Monday, November 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information:

China Announces Record Smog Levels

This picture taken on 8 November 2015 shows a residential block shrouded in smog in Shenyang, Liaoning province

China issued an orange alert to warn of high smog levels. This alert warned people to stay indoors and ordered many factories to close down. China’s AQI was measured at 568, earning it a spot in the “beyond index” category (CNN) and making it about 17 times more than WHO deems healthy. 
Coincidentally, there is also a climate summit convening right now in Paris. This conference gathers together many of the world’s leaders and discusses goals and plans to help control climate change. China, the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, has set goals to decrease their dependence on and usage of coal.

Should the US get involved in the global battle against climate change?
Do you think, as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders mentioned in one of the Democratic debates, that climate change is the biggest threat to national security?
Do you have any ideas for solutions?


Black Friday Protests

Because of another recent incident of police brutality against an African American, this time in Chicago, people are outraged. Although there were protests and mobs earlier this past week, the biggest protest happened on Friday, the 27th of November, also known as Black Friday because of the Holiday shopping that takes place after Thanksgiving.
               These organized protests took place around some of the busiest shopping areas of Chicago. They included group chants, human barriers, and a few violent exchanges, requiring police intervention. About the violence, Parrett, a protester, said “If we get hurt, you gotta hurt too.” (USA Today).
               The protesters (and others) are petitioning for the mayor, county prosecutor, and police superintendent to be fired and for an investigation into the Justice department.

Do you think that violent protests are allowable in this case?
Is vengeance justified even if the victims of revenge were not the perpetrators of the original sin?
Should the mayor, county prosecutor, and police superintendent be fired?


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Utah's first woman Governor Dies

Olene S. Walker, Utah's first ever female governor, has died at age 85. Walker had served for 11 years. In office, Walker focused her agenda on education and even created a institute to help students with public service career training(  Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service  click this link to find out more) Although Walker was a Republican, she disagreed with fellow Republicans on many issues, including those relating to schools and education. For example, Walker vetoed a bill about vouchers for private schools because she was opposed to cutting spending for public schools. Walker also created a housing loan fund program for people with low incomes, something somewhat uncharacteristic of a republican.

Additionally, Walker created the Read with a Child Early Literacy Initiative which encouraged parents to read for 20 minutes a day with their children. Aside from education, Walker was also passionate about preserving the wildlife of Utah.

As the first woman to serve as a Utah governor, Walker was described with the quote "Wherever she went, she broke down barriers so future generations could follow her lead." Additionally, Walker was known for collaborating with other parties in office, rather than arguing with them. Someone even stated that "When the legislative process was breaking down on a bill, I often asked Olene to walk upstairs to the Legislature and see what she could do. Inevitably, when she came back, the problem was solved."

Although this story may have sounded somewhat like an obituary, I think there are definitely interesting things to take note of about Walker's career. 

Do you think it is important for one to stick strongly to their party's ideals? Or is it ideal for politicians to take Walker's approach and not be afraid to differ in opinion with your party?

Why do you think it took Utah, and so many other states, so long to have a woman governor? 

Do you think Walker's legacy will influence the politics in Utah for a long time?


The Current State of the Box Office, Pre-Star Wars

For every Jurassic World, there's a Jem and the Holograms.
2015 has been quite the year for movies. Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Minions, and Jurassic World all cracked the top ten highest-grossing movies of all time. The aforementioned World became the highest-grossing sequel or reboot. Pitch Perfect 2 made the most on opening weekend for a musical film. Minions had the biggest opening day for an animated movie, breaking Toy Story 3's record. Finally, box office analysts have predicted that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which has already nearly made up its own budget in ticket pre-sales, will definitely become one of the highest-grossing films ever, if not the highest-grossing.
And yet, other movies expected to perform well ended up flopping – some drastically so. Jem and the Holograms, based on the cult 1980's animated series, made less than $2 million in the two weeks it was in theaters, before Universal Studios pulled the plug. This made Jem the first wide-release film (2,000 theaters) to be shut down for underperforming. Victor Frankenstein, Creed, and The Good Dinosaur represented a comparatively low turnout for Thanksgiving weekend films, with Dinosaur having the lowest turnout for a Pixar film on opening weekend, and Frankenstein only passing the opening weekend of Jem by $610,000. Even The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is relatively underperforming for a blockbuster film (although, making a cool $101 million domestic could hardly be considered "underperforming").
However, the difference between the highest and the lowest performing films is stark – sequels do much better than original films. Of the ten highest grossing films of 2015, only two are non-sequels or reboots (Inside Out and The Martian), and only one is a truly original film (The Martian was based on a 2011 novel). Screenplays Rock the Kasbah, We Are Your FriendsOur Brand Is Crisis, The Walk, and Blackhat withered away and died at the hands of empty theaters.
None of this is really news, but take the case of Jem and the Holograms. Made for a mere $5 million, it won't even be able to make up its own dismal budget. Released by Universal (same folks who did the indies Jurassic World and Furious 7, so don't feel too bad for them), the film, similar to Frankenstein, had major marketing power behind it, but its tactic of nostalgia combined with a millennial twist for today's youngsters somehow just didn't stick, and the film was torn to shreds by critics (obviously expecting more from the director of Justin Beiber: Never Say Never).
It's hard to make the direct assumption that original films will always perform worse. Titanic and Avatar have disproven that. The issue with the most underperforming films of 2015 is mostly due to the fact that they are terrible movies. But, then again, the same case could be made for Minions, Fifty Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect 2, Home, Hotel Transylvania 2, Get Hard, Ted 2, and Hitman: Agent 47, which all performed well with domestic audiences despite being hated by critics.
So as Hollywood prepares for Star Wars: The Force Awakens with dollar signs in their eyes, take the time to sit back and wonder: what movies are worth it?

