Tuesday, April 29, 2014

NBA Formulates Punishment For Sterling

Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I'm sure many of you have heard of the recent scandal surrounding LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Audio recordings between Sterling and his girlfriend show him to be a racist son of a gun who would prefer that his girlfriend not associate with black people.

People reacted strongly, with the Clippers demonstrating their disapproval during pre-game warmups for Sunday's playoff game. The NBA has reacted even more strongly, with a "lifetime ban" that would keep Sterling from having any association with the NBA or Clipper activity for what little is left of his old, decrepit lifetime. Additionally Sterling will be fined $2.5 million (the maximum allowable under NBA rules) and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stated his intention to see the NBA Board of Governors force a sale of the Clippers. 

Things aren't looking too bright for Mr. Sterling, but has the NBA taken appropriate action? Has the league gone too far? While I definitely believe that Sterling should be punished, stripping him of the team that he has owned for 30+ years seems pretty severe to me. What other ways could the league punish Sterling?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Turns out Syria is still a problem

The Syrian Regime missed a revised deadline to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. 

I'm sure that phrase will warrant a collective groan from all the legitimate nations of the world. As you all remember, Syria, under the regime of Bashar al-Assad, launched multiple hideous chemical weapons attacks against its own citizens in March of last year. After US threat of military retaliation, the Syrian regime agreed to terms laid out by Russia and the US that dictated a planned destruction of its chemical weapon arsenal. As of today, that plan is behind schedule. 

Regardless, many experts are impressed that Syria has made as much progress as it has with the destruction. The real issue isn't that Syria isn't destroying chemical weapons fast enough; rather, the problem is Syria continues to USE chemical weapons. 

Reports indicate that Syria is continuing to use chlorine gas-filled bombs on civilians. Chlorine gas is not technically a chemical weapon, but its use would almost inarguably go against the agreement Syria signed last year in Geneva. 

Here's my question: Do you guys feel like Syria has been inappropriately out of the news lately? It is my contention that since the events of last year, the media no longer seems interested in covering Syria. If you agree that this is the case, would it be fair to say that the American media is failing it problem recognition (or agenda setting) function? Is Syria a bigger issue than Americans are currently regarding it? Let me know your thoughts. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

FDA Moves to Regulate E-Cigarettes

Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

The Food and Drug Administration announced plans to extend its regulatory oversight to cover the increasingly popular e-cigarette. The outline includes plans to prevent sales of e-cigs and cigars to minors, a prohibition that many states already enforce. Additionally, producers would have to register with the FDA to account for ingredient sourcing and manufacturing processes; currently there is virtually no regulation over what goes into e-cig vials. An important omission in the FDA's outline is a plan to immediately regulate the marketing and flavoring aspects of e-cigs, which have been labeled as an attempt to appeal to children.

Are these regulations warranted? Do they go far enough? Too far?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Net Neutrality Battle Heats Up

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

For those of you who don't know what net neutrality is, it's a pretty simple concept: all data should be treated equally. Comcast, AT&T, or whoever your internet service provider (ISP) may be, should treat a 10 GB file as a 10 GB file. It doesn't matter what that file contains or where it came from (so long as it's legal) – data is data.

Recently, Netflix and Comcast reached a very controversial deal in which Netflix will pay Comcast for more reliable content delivery. This pissed off a lot of consumer advocates who fear that costs will eventually be passed onto consumers, and may pave the way for future deals that will benefit ISPs at the expense of content providers and therefore consumers.

Earlier today, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler published a very vague blog post in response to allegations that net neutrality is coming to an end. Wheeler outlined the FCC's plans for net neutrality – he stayed away from specifics, but stated that "behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the internet will not be permitted." Many are skeptical of Wheeler's intentions, especially because he used to be a cable industry lobbyist, but so far he has been a vocal proponent for an open internet.

