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? 

Pope Francis Urges More Acceptance of Divorced Catholics

On Friday, April 8th, Pope Francis issued a document known as the "Amoris Laetitia," which is Latin for "The Joy of Love," where he called for priests to be less judgmental towards divorced Catholics, gays, and lesbians.
Source: New York Times
The document does not actually change any church laws or church doctrine on homosexuality, marriage, or birth control. In fact, the document still states that "the church cannot countenance same-sex marriages and unions" (New York Times), and that marriage between a man and a woman is still the Catholic ideal. However, it does urge more tolerance and acceptance. The Pope "emphasizes that "unjust discrimination" against gays and lesbians is unacceptable, downplays the idea of "living in sin" and suggests that priests should use their own discretion on whether divorced Catholics in new marriages can take Communion" (CNN).

This document comes after two synods, which are church councils of high-level bishops who come together to talk about these contentious issues. They discussed how the church should deal with people who are not living in accordance to the "Christian ideal of the intact, nuclear, family" (New York Times). The Pope has adopted some of the solutions discussed in these synods, including its solutions for divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to talk to priests in order to see how they can continue to participate in the Church.

Some believe that this is a good step in the right direction for the Church. However, some liberal Catholics do not believe that this has gone far enough, as the document still rejects same-sex marriages and unions. In addition, many conservative Catholics are concerned that this undermines Church values and could lead to a slippery slope.

How do you think this will affect the lives of Catholics around the world?
Do you think this document was a good move for the Catholic Church, or did it go too far, or not far enough?


Friday, April 8, 2016

ISIS Kidnaps Syrian Workers, Again

ISIS is pretty bad.  The conflicts in Syria between the Assad regime and ISIS have killed tens and thousands of civilians in recent years.  Today, April 7th, 2016, there were reportedly 300 hundred civilian workers that were kidnapped from a cement factory (seen below).
ISIS has been known to kidnap large numbers of workers and execute those who they believe are working with the Assad Regime.  Not only do they bring in hundreds to basically indiscriminately execute, but they also have been known to take women as sex slaves and kidnap for ransom.  

NPR says that the "extremists have faced setbacks as Assad's forces push the group further from the densely populated area around the capital," which could have caused them to seek actions like kidnapping.   "Syria's minister of industry says his office is working to free hundreds of workers."  The death toll in the year 2015 was mostly civilian and it should be cause for concern as the Islamic State is terrorizing innocent people.

After the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels, there haven't been many changes or new ways to combat these terrorists. There have been countless, covert U.S. airstrikes and a lot of controversy but not much direct and effective action.  I don't mean to post another "what do we do about ISIS" post, but what should we do about ISIS.  Do we interfere with activity in other countries in attempt to do the right thing?  Does our involvement in foreign affairs only get people and nations to hate us more (go out to find WMD's but kill thousands of civilians and turn out empty handed)?  Or is it a mistake to be stand by and watch a country to get it's stuff figured out over the course of nearly five bloody years?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

U.S. Clamps Down on Corporate Tax Inversions

On April 4th, the U.S. Treasury Department announced its plans to introduce new regulations that would discourage companies from planning corporate tax inversions. A corporate tax inversion is when a company based in the U.S. moves its corporate citizenship to a foreign country in order to get lower corporate tax rates. They usually do this by merging with a smaller, foreign company, so that they are able to change their tax address to the other country, while still having the majority of the company in the U.S.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the new rules would try to stop "companies that have engaged in multiple inversion transactions" by "disregarding three years of past mergers with U.S. corporations in determining the size of the foreign company. By subtracting the value of U.S. assets a foreign company had acquired, the foreign company would become smaller in relation to the U.S. company." Additionally, the new rules would try to stop a practice called "earnings strippings," which is when "the US arm borrows money from what is now its foreign parent and then sends large interest payments back overseas. This reduced profits declared in the US and increases the profits declared in the lower tax jurisdiction abroad" (The Irish Times).

