Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Obama's Fracking Regulations Blocked

David McNew | Getty Images
Back in March, Obama unveiled a set of regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that involves blasting water, sand, and chemicals into the earth to soften the rock and drill for fossil fuels, specifically oil and gas. Although the technique is extremely effective and continuing to grow in efficiency with technological advancements, environmentalists have protested it in fears of water contamination as well as the looming danger of reliance on fossil fuels. Obama's plan called for a government inspection of each drilling site and a mandatory public release of all of the chemicals 30 days after being used among many other requirements. 

For obvious reasons, fracking companies were upset, and a lawsuit was filed almost immediately afterwards. Just today, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl barred the implementation of the rules, ruling that the Inner Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not have the power to create these regulations. As Skavdahl explained, "Congress has not authorized or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing and, under our constitutional structure, it is only through congressional action that the BLM can acquire this authority." Furthermore, Skavdahl also notes that the rules are an unnecessary overlapping of each state's individual regulations on fracking. Although the Interior Department will get the chance to appeal the ruling, for now the BLM has agreed to operate as it had before the rules were put in place. 

On the other hand, this is a serious blow to environmentalists, who had thought that these regulations still gave too many concessions to the companies. Furthermore, the plan had only applied to federal and Indian territories - which account for about 10% of total fracking within the United States. The rejection of these regulations, being the first major federal regulations on fracking, raises concern for whether or not the federal government can even stop regulate the fracking before the pollution becomes too severe or we run out of oil.

First of all, what do you think about the rule that the list of chemicals need to be released 30 days after being used? I personally think it's a ridiculous and ineffective rule, but I guess rules are better than no rules. But are they? Are rules really better than no rules?
Do you think fracking is a problem? On one hand, it does pose a threat to our ecosystems and water supply as chemicals are being released into groundwater systems. Furthermore, it increases our dependence on fossil fuels, which are already running out on the planet as well as causing serious global warming (if you believe in global warming, that is). However, it also allows us to drill for more oil, and promises to lead the U.S. out of dependence on other countries, specifically within the Middle East, for energy. 
Finally, what do you think of the ruling? Should the BLM be granted power over this? Should the congress be granted power over this? Should this even be a Federal power?

New York Times - Ruling
New York Times - Original Proposal
Wall Street Journal

Government Shutdown Narrowly Prevented

Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell comment on the
budget extension (NY Times).
With a vote of 277-151, the House finally passed a continuing resolution that will last until December 11, 2015. Earlier this week, the Senate passed the resolution as well. The plan includes minor changes, such as an allocation of $700 million to help the West (us) fight wildfires. 

The extension gives Congress more time to work out the details for next year's federal budget plan, with special attention given towards preventing the nation from hitting its debt ceiling. Budget talks are expected to proceed immediately so that an appropriations bill an be settled before December 11. The main conflict is between Democrats, who want federal spending to focus more on domestic programs, and Republicans, who want an increase in military spending. If Congress and the President cannot come to an agreement, it is very likely that another continuing resolution will be passed then, which does not bode well for the nation's debt.

Boehner has stated that he hopes to be able to "clean the barn up a little bit" for his successor. However, his plans seems unlikely because of his limited time in October (the House is only in session for 13 days). Since the next Speaker is likely to be even less agreeable, his resignation only adds more problems. His resignation has sparked in-party fighting with the Republicans, which is taking their focus away from dealing with national issues.

It seems to me that recently there has been an increase in hostage taking, especially with Republicans. That being said, what do you believe will be the consequences of their inability to compromise and efficiently pass legislation? Accordingly, what do you think are the chances of Congress being able to pass a bipartisan budget by December 11?

NY Times
Washington Post
USA Today

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Richards Defends Planned Parenthood to Congress

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, appeared before Congress today to
defend the non-profit organization against the allegations made against it -- namely, the accusation that the organization is selling fetal tissue. Within the past few months, Republicans have taken this issue and extended it as an attempt to cut federal funding to the organization. Numerous states (e.g. Missouri) have already conducted investigations into Planned Parenthood's involvement in illegal tissue exchange, all of which have returned with negative results. 

As seen in the hearing today, the focus was on federal funding of Planned Parenthood. However, the debate quickly devolved into a discussion on misogyny. Although some of Richards' answers to questions were certainly roundabout, during the hearing, Richards was continuously cut off, talked over, and disrespected by multiple representatives. 

In addition, Representative Brenda Lawrence brought up a flaw in the need to even call for the hearing. She says, "[the government] cannot use federal dollars for abortion...[the money] is reimbursement [from Medicaid]." To expand on her statement, a majority of federal funding for Planned Parenthood is not direct, but rather received as reimbursement by Medicaid patients who see Planned Parenthood as the specialist for abortions. In short, Planned Parenthood is primarily supported by American citizens who use their services; the organization would not exist if there was no need for it.

Since federal dollars cannot be used for abortion, and do not directly flow to Planned Parenthood, what was the point of calling for this hearing? The answer lies in the political importance of Planned Parenthood. The GOP called for this meeting as an attempt to condemn the undercover videos put out by Planned Parenthood, yes, but also as an attempt to shut down an organization that seems to be clearly affiliated with the Democrats. 

Two things to think about:

Was Richards an injured party in this debate or was she attempting to be just as manipulative? What do you believe were the motives behind this meeting? 

NBC News
NY Times

Xi Jinping Has A Facebook Page

Photo courtesy of Want China Times
Sort of. Chinese officials in charge of "public image" created one to document his visit to the US over the past week. Strange, because Facebook is banned in China, so "technically," no one can see it.

