Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Facebook's real name requirement leaves drag queens at a disadvantage

This month, drag queens Little Miss Hot Mess and Sister Roma (pictured below) among others spoke at San Francisco City Hall to protest the enforcement of Facebook's real name policy.

(Eric Risberg/AP)

 Facebook policy requires every user to employ their real name, a requirement which perplexes those with pseudonyms. According to the site, using real names allows Facebook to hold users accountable when it comes to harassment or other threats.

Many drag queens however, build a livelihood from spreading recognition of their stage names. When Little Miss Hot Mess got her Facebook taken down, she contended the decision, claiming that Facebook has no right to tell her what defines a "real" name.

Other critics point out that Facebook depends on selling personal information. Having a real name attached to a Facebook account, they say, will enable Facebook to sell this information in a more convenient fashion.

Should Facebook enforce its real name policy? Or is protecting Facebook users more important? What is the real issue here? (Does it really boil down to advertising?)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Can Women Park?

On Wednesday the 24th of September, Eric Bolling and Greg Gutfeld, co-hosts of “The Five” on Fox news, insulted Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri, who was the first woman to be a member of the United Arab Emirates Air Force as well as squadron leader of F16’s that bombed ISIS. They Stated, “Problem is, after she bombed it, she couldn’t park it," Gutfeld said. "Would that be considered boobs on the ground, or no?" Bolling followed up. As if one comment was not bad enough Gutfeld found the need to also harass a war hero and a female role model for all of America and the world. In the following repercussions, both Bolling and Gutfeld apologized twice on national  TV, but still to the dissatisfaction of many, including the armed forces a public letter was sent to Fox News. It followed the lines of ”... your remarks were immensely inappropriate...You are not Funny. You are not clever. You are not excused... We issue an apology on your behalf to Major Al Mansouri knowing that anything your producers force you to say will be contrived and insincere”

(If you are interested in reading the rest of the letter which I definitely recommend the link is here  http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/an-open-letter-to-fox-news)

To continue this theme of women's rights, quite recently actress Emma Watson has been voicing her opinion of Feminism and the rights of women. She has most notably, been raising support for the feminist movement and ridding the movement of its negative connotations that it has had in the past. In addition, she is also bringing to light the support of men on this issue, showing that it is not a single sex fight and many more than a few clichéd radical women stand for their mission.

What connotation does Feminism have for you?
How large of an issue do you think Feminism is if at all?

How prevalent is Sexism in your life?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

College Board Weighs in on Jefferson County Student Protesters

This week students in Jefferson County, Colorado have walked out of school in protest of the area's school board. The walk-outs started when the board announced possible changes to teacher pay, but unrest became increasingly apparent when board member Julie Williams proposed making changes to the AP US History program--and the College Board responded.

(Eric Gorski/Twitter)

According to Williams, the current AP US History curriculum encourages "civil disorder" and "disregard of the law." She also incorrectly stated that the course omits topics such as the Gettysburg Address and the founding fathers. Either way, her plan would establish a curriculum overview committee that would decide whether or not to teach certain aspects of the course.

Tensions became even higher, however, when the College Board submitted a statement in support of the students who walked out of school. "These students recognize that social order can--and sometimes must--be disrupted in pursuit of liberty and justice," the organization said. They also threatened to disqualify Jefferson County schools from the AP history program if changes were to be made.

Which side do you agree with? Should the school board be able to alter curriculum while keeping the AP label? Is a walk-out a valid form of student protest? Is it true that the student protest is an example of necessary civil unrest?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who is the First Lady

Who is the First Lady?

Currently, Michelle Obama has been hard at work campaigning around the country for the upcoming elections, visiting states such as Iowa, Maine and Wisconsin to rally the voters in favor of the democratic Senators and governors running in each of these states. Thus far she has participated in 26 events this year and is far from over, as her current fall calendar  filled with campaigning events will show. Put accurately by DNC spokesman Michael Czin, “The First Lady has -and will continue to be- a tremendous asset for the Democrats on the November ballot.” With this series of events, highlighting her speech at the Democratic National Committee, it marks a new time for Michelle Obama. A new time of advocacy and strong campaigning to strengthen the Democratic party, and less on ratings of the public as she was so accustomed to in her husband's first term pressing issues such as child obesity.
With Michelle's role in social issues as well as political issues changing we must call into question what truly is the role of the First Lady? Is she a trailblazer for social reforms, a support for her husbands role and position in government, a  key campaigner for her party’s control in congress or merely a figure to give us a false sense of security. Looking back most recently to Laura Bush, her role of First Lady took that of one focused on social changes such as: literacy, education, gender equality, and after the event of 9/11 most notably took the role of comforting and aiding the country through a hard time. While not a strong example of a politically active First Lady, she is a perfect example for an advocate of social reform. A bit further back, one of the most powerful First Ladies this country has ever known, Hillary Clinton, was known for her strong influence in politics taking on ambitious tasks such as the National Health Reform as well as a hefty background in politics far before her husband’s presidency. Even After her husbands Terms she took the position of senator of New York and now is seeking a presidency of her own.

Conclusion Questions:
What do you think the role of the first lady is?
Do you believe the First Lady should be politically active, and if so do you feel she should voice her opinion even if it is in disagreement with her husband?
If Hillary Clinton were to be the next president, what would the role of her husband be?

