Wednesday, December 30, 2015

United States Spying on Israel Post NSA Leaks

Following the 2012 and 2013 leaks by Wikileaks that exposed the US's surveillance of foreign heads of states and governments, the US stated that they would cease surveillance, or "spying", on foreign governments. However, recent discoveries have proven otherwise. Of course, with most generalizing statements, there were exceptions. One of which was Israel. 

Recently, news has come out of the US's continued surveillance of Israel, causing tensions between tensions to rise once between Conservatives and the current administration. It's not clear exactly how much information has been taken compared to pre- Wikileaks levels, but nonetheless "spying" has not ceased.  

This has led to criticism of the current administration by Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race. Candidate Carson has said, “once again, (Hillary) has shown that her experience in government is merely an indication that she is unfit to lead," citing her time as Obama's former Head of State, and explaining "No doubt President Obama's former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration's spying efforts on Israel. It is shameful that she participated in undermining the U.S.-Israeli relationship."

The presidential race on 2016 will be one of even more polarized politics than seen in much of elections before. Carson is taking a firm stance against the spying of our "only ally in the Middle East". At the same time, one has to realize that in the interest of national security, spying is an integral part of acquiring intelligence. 

1. Do you think that the US needs to stop all their surveillance of other nations and heads of state completely, and would it impact our national security, or would it have no real effect?

2. How will this event affect candidates for the 2016 election, and is this issue important enough to change the opinions of Americans enough to make an impact?

3. What is the limit when it comes to NSA eavesdropping and spying? Is there a common ground other than cessation completely?


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Climate Deal Reached at COP21

What is the COP21?
The COP21 stands for the "Conference of the Parties 21" which in other words means most countries in the world will meet up for 11 days to reach a consensus on what is the best way to keep the world from getting hotter.

Read a little more about here, courtesy of Kristen's post:

What was the deal?
The Paris pact aims to limit the global temperature to a 2 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial times, but aim for only a 1.5 Celsius increase, by the end of the century. 195  countries in the world have agreed to this pact which will start in 2020. The other main goals of this pact are to peak greenhouse gases as soon as possible,  make sure there is a balance between sources and sinks for greenhouse gases, and developed countries will give 100 billion a year to developing countries so that they have funds build an energy efficient industry.

Why 2C? That does not seem like a lot?
Not many people think they would feel a difference between being out in 75 Fahrenheit(24 C) than 71.6 Fahrenheit(22 C) weather. Although that is most probably true, this is not about your local weather but the entire Earth's. A global 2 C rise in temperature means that the entire world, atmosphere, water and land, would get that much warmer. It would take a lot of heat for the entire world to get that hot. In fact, it is not something humans are used to for humans have never lived on a planet that's two degrees warmer than it was it was before 1870. Still don't believe that such an increase is not drastic enough? As NASA has stated, "In the past, a one- to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age. A five-degree drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago." A 2C different is a lot and could cause the earth to become hotter than any of us really want it.

Why is our world getting hotter? What is the greenhouse effect?
The greenhouse effect is when the Earth's atmosphere absorbs some of the energy from the Sun and then radiates it back out in all directions. The energy that gets sent back to the planet warm both, the lower atmosphere and surface, it is a much-needed effect because without it the Earth would be about 30 C colder. Gases from industry and agriculture are adding to these natural gases which have caused more energy to become trapped, this is also called global warming.  As seen in the graph below, CO2 seems to be what we, everyone on Earth, are adding the most of by burning fossil fuels or destroying something that would absorb CO2.  
Greenhouse gases

I like warm weather so what's the problem?
Well, there are serious repercussions of the Earth getting warmer. There would be a 400-800% increase in wildfires across the United States. Floods and droughts will become more common. There would be an increase in sea level by as much as 10 feet. Global warming would damage our precipitation patterns which would result in a decrease in food supply. Species that depend on one another may become out of sync. Fresh water will not be as readily available. Ecosystems will change and those animals that cannot adapt or move to a more desirable environment will become extinct.

Right now our Earth is at a .8 C increase from the global temperature of the 1870's. Together, I think that we can start the healing from the damage we have done to our Earth. 

What are your thoughts on global warming?
Should more funding go into efforts for a greener industry?
Have we done/are doing enough to prevent global warming?
What are ways we can help stop global warming?
How does the car industry play into this?


The Last Antibiotic Has Fallen

Resistance to last-resort antibiotic has now spread across globe
Bacteria resistant to polymyxins, a last resort antibiotic for some kinds of common infections like E. Coli, if they resist all other types of antibiotics.

The discovery of this gene means that some bacteria are now able to become "pan-resistant", or "superbugs". That would mean that these bacteria are resistant to all types of antibiotics, and cannot be treated unless new types of antibiotics are developed.

Worldwide Circulation
Back in November, bacteria resistant to polymyxin had been discovered in China. However, this recent discovery of this bacteria in Denmark has lead to worries that it has gone global, and will soon be widespread.

According to Frank Aarestrup of the Danish Technical University, the genes found in Denmark and China are the exact same, suggesting that the mutation had traveled instead of popping up separately. Although they don't know where it originated, it is suspected that it originated from China, where the majority of polymyxyin is used.

