Monday, May 23, 2016

Virginia Governor McAuliffe under investigation over illegal fundraising

The Justice Department and the FBI are investigating the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe for illegal campaign fundraising in his election in 2013. While it is not clear currently what exactly triggered the investigation, they are looking into a possible $120,000 donation by a wealthy Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang. According to law, foreign nationals are not permitted to donate to federal, state or local elections. The investigation is ongoing.
Mr. Wenliang has has also donated 2 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation in 2013, and has held numerous important business positions, including holding a position in China's parliament, controlling a port, and owning Rilin Enterprises, a conglomerate that builds Chinese embassies worldwide. His intrusion into American affairs seems to suggest he has some sort of interest in American politics, and he wants his voice heard in American government.
This is not the first time Mr. McAuliffe has faced scrutiny over possibly shady dealings. In 2011 and 2012, Mr. McAuliffe headed a foreign auto company, GreenTech Automotive, and helped bring it to the United States. However, despite hundred of thousands of dollars in foreign support from investors into the newly- imported company,production was well below and job creation never met expectations at the plant in Mississippi. Mr. McAuliffe resigned in December 2012.

Washington Post 

- Should foreign interests be restricted in donating to American political campaigns?
- How can we reduce the power of special interests in government from affecting and possible overruling the voice of the people?
- Do you think that groups like the Clinton Foundation ought to be able to receive those sums of money (up to 2 million) in the name of a organization, when it really goes to political figures?
- Seeing as Mr. McAuliffe's predecessor, Gov. Robert McDonnell was convicted of corruption in 2014 due to receiving illegal campaign donations, do you think that the US is becoming more orrupt, or has this always been the norm?

Washington Times
Washington Post

Baltimore cop Edward Nero found not guilty

About a year ago, a young African American male, Freddie Gray, was killed when in Baltimore, Maryland after he was involved with the police. He was accused of carrying an illegal switch blade, and while initially unclear, Gray was taken to a trauma center where he died. Six officers were suspended without pay, including Officer Nero.
Today, Officer Nero was acquitted of all charges against him: assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. According to CNN, the officer sat in a packed courtroom as the judge read that there was not enough evidence to support any accusations against him. Nero is the first of six total officers that were suspended and charged. Now, his colleagues will face the same ordeal he has faced. Despite his innocence, protesters yelled at Nero's brother as he left the courtroom, and were outside the court as well today.
Source: WBALTV

- Since double jeopardy is unconstitutional, should we assume his innocence and move on? This doesn't only apply to this case but others as well.
- Do you believe that the acquittal of law enforcement officers such as in this case is fair, and how do you react to it?
- Do you think all six officers will be let go? Will public opinion influence the decisions on other suspects, as pressure will likely increase to find the officer(s) guilty?

New York Daily News

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What will be Bernie Sander's legacy of the past year?

As the primary election cycles comes ever closer is clear: Bernie Sanders has not been able to close the gap between him and Clinton. And at this rate, it seems that Bernie may not receive the delegates he needs to be the primary candidate. however, Bernie is determined to stay in the race. as sanders explains, he does not want America "voting for the lesser of two evils." With this in mind, it seems that Bernie is fighting to the end, and trying to garner as many votes as he can, regardless of the projections. 
As Bernie looks to stay in the race, people are looking to Bernie's future impact on the political climate. He has served as a sort of "wake up call" to Americans, inciting pent up frustration towards the establishment. Furthermore, he has drawn an amazing amount of support in the past year, allowing him to gain a real position of influence on American opinion. Bernie Sanders' supporters have been seen as somewhat of a resilient if not stubborn group, with some going by the motto: "Bernie or Bust," and as the NYT points out, 

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

-How do you think the Sanders campaign has affected the American political atmosphere, and how long will it last for?
-Will we see the rise of more candidates like Bernie, or is this a one- and- done phenomenon? 
-What IS Bernie's legacy? How has it affected how you think of the American system? 


Saturday, May 21, 2016

One-third of all cash holdings in the United States belong to just five companies

Just a handful of US companies hold a majority of the cash in the United States by a large margin. According to USA Today, five US companies, Apple, Alphabet (Google holding company), Cisco, Microsoft, and Oracle made up 504 billion of the total 1.7 trillion dollars in cash and cash equivalents in 2015. This is about 30 percent of the US's total cash and cash holdings. This is an increase in comparison to 2014 (27%), and 2012 (25%). Additionally, the use of offshore accounts to avoid US taxes is increasing as well. USA Today states, "unfortunately for U.S. investors, 72% of total cash held by all non-financial U.S. companies is stockpiled outside the U.S., up from 64% in 2014 and 58% in 2013."
- How do you think that the holding of so much wealth by so few corporations affects the economy, as the majority is held offshore?
- Does this much cash ought to be taxed more heavily than now, in the case of it being brought back to the United States?
- Should there be more regulation of industries in this sector as we see the increase in wealth and increasing disparity of wealth in the US? Sources:
USA Today
Win Beta
International Business Times

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Female Soldiers Face Enemies on Both Sides

While the Army wouldn’t upgrade Emily Vorland’s discharge, Texas thought enough of her service to give her a veteran’s license plate Emily Vorland is one of the many women soldiers within the United States army who have encountered the tragic event of sexual assault. Emily did file a complaint that one of her superior officers had raped her. However, instead of helping and supporting her or discipline her attacker, the army decided to discharge Ms Vorland. As they took the attackers side, who claimed that Emily consented to sexual relations. Ms Vorland would have brought up the fact that she had identified herself as a lesbian, however this was during the time when Don't Ask Don't Tell was still enforced. As a result Emily lost her position in the United States army.

