Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Quantitative Easing Continues

Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) only grew .2% in March this year. As one of the Federal Reserve's trusted measurements of inflation, the PCE's sluggishness indicates that the economy is still not up and running. This means that the Fed will continue to leave interest rates low and also continue quantitative easing by "buying $85 billion in Treasuries and mortgages a month in order to provide monetary stimulus." In fact, they plan to keep it up possibly well into next year.

Meanwhile, private companies are not helping; they have continued to "hoard cash" and spend little. In addition to that, "Not only are firms sitting on cash and failing to hire more workers, but also banks have tightened their credit standards, making it difficult for people to get exposure to low rates through cheap loans." 

All the quantitative easing and stimuli are boosting stock prices into a bubble, but the economy is still slow. It seems to me like the Federal Reserve is pushing and pushing, but without the private companies passing the stimulus along and circulating wealth, the effort isn't extremely effective. Also, the large amounts of quantitative easing concerns me because what if there's lag, and the economy appears to be slow until suddenly the extra money adds up and becomes unhealthy inflation?

What should the government to to motivate the private sector to move the economy? Is there anything else the Federal Reserve can do to get growth going again? And what's your opinion on the quantitative easing? 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Young People are Out of Work Across the Globe

According to this article, the number of unemployed young people has risen by 30% since 2007. The current amount of jobless young adults, ages fifteen to twenty-seven, around the world is roughly equivalent to that of the United States's entire population (roughly 311 million people).

Two factors are said to play a major role in this occurrence. Number one, the slow economy in the West has shown a reduced demand for labor, and it is a lot easier to put off hiring young people than it is to fire older, and more veteran workers. Number two, population growth is fastest in countries with emerging economies, which tend to have very dysfunctional labor markets. Essentially, this means that more and more young people have reached an age where they can and would like to work, but their own country's system isn't able to facilitate the surge of "fresh blood."

What are some of the solutions that could help reignite growth and get the ball rolling again for young people? One idea is to reform labor markets and allow for some deregulation. Countries that have strict labor markets often have an abundance of cartelized businesses, high taxes on hiring, and strict rules about firing. All of these essentially make it hard for young people to find places to work or start up their own businesses, and that's why having a briefly "looser" marketplace would be beneficial. The second idea is to change the connection between education and the workplace. More specifically, it's to change the notion that the government needs to just ensure that more people graduate from college and get their respective degrees. Just because a person has a degree, that doesn't ascertain that they will be more successful or employed. Our country has recently shown a huge trend of this, after all. A larger concern should be making sure that people receive substantive educations and training that will be directly helpful and useful in the workplace/economy at large. This includes changing and improving vocational programs and apprenticeship-type programs as well.

The youth of the world may be struggling now, but hopefully new jobs will be created in fields that may not even exist yet. We'll have to make the jobs of the future!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chemical Warfare in Syria

Many of you may have already heard, but yesterday it was reported that the Syrian government allegedly used Sarin* (a deadly gas that disrupts the mechanism through which nerves transfer action potentials to organs) in lethal amounts against its own citizens. Prior to this whole situation, President Obama had mentioned that he would take the necessary actions to aid the rebels in Syria if the Syrian government exhibited brutal and inhumane behaviors that "cross a redline." Although there is bipartisan agreement amongst politicians in the House and Senate that "the line has been crossed" due to the usage of chemical warfare, figuring out what the next step is has left foreign policy at a stand-still. President Obama has recently been meeting with the leaders of various countries that directly border or closely surround Syria, and he's been having very thorough conversations about what might come next in this whole process. If the U.S. does decide to intervene, there will definitely be a need for more helping hands.

The biggest concern right is currently proving the existence of the gas. After what happened during the Bush presidency with the unfulfilling and tragic journey to find weapons of mass destruction, the military wants to proceed with the utmost caution before considering the deployment of more troops to a Middle Eastern country. The U.N. has also asked to investigate the town of Aleppo, where many of the gassings supposedly took place, but Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has been very limiting and exact on where and how they are allowed to search the area. Regardless, the symptoms of many of the injured and deceased patients seem to be those of Sarin poisoning, so the evidence may be coming to the surface rather soon.    

Do you guys think the U.S. should get involved right now, wait it out, or just not do anything at all? Could this situation potentially be very similar to the Bush presidency's "weapons of mass destruction" mishap? What do you think would be the consequences in American politics if our troops are sent to war again? 

Read more here, here and here.

*Sarin was the chemical that was once used in a famous terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, so there is a lot of fear and grief that accompanies just the mentioning of this chemical.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Immigration: The Gang of Eight's Reform and the Conflict Over Miranda Rights

The "Gang of Eight" is a bipartisan group in the Senate that consists of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY),  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). They recently introduced a comprehensive 844-paged immigration reform proposal to the Senate, and they're optimistic and hopeful that they can receive over 60 votes to make their plans a reality. However, the big catch is that the recent Boston bombings may be influencing people's emotions, and Republicans and Democrats alike might be a tad hasty or rash in deciding how they'll vote in the near future. Because the Tsarnaev brothers were immigrants, many politicians are impassioned to vote in a way that will "protect the U.S. from future harm." However, one of the aspects that makes this whole situation a bit more sensitive and tricky, is that both of the brothers had actually obtained U.S. citizenship many years prior to their recent violent activities. Immigration reform was already causing a bit of chaos and wild negotiation to outbreak amongst the Senate, but the decision to inform Dzhokhar Tsarnaev about his Miranda rights was really what caused hell to break loose across the boards.  