The 3 hudred thousanth of the 1%

We've all fantasized about being rich. About doing whatever we want; buying a nice car, drinking champagne on board our yatch on a way from your spring home in Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, to our summer home in Côte d'Azur, France. The sun can never set on our day, and the can never rise on our nights. In today's day and age there are two-thousand three-hundred twenty-five billionaires in the world right now who hold seven point three trillion dollars, otherwise known as four percent of the world total wealth. Those numbers shocked me. So few people 0.00003% of the the world's people owned 4.00000% of the worlds worth. The author of this article definitely didn't aprove of those numbers. The way he generalized these people with the pronoun "they;" "they love watching athletic competitions." The author generally comments on how these super-rich may give millions of dollars to charity, but are they really philanthropic? To them these hundred million are nothing compared to the sixty-three billion dollars the subject of the article has in the bank. That's not even twenty percent of the money he has in cash right now. That's one and a half percent of their worth. Here is my question of the night. Should the uberwealthy of the world be more generous? Obviously it's their money, and nobody can make them spend it in any certain way, but given the large economic disperity do they have any sort of obligation to society to help more than they do?

The Washington Redskins(!?!?!?!?)

Well as people, especially those in sixth period, will know South Park, season 18 began tonight with a bang. Episode 1 titled "Go Fund Yourself" took some stabs at the things like the name of the Washington football team, as well as the incidence with Ray Rice. I'm not going to go too far in depth because most of these have been covered in previous posts. The basic plot line goes that to get out of school the boys try to start a start-up in order to avoid going to school. With the trademark being pulled the boys decide to use the name the Washington Redskins as their name to be able to "bro down." As I watched the episode one thing Mr. Silton said really stuck with me, when he recounted a his story about oversensitivity-run-amuck. My question goes in the oposite direction. Seeing how far the Southpark episode went I wondered how far is is too far, and how far is far enough? Where does the line stand between insensitivity and joking? Also where is the line between
being politically correct and overly sensitive? I myself believe that many things(I see it in my older sister) have become overly sensitized. By making these topics "too hot to touch" can anything actually be achieved? By radically protecting an issue no discussion can be made. The Colbert Report, on July 31, 2014(a link will be provided at the bottom), touched on this with the Gaza crisis.In the mini-sketch Colbert tried to report on the event without using any "trigger words" or loaded language. His final sentence ended up being, "More on the latest in these shooty-places..(many mistakes)...Today things occured...You know what let's forget it this entire thing is complete f***** b******* anyways." While it obviously isn't a perfect example it does show how if one is so unable to talk about things nothing can be said and then no one will know what's going on.

In Summary:
Where is the line between jokes and insensitivity?

Where is the line between oversensitivity and politically correct?

What side of the scale, overly-sensitive, insensitive, just right, do you think South Park is on? The

Colbert Report? The Daily Show? The nation? And discuss a little on why and how we can improve.

How do you think we can, as a nation, make things more discussable?

Which is your favorit? The Daily Show? Or the Colbert Report?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

UN Climate Change Summit 2014

(Source: Reuters)

In New York yesterday, dozens of high profile leaders of many nations throughout the world were present as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli also made statements. This meeting was crucial because since the Kyoto Protocol's expiration in 2012, no new measures or promises have been made to combat the rising dangers presented by climate change

The biggest point that needed to be made in this meeting was the assertion that significant changes, enough to reverse the effects of climate change, will not happen if we are unable to acquire the participation of every country in the world -- NOT just developed countries. In the past, developing/undeveloped countries like China and India received a free pass from participating in the Kyoto Protocol and promising to reach certain goals of cutting their annual emissions by a certain date "because they were not the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions during the industrialization period that is believed to be causing today's climate change." However, today's circumstances require that all countries must participate and make a conscious effort to reduce carbon emissions and operate on a much more efficient track than ever before, including developing country's. China is especially important in this, as the country with the largest population and fastest growing economy in the world, as well as one of the most heavily polluted countries, despite its "developing country" status.

Mr. Zhang has assured us that China will make an effort to cut its emissions of carbon per unit of GDP by a substantial 45%, marking one of the first times that China has promised to make an effort to take action against its emissions. As positive as this is, it is undercut by the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping was not even present at the summit. As someone who took APES last year, it hurts to hear that despite significant evidence supporting the presence of climate change and the danger that it presents, many countries are still refusing to take this threat seriously. 

Here are my questions: 
1) Do you think that the problems addressed in the summit will be addressed soon? 
2) What are some viable solutions that you can think of to help cut emissions?
3) Is there any significance behind the absence of the Chinese president and others?
4) What is your general opinion on climate change and the actions (or inactions) that have been taken by countries around the world?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Airstrikes in Syria: Brace Yourselves

(Source: US Navy)

Media centers everywhere are chock-full of the latest news regarding the Syrian conflict: on Monday, the U.S. led airstrikes on ISIS targets. Apparently, the U.S. warned Syria in advance not to interfere with the American aircraft, a warning which it promptly heeded. According to Army Lt. Gen. Williams C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, these airstrikes are the beginning of a prolonged campaign to put a stop to the actions of ISIS. The goal of this campaign, as described by Mayville, is "'to degrade and ultimately destroy' the Islamic State, first by directly attacking the group in both countries, severing its supply lines and disrupting its sources of arms and money". 

The U.S. will also be employing the use of proxy forces in order to further hurt ISIS and succeed over the long term, forces such as the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels. By themselves, these groups have failed to make an impact, but combined and with U.S. military backing they will stand a chance of gaining some territory. 

However, there are some definite issues with this method of "dealing with" ISIS. Ross Douthat made a good point when he pointed out that an escalation of aggressive campaigning in Syria could (1) prompt Islamic extremist groups to unite against the U.S. and become even more hostile, and (2) alienate civilians against the U.S. as more of them are injured as innocent bystanders by the airstrikes. It's exactly like he says: "Things could always get worse, and we should never forget it."

Here are some questions:
1) What is the right kind of American response to ISIS's actions? Must we have a response? Why?
2) Do you think that the bombing will work?
3) What are some past examples of times when we should've heeded the Founding Fathers' warnings against entangling alliances?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Takeaways from the Annual Report on Income and Poverty

On Sept. 16, the Census Bureau came out with its annal report on income and poverty. One of my favorite columnists, John Cassidy, penned a nice post outlining some takeaways. The report showed some very minor positive changes (a slight downtick in the poverty rate, and a slight downtick in the Gini Coefficient, probably the most common measurement of inequality - a higher Gini Coefficient means more disparity in income, though the metric has sometimes been criticized as inaccurate in some respects).

Furthermore, Cassidy talked about a modest rise in the medium income, which signifies a "steady, if unspectacular, recovery from the Great Recession." However, he noted that these gains were not fast enough (many measures of economic health were still worse than they were in 2007, before the Great Recession), and the United States continues to be an extremely unequal place.

What I thought was most interesting was Cassidy's characterization of what poor economic conditions mean for political systems. In general, when spending power is on the rise (people have more real money in their pockets), compromise is easier. However, in an unequal economic system, when spending power is too little (people don't have enough real money in their pockets), the working and middle classes try to enact progressive/redistributive economic policies (tax the rich, give to the poor) that will bring money from the folks at the top down to them. This gives those people at the top an extra incentive to oppose these redistributive policies, setting up a political conflict and increasing polarization.

To sum it up in John Cassidy's words, "To oversimplify a bit, income stagnation paired with rising inequality is a recipe for political polarization and, under the American system of divided powers, political gridlock, which is what we have."

I think Cassidy makes an excellent point about country's political economy. I would add that I think this process is cyclical; the increased political polarization and gridlock that is a byproduct of poor economic conditions reduces the government's ability to govern and create sensible economic policy, which in turn worsens our economic conditions and leads to more gridlock and polarization all over again (which in turn leads to poor economic conditions, which again leads to... you get the point). Though, to be fair, some libertarian economists like Dan Mitchell wouldn't agree with me that gridlock leads to poor economic conditions, as they have the mindset of "That government is best which governs least" mindset, and think that when we have gridlock, the government isn't able to do much, which is good for the economy.

I have some questions:

  1. What governments actions (or inactions, I guess) do you all think should be taken to reduce the poverty and inequality that Cassidy says is so harmful to our political system?
  2. Do you agree with Cassidy's thesis ("income stagnation paired with rising inequality is a recipe for political polarization and, under the American system of divided powers, political gridlock")? Why?
  3. Do you agree with me that this process is cyclical, as political gridlock -- and thus less sensible government action -- creates poor economic circumstances? Or would you agree with the certain economists like Dan Mitchell who think gridlock -- and thus less government action at all -- creates good economic conditions? Why?
  4. Maybe you can come up with a concrete example of poor economic conditions and inequality creating political polarization and gridlock to elucidate Cassidy's thesis to everyone on the blog?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Demographic Domestic Violence Trends

(Source: The New Yorker)                       (Source: LA Times)

Ray Rice, former Ravens running back, currently faces criminal charges after the release of the most recent video of him punching his wife, Janay Palmer, in an elevator, causing her to hit her head on a rail and rendering her unconscious. Rice was already in hot water last February when an abridged version of the above video was released by TMZ, showing him dragging his wife out of the elevator. TMZ released the latest video on September 8th, which shows the full knockout.

When the first video was released, it received a significant amount of media coverage, especially when Rice was arrested and then indicted on one count of aggravated assault in March. Despite all this, Rice was kept on the Ravens. After the most recent video was released, however, Rice was immediately cut from the Ravens and has been indefinitely suspended from the NFL (he will be appealing this suspension). All of these events have been widely publicized and public outrage has exploded over Rice’s violence. 

On the other hand, another sport and another league - not the NFL this time, who knew? - has just proved once again the notoriety of national sports teams in turning a blind eye to domestic violence. A high-profile athlete has been outed for punching her half-sister and nephew, and is facing charges of domestic violence: Hope Solo, the best US goalkeeper the world has ever seen. The most notable difference between this incident and Rice’s situation is how each league has responded. The NFL has suspended Rice, true, yet US Soccer has essentially ignored these events and is even applauding her and allowing her to continue to play. The response to Rice’s case was huge, but where was the outrage during Solo’s arrest? All we heard were crickets. There are some significant differences between these two cases, but we can all agree that they definitely both qualify as domestic violence. So why the discrepancy?
There are two factors here that could’ve easily led to the prominence of one case versus the blindness of the other. First of all, Ray Rice is African-American. As we’ve all learned in the past eight-plus years of studying US history, this particular race has just about never had it good in this country, and I don’t think I need to remind everyone why. I’m sure that we can all point out many, many instances where racism is still prevalent in today’s society, and this looks like another to add to the list. And hey, if you’ve all been doing the reading (which I am sure you have), then you’re aware that ethnicity and current events can have a significant impact on the political views of a certain demographic, as seen in the graph below, which is on page 385 of our textbook.

(Source: American Government textbook)

Secondly, there’s another very important difference between these two cases: gender. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and many other male players faced almost immediate consequences from their actions, yet Solo has been awarded a spot on the national team AND has been made team captain. I’m seeing a serious issue of sexism here, and not the kind that feminists rant and rave about. Where’s the equality?

Here are a few questions for you to think about, in addition to any opinions you may have:
  1. What factors "inherent in the system" could be prompting these different attitudes to the same actions from high-profile athletes, and why? 
  2. What kinds of motivations would the owners of each team and/or officials of each league have to prompt them to either take action or turn a blind eye?
  3. Why has the public and the media glossed over Solo's incident?
I appreciate any and all thoughts on these incidents.
Bonus 'Murica Points if you can tell everyone why Ray Rice can’t be convicted again, this month. 
Happy commenting!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Washington Redskins controversy puts spotlight on the plight of Native Americans

Last June, the US Trademark and Patent Office canceled the trademark for the Washington Redskins. In general, the issue over the team's name, which some consider offensive, has caused a lot of controversy ever since its beginning. Recently, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Bobby Kennedy, former wife of Andrew Cuomo) wrote a column in the Boston Globe that shone some light on the plate of Native Americans in the present-day US.

The point of the column was to say that Native American issues cannot be solved by simply changing the name of a football team; there are deeper, more ingrained issues at hand here. Native Americans face an extraordinarily high poverty rate (28% vs. 15% for the rest of the US population), and 8 of the 10 lowest-income counties in the US are predominately Native American. Ultimately, the column argues that the US should give tribes more autonomy over their land and encourage the preservation of tribal cultures.

The way Native Americans fit into politics and public policy has always fascinated me; I think that one of the underlying issues is that the Native American vote isn't given that much attention in places other than Arizona, the Dakotas, and Montana, where they vote heavily Democratic. The fact that few politicians don't have a large incentive to care about issues important to Native Americans (they represent a too small amount of the electorate, but there are still 3 million Native Americans who live on reservations), has been apparent in public policy. Kennedy's column briefly talks about how federal budget cuts in 2013 were devastating for tribal governments. Another example would be how Native American women were left out of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Furthermore, mental health services for Native Americans are nowhere near adequately funded, which is especially troubling due to the alarmingly high rates of suicide and alcoholism on reservations.

Kennedy also mentions cultural preservation as another way to help the Natives, which got me thinking about this OpDoc I enjoyed from the New York Times about the difficulty of preserving tribal languages.

I have some questions (not meant for everyone to respond to every question):
  1. This is going back a little bit, but how important/offensive do you think the name "Redskins" is for Native Americans?
  2. What do you think our priorities should be when addressing Native American issues (health care, mental health, education)?
  3. Why do you think Native Americans vote solidly for Democrats?
  4. What is the importance of preserving tribal traditions?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

US Senate Hears Arguments over DC Statehood

                                                            (Wikimedia Commons)
On Monday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee heard arguments over a proposed bill to grant the District of Columbia Statehood (whether it will get anywhere, well that's a different story). This is the first time the Senate has held a hearing on this topic in 20 years

Currently, Washington DC is a federal district that has a delegate to the House of Reps (Eleanor Holmes Norton) and two shadow senators (Michael Brown and Paul Strauss), but no actual votes in either chamber. It does get 3 Electoral College votes, though.

Now, the bill isn't really expected to get anywhere, because the GOP-led House wouldn't vote to support it. DC statehood has typically been an issue where Democrats support statehood and Republicans oppose statehood. Republicans wouldn't want it to happen because this would almost definitely mean more votes for Democrats in both chambers (Washington DC, like most other major cities, goes heavily for Democrats). Of course, they don't admit this, which you can interpret however you would like.

Anyway, I wanted to link to an article giving the arguments for and against DC statehood, as presented at this committee.

Personally, I think that DC should be granted statehood, mainly because I think that it's unfair that 650,000 people don't have proper representation in Congress. I think that the objections to DC statehood that are being put forth are good examples of red herrings. A red herring is a something meant to mislead the public or distract them from getting to an issue. The Republicans are trying to come up with arguments against statehood (many of which are pretty faulty) in order to hide their true reasons for not supporting it: concerns that Democrats will gain representation in the House and Senate.


  1. Do you think Washington DC should be granted statehood? Check out the article for arguments for and against. 
  2. Support your answer with reasons why/why not.

Kansas Political Drama

The New York Times just wrote an overview of a pressing current event in Kansas. It all started in 2012 when Tea Party Republican Governor Sam Brownback passed sweeping tax cuts that, among many things, cut the top income tax rate by 25 percent. These tax cuts produced large benefits for wealthy state residents, while coming at a cost. The state is projected to have large budget shortfalls, which could lead to (and in some cases already has led to) cuts in public services, namely education. Furthermore, there is a giant debate over whether these tax cuts produced the economic growth that the governor said they would when he passed them. Also, these cuts led to Moody's giving the state a credit rating downgrade. Some conservatives maintain that they are working, while other people argue that they are not. 

So now for the political drama: Because of the supposed failure of these tax cuts to produce the growth they were intended to produce and the way they could lead (and in some cases already have led) to cuts in public education, over 100 Republicans endorsed Brownback's opponent the upcoming Kansas gubernatorial election, Paul Davis. Now, the race is very active, with Paul Davis seemingly leading in the polls. 

Now, people were very surprised to hear that not only was a Democrat in the lead for governor, but Republicans were endorsing him, for a couple reasons:

1) People see Kansas as a very conservative state, and for good reason. It has a Cook Partisan Voting Index (a measure of how much a state or congressional district tilts Democratic or Republican) score of Republican+12 (for reference, California has a Cook PVI score of Democratic+7, while Virginia has an even one [so basically R+0 or D+0], and Oklahoma has a Cook PVI score of R+17).

2) It is an off year (there is no presidential election), and the President is NOT popular in Kansas. When it is an off year in a place with an unpopular president, the president's political party typically does really poorly (think of the 2006 midterms where Democrats won big and the 2010 midterms where the GOP won big).

But we have to remember that there are a couple factors (other than the very controversial tax cuts) that make this possible in Kansas's political climate:

1) Kansas has a long history of electing moderate Republicans. The biggest example would be Bob Dole, the Republican candidate for POTUS in 1996. Another would be current Kansas Insurance Commissioner Republican Sandy Praeger, who spoke out against her party even before this tax business arrived (she was a large proponent of implementing the Affordable Care Act "correctly," or as the administration intended it to be implemented, in Kansas, which didn't make her any friends within the Kansas GOP). Praeger is one of the Republicans endorsing Davis. I think that knowing that the Kansas political climate has been friendly to moderate Republicans before may have eased these GOP officials' concerns about possible political ramifications that could arise from endorsing Davis.

2) Kansas is a decently politically elastic state (not the most, but above average). Political elasticity is a measure of how willing voters in a state or are are to vote for people of different parties. It is basically of a measure of how many swing voters as a percent of the electorate (those who are "up for grabs" and aren't bound to vote for the same party each time) a state has. It is closely related to how many independent voters a state has, as a percentage of the population. BUT, be sure not to confuse an elastic state with politically balanced states like Florida or Virginia; a state could have a lot of independent voters, but of those who do vote for one party of another, there could be way more Republicans than Democrats, or vice versa, creating an imbalance and giving one party a clear advantage in elections. Kansas is one of these states—while it is elastic, on average, it votes solidly Republican, because while there are a good amount of swing voters, of the people who aren't there are way more who vote exclusively for Republicans than exclusively for Democrats (confused? Read Nate Silver's piece. It is awesome). So, this means that Kansas, while on average voting for Republicans, CAN elect Democrats, explaining why it isn't unreasonable to see Davis up in the polls, especially after this tax cut controversy. In fact, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius served as Governor of Kansas not too long ago, and from 2007 to 2009, Kansas sent an evenly-split US House of Reps delegation to Congress (there were two Democratic Reps from Kansas and two Republican Reps from Kansas). Meanwhile, Alabama, which is about as conservative as determined by Cook PVI, but MUCH less politically elastic, hasn't sent a House of Reps delegation to Congress that has been anything other than majority Republican since 1995 to 1997, when Democrats were more commonly elected to office in the South anyway (the switch of the Deep South from blue to red has been more gradual than the APUSH textbook suggested).

So, now for a couple questions:

  1. There is still an enormous debate over whether these tax cuts have been effective at promoting growth, and if they were worth the cost. What do you think? Here is a New York Times editorial criticizing the tax cuts, and here is an article from Reason, a libertarian monthly magazine, supporting the cuts. You can glance over these two articles to see what arguments and pieces of evidences you find convincing.
  2. How would you feel if a candidate you supported endorsed someone of the opposite party, maybe even someone you don't endorse? Are you furious at them for maybe not sticking up for their (or their party's) principles/candidates? Or do they earn points in your mind for being "independent"? Or both? Or neither?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Historic Scottish Independence Referendum Vote to Take Place Tomorrow

                                         (Source: Herald Scotland)                                  (Source: Yes Scotland)

Tomorrow, a landmark event will be taking place in Scotland as all Scottish residents who can vote (age 16 and over) will decide whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom. We can count on our fingers and toes the number of successful secessions that have taken place internationally, the majority of which we don't learn about in high school, as seen in the graphic below. 

(Source: The Washington Post)

The Scottish independence proposal requires a simple majority to pass. According to the polls, the likelihood of Scotland's secession is a solid maybe, as approximately 48% are in support of secession, with the nationalists (Better Together) against them. Any currently undecided voters could make a huge difference in the outcome of this event, as they hold the crucial vote which could sway the majority in either direction. I recognize that to many Scots, independence is always preferable to being oppressed and forced into a conglomerate of countries and cultures like the United Kingdom, but in the grand scheme of things, a failure to gain independence would not make the largest of impacts on the rest of the world. Its primary exports are salmon and whiskey, which are also exported from a variety of other countries, and they're just a small member state of a commonwealth. Many issues have abounded, such as which currency Scotland will use, the status of North Sea oil, and how border control and immigration will be handled. Are they worth it? I think not.

My questions to you, dear readers, are simple enough. What is your opinion on Scotland's bid for independence and why? Should they keep quiet and be happy that they are living in a stable commonwealth, or should they keep pushing for freedom from the United Kingdom and take each issue as it comes? What are the advantages and disadvantages to independence? Is this method of determining their independence practical or inefficient and dangerous when it comes to putting the power to decide in the hands of the people?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wedge Issues & the 2014 US Senate Races

(Wikimedia Commons)

Alex Castellanos, a prominent Republican political strategist who you can see on CNN, said that Democrats “did win the culture war,” in an article from the New York Times (to be clear, not an article that he wrote, but one that he was quoted in). By “the culture war,” he really means the liberal vs. conservative social issues battles (mainly abortion and same sex marriage). The country is obviously swaying away from traditionally Republican positions on these issues to traditionally Democratic ones. These social issues are often considered “wedge issues,” issues that will divide an important voting block. The article’s main thesis is that, while Republicans use to be the ones exploiting these issues for political advantage, since public opinion has shifted on these issues, Democrats in the 2014 US Senate races are the now the ones using these issues for political advantage. For example, many saw same sex marriage as an issue that would scare some socially conservative hispanic voters (faith and family Democrats) away from the Democratic party, Democrats are using similar issues to scare socially moderate business conservatives (and especially the female ones or the male ones’ wives) away from Republican candidates. In short, Democrats are going on the offensive with issues that Republicans used to use against them in the same states.

What is especially fascinating is that public opinion has shifted so much that even Republicans in very culturally conservative states (such as Louisiana) are shying away from the issue (that being said, I don’t think Mary Landrieu, the Democratic candidate in that race, exactly wants her pro-marriage equality views to be blasted at voters either).

It is so interesting to me how far we have come since 2008 when neither Obama, Hillary, or John Edwards would support same sex marriage, even despite the pretty good evidence that at least one of them supported it privately. It is my speculation that neither Obama nor Clinton actually opposed it privately (as highly educated liberals I would expect them to support it), but opposed it publicly because they thought it would be a wedge issue that would divide the Democratic base (African Americans at the time, while voting over 90% for Democrats, staunchly opposed same sex marriage). Once, when asked by Ellen Degeneres whether a candidate that supported same sex marriage could win the presidency, Hillary responded “I don’t know.” To think that people are campaigning on this even in states like Virginia and North Carolina is insane.

So, the reason I posted this was 1) to introduce people to what a wedge issue is and 2) ask a few questions:

  1. In the US, there is a huge amount of single issue voters who vote based on primarily a candidate’s position on abortion In my opinion, social issues like this are accorded a huge amount of importance in politics—especially with younger people—relative to their actual policy implications (I think environmental issues would be the exception, but I classify those issues as economic issues rather than social ones). That’s not to say that these issues aren’t important, but, if we are to look at gay marriage, it is pretty clear that the tide is turning in the “right” (well, at least according to me and most of you) direction. Do you think there is too large of an emphasis on social issues in American politics? Should we take a word from Bill Clinton and think, “It’s the economy, stupid”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_the_economy,_stupid? Or are social issues emphasized at an appropriate amount, or maybe not even emphasized enough?
  2. Why do social issue get so much emphasis and carry so much weight in American politics?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paris Peace Conference and the Situation Regarding ISIS

Today at exactly 9:15 Paris Time, the French President, Francois Hollande are opening the Paris Conference regarding the situation of Iraq and the terrorist group, ISIS. President Hollande clearly stated that "there was no time to lose" Both President Masum of Iraq and President Hollande of France were giving their thanks to the people who made it to the conference and they hoped that the conference would achieve a coalition that can combat the ongoing crisis of ISIS. Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is currently in the conference to create an anti-ISIS coalition to combat ISIS.

Last Saturday, ISIS has released a recent video of the beheading of David Haines, a British aid worker. Prime Minister David Cameron has called ISIS' actions "an act of pure evil" according to NPR. According to CNN, these videos strike similarities with each other for they display the same type of video with an orange clothed victim and an executioner who most people people claim is the same executioner that both killed American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. The executioner may have been claimed to be a British citizen who works under ISIS according to some sources.

Most of these videos have been directed toward America who had been calling airstrikes on most key cities in Iraq. In this issue, I would say that the American government should involve themselves more in the issue. Although the U.S. is trying to prevent themselves from entering the fray, they should create a solution that could bring the rest of the hostages that ISIS hold home. I hope that this conference could bring forth a solution that could counter and ultimately destroy ISIS.

What should the U.S. do to combat the threats that ISIS made with regards to the execution of three people?
How could the Peace Conference achieve a coalition against ISIS?

Any more comments are gladly accepted. Please comment Below!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hillary Clinton and Her Return in Iowa

One phrase that says it all, "Hello, Iowa, I'm back!"

This Sunday, Hillary Clinton told reporters about her return in Iowa in order "to support candidates", however her return has marked the beginning of her presidential campaign for the 2016 presidential election. Her recent return in Iowa since her disappointing third place in Iowa, has led many people speculated about whether she was entering the 2016 political election.

According to CNN, she only went to Iowa to support Tom and Ruth Harkin, after Tom's 3 decades of being in the Senate, and other fellow candidates. But when she announced to the people that she was only supporting them, many people were upset and even urged her to run again for the 2016 presidential election. Many people including Hillary's former aids came to Iowa in support of Hillary. Although Hillary is considering about the election, her priority was the support of Tom Harkin.

I recognize Hillary myself as a capable candidate for the presidential election for she has the capabilities of handling the situation of the media and the political spectrum. With her as the president, not only she would be the first woman to be a president but she would make great change to the country. With beliefs aside, I respect Hillary's decision for considering about running for presidency. After being a Secretary of State for quite some time, she has all the time she needs to consider for election.

Should you consider Hillary Clinton as an efficient candidate for President?
If she were president, would she bring about good change for the better good of America?
Was she able to answer the media efficiently with her decision in electing for Presidency for 2016?