Emily is not the first woman to get discharged from the army because she reported a rape. There are thousands of female soldiers who experience rape while on duty. Instead of helping these women, they are discharged by the army due to small technicalities, (such as not saluting a higher ranked officer.) and personality disorders caused by the rape. As a result these soldiers are unable to acquire the mental help provided by the army that they need to cope with such an tragic event. They are also unable to obtain the VA benefits also provided by the military after serving their time overseas.

To make matters worse, the process of upgrading one's discharge is a long, emotional, stressful, time consuming, and difficult one. Most of the time, the review boards who handle upgrading discharges are not approved. Most of the time the boards just agree with the initial discharge. As a result women soldiers are in danger on both sides of the battlefield, as they could get sexually assaulted, not get any support to cope with. Then shortly afterwards get honorably discharged, and have little chance of upgrading their discharge and not receive VA benefits.

What regulations do you think should be enforced in order to protect female officers from experiencing such a tragic event?

What regulations do you think should be enforced in order to support women soldiers who do experience sexual assault while in the line of duty?

What is your opinion of the United States armed forces now that you have been informed about the terrible events that take place off the battlefield?

South Carolina Joins Ban on 20 Week Abortions

 Yesterday, the legislation within South Carolina had passed a bill that would ban a woman's right to the procedure of an abortion after being pregnant for twenty or more weeks. The bill would also make no exceptions to women who got pregnant due to rape or incest. Under this bill the only times a twenty week abortion is justifiable is if the fetus poses a threat to the mother's life, or it is already discovered that the child will not make it to brith.

 With a republican majority in the chamber, the bill passed with a vote of 79 to 29. Supporters of the bill such as representative Wendy K Nanney, has defended the bill through the idea that many women would not wait up to twenty weeks before getting an abortion: "That is usually done very quickly. They don't wait until they are five or six weeks along."(Nanney) One of the more surprising facts about this story is South Carolina is not the first state to make such regulations on abortion policy. In fact there are actually sixteen other states that have enacted such restrictions. A policy analyst by the name of Elizabeth Nash has that there have actually been 322 enactment in the United States (since the conservative shift in 2010) that have had a negative impact on abortion.

With the alarming statistics what effect do you think these restrictions will have on the future of abortion? Do you think we will keep regressing until abortion is illegal?

Do you think the states that pass these legislations are over extending their power? Why or Why not? Either way also explain if you think the Federal Government or Supreme Court should intervene?

Group Advocating Pardons for American War Criminals

Mark Heyrman, center, clinicallaw professor, and law students Michael Lockman and Hayley Altabef talk about the Combat Clemency Project, which Heyrman heads, at the University of Chicago on May 4. (NATHAN WEBER/NYT) A 72 year old conservative U.S veteran by the name of Herbert Donahue has come into contact with an unlikely ally. Donahue is the head of a group known as the United American Patriots. Their organization has advocated for the pardons of U.S war criminals charged with assaulting or killing civilians. Their unlikely ally is a group of young left wing law students studying at the University of Chicago.

 Donahue having served in the army during the Vietnam War, has defend the vets by reason that they are subjected to the orders of Senior officer who don't have experience on the battle field. For example, Donahue and other soldier have to ask for permission to shoot an enemy. After his first patrol Donahue never asked for permission to kill someone unless "he was on a pile of bodies."(Donahue) He describe the current situation of permission before killing as "Requiring a guy to have a lawyer with him in the fox hole."(Donahue) On the other hand the law students at the University of Chicago, are defending these soldiers on the status of their mental states. One soldier they are attempting to pardon for,(Robert Bales) was arrested for killing 16 Iraqi civilians seven of which were children. However, even before he joined the army Bales had experienced PTSD, and the terror on the front line only made it worse. However, the group will not represent criminals with charges such as rape or murder.(Will Bales being a special case.) Henceforth, the two groups have come together, and made the consensus that there are some U.S soldiers who are or were wrongfully imprisoned while serving their country. Thus, they have decided to push President Obama for the pardon of these war criminals. 

Personally I do not believe the soldiers should be given a pardon for such a crime. People should not get benefits within the legal justice system just because they have served their country. Unless they proven to be mentally unstable. There are many other soldiers out there who have served their country without committing a crime.

Now given the circumstances do you believe that these soldiers should be pardon? Does the fact that the criminals in question are veterans affect your answer? Why or why not?

Shouldn't the Officers who gave these soldiers the orders to kill innocent civilians be prosecuted as well?

Do you think these two groups working together will make any difference? Why or Why not?

House GOP strikes down LGBT rights bill

Today, a LGBT rights amendment sponsored by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY was struck down in the House of Representatives following a narrow vote. Initially, the amendment had enough votes to pass at 217 in favor. Following a time extension, seven Republican representatives changed their vote, resulting in the amendment failing 213 to 212. After the result was announced, Democrats repeatedly chanted "Shame" - check out a video here:

This is clearly a step backwards for LGBT rights, especially following the series of recent advances for said cause. As usual, those opposed to the measure cited the protection of religious freedom as their justification. Additionally, the Republican whip team blatantly used the time extension to scrounge up more votes - practices that I find quite unpleasant. It's a practical move that I can respect, but that doesn't stop me from finding it objectionable.

What kind of symbolic meaning does this vote have? What does it mean for LGBT rights? How does this reflect on the character of the Republican representatives and party as a whole? Was the Democrats' display of emotion appropriate?


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Donald Trump Releases His Picks for Supreme Court

Donald Trump released a list of his picks for the supreme court this Wednesday. The 11 candidates on his "includes six federal appeals court judges appointed by former Republican President George W. Bush, as well as five state Supreme Court justices with conservative credentials" (1).

Trump's announcement comes as good news for the G.O.P., who have generally responded positively to the list. In fact, "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) [said] Mr. Trump had 'laid out an impressive list of highly qualified jurists' " (1). Trump's announcement may also be a move on his part to try and unify the G.O.P. before the upcoming general election.