The Role Lifestock Plays
Antibiotic resistant bacteria arises when a certain bacteria develops a resistant to an antibiotic by chance, and remains the only bacteria to continue to proliferate due to antibiotics killing off the rest. Thus, the more antibiotics are used, the more likely it is that superbugs will develop.

However, farmers currently use 12 thousand tons of colistin a year with agriculture. Such widespread use of antibiotics greatly increases the risk of superbugs like the one discovered developing.

1. What do you think should be done about the increasing abundance of superbugs?
2. What do you think should be done about the abuse of antibiotics in agriculture?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

China's biggest business tycoon is missing?

Recent news about the disappearing act of Guo Guangchang, the Chairman of Fosun Group, one of China's most successful private-sector firms, have raised eye brows around the world. Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping has been relentless in its effort to crackdown corruptions that have plagued China's economic rise. Mr. Guo was a role model among China's many aspiring enterpreneurs. He started his company with just a few thousand of dollars and help from three fellow students of Fudan University in Shanghai. His success was likened to that of Warren Buffet in the US.  Social media was abuzz with news and reports that Mr. Guo was "whisked away" by police as he got off a plane in Shanghai, but it's also possible that he was taken for questioning about bigger fish in the corruption investigation of Shanghai's Communist Party leadership.

The 4th Amendment protect Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures, a right that Guangchang was not guaranteed to in China, exemplifying the differences in guaranteed rights by the laws of the nations of the US and China.

What do you think of the nature in which the Chinese government cracks down on corruption among its party ranks, among some of the most successful citizens of China?  Do you think these types of government"hunts" could happen in the US? How would you feel if some of the most successful business men such as Marc Zuckerberg of Facebook, were detained without public news and simply "disappears" because of potential links to illegal activities? What would be repercussions if the government simply seized people, without hard evidence? How would the public and the media react?

Supreme Court's Comments on Affirmative Action are Negative

As many of us may have heard during the court presentations, Fisher vs University of Texas was meant to be the last word on affirmative action for a while. Justice O'Connor wrote "We expect 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary." For supporters of affirmative action, this was a great victory. Affirmative action was decided to be constitutional in theory, but some restrictions were placed on it. Yet, barely 2 years later, the Supreme Court looks to decide on the case once again.

Why do Courts revisit cases?
The court doesn't often revisit cases. Once a decision has been made, it's typically unlikely that justices will have changed their mind. Often, the only time a a court will revisit a case is when at least 4 justices think that they have the votes needed to overturn the case. So does this mean affirmative action is about to be overturned? Many supporters are worried that the answer is yes.

Abigail Fisher
Source: Associated Press

Negative Comments:
Chief Justice John Roberts questioned whether racial diversity had educational value, asking "What unique perspective does a black student bring to a class in physics?"

Justice Samuel Alito suggested that by seeking even more minority students, University of Texas is belittling its current minority students.

1. Do you support affirmative action? Why or why not?
2. What do you think will be the result of this case?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Is Democracy Over?

The progress in democracy seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century.

The author states several reasons for the decline of democracy in the world. Two strike close to home. The first was the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the following multiple government (i.e., using tax payers' money) bail out of financial institutions to benefit the top "1%" versus the "mainstreeters" who lost their homes to foreclosures and bankers' greeds. The other is the war in Iraq that was seen as the failure of democratic policies of the US, the richest and most successful model of modern democracy in the world, that uses democracy as a pretense to spread American imperialism (and oil security) under the cover of democracy, resulting in political instability and spread of terrorism. The other major factor is the rise of China. China's one party system breaks the monopoly of economic growth. While America's economic system doubles the standard of living every 30 years, the Chinese tightly controlled system has doubled the standard of living every 10 years for the last 30 years. American's democratic system is a symbol of gridlock in comparison. The same can be said about similar, western style democracies in India and Western Europe.

What are your thoughts on these relatively recent phenomena with respect to the adoption of democracy in the world? What happened to the Arab Spring revolution in the Middle East? The rise of Russia in the Eastern Europe? Is America losing her grip of economic and political dominance, and hence the waning success of democratic adoption? What do you think of China's emergence as an alternative, prosperous system? Is China's economic growth sustainable or will it collapse under its own expectation?

Obama Signs Rewrite of No Child Left Behind

As we learned in Ch 3 of the textbook, the 2011 No Child Left Behind Act imposed many federal requirements on public schools, such as class size and standardized testing.  It has been viewed by many as an overstep by the federal government of their powers, imposing on the powers of states and local governments, an idea called preemption. Preemption is derived from the supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution. It's now become more supported by Republicans in office as well as Democrats.

Since then, the Obama administration has progressively taking steps to alleviate some of the requirements.  For example, in 2012, Obama freed 10 states from the provision mandating a deadline for bringing all students to proficiency levels in reading in math.  In July this year, the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill revising the Law so that standardized testing performance is not as heavily weighted as a measure of the success of the school, and it was passed by both houses in November.  This is the first revision since its implementation. On the 9th of this month, another set of revisions was passed by the Senate and this article talks about Obama signing it into Law on the 10th. 

