Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ted Cruz Under Fire for Controversial Campaign Tactic

Ted Cruz is under fire for his use of a controversial campaign tactic. The ad that is pictured above, was paid for by the Cruz campaign and sent out to citizens in Iowa just a couple days before the first Caucus. As you can see, at the top in big bold letter it states "Voting Violation." The print below it states" You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors' are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. Caucus on Monday to improve your score and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday's caucuses."

The tactic has been criticized by a number of people, including Iowa state officials and his other opponents in the election. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate denounced this move and said it went against the spirit of the the election. Marco Rubio called it a strange move to bash on citizens so close to a caucus while Donald Trump tweeted against the move, stating The Cruz campaign issued a dishonest and deceptive get out the vote ad.

Ted Cruz responded quickly to the critique, stating that he will never apologize for trying to use every tool possible to encourage higher voter turnout . To me, I agree with Marco Rubio's sentiments that this seems like a strange tool to use so close before the first Caucus is scheduled. If I were to receive repeated notices by a politician highliting my poor voting history, it wouldn't make me really want to vote for them. Which makes this ironic, because there might be a higher voter turnout like Cruz wanted, but the response might be negative to Cruz because of this.

What are your thoughts? Is this a good 'get out to vote' tactic and would it influence your voting decisions at all?

New Satellite Network to Use Laser Communication Technology

Schematic of EDRS

On Friday, the European Space Agency launched the first component of a network of satellites called the European Data Relay Satellite (EDRS). The 500 million euro project uses laser communication technology to improve the transfer of images between Earth and other satellites.

Currently images are sent using radio waves. Through this method, it can take hours for a satellite to send data back to Earth. The speed at which data can be transmitted is particularly critical when dealing with emergencies such as natural disasters or illegal activities out at sea. Lasers. on the other hand, can shorten the time it takes to convey information down to approximately 20 minutes. With this improvement, monitoring events like oil spills, floods, and glacial movement will be made much easier. The data transfer is estimated to be around 1.8Gbps. (The average Internet speed in the U.S. is about 12 Mbps.)

Laser communications technology will become more and more important as we attempt to venture farther from Earth. The difference between 20 minutes and a few hours is already significant, but keep in mind that Earth and the satellites it communicates with are between 700 km and 35,000 km apart. Compare this with the minimum possible distance between the Earth and Mars (54 million km) and you can already start to see why long distance communication by radio waves might pose an issue. With lasers, more information can be transferred and at a faster rate.

The EDRS is an intriguing project which offers many potential benefits regarding space travel and exploration. What are your thoughts on this project? Should the U.S. invest in this kind of technology? What other applications are associated with laser communication? To what degree will the EDRS improve activities here on Earth?


Refugees in Germany Must Return Home After War, Says Merkel

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stated recently that all the refugees seeking asylum from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the rest of the Middle East must return to their home states during peacetime.

According to Reuters, she said: "We need ... to say to people that this is a temporary residential status and we expect that, once there is peace in Syria again, once IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you go back to your home country with the knowledge that you have gained."

Out of all the countries in the EU, Germany has received the most refugees. German officials, according to BBC, claim that over a million refugees have entered the country, with or without applying for asylum. It is difficult to know the exact number, since most of the immigrants enter illegally and over several major routes.

I think that Merkel should continue her open-door policy and try to encourage other countries to do the same. Of course, the political opposition will jump on every new story that paints a bad picture of the refugees and try to use it as evidence of her policy's failure, as they have in the past. Yet, if she cannot let refugees in now in the current state of emergency, the load will be spread out to the other countries and the problem will only grow worse.

What do you think? Should Germany change its open-door refugee policy? Is Merkel's "temporary residential status" far-fetched, or will it be effective? What's the next step in solving the refugee crisis?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Facebook "Guns Down" Sale of Firearms on Site

Gun control has been, and will continue to be, a major issue in the country. Many factors are involved, including who should be allowed to possess a firearm, what types of weapons should be allowed, and what can be done to prevent gun violence. The debate remains active among politicians, gun enthusiasts, and even social media companies.

Facebook has recently announced that it will ban gun sales on the website. This also applies to Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Previously, users had been able to market and sell guns to other users via Facebook's social media network. This had been made even easier with Facebook's addition of online transactions via Messenger.