Tsarnaev was hospitalized and wasn't in any condition to answer questions until recently, so Senator Graham had apparently tweeted these messages on his twitter account a couple days ago:
Tsarnaev finally managed to speak this past Tuesday, but he wasn't read his Miranda Rights because President Obama had issued that it was okay to skip over them, this being a "public safety exception." I can certainly understand why politicians and crime investigators want to get information quickly without a lot of resistance, but considering that Tsarnaev is an American citizen, couldn't this be considered a violation of constitutional rights? Ultimately, the people who questioned him argued that it's fine if his confession is thrown out, because they have more than enough sufficient evidence to convict him/punish him.

What do you guys think about the whole situation? Do you think he should have had his Miranda rights read to him? What types of changes do you guys want to see with America's immigration policy?

For more information, read this, this, and this.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Good Things Must Come to an End: Cooper Union Begins Charging Tuition

Cooper Union, a university comprised of three smaller colleges that specialize in art, architecture, and engineering, announced that they will begin charging undergraduate tuition fees starting with next year's batch of freshmen. This doesn't seem to be all that significant at first, but it's a huge change in this school's history because enrolled students have never had to pay tuition in over 100 years. Students and professors alike feel like this change has stripped the school of its character, but it was one of the only conceivable solutions for dealing with a 12 million dollar deficit and paying off a large loan that the school had taken out a couple years ago. Protecting the school's founding principle of offering free higher education has unfortunately come to cost a lot of money. Students can still enroll at the school for free if they meet a list of needs upon their acceptance, but a couple thousand students will be stuck trying to get loans to pay for their education. 

All of this raises an important question... What would be the cost of free college education in the United States? Seeing as how only 30% of American students who start college graduate (source), one of the government's primary concerns might have to be finding ways to make the four years more affordable, even it means spending more money. In 2010, the total cost of free post-secondary education in the U.S. was estimated to be about 128 billion dollars, and this is significantly lower than the 225 billion dollars the government spent on grants and student loans combined (source). If free education is projected to cost less than what we may be spending on certain programs right now, maybe there is hope for future generations that quality learning can come at a cheaper price. As Cooper Union has shown for a century, great instruction doesn't necessarily have to burn a hole in students' pockets.  

In what ways do you guys think it would be beneficial for the country to have more universities that are free, like how Cooper Union used to be? Finland, which ranks first on the global education index, doesn't charge tuition at any of their public universities, so is a free higher education system in America too idealistic?

For the specific article on Cooper Union, please read this.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"The Mothership has Landed"... in Cupertino?

Cupertino, California
While I was driving home today, I happened to be listening to KQED, and a segment about Apple's new headquarters caught my attention. (That broadcast can be found at the Marketplace website*, by the way!)  The new facility will be called "Apple Campus 2," and it is to be shaped like a huge circle with apple orchards and walkways running through the center of it. The untraditional structuring of the building has led to many people suggesting that the designs make the building look like a UFO or circular click wheel on an iPod/iPad. Moreover, because the walls will be mostly constructed out of curved glass, it has received the attention of many modern architects and architecture students throughout the country. By having such a unique "home base"amongst the many gloomy office parks in Silicon Valley, Apple hopes to inspire creativity, ingenuity, and innovation amongst employees.

So... if plans for building this new complex were first revealed in 2011, why is this relevant now? Well, according to this recent article, the 2015 opening of the building has been pushed back a year, and speculation that the building costs will be 2 billion dollars over budget seem to have plagued the internet and tech-junkie community. Apple hasn't openly said anything to suggest that budgets have become unmanageable, so perhaps the construction is just slightly delayed, and people need to calm down over the news. However, because Apple has been recently struggling in the stock market, the hopes to expand and make this new workspace become a reality may be difficult for other reasons. On a more optimistic note, Apple's latest quarterly report projected that the company managed to earn 43.6 billion dollars, which was actually higher than Wall Street's projected 42.3 billion dollars (source). Could things maybe be looking up? The development of the new building and new products may have to wait until the second quarter's earnings have been released. 

All of this being said, do you guys think having a new headquarters will prove to be an asset to Apple in the future? What sorts of tours or features do you think could benefit the company at this new space? Could Apple's success possibly play an even more prominent role in the United States's economy? 

*To listen to the correct broadcast, make sure that the date is set to today, April 23, 2013.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston Bombing

The two Russians responsible for the Boston Bombing, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are stated to have had further plans past the Boston Bombing. The older brother, Tamerlan, was fatally wounded and died after the shootout while Dzhokhar remains in the hospital "in serious condition." Interrogators will question Dzhokhar as soon as he recovers and is able to talk. Investigators further examined the whole story as they conducted "interviews with friends, relatives and others who knew the suspects and examinations of computers, phones, writings and their possessions."

The brothers were found armed with a small arsenal of guns, ammunition, and explosives. Also, "when the suspects seized a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle and held the driver hostage, they told him that they planned to head to New York." Officials state that based on the clues, "they were going to attack other individuals." In 2011, the FBI received a Russian warning about "one of the suspects' possible link to extremist groups." Lawmakers are accusing the FBI of an intelligence failure, "questioning whether the bureau had responded forcefully enough to Russia's warnings." Overall, what are your thoughts on this event?

Read more here.

