Sunday, December 28, 2014

U.S. restores diplomatic relations with Cuba

Last Wednesday President Obama announced the the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Catalyzed by a year and a half of secret prisoner trade negotiations facilitated by the Vatican itself, the US exchanged Alan Gross and an unnamed american spy for the last three members of the Cuban Five. The US is now looking to open up a full embassy in Cuba.

This move looks to end mistrust stemming from the cold war as trade is reestablished with almost 55 year estranged region. While travel bans were lifted in 2010, this new deal will loosen both travel and economic policies even further. Although the shift in diplomacy seems to be positive-- the Pope even sanctioned the deal-- there are those who are against such a change. A number of Cuban refugees spoken out against it with reference to the horrors they saw under the Castro regime and the reminder that a Castro is still in power.

Do you think the US should restore relations with Cuba?
Are the opponents to such changes justified in their opposition?
What benefits or drawbacks might occur from the loosening of economic restrictions on trade to Cuba?

See this? This is Cuba. Looks nice doesn't it?

Monday, December 22, 2014

"The Interview" being pulled from theaters in regards to recent cyber attack on Sony Entertainment

Last week, Sony Entertainment had a company wide cyber attack that revealed many personal emails of chief executives, directors, producers, actors, and other employees had a drastic impact on the company. The FBI however have connected this cyber attack to a North Korea, and specifically the group of hackers who call themselves "Guardians of Peace", which wanted to halt the release of the movie "The Interview" starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. This movie angered North Korea's leader Kim Jung Un (ABC News) because the plot of the movie was about two American reporters being sent to assassinate Kim Jung Un. Sony's decided to pull the plug on the release of the movie, and so did theaters companies, such as AMC theaters, who felt that they will be threatened and hacked by the Guardians and that their information would be stolen as well (ABC News). The Guardians have threatened to take and expose more information from Sony if "The Interview" is ever shown, released, or leaked in any form (NY Post). Many Hollywood celebrities are outraged by Sony's decision to pull the movie out of theaters before it is even released, saying that it shows weakness (CNN) and President Obama saying that "[He] wished they had spoken to [him] first" (The Guardian). Jokingly, filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted "Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I'd also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers." He later added: "Oh, hackers, one more thing - I lost like $180K on [my film] 'Canadian Bacon.' Can u do the opposite of what u just did & get it back IN to theaters?"

I find this recent cyber attack quite disturbing, as do most people, thinking that Sony has shown weakness ti cyber terrorists and that they should have shown the movie. I also agree with the people who want the release of "The Interview" because it looked really funny, even though North Korea's leader didn't like it. Sony has gotten a lot of criticism for not showing its movie, and some theaters and people have volunteered to show it. With that much effort from other people and companies wanting to release the movie to the public on its expected release day, I believe Sony entertainment should stand up to these international bullies and show the movie. Even though the U.S. has more firepower, resources, and people to use, it is a waste of effort to use any of it on such a matter. The North Korean's could have taken this satirical movie and got back at the U.S. with a similar movie about North  Koreans coming to get our president, and we wouldn't have hacked them to stop the showing. This incident has shed some light on the new means of hacking that has not been seen before, and how our technologically connected planet can be targeted in new ways.


1.What do you think Sony should have done in regards to this matter?
2. How do you think people will respond to this situation? Should they show the movie or not?
3. Should the president use his War Powers Act abilities to find and retaliate against the Guardians of Peace?
4. If Obama was running for another term (hypothetically if he could), how would this incident affect his reelection and how would his campaign staff have to help him?
5. Did you want to see the movie?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Diplomatic Efforts by Texas Oil Company to Ease Tensions in Middle East

A large new natural gas field has been discovered in Israel, a good omen for its neighbors Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Israel's newly found resources would be able to sate their energy needs, but the tension between the states is standing in the way of cooperation. An oil company in the United States, Noble Energy, could be the key to peace. Its recent diplomatic deals with Israel and the nearby countries are supported by the Obama administration (New York Times). Noble Energy plans to sell natural gas from Israel to its neighbors to bring peace to the Middle East area. The American government "has quietly pushed the strategy" (NY Times) to relieve international tensions yet also promote its own agenda. It hopes that the energy supply from Israel will be able to expand past just fueling Egypt and Jordan, to more of Europe.

I think that these international deals have a good chance of succeeding. In the past few years, Jordan's demand for energy has driven it to continue to use Israel's source, despite tensions between the two states. With more available natural gas and further encouragement from an outside party, it is quite possible that the diplomatic arrangements could work, especially in the U.S.'s favor. On the other hand, other gas companies seeking use of Israel's resources are looking to compete with Noble Energy. The new natural gas reserves are located in the Royee field, which isn't held by Noble or its partner Delek Group (Haaretz). This is an opportunity for outside groups, like Italian company Edison, to control energy resources in Israel. It could also inhibit Noble and the Obama administration's plans to promote peace, if they lose influence in the region.