Is it fair for ISPs to treat content differently? Should the government step in to prevent ISPs from discriminating content? How will consumers be affected by deals like the Netflix-Comcast arrangement?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chinese Labor Strikes Continue

Credit: Reuters

A pair of shoes seems like a pretty simple thing, but there's really a lot going on behind the production process. Labor inputs are obviously a major component of that process, and for Nike and Adidas things are becoming somewhat complicated as laborers continue to strike.

Yue Yuen, the firm that owns the involved factory, is at odds with factory workers over a few things: 1.) wages – workers make as little as $1.67 an hour and they want a 30% raise. 2.) Social insurance – Yue Yuen has allegedly been skimping on social insurance payments that would benefit workers. A worker making $480 per month was really receiving benefits that were appropriate for a $290 salary.

As far as Nike and Adidas are concerned, they can facilitate production to other factories if necessary, so you can rest assured that your $150 Jordans will be in store without much delay.

Where do you think these protests are heading? Overarching labor reform for factory workers? A simple resolution between Yue Yuen and its workers? Ae these protests/strikes the most effective way to get a point across?

Keystone Pipeline Faces Delays... Again


In a move that many see as an effort by the White House to rouse support for the midterm elections, the Keystone Pipeline has been “indefinitely” delayed so that the effects of the pipeline can be further studied. This is not the first time the project has been delayed. The State Department says that its decision wasn’t influenced by politics, but come on.

The delay is a victory for the many people who oppose the pipeline, and should help Democrats this fall when ⅓ of Senate seats and all House seats are up for grabs. Republicans are knocking Obama’s opposition to the pipeline with their usual job creation argument. But do we really need the jobs at the cost of potential environmental damage? What do you think about the pipeline in general?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Up, Up, and Away (The Rising Cost of Healthcare)

Hey guys, good news! The cost of health care is still growing faster than the overall economy, but it has started to rise at a slower rate: according to this New York Times article by Milt Freundheim, "Changes in the way doctors and hospitals are paid -- how much and by whom -- have begun to curb the steady rise of health care costs in the New York region. Costs are still going up faster than overall inflation, but the annual rate of increase is the lowest in 21 years."

Credit: Chris Howel. AP.
So, in conclusion, we have nothing to worry--WAIT CRAP. My bad! That article is from 1993. We still have a lot to worry about.

(Full disclosure: I fell for the same trick you just fell for. Check out this article by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times).

According to Porter's article, the cost of health care is currently 18 percent of the nation's GDP. According to The World Bank, the current US GDP is $2,475,781,990,521. That means we spend about $446 billion (with a "B") on health care annually.

According to this study done by the Brookings Institute*, health spending will continue to grow 1.2 percentage points faster than the economy in the next 20 years. Many experts are growing increasingly nervous, as the trend in spending had been downward before the last two years.

As the cost of health care goes up, spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid will inevitably increase; that will require taxes to go up, or benefits to decrease. Medicare has apparently already tried to cut costs by using "cheaper generics to replace brand-name drugs" (Porter).

I've got a couple questions. 1) Why do you think the cost of health care has started increasing in the US? 2) Is 18% of GDP too much to be spending on health care? 3) Do you think that the rising cost of health care will (as I asserted) inevitably lead to cost increases in Medicare and Medicaid?

It'd be super cool to see other people bring in their own research/background knowledge: I'd love to see a comparison country by country.

*Here's a video of on of the Brookings Institute researches describing the study. The speaker, Justin Wolfers, asserts that "high-cost, pretty useless innovations" are what is driving costs up.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cold War Part II

We're back people! Looks like the things are cooling off again. It has a lot to do with this guy:

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti Kremlin, via Associated Press 
No, that's not Dr. Evil. That's Russian President Vladimir Putin. You've probably been hearing his name a lot in discussions of Crimea—a region of of Ukraine he recently invaded.

Putin would probably argue with that lingo–"invaded" is a strong word. But I won't get into semantics in this post. I'm more interested in something else: the US response to Russian expansionism.

I'm going to define Russian expansionism as Russia (in this case Putin) attempting to gain both land and influence around the world. There's a really interesting article about it from a German Media organization here. I'm gonna borrow some of their language: "Russia is responsible for the protection of all Russians no matter where they live, comes the message from Moscow. That strikes fear into its former Soviet Republics - and reminds them of recent history."

Translation: Putin is using protection of Russians to justify interfering in other countries' business. Kinda reminds me of a man called Adolf and the Sudetenland... But I won't draw comparisons out of respect for the Godwin Principal.

Okay. Where was I. Ah yes. US response. Here we go: Obama is using a tried an tested US policy to counter Russia: containment.

Obama seems to think that there is no hope of salvaging the US-Russia relationship, and instead is vying for an uneasy tolerance. Is that the right call? Or do you think we should try to meet Russia half-way? (This might be a teaser for Chapter 19 in the Gov textbook-- I don't know if that's where we're headed, but if we're getting to it, Mr. Silton you're welcome for the segway).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Yemen: Airstrike Targets Al-Qaida Training Camps

Article website: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/yemen-airstrike-targets-al-qaida-training-camps-23399780
Picture website: http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/39307/World/Region/Yemen-air-strike-kills-three-Qaeda-chiefs-Ministry.aspx

On Sunday, a high-level government security committee revealed that multiple people were killed in an airstrike targeting suspected al-Qaida training camps in a mountain region in southern Yemen.  The committee did not give an exact number as to how many casualties resulted from this airstrike.  According to the Supreme Security Committee, which includes the defense and interior ministries and the country's intelligence chief, the attack targeted the Mahfad mountains, located between the Abyan and Shabwa provinces; however, they did not identify those who carried out the attack.  Washington believes that the al-Qaida branch in Yemen is the most active branch in the world, and therefore performs regular drone strikes on Yemen.  As of yet, it is not possible to determine an exact number of casualties due to how difficult it is to get to the remote area where the airstrike occurred, but the committee has stated that the suspected al-Qaida members who were killed by the airstrike were planning to target vital military and civilian installations; however, they did not expand on this statement.  This is the second strike designed to take out members of al-Qaida since Saturday; in that case, a suspected U.S. drone strike in the al-Bayda province in southern Yemen killed around 9 suspected al-Qaida militants, along with 3 civilians.  The Supreme Committee claims that Yemeni authorities carried out the airstrike.  Civilian deaths as a result of these strikes have recently sparked anger in Yemen, as well as in human rights groups; the nonpartisan public policy institute New America Foundation has stated that since 2002, the U.S. has launched over 100 drone strikes in Yemen.  This was a popular issue on the blog last semester, but now that the issue is presenting itself again, do you believe that drone strikes are the most effective method to take out suspected members of al-Qaida? If not, do you have any ideas on different methods we could use to achieve better results?        

Malaysia Airlines flight forced to turn back after mechanical issues

Article website: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/malaysia-airlines-flight-forced-to-turn-back-after-mechanical-issues/
Picture website: http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/travel/malaysian-airlines-singapore-to-malaysia-airfare-ruse-and-the-fuel-surcharge-sham/

On Monday, April 14, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 192 to Bangalore, India, was forced to make an emergency landing in Kuala Lumpur due to mechanical issues; the mechanical issue being that one of its tires burst during takeoff.  It landed safely at Kuala Lumpur International Airport without any harm coming to any one of the 159 passengers and 7 crew members.  Luckily for Flight 192, tire debris was spotted on the runway, which is what prompted air traffic control to order the pilot to turn the flight around and head back to the airport instead of continuing on to its destination; they also had fire rescue services ready and waiting for the plane's landing, just in case help was needed.  The pilot also took extra steps to keep the passengers and crew safe by repeatedly circling the airport before making an emergency landing in order to burn off fuel and lighten the load the plane was carrying before landing.  Interestingly enough, Malaysia Airlines is the company that owns Flight 370, the flight that went missing on March 8 and has recently caused quite a stir with a large international search-and-rescue effort.  The search is currently searching for the plane's wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean, and the payout that is due to the families of those who were on Flight 370 from either the Malaysian government or Malaysia Airlines is extensive.  Though Flight 192 did not meet the same fate as Flight 370, mechanical issues seem to be a problem for Malaysia Airlines; do you think that Malaysia Airlines needs to conduct an investigation into why their planes seem to be experiencing so many difficulties as of recent times, and do you believe that they need to give some form of compensation to those who lost family members on Flight 370?