420 Shooting

A "gunfire scattered thousands attending Saturday's 4/20 counterculture holiday, the first since Colorado legalized marijuana." 2 were shot, a man and a woman, and left with non-life threatening wounds. This pot celebration was expected to draw about 80,000 people "after recent laws in Colorado and Washington made marijuana legal for recreational use." Many police officers surrounded the area, looking out for any crime potential. "But authorities, who generally look the other way at public pot smoking [at the celebration] on April 20, didn't arrest people for smoking in public, which is still illegal." They were aware of the events at Boston and Denver police spokesman Aaron Kafer states, "Our message to the public is that, if you see something, say something."

They say four or five shots were fired as people immediately began to scatter. "Group smoke-outs were planned Saturday from New York to San Francisco." However, "a citizen advocacy group that opposes marijuana proliferation, Smart Colorado, warned in a statement that public 4/20 celebrations 'send a clear message to the rest of the nation and the world about what Colorado looks like.'" Police are still in search for the shooting suspects. What are your opinions on this event? Were police doing the right thing? Is marijuana legalization a potential threat?

Read more here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

EPA Draws Options For Minimizing Power Plant Waste Discharge in Waterways

Following requirements under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a range of options regarding reducing harmful pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium which are released waterways by American steam electrical power plants. Exposure to these detriments can lead to "neurological damage and cancer as well as damage to the circulatory system, kidneys and liver." 

Sued by the Sierra Club, the EPA was urged to adopt one of four options pertaining to the aforementioned proposition. If the rules are drawn correctly, the EPA estimates that pollutant discharges would be reduced by  470 million to 2.62 billion pounds, and reduce water usage by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons per year. With such monumental changes, future energy costs could be drastically reduced while the pollutant count would also be cut. 

However, the cost of upgrading individual power plants to reach this goal would cost millions of dollars, from the already stretched federal budget. In the end, do you believe that such reform is necessary? Are the millions of dollars being invested in this program worth it? Could the money be better spent for other situations?

Healthcare, Cutting Directly Into the Old and Poor

Social Security, as we all know, is a program which borrows from current workers, to provide relief to the elderly. In turn, those who contribute to this system receive Social Security benefits as well, when they reach the set legal qualifications. However, the problem pertaining to the current elderly generation is that the budget on Social Security is tightening, inevitably leading to cuts in the program. Currently, in order to reach a bipartisan agreement over the federal budget deficit, President Obama proposed "slowing the rate at which benefits increase over time."

However, with this proposition, comes many consequences, hitting the poor and old the hardest. Perhaps one of the largest problems of Social Security, the "inflation adjustment" is in correcting itself to the current index. Currently, recorded inflation deviates from the current index about "0.3 percentage point less each year," which is much more significant than it might seem. Over time, the culmination of this continuous compounding of lagging inflation adjustment add ups, creating quite the heavy burden on Social Security Beneficiaries. 

In order to combat this problem, some speculate that replacing the current C.P.I-W with C.P.I-U, the first is just your normal consumer price index while the second means chained consumer price index, would be the right move. The difference that C.P.I-U makes is that it would account for a fifth of the current system's shortcomings, and that it would therefore provide relief to more SS beneficiaries.

C.P.I-U not only would measure direct lines of products, and their resulting price and quantity sold fluctuations, but also encompass different product categories as well. For example, C.P.I-U would monitor pork as well as its alternative of beef, chicken, etc. Critics to this new method of measuring inflation argue that the goods and services that those on Social Security utilize are rather inelastic, that there is much less opportunity for substitution, and therefore the impact of C.P.I-U is negligible. After all, one is not going to substitute spinal surgery for a heart operation correct?

Through in through, perhaps C.P.I-U might just provide an edge for SS dependents, especially since the budget on SS itself is so tight. What do you think of this whole debacle? Do you support the implementation of C.P.I-U or not in regards to Social Security beneficiaries? 

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Jobless Take a Blow

Since March 1st, automatic federal government budget cuts known as the sequester took effect. California's Employment Development Department announced a 17.7% cut in weekly unemployment benefits paid out by the U.S. Treasury taking effect April 28th. This cut is directed upon those unemployed for more than six months. Currently in California, there is an estimated 400,000 who fall under this category. We also have one of the highest unemployment rate in the nation recorded at 9.6% tied with Nevada and Mississippi.

Although the sequester does not cut benefits given to those unemployed for 26 weeks, it hurts the more needy who have been unemployed for up to 47 more weeks. "The state's maximum benefits is $450 per week. Those recipients would see a weekly trim of $79. A 54 year old laid-off warehouse worker in Half Moon Bay responded, "It seems like every time we have a problem, and they can't come up with a budget, they want to attack someone. It's always the working class that gets hit the hardest."

The cuts will be "phased in over several months depending on when people enrolled for benefits." Details on the cuts are being mailed to recipients in hopes that they will be able to prepare for the money loss. This sequester, however, also weakens other attempts to help the unemployed. "The Employment Development Department is losing $3.3 million in federal money for administering the unemployment insurance program. Additionally, funding for the state's Workforce Investment Boards, which operate job centers, is being cut by at least $15 million." Like we learned in class, this may be a way to help encourage those who are unemployed to push harder for even the smallest of jobs. What are your opinions on the sequester? Is it too harsh?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Central Texan Fertilizer Plant Explosion Leaves 160 Wounded, Death Toll Undetermined

Located in a small central Texan town, West, a Fertilizer plant blew up, destroying many neighboring homes and potentially killing many. Perhaps the saddest part of the tragedy was that many of those who are thought dead were volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who have "remained missing" many hours after the blast. The blast was immensely powerful as one eyewitness account reported that the "ground shook as a ball of fire shot into the sky." Wendy Maler, thirty-seven years old, claimed that "her home was wrecked," as the "windows were blown out, the drywall crumbled, and the doors caved in."

