th). In total, the conflict lasted 8 years, 8 months, and 3 weeks.
(costofwar.org) Brown University's report estimates the war's death toll.

Brown University released a report entitled The Costs of War this past Thursday. The report estimated that 330,000 were killed directly by violence that occurred during the war. Brown University's analysis of the war's human, social, and political costs offers both overviews and detailed examinations. However, since we are currently studying economics, I am choosing to focus this post around the economic cost of the war for the U.S.

 The Pentagon was allocated $1.4 trillion dollars for the War on Terror from 2003-2011. However, much of the economic price tag is made up of opportunity costs. Brown University estimates that 8.3 jobs are created for every $1 million in military spending. However, the military sector is not the most efficient for job-creation. The study states: "A million dollars of spending would create 15.5 jobs in public education, 14.3 jobs in healthcare, 12 jobs in home weatherization, or about the same number of jobs in various renewable energy technologies. A million dollars spent on construction (residential and non-residential structures) creates 11.1 direct and indirect jobs." Thus, military spending on the war could have created hundreds of thousands of more jobs each year if it had been invested in a different sector.

Other major costs incurred do to the war include the $455 billion expansion of homeland security costs, $259 billion in interest on borrowed money to fund the war (with an additional $1 trillion estimated by 2023), and $754 billion to be spent on veterans over the next 30-40 years. Economists have estimated the total cost of the war for the U.S. economy to be somewhere in between $3 trillion and $6 trillion.

So could we have avoided these gargantuan costs or where they absolute necessities? Brown University's report cites "intelligence and policing methods" and "peaceful political accommodation" as the most effective responses to terrorist organizations as evinced through the study of 268 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006.

For additional readings and reflections on the war, I'd recommend checking out CNN's coverage, a Washington Post article that attempts to debunk several myths about the war, and different opinions presented by the New York Times. I found that each of these presentations were highly informative and worth reading first-hand.

What are your thoughts on the war and its costs? The Iraq War has been a tremendously influential part of our childhoods, and I'm sure many here have personal opinions on the war. Feel free to respond directly to something brought up in this post or to take a step back and examine the war from your own perspective.

In short: The Iraq War cost the world at least 330,000 lives directly from violence and trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy. Looking back 10 years later, what can we make of this war?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pentagon announces $1 billion expansion of missile interceptors to defend against North Korean nuclear threat


http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/130124090535-04-nk-0124-horizontal-gallery.jpg
(CNN) A North Korean soldier guards an Uhna-3 rocket. North Korea successfully test-launched a similar missile on Dec 12, 2012.


A test launch of U.S. Ground-Based Interceptor
As the recently-approved Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel announced today that the defense department would be spending an additional $1 billion to deploy 14 additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast. Currently, there are 30 missile interceptors in place in Alaska and California.The interceptors are being deployed under the pretense that they will protect the U.S. from a North Korean ICBM.

Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, the DPRK has become increasingly belligerent as discussed in Brandon's previous post. North Korea (through the mouthpiece of their state-run news agency, Korean Central News Agency) has threatened both South Korea and the U.S. with the prospect of a preemptive nuclear attack.

Recently, the KN-08 was identified in a North Korean parade. This missile in mobile, making it harder to monitor than a stationary launch pad, and U.S. officials believe that it has the capability to reach the U.S. mainland. This, in addition to recent developments with North Korea, has led the Defense Department to re-evaluate their defense systems.

North Korea missile ranges map
(BBC) Note that the different ranges are in reference to different missile models identified within the North Korean arsenal.
Anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) are missiles fired to intercept ballistic missiles (in this case, ICBM's with nuclear warheads) and safely detonate them in midair. A notable example of an ABM system is Israel's Iron Dome. During missile strikes from Gaza in November of 2012, the Iron Dome system successfully intercepted 421 missiles, which is about 85% of the missiles launched from Gaza. However, the Iron Dome primarily protects against short-range rockets and artillery shells. Anti-ICBM interceptors have significantly lower success rates. The U.S.'s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System has failed 8 out of the 16 times it has been tested. For those of you who had Mr. McGlashan last year, you might recall a lecture in which he described the incredible difficulty of tracking a launched missile traveling at hundreds of miles per hour without knowing its launch location or its target.

So is this new investment really worthwhile? One billion dollars is a significant amount of money (for those having trouble visualizing what that entails, click here). However, it is a small fraction of the Defense Department's total budget, which has hovered around $680 billion in recent years. Do we feel safer with these defense systems in place?