Through Facebook it has been possible for licensed or unlicensed dealers to sell guns to people without having to deal with the current regulations regarding guns. Selling guns in this fashion therefore circumvents the process of background checks that are supposed to keep dangerous individuals from procuring these weapons. This is an obvious loophole that can be exploited by those who would not be allowed to obtain guns legally.

The ban mainly affects individuals who wish to sell their guns independently, as opposed to gun retailers who wish to advertise their goods. With Facebook's new restrictions on gun transactions, individuals, as well as retailers, can no longer sell guns on the site; however, retailers are not barred from promoting their business. Advertising is acceptable if transactions are made off the website.

Facebook's action is a further step towards ensuring guns stay out of the wrong hands, but how effective will it truly be? It will take more than one social media site to make significant progress with this matter?

What are your opinions regarding all of this? To what extent does this action prevent gun violence? Was this a good decision by Facebook, and should other companies follow suit?


Friday, January 29, 2016

Final GOP Debate Before Primaries

With the Iowa Caucuses coming up this Monday, the presidential candidates aim to do all they can to set themselves up for a win in Iowa. For many Republican candidates, this included the last GOP debate before the primaries, which occurred on Thursday.

Cruz, Rubio, Christie, Paul, Kasich, Bush, and Carson all took the stage on Thursday to solidify their positions on policy and attempt to sway those last undecided voters. The most publicized issue going into the debate was Trump's decision not to attend due to conflict with Fox, mainly debate moderator Megyn Kelly. The candidates did not hesitate to comment on that fact, with Bush saying he missed Trump, for "he was such a little teddy bear." Cruz gave his best Trump impression by satirically insulting fellow candidates based on issues from appearance to surgical abilities.

But the debate was not all fun and games. In fact, with Trump unable to dominate the stage with his personality and attacks on other candidates, those in attendance were able to express and develop some of their own ideas on policy. Bush, who had not shown as much success in prior debates, demonstrated his strengths through his discussion of immigration, advocating for pathways to citizenship rather than deportation. Paul, whose poll numbers have looked abysmal as of late, was able to give his opinions on criminal justice reform, controlling NSA surveillance, and auditing the Federal Reserve Bank so set him apart from the competition and hopefully give him a boost in the polls.

There was a considerable amount of criticism targeted toward Hillary Clinton. Whether it was Christie promising to "prosecute the case against Clinton" regarding her email scandal or Rubio slamming her statement that Obama would make a great Supreme Court Justice, the GOP candidates made it clear that Clinton is not fit to be president.

It does make sense to criticize Clinton, and not simply because she is a Democrat and not a Republican. With the primaries just around the corner, Republican voters need to decide on who will represent them in the general election, and Clinton is the most likely candidate to go up against the GOP. While the general election is not yet upon us, it is important to consider which Republican candidate has the best shot at defeating Clinton come November. Those who consistently compare themselves to Clinton show voters that the best way to ensure a Republican wins the general election is to vote for them. 

Who knows, maybe the candidates are trying to get voters to subconsciously imagine them as the nominee in some sort of attempt to hypnotize them into voting accordingly during the upcoming primaries. Carson, with his background in neuroscience, would know best. Perhaps that is why he looks so relaxed all the time.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Who performed well in the debate, and who did not? What were some of the more valid points made by the candidates? What effect did Trump's absence have on the debate and the candidates themselves?


Two Homeless People Killed in Seattle

On Tuesday, two homeless people were shot and killed in a homeless camp in Seattle, Washington. The Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray, had just declared a state of emergency over rising homelessness in the city. According to Capitol Hill Seattle, at least 45 homeless people died last year in Seattle.

Homelessness follows an interesting trend in the U.S. In the last 10 or so years, homelessness has been on a decline, with a reported 610,000 homeless people in 2013, compared to 763,000 in 2005. However, homelessness has been rising since the 1980s, when several government budgets for affordable housing were slashed. It also rose slightly after the 2008 recession.

I think we need to devote more resources towards creating affordable housing, such as Section 8 housing and other projects to help impoverished people have places to live. Since there are actually very few homeless people as a percentage of the population - only about 0.2% - this is actually a fairly feasible problem to tackle, when compared to a more widespread problem, like unemployment or poverty.

What do you think? How should we approach the problem of homelessness? Can we eradicate homelessness? Will it require us to solve larger problems first (In other words, is homelessness just a symptom of a larger problem)? 

Wounded Warrior Project Controversy

Some extremely troubling news has come out recently exposing the spending habits of the people in charge of the Wounded Warrior Project. CBS news published a three part story, where numerous numbers of former employees contended that WWP spending was very wasteful. Appalling stories of lavish parties, 5 star hotel stays, and first class travels were revealed. In response, Ryan Kules who is the WWP Director of Alumni denied that excessive spending was happening and any accommodations such as dinner parties were a tool used to team bonding and building unity across his members.

However, the most troubling issue that's been brought up is how much money does the foundation actually donate to its veterans. Since its introduction, the Wounded Warriors Project has been the top foundation for veteran help. It also has the backing of huge corporate sponsors such as the NFL, Bank of America, and Under Armor amongst others. In 2014 alone they raised over 300 million dollars in donations. In the CBS report, it was stated that only 60% of their accumulated donations were actually given back to veteran service. However, it is fair to state that the WWP has vehemently denied this number, stating that it is actually around 80 percent. Whether it is 60 or 80 percent, that number is still the lowest out of the other top veterans foundations in the country. The Injured Marine Semper Fi fund donates 92 percent, The Fisher House Foundation donates 91 percent, and Disabled American Veterans donates 96.5 percent.

I know that there are many people in our class that are interested or have donated funds to charities in the past. I think its vital to do background research on said charities and whether they are actually accomplishing their stated goals. A couple of great tools to use that I've learned about are and that rate and review numerous charities and highlight their spending expenses.

What is your initial reaction to this story? Have any of you ever donated to the Wounded Warriors Project and if so, would you again? On a broader note, when asked about this during last nights Republican debate, Jeb Bush said that the federal government should be involved in policing these types of charities. What do you think the Federal government's role should be in regulating these issues?

Walmart Closing Over 200 Stores

Walmart, a huge retailer both in the U.S. and abroad, is planning to close 269 stores, after offering extreme discounts (50-75%) at these stores.

They have cited a loss in sales due to competition from online retailers, especially Amazon. According to the New York Times, "Amazon accounted for almost a quarter of all retail sales growth last year." This closure will result in an estimated 10,000 people losing their jobs.

Given that Walmart employs a whopping 2.1 million people, 1.4 million of which are in America, and has over 4,000 stores in the U.S. alone, this isn't an enormous hit for them, but it could signify a greater change in the future.

This also brings up the conversation of how little Walmart pays their workers. Their company minimum is $9/hour, which is above federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour), but still too little to live on. I think Walmart should pay their workers more - they plan to raise their company minimum to $10/hour in February, but this still isn't enough. There is some give in how much they can raise their workers' salaries without changing their business model, but I'm not sure how high they can actually raise their worker's wages before it starts interfering with their customers. According to Business Insider, Walmart is profiting 15 billion dollars a year, and more of this money should be going towards the employees. After all, Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, made $19 million last year.

Do you think competition from online retailers will make warehouse brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart irrelevant, or do you think Walmart can adapt to these changes? Should Walmart try to pay their workers more, and if so, how?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Traffic Stop Ends in Violence; Oregon Protesters Involved

Ammon Bundy speaking

On Tuesday night, a traffic stop in Oregon took a violent turn, leaving one man dead. 8 others were arrested, all of whom belonging to a militia which has occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since January 2.

The armed militia originally took control of the federal property in protest of the 5-year sentences of two ranchers charged with the crime of burning federal property. At first, the two men were to be sentenced to the 5-year minimum for their crimes, but the judge decided that would be too harsh a sentence. He instead sentenced one man to three months and the other to one year in federal prison. However, the federal government appealed to elongate the sentences to the minimum of 5 years, eventually winning.

Outraged by the treatment of these men, Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy began protesting online, ultimately going to the ironically-named city of Burns to assemble even more supporters.

However, the militia’s protest extends to a more broad issue. The federal government currently owns a majority of land in western states such as Nevada and Oregon, which presents numerous problems to ranchers, who require large amounts of land. For example, ranchers must pay grazing fees in order to use federally-owned land to raise cattle.

Bundy’s father has previously spoken out against governmental control over these land. Ammon Bundy’s militia now demands that western land be given back to local communities.

Incidentally, one of the people arrested on Tuesday was Ammon Bundy, the leader of the protest. While the protests continue, it is questionable that the protest may endure for much longer. Without a leader, and with one member killed, the future of the protest is left to be decided.

My questions for you are as follows:

Does Bundy raise a valid question? Should the federal government relinquish land to local communities?
Did Bundy and his supporters act reasonably by taking the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, or was this too extreme?
Taking into account that an armed militia was involved, should weapons be used in any form of protest? Does the use of weapons help or hurt the cause? How should authorities deal with protests involving weapons?


Trump will not Attend Fox's Republican Debate

On Tuesday Donald Trump announced his plans to boycott the Republican Debate scheduled for Thursday the 28th. This came as a surprise to some, as the debate provides a final opportunity to build momentum into the Iowa caucus that is only a week away. Trump is instead planning to hold a fundraiser that day for the Wounded Veterans Foundation.

This has been building up for months and is not the first time Trump has threatened to boycott a debate. Trump threatened to boycott the Dec 15th CNN debate unless CNN made a 5 million dollar donation to Wounded Veterans. Eventually CNN called his bluff and he still attended without the donation made.

His threats seems serious this time as the conflict between he and FOX news has risen greatly. The conflict all stems from the August FOX news debate, where Trump felt debate moderator Megyn Kelly was out of line with her questioning of Trump's views on women. Since then, Trump has attacked her on many occasions, even calling her a "third-rate reporter." After the announcement that Kelly would again moderate this upcoming debate, Trump immediately requested her removal. FOX has viciously defended Kelly and has even made some taunting remarks towards Trump questioning his overall political toughness. This has been repeated by the other GOP candidates such as Ted Cruz who questioned whether Trump could deal with tough leaders such as Vladimir Putin if he can't even handle a few tough debate questions.

The decision to not attend a debate that is so close to a caucus is unprecedented, however it is yet to be seen if this is a good strategy move for the Trump campaign. Conventional wisdom might say that this is the wrong move, highlighting weakness by appearing as if he can't handle tough questions. However nothing about the Trump campaign has been conventional and this move has allowed Trump to dominate the news cycle yet again. We learned the importance of winning news cycles in the War Room and this cycle will be taken by Trump just a few days before the first caucus.

My questions are do you think Trump's ability to not attend a debate yet still gain political advantage a reflection of the weakness of debates? How much do debates matter if the leading candidate can
choose when or if he wants to participate?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Record Breaking Blizzard hits the U.S

Over the past weekend a record breaking blizzard struck a majority of the east coast region. Immediately, viral vines and videos emerged of people skiing on the streets and time lapse videos capturing the enormous amounts of snowfall. As some may have initially celebrated the chance at days off and snowball fights, a majority of those effected had to then figure out how to deal with the ramifications of the biggest blizzard in years.

As of today, the death toll has reached 45 people spread out over the several states.A majority of these fatalities weren't due to the weather hazards, with many actually dying due to shoveling . Widespread efforts to shovel out the snow blocking many peoples cars, streets, and homes has led to authority figures coming out and warning against this hard exertion of labor, which can lead to possible heart attacks.

Economically speaking, the results of the Blizzard has been disastrous.1,500 flights were canceled on Monday the 25th, which was half the number of the flights canceled on Sunday. Various trains and subway stations throughout New York have been shut down and closed for days. The federal office buildings in D.C were shut down as well. The Blizzard also left tens of thousands of people throughout the east coast region without water and power for much of the weekend.

Several States declared a state of emergency, while leaders in various cities including the District of Columbia are applying for FEMA assistance and funding. While New York has been largely successful in dealing with the problems, clearing up snow extremely fast and opening many schools and offices, people in the poorer regions of the state such as Queens have complained over the lack of movement. Many of them say their streets are still buried and that the government funded snow plows haven't reached their neighborhoods. This is a problem in many other cities where government assistance is slow and streets are still blocked with snowfall. 

What do you think of these events? What do you think the federal and state government's role should be in assisting during times of natural crises and how can we ensure that smaller, poorer cities don't get left behind when it comes to government assistance?

Zika Virus Will Probably Spread to the U.S.

21 countries in the Americas have reported cases of the Zika virus. This recent outbreak is supposed to have started in May of last year, when the first cases were detected in Brazil, and is expected to spread all the way across the Americas, possibly even spreading as far north as New York and Chicago.

If you're wondering what the virus is, here's a brief description from the New York Times:
"The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted infection related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus. Although it was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is common in Africa and Asia, it did not begin spreading widely in the Western Hemisphere until last May, when an outbreak occurred in Brazil."

One of the more worrying symptoms of the virus is that it appears to cause a condition in infants called microcephaly. If a pregnant woman gets infected with Zika, her child can be born with an abnormally small head and brain, and even die.

Because the virus is rare, most people's immune systems are not prepared for it, allowing it to spread quickly across countries through new populations. We also do not have a vaccine for it yet, although scientists are beginning to develop one.

Some of the measures taken to try and prevent the further spread of the virus involve tackling its carriers, rather than the virus itself. If we can prevent a few certain types of mosquitoes from laying eggs and spreading, we can stop or slow the spread of the virus. Mosquitoes need still water to lay their eggs, so getting rid of open containers and putting larvicide in standing bodies of water can greatly diminish their breeding rate.

Unfortunately, there's not too much we can do right now. The virus is already here and spreading fast, and while we can try to slow down the spread, trying to develop a vaccine will take several years.

I think that we should take action to eliminate certain types of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can be genetically modified so that their offspring will die, or they pass on a gene that makes their offspring infertile. Genetically engineering massive amounts of mosquitoes and releasing them to kill off certain species of mosquitoes has been discussed for solving several tropical diseases and even the spread of malaria. The type of mosquito that spreads Zika also carries dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. Fighting the carrier of these diseases rather than the diseases themselves could be a very effective long-term solution to the current problem.

What do you think? What should the U.S. do in the face of this rapidly spreading disease, knowing that it will eventually come here? What other long-term solutions can we come up with to not only cure Zika, but prevent other diseases from spreading in this way?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Potential Parole for Juveniles with Life Sentences

The Supreme Court ruled that teens cannot be given a life sentence without a chance to gain their freedom.

The court was reviewing the case of Henry Montgomery, who killed a deputy in 1964 and received a life sentence. The court ruled 6-3 that teens should get a change at parole or resentencing despite the ruling of the court on their initial sentencing.

There was a similar case heard in 2012 by the Supreme Court and Justice Kagan said in the majority opinion that sentences must consider “the mitigating qualities of youth” (Al Jazeera). I believe that it is odd to treat people who are just under eighteen and just over eighteen slightly differently because of their age when they are pretty much equally able to make judgements about if they were doing something terrible or not. Furthermore, the definition of juvenile can vary from under sixteen to under nineteen depending on what state you are in. 

Do you believe that juveniles should be allowed a second chance if they committed murder? Do you think that there should be a national age limit for juvenile or should state continue to be allowed to define what this loose term means?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Biden to Attend Peace Talks in Geneva

Vice President Joe Biden will be attending a peace talk in Geneva on Monday to negotiate with Syria, Turkey, and several other countries on how to shut down ISIL. The talk will potentially be delayed past Monday due to the fact that the UN is trying to find an appropriate representative for the Syrian rebels.

Biden said, “We do know it would better if we can reach a political solution but we are prepared ..., if that's not possible, to have a military solution to this operation in taking out Daesh” (Al Jazeera). He said that if Syria was not willing to come to a peaceful resolution regarding ISIL, the United States and Turkey will consider mounting a military response.

During Obama’s state of the Union address that we discussed in class, Obama specifically mentions that the United States should not be the world’s peace force. Biden seems like he is potentially going against this sentiment in the peace talks. While he could mean that the United States is interested in giving support to Turkey in the form of money, weapons, and air strikes, it is interesting that troops may be deployed to yet another Middle Eastern country.

I think that the United States should stay out of the ISIL conflict. There are already many countries that ISIL has greatly upset and they will probably feel the impact of that with or without the United States being involved. It is probably more important at this point to protect ourselves domestically from potential attacks from extremists.

What do you think the United States should do to stop ISIL? How far is too far in our ‘policing’ role? Is Biden’s actions and Obama’s words conflicting or is one not being fully truthful?