There is no answer to the question regarding what exactly ignited the grand blast of the fertilizer facility. Although there is "no indication of criminal activity," Sgt. Patrick Swanton, a police spokesperson, said that they "will investigate it as a crime scene." Currently, investigations are still being conducted, with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives leading the process. It does all seem that the happening was accidental, as the EPA “found a number of deficiencies,” with the plant's facilities, ability to address hazards, and quality of employee training.

As of now, the community is still trying to recover from the impact of this devastating tragedy. The death toll still remains unfixed at any number, but is focused around five to fifteen. President Obama offered the community any federal resources required to deal with the aftermath of the explosion. The town is closely knit, and, according to many residents, recover as time goes on. 

Do you think there's any possibility of this blast being relating to terror? If so, why target such a remote facility?   In comparison to other events such as the Boston bombing, how does this event compare in terms of potential for terror and general devastation? 

More can be read here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guantanamo Bay Hunger Strike Continues

Since February, 52 of the 166 men held at Guantanamo Bay have joined the hunger strike. Fifteen are being force fed and three have been hospitalized. "Hunger strikes are frequent at Guantanamo, but the current protest...is reportedly the longest and most widespread." Moreover, last week, there was a clash between the inmates and guards immediately stopped as "four less-than-lethal rounds were fired." It is said that the clash began when guards mishandled copies of the Koran in prisoners's cells, but officials deny the statement.

Human rights groups state that "prisoners are frustrated with the military's failure to decide their future." Surprisingly, "nearly 100 of the detainees have been reportedly cleared for release but remain at the facility because of restrictions imposed by Congress and also concerns of possible mistreatment if they are sent back to their home countries."

During his first term, President Obama famously promised to close Guantanamo Bay. However, currently, they are considering to spend $195 million to renovate the base and erect a new prison building. Although it has been an issue for a while, Guantanamo Bay has been going through record numbers of protests and hunger strikes. Do you guys think such maintenance has been going on for too long? Are the hunger strikes and hospitalization too far? Is it really worth it?

Gun Control Movement Halted

After the Senate blocked gun control measures brought up by the Sandy Hook shooting, the nation's quest for gun control solutions abrubtly came to a halt. Every single measure brought up fell below the necessary sixty votes, with regulations on gun trafficking coming the closest at fifty-eight to forty-two. The series of proposals ranged from expanding the national gun background check to broadening veteran's gun rights to banning high-capacity magazines. The results of today created much controversy, disappointment, and even shame on various levels.

Families directly linked to the Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. shootings responded with much disappointment and even anger to today's happenings. Lori Haas and Patricia Maisch, both victims from preventable gun massacres in Virginia Tech and Arizona respecively, shouted together, "shame on you!" The President himself stated that today was "a pretty shameful day for Washington.”

Those who opposed the legislation justified their decisions based on that they made the logical decision, and that passions and emotions held no place in the area of policy making.

Faced with the decisions of either cutting necessary gun control restrictions or proceeding to starting a fillibuster next week, it has been decided that the whole package would be put on hold. For now, it seems that there will be little progress made, as traction on this case grows weaker.

With the defeat in the Senate today, do you think the movement for regulating gun control will make any progress int he upcoming years? What do you think of what went down today? Do you think the result was justified?

Read more here.

Boston Bombing Suspect?

During the Boston Bombing incident, Police observed a "Saudi national... who is here on a student visa... moving quickly out of the crowd and as they're watching him, he seem[ed] to be moving very deliberately away, which could  be a very natural thing after a bombing." They continue to state that "they stopped him because he's covered with blood and all kinds of gore from the explosion. They think he may be injured, but it turns out that most of that is from other people." They then "engage him, they start asking questions. There [were] things about his responses that made them uncomfortable, so they arrange to get him to the hospital."

Although so far this is a normal story about people helping those in need during the bombing, the story continues. "FBI agents searched the man's apartment in the Boston suburb of Revere overnight, and investigators were seen leaving with brown paper bags, plastic trash bags and a duffel bag." "Authorities had stressed from the beginning that the man was not a suspect, but was being questioned as part of the overall investigation." 

With the article titled "Injured Saudi man not a suspect in Boston attacks," there seems to be very evident prejudice against the Saudi man who is "here on a student visa." Although police deem the man a victim, they proceed to search his house, collecting evidence and questioning the man." What are your opinions on such prejudice and pre-judgement of investigators? Do you guys think that it insures greater safety to the citizens or is simply wrong as it violates others' personal equipment?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Improved Route Towards Citizenship and Immigration

From a group of four Republicans mixed with four Democrats, a new bill has been introduced by a team of U.S senators which would "fix chronic problems" in the area regarding United States immigration and citizenship. The Democrats on this team are Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado, whereas the Republican group included John McCain and Jeff Flake, both hailing from Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Basically, the bill would end up "bring[ing] an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to the right side of the law," as well as change the criteria of immigration to focus even more on merit-based qualifications.