It is worth noting that these 14 these interceptors will be deployed between now and the end of 2017. Do you think that these additional interceptors will be too late? Its difficult to imagine that relationships with North Korea won't change in the next four years, for better or worse. Or is it possible that nuclear warfare can be avoided entirely through diplomacy?

Clips from Hagel's statement are embedded within this CBS report (see below) or also available in more detail from BBC.
In short: U.S. deploys $1 billion worth of anti-ICBM interceptors in response to North Korean aggression. Is this a valuable allocation of resources or just paranoia? 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Over 8,000 Floating Pigs Found in Shanghai River

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Over 8,000 rotting dead pig carcasses have been found in the Huangpo river, the tap water source for Shanghai, China. Although many people in the area are concerned for the safety of the drinking water, authorities have claimed that the water is unharmed. The exact source of these carcasses remain a mystery, but authorities are investigating the issue. 

While it seems a little strange, some people are encouraged by the fact that these rotting pigs were dumped in the river. Many of these pigs were found to contain diseases such as porcine circovirus. Previously, many of these pigs would have been continued to be sold and processed for consumers to eat, but recent crackdowns on selling diseased meat has made it so that whoever raised these pigs decided against selling the diseased meat. 

Although it is unfortunate the diseased pigs floating in a river is a positive step in Chinese health standards, at least this is a step in the right direction. Investigations and at least one arrest are already underway and will continue to find the culprit, however the massive number of farmers in the area make it difficult for the authorities to track down the exact people responsible.

China just now seems to be catching up to the health standards we have been lucky to have since the early 1900's. Hopefully this small (and very strange) sign of progress will lead to more regulation and tighter control over the food market in China.

Does this seem like a positive step to you? Does this make you appreciate more of the heath standards we have in America?




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Change of heart for conservative senator

Will Portman (left) and Senator Rob Portman (right).
Senator Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, has served in Congress for nearly 20 years as a well-known conservative. Historically, he has opposed gay marriage. Some University of Michigan students even found his position on gay rights to be repugnant enough to warrant protesting his commencement speech for the graduation of the Class of '11. At the time, his communications director made the statement that, "Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman."

Portman has laid all of this aside now, and he announced that he has reversed his position on gay marriage. He told CNN, "I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry."

Portman's  reversal has largely been attributed to acceptance and support of his openly gay son, Will Portman. Portman explains, "My son came to Jane, my wife, and I, told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice, and that it's just part of who he is, and that's who he'd been that way for as long as he could remember."

Prior to the announcement, former Vice President Dick Cheney, whose daughter Mary is gay, advised Portman to "follow [his] heart."

This announcement makes Portman the first Republican senator who supports gay marriage.The timing of the announcement is especially interesting. Will Portman came out to his parents nearly two years ago. Little mention of his son was made during the 2012 election season as Portman was considered as a potential Republican vice presidential candidate. Now, the announcement comes shortly before oral arguments begin for U.S. v. Windsor, a case now reaching that Supreme Court that revolves around the Defense of Marriage Act that Portman helped pass in 1996.

It took a very personal appeal from his son for Portman to reverse his position on gay marriage. Do you think Portman will be remembered as an anomaly? Or does this reversal hold some promise of progress for LGBT rights? Additionally, consider this: is this reversal fair for the people of Ohio who elected Portman under the pretense that he opposed gay marriage? That question really comes down to the different theories of representation (discussed on pages 251-252 of our Gov textbook). Is Portman free to make this decision because he is a trustee or should his role as a delegate supersede his personal revelations?

In short: A conservative reverses his position and now supports gay marriage. Is he an exception or a future trend-setter?

Senate Panel Vote for Ban on Assault Weapons

Senator Dianne Feinstein
For the first time since 2004, a ban on assault weapons has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and will move on to the full senate. As recent as last year, the thought of a bill like this even clearing the committee would be unthinkable, but the recent shootings in Newton, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado have shifted enough opinions on the matter to have the bill gain some momentum. While this bill is predicted to fail in front of the full Senate, the fact that it made out of the committee is a good start that people in support of tighter restrictions will rally behind.

Senator Feinstein from California, the author of the bill admits that, "The road is uphill. I fully understand that,"however, Democrats are optimistic that they will get a some sort of the bill through that will impose tighter regulations on guns.

The vote in the committee followed party lines and passed on a ten to eight vote. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader from Nevada has to allow the bill to come to the floor. He has promised that by mid-april, the floor will vote on some sort of bill that addresses the committees wishes, although specifics of this bill and how much of a say on it the committee will really get are unknown.