-Are you guilty of seeing a sequel for the sake of it being a sequel?
-Which do you think does worse at the box office: bad movies or under-appreciated movies?
-Why do you think sequels and reboots do better?
-Are you planning on seeing Star Wars? Why or why not?


New Funding for Clean Energy

The government and a small group of investors are planning a million-dollar research campaign about global warming. The United States, India, China, as well as 16 other countries are planning on announcing this initiative tomorrow. This effort, called the "Mission Innovation," is unlike anything before and will be focused on the development of clean energy. The plan is to increase public investments by double. The Mission Innovation program includes the agreement of the 19 countries involved to increase their annual spending on research and development to $20 billion. The 19 countries involved are the United States, China, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. 

Large supporter of the initiative and Microsoft founder, Bill Gates will also be increasing his involvement in the matter. Gates is planning on investing large sums of money in startups that are focused on creating alternate sources of clean energy that people all over the world can afford. Gates is “optimistic that we can invent the tools we need” but wants to ensure that these companies have enough starting capital to make this happen. The investments made my Gates will be combined with investments from many other wealthy investors, including Mark Zuckerberg and Jeffrey Bezos (Amazon founder). Although the exact amount these investors contributed is unknown, it is safe to assume it is a very large sum of money. 

The announcement of the initiative came at the climate summit in Paris. Obama made a statement saying he is optimistic. (View his Facebook post regarding the conference here official announcement is expected to come this week at a conference with almost 200 countries in attendance. The goal of this conference is to create some sort of accord on reducing green house gas emissions

My questions for you are:

Do you think that climate change is something the government should be putting this much time and energy (no pun intended haha) into? Are there more pressing issues we should be worrying about instead?

Do you think the investments of Gates and the others will be enough to make significant progress in making clean energy global?


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Colorado Gunman's Frightening Past

The man responsible for the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado has now been identified as 57 year old Robert L. Dear, Jr. Dear killed 3 people and injured 9 after he held dozens in hostage.

Dear lived in a cabin with no electricity and his neighbor explained that “If you talked to him, nothing was very cognitive -- topics all over the place." 

As a former resident of South Carolina, Dear had been accused by his wife of hitting her and shoving her out of a window. Another woman had reported being stalked by Dear; she had seen him hiding in bushes outside her home for months. Additionally, Dear has faced animal abuse charges after shooting his neighbor's dog. Another neighbor filed charges against Dear for threatening to harm him after Dear thought he pushed his motorcycle onto the ground. 

Even with all of those charges, because Dear was never identified with a mental health problem or felony, he was able to legally purchase the rifle which he used during the Planned Parenthood attack. 

What do you think, if anything, should be done to our current gun laws? Should people like Dear be able to legally purchase a gun?

Do you think people with charges, such as Dear's, be able to purchase a gun even if they have no official felony convictions?


Friday, November 27, 2015

Multiple Injured in Shooting by Unidentified Gunman at Colorado Planned Parenthood

Earlier today, a gunman opened fire inside of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Officials say that there are an "unknown amount of casualties," but hospital officials have said that 9 victims have been admitted so far, 4 of which are police officers.
The shooting occurred around 11:30 am, when the unidentified shooter, described as being male, in his mid 40s, wearing a black coat and hat, entered the planned parenthood building and opened fire. As the police arrived at the scene, a the gunman opened fire on the officers, injuring at least 4.
Lieutenant Catherine Buckley said that the victim was taken into custody just before 5 o'clock, after officers inside the building made contact with him for the first time.
As for the motive, it is assumed that the random act of violence stemmed from the release of undercover videos, made by an anti-abortion organization, that provided evidence supporting the claim that Planned Parenthood had been selling leftover tissue from abortions on the black market. One of the clinics targeted was located in Denver.
Although the videos do not prove these accusations to be true, Planned Parenthood has still seen a huge spike in threats against other abortion providers, with 4 cases of arson occurring since the videos release. These videos have also sparked Capitol Hill to launch multiple investigations into Planned Parenthood's practices, and an increasing desire of some Republican Governors to cut off Medicaid and grants to the organization.

After watching the video, do you think the claims against Planned Parenthood are valid? Also, assuming that the allegations are true, do you feel that an act of violence or retaliation against the organization was uncalled for, or justified?