This move is expected to impact the originally planned merger of Pfizer, an American based pharmaceutical company, and Allergan, an Irish based pharmaceutical company. Pfizer initially wanted to merge with Allergan in order to invert to Ireland to take advantage of their lower tax rates. Since the new rules would remove some of the planned tax benefits, it's unclear whether Pfizer and Allergan will still go through with the deal. 

Obama praised the new rules and called on Congress to take legislative action against corporate tax inversions, stating, "Only Congress can close it for good and only Congress can make sure that all the other loopholes that are being taken advantage of are closed" (CBS News). However, others believe that increasing regulations is not the right way to stop corporate tax inversions. Instead, they believe that the best method would be to lower the U.S. corporate tax rate, which would encourage companies to stay in the U.S. 

What impact do you think the new rules will have on corporate tax inversions, such as Pfizer's planned merger with Allergan? 
Do you think increasing regulations is the best method to stop corporate tax inversions, or is decreasing the corporate tax rate itself a better solution? 


France Cracks Down on Prostitution with Prosecution

From being a country that once had brothels, France is making some major progress in ending prostitution.  Just today, Wednesday April 6th, 2016, the French Parliament just passed some legislation that would penalize offenders with harsh fines or informational classes.
France is the country with the Eiffel Tower
In the United States, we have had laws that affected the customers as well as the facilitators and organizers accompanied to prostitution.  In California, it is a misdemeanor and a $1000 fine and a maximum of a year in prison.  In France they are fining first time offenders about $1,700 USD (1500 Euros) and more than doubling it for second-time offenders.  Offenders also have the option to take classes instead of paying the fines.

Some sex workers are in protest against the new legislation
This new bill repeals some unsuccessful, old legislation that punished prostitutes more harshly; it just encourage prostitutes to operate on the outskirts of town where there were less police, which created a more dangerous situation for them.  On top of that, France acknowledges that they can't just crack down on prostitution without getting prostitutes some help.  There are tens of thousands of sex workers in the country and they are attempting to provide fully funded training for prostitutes so that they are able to leave their past and make a living.

Do you think France is going about this the right way?  Should customers of prostitution be punished more or less severely?  What do you think about government funded therapy and training for ex-prostitutes?  Or is France's new approach just trimming the weeds?

The Most Interesting Congressman Ever

Duncan Hunter is probably the most savage United States representative in ever.  A recent development, from today April 6, 2016 showed that Mr. Hunter spent over $1300 of his campaign funds on video games.  He reportedly bought more than 50 video games through Steam, a digital video game distributor.  Hunter's spokesperson is arguing that it was Rep. Hunter's son, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did himself.  This is the same guy that vaped during the middle of a congressional hearing, here. says that this, mini scandal, "all came to light when someone noticed Hunter had listed $1,302 worth of Steam Games on his 2015 year-end financial discloser, along with a note that these were 'personal expense – to be paid back.' Not such a big issue (mistakes happen, after all), except for the fact that, three months into 2016, the funds had not been repaid."

Hunter represents California's 52nd district which covers the greater San Diego area.  He went to San Diego State and studied business, and one day after the attacks on 9/11, he quit his job and joined the Marines.  Not only did he serve in the Marine Corps, but he commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and was honorably discharged after being promoted to Major.  

Duncan (right)

What do you think about politicians misusing funds, even in relatively trivial and small instances?
Duncan is very young, much younger than the rest of his colleagues, do you think his behavior might just be a result of his age?  Is this guy not the most interesting rep in the country, or he is just irresponsible?