Please comment Below!

Tim Draper's Six Californias Fails to Reach 2016 Ballot

Local entrepreneur Timothy Draper's initiative to split California into six states has failed to reach fruition... for now.  The validity of some of the initiative's signatures was questioned, and with less than 100% of the required, verified signatures the plan cannot show up on the 2016 ballot.

(TechCrunch/Todd Trumbull/The Chornicle)

Draper's initiative is a prime example of 'devolution,' as the split would divide the government of the most populous state in the country into smaller geographic areas. However, public opinion remains critical. After the proposed plan went viral this year, several news sites critiqued the plan's apparent absurdity. Others lauded it as an attempt to split the wealthy areas of the state from the poorers ones, allowing rich places like Silicon Valley to make off with most of the benefits.

What do you think of this plan? What does this proposal mean for the nature of federalism?

Friday, September 12, 2014

School Mascot Controversiality

When you think of school mascots, what do you think of? There are quite a lot of mascots represented by various animals: Wildcats, Panthers, Swallows, Falcons, etc. A little more unconventional but fitting, considering the name, is us: the Aragon Dons. Now, what if I told you that there was a school using "the African Americans" as a mascot? Or perhaps, "the Chinese"?

This is none too far from the truth. Coachella Valley High School from California has a mascot known as "the Arab." This was depicted by a fierce looking man in a turban and facial hair, typically with swords. (See below)

The Arab mascot

For a couple of years now, the school has been under fire from the Arab-American community for misrepresentation of their culture. They go so far as to have kids from the high school dress in belly dancer outfits and dance around the Arab mascot during halftime. Many supporters of the school says it's alright for the school to display their pride in the Arab culture (even if they are non-Arabs themselves). Others argue that they've had the logo for so long, it isn't worth bothering them to change it now. Opponents of this school's mascot, however, explain the bastardization of Arab culture that occurs as a "symptom [of] systematic misrepresentation, dehumanization, and discrimination that occur against us daily." (Source) Finally, Coachella has agreed to change up their mascot: they will become the "Mighty Arabs", and they will switch out their current, stereotypical Arab for one who is more distinguished, a "stoic, strong-jawed man with a neatly trimmed beard." That way, both the Arab-American community is appeased, and the high school can continue on with their traditions.

However, I must say that I do not think this problem is solved. I think the simple fact that this high school uses "the Arab" as their mascot is a sort of objectification and bastardization of their culture, because they have to do these stereotypical "Arab activities" in order to be recognizable as Arabs. Just like how the Don has his sombrero and Spanish knight outfit, and the Tigers have their stripes, every mascot is supposed to have recognizable, distinguished features and behaviors. How can one do that with an Arab without being racist?

What do you think? Is it acceptable for a school to have this Arab (the new and approved one) as their school Mascot? Is their school tradition valid? If not, what can be done for this high school to become "politically correct"?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Missouri New Abortion Laws

In my opinion, this article should be titled "The government gets to choose what happens to your body!" Today, Missouri enacted a 72 hour waiting period for women wanting abortions, the longest waiting period (tied with Utah and South Dakota) of the states. This was passed overriding the veto of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. Additionally, there is not even an exception clause to victims of incest and/or rape: they specifically rejected that amendment! Even though Roe vs. Wade ensured that abortions are to be legal up to a certain point, states continue to tack more and more conditions in order to make abortions harder and harder to get.

Political comic illustrating numerous requirements of an abortion

The new waiting period is supposed to give women a "reflection period." According to Republican Rep. Kathie Conway, if "you get a couple of more days to think about this pregnancy, think about where it's going, you may change your mind." Democrat Rep. Judy Morgan from Kansas City contests this, saying that this waiting period is "designed to demean and shame a woman in an effort to change her mind." Missouri already has a lack of accessible abortion clinics to the majority of the population: for example, St. Louis only has one abortion clinic, so some people go days out of their way to visit this clinic, only to be forced to wait 3 more days until they can have an abortion.

This makes me angry, because what a woman does with her body should be her decision, not the states. Even if she gets to have an abortion in the end, what gives the government the right to make it so hard for her? Each state has its own set of abortion registration requirements, and they vary in degrees of "freedom" women get to have over their own bodies. It makes me even angrier that in the case of Missouri, incest and rape victims are subject to the same laws. Imagine having to live with that violation growing inside of you, a cause for shame and depression and anger, and having the state tell you that you have to deal with it for a few more days until you can finally "cleanse yourself." When will this madness stop?

9 Month Waiting Periods?

What is your opinion on this highly controversial topic? Do you think it's okay for Missouri to raise their abortion waiting period? Where should the line be drawn when it comes to abortion rights? How can we change this? Note: I recognize that this is an area of great tension and controversy, so please be respectful in your answers!

One last "fun" political comic:

Government Intrusion

Reflecting on 9/11 Thirteen Years Later

Obama gave a speech memorializing 9/11 today. Take a look.

"We carry on because as Americans we do not give in to fear. Ever," he says, heavily implying a parallel to the current struggle against the ISIS. In fact, this oratory comes directly after yesterday's announcement to launch a new misson against Islamist regimes in Irag and Syria.

In the past, the president's 9/11 memorials seem to be more focused on the victims of the attack rather than its impact as a country as a whole:

Obama's older speeches are a much clearer homage to the determination and perserverence that carried the country out of momentary bleakness, whereas his latest speech reflects on the event in a much more distant, analytical manner.