Russia 'outraged' as east Ukraine shootout shatters Easter truce

Article website: http://news.yahoo.com/gunbattle-eastern-ukraine-kills-four-062959391.html
Picture Website: http://www.dw.de/deadly-shootout-reported-in-eastern-ukraine/a-17579795 

On April 20, 2014, a gunfight broke out in Slavyansk, Ukraine, shattering a truce that had been declared due to Easter.  This shootout claimed the lives of three pro-Russian militants and their attacker; Russia has declared that it is "outraged" by this violence that has destroyed the fragile truce.  The identities of those who attacked the militants remain unknown, but there were about twenty of them, and they were said to have attacked the militants while they were conducting a check on a roadblock at around 1 a.m.  The last time a shootout such as this one occurred was on Thursday, when Ukrainian soldiers killed three pro-Russian militants as they tried to attack a military base in the southeast port city of Mariupol.  On that same Thursday, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the European Union signed an accord in Geneva that called for "illegal armed groups" to end their occupation of public sites and to lay down their arms.  Now Russia is blaming the Right Sector, an extreme-right group, for the violence that took place on Sunday; however, a Right Sector spokesperson in Kiev has claimed that the charges against them are false, going so far as to accuse Moscow of orchestrating the violence in an attempt to make it seem that Kiev has lost control of the east.  The U.S. has threatened to place more sanctions on Moscow if there is no de-escalation, and President Obama is preparing to send ground troops to Poland.  This, coupled with the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the eastern border of Ukraine, makes it seem that war is coming, and quite soon at that.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is working to monitor the Geneva accord, and it is preparing to send a high-ranking team to east Ukraine.  At this point, Pope Francis has called for an end to the violence, and Washington has warned Moscow that Ukraine is currently in a "pivotal period," but tensions remain high.  Do you think the U.S. should place more sanctions on Moscow? Also, do you think that we should continue to intervene in this conflict, or should we take a step back and let them sort it out themselves?                  

Saturday, April 19, 2014

These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Weed Next. Will You Have A Happier 4/20 In 2015?

Article website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/18/states-legalize-weed_n_5162737.html
Picture website: http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/28/us/10-things-colorado-recreational-marijuana/

This Sunday, 4/20, people will gather in Colorado to show their support for fully legal marijuana for the first time.  The state of Colorado legalized the sale of recreational marijuana on January 1, 2014.  On that day, thousands of people flocked to the Denver store 3D Cannabis Center (which used to be called "Denver's Discreet Dispensary") and waited in line for hours on end to purchase pot; despite the sheer number of people, there were no police reports of violence or problems of any kind with the crowd, and government officials were shocked by how calm the crowd was.  Since then, it has brought $14 million in taxed sales to Colorado, and that was just in January; and now that other states can see that legal marijuana can provide a good source of income, it seems that they are starting to become more sympathetic to those who have supported the legalization of marijuana since day one.  For example, there will be a ballot measure to tax, regulate, and legalize weed for adult recreational use in Alaska on August 19; and a recent survey taken by Public Policy Polling (which is known to lean towards the Democratic Party) has shown that 55% of voters in Alaska support the legalization of marijuana.  There is also the fact that in recent years, the state of Vermont has passed a measure to decriminalize and a separate bill to establish a system of dispensaries for medical patients who use medicinal marijuana.  Though the debate on the effects marijuana can have on an individual's health is still going on, there is a definite move towards legalization; activists are making a concerted effort to get voters to sympathize with their cause, and pro-pot legislators are now trying to bring the issue before their colleagues.  Do you think it would be beneficial for other states to legalize recreational marijuana? Do you think the flow of income legalization could provide will outweigh any possible health issues that it could create?      