The bill maintains mandated standardized testing but gets rid of the harsh consequences for states and districts that perform poorly. The state and local officials can set their own performance goals.  It's now called the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Obama called the previous approach "one size fits all," whereas this reform is a "commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education." Since it was bipartisan, Obama even referred to it as a "Christmas miracle." 

However, is it possible that the level of federal involvement in the educational system before was actually an effective tool to resolve or rectify racial discrimination in schools?  Since the original bill intended to make sure that states were giving all students, especially poor children and those who need assistance the most, equal chances to succeed by implementing consistent standards and federal oversight, will more freedom to the states to set their own standards still ensure this? Or will it bring mostly positive changes? Is it even a fair requirement for a school to be punished if not all its students meet proficiency requirements given that every individual is inherently different and learns at a unique rate? 

A Video
   ----> Photo above is a screenshot from this video.

Article 1
Article 2

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Australia Arrests Two in Terror Raid

Yesterday, a twenty-year-old man and a fifteen-year-old boy were both arrested and charged with conspiring to conduct an act in preparation for terrorism. Three other men aged twenty-one through twenty-two are already in custody and face similar charges from a raid that took place last year. 

These charges are related to documents that were found last year in a counter-terrorism investigation: Operation Appleby. New South Wales, a state in southern Australia had found out that Islamic Extremists were planning random killings in Australia, and that a senior Islamic Militant had called for demonstration killings, including public beheadings. The radicalized group, that these five men were a part of, was planning attacks on government buildings in Sydney. The two arrested today were also connected to a terror-linked shooting of a Sydney police worker last October.

One thing that really standouts out to me is that a 15 year old was part of these terror plots. The 15-year old who had been arrested today because he was a part of the conspiracy, so he helped prepare and plan the material being presented by his seniors in the radicalized group. It is unclear what his role would have been if an attack had really carried out. Today was the third time this boy's house had been raided. He was home alone in the first raid, where documents, laptops and his Playstation were seized. In the second raid, the boy was arrested and he was subsequently charged with possessing an unauthorised firearm. Aware of some radicalization the government kept in constant contact with the school and even tried to offer free gym memberships as a way to spy on the kid. The police have been in constant contact with the boy's school to prevent radicalization before it gets to the point where people decide to act it out in violence.

Recently it seems like there has been a lot more kids being radicalized. There has been a case two months ago where another fifteen-year old boy, Fahrad Jahar, shot and killed a police officer in the front of a police station. There was a case where a 14 year old boy from Blackburn, England was arrested in early April for communicating a plot to men in Australia that would include using knifes and swords to slash police officers. Last year two girls, a seventeen and a fifteen year old , both packed their bags and headed out to Syria. One of the girls was beaten to death while trying to escape and the other died in fighting. The number of arrests of a under-18 terror offenses almost doubled from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015 in England from 8 to 15.

So what is so appealing about risky, violent extremist groups to teens? This is not a concept that we have not seen before. Gangs, cults, and Hitler's youth movement are only a few examples's of times kids have actively participated in extremist groups.

During the teen years kids try to find their sense of identity; they look for religon, poltics. occupation, and a cultural identity. Kids are often in a warm and nurturing enviroment that allows them to safetly find their identity. However in some cases, joining a certain group can give a sense of belonging and meaning at a time they need it the most. Kids adopt these ideals no matter how ridculous. 

By March of this year, ISIS had recruited about 280 more children than men, and that is just one extremist group. Maybe one way of stopping extremist groups is by giving our children a nuturing and safe enviroment to explore to ensure that they do not feel connected to the wrong people. 

1. Do you feel like countries are doing enough to protect their children from extremist groups?
2. What do you think nations can do to help defeat extremist groups?


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up ban on assault weapons

     San Bernardino, California; Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; Newton, Connecticut. Do you know what all these cities have in common? These are places where semi-automatic guns have been used to kill  massive amounts of people.

     To prevent these types of attacks on innocent civilians, states such as Maryland, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have implemented similar gun bans on military-style rifles. However, many ban's, like California's, have loopholes. In the recent tragic San Bernardino incident, the two killers had rifles that were legally obtained. Even though most rifles are banned in California, the only exception is if a button mechanisms to release the ammunition magazines exists. 

     Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not take up a challenge to an assault weapon ban in a Chicago suburb, called Highland Park. This law, which was upheld by the lower courts bans the sale, purchase, and possession of semi-automatic firearms with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition, or basically 10 bullets.

     Many pro-gun right's advocates have argued that their rights have been infringed on. Gun rights advocates say that gon-control laws violate enumerated second amendment rights. They are not alone. Both Justice Clarence Thoma and Antonin Scalia have openly dissented the majority opinion to not see the case. Justice Thomas has stated, “Because noncompliance with our Second Amendment precedents warrants this Court’s attention as much as any of our precedents, I would grant certiorari in this case. The arguments from the parties in the case reflect the deep divide nationwide between those who are pushing what they consider reasonable restrictions and others who think the lower courts are thumbing their nose at Supreme Court precedent by upholding certain restrictions". Thomas is referring to the District of Columbia v Heller case in which the court ruled, that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

So should we ban firearms?