The burden of choosing a new Supreme Court Justice has unofficially fallen on the presidential candidates due to the Senate's reluctance to approve any new appointments so late in Obama's term. Do you think this is the right choice to make? Should a president elected on 4-year-old public approval have the ability to influence the United States perhaps for decades to come? What do you think of the list of Trump's nominees? Do any names particularly stand out?

The Supreme Court of the United States
Source: WikiPedia

(1) Wall Street Journal
(2) New York Times
(3) Huffington Post

Eric Fanning confirmed as the first openly gay Secretary of the Army

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the White House's nominee Eric Fanning as the next Secretary of the Army. The landmark confirmation comes after Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan dropped his hold, which was related to Guantanamo Bay detainees rather than Fanning's sexuality. Roberts wanted to ensure that detainees would not be sent to his state, and has dropped the hold due to the high likelihood that the Obama Administration will be unable to close Guantanamo Bay before President Obama leaves office.

Fanning has served as acting Air Force Secretary, and as chief of staff for the Defense Secretary. Regardless of his high qualifications, Fanning has had a surprisingly difficult time being confirmed. After his nomination in September of last year, Sen. John McCain held off confirmations for Defense Department nominees in protest of Democratic rule changes and a veto threat on the 2016 defense policy bill by President Obama. Fanning later served as acting Defense Secretary after former secretary McHugh's retirement in November, but was stopped in January by the Senate.

Fanning's appointment is a historic one, and it's been a shame that it took so long to go through. It's frankly rather ridiculous that such a critical confirmation for the LGBT community and America as a whole was delayed in the name of politics. President Obama's plan to close Guantanamo Bay has been incredibly contentious, but I feel that placing holds on these sorts of symbolic confirmations is a unpleasant negotiation tactic.

What does this nomination mean for the future? Is Obama truly out of time to close Guantanamo Bay? With a possible President Trump on the horizon, what would happen to current and future possible LGBT officials like Fanning?

Mercury News

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Waze Carpool Enters Market

Yesterday, Google parent company Alphabet announced an experimental carpooling service in the Bay Area. The service is built on top of the Alphabet-owned navigation app Waze. As described in the promotional video below, the new Waze service will allow users to automatically be matched up with carpool drivers, which means less hassle for everyone involved in carpooling.

Waze's new carpooling service.
Source: Google

As of now, the pilot service is only available to employees at a handful of tech firms within the Bay Area (1). However, coming from Alphabet itself, it serves as a significant threat for competitors Uber and Lyft. Moreover, considering Alphabet's significant progress with self-driving vehicles, a foothold in the ride-sharing market might translate into a fully-autonomous transport system (2).

Do you think the growth of the ride-sharing market is healthy for the economy? While it may let drivers make money, the work is part-time and comes at the cost of more traditional taxi services. Additionally, as more and more drivers start working for ride-sharing businesses, should companies like Uber, Lyft, and now Waze be responsible for their "employees" and their actions? Waze for instance is adopting an extremely low pricing model that skirts much of existing regulation (2). How should the government approach regulating this new market? Lastly, who do you think will win out?

(2) Quartz
(3) Telegraph
(4) Verge

CIA Torture Report Drama: Watchdog Agency "Accidentally" Destroys Report

News has recently surfaced that the CIA Inspector General "mistakenly" destroyed its only copy of the Senate torture reports last summer (1). According to IG, the report was accidentally destroyed both physically and digitally due to a miscommunication. As of now, the only copy of the over 6700-page report lies with the CIA itself, the very agency that the report heavily scrutinizes.

A destroyed hard-drive.
Source: MTC Recyclers

The torture report concerns the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, which was enacted as part of the war on terror. The report details the CIA's use of torture on suspected terrorists, and calls into question both its efficacy and legality. 

Though a 500-page summary of the report was released to the public in late 2014, many of its details still remained classified. Whether or not the entirety of the report should be made public is still an ongoing point of contention (2), though federal judges have recently exempted it from disclosure laws (3).

Though both the news media and Congress have questioned the nature of this "accident," the mistake has been made and there is little use in pointing fingers. The underlying concern is that of effectively overseeing the CIA. Since the War on Terror, the capabilities of intelligence agencies have greatly increased, resulting in abuses as documented in the Senate reports. How can Congress effectively oversee these organizations moving towards the future? Keep in mind that oversight and transparency efforts were obviously inadequate during the height of the war on terror. 

In addition, do you think the Senate reports should be made public? Would keeping such information private set a dangerous precedent for the future? Withholding information from the public may result in clueless constituents electing representatives which have different interests in mind.

(2) Salon
(3) Fox

Monday, May 16, 2016

Supreme Court dodges major decision on Obamacare birth control

Supporters of insurance coverage for birth control rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in March.
Today, the Supreme Court was unable to decide a case about Obamacare's mandatory birth control coverage. The Court handed the case down to lower courts.

Since Scalia's death earlier this year, the court has been split 4-4 liberal to conservative, so the justices decided they couldn't make a decision. This move to send the case down to lower courts may mean that they hope those courts will come up with some sort of compromise.

What do you think of all this? Do you think it was a good idea for the Supreme Court to send the case to lower courts? With so many other courts making decisions, what do you think will come out of this? Finally, do you think the Supreme Court will take the case again sometime?


Private Discussion on a Synthetic Human Genome Raises Ethical Concerns

Last Tuesday, a group of 150 scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs met in private at Harvard University to discuss plans for a synthetic human genome. The discussion was directed at achieving the goal of "[synthesizing] a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of 10 years" (1).

The meeting was kept closed to the media and the public, as indicated by internal communications. This move was criticized by members of the synthetic biology community, who argued that the organizers were privatizing an issue with moral implications for all of society (1, 2). These critics pointed out that building a human genome from scratch not only involves science and technology, but also ethics. For instance, if such technology were available, who would have the right to use it, and in what circumstances?

DNA Sequence. Source: Harvard Medical School

The organizers of the event later stated that the meeting was originally intended to be open. However, an article that was submitted by the primary researchers on the subject-matter was yet unpublished, so the organizers did not want to publicize any unofficial claims (3).

Though the details of the meeting are still being with-held, the event itself does bring up many interesting questions. Human experimentation is one area of science that has been heavily regulated by the United States government. However, research into human genetics has generally escaped such regulation due to the cutting-edge nature of its research. As human genetic research continues to progress and gene editing and synthesizing become cheaper and widely accessible, should the government establish firmer regulation on human genome research? Which part of the bureaucracy would have the technical knowledge and ethical authority to make such regulation? And as scientific research is inherently a global endeavor, how can policy be applied internationally?

(1) Cosmos Magazine
(2) Center for Genetics and Society
(3) Washington Post
(4) New York Times
(5) Gizmodo

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Delegate dispute at Nevada Democratic Convention

Yesterday night, the Nevada Democratic Convention ended with 20 pledged delegates won by Hillary Clinton, and 15 by Bernie Sanders. A dispute over delegate rules led to a raucous evening that brought in law enforcement. Complaints from Sanders supporters were as follows:

  • The convention rules were unfavorable for Sanders
  • A large number of Sanders delegates (in the range of 50-70, enough to sway the majority) were disqualified and unable to appeal for various reasons, including not registering with the Democratic Party by the May 1 deadline and missing personal information
Sanders supporters called for recounts and appeals, both of which were declined due to the event being past its scheduled end time for the day. Due to Sanders supporters remaining in the venue after the end of the convention, law enforcement was called in to evict them.

Convention and election rules being unfavorable to Sanders is nothing new, so the news of the convention in Nevada is not particularly surprising. Exactly how much corruption is at work here is pretty questionable in my eyes, and Clinton's lead is still large enough that the few delegates that could have gone the other way here would not have made much of a difference. Sanders just isn't pulling the large majorities he needs to win the nomination at this point.

When is it OK for convention attendees to defy authority and raise a ruckus? Are election rules rigged to benefit establishment candidates? What should Sanders do with his campaign to best benefit the country?

Washington Post

Saturday, May 14, 2016

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela during a meeting with ministers in Caracas on Friday
Yesterday, U.S. intelligence officials announced that they believed Venezuela to be on the verge of total collapse. This week, there were numerous confrontations and clashes between the police and citizens over food shortages, power blackouts, and political gridlock. Even with Obama claiming that U.S. and Latin American relations are doing well, the U.S. was never comfortable with the leftist revolution that started twenty years ago. With the impending doom of a major Latin American country, these U.S. intelligence officials claim that they are no longer actively trying to undermine the leftist government, and are instead more concerned with stabilizing the country, no matter who's in charge. Even with the opposition party's victories in the parliament and the public outrage to oust President Nicolas Maduro like Brazil's President Rouseff, the leftist party still controls much of the government, and the opposition doesn't seem disciplined enough.

So, one outcome is that the opposition continues petitioning for impeachment given this year's recall referendum failure. Another is a "palace coup," in that government officials oust Maduro with help from the military, or an outright military coup. How do you think this ordeal will end? Do you believe there is an alternate solution for Venezuela's problems? Should the U.S. step in the help, and how?

Washington Post
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times

Chicago mayor to replace police review board with more independent watchdog

Today, the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, decided that the city's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was no longer trustworthy, having former police officers and contradict their own findings in investigations into police violence. The mayor, under the advisement of a task force, decided to form a new independent watchdog to get minority groups to trust the police again. This decision also came as a result of the protests against police related killings over the past two years. The mayor hopes that the new group will provide better oversight over the city's police force. The plan will be presented to the City Council on June 22nd, and will decide on whether or not to enact the plan. Do you believe that this change will help reduce and stop police related killings and brutality? Is there something else the city of Chicago can do to further mitigate this issue?

CBS Chicago
IPRA Website

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trump and Ryan issue joint statement after meeting

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan met this morning at RNC headquarters in Washington D.C. Following their meeting, they issued the following joint statement:

"The United States cannot afford another four years of the Obama White House, which is what Hillary Clinton represents. That is why it’s critical that Republicans unite around our shared principles, advance a conservative agenda, and do all we can to win this fall. With that focus, we had a great conversation this morning. While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground. We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there’s a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall, and we are totally committed to working together to achieve that goal. We are extremely proud of the fact that many millions of new voters have entered the primary system, far more than ever before in the Republican Party's history. This was our first meeting, but it was a very positive step toward unification."

Ryan has said before that he would step down as convention chair if Trump asked, but it appears they have reached some sort of understanding. Trump's campaign has been divisive for the Republican Party, with many hoping for a different candidate to be named when the national convention comes around in July. Notably, despite speaking of unity, Ryan has yet to endorse Trump. Their joint statement and Ryan's press conference downplayed their differences and focused on "common ground," ignoring Trump's foreign policy among other core issues. 

It's hard to say whether or not the Republican Party will be able to truly rally behind Trump as their candidate, but Ryan's willingness to compromise is a good sign for Trump. What are your thoughts on the positive tone of this joint statement? Will Ryan and other Republican leaders truly be able to work with a President Trump? Can Trump reach a compromise with party leadership? Will the party rally behind him in July, or search for another candidate?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Just when you thought things couldn't get weirder

 It seems that the producers of the History Channel are not the only people who are fascinated with extraterrestrial life. Hillary Clinton, who recently lost the primary in West Virginia, has struggled to gain the support of younger voters among other subgroups. Aside from adjusting her position on health care, Clinton has attempted to get closer to potential voters by altering her other strategies. A recent article by the New York Times noted Clinton's repeated acknowledgement of potential extraterrestrial life and her promise to make government files about Area 51 and other ET related material public. Interestingly, Clinton's mentions of ET have been on talk shows or radio shows. Many have attributed this to her campaign chairman John Podesta, who apparently has a great interest in ET. Some believe that Clinton's acknowledgement of ET will help her gain the support of potential voters who also hold such a belief. Furthermore, Podesta, who claims that his biggest failure while working under Obama was not getting the papers published, states that he will hold Clinton accountable for her promises once she reaches office.
Clinton apparently has a "past" with ET related business -- or at least in pop culture (Weekly News)
 What do you think this piece of news indicates about the current electoral process and the standards of the media? Do you believe that Clinton's actions count as obvious pandering or something else that is lighter? In regards to Podesta, how big a role do you think someone associated with the campaign should have during the hypothetical term following a candidate's successful election? What types of issues should a candidate be invested in, and where does the candidate draw the line between absurdity and unique concerns?

Huffington Post

Facebook allegedly censoring conservative news

A former Facebook worker recently told a Tech blog called Gizmodo that Facebook routinely suppresses conservative news from appearing on the trend bar on Facebook. Reportedly, the workers were told to falsely "inject trending articles" or news on the side bar even though conservative news was actually trending. Examples of suppressed news include the accusation of Lois Lerner or the murder of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. While the process of "injection" exists in order to allow "curators," or individuals who are responsible for writing the short descriptions and headlines on the sidebar, override the algorithm to include timely news, certain individuals have further alleged that Facebook told curators to inject news that typically was from liberal sources or to place events that were not trending on the sidebar. Others have alleged that Facebook greatly limits its curator's abilities to have company related news reach the sidebar, while others claim that the selection of articles or events on the sidebar are greatly affected by subjective standards based on which employee happens to be on a shift.

 Since Facebook attracts millions of views on a global scale, the alleged suppression of conservative news has many ramifications. Although there is no concrete evidence to support these claims, the possibility of the suppression is quite striking.

 Taking this into account, how do you think social media shapes public opinion and affects the distribution of news? In terms of the First Amendment, how would Facebook's alleged actions fair? How does Facebook's position as a company affect the theoretical ramifications of its alleged actions? Considering other social media platforms like Twitter, would the "injection" process be properly justified if it allowed Facebook to compete effectively with other companies? How would Facebook's alleged censorship affect the electoral process?

USA Today
Wall Street Journal
CNN Money

President Obama to visit Hiroshima this month

Japan Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and President Obama pose(
Following a G-7 summit this month, President Obama plans to visit Hiroshima, marking the first time a president from the United States has visited the site following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Just after the announcement of Obama's plans to visit, critics questioned the purpose of Obama's visit, and the conservative media has portrayed the trip to Hiroshima as an "apology tour." According to critics, the "apology tour" dampens the American name and allows adversaries to revel in America's relatively weakened stance. Such a label will not be a first for Obama's trips, as some of his visits during his first term to areas such as the Middle East were also criticized for the same reason. In response to the criticism, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communication wrote in a blog post (link attached below), "He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future."

 Objectively, Obama's visit will be symbolic and will elicit many emotions; however, Japanese authority have stated that Obama will be welcomed to Hiroshima. The Obama administration has stated that such a visit actually is in line with "Obama's emphasis to reduce the spread of nuclear arms" among other policies.

 Taking into account the role of the President in terms of foreign policy or as chief ambassador, what do you think of this situation? What should the role of the President be in this situation? How should the President approach this situation? Does the President's justification align with his role in dealing with foreign policy? What ramifications do you envision will result from the visit?

Washington Post
Ben Rhodes on Medium

Monday, May 9, 2016

North Carolina Sues Federal Government and Department of Justice

Picture of Gov. Pat McCroy of North Carolina(
In response to the Department of Justice, the governor of North Carolina has sued both the Federal Government and the Department of Justice over the state's bill, HB2, which requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex when in state facility. In addition, the law prevents local authorities from passing their own form of anti-discriminatory laws. Previously, the Department of Justice condemned North Carolina for HB2, as it viewed the law as discriminatory to transgender individuals and as a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX provisions. Fighting back, the governor of North Carolina has sued the Federal Government and the Department of Justice. The governor claims that the bill is not discriminatory since all employees are required to use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex and that "transgender status is not a protected class under Title VII." Furthermore, the governor believes that the DOJ's interpretation of the Civil Rights Act and its action against North Carolina's bill was an overreach.

What do you think about this situation? Does the governor from North Carolina have any legitimate points? In other words, do you believe that the Department of Justice's actions were an overreach? If not, why do you believe the Federal Government's actions were in line with the intent of the Civil Rights Act? Considering the 10th amendment or the Supremacy Clause, how would you view this situation? How do you think the government should proceed?


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Kasich and Cruz drop out of presidential race

Following the Indiana Republican Primary this week, Ted Cruz announced the conclusion of his campaign, and soon after, John Kasich followed suit, leaving Donald Trump as the only remaining candidate for the Republican party. Although many people previously considered having a contested convention, it seems unlikely that that will happen.

Given that many people have reservations about Donald Trump's candidacy, what do you think the GOP should do going forward? Is the Stop Trump movement in line with democratic values? Do you think the current situation a result of the structure of the political system? How do you think voter turnout has affected the current situation?

RIP Ted Cruz and John Kasich  (Politico)
Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Felons' Voting Rights in Virginia

Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia restored the voting rights of more than 200,000 convicted felons. His executive order will "will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote." McAuliffe's action will mostly affect African-Americans who mainly support the Democratic Party, McAuliffe's party. "Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life." One of every four African Americans in Virginia "has been permanently banned from voting because of laws restricting the rights of those with convictions." McAuliffe claims that his actions are meant to make up for the history of horrible treatment of American-Americans in relation to voting rights. In the upcoming presidential election, these registered felons will be allowed to vote.

McAuliffe intends to continue to restore the right to vote to felons as they are released. He argues that this renewed right will encourage more felons to become good citizens.

There has been opposition to McAuliffe's actions as there is a "blanket restoration of rights," so "the order includes those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape." A candidate for attorney general argues against this executive order stating that it is unfair that a murder will have these rights when the murder victim no longer does.

Based on what I have read so far, I do not think that there should be a "blanket restoration of rights." When restoring the right to felon to vote, I think that their crimes should be taken into consideration, even though they have completed their sentences.

What do you think of this executive order?
Should felons be allowed to vote after they completed their sentences or did they sacrifice their rights forever after committing crimes?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Currency

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew proposed drastic changes to the depictions on the $20, $10, and $5 bills.

Black abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman would replace slave holding former president Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill, and Jackson would be moved to the back of the $20. "Tubman would be the first woman so honored on paper currency."

Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of the $10 bill as the father of modern economics, but the back would feature the 1913 march for women's suffrage, including the women's suffrage leaders like Susan B. Antony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.

Abraham Lincoln will remain on the front of the $5 bill, and the back of the $5 will show Martin Luther King Jr.,  Eleanor Roosevelt, and black opera singer Marian Anderson, "who famously snag on steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939," in honor of the civil rights movement.

The new designs of the bills will be released in 2020 and will not go into circulation until a decade later.

There is some controversy over these changes considering that Harriet Tubman is replacing Andrew Jackson when she was a slave and he was a slaveholder. Also, some think it is ironic that a former slave is appearing on money when she was once bought with it.

Some women are pushing for more representation of women in prominent places on the bills. Previously, Lew stated that a women would appear on the front of the $10 bill, but it is unclear if that is the plan anymore. Some very successful women wrote a letter to the treasury stating that it would be “a major blow to the advancement of women” if that is not true.

What do you think about the new depictions on the proposed currency?
Do you agree that there should be more images of women on the bills?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fatal Police Officer Shooting Sentencing

Former New York Police Officer Peter Liang was not sentenced to serve any prison time for fatally shooting unarmed Akai Gurley accidentally in an unlit Brooklyn housing project stairwell two years ago. Instead, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun gave him five years of probation and 800 hours of community service as it was declared that the act was unintentional.

"Liang said a loud noise surprised him and his gun accidentally fired." Mr. Gurley was killed by a ricochet bullet form Mr. Liang's gun while Liang was on patrol with his partner. "In February, a jury convicted him of manslaughter and official misconduct, rejecting his testimony that the gun had simply gone off in his hand and finding that he had failed to help Mr. Gurley as he lay dying on a fifth-floor landing." Liang and his partner were unaware anyone had been shot as they reported the discharge of the gun to their superior. Neither of the officers knew CPR when they discovered the injured Mr. Gurley.

The shooting was ruled an accident and the judge reduced the jury's verdict of manslaughter to a less severe criminally negligent homicide charge. Initially, Liang had been facing 15 years in prison. This case is politically influenced as it took place in Brooklyn where there are concerns over police accountability, specifically in black neighborhoods. Mr. Gurley was of African American descent. "It is rare for police officers even to be charged and brought to court in shooting cases." "Liang was the first NYPD officer in more than a decade convicted of an on-duty killing. Critics of the verdict said Liang had been offered up as an Asian scapegoat while for years white officers had done worse and gotten away with it." Outside of court, black protesters supported the Gurley family while Chinese protestors supported Liang.

Akai Gurley's family was severely distraught over the verdict claiming, “There is no justice! Akai Gurley’s life didn’t matter!” However, Mr. Liang did apologize to the victim's loved ones saying, “The shot was accidental....My life has forever changed.”

Mr. Thompson, Brooklyn's first black district attorney, who "vowed to owed to bring a heightened sense of social justice to the borough’s communities of color," "issued a letter recommending that Mr. Liang should not serve time in prison. The letter referred to Mr. Gurley as “a completely innocent man who lost his life for no reason,” but also said Mr. Liang had no prior criminal history and posed no threat to public safety."

Based on what I have read so far, I think that Liang's sentence was just. Police officers risk their lives on the job and will need to react when their lives are in danger. He did not intentionally kill Mr. Gurley and is still being punished. Moreover, he lost his job and the event changed his entire life.

Do you support Liang's sentence for fatally injuring Mr. Gurley? If not, what would you change?
Do you think that police officers should be more severely punished for accidental killings while on duty?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Earthquake in Ecuador

An earthquake with 7.8 magnitude hit Portoviejo, Ecuador on this last Saturday. At least 413 people died and more than 2,500 people were injured in this natural disaster. It left much destruction in its wake, taking out highways, buildings, and electricity. Aid workers from around Latin American and Europe and private organizations came to help. The Spanish Red Cross predicted between 3,000 to 5,000 people became homeless due to the earthquake. People everywhere are searching for their loved ones. The Ecuadorian military was also brought in to search for survivors.

Additionally, the United Nations refugee agency plans to bring in an airlift to help those affected by the earthquake. The European Union gave 1 million euros to contribute to humanitarian aid for the victims. Moreover, 180 inmates escaped through a hole left in the El Rodeo state prison due to the earthquake. Fortunately, approximately 30 were recaptured by today. The biggest problem is the lack of water and food.

Additionally, in the past few weeks, there have been some other major earthquakes in Japan, India, and Myanmar. "Seismologist Roger Bilham from the University of Colorado told Express, more than half the Indian landmass was ripe for a major quake that could cause massive damage." This is not so different than our situation here in California. We are due for a gigantic earthquake that has not happened yet. It was predicted that we would have one last year, but it did not come. "Seismologists continue to predict dangerous quakes for large parts of California whose populous cities are situated over major fault lines."