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Justice Stevens Proposes Some Copy Edits to the Constitution

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently wrote a column for The Washington Post. Its title: "Five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment." 

Justice Stevens retired in 2010, and was regarded as one of the "liberal" members of the Court. Stevens was one of the longest serving Justices in history—he was nominated by Gerald Ford. Because he served under Chief Justices Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts, he had unique insight on the evolution of the Court in the past few decades. 

Justice Stevens (Photo: Steve Petteway)
A fascinating piece of that insight was shared in this article. In it, Stevens shares his perception of how judicial interpretation of the Second Amendment has changed over time.

I'll try my best to summarize his story with a few quotes: 

"When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything."

"Organizations such as the NRA disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on 'The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,' Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment 'has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.'"

It's worth reading the rest of Steven's column. He makes so really insightful arguments about the precedent that currently exists, and what can be done. He even goes so far as to propose a re-write to the Second Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed. (The italicized words are those that have been added). 

While I welcome input about the Second Amendment, and Judicial Interpretation thereof, there's a different conversation I want to have. It's implied by the quotes I included: Do Interest Groups have the ability to influence judicial opinion? In other words, do you think the campaign the NRA carried out influenced the decisions of Heller and McDonald (the two cases that greatly expanded gun-owner rights)? 

Answering this question raises another one: Where does the Supreme Court fall under pluralist, elitist, and bureaucratic theory? Ostensibly, nine men and women represent and elitist group who can make policy decisions. But the Court cannot enforce its decisions-- so is it an elite organization? Or could it be pluralist? 

Ponder this question: how much can the Court be swayed by public opinion? (And how much should it be swayed?) 

Remember that the Court's entire power rests of its legitimacy: does succumbing to public opinion enhance or damage that legitimacy? 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

North Carolina Voting Rights Groups Turn To Education In Fight Against Voter ID Law

Article source: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/15/north-carolina-votinglaweducationcampaign.html
Picture source: http://abcnews.go.com/US/doj-sue-north-carolina-voter-id-law/story?id=20415868

Last summer, North Carolina Governor Pat McCory signed a new voter ID bill, which has earned the nickname the "Monster Law."  This new law requires voters to have a North Carolina ID issued by the government in order to vote, cuts back the early voting period by seven days, invalidates ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct, eliminates same-day voter registration, and requires people to register to vote  at least 28 days before going to the polls in a primary or general election.  The reason that this law has been able to become a harsh reality for voters in North Carolina is the decision of the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder; in this case, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which contains the coverage formula of the Act that determines which jurisdictions are subject to the Act's special provisions based on their history of voter discrimination.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's decision has also rendered Section 5 of the Act moot since the implementation of preclearance, which requires that covered jurisdictions receive federal approval before implementing changes in election laws, on the jurisdictions it covers depends on the formula provided by Section 4.  If there is no formula to determine which jurisdictions are exhibiting voter discrimination, then they cannot be subjected to preclearance, which means that they can pass laws such as this one without having to receive federal approval.  Chief Justice John Roberts claims that these sections of the VRA are no longer needed because times have changed, and discrimination in the jurisdictions once covered by the Act is not as bad as it used to be.  The law has been met with several legal challenges, and voting rights activists in North Carolina are now working hard to educate people on the impact this law will have; they are preparing to accept this new law since they are unsure of whether or not it will be repealed, and they are attempting to educate the groups that the law will affect the most on what it does and what they will have to do in order to vote.  These groups mostly consist of the elderly, minority communities, low-income voters, and young people.  North Carolina legislators are now arguing that this new law is needed to combat fraudulent votes, but do you think that this is what they are trying to fight against? Do you think that this new law is discriminatory, and, if so, do you think that the efforts being undertaken by voting rights activists to educate minority groups on the new law will be of much use?