Here is the link to the Planned Parenthood exposé video:
Planned Parenthood Exposé


Married woman to be stoned to death for adultery in Saudi Arabia - while her single male partner to receive 100 lashes

A woman faces the sentence of being stoned to death after being convicted of adultery in Saudi Arabia - while the man she was caught with faces 100 lashes. The married 45-year old woman, originally from Sri Lanka, was working as a maid in Saudi Arabia at the time. Her partner, also a Sri Lankan migrant workers, was given the lesser punishment on account of being single. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment has "hired lawyers and appealed against the case", according to Upul Deshapriya, a spokesman for the Bureau. "Also, from the foreign ministry side, they are in negotiations with the Saudi government on a diplomatic level." Officials from the Saudi Embassy in Colombo did not respond to requests on whether the clemency plea would be considered.

Saudi Arabia, ironically a member in the advisory committee of the UN Human Rights Council, has long been criticized by human rights groups all around the world for the frequent use of the death penalty for crimes such as adultery and drug smuggling. In just the past year, Saudi Arabia has executed over 150 people - a 20 year high. According to Amnesty International, a human rights organization, "the majority of the executions that take place are public beheading[s]." In fact, Hillel Neuer, executive director at UN watch, called Saudi Arabia's position in the UNHRC as "scandalous [because] it has beheaded more people this year than ISIS..." The country follows a form of Sharia Law, a legal framework within which both public and some private aspects of life are regulated in the name of Islam. Sharia deals with all aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, sexuality, and social issues. Stoning is a form of execution where a group throws stones at a person buried waist or chest deep in the ground until they are dead.

This news follows reports that Saudi Arabia is planning to execute more than 50 people, found guilty of terrorism, in a single day. Amnesty International immediately condemned the move, saying that the Saudis are "using the guise of counter-terrorism to settle political scores."

Saudi Arabia and the United States have been close diplomatic allies for decades. Notably, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have strong and close relations with senior members of the Saudi Royal Family, the undisputed head of government in the Middle-Eastern country. The simplest explanation for this unlikely relationship between two vastly different nations, is of course, oil. Saudi Arabia is the largest and most important producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a bloc that controls around 40 percent of the world's oil. According to, "despite [Saudi Arabia's] repulsive human rights record, unproductive role in regional security, and American advances in shale oil production, the United States needs Saudi Arabia..."

What do you think of this whole controversy? How does it make you feel? Should the US condemn these outrageous actions and risk the anger of Saudi Arabia or are strong diplomatic relations with the Middle-Eastern Oil giant more important as a whole for our nation? 


The Pirate Bay can't be blocked in Sweden, court rules

After deliberating for nearly a month, the District Court of Stockholm (the court of first instance for general courts in Sweden, the next instance being the court of appeals) ruled in a landmark decision that copyright holders cannot make the country's internet service providers (ISPs)  block the infamous Swedish file-sharing site Pirate Bay. The copyright holders claimed that ISPs should be held liable for the infringements of its customers, unless it blocks Pirate Bay. Bredbandsbolaget, the ISP in question, flat out refused to comply with the demands, stating that its only role is to provide customers with internet access while facilitating the free-flow of information.

The Pirate Bay is a notorious 'torrenting' website where users are able to share files and links for others to access around the world; while that in of itself is legal, the controversy stems from the presence of copyrighted material on the website that results in huge losses for music and movie makers. The Pirate Bay has been blocked by dozens of ISPs around Europe but the anti-piracy groups have always looked to ban the website in Sweden, its country of origin. In 2009, the website's founders were found guilty in Sweden for assisting in copyright infringement and heavily fined/sentenced to ~1 year in prison.

Ultimately, the Swedish court found that Bredbandsbolaget was not participating in the copyright infringement offences carried out by some of its 'pirate' subscribers. The District Court found that Swedish legislation regarding internet copyright infringement met the standards of the Infosoc directive, a directive of the EU enacted to implement the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty (WIPO). "An unanimous District Court considers, therefore, that it is not in a position to authorize such a ban as the rights holders want and therefore rejects their request," said presiding Chief Magistrate Anders Dereborg.

Do you agree with the decision? Should sites like ThePirateBay be allowed to exit? Is it the obligation of ISPs to block those kinds of sites or does the responsibility fall to the government?


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Georgia's New Politically Incorrect Sign

Sheriff Mike Jolley of Harris County, GA just paid for and posted a new, very controversial sign. The sign, right off of the highway, reads "“WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect. We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust. We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you … LEAVE!” Sheriff Jolley claimed that the "silent majority" has become "too silent" and therefore the sign was necessary. To not much of a surprise, the sign has elicited mixed reactions. Some call the sign "childish" while others are praising it.  Much of the criticism about the sign stems from the idea that Jolley is using public property to promote his own personal beliefs. 

A human rights group has reportedly sent Harris County a letter saying that this sign is unconstitutional and should be taken down. They argue the sign violates both the 1st and 14th amendments. 

Other areas of the country are now copying Jolley's sign. For example, a bakery in Ohio posted a sign reading the exact same message as the sign in Harris County. 

Do you think Jolley should be allowed to post this sign? Should it be taken down?
Does the human rights group have an argument that this sign really in unconstitutional?