During the 1994-2004 Federal assault ban, we do see a decrease in mass murders. The number of mass shootings since the ban has almost doubled. Indicating a ban on assault weapons was effective over a 10-year span of 1994-2004. Some might question why the spike near the year 2000 and that is because of an irregular mass shooting at a high school, that killed 12 and injured 21 others. 

 On the other hand, banning firearms might not be the solution as shown by the graph below: 

We see that in states, like Chicago and Washington D.C.,  with complete bans on firearms have actually shown some of the highest murder counts in the nation. We also see that in states with less gun control have fewer murders. One thing that really stuck out to me was that villages that required a loaded gun in each house, had reduced home invasion crime.

1) Do you believe there should be some gun control in the U.S.? If so, on all firearms or only assault weapons?
2)What do you think of the lower courts breaking a precedent set by the Supreme Court to allow gun control bans?

Crooked Rikers Correctional Officer Arrested

A Correctional Officer from New York City's main jail, Riker's Island, was found today with a significant amount of synthetic marijuana and number of scalpels, and intent to smuggle them into the jail to sell to inmates.  He has been arrested and faces various drug-related criminal charges, such as encouraging prison contraband. There are now 51 members of Rikers staff who have been arrested or sent for discipline since reforms targeted towards officer corruption were placed in 2014.  Some believe that the activities of dirty officers smuggling may be correlated to slashing and stabbing attacks at Rikers.

I think Officer McKoy abused his power as a CO, a position that here gives him freedom to transport items to the inmates who have little other options if they want to participate in these illicit activities. A variety of laws aim to prevent similar police abuses of power, including the 4th Amendment and various technicalities regarding the proper method of obtaining evidence and other seizures. The large quantity of contraband McKoy was in possession of (>350g organic/synthetic marijuana, cocaine, loose tobacco, etc) suggests that he had established a decent business selling to inmates, and that the security at Rikers is incredibly poor, maying further suggesting weaknesses in this area of the justice system.


1.  Can anything else be done to discourage officer misconduct? Tougher background checks/requirements?

2.  What are other problems with the current state of the correctional system? Opinions on it as a whole?

Article and Photos:

Monday, December 7, 2015

China's Clever Political Move at the Paris Climate Talks

2015 Climate Conference.svg

The 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), or the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, is currently being held in Le Bourget, France, as Emma mentioned in her post from around a week ago.  It is an eleven-day long summit that ultimately aims to create a legally binding agreement on climate for all nations around the world, specifically to keep global warming below 2˚C, as directed by the 2010 CancĂșn Agreements.

These Conferences of the Parties were established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.  The federal Environmental Protection Agency (independent executive agency) also played a role in the initiatives at the Rio Conference.  Its framework specifies how specific international treaties, called "protocols," may be negotiated to set limits on greenhouse gases, and has no set overall limit or enforcement plans. One of the most important of these protocols is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that mandated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

China at the Paris Climate Talks

At the 2015 COP21, China seemed to entirely support President Obama and Western anticarbon goals.  The U.S. and China negotiated a bilateral agreement setting emission reduction targets, therefore allowing the U.S. to go to Paris this year with an official Chinese backing for targets, making it harder for other countries to stonewall.  However, China's full support here is a bit suspicious because at the 2009 Summit in Copenhagen, China had adamantly opposed environmental reductions. Even after the U.S. offered to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels in 15 years and agreed to $100 billion for aid to poor countries, China's Premier (prime minister) Wen Jiabao stopped its discussions.  As of 2009, China seemed to be firm about its position regarding pollution control.

So, what made China change its mind in this "climate epiphany?" A closer look makes it clear that Beijing's position hasn't really changed - their motivations for the decision are rooted in a desire to take credit for the energy policies already chosen while maintaining its own economic growth.

The graph to the right demonstrates China's incredibly high CO2 emissions that have been progressively reaching even higher levels, even compared to the U.S.  For "domestic political reasons," China wants to reduce its coal consumption, amounts that have been getting to notoriously extremely toxic levels.  Cutting down on this smog has forced the government to switch to clean burning fuels with power plants running at 50% capacity.  Below is a photo of a family wearing masks for protection from the smog.

A family walk past the China Central Television Tower shrouded in smog in Beijing, China on December 7.

In addition, China's been experiencing a slowdown in its economy due to slowing migration to cities, which means less resource-intensive housing construction.  This, combined with other reasons, lowers demand for energy, forcing unnecessary steel mills and heavy industry plants to shut down.

To summarize, China has been supporting Obama's clean-air proposals at the UN Summit this year with hidden intentions to help their own economic and pollution problems.  It essentially entailed diplomatic benefits from the U.S. with no cost.


1. What do you think about the status of environmental policies in general and how they're prioritized amongst other international agreements?
2. What are you thoughts about what this article claims were China's motivations behind support for American emission reduction targets?

Photo Sources:


Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Death and Return? of Africa's Forests

The Death of Africa's Forests

Over the course of human history, the earth has managed to lose more than half its forests. Ignoring this stunning feat of human destruction, this deforestation has increased carbon emissions by 15%, destroyed much of the habitat for 70% of the earth's land animals/plants, and increased the rates of soil erosion and flooding.