Tay Talks, a little too much

For those of you that haven't heard, Microsoft launched it's first social media AI (artificial intelligence) that was supposed to communicate like a teenage girl.  Tay is not the first of her kind but it may have been the most disastrous.
Tay was secretly launched by Microsoft on March 23rd, 2016, a couple weeks ago.  Tay was only up for the length of about a day before it was "suspended" by Microsoft after reaching some edgy conclusions.  Tay was  available to chat on Twitter, Kik and GroupMe, according to the washingtonpost.  Microsoft said that Tay was created to communicate like other 18-24 year olds.  Beyond being designed to talk like a teen girl, Tay said some offensive stuff:
That's not even the worst of it.  Tay had said a lot more nonsensical things that were taken down when they deleted the tweets but in her defense, she's a conscienceless algorithm.  The bot was designed for other people to "connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation," according to, would you engage in a conversation with some sort of artificial chat bot if you needed someone to talk to?  It's cheaper than a therapist.  Do you think having Tay designed to learn from its immature followers was a bad idea from the get-go?  Do we have place in our ever advancing, technologically drowned culture for people to have computer friends, or even computer arguments?  Or is it some kind of moral issue to create computer personalities?  (Have we learned anything from Will Smith in iRobot?)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cruz and Sanders Win Wisconsin Primaries

On Tuesday, April 5th, 2016, Wisconsin held both its Democratic and its Republican primaries. Although it was the only state to do so on this day, it was a critical state for both the Republican and the Democratic nomination races. Ted Cruz won the Republican contest, and Bernie Sanders won the Democratic contest.

As of 2:00 AM EDT, with 98% of the Republican precincts reporting, Ted Cruz won 48.3% of the votes, winning 33 delegates, and Donald Trump won 35.1% of the votes, winning 3 delegates. John Kasich won 14% of the votes, which was not enough to garner him any delegates. With 98% of the Democratic precincts reporting, Bernie Sanders won 56.4% of the votes, winning 45 delegates, and Hillary Clinton won 43.3% of the votes, winning 31 delegates.

Courtesy of the New York Times
This was Trump's most significant loss since the Iowa Caucuses, and many of Trump's opponents hope that this marks the beginning of Trump's decline. Cruz even told his supporters, "Tonight is a turning point...It is a rallying cry. It is a call from the hard-working men and women of Wisconsin to the people of America: We have a choice, a real choice" (New York Times). Cruz won 2/3 of "very conservative" voters as well as the majority of "somewhat conservative" voters. Additionally, when asked about Donald Trump, 58% of Republican primary voters "said they would be “concerned” or “scared” if he were elected, higher than the other two Republican hopefuls" (New York Times). However, Cruz still faces a large uphill battle, as Trump still has 740 delegates to Cruz's 514. Additionally, with Kasich still in the race, it could be difficult for Cruz to mobilize the entire non-Trump Republican base behind him.

On the Democratic side, this was Sanders's sixth straight victory, and Sanders supporters hope that he will be able to keep up the momentum in upcoming primaries. The Wisconsin primaries show Bernie's hold over young, white, and working-class voters, as well as voters who want someone honest and trustworthy, as 9/10 of voters believed Sanders was honest, compared to only 6/10 who said so for Clinton. However, Clinton still holds the lead in pledged delegates, as well as an overwhelming amount of the superdelegates. Additionally, Clinton won 7 out of 10 black voters in Wisconsin, and won the majority of voters over 45 years old.

The upcoming New York and Pennsylvania primaries will be very important for the nomination race, as they both have many delegates. 247 and 189 delegates respectively, and will also likely be harder for both Cruz and Sanders to do well in. New York is Trump's home state, and is supposed to do better in Northeastern states. Additionally, with Kasich still in the race, Cruz could potentially not win a majority in certain congressional districts, which would give some delegates to Trump. And for Clinton, both New York and Pennsylvania are more diverse than Wisconsin, which usually serves to help her. She also has already started courting voters in New York today in order to try to secure a solid win. However, Sanders also has ties to New York, his native state, and will be hoping to do well there in order to keep his momentum going.

