Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fed: Economic Growth On Hold

The Federal Reserve recently said that more rate cuts might be necessary to fend off further problems in 2008. After having cut interest rates by 1.25% in the past month, the Fed's outlook on 2008 became a bit gloomier after a Labor Department report estimated than unemployment rates were going up about 0.5% compared to last year.

Interest rate cuts and unemployment aren't the only problems for the Fed in 2008. With housing prices steeply declining and the possibility for a recession growing, the Fed can now only hope for the best. Insiders also believe that another 0.25% rate cut is coming next March when the Fed meets to discuss their outlook on 2008.

Will the U.S. economy fall into a recession? Why or why not? Will inflation become a problem for the economy in the coming months? Why or why not?

Clinton to Obama: "Shame on you"

With the March 4 elections getting closer and closer, Senator Hillary Clinton decided it was time to make her move. Sen. Clinton lashed out at her rival Senator Barack Obama over information he provided that Clinton called "blatantly false." Clinton claims that two fliers Obama's campaign mailed out to Ohio voters are incorrect and provide false information about her beliefs. The first flier pointed out that Sen. Clinton will forcibly have every citizen in the United States purchase health care, while the second called Clinton an avid endorser of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In response, Sen. Obama assured voters that all information in the fliers are 100% true. Obama also said, "The notion that somehow we're engaging in nefarious tactics I think is pretty hard to swallow." Obama is currently leading Clinton by 69 delegates, according to CNN estimates.

Are Sen. Clinton's new smear techniques going to sway voters in her direction? Can the hostility hurt Sen. Clinton's chances at becoming the nominee? Why or why not?

View the article here:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Iran Continues to Enrich Uranium

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has produced an eleven page report that proves Iran has tested new technologies to build a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials have consistently disregarded comments about nuclear weapons. Ever since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office, the United States has questioned why he has scientists enriching uranium. When questioned, Ahmadinejad says Iran is building a peaceful nuclear program. Iran and the United States haven't had strong political connections since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, and because of this many Iranian officials brush off verbal attacks from the United States. A November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate showed Iran had stopped its encrichment of uranium in the latter part of 2003 up until this past summer, due to increasing attacks from other countries.

If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, do you think it will be used harmfully or peacefully? Will the United States tighten sanctions on the Iranian economy before it is able to develop nuclear weapons?

U.S. Evacuates Embassy in Serbia

Last Sunday, Kosovo gained independence from Serbia. Ever since, there has been hostility between the two nations. Serbs have rioted across the country with their anger directed towards the United States and all other countries who have recognized Kosovo as an indendent nation. On Friday, the United States evacuated their embassy in Belgrade, Serbia. Protesters threw rocks and shattered windows, and set fires near the embassy. The United States has warned Serbia that it has to take care of the embassy, and that it is not the United States' fault if anything goes wrong. Serbs continue to protest across the country and will not recognize Kosovo as a country.

With these attacks heightening, will the United States regret recognizing Kosovo as an independent nation? Why or why not? What do you think should be done to stop the violence in Serbia?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Castro Retires

Fidel Castro stated on Tuesday that he would not return to lead the Communist Cuba after his 49 year reign. Some factors to Castro's departure may be attributed to his current age of 81 and his ongoing stomach surgeries for the past year and a half.

Castro, who took power during a Cold War revolution, has been most remembered for his strict leadership characteristics, national censorship, and involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Castro has also been questioned about Cuba's policies of freedom and speech. He has even been seen as a 'tyrant who suppressed freedom'.

The US has had a constrained relationship with Cuba for the past several decades. There has been a tight economic embargo between the two, but due to this change in leadership, nations like the US hope this will lead to a change in direction for Cuba's people, policies and perspectives.

Do you think Castro's departure will lead to any big changes in Cuba, or will the next leader just continue his legacy? Will the US have any influence in Cuba? Why or why not? And in connection with our own elections, which candidate do you think, if any, could potentially be the best in creating better connections with Cuba.

Change We Can Believe In

"Obamania, Barackracy, Barackstar, Obamanation". "Just words?" I think not. These are only a handful of words from "The Encyclopedia Baracktannica", as created by writer Chris Wilson. After eleven straight victories, it does not come as a surprise that "Obamania" is in full swing.

Barack Obama's victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii this past week have helped cement his place as the front-runner to be the Democratic nominee for this November's elections. A day after being accused of plagiarism, Obama overcame these allegations that could have derailed his campaign. His victory in Wisconsin has proved to not only be benefitting his cause, but also severely hurting Senator Clinton's chances at winning the nomination. CNN's estimate of exit polls from Wisconsin show Obama recieving 56% of the vote from those aged 45-59, one of Senator Clinton's core constituencies in earlier voting. Senator Obama was expected to win easily in Hawaii because it is his home state. Obama has performed very well at caucuses this year because he is able to rally together large numbers of people. Since Senator Obama has been winning by such substantial margins, his lead over Senator Clinton is widening to a point where many insiders believe that it could be too late for Clinton to mount a comeback.

The next elections will be held on March 4, with the two big prizes being Ohio and Texas, which have a combined 389 delegates at stake. Clinton seems to have an early advantage in these two states, but a "Baracklamation" that sways voters in his direction is never out of the question.