Perhaps, the part of the bill which would introduce the most controversy is the section allowing illegal immigrants the opportunity of citizenship after thirteen years. This stance is almost guaranteed to generate antagonism from the GOP; however, certain provisions have been implemented in order to avoid resistance.  The senators required that Homeland Security increase enforcement and fencing near the Southwest border over the span of the next decade. Before the plan can be successfully initiated, these border reforms would need to be fully functional.

Aside from citizenship reform, this bill would also change the legal requirements for immigration to the U.S for foreign-born applicants. Visas would be given to those who could score one-hundred twenty thousand on the new "merit-based" point system. This program would increasingly reward well qualified immigrants, based on education, family ties, skills, and time spent in the United States. The majority of future visas would be awarded to those who have family ties, or members currently in the United States.

President Obama himself agreed with the Senators that the bill itself was "largely consistent" with what the general public endorses. Senator McCain and Schumer both gave praise to the president, with Senator Schumer stating, "I thanked him for that. John thanked him for that.” 

With the aforementioned information above, what do you think about this new "bill" proposed by the bi-partisan team of eight? Is the provision regarding citizenship fair? How about the new merit-based program for immigration?

More information can be found at here and here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

North Korea's Plea: Kim Il Sung's Birthday

Today marks Kim Il Sung's 101st birthday. In order to honor the founding father Kim Il Sung, the North Koreans have made his birthday, April 15th, as the start of their calendar. During the past years, there have been instances where the current dictators of North Korea attempt to show off their power on this date. The most recent, in 2010, the newly crowned son Kim Jong Un bombed both a South Korean Navy ship and one of its islands. They stated their reasons to be to gain enough recognition so that the U.S. would negotiate for peace.

Today, no signs of nuclear launches have been recorded, allowing the peninsula to remain quiet for another year, or so we hope. As North Korean simply celebrates their eternal president's birthday with flowers and ceremony, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry states that we will "do what is necessary to defend Japan and South Korea from any attack," and that in order to negotiate, "we need the appropriate moment, appropriate circumstances."

Despite such a calm tone from Kerry, the South Korean remain on edge. As Kim Jong Un announces his future plans of rebuilding his countries economy along with strengthening its nuclear arsenal, a North Korean expert teaching in Seoul states that "'This is Kim Il Sung redo'" while another states that we've only seen the "first step for the North Korean leadership to create an image of a great leader."
Because there will be no South Korea if the North bombs Seoul, only 30 miles away, it is up to the U.S. to stop such a war. Do you think that the U.S., like Kerry states, should remain defensive with immediate reaction to North Korean attacks? or do you think prevention such as immediate negotiation or initial military action is more apt?

Boston Bomb Kills Two, Hundreds Wounded

According to the National Post, two bombs went off during the Boston Marathon of 2013. These explosions ignited towards the end of the path, effectively killing two, and injuring one-hundred and five others, fifteen of which are in critical condition. Tragically, among the deceased, is a Bostonian child of no more than eight years. The injuries which ensued this tragic event ranged from "burns" to "gashes," and even to "missing limbs." Supposedly, the bombs were in close proximity to each other, less than one-hundred meters apart, with multiple victims near both sites. Following this, Boston police has asked that the public remain at home.

Currently, in regard to the status of determining the culprit, nothing has been gained. The footage of the bombs exploding revealed little to no evidence, causing quite the predicament. There also seems like there was no motive relating to this attack, and currently officials are clueless as to both who would plan such a horrific deed, and what was the impetus behind the culprit's action. There are no leads to support that this happening was related to terror attacks, yet the possibility is not improbable. With no evidence to provide insight or clues on this case, further investigation is required in order to gain any traction on this case.

Obama himself reassured the nation that such blatant attacks on the American people would not go unchecked, directly stating, "We will find out who did this, we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice." The President promised that all necessary relief would be provided, and that the American people would be with Boston "every single step of the way.”

This event is undoubtable tragic, and it really raises the question about what type of person could commit to pulling off such a heinous crime? Do you think Obama's response to the Boston Bombings was adequate? What is your general attitude towards this occurance, as a whole?

The Hastert Rule and Gun Control

Political scientist John Berstien offers his view on the implication of the Hastert Rule on the recent guns and immigration bill in the House. The true believers who won't vote for the bills no matter what don't matter due to their small number. The Republican moderates who would like to see the bill passed don't matter as well even if they, together with the Democrats who support the bills, constitute a majority. The rest of the mainstream Republicans are the one who decide if the bill should be borught to the floor and dicatate if it's going to be passed.

If the Hastert Rule is follwoed and if a majority of the Republcans want to pass the bills, Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) will bring the bills out to the floor (the speaker sets the legislative agenda of the House) and the bill will be passed. Does the conservatives want the bills passed? For the gun control bill, those who voted against the Violence Against the Women Act would want the bill to pass to remove the issue from the electoral agenda before the next election. However, they can't openly state their position yet, because they do not know "whether the bulk of this group would rather see the gun and immigration bills pass or not," said Berstein.

It seems the gun control bill has revived at the Senate. So far Speaker Boehner has promised that the House would respond to any bills passed by the Senate and exaime it through a lengthy debate without the usual deadlines. Even though the conservative Republicans are under the pressure of their consitutents and pro-gun lobbyist, they couldn't and shouldn't go against the 80% of Americans who favor a background check. A "lengthy debate," on the other hand, would give the conservatives weeks and months to work out ammednments that would make the bill unfavorable to the Senate Democrats, an intersting piece of information mentioned in a Reuter article.At the end, a compormise could be impossible.

The gun control bill hasn't been passed by the Senate yet. But do you feel comfortable leaving the bill to the House if it were to be passed by the Senate?

Read more about the bill here, here, and here.

Lets Catch an Asteroid!

Basically, NASA is planning to catch an asteroid and place the asteroid in orbit around the moon. They will do this by using a robotic spacecraft, similar to the picture shown, and drag it back towards earth. A 2012 study estimates that it would take 6-10 years in order to move the asteroid to the earth. It will then be placed in a "stable orbit" around the moon. After the asteroid is placed in orbit around the moon, astronauts will travel to the asteroid and begin mining, research ways of deflecting an asteroid, and begin developing technology in order to possibly travel to Mars. 

Obama supports NASA's plan and is including 100 million dollars in his budget plan in order to start the project off. It is expected that astronauts would began visiting the asteroid by 2021. The estimated cost for the whole project is around 2.6 billion dollars. 

Former NASA astronaut Rusty Schweickart, mentions that "One big issue is how do you hold on?  Frankly, nobody knows how to attach to an asteroid. It’s a blank spot in our knowledge.” 

So what do you think? Is it worth to spend 2.6 billion dollars to catch an asteroid? 

More information can be found herehere and here

Sunday, April 14, 2013

More on Obama's Budget Plan

Obama's recent budget proposal may limit his bargaining power with the GOP. According to an article by the Associated Press, "In essence, Obama's spending blueprint is a final offer, a no-budge budget whose central elements have failed to persuade Republicans in the past." More specifically, Obama has already conceded to entitlement cuts, such as slowing the rise of the Social Security benefits, so he really couldn't make any further concessions if the Republicans were to enter a negotiation.

Furthermore, many of his fellow Democrats are not pleased with his move to touch the social security benefits, which the Democrats tout as one of the core achievements of their party; they feel more so when Obama proposed it even before the negotiation. "If he's trying to do it to show he is forthcoming as a negotiator, then why doesn't he wait until he gets to the negotiating table?" said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. "There's a lot of talk about the fact that politically this is not a winner. Our brand is the party that brought you Social Security."

To please his own party, Obama proposed a tax increase for the wealthier people, which the Republicans, on the other hand, would openly reject. Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell,  while praising Obama's proposal to cut entitlements, said that the proposal does not "bridge the differences between the House and Senate passed budgets."According to the Senator, the proposal is hardly a compromise, but “[is] really just a pivot from left – to left.”

Just as a reminder, Obama's budget proposal would change the way government calculates the inflation rate, the CPI (Consumer Price Index); the new CPI would slow the rise of social security benefits. Do you think what Obama's doing (proposing entitlement cuts before the negotiation with GOP) is a wise move? Has he he screwed up this time?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Hastert Rule

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)'s response in a news conference on Thursday implies that he would be more inclined to overlook the Hastert Rule in the future, saying that "[the rule] was never a rule to begin with." The Hastert Rule was named after former GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and described the practice that the Republicans in the House would not bring a piece of legislation to a vote unless it has the support of a majority of the House Republicans.

Boehner has earlier expressed his objective to continue the tradition of the rule and honor its spirit, but earlier this week, a bill that would expend the government's ability to protect historical battlefield was passed without the support of a majority of the House Republicans. Many of the important upcoming legislations, such as those on budget, immigration, and gun control, would not be voted on because the Republicans has yet to agree on these issues, if the Hastert Rule were to be observed.

The Republican party is currently split between the "purist group" who opposes any forms of compromise, the liberal "Rhinos,"and the rest who are refraining from voting against the purists to avoid being labeled as traitors. The Haster Rule benefits the Republican Reps by preventing them from having to make tough decisions during votes.

On the other hand, Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist, claimed that Republicans Reps would benefit the most by ditching the Haster Rule. The moderate gets to vote with the bipartisan majority in the Senate, the conservatives get to vote with the "purist" without actually killing a bill, and "the true believers get to complain about sellouts and RINOs — they love doing that!"

If Bernstein's claim is correct, then Boehner has done quite a good job at keeping his party happy and thus being a good speaker. Even Hastert himself has periodically violated the rule that is named after him (click here to learn more if you are interested). GOP strategist John Freehery, however, held a different opinion and said “conservatives are terrified, and they should be, that if Boehner decides to throw in with 70 Republicans and 150 Democats, they have no voice anymore.”

Nonetheless, this kind of anti-Hastert Rule spirit undoubtedly threatens the already fragile unity among the House Republicans. From the po
int of view of the Republican Party, would the Republicans, in the long run, be benefitted by walking away from the Hastert Rule? To a Rep, is it more important to be able to vote on one's conscience or to abide by the party disciplines? Although Boehner is doing his job as a Speaker to facilitate the legislative process, is he doing so at the sacrifice of his political career?

Click here to learn more.

A New Bird Flu?

A new variation of the bird flu (H7N9) has struck China and has so far killed 11 people. A sample from 3 of the people killed reveal that the virus has mutated in order to help it grow the mammals respiratory track. The good news though is that investigators have found no evidence that the virus passes directly from one person to another. In all three people examine the mutation know as "Substitution Q226L" was present. This allows the virus to be in much cooler temperatures than the standard influenza virus. This "change lets it grow in a human respiratory tract, which is cooler than the virus' natural home: a bird's gastrointestinal tract." The first three patients were a 87 year old man, 27 year old man, and a 35 year old woman, each one died from the virus.

According to Cox, a physician for the CDC (Center for Disease Control), "as surveillance has expanded, we're also seeing individuals with milder case.We're still seeing very severe disease in some cases, but overall I think it's somewhat reassuring." He also mentions that "a widely available diagnostic test would allow faster identification of patients who actually have the infection, and would also help disease detectives zero in on how people are being exposed." 

Dr. Ron Fouchier, a Dutch virologist says that "I wouldn't say a pandemic is more likely than it was a year ago; the only thing we can do as virologists right now is to point out the interesting characteristics of the virus, try to get to the bottom of this story and try to stop further infections." 

So what do you think? Will this new strand of bird flu become a major problem, or does it seem under control?

More information can be found here.

New Law on Pot?

Houes Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is about to introduce the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would protect pot users and business owners from federal prosecutions, provided that they are in compliance with state regulations. Pot users in the state of Colorado and Washington would receive the most immediate benefits from the act if it is passed, since they have already voted to legalize marijuana for age 21 and above. The Representative reported in an interview that "the bill [is] 'common sense' and said it '[keeps] the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities.'"

The historical opposition to the legalization of Marijuana started to break down in the recent years. As of now, 60% of Americans believe that marijuana should not be interfered by federal regulations in the states where it is legalized. Already, Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wa) is pushing for the legitimization of financial service for the marijuana industry.  A majority of both the Republicans and Democrats think that marijuana prohibition is not worth
the cost.

 Since Colorado and Washington moved to legalize pot, Obama's justice department has yet to decide clearly what it is going to do about it. Putting the the debate of whether pot should be legalized aside, the passage of the act would end the conflict between state and federal law. But, more than that, it would also be a significant milestone in the legalization movement.

Do you think that the Respect Sate Marijuana Laws Act would be a good idea? Do you approve of the movement to legalize marijuana? What role should the federal government play in the process? Should this be deemed as a concession that the war on drug is a failure?

Go to here and here to learn more.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Automatic Voter Registration in Oregon?

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown recently has introduced a bill that would have Oregon's voters automatically registered (provided that the DMV has their identification information). Oregon currently has a mail ballot system, and Brown maintained the position that "[voting] should be easy, not hard."Perhaps the government, not the voters, should bear the burden of voter registration, suggested by Jonathan Bernstein, a political scientist.

An automatic voter registration is already in existence in other democracies. The requirement of voter registration seemingly unnecessarily complicates the election process. Bernstein even went so far as accusing that certain politicians are perhaps using the voter registration system as block to stop certain population group from voting, those who move more constantly ( which happens to coincide with those who are "younger and poorer.")

Even though Bernstein claimed that "Voter registration is hard in most states because someone who didn’t want people to vote passed a law," the voter registration system has its merit. Namely, it could protect the election process from frauds. A voter, who does not have to register to vote, could potentially vote more than once. And are the Americans ready for an automatic registration system? If you can recall a post by Mr. Silton during the presidential election day, you must have remembered the various voting frauds and irregularities occurred on that day. 

 However, although an automatic registration system has its cons, it would definitely allow more people to vote, making the election result more representative of the will of the people. What do you think? Do you think the benefits of an automatic registration system outweighs its cons? Should California and the rest of the nation follow suit? Are we ready for such a change?

Go to here and here to learn more about Oregon's proposed automatic voter registration system.

Obama's Budget

Today "President Obama proposed a $3.77 trillion budget for 2014 that would cut deficits by $1.8 trillion over the next decade." Obama basic plan is to change Social Security/ Medicare and increase taxes for high income households and corporations. His plan also calls for increased spending on childhood education and non defense research. Obama also wants to boost infrastructure by investing 50 billion dollars to repair, highways, airports and bridges.

Obama also wants to enact a "buffet rule" which would "make sure that people earning more than $1 million paid their "fair share" of federal tax -- which he defined as a minimum of 30%."Obama also wants to raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products Specifically, it "would raise the federal tax on cigarettes by 94 cents to $1.95 per pack. The White House estimates the tax hike would raise $78.1 billion."With this extra money, he plans to expand pre-kindergarten education.

Obama also wants changed the way inflation is measured. He plans on doing this by switching to chained CPI (Consumer Price Index). The chained CPI is "a new way to measure inflation that would reduce projected federal spending by slowing the growth in federal benefits that are annually adjusted for cost of living. Those include Social Security benefits."

He also plans to cut the deficit by 1.8 trillion. Around 600 billion is estimated to come from new revenue. Specifically from the "buffet rule". The other 1.2 trillion is expected to come from spending cuts. $200 billion from defense,"$400 billion from Medicare and other federal health programs in ways that largely affect hospitals and drug companies. And $600 billion in cuts affecting non-health spending on things like agricultural subsidies and unemployment insurance."

What do you think of Obama's Budget Plan?

More information can be found here and here

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is North Korea Bluffing Again?

US government warned that North Korea could fire its missiles at any time after intelligence has shown that North Korea has completed the preparation for a launch. Earlier today North Korea announced that all foreigners in South Korea should be prepared for a possible nuclear war . Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of the US Pacific Command, reported that he could not recall any time of greater tension in the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War.

However, the admiral assured that US military has the ability to track the missile and shoot it down if it threatens US territory or allies. In addition, Senator Levin (D-Mich), the chairman of the Armed Service Committee, expressed his view that North Korea would not want to go to war because its objective is survival. Similarly, the recent North Korean threats have not caused much of an uproar in South Korea, which, according an article in Business Insider, has become accustomed to North Korean bluffing.

Already, the US appears to be leaving room for Kim to back down: it, for instance, has postponed a scheduled ballistic missile test. It appears that the provocations and threats from North Korea have become some sort of periodic ritual, one that, despite its frequency, still stirs up tension in Northeast Asia and US national politics. In response to North Korean threats, the Pentagon, for example, has sent in B2 and approved the sale of either F- 15 or F-35 to South Korea. 

When Kim test-fire missiles again next spring, why not sell the F-22 or X-51 all together since North Korean threat's so overwhelming? It seems somewhat foolish that the US continues to play the game and treat North Korean threats with great attention in this relentless cycle of North Korean provocations. What do you think? Do you (and why) agree that North Korea is bluffing again this time? Should the US take North Korea seriously?  Which set of policy do you think the US should pursue in the next North Korean provocation? How could the US break this vicious cycle?

Click here to read more about the conflict if you wish.

Texas College Stabbing

Today at around 11:20am at  the Lone Star College's CyFair campus northwest of Houston Texas, 16 people were injured by a stabbing that occurred. Out of those 16 people, 2 of them were in critical condition. A student reports that "he saw blood on a stairway and several injured victims...one wounded woman had a hole her throat, one had a hole in her cheek and another victim had a stab wound in the back of his head." A group of students managed to chase the suspect, tackle him and pin him to the floor until authorities arrived. The suspect has been identified as a 21 year old male who currently was enrolled at the school. The weapon currently hasn't been identified."We don't know whether (it was) a knife or some other type of instrument." The school remained on lock down until around 2pm today to make sure no other attackers or injured were present on campus. Investigators are still trying to find out the motive of the suspect but it appears to be random. This stabbing only took place 2 months after a shooting that wounded 3 people at a nearby college.

How do you think schools can protect their students without interfering in a students privacy? What could the students do in order to prevent incidence like this one?
More information can be found here and here

Post Spring Break Agenda: Gun Control Legislation

President Obama recently returned to Connecticut once again to memorialize the victims of the school massacre that took place there. While there, he will continue advertising his campaign to reduce gun violence. This is especially important since this is happening at the beginning of an important week in Congress for gun-control legislation, as legislators return from their two week spring break. 

While some Republican senators have threatened to filibuster any emerging legislation tightening gun-control laws, President Obama plans to bring members of the victims' families to Washington to provide a counterbalance  in the form of emotional perspectives and first-hand accounts from the victims' relatives. He hopes the families will meet with lawmakers and have a persuasive influence. 

With the Aurora murders and shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a serious drive for federal gun-control legislation has arisen, something at the top of President Obama's legislative agenda. 

While opponents of gun-control legislation argue that the issue should be left for the states to decide, President Obama and fellow Democrats feel that a federal law is needed to provide legislative uniformity nationwide, especially when it comes to the issue of background checks for those purchasing guns. Though states such as Colorado and Connecticut have already enacted their own gun-control laws, there is still an overwhelming demand for a federal stance. 

Although lawmakers from both parties claim that President Obama's lobbying has had little effect on opponents of gun legislation, White House officials fully support his actions, asserting that he has helped keep the issue alive, speaking on behalf of the majority of Americans who have asked for stronger background checks and restrictions when it comes to gun ownership. 

Sadly, the prospects of a Senate gun-control bill are dim, and the Republican-led House said it will only act if the Senate passes a measure. Since President Obama's proposed ban on military-grade assault weapons has been shot down, the fight has shifted to a focus on background checks and records to be kept on fun purchases. 

Questions: Do you think coming off spring break will have a positive impact on politicians engaging in debates and negotiations surrounding gun-control legislation? Do you think bringing victims' families will have any impact on decision-making in Congress? In your opinion, should gun-control legislation be reserved to the states or is a federal law necessary? What are the most important issues surrounding gun ownership that should be addressed in Congress? 

Navy Introduces Laser Weapon Technology to Combat Iran

The Navy is going to sea for the first time with a laser weapon capable of destroying enemy patrol boats and disabling enemy surveillance drones. 

This laser will be deployed on a docking ship in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian attack boats have harassed American warships recently. Also near the area, the government of Tehran has began building surveillance pods and rockets. 

Though the laser will not be operational until sometime next year, the Navy's announcement seemed to act as a warning to Iran not to step up activity in the gulf anytime soon; the Navy even released a video of the 
laser burning through a drone during testing. 

While the Pentagon has a record of over exaggerating the importance of their new technology, it was stated that, "Equipping Navy surface ships with lasers could lead to changes in naval tactics, ship design, and procurement plans for ship-based weapons, bringing about a technological shift for the Navy - a 'game changer.'" Without doubt, the new high-energy laser represents a more cost-effective way of countering air and ballistic missiles. The laser weapon is sustainable, and comes with a limitless supply of ammunition so long as the ship it's on continues to generate electricity.

However, the laser does come with certain limitations. Because it is a "line of sight" weapon, the enemy target must be visible, which is hard considering how enemy ships could potentially be coated with reflective or disguised surfaces. 

Now that Iran has stated that it is developing a fleet of drones to match the capabilities of those flown by American pilots - for surveillance and attack - is the new laser weapon a good investment? 

Questions: What do you think of the Navy's new laser weapon? Do you think it will be effective, especially given its weaknesses? Does the laser have stronger strengths (costliness) or weaknesses ("line of sight weapon")? Is the new laser weapon really a game-changer in the field of Navy technology?