The posts are written in English too; if this is propaganda, it's aimed at a Western audience.

So why are we writing about Putin and the Pope instead of the President of China? Why did Xi begin at Seattle instead of Washington D.C.? The 21-gun salute at the White House? Compared to the Pope, Xi has invested considerably more calculated care into his visit, but is still receiving a fraction of the media attention, including on this blog.

Sounds like a reflection of our general attitude towards China, or our innate preference for devout clergymen rather than a showy politicians. There is a general consensus in the media coverage that indicates Xi was counting on a positive reception and successful visit in order to strengthen his hold on the Communist Party back home. Ironically, Xi has presided over one of the worst periods in US-China relations, encompassing conflicts over "cybercrime/cyberespionage" (take your pick, one is Xi's term; the other is Obama's) and the US's role (too aggressive?) in the South Asiatic Sea. Was it fair for Xi to expect a warm welcome, and was his trip justified if he needed the positive publicity more than a productive visit?

Or is positive publicity generally the reason why foreign leaders visit other nations?

Another perspective on Xi's publicity campaign is that he orchestrated his visit to play the China's-economic-prowess card: Seattle, where Xi made his first stop (most people go to the White House first), is home to the Boeing manufacturing plant as well as several other name-brand headquarters (say, Starbucks?) that are gearing up to do big business with China. The tech industry's most notorious figures, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tim Cook, flocked to meet the president. Yet the textbook ended on a dissatisfied note: "'We get tainted fish and lead-laced toys and poison pet food'". Anyone want to explain this? How has our attitude towards China changed since 2008? For all that, what has remained the same?


Majority Leader McCarthy as Speaker?

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Huffington Post)
In response to Boehner's recent resignation from Speaker of the House, today, Kevin McCarthy announced his intention to take up Boehner's vacated post. Currently, he is the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives. Prior to his position as Majority Leader, McCarthy also served as Majority Whip. Besides McCarthy, Daniel Webster will also be trying for the same position. McCarthy is the most well-received candidate for the position thus far. 

As a part of his announcement, his main promise involves reforming the political culture in Washington DC. Despite the rather ambitious claim, McCarthy hasn't announced any of his methods for doing so yet. In addition, McCarthy claims that he will try his best to prevent more government shut downs. He is appealing to his fellow party members carefully by making sure that his decisions will be "the most conservative solution [he] can get into law," but still intends to compromise where he can. 

The rest of the GOP, especially the Freedom Caucus, does not seem to trust McCarthy to uphold the level of conservatism his party wants. They are reluctant to support someone who is willing to compromise with Democrats and President Obama. Without the endorsement of a majority of his party, McCarthy will not even be considered as a nominee for Speaker. 

With what we know about the responsibility of party whips and leaders, do you believe that McCarthy is well suited to succeed Boehner as Speaker of the House? If so, should the Freedom Caucus put their support behind McCarthy even if he might not represent the right amount of conservatism they're looking for? If they don't end up supporting McCarthy, do you believe that they would be further limiting the already slow process of legislature? 

LA Times
Washington Post

Monday, September 28, 2015

Senate Votes to Temporarily Avoid Government Shutdown

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
The Senate's Republicans and Democrats voted today to advance a spending bill, which, if passed by the House, would finance government spending until December 11. On the other hand, if not passed by Wednesday night, the end of the U.S.'s fiscal year, funding would be cut to many government agencies on Thursdays, effectively forcing a government shutdown.

Even so, the prospect of the bill passing the House is mediocre at best. The bill does not dictate any changes to Planned Parenthood, which is a concern because many House Republicans have pledged to block any bill not cutting off funding for the program. Especially with tensions high following Speaker Boehner's resignation, the ability of the House to pass the bill before the end of the fiscal year is very questionable.

Furthermore, this isn't the first time in Obama's presidency, let alone recent history, that the government has been shut down due to Republican objections to policy. In 2013, Republicans shut down the economy over a disapproval of the Obama's Affordable Care Act. Although it was resolved fairly quickly (within the month), it was still largely detrimental to the economy and generally viewed as a mistake by the Republican Party.

Even if the bill passes, it would still only leave the government two and a half months to agree on a new plan for spending. This is by no means a lot of time, and the disagreements revolving around Planned Parenthood and Boehner's resignation certainly will not help.

For now, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

What do you think will happen? Should the Republicans blocking the bill be blamed for their stubbornness despite threats of a government shutdown, or is it the fault of the House as a whole for not better tailoring to the goals of every party?
Some have blamed the Republicans for purposefully trying to force another shutdown to scare the voters from voting for a Democrat again - what do you think are the merits of these accusations? Are they reasonable? If so, what does that say about our political system?

New York Times
New York Times
2013 Government Shutdown

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Russia to Intervene in Syria

On Monday, September 27, President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This meeting comes after the announcement of Russia militarily building up in Syria. According to the Pentagon, “Russia has sent aircraft, tanks and missiles into the war-wracked country” (CNN). Although Russia has repeatedly criticized US strategy in Syria, they are now taking “initiative in international efforts to end the conflict” (Reuters).

Though it seems as though the United States should be accepting towards the help of Russia in the fight against ISIS, it is actually making it more complicated.

To break it down, there are three political powers in Syria—the Assad government, the Grand Coalition, and ISIS. The United States is against the Assad government and ISIS, and as a result is the leader of the Grand Coalition to free Syria from these groups. Although, Russia wants to join in the fight against ISIS, they want to through partnership of the Assad regime, an idea that the US is fervently against.

Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the western coalition, stated, “We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens.”

What are your thoughts on what is going on in the Middle East? Should the United States accept Russia’s help to fight against ISIS or do you believe it is morally wrong to support a regime that has terrorized its own citizens?


TSA Finds Record Number of Guns

During the week of September 17, a record of 67 firearms were found by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the carry-on luggage of passengers, being the previous record of 65 in 2013. “For the most recent week, ending in Sept. 24, TSA said it found 64 firearms in carry-on bags at airports. Of those, 55 were loaded and 22 had a round chambered” (Reuters).

In the past year, over 2,000 firearms have been detected in unchecked luggage this year. Yet this figure raises concern since banned weapons were not detected in 67 of the 70 checkpoints.

Currently, a passenger is subjected to criminal charges as well as civil penalties up to $11,000 for having a firearm in their carry-on at a checkpoint. Do you find this punishment to be enough, especially with all the clear advertisement? 

I find it unsettling that despite the recent push for more gun control, the number of checkpoint incidences has increased. Do you think airports should create stricter laws for firearms? Is it too extreme to completely ban firearms from airports? 

Link to article here.

Syria to Open International "Doomsday" Vault

800 miles from the Arctic Circle is The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a Norwegian-run facility. Here, it stores 860,000 seed samples from across the globe “[providing] a “global backstop” for the world’s biodiversity in the face of climate change and other dramatic transformation on the planet” (The Washington Post).
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The International Center of Agriculture Ministry in Dry Areas (ICARDA) recently closed down the original base in Aleppo, Syria due to the Syrian Civil War and ISIS control, and moved to Beirut, Lebanon. 

With the reestablishment complete, ICARDA has asked to open the vault for the first withdrawal ever in order to restart their collection. In doing so, they will be taking out 130 of their 325 samples, 40% percent of their original deposit, most of them with drought resistant traits.

With the creation of the vault only in 2008, is it justified that Syria is able to tap into this international resource?

According to Crop Trust, the organization responsible for the vault, “The Black Box System entails that the depositor is the only one that can withdraw the seeds and open the boxes.” With California’s severe drought in mind, is it viable to have some kind of trading system that would allow countries to exchange crops with needed traits? 


Hajj Stampede Leaves 769 Dead, 934 Injured

Noontime gathering at Namira Mosque, near Mount Arafat - From ABC News

On Thursday September 24, a massive stampede occurred as pilgrims from around the world converged in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to partake in the annual Hajj, during which Muslims gather to perform various rituals as part of their duty to visit the holy city at least once in their lifetime. In the past, several other stampedes have occurred; the deadliest being one in 1990 which resulted in the deaths of 1426 pilgrims. It is speculated from eyewitness reports that two groups of pilgrims crossed paths with each other on the same street; the result being absolute chaos. The temperature, as pilgrims crashed into each other in an enclosed space, was reportedly over 115 degrees Farenheit. As of 11:30 AM, Saudi Health Minister Khalid al-Falih reported that out of pilgrims from 33 countries, 769 were reported dead, 934 injured, and over 1200 missing.

The BBC reported that Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, the country's highest religious authority, told Supreme Hajj Committee chairman Mohammed bin Nayef that he was "not responsible for what happened." Saudi Minister al-Falih placed the blame on the pilgrims for failing to follow directions.

On the other hand, Iran's Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi demanded that Saudi officials be tried in criminal courts for the catastrophe; at least 134 Iranians were killed, while over 300 were missing. Other officials from different nations have placed the fault on Saudi authorities, who reportedly mismanaged the different crowds of pilgrims and sent them directly into each other. 

What should be done, and by whom? Who is to blame? Does this merit Saudi officials being tried in an international criminal court? How could the government have handled the situation differently, and why does this continue to happen despite past occurrences? 



BBC News


ABC News - How does a human stampede happen?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rwanda's Clean Image Due to Forced Labor of the Poor

Source: Human Rights Watch

The Human Rights Watch recently released a report on Rwanda, detailing the treatment of the poor in its capital, Kigali. Since 2011, Rwandan officials have been detaining sex workers, beggars, and the poorest, more vulnerable people living near Kigali. The detainees have been forced to clean up the capital without payment, and have been kept confined in horrendous living conditions in a place called Gikondo. The detainees are also cruelly punished and endure beatings and other forms of humiliation. 

Evidently, there is a lot of power corruption here. The clean image of Kigali is kept up literally off of the blood and toil of the poor. Rwanda's government is unjustly abusing the rights of the poor to portray a good image. Rwanda, however, is playing it off as rehabilitation and assistance to the poor. 

On the Human Rights Watch page, they say a lot of "shoulds" regarding action. Yes, Rwanda should investigate the misconduct of the police supervising Gikondo, as well as the abuse of human rights on  Rwanda's part. I am not sure if this means that the Humans Rights Watch will take action... 

Anyways, I would like to pose a few questions and considerations. Since the Rwandan genocide (which I'm sure the after effects are still reverberating today), the President, Paul Kagame, has greatly improved Rwanda's economy. However, I'm wondering if this is spun, because the lives of the poor don't seem to be all that great. What do you think should be done? What are your thoughts? And universally, how can we protect the poor and the marginalized from those who abuse their powers?


Friday, September 25, 2015

Speaker Boehner to Resign

From CNN

On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner announced his plans to resign from Congress by the end of October. His resignation comes amid a period of inner turmoil within the Republican Party; some conservatives had been aggressively demanding Boehner to negotiate spending cuts and more partisan policy than currently possible with the White House.