Do you think that Noble's efforts for peace will succeed, or is Israel better off with private companies using the new natural gas resources to compete with outside corporations (such as Noble Energy or Delek Group)?
How will the possible competition affect the Noble-Delek monopoly and nations' consumption of Israel energy?
In general, how would peace in the Middle East region help the U.S. and international community? Should the U.S. be involving itself to prompt peace, and are the efforts enough?

Uber Builds an Empire of Users and Lobbyists

As Uber, an app that connects people with nearby drivers for carpooling, gains popularity, the company also sees a rise in legislative attempts to regulate it and ensure rider safety. States have tried to introduce rules regarding the drivers and even halt its operation in the respective state (Washington Post). Such measures are usually backed by taxi and insurance corporations, but now, Uber quickly contacts its user base to counter regulatory bills. The company provides its users with convenient methods, allowing them to easily sign online petitions and display their protests to government officials. Additionally, Uber's professional lobbyists turn their influence on legislators whom they think can be persuaded to vote against the measures. In cases such as those involving the Virginia DMV and Illinois' bill, Uber has effectively used both its users and lobbyists to fight regulations, and usually, win.

The company's growing influence can be used a tool for the two major political parties. Currently, Democrats are generally supporting Uber. However, Republicans could also "'make a comeback' in Democratic cities" to target Uber's left-leaning audience (Washington Post). This tactic would call to the grassroots network supporting Uber and possibly attract the younger audience to the Republican Party.

Without the company's large network of users, I believe it would be more difficult for it to combat legislative regulatory efforts. Any corporation can hire lobbyists, but especially compared to other ride-sharing app rivals, Uber's fast and effective mobilization of its users allows the company to ask for and receive instant support--as in one case, people have answered so quickly that the rate peaked at "seven electronic signatures per second" (Washington Post). Uber is able to quickly show that its position is "representative" of the people and assure that they are working with them, instead of just sending lobbyists straight to lawmakers.

Would Republican support for Uber bring voters to the party?
As technology becomes more prominent in our daily lives, will more companies be able to successfully employ the double tactic that Uber uses?
Do you think Uber, or similar companies, should be regulated, and how?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Democrats say "Thanks Obama"

Having only been a month after president Obama's decision to defer deportation and offer work authorization to millions of immigrants, research polls of Pew Research and Gallup show Obama's approval rating among Hispanics in the immigration action, conducted between November 24 and  December 8, to be 81 and 64 percent, respectively.

The numbers are definitely impressive. But this has not been the first time Obama has played a card like this. Similarly, in the fall of 2011, just after the debt ceiling fiasco, Obama's approval rating had dropped to a point similar to where it is today. To respond, the Obama administration changed their strategy, deploying messages to appeal to every facet of the Democratic coalition, including deferred action for undocumented minors to appeal to Hispanic voters.

I find it interesting on how different politicians deploy different tactics to save themselves from getting caught between a rock and a hard place. Yet, just because Obama gained a majority of Hispanic voters now, do you think we are going to see a repeat of what happened in 2012 -- in a sense that this action by Obama will help save the democratic party during the 2016 election? In other words, what do you predict will happen? What do you think makes minority groups like Hispanics tend to favor democratic policies over republican policies?  New York Times

Detroit to Exit Bankruptcy

Sixteen months after the city filed for bankruptcy (the largest case in the U.S), Detroit "can now meet the basic needs of its citizens" (BBC) and exit its state of bankruptcy. Detroit's debt had been worth 18 billion dollars, but its new exit plan states a 4.5% cut to retirees' pension plans and the funding of the demolition of abandoned properties to shave $7 billion off its debt (BBC). The plan, proposed by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, was recently approved by US judge Steven Rhodes.

Detroit's situation had been worsened by "bad deals, corrupt mismanagement... and unreasonable promises to pensioners," but now, the city's creditors are playing a large part in its reconstruction. Detroit has had to accept their deals, including the pension cuts and transfer of the Joe Louis Arena. However, creditors want more--the artwork from the Detroit Institute of Art's collection. It was only saved by donations from philanthropists, organizations, and the state of Illinois.

I think that the best part of the city's plan is its investment in getting rid of abandoned buildings, which make up approximately 30% of the total amount (New York Times). With the deteriorated properties gone, private developers will ideally invest in the land and welcome new residents, improving the city's economy. The crime that takes place in those abandoned houses would also be reduced.

Could Detroit reduce its debt without cutting pensions? Will the 4.5% pension cuts affect the city's economy in the future, and how?
Will this current proposal be enough to lift Detroit out of bankruptcy, or will it need to further work with creditors?
In what other ways could the city relieve its debt?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

House Barely Passes $1.01 Trillion Spending Bill

Just making the midnight deadline, the House of Representatives approved the spending bill, "CRomnibus," by one vote today (final count: 219-206) (Washington Post). As it was passed just before government funding expired, a government shutdown was avoided. Additionally, the House passed a two-day resolution for the Senate to examine the bill.

Supporters of the bill say that its passage was necessary, for sufficient government funding until next year. On the other hand, opponents criticize its relaxed rules on campaign finance and Wall Street regulations.