Is this evolution indicative of a changing perspective of 9/11? Or does Obama simply utilize speeches as rationalization for his current agenda?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple's Bigger and... Better?

The latest in tech news is the September 8th unveiling of both the new iPhones, 6 and 6+, and the new Apple smartwatch.

However, many have been criticizing Apple's newest products, claiming that they now put form over function when it comes to marketing their products. According to this chart from Forbes, the 6 is nearly identical to the 5s, although you can see quite a large difference in the 6+:


As you can see, in order to get a phone that is actually technologically improved on, the 6+ would be a better deal: for just $100 dollars more. In fact, the main difference in the new iPhone 6 is its thinness and screen size: 4.7 inches long and 6.9 millimeters thick, as compared to the iPhone 5s at 4 inches long and 7.6 millimeters thick. Another thing it boasts is its new camera with "focus pixels," but otherwise, it is quite similar to the 5s.

Are you an Apple fan, into that iPhone hype? What do you think about Apple's marketing strategy - release two new iPhone's at a time (like the 5s and the 5c), but making one of them the much obviously better deal, for a higher price? How is this large scale, Wall Street corporation able to control such a huge percentage of the population, with people camping out for the new iPhone 6 since September 4th, and is it dangerous for them to have such a large sphere of influence?

Income and the College Dilemma

Today, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times published an article explaining the changes being wrought on the American school system of today, particularly in higher education.
The article cites worrying statistics. Although the U.S. has historically provided accessible secondary education to students of a wide variety of incomes, in recent years the rate of educational attainment in our country has fallen behind other developed nations. Nearly 60% of Russian 25 to 60 year olds, for example, have surpassed the education of their parents. In the U.S., the rate is about 30%.

Even though it is possible to interpret these numbers as other countries "catching up" to the educational standards of the U.S., it remains disconcerting that low-income american families are disproportionately choosing not to attend college, since income has increasingly become a factor in college attendance.

What are the solutions to this? Is it true that the public school system disadvantages poor students by locking them out of wealthier high school districts? Why aren't the people who would most benefit from college attending college?

Cheney and the Abandonment of Isolationism in America?

On the night of President Obama's speech last Tuesday, Former Vice-President Dick Cheney swooped in to Capitol Hill and urged many House Republicans to "embrace a strong military and reject a rising isolationism in his party", according to NY Times. Because of the recent attacks by ISIS, he has tried to find ways in which the U.S. would be able to intervene militarily in ISIS Occupied Lands.

Dick Cheney was also partially responsible for President Bush's decision to start the Iraq military campaign that ultimately led to the start of the Iraqi War. Due to his nature that the U.S. must involve themselves in international affairs, he has leaned towards more military intervention than diplomacy. When ISIS took over most of the lands in Iraq and in Syria, he became a big advocate for more military spending.

According to some sources like, New York Daily News, "former vice president called on his party to fight Obama’s cutbacks to military funding". Over the past few days, he has tried convincing many Republicans in Congress to support his cause for military intervention.

In my opinion though, I see that Dick Cheney's way of trying to solve for the crisis in Iraq is a bit extreme for it would stir a wide criticism in his part. Not only it would create a division between pacifists and warmongers who either desire diplomatic resolution or military intervention but also it would create a split in the National Government.

What do you think about this topic? Please comment below.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cops Steal Money

Equitable Sharing sounds nice, doesn't it? It's the name of a program that encourages cops to steal cash without filing charges and keep the money to fund their own departments.

The program is billed as fighting drug trafficking by confiscating cash from suspicious individuals, however horror stories have resulted. Yesterday the Washington Post released an investigation of these stops that presents many shocking anecdotes.

One example:
  • Vincent Costello is driving from Florida to New York
  • He is searched after officers claim they smell drugs (none are found)
  • Police seize $32,000 in cash, as drugs often come from Florida and are sold in New York, plus the man was acting "unusually nervous." No charges are filed. 
  • After $9,000 in legal fees, the police agreed to return half of the cash they took. He is left with $7,000 out of his original $32,000.
Check out the entire article-- it's full of stories like this. Is every example of these tactics being used as bad as the ones referenced in the article? Probably not. But the fact that a nationwide program exists that allows for these events is outrageous.

Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Are these programs constitutional under the 4th and 5th amendments?

Can this program be defended on moral grounds? Should police departments be able to pocket the money (and property) they confiscate?


Waiting for the Buyout

This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal posted an article claiming to have the inside scoop on a ongoing buyout deal between Microsoft and Mojang AB, the game developers behind the absurdly popular video game Minecraft. Keep in mind that this is an ongoing story and that the source quoted was anonymous.

                                                                                (Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore)

An announcement like this is not out of the ordinary considering the corporate climate of late.

When Amazon agreed to buy video game streaming service Twitch no more than two weeks ago, many Twitch celebrities expressed apprehension over what would become of the site--and their rights as content producers.

Similarly, the merge of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the two largest telecom companies in the country, was initiated this year and tagged with an exchange of $45 billion.

The last notable time that the government stepped in to halt an enormous corporate merger was the 2011 deal between AT&T and T-mobile. The Department of Justice argued that an enormous merge like this would stifle competition and hurt economic growth.

Do you believe that these mergers have gotten out of hand? To what extent does the video game industry mirror large corporate mergers? At what point should the government step in to protect consumers' economic interests, if at all?