In recent days, the Congressional focus had been on keeping Congress open for the next few months by passing a funding bill; by agreeing to maintain basic government funding at previously agreed upon amounts, the government would not run out of money while more controversial aspects of the budget were being debated. Boehner had been put under immense pressure by conservative Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood in this bill; some had even threatened to challenge his role as Speaker.

Speaker Boehner's resignation helps to avoid a potentially humiliating public battle within the Republican Party leadership. He remarked,

"My first job as speaker is to protect the institution. It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution."

This announcement comes only a day after Pope Francis visited Congress and spoke about the necessity for the Parties to come together on common ground. The two also shared a prayer and a hug together, which deeply moved the Speaker.

What does this mean for the future of the Republican Party? What does this mean for some of the GOP presidential election campaigns (especially when the likes of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump have applauded Boehner's decision to resign)? Will this make Congress more obstinate than it already is?

NY Times


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seattle Places One-Year Moratorium on Elementary School Suspensions

On Wednesday, Seattle's school board unanimously voted to place a one-year moratorium on elementary school suspensions due to the statistics that show a harsher discipline on students of color.  Research shows that teachers tend to (consciously or unconsciously) target students of color and students who second language is English more.

Seattle school board member, Harium Martin-Morris, says "Part of [the statistic that "students who are suspended at a young age are more likely to be suspended as they get older" and are more likely to go to prison] is the criminalization of behavior that starts very, very early on."

The suspension of students of color only adds to their cycles of low-income, poverty, and less opportunities. This move by the school board of Seattle will prevent that and make discipline more consistent and equal for students.

Students go to school and learn, and shouldn't be taken out of class for disruption and breaking the rules. Students are at school to learn from their mistakes, and punishing them by taking away their education is adding fire to the flames.

Earlier in 2014, California was the first state to limit suspensions in schools. Should other states be pressed to do this as well? What are your thoughts?

Seattle Times

Ohio Reform to Stop Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Source: Cleveland

A proposed amendment, Issue 1, is being considered in Ohio right now for the fourth time. Issue 1 will reduce gerrymandering by having the General Assembly districts approve of two or more redistricting commissioners from each party for 10-year duration districts. If these districts don't win enough votes, then the districts will have a 4 year limit, and by then, the Redistricting Commission will be redrawing districts again. Issue 1 has been brought up three times, but was rejected each time. Now, there is a bipartisan support of this amendment, but it's ultimately up to the people's vote.

What do you think will happen? Considering how Ohio has a history or gerrymandering, do you think this amendment will be passed? What do you think the effects will be if this is passed or not passed? Should the government do more to enforce states to not gerrymander? What are your thoughts? We talked about gerrymandering today, so I thought this would be a fitting topic of discussion. 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One of California's Biggest Wildfires Still Raging

Source: NBC News
On September 9, the Butte wildfire began its destructive rage. Three days later, the Valley fire began. Both of these wildfires are in Northern California, and both have still yet to be contained. The damage has been estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars so far. More than 1,000 homes have been burned to the ground, around 2,000 structures have been burned, around 3,000 people have been displaced, and more than 5 people have died (and counting). The Valley wildfire is estimated to be the third biggest wildfire in California's history.
This is a serious issue, as Obama has declared these fires an emergency, calling for federal funding to put an end to these wildfires and give relief to the people affected.
On another note, prisoners were given the chance to lighten their sentence and get paid by being firefighters for these wildfires. More than a third of the firefighters were prisoners that volunteered, and many of the inmate firefighters found that they enjoyed putting out fires and saving lives. This leads to the argument that prisoners are still people and deserve second chances for their crimes.
This is a two-part blog post, but here are the questions that I am posing. This year is the fourth year of the California drought, and evidently, dry conditions increase chances of wildfires. What do you think should be done to ensure the people's safety from these wildfires? Will this prompt California to really strengthen conservation efforts? What direction is California (and subsequently, the country) headed if the drought continues to worsen? Regarding the inmate firefighters, do you think it's a good idea for inmates to be given these life-saving opportunities?

Hillary Formally Opposes Keystone XL

From LA Times

Background: The Keystone pipeline is a oil transport system that runs from Canada to oil refineries in the Midwest United States. So far, 3 out of 4 phases are being constructed or have been completed--each phase adds a section of pipes to the system--but the 4th is still unapproved. This 4th phase, dubbed the Keystone XL pipeline, would essentially create a shorter and wider version of the phase I pipeline connection.

Proponents of the XL pipeline maintain that receiving more oil from Canada contributes to the U.S.'s goal of achieving energy independence from the Middle East, not to mention the creation of thousands of temporary jobs during the pipeline's construction.

Opponents maintain that the pipeline, which relies on the extraction of oil from tar sands, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and thus global warming. By giving Canada more incentive to develop their oil resources, the U.S. is straying farther away from its goal of switching to clean energy sources, according to many environmental groups, and increases the risk of oil spills if the pipe ever fails.

Article: On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton formally voiced her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in response to jabs by fellow candidate Bernie Sanders regarding her long silence on the controversial issue.

She called it "a distraction from the important work we have to do to combat climate change."

Clinton joins Sanders and other Democratic representatives, as well as the EPA and dozens of environmental protection groups, in the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. In February 2015, Congress sent the bill authorizing the pipeline's construction to the White House where it was met with a swift veto from President Obama, who maintained that further environmental analysis was required before he could approve it.