Though the bill is supported by President Obama, House Democrats unsuccessfully fought against starting the floor debate. In her floor speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated that the Democrats were "being blackmailed" by House Republicans to pass a measure and avoid a potential government shutdown. Republican leaders and the Obama administration also contacted undecided Democrats to gain their support for the bill. As a result, the official vote, where more than 30 Democrats voted for passage, differed greatly from the initial procedural vote, with no Democrat voting for it (NPR).

If there had been more time before funding was set to expire, I don't think the bill would have been passed. Some representatives "didn't like the bill, 'but [also] absolutely don't like shutting down the government," as stated by Democrat Charles B. Rangel. Overall, the passage seems like a hasty decision, one that was passed partly to just prevent the government from shutting down.

Should the House have passed a stopgap (temporary) measure instead of the CRominbus bill?
Why did the White House give its support to the bill when most Democrats were opposed to it?
How important were the campaign finance and banking regulation rule changes in the bill's passage? Do you think the Senate will make any revisions or reject the bill?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Emerging International Draft to Reduce Global Warming

At the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, national representatives pressed the need for a international pact to fight global warming. After two decades of the United Nations attempting to introduce another global deal regarding climate change, the Lima draft is finally emerging, to be negotiated at the Paris conference next year (UN News Centre). 

All participating nations would set their own goals for reducing emissions, a very broad component to the draft and the main reason that they are agreeing to the deal. At the same time, this can also be seen as its "main shortcoming," as a number of countries believe that the treaty is a futile effort, that it will not make a enough of a difference to significantly affect global warming (New York Times). China cites a different reason, saying that "developing economies should not be required to commit to any cuts," a specification that was part of the Kyoto Protocol. However, it seems that it is not heading in the direction of the Kyoto Protocol, as supporting nations approve of the new constituent that allows each country to develop their own financial and environmental plans, and want to make the treaty legally binding.

I'm glad that the UN and nations are working on establishing another international pact to alleviate global warming, but based on the current information, I don't think that it will be strong enough to make a significant reduction in emissions. Because nations will set their own standards, I see it more as a foundation that will (hopefully) encourage more effort in fighting global warming in the future. 

Based on how the deal is unfolding so far, do you think that its proponents are pushing for features that are unnecessarily strict? 
Are there any incentives that participating countries could provide to motivate other nations to join? 

Realistically, how much of an impact will this treaty have on climate change? Would it affect people's mindsets in any way, even after it expires? 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Dissatisfaction With Obama's Response to Racial Conflict

With recent protests against the development in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, civil rights activists have been expecting President Obama to respond to the conflict. Yet, they claim that he hasn't been "the kind of champion for racial justice" that they need, even though he's in the right position to be (New York Times). Obama rejects these statements, saying that he is being as "explicit" as he can in public, but implies that only out of the public eye is when he can discuss his true feelings toward the subject. However, White House advisers agree that responses from the president will have a significant impact, in the case of his presidential legacy.

I believe that the activists' expectations for Obama are too extreme. It will take time for the United States to heal from the centuries of racism of the past, and Obama won't be able to immediately fix the problem. I appreciate that he has taken the time to listen to civil rights leaders and address the recent events, but if he continues to lose public support (Pew Research), he will likely have to take a stronger stance on the issue. 

What reasons might Obama have for not speaking out strongly about the recent racial conflicts? 
Do you think he should make a stronger public statement, and how would doing so affect his final two years in office and his legacy? 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Attorney General of Missouri Denies Doing Favors for Lobbyists

Attorney General of Missouri Chris Koster (left) reading a document... or staring into our souls.

From time over time, we tend to see government officials changing legislation or turning a blind eye to some cases because of campaign contributions from corporations. These contributions and benefits are given either directly to their campaigns or even privately to the person himself. Some may call this corruption however it is not uncommon for government officials to do favors for lobbyists. One huge case would be when John Boehner handed out checks from a tobacco company to fellow republicans in late 1995.

Denying allegations of being influenced by campaign contributions while tracking consumer fraud issues, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has denied such claims on Monday, December 8th. Koster has reportedly received $13,500 from a law firm that was representing a large bio-pharmaceutical corporation, Pfizer and $20,000 directly from the drug makers themselves -- whom allegedly falsely marketed some drugs. In addition, Koster met with lobbyists and spoke to PACs while investigating the company to ultimately negotiate a $750,000 deal with the company.

Do you think that this case deserves a deeper investigation ?
Besides this case, what is your take on money influencing politics as a whole?
If Pfizer is marketing false drugs, should it even be allowed to sell drugs in the first place?