The Return?
However, at recent climate talks. African countries bonded together to form the AFR100 initiative: a pledge to restore 100 million hectares (or if you have no idea how much a hectare is, 386 thousand square miles). According to Wanjira Mathai, daughter of the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, said that "I have seen restoration in communities both large and small across Africa, but the promise of a continent-wide movement is truly inspiring."

In addition, the World Bank and other governments have set aside more than 1.5 billion in funding for this reforestation.

1. Considering the current global climate, how big of an issue do you think forestation is?
2. How do you feel about the prospects of this project?


Comparing Israel to Post WWI Germany is anti-Semitism

Once upon many times, including current times, the Jewish people were brutally murdered, discriminated against, tortured, exiled, and not allowed to practice their religion. I could name countless examples of this, but none were more painful and poignant than the Holocaust. Hitler rose to power during the Weimar Republic and spread misplaced blame on the Jewish people for all of Germany’s many problems during that time. The Holocaust, with the Final Solution and goal being the end of all Jewish people, roughly cut the global Jewish population in half and created traumatic experiences for those who survived. The ghosts of the most extreme act of genocide ever seen still haunt the Jewish community to this day.
 The State of Israel, the only Jewish country in the world, is an international symbolism of Judaism and represents Jews all over the world. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions about Israel and its policies, but there are respectful, and disrespectful, ways of expressing them. One of the most appalling ways to express one’s negative opinions is by comparing Israel, Jews, or Israeli government and politics to post World War I Germany. A recent example of this is when a former Cambridge lecturer wrote “Benjamin Netanyahu wants ethnic cleansing. The Jews have become the Nazis”.  Not only is this an inaccurate comparison, but in order to make this comparison, one must either be ignorant and thoughtless, or purposefully spiteful and repugnant.
First of all, this comparison is completely false. The number one goal of Germany was to wipe out the Jews. The Holocaust was a genocide. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is in no way a genocide as Israeli’s do not systematically try to wipe out all Palestinians. As the ADL has stated “there is no Israeli ideology, policy or plan to persecute, exterminate or expel the Palestinian population – nor has there ever been”. Also, Germany was a totalitarian dictatorship who wanted to take over Europe and the entire world. Israel is a parliamentary democracy who not only isn’t fighting for more land, but has actually given up much of its land. Post WWI Germany, with a hatred not only of Jews but of any non-Arian, of disabled, of homosexuals, and many more, is one of the most discriminatory nations ever seen. Israel not only isn’t discriminatory based on race, but is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only country in the Middle East with equal rights for homosexuals, women, and Israeli Arabs ( Clearly, the comparison of Israel and Israeli politics to that of post WWI Germany is so false it is utterly ridiculous.
More importantly, even if one doesn’t agree with the indisputable facts I have laid out above, comparing Israeli politics to German 1920s-1940s politics is outright disgusting. Yes, there are some who ignorantly might have made the comparison, not realizing the horrid impact of their words. In that case, please think before you speak. It would benefit us all. There are others, however, who purposefully make this comparison “to cause distress to those who survived the Holocaust or who grew up as children of survivors. It’s like disagreeing with someone eating meat, and knowing they are a rape victim, choosing to make your point by comparing meat with rape and saying that someone who had been raped should know better…it’s applying a different standard to someone because they are a victim, making them a victim a second time” (Online Hate Prevention Institute). The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia gives the following as an example of antisemitism: Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis. This definition, including its examples, has been adopted by the United States, British, and Australian governments. Sarah McCulloch, a pro-Palestinian activist, writes “It’s a deliberate, systematic attempt to make people relive an experience that left millions of Jews dead and a wound on collective Jewish memory that hasn’t even begun to heal”.
Personally as a Jew, seeing or hearing comments like “Israel should stop using the holocaust as their instruction manual” and “Israeli politics are becoming more and more right. It is creepy in a Weimar Republic kind of way” (paraphrased comments that I’ve recently seen/heard) is not only angering and hurtful, but threatening and targeting. “Knowingly trying to hurt someone by using words and pictures that you know will particularly upset them is direct discrimination” ( If one is disgusted by Israel or its policies and politics, there are many acceptable ways of expressing it. Clearly, the comparison of Israel to post WWI Germany is not one of them. Please reconsider the comparisons you make and try to have some respect and sensitivity when talking about Israel and the Jewish people.
Your Jewish, pro-Israel, anti-Nazi classmate,
No questions for this post.

The Technological Revolution Is Coming

Let's imagine you had a time machine. Go back to 1815, where nobody had wifi, where the fastest form of transportation you could get had 1 horsepower, and take a guy to the modern age. To him, we might as well be magicians. Talk to somebody 10k miles away? Fly higher than the mountains? Even without talking about the cutting edge of science, he would be blown away.

Now take a guy from the 1600s, bring him to the 1800s, and show him around. Compared to the other person's reaction, and you would be duly disappointed. Although he'd be impressed with scientific advancements, he wouldn't be blown away.