What effect, if any, do you think Cruz's and Sanders's win in the Wisconsin primary will have on upcoming primaries and the nomination race as a whole? 
What strategies do you think the different candidates will try to use in New York in order to secure votes from both their solid base of voters and reach other votes? 


Obama and Xi Announce Joint Signing of Paris Climate Agreement

Source: NBC News
On Thursday March 31st, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced they will be formally joining the Paris Climate agreements in April 2016. On April 22nd, they will be joint signing this at a special ceremony in the United Nations headquarters. This is the first day that the plan is able to accept signatures from world leaders. The Paris Climate agreements that were drafted in the last United Nations Paris negotiations when over 200 countries agreed to end the fossil fuel era. The United States and China are two of the biggest carbon polluters.

Obama's decision to committing the United States to the UN agreement means lots of domestic change will need to happen and be promised by this election year's candidates. For candidates, it is no longer a question on whether climate change and carbon emissions will be addressed in their potential term but a question of how they will be following this agreement. Although the agreement does state it will apply until year 2020 and until 55 countries and 55% of global carbon emissions joins, with two leading nations joining, it is possible the agreement will in fact take place. This will most definitely affect the next president if they do decide to run for a second term because how they address domestic carbon emissions from 2016-2020 will set up their platform for the 2020 election year.

Even with this in mind, Obama's current domestic greenhouse gas emissions policy is still facing lots of pushback. His hope to cut emissions by 26%-28% in a span of 20 years still awaits resolution with more than half the states and many corporations.

How do you feel about Obama promising to sign on to the Paris Climate agreements in the last months of his term?
How do you feel current candidates will have to adapt their policies with the current state of both the Paris Climate agreements and Obama's greenhouse gas emission proposals in mind?


Monday, April 4, 2016

Alaska Air buys Virgin America in a $2.6 Billion Dollar Merger

On Monday, April 4th, Alaska Air announced that it will buy Virgin America for $2.6 billion dollars. Alaska Air is paying $57 per share and will take on the existing Virgin America debts and aircraft leases of $1.4 billion dollars, making the total value of this deal $4 billion dollars.

In fact, Alaska Air beat out its nearest competitor, JetBlue, to buy Virgin America, to become now the fifth-largest airline in the U.S., after American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. The new combined airline will retain Alaska Air's brand, and will have about 18,300 employees and 280 aircraft, with its major bases in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco.

This merger may attract regulatory scrutiny by the Department of Justice because in recent years, there have been many consolidations and mergers of U.S. airlines, resulting in some who believe that these airlines are colluding in order to keep fares high. In fact, in the past decade, the number of major U.S. airlines has decreased from nine to four. According to the Washington Post, "the remaining big carriers - Delta, Southwest, American, and United - fly about 80% of all domestic passengers." These mergers have resulted in less competition, helping airlines to raise prices and increase their profits. If the Department of Justice does look at this deal, they would be looking at "whether the merger will create a better competitor to the big airlines" by giving Alaska Air and Virgin America the flexibility to lower prices, or whether this deal will actually allow Alaska Air and Virgin America raise their prices (Washington Post).

The airline industry, at least in the U.S. domestic market, has the characteristics of an oligopoly, which we have been learning about in class, as it has 4 airlines that dominate the market with 61.1% of the market share, many passengers, and generally standardized flights. In addition, the big airlines also has more control of prices, and airlines have less freedom to enter or exit the market, especially because of the high price of starting an airline. As a result, passengers have less choice between airlines to find cheaper prices. Some of this is a result of deregulation of the airline industry in 1978, with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. This act initially led to increased competition, greater efficiency, and lower prices. However, starting in the past decades, airlines have started merger, which has resulted in less competition.

It's unclear as of now what effect this merger will have on the airline industry and prices for consumers and whether or not the Justice Department will be looking into the merger, but airlines seem to be trending towards more mergers, larger airlines, and less competition.