As the pipeline crosses international borders, it also falls under the jurisdiction of the State Department; Clinton, the previous Secretary of State, previously refused to comment on the matter in order to not conflict with the Obama administration. However, the pipeline has a fair amount of supporters from the general public; polls from a 2015 CBS News poll showed 60% in favor, while a 2014 Pew Research Center survey had 59% in favor.

1) Republican opponents have condemned her for being too wishy-washy on matters and trying to follow public opinion. Is there any merit in the criticism that Clinton has received for holding out on this issue for so long, or is she justified for not wanting to comment while she was a member of the Obama administration?

2) Is environmental criticism of the pipeline valid? On one hand, we have less reliance on the Middle East for oil; on the other, we have increased emissions. Which option should we choose, or is there no clear best choice?

3) Clinton has previously received generous donations from companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil. Could these donations have played a role in delaying her response to the pipeline? If so, then should candidates be receiving such donations in the first place?


BBC News


Politifact Poll Summaries

Older LA Times Article

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Class/Race Segregated School Could Further Widen Education Gap

Source: The NY Times
According to this article, in Brooklyn, New York, the Public School 8 (P.S. 8) is overcrowded, and there is a proposition to rezone students to the Public School 307 (P.S. 307). The opposition in this comes from the fact that P.S. 8 is predominately wealthy, white students, and P.S. 307 is predominately black and hispanic students.
P.S. 307 is underfunded as 90% of the students receive public aid. The pass rate for the state test scores are also below the city's average. There are multiple reasons for the opposition of rezoning students to P.S. 307:
1. Rezoning affluent, white students could change the school. Though there are benefits to this such as more funding, it could change the dynamics of the school and could lead to less representation of the African-America and Hispanic kids of the school. Also, they are worried about a non-challenging environment.
2. Rezoning the African-American and Hispanic students (majority low-income) could continue the cycle of underfunding and low test scores. Those students at P.S. 8 don't want to give up being in a better school. Also, this would perpetuate segregation.
3. P.S. 307 is also in a more low-income neighborhood, so parents don't want to send their students there.
And, according to that same article, "research has found that minority students who attend integrated schools perform better academically and go on to earn higher incomes and have better health than minority students who attend segregated schools." 
You can imagine a myriad of other reasons that come along with this issue. However, as stated in this article, the education and opportunity gap is widening between affluent children and less-priveleged children. Effects of slavery and the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement still affect most African-Americans today as the cycle of low-income continues to be a very pervasive issue in their lives. Living in a low-income neighborhood often means an underfunded school, leading to a less rigorous curriculum. This in turn leads the students to fall behind the more affluent students. Also, a college degree is increasingly becoming a "precondition" for "upward mobility."
Given these statistics and circumstances, what do you think should be done about the rezoning of the schools? What efforts do you think should be made to close the achievement and education gap? What do you think can be done specifically for the lower-income minorities... is affirmative action serving its purpose? Is affirmative action doing enough?

Scott Walker Pulls Out of Race

On Monday, September 21st, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker pulled out of the 2016 GOP nomination.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker 

“Today I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the field in this race so a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” he stated to the public (BBC).

I believe that it is important to note that Walker had topped the field at one point, yet his number of supporters eventually began to dwindle due to his inconsistent view on key issues. Recognizing his falling popularity, donors began pulling out of his campaign causing him to struggle to raise money and to finally drop out of the race.

Walker's statement to the public seems to have an underlying message as he subtly pushes for a new candidate to rise up over current top candidate, Donald Trump. Further hinting, he stated, “sadly, the debate taking place in the Republican Party today is not focused on that optimistic view of America. Instead, it has drifted into personal attacks” (Vox). (These “personal attacks” he references to are the ones explicitly made by Trump towards women, wives, and other candidates.)

Do you believe money should play as big of a role as it does in current political campaigns? Is it fair for a candidate to be able to fund himself for campaign expenditures, while most must go through the process of securing funds from private donors in order to campaign? Are there benefits to having a candidate who is able to self-fund?


Extend Prop. 30? More Taxes to Fund Education?

Given last week’s discussion and a blog post on Prop 13, I thought this might be of relevance.

Gov. Brown in 2012, campaigning for Prop 30 - LA Times

Background: Prop 30 (titled Temporary Taxes to Fund Education) was passed in 2012 by CA voters on the ballot. In order to prevent significant education budget cuts, it called for both a 7 year personal income tax increase for residents with over $250k income and a statewide sales tax increase by .25% until 2016. It was estimated to bring in over $6 billion in additional tax revenue, which would then be used to fund public education.

Article: Activists are currently trying to campaign for Prop 30 extensions; one such campaign backs the “Invest in California’s Children Act,” which would make the personal income tax increase permanent, while increasing taxes for $2+ million household earners. Governor Brown, who ardently campaigned for Prop 30 in 2012, has repeatedly stated that the tax increases were meant to be temporary (hence Prop 30’s title), and has not come out in support of such initiatives as of yet. The estimated tax revenue is estimated to be around $10 billion.

Another such campaign supports the “School Funding and Budget Stability Act,” which would extend the increased income taxes until 2030 and not raise taxes on households earning more than $2 million.

Arguments against such tax hikes include fears of scaring away millionaires and business owners due to CA’s high taxes – CA had the highest sales tax rate in the nation, according to a 2013 study from Tax Foundation, and a 13.3% income tax rate for $1 million earners, also the highest in the nation.  

So what to do? Increase education funds through higher taxes? Is this the only viable way to increase the quality of CA’s school systems? Do these two proposed initiatives seem sound, or is more compromise necessary? If you were a top earner, what would your incentive be to stay in California as opposed to moving to Texas, where the income tax rate is 0% and other taxes in general are much lower?


Prop 30 PDF Analysis

Tax Foundation Study 2013

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Francis, an Integral Part of US Politics?

On Tuesday September 22, Pope Francis will be making his first trip to the United States and is expected to be giving 18 speeches, one of which will be to Congress.
President Obama and Pope Francis meet at the Vatican in 2014.
After being the one to broker a deal to reestablish ties between the United States and Cuba, the Pope hopes to influence the United States public more through his progressive outlooks on issues such as climate change, immigration, foreign relations, and economic equality. With much of his opinions in compliance with President Obama’s, he has derisively earned the nickname “Obama’s pope” by conservatives (The New York Times). Yet despite the nickname, many conservatives see the Pope’s visit as an opportune moment to further push their campaign due to their religious ties as well as an opportunity to push restrictions on both abortion and Planned Parenthood.

The framers purposely avoided incorporating religion into the Constitution. With this in mind, should political parties should be able to politicize the visit of the Pope in hopes of furthering their interests?

Despite his political influence, many believe that the Pope inherently stands for the Catholic church. If this is so, then is it justified that the Pope was the one to reestablish ties between the US and Cuba?


Pennsylvania Attorney General Suspended

From the New York Times

On Monday, August 21st, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s law license was temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. This decision comes after a fiasco where Kane was accused of and arrested for leaking confidential information to a reporter and lying to the court under oath in August.

While she still officially holds the title of attorney general as affirmed by the court’s decision, a provision in Pennsylvania’s state constitution requires the attorney general to be licensed; with hers suspended, she now claims that her ability to do her job as specified by the constitution is in jeopardy and that her rights are being violated by the court, while others are questioning what powers she currently has without a license. On the other hand, her opponents are looking to remove her—specifically through the use of an impeachment process by the state Senate followed by a two-thirds vote—and even Democratic governor Tom Wolf and state representative Steve Santarsiero have both called for her resignation, while Kane believes she’s being targeted by an “old boys’ network.”

What's really interesting is that she's left in a strange position - she's still officially the AG but without the qualifications, and thus she's found herself in an odd no-man's land with vaguely defined powers. Scott Vernick, an expert on legal ethics, contends that "as an elected official, Kane’s first priority should be what’s best for her constituents" - that is, Pennsylvania needs an AG with full constitutional power. Whether that means appointing a temporary AG or allowing Kane to exercise her full power under office, that remains to be decided.

Brief Background on Kane – was elected in 2012 as the first female AG in Pennsylvania, and is a Democrat. Arrested in August 2015 on accusations of leaking confidential info to the press and then committing perjury.


1) If the court has revoked her license but not her position as AG, should she step down?

2) Should Kane be allowed to retain her office and her powers until she is formally convicted of a crime?

3) As Kane is allowed to retain her position, what powers does she actually have? Should she be allowed to make executive decisions as AG?

4) By revoking her license, are her rights actually being constitutionally violated by interfering with the due process of the law in removing an elected official?

5) If an elected official is being investigated, should he/she maintain office until the end of the investigation?

NY Times
Yahoo News
Philadelphia Business Journal

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ben Carson says no Muslim should ever become US president

Dr. Ben Carson on Sunday morning with NBC broadcast said “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that”.

The whole conversation started with Chuck Todd and Dr. Carson talking about Mr. Trump's inability to correct an audience member's statement on how president Obama is a Muslim and not an American. The audience member hinted at the idea of deporting Muslims and Mr. Trump never apologized for what happened at his rally claiming that he is not responsible for correcting any inaccurate comments made by fans. For the record, according to a new CNN poll, 29% of Americans believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, 43% of those were Republicans. 20% of Americans also said that they believe that the President was born outside of the country.

When asked if he believes that Islam is consistent with the United States Constitution, Dr. Carson said "No. I don't, I do not". It should come of no surprise to Dr. Carson that Article 4 of the United States Constitution states that "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”. Also that the Treaty of Tripoli framed by Thomas Jefferson states that "[the USA] has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims)". Ben Carson never specified what parts of the religion goes against the Constitution of the United States. This comment by Dr. Carson should be especially troubling since he is third place in the polls with 14% of support from the GOP.

This event of course brought backlash against him and his campaign from Democrats and Republicans alike. Lindsey Graham, another POTUS hopeful, said "I think Dr Carson needs to apologise". Bernie Sanders claimed "You judge candidates for president not on their religion, not on the color of their skin, but on their ideas, on what they stand for". Hillary Clinton also added on, saying she was appalled by the statements.

Keith Ellison, one of two Muslim congressmen, released a statement on Facebook stating "The freedom of religion is a founding principle of our nation. Our Constitution gives this right to all Americans - including elected officials".

This relates to a bigger concern which is the level of Islamophobia that the country has reached and perhaps even come into question the actions of the GOP nominees in order to excite the party. Noam Chomsky analyses that "they can attract votes only by mobilising sectors of the population that have not previously been an organised political force, among them extremist evangelical Christians, now probably the majority of Republican voters". This of course is not to say that all people who are in the GOP are bigots. However, there seems to be a concerning number of incidents from the conservative base which helps shape the American culture.

Your thoughts?

Dr. Ben Carson


Obama nominates first openly gay man as Army Secretary

President Barack Obama on Sept 18th announced his plans for nominating Eric Fanning as the first openly gay Secretary of the Army. Mr. Fanning is currently the acting undersecretary of the Army and has previously served as a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, deputy chief management officer for the Department of Navy, deputy director of the Commissions on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, and undersecretary of the Air Force.

This is not the first time that President Obama has helped in involving more homosexuals to the military since he repealed the "Don't ask, Don't tell" Act in 2011 and is currently working on how to lift the ban on transgendered individuals serving in the military. Earlier, Amanda Simpson was sworn as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for operational energy making her the highest ranking transgender official in the United States military. Despite this historic step many gay and lesbian individuals still face inequality such as not being able to accompany their spouse on overseas bases, rampant homophobia in the military, etc.

With this new move towards a more diverse military, Mike Huckabee, a GOP presidential candidate, has voiced his opposition claiming that "Homosexuality is not a job qualification". He goes on to talk about how the Obama administration is just pandering to liberals and not interested in honoring America's heros. This is despite the fact that Mr. Fanning has over decades of experience in the DoD.

Your thoughts on the move by the Obama administration?

Eric Fanning


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Struggling to Find Money for High School Extracurriculars


High schools all over California have been "hawking" to pay for their extracurriculars and yet, some simply do not have the money to continue these various programs. Lisa Lewis, a longtime public-school parent, is "not exactly surprised to find that [her] tax dollars don't cover the cost of an education; anything extracurricular requires extra cash" (LA Times). Lewis continues by saying how excited she was to hear that her son made the speech and debate team and in addition, wanted to play football. At Los Angeles High School, where Lewis's son goes, both programs have long histories at the school - having its first football game in 1894 and creating its speech and debate club not long afterward.

Lisa was not happy to hear that each football player needed three sponsors, at one hundred dollars each, to be on the team. Through this, local businesses sponsor a local player and, in return, receive public recognition in game programs. With practice, it is a lot of football players to ask several businesses for assistance. This, however, brings in a lot of money for the football team and as a result, brings in about twenty thousand dollars to help finance the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams. Public high schools in California have long requested supplemental funding from the community, but it wasn't always this drastic. "Twenty-five years ago, our high school's football program received thirty-two thousand dollars a year from the district from fifty thousand dollars it needed to operate. Now the district provides only seven thousand dollars of the football program's one-hundred ten thousand dollar annual costs" (LA Times). In addition, Los Angeles High School raised their prices for football tickets at eight dollars for students and twelve dollars for adults (LA High School).

When Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978 to limit property taxes, local revenue atrophied and school districts were forced to rely on often cash-strapped Sacramento (Board of Equalization). What seems to frustrate people the most with the lack of fundraising for extracurriculars is the fact that public schools are supposed to be free after taxes are paid. This build in frustration is not only angering the public, but weakening California's public school system as a result. We need to make sure that California residents believe that its government's sole interest is representing the needs of the people. If not, then people may feel that they are not being taxed fairly and will challenge their right for equal representation.

Despite countermeasures including state laws that established minimum funding levels and authorized a temporary tax increase, the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that California ranks 36th in the nation in spending among the least per pupil in the country. "At $9,220, California’s per pupil spending ranked 36th in the nation, a steep drop from its 2002 ranking of 23rd. This year, California’s per pupil spending was about $1,500 less than the national average" (California Common Sense).  Unfortunately, many public schools have completely removed several of their extracurriculars due to a lack of funding.  And if those aren't removed, then schools will limit their spending on school supplies.  What many public schools end up doing is they find money through outside sources.  Schools cannot use a “pay to play” method because the California Constitution mandates free public education (Article IX, Section 5 of the California Constitution).  So, many resort to incessant fundraising.

What are your opinions regarding Prop 13?  Should we tweak Prop 13 to assist public schools in more aid or should we remove Prop 13 all together? Do we think Prop 13's consequence due to a lack of funding public schools can be fixed?  Should we increase property taxes to combat the issue of losing extracurriculars in our schools?  Should the states have the power to decide where tax money goes or should local governments be the ones to decide?  


Source of image: Los Angeles Times

Friday, September 18, 2015

Missouri Governor Commutes Prisoner for Marijuana-Related Crime

 A man from Missouri that was originally sentenced to life withUS News).  Jedd Mizanskey spent twenty-one years of his life in prison and on Tuesday, September first, he was set free.  Mizanksey's attorney, Dan Viets, claimed that Mizanksey was surrounded by "rapists, murderers and child molesters [who were released from] prison while he was sentenced to die behind bars for something that should not be a crime to begin with" (Huffington Post).  Mizanskey told reporters that he plans to spend the rest of his life advocating for the legalization of marijuana to avoid the "hell" that he went through behind bars.  
Mizanskey was arrested for conspiring "to sell six pounds of marijuana to a dealer connected with Mexican drug cartels" (The Guardian). At that time, a life with no parole sentence was legal under Missouri law for repeat drug offenders. Mizanskey already had two drug convictions – one for possession and sale of marijuana in 1984 and another for possession in 1991.  He was sentenced in 1996, which was the same year California became "the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes" (NCSL).  Medical marijuana is now legal in twenty-three states and recreational marijuana is legal in five states.  Such "extreme" cases could further fuel changing perceptions of nonviolent drug crimes, said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.  Just last year, the heavily Republican Missouri Legislature passed a law to allow certain people with epilepsy to seek treatment with a marijuana extract containing little of the chemical that causes users to feel high and larger amounts of a compound called cannabidiol, or CBD.