In order to blow somebody away by bring them to the 1800s, you'd have to go a lot further back, to the hunter-gatherer period. People from that period would indeed be blown away by the 1800s. Settlements? Cities? Large scale sea travel? All of these concepts would be novel.

This illustrates what's often called the "Law of Accelerating Returns". If you graphed human advancement on a graph, it would look something like:

Source: Uday I/O

If you zoomed out the timeline even further, it would look similar. However, humans tend to consistently underestimate how fast technological growth happens.

Artificial intelligence is an interesting related topic that I might write a separate blog post about. However, here is the main question?

What do you see as the future of technology?

Some opinions on the future of technology:

Picture 1:

President Obama's Oval Office Address: "This was an act of terrorism."

     A few days ago, I posted about the tragic San Bernardino shooting here. As time went on, it was revealed that the two shooters had connections with ISIS. Unfortunately, this attack happened at the same time as tensions over allowing Syrian refugees are worsening. Today, President Obama released an Oval Office Address in an attempt to calm the nerves of the American people. In his speech, he revealed the San Bernardino shooting as an, "act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people," called ISIS a group of "thugs and killers," and emphasized the difference between ISIS and Syrian refugees.

     President Obama addressed anti-refugee sentiment by asserting that turning away any refugee based off their race is not the correct thing to do. He explained that, "when we travel down that road, we lose," calling it a, "betrayal of our values." Obama continued to oppose any anti-Syrian legislation and did not mention any in his address, claiming that, "freedom is more powerful than fear." He warns and assures us that, "the threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it."

     However, to prevent events like the San Bernardino shooting from happening again, President Obama is now pushing for legislation that would prevent individuals on the "no-fly" list from purchasing firearms. In a CNN poll, 60% of Americans disapproved of Obama's handling of terrorism and 66% disapproved of his handling of ISIS.

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - Do you think President Obama is correct in his statements? Do you believe it was a "terrorist attack?"
     - Is turning anyone away from the United States based off race ever okay? If so, under what circumstance and why?
     - President Obama claimed that the San Bernardino shooters went down a "dark path of radicalization." Do you think this could happen again soon in the United States? What prevents "radicalization?"
     - Do you think preventing "no-fly" list individuals from buying guns will reduce crime? Does is violate the second amendment?

White House (Video):
CNN (Video):
Washington Post (Video):
NBC News (Video):
YouTube Video:
Previous Post:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Senate Votes to Defund Planned Parenthood

         On Thursday, the Senate passed a bill (52-47) that would repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood for one year. Because of a procedure called budget reconciliation, the bill only needed 50, as opposed to the usual 60, votes to past. Although, as expected, the majority of votes came from Republicans, 2 Democrats voted for the bill and 2 Republican senators voted against the bill. Many moderate Republicans are upset with the outcome. The Senate has voted before on repealing parts/all of Obamacare, but this is the first time with the Planned Parenthood addition.

        Now, the bill goes to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass because a different version of this bill was passed in the House in October. The White House has said that President Obama will veto the bill, and since Republicans do not hold a two thirds majority, they cannot override his veto. This is very well known, but there is still purpose to passing this bill, even though it is futile. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) said that this bill was passed in order to display the “big division in this country, and a lot of us don’t like it, and the American people don’t like it,” making the passing of the bill into a statement of Congress’s opinions. Also, this vote clearly declares that if a Republican wins the 2016 presidential election, Obamacare will be repealed.
How do you feel about this? Should Obamacare be repealed? Should Planned Parenthood be defunded?
In light of the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, do you think this is insensitive? How do you think this violent event impacted the voting?
Sources: (warning: this post is extremely biased and has some insensitive language)

Thursday, December 3, 2015

British ISIS Airstrikes

RAF Typhoons arrive in Cyprus
View of British planes going to bomb ISIS fields in Syria

Britain has started its first airstrikes on ISIS in Syria. After Wednesday’s 397-223 vote, Britain has bombed an oilfield near the Syrian border with Iraq. It is believed that this oilfield is a main source of income for ISIS. The strikes have been successful, and there are already more planes on the way to Syria. Britain is planning to continue the airstrikes for multiple years. Prime Minster David Cameron has said that this fight will take time and people need to be patient and have respect for the pilots involved.
So far, the United States has sent the most planes to bomb ISIS areas. Because ISIS is such a major global concern, more countries, specifically Germany, have been pressured to join the effort with more vigor. At this point, there is not a lot of information available about the British strikes as they have happened so recently.
Are airstrikes a good way to fight ISIS? Do you think this will be effective?
Do you think the US, UK, and other countries should be spending money and troops on this fight?
How does ISIS play into the overall threat of terrorism?

Sources: These sources have more specific information about the types of planes involved in the British airstrikes.

U.S. Defense Secretary Opens All Combat Jobs to Women

     Today, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced that the Pentagon will open all combat jobs to women and that, “there will be no exceptions.” This means that the 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles has been overturned. Women will now be eligible to join the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and other Special Operations Units. Of course, they still will have to pass the tests and meet the standards for each division.

     However, this is not a random occurrence. In fact, it was put off as long as possible being that it is December 2015. Three years ago, President Obama promised to integrate women into all combat jobs by 2016. All divisions have 30 days from today to prepare for integration.