What effect do you think this merger will have on the airline industry and on consumer prices?
Do you think the Justice Department will look into this merger?
In the case of the airline industry, deregulation has both increased competition at times and decreased competition at times. In general, do you think deregulation of industries is a good idea?


"One Person, One Vote" Standard Upheld

Source: US Elections
On Monday April 4th, 2016, the United States Supreme Court in a unanimous vote decided in favor of the state of Texas in the court case Evenwell v Abbott. In this case, two voters challenged the redistricting of Texas voting districts in the 2013 Senate race. Districts were split up to have an even population of people instead of eligible voters. This includes children, criminals, illegal immigrants, and residents here using items such as visas. The state of Texas argued that because the government's decisions affect all constituents and not just eligible voters, all people should be taken into account when dividing up districts. 

By counting all people, the voting power of areas where there are not a lot of eligible voters is increased. Many of these areas are big cities which also tend to lean Democratic. This gives increased power to the Democrats in Texas. If the justices had ruled differently, rural areas which tend to lean more Republican would have gained the upper hand. 

By ruling in favor of Texas, the justices are merely stating the state of Texas has not acted unconstitutionally when drawing their districts. However, this does not concretely answer the question of how district apportionment should be determined. The justices agreed that this is still a choice left up to the people of the states. 

I personally agree that because all people residing in an area are affected by the decisions of the government, they should be counted in the population when drawing district maps. I feel this is less of a debate on who decides to register to vote and more of a debate on those privileged enough to have the right to have their voice heard. Because those who are not able to cast their own opinion during elections are still affected, they should be represented in some way- even if it is extremely minute.

How do you feel about district population being based on all residents and not just eligible voters?
Do you think this is what our founding fathers intended when they outlined our democracy?


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mossack Fonseca: The Panama Papers

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” -Anonymous

The biggest information leak so far in history is embedded in the Panama Papers. Mossack Fonseca is a law firm in Panama who protects its clients’ financial activity behind many walls of secrecy. Their clients include world leaders such as Vladimir Putin, celebrities, Forbes listers, and many high profile people with lots of riches. Mossack Fonseca provides services from wealth management to offshore services. Though not all of the activities behind this firm is illegal, some do misuse its services to avoid taxes or illegally move large amounts of money.

2.6 terabytes which approximates to about 11.5 million documents have been leaked from the Mossack Fonseca database. This means the email communication and account activity of many clients have been leaked for the world to see. The significance of this leak reveals what many have feared about offshoring law firms to be true- that tax havens, shell companies, and other illegal offshoring activities are taken advantage of.

Tax havens are used by the rich around the world to avoid paying taxes on all their assets. This leads to the income inequality and wealth gap problems we see in many countries including the United States. Proof and evidence of perpetrators utilizing this method can be found  amongst the leaked information from Mossack Fonseca.

On the other hand, shell companies are essentially “fake” companies created to move large sums of money in and out of borders or for shareholders to store money through illegitimate shares.

Though Mossack Fonseca has been known to have internal disputes about parting with some of their more questionable clients, it is evident not all of its supported activities are legal. Even though one of its clients, Thomas Chan Kui (who directs a shell company), was arrested due to a financial corruption scandal, Mossack Fonseca remained deeply divided on what to do about their relations with Kui- further proving their part in suspicious activity.  

How do you feel Americans will react to this information leak in comparison to the Edward Snowden leaks?
In macroecon, how does offshore activity such as moving money or avoiding taxes affect the economy? For example, how does this contribute to the fiscal multiplier and why does that hurt every day Americans?


Apple's Autism Awareness Month Films Spark a Larger Conversation

"Not being able to speak is not the same as not having something to say." -- Tami Barmache, Dillan's mother
To celebrate Autism Acceptance Month, Apple released two videos about a 16-year-old boy named Dillan Barmache who uses an iPad app to communicate. Since he is nonverbal, Dillan types out words and sentences on the app and a robotic voice reads them for him. He has been communicating in this way for three years.