Articles:New York TimesWashington Times

One of America's Oldest Cases of Racism, Still Around Today

With all the coverage of racism (Mike Brown, Eric Garner) in the news recently, I ran into one blaring issue that I’m actually embarrassed the people of the US haven’t fixed yet. The Washington Redskins’ name hasn't been changed. To me, this is like having a sports team named the N*ggers or the Ky*es. The word has had an extremely negative connotation, and sadly, because of a diminishing NA population, there aren’t many able to defend themselves against this injustice.
The argument that this team is a private enterprise isn’t any excuse to trying to stop change. The second Donald sterling was discovered to be extremely racist, the public went absolutely sideways, and he lost his team. this team’s owner, in our nation’s capital, no less, made statements saying that he wouldn't ever change the team name, and supporters say this whole case is just “political correctness gone mad” (BBC). Apparently, outward racist terms being used is now PC gone mad. If this team was named after any other ethnic group that had the population to properly defend themselves, it wouldn't have lasted nearly this long.
Do you think the team should be changed? If so, how?
Are there any other examples of organizations with insensitive/racist names that have fought to keep their names?
Are there any other reasons, besides racism, that the owner would not want to change the name?

interesting related story:

The Brand Names in Medicine Costing an Arm and a Leg, Even an Eye

In the American mindset, usually paying more for an item means that it is a better value. This comes with name brand recognition, with items like Ralph Lauren and Nike clothing costing much more per item because they are 1. Name Brand, and 2. “better quality” because of that name brand. Recently, some doctors have been promoting a drug called Lucentis, which treats various eye diseases. This drug costs $2,000 per dose, and a much cheaper drug, Avastin, only costs $50 a dose. These drugs have been rigorously tested and have virtually the same effects on patients, both negative and positive. The only real difference between the two is that Avastin has room for a very rare case of “doctor error” (NYT). The doctors promoting Lucentis are almost always speakers and analysts for Genentech, and have recommended Lucentis instead of Avastin because Genentech “has aggressively promoted Lucentis to doctors… paying rebates to those who use large amounts” (NYT).

            This practice of corporations paying public servants at the cost of the people truly disgusts me. Lucentis is literally 40 times as expensive, with almost no difference with the inexpensive drug. In 2011 alone, the government would have saved $1.4 billion in Medicare costs if doctors had prescribed Avastin instead of Lucentis. This is an illogical and unneeded expenditure. I personally would never buy a product for 40 times the amount of another identical product, and I don’t see why my (or anybodies) hard earned tax dollars should be wasted on illogical pharmaceuticals with no scientifically backed superiority.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Senate To Release Report on CIA Torture

The Senate Intelligence Committee (headed by Diane Feinstein) heading the investigation on CIA waterboarding (simulated drowning) techniques against suspected terrorists in the post-9/11 era and the CIA have come to a consensus over their dispute over redaction. The report concludes that waterboarding, used against terrorists to extract information, was not proven to have "produced U.S. counter-terrorism breakthroughs that could not have been obtained through non-coercive questioning" (Reuters).

The report covered 20 cases, and the "harsh interrogations were ineffective;" the information learned, in the vast majority of cases, could have been "found using other methods." Specifically, the information obtained that led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden's compound through harsh interrogation were "not necessary." (LA Times). The report contains "disturbing new details about the CIA's use of such techniques as sleep deprivation, confinement in small spaces, humiliation and the simulated drowning process known as waterboarding" (CBS News).

The White House sent Feinstein a declassified version with 15% redacted, causing Feinstein to quarrel over the obstruction of the "roles of key CIA officers," which she said would prevent the public from learning "how people inside the agency had made crucial decisions" (LA Times). Ultimately, 5% of the report was redacted, but against Feinstein's wishes, the names of agents were blacked out, not replaced with pseudonyms, because of the White House's argument that "identifying the agents, even by a pseudonym, would put them in jeopardy" (LA Times).

Kerry asked for a delay in the release of the report as he believed it would threaten the safety of "American personnel overseas," thus forcing Feinstein into a conundrum, in that releasing it now would cause her to bear the responsibility for the predicted endangerment of Americans abroad, but doing so would risk that Burr, her successor, would "block the report" after taking over in January (LA Times).

Questions for discussion:

1) What effect would releasing the report likely have in the current national and international climate?

2) Should Feinstein release the report now, and run the risk of endangering Americans on foreign soil, or delay the release and risk the blockage of information that provides a record of history that the country needs to learn from to live up to our values? In other words, is ensuring that we release to the public our moments of history which we regret, so that we can learn from it worth the projected risk?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

US Launches Failed Rescue Operation Against Al-Queda; Hostages Killed

The United States attempted to free hostages held by al-Queda in Yemen, but during the effort, the hostages were murdered. Though the militants operating the compound where the hostages had been housed were not believed to have had any prior knowledge about the raid, they believed that they were "on edge" due to a previous rescue attempt (The Australian). Though the American forces attempted to catch the militants by surprise, a noise, possibly a barking dog, alerted the militants, who proceeded to shoot the hostages and exit out of the back (ABC News).

The operation had been authorized by President Obama, who believed the life of Mr. Somers, one of the hostages, was in "immediate danger" due to a video released that threatened his murder in 72 hours (Reuters).

Tragically, the coldblooded murder of the hostages also doomed an effort by Gift of the Givers to secure the release of one of the hostages, who was set to be released one day after the raid had taken place; the United States government was not aware of this when attempting the raid (New York Times).

Though this illustrates the danger in using armed forces in attempted rescues, in this case, given that the executive branch had strong cause to believe that the life of an American was in imminent danger, I believe they made the correct choice, given the information they had, to conduct the raid, and take the gamble that the rescue operation would be successful, instead of dooming the hostage to likely death.