     The U.S. Marines requested an exemption from this change, due to the fact that they segregate recruits by gender for basic training and are 93% male. In the video above, Carter rejects their request, arguing that all parts of the military should operate under the same standards. Carter claims: “when I became secretary of defense, I made a commitment to building America’s force of the future. In the 21st century that requires drawing strength from the broadest possible pool of talent. This includes women.”

     Although a great decision towards gender equality in the military, simply opening combat roles to women will not create a fully integrated military. In September, the Marines released a $36 million study that found that integrated combat units were "slower, fired weapons with less accuracy and had more injuries."

     President Obama defends Secretary Carter, stating: "together, we're going to make sure our military remains the finest fighting force in the history of the world, worthy of all our patriots who serve — men and women."

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - Do you think that the Marines had the right to be exempt? Do you think there is there any possible reason for exemption?
     - Were you previously aware of this 1994 Pentagon rule? If not, why do you think this was not well known?
     - Do you think the $36 million study is accurate? Is this a valid reason to not have integrated units?

New York Times (Video):
Washington Post (Video):
NBC News (Video):
CNN (Video):
Reuters (Video):
YouTube Video:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Is the American Dream Dead?

"The American Dream is dead."

For decades, critics have proclaimed the American Dream is dead. Donald Trump has recently proclaimed it. Bernie Sanders has said that "for many, the American dream has become a nightmare." And indeed, those who say so can back up their claims with numbers. But before we do so, we need to ask,

What is the American Dream?
The American Dream, according to, is the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American. Practically, this is the idea that somebody can start with nothing and end up rich.

Social Mobility
A key concept related to this is whether social mobility has increased or decreased. According to Gregory Clark, a researcher at UC Davis, social mobility has indeed decreased. He says that America's social mobility was no different than "medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden."

Public Opinion of the American Dream
According to the Washington Post, which cites information from a Fusion 2016 Issues Poll (check here), the share of young white Americans who said that American Dream "isn't really alive". Interstingly enough, this has only equalized the proportions among young people of whites and young people of color. Although whites were half as likely as blacks to say the American dream is dead back in 1986, it is now roughly equal.

The New American Dream
The old American dream could often be invoked by the image of a house, a white picket fence, with a car, 2 children, and a dog.

Among modern youth, they are much more likely to say that starting a startup is the American Dream. In the era of Facebook, Twitter, or Apple, companies started by young Americans, startups topped the list of American Dream Components.

Personally, I don't think the American Dream is dead. The Internet has liberalized education, providing courses from top Universities to the general public (Coursera, Udacity, edX, etc.), programming has allowed anybody with an idea and skills to start a startup.

However, I will note that this freedom is not open to all fields. Those in mechanical engineering, business, etc. have not had their paths become easier. It is only inside the field of entrepreneurship (where programming reigns supreme) that all these paths are available.

No longer is the path to success limited to the university -> smart investing/ large family inheritance -> success. Many modern entrepreneurs decry the importance of an university education, and increasingly among the startup world, the programming skills of an applicant has taken precedence over the school on their degree.

1. Do you think the American Dream is dead? Why or why not?
2. What do you think of the role of programming in the American Dream?


Photo: Banksy

Does Polling Undermine Democracy?

President Harry S. Truman holds up an incorrect headline after winning the 1948 presidential election.

     In class, we have been learning a lot about polls. We have learned about their success, from increasing the youth vote to correctly identifying the next U.S. president before official vote count. However, we have also been learning about their flaws. They could have a bad sampling or manipulative wording in their question. I encourage you to check out this article by the New York times (also linked below), which details different opinions about the title of this post. Some say that they "can give people a stronger voice," but others are not so convinced. George Bishop, an independent survey research consultant and a retired professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, claims that they mislead and give the "illusion of public opinion."

     Jill Lepore, a writer for The New Yorker, claims: "from the late nineteen-nineties to 2012, twelve hundred polling organizations conducted nearly thirty-seven thousand polls by making more than three billion phone calls" but also shares that, "a 2013 study—a poll—found that three out of four Americans suspect polls of bias." If polls are so untrusted, why are they so popular? What do you think?

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - Do you agree with the statement: "Polling Undermines Democracy?" Why or why not?
     - What makes a poll biased? Do you trust polls?


Fourteen People Left Dead in San Bernardino Shooting

     Today, 335 days into this year, we had our 355th shooting of the year. At around 11 AM this morning during a holiday party, multiple shooters entered a large conference room in the Inland Regional Center of San Bernardino, a facility that serves people with developmental disabilities, and opened fire. Fourteen people were killed and at least seventeen were wounded.

     San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said that, after police arrived to search a Redlands residence, the suspects fled but were pursued back into San Bernardino.

     After a car chase and firefight, the police shot and killed two suspects, a man and a woman, dressed in "assault-style clothing" and detained a third person running from the car. During the firefight, the suspects threw pipe bombs and other hand-made explosives at the police and one officer was wounded but is expected to recover.

     Their motive is unclear but it appears that they had a specific target in the building. David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, questions: "Is this a terrorist incident? We do not know."