US airstrike on a Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan attributed to "human error"

According to a 3000-page investigative report on the Oct. 3rd attack on the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, the verdict was that the U.S air strike was a result of "human errors, failures in procedure and technical malfunctions" (NYT).  Two other military officials said that the Air Force AC130 gunship that attacked the hospital was intended to target a different compound several hundred meters away that was believed to be a Taliban base of operations. Times reports, "the crew had been unable to rely on the aircraft's instruments to find the target. Instead, they relied on verbal descriptions of the location that were being relayed by troops on the ground, a mix of American and Afghan Special forces." 30 individuals were killed in the bombing, many being injured patients, and at least 37 more were injured.

Doctors Without Borders, known also by its French name, Medecins San Frontieres (MSF), is an international humanitarian NGO (non-governmental organization) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The organization is known for its projects in war-torn regions and developing countries. In a written statement issued by the organization's general director, he demands a call for an international investigation as to the root cause behind the attacks and the reason behind the US military's gross incompetence and failure: "The U.S version of events presented today leaves MSF with more questions than answers... it is shocking that an attack can be carried out when U.S forces have neither eyes on a target nor access to a non-strike list, and have malfunctioning communications system.. thousands of people were denied life-saving care simply because the MSF hospital was the closest large building to an open field and 'roughly matched' a description of an intended target."

The Pentagon has already concluded that the Doctors Without Borders group that ran the facility had properly followed all the necessary procedures in notifying the U.S of the location of the hospital. MSF "did everything right," according to a US official last month. The authorities are still determining potential disciplinary action, though it is still unclear at this point whether or not any action is even needed or the severity of the punishment.

How should the US be held accountable for their actions? Can they even be truly held accountable in any meaningful way for this gross miscarriage of justice and failure on the part of the US military? Being the world's largest and best-equipped military by far, how can something like this even be allowed to happen? 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jerry Brown and his Climate Change Diplomacy: California Trying to Save the World...Literally

      I suggest that you read Jeffrey's article in addition to this one because these two articles go hand in hand. His is about a problem, and mine is about a proposed solution.
       Many eagerly anticipate the upcoming climate talks in France, where global leaders are to meet to (hopefully) agree on and implement a plan to help reduce the impacts of global warming, primarily through cutting global emissions. This year, carbon concentration in the atmosphere is at a record high (400 ppm), and the last 10 years have been the hottest on record. Obviously, something needs to be done. President Obama will represent the U.S. at these meetings, as will most other heads of state, but Paris may have an unexpected visitor, someone with whom Californians are very familiar.

       Jerry Brown is set to present a plan of his own at the Paris meetings. This year, he has engaged in meetings with many national and local leaders in an effort to create a better plan to combat climate change. 57 regional governments in over 19 countries and 5 continents have either signed or endorsed the "Under 2 MOU". Signatories of this agreement support the initiative of cutting back on carbon emissions by at least 80% OR by reducing 2 metric tons of CO2 per capita by mid-century. These goals may seem ambitious, and that's because they are. Ambitious as they may be, in the context of worsening global warming, they will be necessary in order to prevent global climatic chaos farther down the road. This project is not designed to release global warming. At this point, we have to be practical. What this agreement will do is limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius (Under 2...). Warming the earth up until that point is still not the best outcome, but doing so will enable us to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

       The contract itself is not legally binding in any way. If you think about it, how can it be? Jerry Brown does not represent the national government, and only the national government can make treaties with other countries. This is only an agreement, but it is an agreement that represents an important, shared goal. The upcoming conference in Paris will be the perfect avenue for Brown to make his pitch and hopefully persuade more countries to adopt his proposition. If you are wondering why Brown is not letting the Obama administration lead the way on this ( Obama has been actively concerned about climate change himself) it is because California is an environmental trendsetter for the rest of the U.S.. California is an environmental pioneer compared to the rest of the United States. For example, California is obligated under a law it passed (AB 32) to reduce 1990 levels of CO2 by 80% by 2050. By 2020, 1/3 of California's energy will be from renewable resources. Solar panels were made cheaper and more available to families. In addition, the total number of "green" cars sold on the CA market (the 9th largest market in the world, by the way) must be increased by 15% by 2025 from the 2006 levels. This is for each auto manufacturer. Moreover, California has a brilliant cap and trade system (follow link or ask a friend who is taking APES) where companies are allocated only 90% of the previous years emissions. Over time, this is a very efficient way to cut down emissions. Based on what California has done (and these are only a few examples of what the the state does), it is evident that it is indeed possible and practical to achieve this ambitious goal. Even if the talks in Paris do not yield anything of substance, there are still things that YOU can do to help fight climate change. If a lot of people making a few, small changes can have a big impact. Here are just a few examples:
-keep tires properly inflated,
-reduce, reuse and recycle--Recycling is good, but reduction and reuse are much more impactful ways to help the cause. For example, if you use zip lock bags, reuse them. And don't buy soft plastic water bottles. Even when they get recycled, they get recycled in to a lower grade plastic...then there is the OIL that it takes to make the bottles in the first place.
-change light bulbs in your house to LED or energystar models.
-monitor water usage. In addition to saving water, using less water at home also saves energy that is used to pump and clean the water.

       Both on a small scale and on a large scale, helping combat global climate change is something that we all should be concerned about. We can all do our part, but we should also support other governments (like Jerry Brown, Germany, Germany, Germany, and Germany) achieve their environmental policy goals.