Additionally, this event further highlights the cruel, cold-blooded, heartless nature of al-Queda. Their complete disregard for innocent lives continues to disturb America, and adds justification to international efforts to obliterate them.

Questions for discussion:

1) Do you believe that the United States, specifically, the executive branch, was justified in authorizing the raid? (I would actually be very interested in hearing arguments about why they weren't.)

2) The United States has a policy against paying ransom, because doing so would serve to encourage future kidnappings. Is this policy justified to prevent a means of "rewarding" kidnappers or should the United States modify their policy to protect the lives of its citizens at all costs?

Friday, December 5, 2014

US Economy Experiences Record Job Growth

To the likely dismay of Republicans, (who seem to experience joy in decrying the bad economy under the Obama administration, especially during election campaigns) the US economy experienced gains during November this year. The United States has added 321,000 jobs, the best showing in nearly three years" (Reuters).

Though the unemployment rate remains at 5.8%, the "broader jobless rate, including people who worked fewer hours than they would like last month or those who have stopped looking for a job, fell to 11.4 percent" (CBS). Additionally, every major industry "bulked up their payrolls," with average pay up to $24.66, (LA Times) signalling the rebounding strength of the labor market, and thus the economy through the strengthening of consumer power.

Despite this, over the past year, wage increases have been only at an average at 2.1%, well short of the 3% the Federal Reserve need for comfort in increasing interest rates before mid-2015. (Reuters).

Economists are predicting a positive outlook for America's economy in the future, predicting that "we'll see a real acceleration in wage growth" by next year (LA Times).

Public opinion about the economy has risen as well, with Gallup reporting that "economic confidence in the U.S. had risen to its highest level in a year and a half, matching a post-recession high point." Democrats tend to have a more positive view of the economy than Republicans, (whose politicians obviously have a vested interest in portraying the economy as worse than it actually is) though both groups view the economy more positively than before (LA Times).

Click here for information more detailed charts and statistics about the American economy's performance in November.

Questions for discussion:

1) How has current domestic policy contributed to the upturn of the economy? What groups can be credited for this? (There will likely be more than one.)

2) Despite the more favorable economic conditions, Republicans portrayed the economy as unstable during the November elections to fuel discontent over Obama to gain electoral victories in the November elections. How and why were they able to succeed in this regard?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vladimir Putin Declares Crimea as Eternally a Part of Russia

Though analysts were "curious to see whether the president would take a conciliatory tone in his annual speech to Russia’s political elite," given the instability of the Russian economy due to in part to sanctions imposed on the West over Russia's intervention in Crimea, (The Guardian) Putin's speech instead took a fierce tone as he slammed the West over their interference over his attempts to annex Crimea.

By stating the Crimea territory "has a sacred meaning for Russians as important as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for those who profess Islam and Judaism," Putin portrays the territory as an area of religious importance to Russia, (LA Times) in an attempt to justify his forced annexation of the region. Interestingly, despite this, he has denied involvement of Russian troops in the Ukrainian crisis, despite the claims by NATO officials that "they have observed Russian armed convoys crossing the unprotected border into Ukraine" (LA Times).

Though logically, one would think that Russians would "prefer continued access to consumer goods over influence in Ukraine, iPads over great power status," given Russia's poor economic conditions, (Bloomberg) Putin's approval ratings are actually increasing. (Forbes) Though Western sanctions were intended to damage the credibility of Russian leadership, they have actually increased approval ratings due to increased defensive patriotism inspired by Western sanctions. Putin took advantage of this viewpoint to denounce the West for imposing sanctions, stating they "would have simply found another excuse to contain Russia with sanctions" (The Guardian).

 Questions for discussion:

1) Western sanctions have done little to damage the credibility of Putin domestically, which was their intended goal. Should Western strategy towards Putin's encroachment of Ukraine be modified? If so, how so? If not, why not?

2) Is the West engaged in another "Cold War" with Russia? Explain your reasoning.

3) What do you think the future holds for relations between Russia and the West? What policy should the West, in particular, the United States, adopt towards Russia?

17 States Suing on Immigration

Texas and other 16 states questions Obama’s constitutional eligibility by stepping into the immigration issue. This event begins when the lawsuit started in Brownsville, Tex., officially challenges Obama’s act beyond authority on providing working permits and protection on deportation for immigrants. According to the Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, Obama is not enforcing the law that is passed by congress but rather changing it. The lawsuit warned Obama that changing the law could bring a whole new series of problems that will affect the Southwest states like their funding and expense.

But the Spokesman of White House said Supreme Court and Congress supported Obama’s actions when they clarity that “federal officials can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws, and we are confident that the president’s executive actions are well within his legal authorities.” While during the conference, Abbott said that Texas was troubled by drug cross-border crimes and illegal immigration issues, therefore they are in a disadvantage at challenging Obama’s actions. He also said that “president’s responsibility to enforce the law was a fundamental promise to the American people”, so any changes on immigration laws should let the Congress decide not the president.

Should the congress as well as the president be able to view and interpret social issues differently due the the situation in terms of economic and social stands?

What limits the congressional nullification of Obama’s executive exertion of power?

(un)Lucky 17: The Number of States Suing Obama

The republicans have been trying to find an excuse to oust Obama since he got into office, and they finally have their chance. Texas and 16 other states are suing the president on grounds that “he violated his constitutional duty to enforce the laws and illegally placed new burdens on state budgets” (Montgomery, NYT, link 1). Texas is spearheading this lawsuit as it gets hit with the majority of illegal immigration.

            I have a few issues with their arguments, one of which being that this EO will ramp up illegal border crossings, as Latinos may see it as a free pass into the country. This simply isn’t true, as the EO only applies to immigrants who have been in America for over 5 years, have American born children, have passed background checks, and are willing to pay taxes (link 2). Even then, these immigrants aren’t given citizenship; they get the opportunity to apply to stay in the country if they start paying taxes and stay out of trouble, with no guarantee of success. The EO does not apply to new immigrants, so there’s no reason for border crossings to go up. Another hole in their argument is that this EO provides for more border security, which is what most of the Border States are fighting for anyways.

            What really gets me is the pure tunnel vision affecting these 17 states. There has been a bill in the house on immigration reform for the past year and a half that included heightened border security and a path towards citizenship by legal means but the republicans in the house have refused to vote on it (link 3). The passing of that bill would have meant this EO would be unnecessary.  All the states want to do is Stonewall Obama, and they will go to any means necessary to do it, which is exemplified by this lawsuit. What do you think?

            Do you think the states have any grounds to sue the president, and do you think the suit will hold?

            Regarding the issue of immigration, how much do you think racism is a part of the opposition of immigration?

            What are your thoughts on the best solution to our broken immigration system?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New York Police Officer Involved in Eric Garner Death Not Indicted

(For a video of the death of Eric Garner, click here)

Following the lack of indictment of Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a grand jury declined to indict the NYPD police officer who allegedly killed Eric Garner, who was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, through a choke-hold. His death had been ruled as homicide by the medical examiner, with his "health problems, including asthma and obesity" as "contributing factors" (Reuters). Though the chokehold is prohibited by New York police regulations, there is "no explicit law prohibiting chokeholds" (Reuters).

Though protests have predictably erupted following news that the jury had not returned an indictment, unlike those of Ferguson, protests in New York have been generally more civil, with approximately 30 arrests at the time of publication of this post with no significant vandalism of property (Reuters). While the less violent nature of these protests is a positive difference from the events of Ferguson, the tension between minority races and law enforcement continues to simmer. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, desegregation of schools following the Brown v. Board decision, and the many other steps the country has taken to promote the equality of minority races, racial tensions still remain to this day, highlighted through recent current events, and thus, there is much work still to be done to promote peace and harmony between different races.

Some questions for discussion:

1) Do you agree with the grand jury's decision not to indict Eric Garner? Why?

2) Given the inflamed tension between law enforcement and minority groups, what actions can local, state, and federal government take to ease this tension, and prevent scenarios like this from occurring in the future?

3) At what point does police force become excessive? Given the rarity of indictments of police officers, should laws governing police force be tightened to discourage police brutality? If so, how so? If not, why not?

Obama's call to rid the world of its real illegal alien: Ebola

This holiday season, Obama plans to give our glorious country one amazing gift: the beginning of the end of Ebola outbreaks totally and completely. Obama's call to congress to approve $6 billion dollars in aid to West African countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone comes after the french group MSF (doctors without borders) strongly criticized the international response to the virus, calling it “patchy and slow” (BBC).

Sadly, this BBC article also believes (and I agree) that Obama’s plan will likely be challenged by conservatives in congress, in wake of the President's Executive Order regarding immigration. This idea really upsets me, as there is almost no logic behind the conservative position. They didn't get what they wanted in one area (immigration) because they couldn't pass legislation, so they are punishing countries in desperate need of aid because they didn't get their way. Congress should be able to put aside partisan issues for the sake of safety of the citizens of the US.  While some may back a conservative position saying that 6 billion dollars is a lot of money to be spending when there is no need for US intervention,  I would kindly remind them the the defense budget for 2013 was $718 billion dollars. We should be able to allocate a fraction of a fraction of our defense budget’s worth to help fight what could become a global issue. What opinions do you have regarding these issues?

Should Conservatives challenge Obama’s relief plan because of his Executive order?

After being out of the news cycles for so long, is Ebola even an issue pressing enough to allocate $6 billion of our own dollars to aid West African Nations?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Obama to Toughen Standards on Police Use of Military Gear

Today, Obama reviewed the police’s equipment and announce a new policy that would train many police officers the right procedure to handle firearms and handle situations similar to the Michael Brown incident. In addition to these upcoming policies, Obama has also announced that the government would create a $263 million program that would provide police officers body cameras, allowing them to clarify situations.