Jedd Mizanskey was the only inmate to serve such a long sentence for a crime that was nonviolent.  Democratic Gov.  Jay Nixon agreed in May to commute his sentence. The commutation allowed Mizanskey to argue for his freedom before a parole board, which granted the request in August.  Nixon's actions are "a reflection of political confidence in changing norms around marijuana use," said Cecelia Klingele, a criminal justice policy expert at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
The law under which he was originally sentenced has been changed.  Other states are re-evaluating punishments for drug possession, motivated in large part by the high cost of imprisoning low-level, nonviolent offenders.  In Connecticut, a "new law will make possession of small amounts of hard drugs, including heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, a misdemeanor for a first-time offense, rather than an offense carrying up to seven years in prison" (The Big Story). "Nebraska and Alabama expect to save hundreds of millions of dollars by using new laws to cut down on the number of offenders locked up for possessing small amounts of drugs" (US News).
The power of a governor to commute a prisoner is highly controversial.  Should governors have the power to commute?  As mentioned above, his family and community welcomed Jedd with open arms, however, should the public view this as irrational?  In history, governors have been known to pardon or commute prisoners toward the end of their terms and usually these prisoners have a lot of money.  Does this make our government more corrupt?  Should other states be reevaluating their punishments for drug possession or are we simply becoming more lose with punishments for drug possession.  Connecticut is creating a new law that makes possession of small amounts of hard drugs like heroin a misdemeanor for a first-time offense.  If state legislatures ease penalties for drug possession will people think differently about harder drugs?  
Source of image: US News

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sanders introduces bill to ban privatization of prisons

On September 17,  2015  Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the "Justice is not for sale act". This act would give the federal government three years to phase out private prisons in place for ones ran by the federal government, in addition, this ban would also apply to state and local governments.

Image pulled from Washington Post (Originally from Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Privatization of prisons all began in the 1980's as a way for local and state governments to save money. Governments would contract third party companies (such as CCA and G4S) to run and maintain prisons an jails and in return the government would pay them for each prisoner they had. While this might have been a good way to save money, there have been some unforeseen consequences that have come with privatization. One of the main issues has been that

"Profits [have been] so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. [For example,] when a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits." (Globalresearch)

With Sanders new bill, he aims to stop the profiting of putting people in jail as well as increasing conditions for prisoners by making all prisons run federally (or by the state/local government). In addition Sanders has also added some previsions to

"dramatically reduce the number of immigrants who are held in detention facilities while awaiting court hearings on their legal status." (WashingtonPost)

So what do you think?

Do you agree with saving money with privatization or government ran prisons?

Do you think there are any political motivations behind this (Presidential ones in particular)?

Washington Post [Link]
Bill  [Link]
Global Research [Link]

Second Round of GOP debates

September 16th from 5 pm to 8 pm Western Time at the Ronald Reagan Library at Simi Valley, California was the second round of GOP debates from the top 11 highest polling Republican nominees for president of the United States hosted by CNN. Needless to say, a lot of drama ensued during the debates. The nominees were Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie.

One thing I would like to note about the debates is that the moderator, Jake Tapper, was completely incompetent at his job. Most of the time he would dismiss the lowest polling candidates (Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina) and would ask the other candidates about Mr. Trump and not on policy positions that they had. They gave Donald Trump the most speaking time, clocking in at 19 minutes, twice as much as Rand Paul's measley 10 minutes. One takeaway that people should get from this is that most of the time, establishment media will lift up those in power and marginalize those that do not. As for the actual debate itself I will break it down by every contender.

Donald Trump as usual made controversial remarks such as making fun of Dr. Paul on his looks, adding onto the anti-vaxxer movement, making fun of Jeb Bush's wife, etc. Most of his policy positions have not changed since his announcement for running for POTUS. Even though Mr. Trump dominated the debate, he still took a couple shots from Governor Walker, Carly Fiorina, Governor Bush, and Senator Paul. Many insulted him for his juvenile actions and claimed that he should not be in the highest office because he has never been in government before.

Ben Carson stayed very consistent and soft spoken at the debates last night. He also raised some eye brows when he added onto the anti-vaxxer conspiracy and did not challenge the idea despite the fact that 1) he is a doctor and 2) the Center for Disease Control has debunked this myth. Dr. Carson consistently spoke about individual responsibility and as usual he went against Planned Parenthood.

Carly Fiorina also told a flat out lie about how a fetus was on the table in the Planned Parenthood and how the doctor said that they had to keep it alive in order to preserve the brain. Ms. Fiorina however, stood up for women at times and challenged Donald Trump on his comments on women's looks and even got him to say that she was "beautiful".

Jeb Bush took shots at Mr. Trump as usual and even got frustrated about his comments about his Mexican American wife. Even after the debates though there was little sympathy for Mr. Bush since he is still polling at 8%.

Rand Paul and John Kasich seemed to be dismissed many times throughout the debate even though they seemed to be the most moderate and in some aspects outliers. Mr. Kasich is not a huge fan of the ACA however, since the law is very popular in his state, he still voiced support for it. Dr. Paul voiced his support for the repeal of the PATRIOT ACT in order to protect people's individual liberties. Despite these outliers, the two still have the same standard GOP talk points.

Christie, Rubio, and Walker were mostly forgotten during the debates and also got shot down while trying to take jabs at the Donald.

Cruz and Huckabee as usual had Christian fundamentalist viewpoints that they shared with the rest of the world.

Of course no GOP debate is complete without name dropping the Gipper; he was mentioned 23 times throughout the debate.

Your thoughts on the debate?