Here is the shorter of the two videos:

(A longer video talking more about Dillan's life can be found here.)

I want to take this opportunity to relate Dillan's story to a larger problem. I feel like a lot of people have a negative stigma associated with mental disorders and what I love about these two videos is that they challenge the notion that just because someone is on the autism spectrum does not mean they are unintelligent.

"So many people can't understand that I have a mind. All they see is a person who is not in control," types Dillan. "But now you can hear me ... Having a voice has changed everything in my life."

However, in reality, these videos are Apple ads, and though increasing awareness and promoting acceptance is a step in the right direction, there is still much to do. In doing research for my term paper, (I discussed the lack of federal funding in programs for autistic adults), I found an article where Ari Ne’eman, an adult with autism and the co-founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and a member of the National Council on Disability, described an instance where he met “a non-speaking man with autism who was trying to find a job. Ne’eman said the man communicated with him through gestures, and obviously had plenty to say."

The details are complicated, but essentially, people with autism age out of the federally funded system at 21 years old. Here, they enter the tricky world of state funding, where they recieve significantly less programs to aid them thoughout their adult lives. A Washington University study found that while “74.6 percent of high school students had been receiving speech therapy during an earlier phase of the study, only 9.1 percent of young adults were receiving such therapy despite the fact that more than 20 percent were nonverbal and likely in need of such assistance."

Not only does this lack of communication impede the daily lives of people with autism, but it may prevent autistic adults from getting the few jobs that are available to them. Having federal funding extend to communication services for adults would help ease the transition between speaking in a classroom and speaking in a workplace.

Did these videos change your perception of individuals with autism? Do you have any ideas for how to support teens with autism who may not have enough money for iPads or other technological devices? Is this an issue that more people should be concerned with?


CSU Faculty Strike

Source: Bold Type Magazine
Beginning April 13th, members of the California Faculty Association, plan to go on strike for a 5% raise in salary. The California Faculty Association union represents about 26,000 California State University (CSU) employees from all 23 CSU campuses. The union believes they are vastly underpaid while at the same time, the CSU system is not lacking the funds to support a 5% raise in pay.

This debate and negotiation for increased pay has been going on between the Board of Trustees of the CSU system and the union for the past year; however, a recent independent report found that the requested 5% raised by the union is not impossible for the administration to implement. Historically, the last time CSU faculty have received a salary increase of over 5% was during the 2007-08 educational year when their salary increase was at 5.7%. The Board of Trustees is offering a pay increase of only 2%.

The report states that a salary raise of 5% is “in the interest of students, who need caring faculty and certainly in the public interest as our country needs a well educated population.

This strike would mean that faculty will not be teaching from Wednesday April 13th until Tuesday April 19th. Missing five class days will largely affect students’ education. Even with this, the 260,000 students in the CSU system will not be receiving a refund on tuition or an excused absence from classes where professors decide to continue teaching.

Do you think the faculty should accept the 2% pay raise or continue fighting for 5%?
What are some projects the money could come from?


President Obama Commutes 61 Prison Sentences

Last Wednesday, the sentences of 61 people who were serving for drug offenses were commuted by President Obama. To commute a sentence means to grant early release for prisoners. About 1/3 of the sentences commuted were life sentences. The commuted sentences were for inmates who had committed nonviolent drug offenses such as participating in the drug trade or acting as an accessory to the crime by not reporting someone who may have been involved.

Source: Department of Justice via

During the emphasis on the war on drugs of the mid 1990s, many sentences given to people involved were especially harsh. In the past generation, mandatory sentencing (when people who are convicted of certain crimes must be punished with a minimum of years in prison) of those involved in crimes was strongly emphasized- leading to many disproportionate sentences for inmates. 

President Obama wanted to give these inmates a second chance, believing they were also treated unjustly by our judicial system. 

"Reminded me of how out of proportion and counterproductive so much of our sentencing when it comes to our drug laws are, both at the federal level and the state level," says Obama when having lunch with a few of the inmates who were granted clemency. 

This is not the first time Obama has commuted sentences of inmates. Previous to the 61 he commuted last Wednesday, Obama had commuted 187 other individuals. Still, there are over 9000 pending petitions for clemency.

He continues, "The power to grant pardons and commutations… embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws." 

Do you agree with Obama's argument that the concept of giving people a second chance is inherent in our democracy?
Do you feel like he is taking too large a role in pardoning sentences since he has pardoned more prison mates than the past 6 presidents combined?
Does offering clemency "fix" our judicial system or correctly right the wrongs of the past?


Saturday, April 2, 2016

California Minimum Wage to Raise to $15

Governor Jerry Brown is set to sign a measure to raise the state minimum wage from $10 to $15 within the next five years, making it the highest minimum wage in the nation. (The federal minimum wage is currently at $7.25.)

The raise could increase pay for 5.6 million Californians by an average of 24 percent and would especially benefit minority groups who hold the majority of low-wage jobs.

Yasmin Fernandez works two jobs to make enough money to support herself as well as family in Mexico. After paying her expenses, she has only about $150 a month for herself. She calls the raise "heavenly," saying that she can now have money to treat herself every once in a while and even more money for her family.

Other urban cities such as Seattle and New York City have followed in California's footsteps in raising their wages. However, NYC bakery owner Joseph Sferrazza brings up a drawback to the plan: "The rent is so high, the profit margin is already so low, I don't see how we can make it work," says Sferrazza, who will eventually pay his workers $15 instead of the current $9. "You can only charge so much for a cookie."

Raising the wage may seem like a good idea in retrospect, but in reality, it may just cause a domino effect that leads to higher prices, rendering the raise useless. It could put more people out of jobs since stores or companies may be unable to support the number of workers they currently have, ironically hurting the people that the higher minimum wage is supposed to help. Small businesses, in particular, will have a hard time keeping up.

However, perhaps the scariest thing is that this wage jump is way larger than economists have tested in the past, making it difficult to predict what exactly will happen to the economy in the long run.

"I would go so far as to call this reckless," says David Neumark, a UC Irvine economics professor. 

Thoughts? Was raising the minimum wage a good move?


Friday, April 1, 2016

North Carolina Suffers Backlash from Anti-L.G.B.T. Bill

Last week, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, (who is a Republican), signed a bill that eliminated protections for gay and transgender people, essentially opening the doors to discrimination in the state.

North Carolina is not alone. After last year's Obergefell v. Hodges case resulted in a victory for gay rights supporters all over the country, state legislatures began introducing bills to limit the Supreme Court ruling.

Courtesy of the New York Times
Prostesters against HB2 in Charlotte, N.C. 

This specific law, dubbed "the bathroom bill," specifically blocks transgender people from using public bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Moreover, it prevents cities from creating laws that would protect L.G.B.T. individuals.

The law created a massive backlash not only from the general public, but from politicians, celebrities, and other influential individuals. Twitter users used the hashtag #WeAreNotThis to express their disapproval. A statement by the NBA suggested it was reconsidering the location for the 2017 All-Star Game, currently planned to be held in Charlotte, if the act was not repealed. States such as New York and Connecticut have banned official state government travel to North Carolina. A letter signed by CEOs of large companies such as Apple and PayPal stated that, "We believe that HB 2 will make it far more challenging for businesses across the state to recruit and retain the nation’s best and brightest workers and attract the most talented students from across the country. It will also diminish the state’s draw as a destination for tourism, new businesses, and economic activity."

Is this backlash enough to repeal the bill? Why did McCrory and the N.C. government choose to create laws like these in the first place?

Questions: A lot of articles mentioned McCrory is up for reelection--how might that have influenced his decision? This situation also brings up the issue of federalism--should North Carolina and other state governments have the power to enact these types of laws?