Obama recently stated this Monday that with the incident, there are changes needed to be made starting with the retraining of police officers and law enforcement officials. With it, it allows officers to be combat-ready in times of crimes and terrorism. Although a report claimed that police were fully armed and with armored vehicles when they clashed with protesters, administration officials stated that only 4% of the equipment was considered combat-ready”.

In my opinion, improving equipment and training would definitely help counterterrorism, however, that is not the only main issue. The main problem in the US is the racial issue that has lasted for more than 300 years in American history. Bias and prejudice within white on blacks can never be solved or fade away because it is inherited or planted in American people's mindset. The only thing Obama can do is reduce the damage to blacks as minimal as possible.

How is racism creates bias and prejudice within the police force on minorities like African-American?


Sunday, November 30, 2014

After Adding Planes, US Wastes No Time in Taking Action Against ISIS

After reports this past week and a blog post by myself that stated that the United States was going to ramp up their airstrikes on terrorist group ISIS and do so by adding more aircrafts and planes, these reports were nothing but confirmed on Sunday morning as a U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria stepped up its attacks on the militant Islamist group's de facto capital by launching 30 airstrikes targeting Raqqa overnight. At least 10 of the airstrikes were carried out by government war planes, attacking the Raqqa city- the de facto capital of ISIS-which is known as a hotspot for ISIS training centers, weapons depots and accommodations for fighters. It is not stated or known how many were killed and the level of damage these airstrikes ultimately caused. Clearly, the US is just about all-in with their pursuit of destroying ISIS and their leaders and it will be interesting to see how these next few weeks will unfold with their emphasis on airstrikes and more ISIS surveilance.
Do you think that theses airstrikes will be beneficial for the US?
What does the quick timing of the United States actions with their air strikes say about how committed they are to stopping ISIS?
How much is too much? Does the US need to continue dropping down bombs and airstrikes on heavily populated ISIS grounds to accomplish their goal?
To read more:

No Severance Package for Wilson After Resignation

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson-the man who shot Michael Brown-will not recieve a severance package after his resignation this weekend. He will not recieve any pay or further benefits despite not being indicted by the grand jury. He resigned for his community and fellow officers, saying his "continued employment may put the residents and police officers of the City of Ferguson at risk, which is a circumstance I cannot allow."Effectively, Wilson is now left without a job, no pay and has to move on with his life. Yes, this whole tragedy is very saddening and the protests and reaction from America has been very extreme, but does this man deserve his fair share of benefits after his resignation?

More questions:

Had society not reacted with such hatred toward Wilson, would he have received his benefits and still have his job?

Ferguson Jury: No Charges For Officer In Michael Brown's Death

A White-Caucasian man by the name of Wilson who works as a police officer is said to have murdered an unarmed Black man named Brown. There are protesters around the area where Brown was killed but the police drove them away with smoke due to their supposed disturbance of the peace. Police have stated that they were being bombarded by rocks, bottles, and batteries; as well their patrol cars were set on fire. These acts can be accounted for as vandalism and destruction of government property and assault.

Michael Brown’s family said “we are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequences of his actions.” And continued to proclaim, “while we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.” They showed a manner of nobility and an initiative personality even after a family member’s death. Such quality that in the western world one would think only a white man can do, due to stereotypes. Brown’s family now shows negative attitudes towards the current system of the government. Since police forces are under the interior ministry, which is part of Executive branch, it display inefficient actions and unable to bring justice towards victims of violence and are helpless to victim’s family.

How does this case show the inefficiency of separation of power and government, helpless to violence against another like African-American and domestic issues / problems under Obama’s presidency?

Can the executive branch deal with issues like these have been on the rise lately?

What is the weakness about the police department force and why are they so helpless to African-Americans when they are being turn against in the area?

Source for further reading:

The new threat: 'Racism without racists'

Many have been left wondering the motives causes and effects of the ferguson incident, and some have gone to the extent of finding out how and these are the psychologists of the APA. The APA includes many from MIT, University of Chicago, Duke University and Stanford. They believe that racism has taken on a new form in which racists are no longer a component.

The psychologists presented an experiment to people consisting of two photographs showing two people fighting, they asked them who is the person that is armed. The first picture is two white men fighting and the second one is a black man and a whiteman fighting. Both pictures have one person armed with a knife and the other is empty handed. Most people pointed out it is the black man that is armed in the second picture when he is actually unarmed meanwhile in the first picture they picked the armed white man and said he was armed in the first picture.

Some people displayed racial discrimination on innocent people just because of their race without intending to be racist or having any strong opinion on them. Race minorities and white have different point of view on racism.

How long will this new racism last without notice in the USA and how will it continue to affect the people?

If people are affected by this psychological phenomena, what societal causes under the influence of the government are said to be the root of the problem?

How does racism influence and affect people’s point of view and behaviors when the society has already improved and changed?