Are we prepared as a country/state for a major earthquake? Do you think that there is anything we (The United States) can do or should we just let nature take its course?
Is there a governmental policy you would implement for these types of natural disasters?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cult Follower Seeks Parole after Serving Time for Murder

Leslie Van Houten parole hearingLeslie Van Houten is seeking parole for the 21st time since her conviction for the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. She was a follower of the cult leader Charles Mason. These murders took place in 1969 the day after the same cult murdered the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four other people. Van Houten did not participate in those killings. Van Houten was retried twice for her crimes of murder and conspiracy. No other members of the Manson cult have been given parole.

The Board of Parole Hearings will consider her case and if they approve it, Governor Jerry Brown will ultimately decide if Van Houten will be awarded parole.

While Van Houten has been in prison, she obtained a college degree and has been cited as a model prisoner. It has been claimed that Van Houten was under Manson's influence because of her parents' divorce and the abortion her mother had her have at the age of fourteen. Otherwise, she was portrayed as a homecoming queen who came from a good family.

At the time of the murders, Van Houten was nineteen years old and the youngest member of the cult. She held down the victim, Rosemary LaBianca while another cult member stabbed her, and then she herself stabbed the victim at least 14 times after she was dead.

Van Houten's attorney said, "The only violent thing she has ever done in her entire life was this crime and that was under the control of Charles Manson...She is just not a public safety risk, and when you are not a public safety risk, the law says you shall be released." Moreover, her attorney stated, "Since 1980, there were 18 different doctors who did psychiatric evaluations of her. Every single one found she was suitable for parole."

Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, opposes Van Houten's parole, saying "she failed to show remorse for years after the crimes and can't be trusted."

Based on what I have read so far, I do not think that Van Houten should be released on parole. She was an adult at the time of the murders and should be responsible for her actions, even if she was in a cult. While she may not have been the first one to stab Rosemary LaBianca and kill her, she did stab her many times after and participated in the killings. I do not think that her good behavior in prison should absolve her from serving more time in prison. I do not believe that she is not dangerous as she participated in such vicious murders.

Do you think that Van Houten should be paroled? If so, why her and none of the other followers who have been denied parole?
Would you consider someone in a cult less guilty of murder than someone who acted alone? Should being under a cult's influence be considered in a inmate's sentencing, similar to pleading insanity?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Going Down in Flames

Wildfires used to be only during a certain season. Now, because of global warming, they are much more frequent and occur earlier and later in the year, in some places almost year around. This is a result of climate changes as there are drier winters and warmers springs making fires more likely to start. Additionally, the forests in which the fires start are too dry and overgrown creating much more risk.
"The 10.1 million acres that burned in the United States last year were the most on record, and the top five years for acres burned were in the past decade." Last year's federal costs to fight wildfires was $2 billion, which as more than eight times the amount in 1985.

Hawaii is an example of a state that is desperate need of more federal funding to fight wildfires. They ran out of money four whole months before the busiest time of year for wildfires. One way the United States Forest Service is trying to fight this drastic problem is by minimizing the risk, like planned burns of overgrown areas of forest.

Only this year, Arizona has have nearly 300 fires that burned more than 21,000 acres, which is double the amount they have by this time last year.

The Washington State Legislature asked "for an extra $24 million to train more firefighters, put more equipment into the hands of local fire districts and help homeowners clear brush from their properties. He got $6.7 million." This is a severely lacking amount when wildfires could spread an wipeout  whole counties.

"Some argue that fires should be left to take their natural course and clear out the thick, dry brush on the forest floor." This is a problem because due to the advanced technology that exists many more people are moving into wild lands. They are able to work anywhere with the internet. “More and more, fire crews are pulling back, willing to sacrifice land for safety.”
Some people want to cut cost for firefighting, which seems like a really bad idea.

I believe that a good course of action would be to restrict more people from moving into dangerous areas in isolation with high risk of wildfires. The government should continue to increase the budgets to fight wildfires as it is a matter of people's safety and they need to find a way to decrease the number of fires, if possible. Environmental protection is also important. It takes a long time for forests to grow back and each fire destroys the earth. We only get one earth to live on. I believe that the environmental protection and the safety of the public is a top priority.

Do you think that the government should spend more money on fighting wildfires? Can they do more and should they?
Do you believe that purposely burning the forest is the best solution as it causes more damage to the ozone layer and earth as a whole?
What type of policy would you implement to battle these fires?
Do you think that more regulation of people in wildfire areas will help stop the vast number of fires?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recreational Marijuana

MarijuanaMarijuana is a drug made from the cannabis plant. Under new legislation in the state of California, marijuana businesses will be allowed to sell the drug for profit, and the farmers will be able to grow an unlimited amount of plants. This legislation is expected to take effect in 2018 if it is passed by voters this coming November.

There would be a "state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15% of sales price, and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves." However, medical marijuana would be excluded from some taxes. Only adults would be allowed to use marijuana recreationally.

The new industry of marijuana will be very large scale with massive amounts of farming.
Marijuana is considered part of the hippie culture of California, but small businesses may be pushed out by larger corporations. The annual tax revenue from marijuana is predicted to be millions, and the profits for companies in California are predicted to be much larger than those of the states already allow recreational use, Colorado and Washington. "Medical marijuana sales in California hit $2.7 billion last year, accounting for nearly half of all legal marijuana sales in the country."

The Southern California desert's property value has tripled as people rush to purchase land where marijuana growth is permitted. However, banks are forbidden from doing business with marijuana companies.

Based on what I have read so far, I think that the passing of this new legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults will be beneficial for our economy. It will create a new industry and a new source of revenue for the government. Adults are expected to be responsible for themselves, so they should be able to decide if they want to use marijuana recreationally. I think it is similar to the situation with tobacco. Only adults can purchase it and there will be higher taxes on it. I do not think that it will endanger society if it the legislation was to be passed because people can already get it on the black market. Also, its legalization may lead to less usage of marijuana, for non medical purposes, as the lack of the illegal factor takes away some thrill. Moreover, the legalization may decreased the number or people arrested for possession of it, thus decreasing the overcrowded prison problem.