     Families were told to wait outside of the Hernandez Community Center as a meet-up place for survivors to contact their families.

Note: This is still going on while I type this. This link is a live update published by the Los Angeles Times.

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - The calendar on the side of this post details how many shootings there have been per day this year. Do you think this is reason to increase gun safety laws? Why or why not?
     - Do you consider this a domestic terrorist incident?

Los Angeles Times: and
CNN (Video):
New York Times (Video):
ABC News:
Washington Post:
YouTube Video:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tallest Tower in the World

The Kingdom Tower desert construction site in January 2015.
Construction site of the Jedda Tower
Up until now, the Burj Khalifa, standing at 2,716 feet tall, was the tallest building in the world, but this structure in Dubai might have met its match: Saudi Arabia’s Jedda Tower, also known as Kingdom Tower, with a projected height of 3,280 feet. Saudi Arabia is working to get enough funding (1.23 billion) for this massive in-progress project. Currently, the tower stands at 26 floors tall, with the plan for 174 more floors to be built.
The tower will be the centrepiece of the $20bn Kingdom City.
Computer created image of the Jedda Tower after completion
Architecturally, this building will be incredibly impressive. This structure, made of steel and concrete, is on the coast, where potentially damaging saltwater might cause a problem in the foundation. Another major challenge is the wind, as this building will be so tall. The creative solution? The tower “changes shape every few floors, [so] the wind loads go around the building and won’t be as extreme as on a really solid block” (CNN). Although there are many challenges, Sang Dae Kim, director of the Council on Tall Buildings, believes that this building can be built.

Do you think UAE (the country where the Burj Khalifa is) will be upset?
Should tallest building be a measure of success of a country?
Would you want to go to the tallest floor of this building?

Chicago Police Superintendent Fired

     Yesterday, Emma posted about the Black Friday protests (see post here) and mentioned that protesters were petitioning for the police superintendent to be fired. Today, that happened.

     To recap, a dashcam video surfaced online a week ago after a judge ordered it be released to the public. The video, recorded in October 2014, shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald approaching squad cars while holding a knife but then veered away. Once turned, police officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald sixteen times, killing him. Since its release, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been under a lot of pressure. Most people were targeting his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, but some are doubting his ability to lead as well. To answer the protesters (and possibly to reduce the criticism on himself), mayor Emanuel asked for a letter of resignation from McCarthy.

     The Chicago police force is being criticized in their handling of this case and is even being accused of trying to cover up misconduct. A manager who works at Burger King near the crime scene is claiming that police erased around 90 minutes of security camera footage that captured events leading up to the shooting. Also, although a similar one already exists, mayor Emanuel decided to create a second task force that would have oversight of police activity to prevent any further abuse of power. He justifies all of his actions stating that, "Superintendent McCarthy knows that a police officer is only as effective as when he has the trust of those he serves."

     Only last week was Officer Van Dyke charged with first-degree murder. He has been suspended from the Chicago Police Department but has left jail on a bail of $1.5 million.

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - As police superintendent, should McCarthy have been fired, or officer Van Dyke? Both? Why?
     - This definitely is not the first recent case of police violence. Do you think that police violence is becoming a worsening problem or is only being more apparent?
     - Do you think Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the right actions?


Monday, November 30, 2015

United States Restricts Visa Waver Program to Deter "Militant" Refugees

     Typically, to enter the United States, a refugee would need to go through an extensive screening process. However, in the past, tourists from 38 specific countries could easily stay in the United States for under 90 days as part of a visa waiver program, which allows 20 million visitors per year to enter without a visa. The White House posted a "Fact Sheet" on this program here. Due to the recent, tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, the federal government has announced that changes will soon be made to restrict this program for safety reasons.

     Members of congress from both political parties have suggested this change as the discussion of Syrian refugees in America grows. California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake have co-sponsored a visa waiver reform bill that would require "visa-waved" tourtists to have security chips in their passports and would exclude people who have traveled to Iraq or Syria in the last five years. Lawmakers believe that national security comes first and that refugees pose a possible threat. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer claims: "If a terrorist is going to try to come into this country, they’re much more likely to use loopholes in the visa waiver program to do it, instead of waiting two years to go through the refugee screening process."

     However, opposition to these changes have grown, too. United States Travel Association President Roger Dow remembered, “in the aftermath of 9/11, America and its leaders chose freedom over fear, which enabled our nation’s recovery on multiple levels. That was the proper instinct then and it remains so now ... Let's address the security problems we have, rather than creating new ones.”

     These proposed changes are leading many to believe that ulterior motives exist. According to a NBC poll, a majority 56% of the United States opposes accepting Syrian refugees. Changes to the visa waver program would hinder Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees in 2016, prompting him to vow to veto the bill.

What is your opinion on the following questions:
     - Do you think we should be doing this? Do you think this is justified or for superficial (racist/prejudiced) reasons?
     - Is it "american" to reject anyone from the United States? Should we let in as many Syrian refugees as possible/as much as resources allow/as few as possible? What is your opinion on the Chinese Exclusion Act?
     - Did you support/would you have supported the visa waver program before this issue?

More Information: