Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Major Earthquake Hits Nepal

On Saturday, a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, a country already plagued by poverty and political instability. Thousands have already died from the quake, and the subsequent aftershocks and avalanches, including one that several hit Mount Everest base camp. The total death toll is still very uncertain as there are many remote villages that are difficult to reach even in normal circumstances.

This tragedy is unfortunately unlikely far from over. There are significant concerns over the availability of drinking water and the possibility of the spread of certain diseases. Additionally, the country will need to rebuild infrastructure and its economy. The Nepalese economy is very dependent on tourism, which will take a hit, at least in the short-term. Coca-Cola is one of only a few multinational corporations that has operations in Nepal. They have suspend operations temporarily, despite their factories remaining intact, and are attempting to distribute clean water. Many countries have pledged aid to Nepal including the US with $10 million. There are some economist that say that disasters can allow developing countries to rebuild stronger after a disaster, overall increasing the economy. Many others, looking at the data and examples, argue that disasters the gains from aid are all lost by the huge destruction and lack of political stability.

What do you think the correct approach of the international community should be to this type of tragedy? Who should be involved in the relief effort (NGOs, the local government, neighboring governments, the UN, multinational corporations)? Do you thin this horrific tragedy will have a silver lining of increased economic productivity or will political instability and the losses cause continued struggle?

Basic information on the earthquake
Economic impact of Nepal Earthquake

Monday, April 27, 2015

For-profit college shuts down

A graphic highlighting the faults of for-profit schools
Corinthian Colleges, a large collection of for-profit colleges, is in its death throws, shutting down it's remaining 28 campuses, after many years of trouble with the Department of Education. Just last week they were fined $30 million for misrepresenting the value of a degree from their schools.

While the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are planning on forgiving $500 million worth of debt held by Corinthian students, that doesn't make up for the private debts owed by students and the opportunity cost they suffered to get a worthless degree.

This is a clear example of what happens when demand far outstrips supply. Snake oil salesmen start peddling inferior goods to those desperate for a way out. In a world where post-secondary education is increasingly seen as crucial, there are too many opportunities for abuse.

Obama should work with Congress to pass some form of his plan to expand access to community colleges. This will create greater supply, taking power away from predatory for-profit institutions. Additionally, the Department of Education should follow through with the regulations published this year that will ensure that for-profit schools are enriching their students, not bleeding them dry.

What is the role of for-profit colleges in our higher education system? Should they be banned entirely? Left to their own devices?
Should students not have to pay off the loans they took out to go to Corinthian schools?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

American citizens trapped in Yemen

Airstrikes in Yemen
Despite the fact that multiple other countries, including China, India and Russia, have evacuated their citizens, the US has refused to rescue to American citizens trapped in Yemen. They claim that any action on their part would put citizens at further risk. Nevermind that there are daily air raids, gunmen in the streets and a dire food shortage, since Yemen imports (or at least used to import) almost all its food.

My family has a personal tie to this conflict, as we currently have a Yemeni exchange student staying with us. His family has been rationing their food for weeks, and a rebel sniper was killed on the roof of his apartment building. If this is what normal Yemeni citizens face, imagine the danger to known American citizens.

The State Department also points out that they have long warned travelers to not visit Yemen. This "I told you so" attitude provides great cover for the State Department, but does nothing to protect American citizens or end the current conflict.

The US should be doing more to protect Americans abroad and to make peace with the Houthis. If the US is unable or unwilling to take direct action to rescue their citizens, they should at least provide monetary support to other countries who are rescuing foreigners. In addition, they should work to create safe zones in neighboring countries (such as on the coasts of Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea), so that citizens who manage to escape on their own can easily make their way back to the US instead of having to fight their way to an embassy.

What do think the US should do for American citizens in Yemen?
What role should the US play in the larger conflict?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Google Accused of Anti-Trust Violations in the EU

This week, Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner, accused Google of favoring its own products in web searches, specifically in shopping, giving it an unfair advantage. Vestager claims it is harmful to competition, "Google's favorable treatment of its comparison shopping service - you probably know it as Google Shopping - is an abuse of Google's dominant position in general search." It is also likely that there will be further anti-trust suits focusing on Google's Andriod operating system. Google has a much larger market share for both search engines and operating systems in Europe than they do in the United States, where Yahoo! and Bing provide more competition.

Google has responded by saying that consumers have access to information in a variety of ways and it is not hindering consumers or competitors at all. The accusations come at a time when the EU has taken regulatory action against other American tech companies. Some, such as Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, see a slight European protectionist trend. Others, like Nicholas Economides an economics professor at NYU, say that it is not at all protectionist and that the US could even file similar suits if the European ones prove successful, despite already finding certain practices by Google not in violation of anti-trust laws.

Do you think Google's actions constitute anti-competitive behavior? How strongly should governments attempt to enforce anti-trust legislation?

New York Times Article
NPR News Segment

Vaccination Bill Clears Hurdle in California

A CDC map of measles outbreaks

A California state bill that requires vaccinations for all children, except for those with a medical condition, has made another critical move through the state Senate. After being amended, the bill passed through the Senate Education Committee. Th bill still needs to go through another committee before coming to a vote on the Senate floor. It must then be voted on by the Assembly.

The recent measles outbreak was the catalyst for this bill, after 102 people, many of whom were not vaccinated, fell ill after visiting Disneyland. While the percentage of children who lack all vaccines is still low, it has more than doubled since 2000.

Personally, I am in favor of this bill. I liken it to requiring health insurance; the chance of something catastrophic happening is rather low, but the more people who take precautions, the safer it is for everyone. In the case of vaccines, this protects those who are medically unable to be vaccinated via herd immunity. Additionally, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause any kind of autism. The chance of any serious reaction to the specific vaccine that many people are worried about, the MMR vaccine, is less than 1 in 1,000,000. While parents are free to make decisions that only affect themselves, but when their decisions can easily cause great harm to others, the state should step in.

Should parents be required to vaccinate their children?
Is this bill an infringement on parental rights?
If parents choose not to vaccinate their children, should they be held responsible for any preventable illnesses spread by their children?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Climate Change isn't Beetlejuice

With today being Earth Day, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the general animosity towards science in this country and specifically, towards climate change. While virtually every scientifically-minded person realizes that the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing some problems, many in this country claim it is a "liberal conspiracy" to get us all driving a Prius and eating kale. 

Today, President Obama has addressed this dangerous thinking while visiting the everglades, saying, "Climate change can no longer be denied." This is an obvious challenge to Florida Governor Rick Scott, who allegedly ordered state workers to avoid any mention of the phrase "climate change." 

Climate change isn't Beetlejuice; saying it three times won't make it reality. Those trying to pretend it doesn't exist are doing the entire world a disservice. While climate change deniers hide behind shoddy pseudoscience funded by oil companies, animals go extinct, the ocean swallow up entire islands and extreme weather continues to threaten lives and livelihoods.

What is the root cause of climate change denials? How should we respond to them?
How should we address climate change?

Unlikely Allies in Debate on Trans Pacific Partnership Approval

Obama has a new unlikely ally in Congressional Republicans. The president is looking for Congress to approve a fast-track approach for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement between twelve countries in the Pacific Rim, including Chile and Japan. This deal has been negotiated for several years in secret, and is the largest trade deal since NAFTA was signed in the 1990s. It is likely that a provision will be introduced into the Senate Finance committee that will have the Congress just vote up or down on the agreement, but only after a public review period. This is the result of an agreement between Obama and Congressional Republicans.

The president is at odds with many in his own party who are distrustful of trade deals. The more liberal wing of the party, as well as labor unions, do not like trade deals as that are often seen as threatening of domestic manufacturing jobs, or at least unions, by leading to more outsourcing, and a way for companies to get around environmental laws. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said "not only no but hell no" of the deal. Elizabeth Warren has also expressed disapproval, especially of the secrecy of the negotiations. Republicans are much more supportive of free-trade, as it can create more markets for American goods, revealing the unlikely partnership.

How do you think debate on this deal will affect the presidential elections, especially the Democratic primaries? Do you think the TPP is a good deal? Should it have the "fast-track" or should Senators be able to make amendments and filibuster?

Other Articles:
"Obama: Democrats have their facts wrong on Trans-Pacific Partnership deal"
"U.S. Chamber, AFL-CIO clash at Senate hearing over Obama’s free trade push"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Former Egyptian President Morsi sentenced to 20 years in prison

Mohammad Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president after the Arab Spring toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, was sentenced to 20 years in prison today. Morsi was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood political party, which was founded in Egypt but has spread to other Muslim countries.

The official reason for the trial and subsequent imprisonment was the use of force by members of the Muslim Brotherhood during protests a year after he took power. However, given that the military, which conducted the trials against Morsi, came to power soon after the protests, it is more likely that the new leaders are just trying to clean up after their coup. Amnesty International has said that the trial was a "sham."

This trial was part of a larger smear campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. A high level leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammad Badie, received the death sentence in his trials, and the entire organization has been labeled a terrorist organization by the military led government. Additionally, while pursuing charges against Morsi, the military government dropped charges against Mubarak. This demonstrates a total lack of equal application of the law.

I'm not saying that Morsi is a saint or the the Muslim Brotherhood is a perfect organization. However, if Egypt is to ever have a dialogue about the balance of power and the role of religion in government, they must have a civilian government, not a military regime.

What do you think of the sentence against Morsi and the actions taken against the Muslim Brotherhood?
What should the US do or say in response, if anything? What about the larger international community?
Does this signal the end of the Arab Spring?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rising Issue with the Military Medical System

T.J. Moore was a 19 year old recruit for the U.S. Air Force who at the time mysteriously passed away amidst running a 1.5 mile test run. One year later, the answers as to why his death occurred are still unclear to Moore's family. The NY Times has discovered that Moore had been pulled from recruit testing days before his death due to a genetic condition that had been overlooked.

Moore is one of many cases to demonstrate the military medical system's inability to be held accountable. In a system responsible for 1.3 million service members, members are not allowed to seek medical care elsewhere without specific approval. Moreover, they are prohibited from filing malpractice suits in cases of death or injury. Federal law essentially prevents military service members from obtaining any answers if they file complaints within the medical system.

Moore's case, among many other military medical deaths, point to a larger issue with the healthcare service members receive. Families and loved ones are often intentionally barred from any investigation of not only the truth, but any details. More specifically until 2009, health care professionals who delivered poor quality care were reported not to the national database responsible for reporting medical problems but rather an internal database. With the final realization of this problem, 54 hospitals and hundreds of clinics have recently come to attention for its medical practices and safety investigations, or lack thereof.

We would expect the medical care given to military service members to be better than substandard, provided that the safety of the country depends on their services. Thus, is the military medical system something that can be improved or regulated? If so, how?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Japan is now the biggest holder of US Debt, surpassing China

Source: Quartz

China is no longer the biggest holder of U.S. Treasury debt, a position it has held for over 6 years. There are two components to this change. First, Japan has been consistently buying a lot of bonds in the past couple of years, and second, China's waning economic growth has correlated with less U.S. bond purchases.

As Matthew Yglesias from Vox points out, there's been a lot of media buzz about the U.S.'s big debt to China, and our resultant economic dependency on them. However, he also explains that that debt exists not because the U.S. Treasury is in dire need of more money, but because countries like China and Japan want to buy in; it's safe investment, and for countries who do so much export trade with the U.S., cycling the money around is good for growth.

Do you think the debt to China something to be worried about? Otherwise, is there something to be said about the state of Japan and China's respective economies by the stats and patterns from above?

Obama's Clean Power Plan Challenged in Court


On Thursday, the legal battle against Obama's most significant step in addressing climate change ensues. The country's two largest coal corporations, in conjunction with 14 coal-producing states, are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency in its latest regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan. This regulation specifically targets the coal industry, being the largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. By focusing on the rate reduction of carbon pollution, the Clean Power Plan specifies an emissions target for each state. Moreover, this plan sets limits specifically on the power plants themselves, looking to reduce national carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (Magill). 

The plaintiffs of the case, the two coal corporations and the 14 states, claim that the EPA lacks the authority to implement such a regulation and that current preparations for the rule have already hurt states and coal businesses. They have thus petitioned the court to block the EPA from finalizing the plan, a very rare occurrence in court. However, two of the three judges seemed skeptical of the plaintiff's arguments against the EPA. 

This lawsuit demonstrates the coal industry's attempts to save itself and its unwillingness to account for the negative externalities they have caused. Do you think their argument is a valid point? Moreover, will such an expansive proposal as this be viable across the country? 

Sources: Magill

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fast for Fifteen- The Push on Minimum Wage

Workers protesting in Boston

The movement known as Fast for Fifteen began their largest efforts yet on Wednesday morning, staging protests and sit-ins across 200 cities nationwide in fast food chains and airports. What originally began as a push to increase the minimum wage of fast-food workers two years ago, Fast for Fifteen has now, however, expanded their efforts to include retail, airport and homecare workers. 

The current national minimum wage of service workers is $7.25, an amount that is immensely difficult to support a family with. Fast for Fifteen seeks to raise this to $15, a motion of which President Obama supports. The Fast for Fifteen movement has already reached a degree of success, achieving statements by multiple corporations, such as McDonald's and Target, to raise their wage floors. 

The expansion of this movement is significant in improving the quality of life for many and ensuring financial security for Americans in the future, as now not only workers in the fast food industry have hope for higher wages. Although Fast for Fifteen have acquired initiatives by such large corporations, many worry it is still not enough to ensure that such a change happens. Moreover, political activists believe this movement is long overdue, especially as the 2016 presidential elections arise, as it is the first wide-scale challenge to an otherwise resolute wage system. 

Despite their initiatives, do you think corporations such as McDonald's and airports have incentive to guarantee such wage changes? What do you think these motions mean for the economy and future of the U.S. if the minimum wage were to increase to $15? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

U.S. Industrial Production Falls in March

Source: Morath, Wall Street Journal

This quarter marks the first time U.S. industrial output has declined since the end of the recession (2nd quarter of 2009). This specific economic indicator measures output from manufacturing, mining, and utility industries, and historically, has been helpful in forecasting GDP growth and general economic prosperity. The Fed has stated that this decline is due to the recent "drop in oil and gas well servicing."

Decreasing production is never a good sign for the economy, but it's a bit too early to tell whether this decline is just part of the natural cycle, or an additional symptom of a stalling economy. GDP, consumer spending, investment, have all been slowing recently. However, the oil industry is seeing a bit of a rebound (link), which could be a sign that this slump is just temporary.

Do you think that the industrial production numbers this quarter should be something to worry about? Take a look at the chart above for historical data.

Obama Offers Iraq $200 million in Aid

On Tuesday, upon Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi's first visit to the White House, Obama proposed an aid package designed to help those displaced by militant forces. Since Abadi's election 7 months prior, Obama believes that Iraqi forces, supported by U.S. troops, have increased in strength and training, ultimately making for an effective retaliation of Islamic (IS) forces.

Obama's offer arose from expectations that Abadi would request for additional help in US weaponry, although Abadi did not do so. Obama continues to believe progress has been made in the Islamic State conflict, but there is still more to be resolved. Such a proposal will extend U.S. involvement in this conflict, presenting the U.S. as more of a target to IS attacks and submerging more of the U.S. investment in this overseas conflict.

Do you think Obama made the right choice in extending aid to Iraq, in other words was this aid necessary? What could this mean for our state or economy?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Obama acts to remove Cuba from terror list

Obama asks Congress to move Cuba off terror list

Obama has continued to make advancements toward opening up relations with Cuba by recommending to Congress that Cuba be removed from the US' list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Since making his intentions public in his State of the Union Address, President Obama has taken various steps to try and ease the tension between the two nations. Last week, Obama and current leader of Cuba, Raul Castro, sat down to discuss the current state of affairs, which is a huge step, as there have been no meetings like this one for over 50 years between leaders of the two countries.

Opening up relations with Cuba could possibly serve both economic and commercial benefits, as continuing to ease the embargo will allow consumers in both countries to purchase goods. Additionally, resolving the tension would hopefully allow transportation directly between the United States and Cuba, increasing tourism in both countries, and easing the process for Cuban-Americans to visit their family and friends back home.

What do you think about Obama's stance on opening relations with Cuba? Do you think that it is safe to end the embargo and open relations, or do you still feel that Cuba poses a threat to our nation's security?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Oklahoma Police Shooting Captured on Body Camera

The horrors of police brutality are all too often making headlines nowadays. Ever since the implemented use of body cameras, more and more instances of "authority gone too far" are reaching the public. Yet another shooting of an African American male by a white officer has taken place. 

Eric Courtney Harris, suspected of drug and gun trafficking, was pursued and tackled by deputy Bob Bates. Harris was unarmed as he actively attempted to escape despite Bates holding him back. During the following brawl, the video captures gunshots, and the phrase "Oh! I shot him! I'm sorry." Harris was handcuffed, and taken to a hospital, where he died. No charges have been filed against Bates yet, although an investigation is taking place, as well as an assessment by the FBI. 

What angers me is that these stories are uncommon. And these awful things most likely have been happening for a long time - just tucked away from the public eye, only for victims to witness. Even though out of 1.1 million officers in America, a fraction abuse their power, police brutality is a problem that needs to be addressed. It is my firm belief that murder is never justified - even if an authority figure is the killer. Although policemen have a duty to protect citizens and prevent crime, there is a line that cannot be stepped over, no matter what. 

Are policemen justified in using such force against criminals in these cases, as it effectively works when suspects won't cooperate? Or has police force gone too far, and should be dealt with in order to prevent further deaths?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jobs are up, but what about hiring?

FRED hires and job openings


Recent months have been good for job growth. The Labor Department published a report this past week, and job openings are up to 5.9 million, higher than it has been for almost one and a half decades.

However, as evidenced by the graph above, hiring hasn't been growing nearly as fast. There are a couple of possible explanations. It could be just more structural unemployment, if job availability is growing in fields for which the current pool of unemployed workers is either over- or underqualified. Otherwise, it could just be a longer lag between the employment cycle and the business cycle following a hard recession and slow recovery, as business owners are being more careful and patient when taking on new workers.

If the first is true, it could suggest that the best way to target unemployment and boost the economy is to figure out a way to address the skills mismatch (which, in this time, is especially present in the form of technological unemployment). If it's the second, we may just have to wait out the process.

Do you have any thoughts on contributing factors to this recent trend?

Hillary Clinton finally announces presidential campaign

After literally years of hinting at her bid for 2016, Hillary Clinton has marked the official start of her campaign with a video trailer, uploaded onto YouTube and other varying forms of social media.

One thing that pops to everyone's minds when the word "Hillary" comes up is: experience. When it comes to strategy, it seems like Clinton has learned from her previous mistakes. For comparison, here's the campaign trailer from her 2008 bid:

Even aside from the awkward and dizzying camerawork, this video is nowhere near as engaging as the one from today. This time, Hillary doesn't even start speaking until past the 90 second mark, and the first half the video is entirely dedicated to a group of ordinary (and markedly diverse) American citizens talking about their futures. When she does show up, she's sitting at a diner, listening to people speak. "The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion." Relatability to the max, or so her video wants us to believe.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to her long history in the public eye. As Todd VanDerWerff from Vox says, Hillary Clinton "doesn't need to introduce herself to the public," so she can focus her launch on establishing "tone." However, many Democrats have been turned off by her supposed "unquestionable candidacy."

What do you think about Clinton's campaign strategy so far? Will she be able to maintain all her support, what with the GOP pinpointing her as an early target?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Oklahoma Approves Ban on Second Trimester Abortion Method

On Tuesday April 7, Kansas became the first state to officially ban a widely-used abortion method during a woman's second trimester. Following suit, Oklahoma soon approved the same ban on Wednesday. The ban specifically targets the "dilation and evacuation method," a controversial method in which the 12 to 14 week old fetus is removed from the womb with forceps, often in multiple parts. Although used in almost all second trimester abortions and supported by doctors as the safest, most practical technique for abortion at this stage, it has been an issue of debate for ethical reasons, prompting many critics to call it "dismemberment abortion." This law prohibits doctors from using any "forceps, clamps, scissors or similar instruments" (Murphy) to remove the fetus in pieces, except for in cases where the woman's health is in serious danger.

This law is capable of transforming current abortion policy in the country by highlighting and thereby preventing certain ethical issues. Now, however, Kansas is the state with the most restrictions on abortion, calling for questions about this bill's constitutionality in restricting a woman's right to abortion. This law begins to define a distinction to the extent of a woman's rights versus certain ethical issues, bringing about the debate that a woman should be able to choose for herself.

What do you think the implications of this law are, as it enters a subjective area of abortion policy?
Is it constitutional or rather an infringement on woman's rights?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Utility to pay $1.6B after deadly California pipeline rupture

Image result for san bruno explosion

PG&E has been penalized $1.6 billion by the California Public Utilities Commission for the pipeline explosion in San Bruno in 2010. In the explosion, eight people were killed, while approximately fifty were injured. 37 houses were destroyed by the blast. The majority of the penalties collected from PG&E will reportedly go to "gas transmission pipeline safety infrastructure improvements".

This disaster was certainly horrible publicity for PG&E, as it was discovered that the pipelines in the surrounding area were in horrible shape and had been disregarded by PG&E. Funds that were intended to be used on the infrastructure of the pipeline were diverted to other programs.

Do you think this penalty was fair to PG&E? Should it have been stricter or more lenient?

Rand Paul Accepting Campaign Donations in Bitcoin

Upon officially announcing his campaign for the 2016 presidential elections, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has opened up to donations. And, interestingly, contributions can be sent in the form of Bitcoins, with a caveat that those donations may not exceed $100.
There are a lot of reasons why Paul would make this move, and he has already established himself as a fairly unorthodox member of his party. First, it'd generate a decent amount of media attention towards his campaign. Second, it may help him attract voters who believe in the power of the Bitcoin, often younger and tech-savvy: a part of the electorate that tends to vote against Republican candidates (see: Lastly, it makes a nod at his long-established distrust of the Federal Reserve (a sentiment many Bitcoin supporters share).

Bitcoin donations have been accepted by some political candidates in California, Colorado, and New Hampshire, but this is the first time a presidential candidate has done so. Some worry that if this trend continues, it may be easier for people to donate money illegally (for example, from other countries), since Bitcoin transactions are effectively untraceable.

Do you think Rand Paul's support of Bitcoin is significant?
Is there a need for tighter regulations on campaign donations made in Bitcoins?

Lichtblau, NY Times
Reuters, Newsweek

Aftermath of Terrorist Attack on Kenyan School

On April 2nd, nearly 150 people were killed in a massacre in a university in Garissa by Al-Shabaab, a militant group. After shooting and killing two school guards, 5 attackers stormed into the school, specifically targeting Christian students in early morning prayer, before killing themselves. 148 students were found dead by the time the massacre was over. The attack has been pronounced as the worst attack on Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy by Al-Qaida. Not only  has grief overtaken the country, but many schools now fear another attack.

Since the incident, the Kenyan government has been criticized for having prior knowledge of a potential attack on a school in Garissa, yet failed to send help quickly enough to prevent the deaths of so many students. However, officials are working to track down people affiliated with Al-Shabaab, and freezing the accounts of people suspected of funding the attack financially. So 86 accounts have been frozen, although the Interior Ministry predicts there will be more. Furthermore, on Monday, Kenya launched airstrikes on Al-Shabaab training camps located in Somalia, and has been on the lookout for Mohamed Mohamud, the alleged organizer of the attack.

Do you think that criticism of the Kenyan government is justified in accusing it of doing too little to late? Is the Kenyan government doing enough in the aftermath of the attack? What sort of additional measures should be taken to prevent these tragedies in the future?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Nike's Secret Weapon

Image result for converse

Nike has had extreme success marketing their subsidiary Converse in recent months. Sales from Converse increased 28% in the last economic quarter, bringing the revenue to about $538 million dollars. Although officials at Nike are crediting the success of Converse to "better distribution in the US and Europe". While this may account for a portion of the sales increase, there is certainly more to the story.

Last fall, Nike filed lawsuits against 31 different companies, claiming that these companies were infringing upon the trademark of Converse shoes. As the article states, Nike claimed to have sent around 180 cease and desist letters to the companies in an effort to stop production. However, this didn't seem to be working well enough, so Nike took the issue to court. The court cases have resolved mostly in Nike's favor, as many settlements have been reached. Citing one specific example, the article explains that designer Ralph Lauren has "agreed not only to pay Converse monetary damages, but it also would be required to destroy all infringing shoes".

Would you say that Nike's strategy of using trademark lawsuits to earn monetary compensation and increase their market is a fair practice? 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Afghanistan's changing of the guard: ISIS recruits in Taliban territory

A video released today revealed an ISIS flag, and troops, south of Kabul in Afghanistan. Although the Afghan president has expressed his concern about the threat that ISIS poses to his country, any ISIS presence in Afghanistan, where US troops are still in the process of withdrawal, is worrisome. While the Taliban and ISIS are definitely not on good terms, the idea of ex-Taliban members, or even current ones, joining forces with ISIS is downright terrifying. The revival of a strong terrorist presence in Afghanistan could potentially slow, or even stop, the withdrawal of American troops from the area. 

ISIS' recent terrorist attacks have ranged from videos of them torturing and killing Americans, Syrians, and anyone opposed to their Jihadist ideals to planned assassinations, such as the one on the French satire group, Charlie Hebdo.  
The issue of US involvement in the Middle East/Africa has been a recurring problem throughout the last 20 years. On one side of the spectrum, the US' failure to intervene in what came to be the Rwandan Genocide was catastrophic. Despite this, it any notion of the US becoming increasingly involved with recent conflicts such as Libya or Syria has faced heavy resistance. 

This raises the question, at what point would the Obama administration consider a more serious intervention plan, placing American troops on the ground?

Do you think that the current situation calls for increased intervention?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Transgender Woman Cites Attacks and Abuse in Men's Prisons

(Left) Ashley Diamond before prison
(Right) Diamond after 3 years in prison

Ashley Diamond is a transgender woman jailed in a male prison. Although Diamond has been on hormones for 17 years and had a female body at the time of her arrest, she was stripped alongside other men, denied hormone therapy, and placed in a facility where she was raped 7 times, beaten to the point of losing consciousness, and repeatedly harassed by prison officials. She asked to be transferred to a safer institution more than once. Due to the absence of proper medical treatment, she has gone through physical changes severely affecting her appearance, as well as emotional and mental changes. On multiple occasions, Diamond has confessed of having suicidal thoughts due to the unfair treatment in the prison. 

Diamond recently filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Correction, with the U.S. Justice Department declaring their support of the inmate. In a statement by Vanita Gupta, Civil Rights Division, "Prison officials have the obligation to assess and treat gender dysphoria just as they would any other medical or mental health condition." Denying hormonal therapy to Diamond classifies as "cruel and unusual punishment", and goes against the rights given in the 8th Amendment. 

There is no doubt in my mind of the unconstitutionality of the treatment Ashley Diamond received at the hands of the Georgia's prison. In seeking legal action, Diamond has become a sort of spokesperson for the transgender minority. The transgender community is often discriminated against, and the abuse is only amplified in a prison setting. By bringing attention towards the issue in prison, Diamond is fighting for the rights of transgender people everywhere. The rights of the transgender community should not be ignored. 

Do you think Diamond is justified in seeking legal action against the GDC? What do you think would be the result of Ms. Diamond's lawsuit, and how would it affect policies regarding transgender people? 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

California drought: Why mandatory cuts didn’t hit farms

On Wednesday, April 8, Governor Jerry Brown issued the very first order of its kind in California: a mandatory cutback on water usage. This crackdown will require residents and businesses to lessen water usage by 25 percent. Brown also plans to implement programs that will help support his order, such as replacing homeowners' grasses with drought-tolerant landscaping and swapping out current dishwashers and toilets with more water-efficient ones. However, Brown's executive order does not apply to farmers/agricultural purposes, even though this industry uses 80 percent of the state's water that could otherwise be made available to residents and other businesses. This exemption made for agriculture has sparked controversy. Some argue that farmers have already suffered drastic losses as a result of the worsening drought, and additionally, the water that farmers use are essential to producing food for the rest of the state's population. Others argue that while making it necessary for residents and businesses to cutback on water is a good idea, the fact that farmers are using 80 percent of the state's water does not exactly help the intentions of saving water.

Whose side do you take? Do you think Brown issued a fair order, and if not, what possible improvements could be made to it? What are some of your other thoughts on this issue?