Do you believe that the new legislation legalizing recreational marijuana is a good thing?
Are California's efforts to end the black market for marijuana valid or do you believe that the new legislation with make the drug more destructive to the general public?
With the predicted widespread use of marijuana come true and persist for decades to come or is it simply a fad that will evaporate?
Will you vote yes to allow recreational use of marijuana?,_Regulate_and_Tax_Adult_Use_of_Marijuana_Initiative_%282016%29

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Threat of the Zika Virus

This file photo shows an Aedes Aegypti mosquito photographed on human skin in a laboratory of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia.

The most recent outbreak of the Zika virus erupted in Brazil a year ago. It is carried through mosquitoes and has been connected to birth defects and neurological problems in adults and infants. Death is rare, and only one fifth of infected people have symptoms, including mild fever, red and soar eyes, headache, joint pain, and rashes.

President Obama requested $1.8 billion dollars earlier this year to fund research to help fight the virus, but even more money is now needed to continue searching for vaccines and treatments.
Puerto Rico is one country infected with the virus that is in need of a solution as its number of cases double weekly. Moreover, it was discovered that the Zika virus can be transmitted sexually and not through a mosquito bit.

On the other hand, some researches claim that the outbreaks in Europe and the United States are "likely to be small and short-lived." It is predicted that a "vast majority of cases is a mild viral disease."

As we approach spring and summer, the mosquito population will grow to be much larger. Southern Europe is the home to a bread of mosquito that have the capacity to spread the virus but have not done so yet. Experts believe that there is no imminent risk to Europe because of this.

One serious consequence of the Zika virus is if infected blood were donated to a blood bank and distributed. This could cause the virus to spread even more to other people or countries.
In conclusion, scientists know little about the severity of the disease and the implications to follow.

I think that the government should work towards ending the virus as much as they can. Because it can cause birth and brain defects it is a very serious problem. Through the defects the virus will effect the world for a long time. Since it is transferable though sexual contact, it is pretty serious as people can spread it unknowingly because most people do not suffer from symptoms. I think the mystery of the virus calls for more caution as it may cause even more dire symptoms in addition to brain and birth defects.

Do you believe that the government should allocate more money towards working to end the virus outbreak?
Does the fact that Zika is transmittable through sexual contact make the virus more serious than before?
Would you consider this virus to be a serious risk to the public, even though it does not cause death?
Does the mystery of the effects of the virus call for more or less caution?
Should the privacy of passengers of airplanes be sacrificed in the name of screening for people infected with the virus?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

US Navy Lt. Commander Charged with a lot of Espionage

About 8 months ago, Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin of the U.S. Navy was arrested on suspicion of espionage on this past Friday, April 8th, he was "charged with two counts of espionage, three counts of attempted espionage and five counts of communicating defense information."
Lt. Cmdr. Lin
Mr. Edward Lin was native born in Taiwan and moved to the United States at the age of 14.  He worked with the EP3-E Aries II signals intelligence aircraft, according to Reuters, and reportedly shared information with his home country of Taiwan or even China, but it was reportedly still under investigation.  Lin was also charged with one count of prostitution and one count of adultery.  

Same dude.

The details of the case have not been released but Mr. Lin's position in the Navy and his activities could cost a lot of jail time.  The last big case of espionage in the Navy was when John Anthony Walker was sentenced to three life sentences back during the Cold War in 1985.  He led an operation that sent information to the Soviet Union and it was considered one of the biggest security breaches of the Cold War.  What do you think should be done with treasonous U.S. Military officials?  Is there a difference between wartime espionage (or quasi wartime) and peacetime espionage?  Does it depend on the information being leaked or should all types of spying be punished harshly?  Is this hella hypocritical for the U.S. to crack down on spying when they spy on its citizens secretly (until Ed Snowden)?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert Allegedly Abused 4 Boys

On Friday, April 8th, federal prosecutors detailed sexual abuse allegations against Dennis Hastert, who was the Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, saying that he abused at least 4 boys when he worked as a wrestling coach in the 1960s and 1970s.

Source: NPR
Since the statute of limitations on these cases has expired, Hastert will not face any charges for the sexual abuse. Investigators say they found out about these incidents when Hastert was accused of structuring money transactions to avoid reporting. They then discovered that these transactions involved $3.5 million dollars that Hastert was paying to one of his accusers to keep quiet. He has already pleaded guilty for the financial violation, and his sentencing for this financial violation will take place on April 27th.

The sexual abuse occurred when Hastert worked as a wrestling coach at a high school in Illinois. All of those who accused him of sexual abuse were wrestlers at the school. Prosecutors say the "known acts" consisted of "intentional touching of minors’ groin area and genitals or oral sex with a minor" (NY Times). They also stated that "the actions at the core of this case took place not on the defendant's national public stage but in his private one-on-one encounters in an empty locker room and a motel room with minors that violated the special trust between those young boys and their coach" (CNN).

Hastert's attorney stated that Hastert is "deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others...He will stand before the court having deteriorated both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly in part due to public shaming and humiliation of an unprecedented degree" (CNN). Since Hastert is in poor health, his attorneys have asked for a sentence of probation for his financial violation, but prosecutors are seeking for six months of prison time and also want him to be evaluated as a sex offender. 

This case, as well as other recent sexual abuse cases in the past few years, has raised the debate over statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. There are statute of limitations for almost every crime, except crimes such as murder. Statute of limitations are designed to protect the defendant from outdated evidence, but others argue that for child sexual cases, it can take a long time for victims to grow up and realize what was committed against them.

Do you think the judge will consider the sexual abuse as a factor in the sentencing of the financial violation case, even though the statute of limitations are already up? 
Do you think the current statute of limitations for sexual abuse is appropriate, or should it be either shortened or lengthened?