 Happy Thanksgiving!





Protests erupt in Chicago following the release of Video

According to CNN, Chicago was coined "the murder capital" back in 2012 when over 500 homicides occurred.

On Wednesday, a group of protestors stormed the streets of Chicago protesting the murder of 17 year old black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer. On Tuesday, a video of the fatal shooting was released and following the release Jason Van Dyke (the police officer) was quickly given first degree murder charges. Van Dyke claims that the shooting was justified because he felt unsafe after McDonald had been seen with a knife, breaking into cars. Van Dyke has a fairly good record as a police officer, but recently people have been complaining about his "use of excessive force and racial slurs."

The video's release came over a year after the shooting. The County's state attorney made a statement saying she thought it was important to release the video following the charges so that people knew the officer was being held and everyone could feel safe. Alzarez, the attorney, is facing some criticism that the investigation took too long.

The protest was described as relatively peaceful in comparison to those in Ferguson and Baltimore, but 5 people were still arrested. Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer charged with murder in many many years. McDonald's family issued a statement to the protestors saying “Don’t resort to violence in Laquan’s name. Let his legacy be better than that.” However, some groups are arguing that further and more extreme protests need to be done. 

Do you think to make a point the protestors have to be "less calm"? Do you think protests are the most effective way to show disapproval? Do you think protests can actually have the reverse affect if taken too far?

Do you think there is a solution to this trend of black teenagers being murdered by white police officers? What does this reveal about the racism of our country?

PS: sorry I just realized someone had already posted about this, but feel free to add any additional insight! For a more in depth description of the video, refer to this link:


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chicago Police Shooting of Laquan McDonald

Laqaun McDonald was shot and killed on October 20, 2014.  The police officer charged with his murder, Jason Van Dyke, shot him 16 times, 14 of which were after McDonald fell to the ground.  According to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, he had been on the scene for 30 seconds before he started shooting.  Sadly, it is important to note that Van Dyke is a white police officer and McDonald a black victim.  This Tuesday, ordered by a judge to happen no later than Wednesday, a video of the violent act was released to the public.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that they were prepared for the worst.

With the release of the video, a group of protestors began marching in Chicago.  Due to the race of Van Dyke and McDonald, many news stories on the incident include arguments of white police brutality on black people.  Although Van Dyke's actions may be motivated by conscious or subconscious bias, the media should not be so quick to paint a horrible image of the police.  Instead, the focus should be on the trial and proving Van Dyke's guilt or innocence.  Alvarez says that "the Officer's actions were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force."

An attorney for Jason Van Dyke says his client didn't do anything wrong.
So when exactly are police officers allowed to shoot?  They are constitutionally allowed to shoot  under the "defense-of-life" standard "to protect their life or the life of another innocent party."  They are also allowed to shoot to prevent a suspect from escaping but only if the officer has probable cause to assume that the suspect is a danger to others.  This framework was set up in the 1980s under Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor.  Under both of these cases, it is important to note that it does not matter whether there is an actual threat.

How do you feel about this case?  Were Van Dyke's actions appropriate or is shooting a man with a knife 16 times going too far?  Are police officers given too much power or do they need this power to protect themselves and the public?  Is the public's response appropriate?  Do you think they would respond the same way if the victim was white?


Turkish F-16 Shoots Down Russian Fighter Jet Allegedly Invading Turkish Airspace

"Terrorists' Accomplices" were the words Putin used to describe the Turkish government after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian fighter jet, claiming that the Russian plane was invading Turkish airspace. Although from an outsiders perspective it may seem that this random attack on a Russian fighter jet was in fact an act of terrorism on Turkey's part, the NATO ally's actions in regards to ISIL and the Syrian refugee crisis suggest otherwise.
The Russian fighter jet plummeting to the ground after being shot down
The Turkish government is credited with accepting the flow of over 2 million Syrian refugees in to their country, and spending more than 7 billion dollars to care for them. Contrastingly, a slew of American policy makers, terrorism experts, and Turkish watchers have observed Turkey's unwillingness to intervene and combat the extremism in Syria, despite their unquestioned ability to do so; Turkey's most recent actions (title) contribute to the rising suspicions of onlooking nations.
Turkey's actions, or lack thereof, put it's NATO allies in an awkward position of obligated support and assumption about the nation's motives. To add to this, the Turkish government's rocky history with Assad, combined with its unwillingness to shut down supply lines leading in to an ISIS-controlled territory, and it's overall ambivalence in regards to the Obama administration's anti-ISIL strategy since 2014 all contribute to a growing suspicion over Turkey's true motives in the fight to dissolve the Islamic State and the destruction it causes.
Presently, Turkey continues to send mixed messages to it's allies in regards to where it's support lies. Recently, a policy was implemented that would open up Turkish airbases to anti-ISIL forces to conduct combat operations with Turkey's pledged help, but so far the Turkish have reportedly spent the majority of their time combatting internal terrorist organizations that they have been fighting since the mid-1980s.
At the moment, few advisors in Washington believe Turkey has been or will be part of the solution in Syria, but the accommodating manner in which they are treating Turkish president Erdogan stems solely from a fear of losing access to Turkish territory.

Based on the information above, and perhaps prior knowledge, do you think Turkey hold ulterior motives in the fight against ISIS? Why or why not?
Do you think that Turkey's past history with Assad (i.e. Assad's "betrayal" of the Turkish government in Syria) is the root of these motives?
Assuming that Turkey does have motives that conflict with those of it's NATO allies, what action should be taken?


Global atmospheric CO2 now higher than 400ppm for the first time in millions of years

On November 11th, just a few weeks ago, the Mauna-Loa Observatory in Hawaii (which produces some of the most accurate and longest-running measurements of atmosphere carbon in the world) recorded that, of every million molecules in the atmosphere, 399.68 were carbon dioxide. The next day, November 12th, it measured 401.64 ppm of carbon dioxide.

As you know, carbon dioxide is the greatest contributing factor to the global climate change. Created through human fossil-fuel emissions, it traps heat in the atmosphere and slowly warms the globe. Of course, we're no strangers to this ongoing environmental debate that has been raging on for decades and affected millions of people all around the world. But what exactly is the significance of this 400ppm mark that we've now passed?

Putting it into perspective, the last time the planet has experienced such CO2 levels has been at least a million years ago, according to Bloomberg. This is the extreme low end of the scientific estimates; Scientific American says 23 million years ago, NASA climate Carmen Boening says 2.5-5.3 million years ago, her colleague Charles Miller says it has been nearly 25 million years since the Earth has crossed the 400ppm thresh-hold. However, one might argue that since the world is experiencing the strongest El Nino since 1997, the side effects of the extreme weather may naturally cause more CO2 emissions than normal through wildfires, etc. Climatologist Keeling partially supports this claim, saying that "the loss of CO2 from tropical forests in El Nino years is temporary as the forests tend to regrow in normal years, building back their biomass and sucking CO2 out of the air in the process", however, "the eventual recovery from this El Nino won't bring us below 400ppm, because its impact will be dwarfed by the global consumption of fossil fuels, pushing CO2 levels even higher."

At any rate, this is simply another major climate milestone added to the growing list of environmental issues before the planned Nov. 30 - Dec. 15th UN climate talks in Paris. It follows the reports that 2015 will be the hottest year ever recorded, with temperatures more than one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels - exactly halfway to the "two-degree benchmark" that global governments promised not to exceed. (the 2 degree Celsius was approved by nearly government in the world as of 2009).

The undeniable truth is that humans have never seen CO2 concentrations this high. This is uncharted territory, and that's what makes it so scary. No matter how many studies we conduct or how many reports we create, it's clear that there needs to be some sort of change in human consumption of fossil fuels and unsustainable business practices if we are to, 1) avoid crossing our self-set 2 degree benchmark, and 2) avoid the continuing trend of drastic global climate change that could lead to potentially cataclysmic results in our lifetime. We can only hope that the upcoming UN climate talks will address these issues seriously and work towards environmental and fossil fuel policy reform.

What do you think needs to be done to combat the growing issue of climate change? Are these statistic in-fact all blown out of proportion and humans don't have anything serious to fear? With all of the other issues in recent history, such as the ISIS attacks/terrorism, is climate change even an issue that's worth prioritizing on the global agenda?


Who Pays For Music?

Adele's third studio album, 25, has broken the U.S. record for most records sold in a single week, with over 2,433,000 copies. The record was previously held by NSYNC, when their album No Strings Attached sold 2.4 million copies – in 2000. Forecasters also predict that 25 will become the United Kingdom's fastest-selling album in history.
The record, reported by Nielsen, had been unbroken for over fifteen years, and with the rise of pirating and music streaming services, it seemed rare that universally acclaimed band NSYNC's achievement would ever be toppled – until 25 turned up out of the blue, uninvited.
Streaming appears to be the way of the future – and artists are fighting back. Up-and-coming pop singer Taylor Swift publicly fought against streaming services – specifically, Spotify – whose users opt for the free service with advertisements more frequently than the premium, ad-less service, which reduces the artists' royalties for having their work distributed. Small-time rapper Jay Z began the music service TIDAL (which many other artists co-own and are stakeholders of) to combat this issue. Adele herself has refused to make 25 available for streaming – but has put it on Pandora, which works differently from other services with its radio-like quality, which does not make the entirety of the album available for listening at once.
So the question is: who does pay for "records" any more? If buying an album at once is no longer in our future, then why has Adele become a record-breaker?

-Do you pay for streaming services? What is your opinion on artists refusing to have their work on these platforms unless they are paid accordingly?
-Do you believe that Adele has resurrected the concept of buying albums?
-Do you think that music is something that should be free or paid for?
-How do you think this broken record will affect the future of music?


Majority of British public favors leaving the EU in upcoming 2017 Referendum, poll finds

In light of the recent mass-media attention on ISIS and the heated controversy over the mass-migration to Europe from Middle-Eastern refugees, a relevant topic in the form of the upcoming "in-out" referendum planned for 2017 by the British as to whether or not they will continue being a part of the European Union has been largely overshadowed.

To give you some background, one of the Conservatives' primary platform promises in Britain while running for election was to hold a referendum (nation-wide vote) on whether or not the UK should stay in or leave the EU. The EU is an economic and political partnership involving 28 different countries that was started after WWII to foster economic co-operation and growth on the idea that countries dependent on each other for trade are less likely to have conflict and go to war with one another. It has since expanded to become what has been termed a "single market" where the member states essentially are part of one large country and mostly use the same currency in form of the euro.

Though there has always been support for passing the referendum, especially in older age groups (62% of those over the age of 65 want to leave the EU), the recent hysteria and backlash against the immigration in many EU countries has caused public opinion to shift in favor of passing the referendum, according to an opinion poll for The Independent - the first time their monthly survey has shown a majority for the "Brexit" (short for British-exit). 52% of those surveyed want to see Britain leave the EU while 48% wants to stay and preserve the status quo. However, as we went over in class, polls are not infallible and often fail to account for circumstances relevant to the issue at hand. For one, the sample size of The Indepedent's monthly survey was only 2000 people; in a nation of 64.1 million people, that sample size is hardly representative of the whole and leaves room for an enormously large margin of error that is only amplified by the fact that the people subscribed to the Independent and taking the survey are likely more inclined to change and expressing their opinions through taking this poll than those more moderate and more likely to vote no in the upcoming referendum but less likely to express their opinion in this poll. However, even taking all of this into account, it is still undeniably true that there is at least a marked upwards shift in public support for a change of some kind in response to the economic instability and social issues plaguing the EU today. In our world today in which all countries are inextricably linked to one another in some shape or form, Britain - being one of the core members and founders of the EU - leaving will undoubtedly have significant side-effects and unforeseeable consequences to the stability of Europe as a whole.

What do you think the British public should do in regard to the referendum? Is their argument for change and the backlash against the Middle-Eastern refugee migration and extremist terrorism valid? What will the long-lasting effects, if there are any to speak of, be if the British were to leave the EU in the 2017 referendum?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Ahmed Mohamed, the 14 Year Old Handcuffed for Making Clock, Demands $15m Compensation

Ahmed Mohamed's family is demanding 15 million dollars and written apologies from the local mayor and police chief.  The letter to city authorities emphasizes the suffering Ahmed went through: "Ahmed never threatened anyone, never caused harm to anyone, and never intended to.  The only one who was hurt that day was Ahmed, and the damages he suffered were not because of oversight or incompetence...  The school and city officials involved knew what they needed to do to protect Ahmed's rights.  They just decided not to do it."

AP Photo
On the day Ahmed was arrested, he brought a homemade clock to school to show to his engineering teacher.  Later, Ahmed's clock went off during English class and when he revealed the device the teacher notified the police.  He was fingerprinted and mug shots were taken at a local juvenile detention center.  Including an interrogation by multiple officers, Ahmed was suspended for three days.  After these events, Ahmed gained lots of publicity going on to meet President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg.

With the media being quick to play the race and religion card, the teacher and police were discredited.  We should take a second to consider the possibility that his clock was indeed a bomb hoax.  In middle school, Ahmed had racked up weeks of suspensions and pulled pranks on his teacher with a homemade remote control.  The police uploaded a picture of his clock online and many people believe that his invention that he made was actually a clock originally built by Micronta that he rearranged in a pencil box.   If this were truly the case, is Ahmed worthy of receiving a city proclamation in New York City calling him "a role model for young people who want to pursue careers in math, science and engineering, and improve the world for future generations?"  Although it may seem that I am discrediting Ahmed, I simply want to showcase opposing arguments.

What are your opinions on this topic?  Is Ahmed Mohamed's family justified in their demands?  With school shootings and other incidents where we hear afterwards "this could have been prevented if only we paid more attention to the sings," did the school and local police truly over react?  Finally if you care to do some research on your own, do you think Ahmed's clock was a bomb hoax or not?


Islamophobia is on the Rise

Ever since the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris on November 13th, Islamophobia has been circulating the country and the world. People, including politicians, have been quite vocal with their opinions. “Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult in this county,” as well as numerous other anti-muslim remarks were made during a protest outside The Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, an Islamic center with plans to expand. These events frighteningly resemble much of the backlash following the events of 9/11 and seems to be becoming a trend following terrorist attacks.

Fear is a powerful weapon, and politicians, such as Donald Trump, are using this to their advantage. In a recent interview Trump was quoted saying "I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down." Here Trump is referring to seeing Muslims celebrate post-9/11. (There is no evidence of this and police deny this happening). In this fearful time, people want answers and someone to blame. People are looking for a scapegoat. It is for this reason that people like Trump are able to gain support and spread their own unjustified views of Islam.
My questions for you are:
Besides what I mentioned, why do you think people like Trump are able to gain support (especially in a time like this)?
What are some parallels of this event from history? Elaborate. (Think scapegoats, unjustified blame, characterizing a whole group based off of a few's actions, fear tactics, etc!)


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Former President of South Korea, Kim Young-sam, dies at age 87

Kim Young-sam, South Korea's former president, died of sepsis and heart failure on Sunday.  He was admitted to the Seoul National University Hospital with a fever on Friday.  Mr. Kim is credited with leading South Korea out of military rule.  He played a crucial role during the nation's transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Kim Young-sam was born in 1927.  During this time, South Korea was still a Japanese colony.  At the age of 27 he was elected to Parliament and was well known for his criticism of the dictator in power at the time, Park Chung-hee.  Mr. Park seized power in a coup in 1961 and cruelly silenced his opponents.  Before being assassinated in 1979, Mr. Park expelled Mr. Kim for his criticisms.  Soon after his assassination, Chun Doo-hwan, an army major general, engineered a coup resulting in another military dictator.

In 1992, Mr. Kim won the election becoming the first civilian leader in South Korea in over three decades.  He quickly purged a group of army officers who went by the name Hanahoe that regularly blackmailed and assaulted members of Parliament.  Soon after, he managed to convict and arrest Mr. Chun and Mr. Roh, Chun Doo-hwan's successor.  Another huge change Mr. Kim brought was his barring of owning back accounts under pseudonyms.  This was considered one of the most important landmarks in South Korea's fight against corruption.  Finally, Mr. Kim had persuaded President Bill Clinton to cancel the U.S.'s plan to bomb North Korea.  Mr. Kim had planned to meet North Korea's leader, Kim Il-sung determined to bring peace.  Unfortunately, two weeks before the first summit meeting between the two nations, Kim Il-sung died of heart failure and the summit was canceled.

Despite Kim Young-sam ending his presidency on a poor note, he is well respected for his role in South Korea's growth from dictatorship to democracy.


What if a Girl Wants to Become a Boy Scout?

       There is currently a group of girls in Santa Rosa, CA called the "Unicorns" who wish to become official members of Boy Scouts of America (BSA). Between the ages of 10 and 13, many were previously Girl Scouts, but disliked the non-adventurous and laid back atmosphere of girl scouting activities. The mother of one of the girls claims, "After lunch, you take a nap for an hour you sit on your bunk and you can read or color or write to a friend. You can't talk." These girls decided to take matters into their own hands.

       The idea all started when the "Unicorns" took part in a BSA-affiliated event that was open to both boys and girls. Since then, they have also participated in a "camporee", which is basically a series of friendly competitions in which many different Scout troops come and participate in outdoor challenges. The girls impressively earned 2nd place. In addition, the girls have formed a "companion council", which is a group loosely affiliated with BSA, in this case, a local den. The small group attends the same den meetings, participates in the same den activities, earns the same Cub Scout patches, and has even secured the support of several local BSA leaders. Unfortunately for the girls, BSA official policy is this: "The Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts programs are designed for boys and young men.", which means that the girls will never be able to become official Boy Scouts and perhaps more importantly, that the girls will be forced to disband their companion council group.

This brings up an interesting question: Should girls be allowed to join Boy Scouts?  Before I present the arguments for both sides, I know that some of you may have been wondering about Title IX. Hmmmm...If you can't discriminate based on sex, then the girls have a pretty good argument, right? Wrong. Section 1681 (a)(6)(B) of Title IX  grants exceptions to both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Just thought it would be good to clear that up!

       One side would argue "yes" for several reasons. The first being the fact that girls want to do more "Boy Scout-like" activities that are not available to them in Girl Scouts. The second being the fact that it is unreasonable to believe that girls would be unable to keep up with the boys' activities. The girls who won 2nd place in the camporee can testify to that. The third being that if local leaders support the measure, why are they still being hindered by the "higher" ranks of the BSA administration?

       The other side, arguing "no" would also have a compelling argument. They would argue that Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts are organizations that , for over 100 years, have been devoted to the development of the young boys and young men in this world. Meetings should be a place where boys get to interact with other boys, which is a unique and valuable experience. They don't believe that girls are in any way inferior to the boys, they just believe that it is expected that Boy Scouts be for boys. If girls want to do more "Boy Scout-like" activities, then she should pressure her own Girl Scout troop or council to change, not attempt to gain entry in to an all-boys organization. Also, during camping outings, the possibility of boys and girls sharing tents could potentially be something to worry about. [Lastly, not all Girl Scout groups are like what was described in the first paragraph by one of the mothers. I know from experience that there is a significant amount of troops, at least in this area, that do participate in camping, hiking, and shooting activities. There are definitely some troops like the one the mother described, but don't go thinking all troops are like that.]

I should add that to BSA's credit, there are several coed programs that are offered. For example, "Venture Scouts" is basically the same thing as a traditional Boy Scout troop, except for two differences. The first difference is that Venturing is open to both boys and girls. The second is that there is even more of a focus on high adventure and outdoor activities. As another example, "Sea Scouts" is a program, like Venture Scouts, where both boys and girls are able to function similarly to a traditional Boy Scout troop, except with an emphasis on water activities, especially maritime and boating skills.

As a Boy Scout myself, when I saw this in the news, I thought it would be really interesting to explore and especially relevant to our last unit. What do you all think? Should girls be allowed in to Boy Scouts? If so, should boys be allowed in to Girl Scouts? Any other thoughts, questions?

**[bracketed statement is from my own observation. I am not taking sides on the issue here but rather adding a little bit of my own knowledge from experience teaching large groups of girls at Girl Scout camp]**