Don’t Believe the Hype: Holiday Sales Won’t Make or Break the Economy

Retailers and their shareholders seems to be making an excessive number of profit, but the truth is, that isn’t so. Like for this year, the holiday sales generate $616.9 billion, the number sounds vast because in macroeconomic terms it is but this is only a portion of the overall measured economy. A statistic analysis shows from 1992 to 2013, December’s amount of sales aggregated to a 23% higher sale in comparison of the time period from January to October, meanwhile November’s was only 4%. In addition, there could be some error that is take in account for holiday sales. Therefore, one should only look at the net increase within the last two month. So if we look at it specifically, Americans spend only $106 billion but not $617 billion on these outdated or over timed products. Therefore the holiday sale does not generate as much income as you think for the economy. If one were to analyze this over the entire scheme of the United States as a best and worst case scenario the gap between expected results and calculated would be the $67 billion that was stated as a gap between both ends. Also as the media slowly creeps onto an age of disillusional decline in advertisement for Black Friday people will still be seen strongly believing in the sales. This is an interesting trend that must be further looked into.

How to make change marketing so that the economy could be better?

Are there any other ways to profit more other than holiday sale on the last two months of the year?


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Republicans Contemplate Suing President Obama

Republicans are in quite a rage after President Obama's use of executive power this past week in his proposal to protect as many as five million illegal immigrants from deportation out of the estimated eleven million in the United States. Obama states that he is pushing Congress to take action, however the Republicans clearly are upset with Obama's decision especially after taking full control of the House and Senate. The fact that Obama is doing this with his own exectuive power and going about the immigration issues himself has raised a red flag to the Republicans and speaker John A. Boehner stated matter of factly that "We (Republicans) will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country." Republicans have in fact discussed the possibilities of suing Obama and some have called for impeachment or for the government to shut down, though it remains unclear how exactly Congress will react. A huge point of influence on what the Republicans will ultimately do in response to Obama's call is how to go about their business without alienating Hispanic voters who obviously have a huge influence on  the upcoming 2016 election.

What do you think the Republicans will do in response to Obama's action(s)?

Where do the Republicans go from here in terms of passing legislation for immigration?

Do the Republicans have a justifiable reason to take aim at Obama through a suit or other means?

To investigate more:

Friday, November 28, 2014

US Adds Planes to Enhance Plan to Destroy ISIS

The Unites States has begun to increase their attack and surveilance on ISIS with more aircrafts and attack planes. A dozen A-10 ground attack planes were moved from Afghanistan to Kuwait, and the nation of Morocco has also contributed to the effort by sending F-16's to fight as well. These planes will begin some time this week with flying missions to support Iraqi ground troops. In addition, missile-firing Reaper drones are being redeployed in Afghanistan. A huge concern of the new wave of increased firepower that the US is implementing is the fact that the decision makers of the attacks and targets are based in control centers. For example, in the South Carolina and at the Central Command base the staff members review a list targets in such an order: just completed, about to happen, and future strikes. ISIS is a target that is not easy; they are a "conventional army and a terrorist network who can be in one place, and then a week later they're gone."So with these centers making the majority of the decsions, it calls to question how the US will actually physicall seek out where ISIS is moving to and from rather than just heavily targeting fixed ISIS sites such as military headquarters, communication centers, oil refineries and training camps. Furthermore, only a quarter of missions sent to attack pop-up targets have actually dropped bombs, and of the 450 strikes in Syria up to last week, only a quarter of them were actually planned. With that said, the US has to find a way to conduct better research and narrow down where ISIS is and where they are heading, which obviously cannot be done strictly from a control center. This has lead some Americans to comment that this is like the Vietnam War all over again except politicians and staff members are making the decisions.

How should the US go forward with the airstrikes?

Does Obama need to get more involved in directly locating ISIS networks?

How deep should the US be involved in eliminating ISIS and is the increased aircraft and surveilance
a step in the right direction?

For more:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Black Friday is America's premier gun-buying day

(Image taken from the Washington Post)

As many Americans know, Black Friday is a time of sales, and because of that, the perfect time to go holiday shopping. Americans wake up early to buy various products. Popular items are toys, clothes, and appliances. And surprisingly, so are guns. A study by the FBI has concluded that "of the 10 days on which the FBI has conducted the most background checks since December 1998, two are the last two Black Fridays."

After the Sandy Hook shooting in December 2012, the number of firearm background checks in December 2012 was 2,783, 765 background checks, which is almost 800,000 more background checks than the amount conducted in November 2012. Most of the other years, the difference in background checks from November to December has only been around 200,00 background checks. So why the giant difference between November and December in 2012? According to this article, the reason for this is that fears of anticipated talks about gun control after the  Sandy Hook shooting would cause massive numbers of firearms to be taken off the shelves.

Actually, this large amount of background checks can be a problem for the government. If there are too many background check requests, the FBI would be unable to process all requests. The NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) has a legal window of only three business days to determine if the buyer of a firearm is eligible or not. So if the NICS cannot determine a buyer's eligibility within the designated window, the buyer can purchase the firearm without a background check, and it's completely legal. Due to this window, 186,000 people did not have to go through a background check to purchase firearms in 2013.

More on gun sales and background checks: FBI data shows thousands of gun sales beat checks

Should the window to determine a firearm buyer's eligibility be extended? If so, to what extent?

Why do you think it is legal to allow people to purchase a firearm without a background check after the window has passed?