Do you think any progress will be made on this issue? Do you think this is a good first step or a futile attempt to accomplish something that is unable to be accomplished with this Senate?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ninth day of consecutive gains for Dow for the first time since 1996



CNN's depiction of the Dow over the past twenty years
Today, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 14,455.28 points today, with a gain of 5.22 (.04%) since yesterday. The Dow monitors the daily performance ofthirty American companies as they trade at the New York Stock Exchange.

The Dow was hovering around 13,000 points in 2008 before it crashed to a low of 6,547.05 points. It finally reached 13,000 points again, surpassing pre-crash levels, in February of 2012. On February 1st of this year, the Dow reached 14,000 points again for the first time since October 2007.

While this is certainly a good sign for the American economy, the death throes of the 2008 recession seem to still to be having an impact upon our economic growth. The U.S.'s GDP ended the fourth quarter of 2012 with only .1% of growth for, and unemployment is currently estimated at 7.7%

So where do you guys think the U.S. stands now economically? The Dow certainly isn't the end-all be-all economic indicator, but it can surely give us some idea what is currently happening with our economy. Should we be rejoicing and praising Wall Street's good fortune? Or do the cynics amongst us see this as a good sign, but one that certainly shouldn't make anyone sit back, nod smugly and proclaim, "Yup, that'll do it. The economy is all fixed now folks."

Somehow, I doubt Washington is going to sit back and relax any time soon. President Obama was able to have a productive discussion with House Republicans today on the budget. The Republican response was generally positive, and they collectively agreed that they didn't agree with President  Obama on much of anything, but nonetheless appreciated the meeting. 

In short: Dow Jones has a 9-day record of gains. Good news or REALLY good news?


New Leader in the Vatican

Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

After the second day of voting, there is a new pope in the Vatican. Yesterday, all cardinals of the Catholic church met in the Vatican city to replace Benedict XVI, the previous pope who stepped down. Benedict XVI is the first pope to step down from the position in almost 600 years. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a 76 year old cardinal from Argentina, steps into the role as the 266th pontiff of the Catholic church.

In order to select a new pope, all cardinals around the world come to the Vatican City where they meet in the Sistine Chapel. In secrecy, they discus amongst themselves until they decide to vote amongst themselves for one cardinal to become the new pope. If a cardinal does not get two thirds of the vote, then the crowd outside is signaled with black smoke. There may be up to four votes in a day.

At the end of yesterday, the first day of voting, black smoke signaled that there would be no new pope for that day. Today however, the thousands of rained soaked individuals outside were greeted with white smoke as a new pope was decided on. Around an hour later, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, renamed Francis now, greeted the crowd as the 266th pope. The first non-European pope in over 1200 years, Francis represents a shift in the dispersal of Catholic's around the world.

Francis steps into the position in a troubling time for the Catholic Church. It is dealing with sex scandals, corruption, and a failing national bank (The Vatican Bank). After a rocky last decade, Francis will have to show he can steer through the bureaucracy of the Vatican in order to be an effective leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

What do you think will be the next step of the Vatican? Will Francis be an effective leader of the Catholic people? How will this effect the world beyond the Vatican?

For more information, visit NY Times

Saturday, March 9, 2013

North Korea: A Week of Threats


Thought this was absolutely hilarious, though admittedly a bit inappropriate.... oh well...
Tension has long existed between the US and North Korea, but this week was especially filled with a flurry of hostile remarks by the North Koreans. The UN unanimously voted this Thursday on tougher sanctions against North Korea, a vote that was prompted by North Korea's supposedly successful satellite launch in December of last year. Hours before the vote, North Korea threatened a "possible preemptive attack." Leading up to the vote, North Korea stated on Tuesday that it planned to abandon the 1953 armistice between North Korea and South Korea. Obviously, this raised some alarms all around the world. But the UN vote was not the only thing that propelled North Korea to threats. This week, the US and South Korea began a series of military exercises that will last two months. The exercises have been named "Foal Eagle." While North Korea claims these exercises are "an open declaration of war," South Korea insists that they are "defensive in nature."

North Korea's infamous Kim Jong-un
Though the whole week is a significant increase in verbal provocation by the North Koreans, Thursday's threat is arguably the most worrisome. A North Korean foreign minister stated that North Korea "will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country." Despite this, several analysts assert that North Korea is many years away from being able to accurately launch an intercontinental nuclear attack. South Korea's President Park Guen-hye, who political analysts believe cannot afford to appear weak during this escalation of hostilities, has stated that "Seoul would respond strongly to any provocation from Pyongyang."

But where was North Korea's key ally when Pyongyang needed them most? A single vote could have stopped the passage of the sanctions against North Korea, a vote that China withheld. Chinese UN Ambassador Li Baodong said, "China is a country of principle... We are committed to safeguarding peace and stability on the Korean peninsula." Additionally, China's Foreign Ministry urged "all relative parties to stay calm and refrain from taking actions that may escalate tension." Apparently, Korean peace does not involve supporting North Korea advance its nuclear program.

What do you think North Korea will do in the coming days/weeks? Will they abandon their hostile remarks? Will South Korea respond to further hostilities with force or more diplomacy? Theoretically, what would China do if North Korea succeeded in attacking South Korea or the United States? Following that train of thought, would a North Korean nuclear attack trigger a global war, or would it simply translate into the imminent demise of the North Korean government?


Friday, March 8, 2013

Harmless Asteroid to Make Fly By

An artistic rendition of a fly by asteroid
This weekend, more specifically on Saturday by astronomers' calculations, an average sized asteroid will just miss Earth. By just miss, I am making a statement relative to the infinite expanse of space. In reality, the asteroid will only reach a distance 604,500 miles away from Earth. To put that in perspective, the distance from Earth to the moon is a mere 238,900 miles. Astronomers estimate that the asteroid, appropriately named "2013ET," is that size of a city block. For all of you aspiring astronomers out there, 2013ET is already observable in the night sky, even with "sophisticated amateur telescopes."

Thought this one was graphic
What's more alarming, however, is when the asteroid was first sighted. Don Yeomans, planetary scientist at NASA's jet propulsion laboratory here in California, stated that the asteroid was first sighted on Sunday. Sunday! NASA has previously stated that it doesn't have the technology to deflect an asteroid with a trajectory towards Earth. What if 2013ET, worst case scenario, was headed towards the Bay Area? Is a one week warning good enough?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Obama Dines With Republican Senators: Evidence of Future Bipartisanship?

"I like a good party"
(not especially relevant, but thought it was funny)
Just a few hours ago, Obama and Senate Republicans met for dinner to discuss various topics. The exact topics discussed have not yet been released, but a White House official said that, chiefly, Obama will talk about fiscal matters. Other possible topics, according to what the president has recently discussed with Republican lawmakers, include "guns, immigration and energy."

Yes, this is definite progress for bipartisan cooperation. However, the same White House official said that "These are just conversations... Getting from there to a deal is hard." We've already seen evidence of bipartisanship when it comes to immigration reform, but gun control has seen less than an equal share of the same bipartisanship. Perhaps cooperation concerning immigration was little more than a rational choice by Republicans, made in order to survive. Clearly Republicans have been making great efforts to appeal to Latino voters. Immigration reform is evidence of the fact by itself, but Marco Rubio's meteoric rise to fame is further proof of an attempt to gain favor with Latinos.
Senator Lindsey Graham is a proven supporter of gun rights

Now, back to Obama's Senate "party".... Who attended this crucial dinner?  The guest list consisted entirely of Republican Senators, most of which were rank-and-file Republicans that Obama has not spent much time communicating with. These legislators were Saxby Chambliss (GA), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dan Coats (IN), Tom Coburn (OK), Richard Burr (NC), Mike Johanns (NE), Pat Toomey (PA), John Hoeven (ND), Bob Corker (TN), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ), and Lindsey Graham (SC). The most high profile of these Senators are former presidential nominee, John McCain, and outspoken Obama critic Lindsey Graham. Lindsey Graham is more recently known, however, for his proposed gun legislation that focuses on the mentally ill. The NRA has given him an "A" rating, clearly showing his pro-gun views. His presence at the dinner indicates that gun control is extremely likely to be a topic of discussion.

FOX News' article, however, presents a somewhat negative outlook on this dinner, claiming in the headline that "Obama goes around GOP leaders." True to FOX's notorious reputation of criticizing Obama, the article continues on to include a few irrelevant points. Among others, Obama is supporting "janitors... seeing a pay cut." How this is even related to this dinner, I have no clue. In this case, the NBC article on the subject, didn't present very much, if any, anti-Republican sentiment.

Just before I was about to publish this post, it was revealed that:

 "At the top of the dinner's agenda was the possibility of a grand bargain combining entitlement reforms with lowering tax rates and closing loopholes that would head off the sequester and tackle some of the country's worst budget woes."

What effects do you think this dinner has on bipartisan cooperation, short term and long term? Will we see a spike in bipartisanship in the coming weeks? Is this, and the previous immigration reform cooperation, evidence of an upcoming period of bipartisanship? Does Obama like a good party?