With around 16 elections left to go, does Senator Clinton have a legitimate chance to mount a comeback? Why or why not? Do you see the plagiarism accusation being problematic for Senator Obama in later elections? Why or why not?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Shooting down a Satellite

The U.S. Navy will attempt to shoot down a faulty spy satellite.
A Delta II rocket lifts off in December, carrying a reconnaissance satellite that failed hours later.
The 5,000-pound satellite malfunctioned immediately after launch in December of 2006. It would likely survive re-entry and disperse potentially deadly fumes over an area the size of two football fields, officials have said.
Pentagon officials have said they believe the satellite would come down on its own in early March.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said there's nothing the military can do to make the outcome worse.
"If we miss, nothing changes. If we shoot and barely touch it, the satellite is just barely in orbit" and would still burn up somewhat in the atmosphere, Griffin said.
"If we shoot and get a direct hit, that's a clean kill and we're in good shape," he added.

After reading this do you have any worries about the efficiency of the government? Or how they carry out their jobs?
The satellite immediately malfunctioned, that seems a little ridiculous to me. And now they have to spend a large sum of money to make sure that "potentially deadly fumes" dont disperse if the satellite were to survive reentry into the Earth's atmposphere.

Same-Sex Marriages

On March 4, the state Supreme Court will have a three-hour hearing about the constitutionality of a law that allows only opposite-sex couples to marry. While I assume that the due process and 14th amendment arguments (which we went over in class during cases such as Lawrence v. Texas) will be used to oppose the law, what surprised me were the groups that were making the arguments. Although religions are supporting the law, as usual, claiming that marriage should be between a man and a women because it is the "lifeblood of community, society, and the state", other religious sects are opposing the law as well. These religious groups claim that they have historically honored same-sex marriages and that the current law "violates the California Constitution's guarantee of 'free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference,'" by approving some sects while disapproving of others that allow same-sex marriages. Fifty Amicus Curiae briefs have been filed so far, representing hundreds of organizations and individuals.

Churches and same-sex marriage

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blu-Ray wins Wal-Mart

In the recent format wars between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, it seems as though Blu-ray has won another point. The humongous chain, Wal-mart, has decided to phase out HD-DVD in favor of Blu-ray discs and players. The two formats have been battling it out over the past few months, confusing consumers and forming rivalries. Even videogames have gotten into the mix with Sony's PS3 coming with Blu-ray support and Microsoft's Xbox360's HD-DVD add-on. I would assume that the recent format war is similar to the old VHS vs. Betamax wars from before I was born. From my knowledge, both format wars: confused consumers, had similar yet incompatible formats, and resulted in early adopters of the losing format getting nothing but a useless video player. With corporations as big as Microsoft and Sony backing these two formats, this format war could have gone on quite a bit longer, but luckily, studios and retailers have chosen sides relatively quickly, with all but a few of the studios supporting Blu-Ray. The loss of Wal-mart as a distributor should cut HD-DVD almost completely out of the race and, hopefully, end this format war forever.

Wal-Mart chooses Blu-Ray

The differences between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are actually fairly insignificant for the average consumer. Blu-Ray has a good deal of extra storage space (~20GB), but it doesn't really show extraordinarily well in the actual footage quality. Instead, the extra space generally goes to more extras, language tracks, and other bonus features. Overall, the biggest difference between the two formats is simply which companies and organizations stand to win the most money from the format's success.

Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD vs. DVD Comparison

Happy Cows come from California?

143 million pounds of beef were recalled from a California slaughterhouse, making it the largest beef recall in the United States. The recall is a result of the cattle not receiving proper inspections and an animal-abuse investigation. Of the 143 million pounds, 37 million went to schools, much of which was already eaten. On the bright side, despite the recall, "officials said the health threat was likely small". To me, it seems like the recall and suspension of operations at the slaughterhouse is more of a punishment for the slaughterhouse than a real health risk. Apparently, there were videos from the Humane society of some of the slaughterhouse workers "kicking, shocking, and otherwise abusing "downer" animals that were apparently too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse". I agree that the slaughterhouse should be punished for abusing animals, but it seems like the government might need to more actively regulate their meat inspections to avoid situations like this sooner.

Beef recall from California slaughterhouse

Budget Cuts

Governor Schwarzenegger signed six bills to reduce part of the state's $14.5 billion deficit. Education, welfare, and Medi-Cal seem to be taking most of the approximately $2 billion in cuts. Meanwhile, a bill that would have closed a loophole allowing buyers of yachts, airplanes, and luxury recreational vehicles to avoid paying sales tax was cut. Despite the cuts made, most of the deficit will still stay and continue on for future legislators to deal with.

The idea of cutting money from groups that seem to need it the most seems ridiculous to me. Education (our school in particular) needs more money, otherwise teachers won't get the money they deserve for teaching and classes won't have the necessary equipment. Welfare and Medi-Cal are services for the poor, and although some might deserve it more than others, it seems irrational to cut money from people that, for the most part, need it, while letting the rich skip out on some of their taxes. In spite of all this, we're still going to have to deal with this problem later. The problem is that no one wants the bad political image of being the one that cuts all the programs in order to get rid of a budget deficit. As a result, we just keep knocking it back for the next group to take care of.

California Budget Deficit

"Rough CIA Interrogations"

In a testimony before a House Subcommittee, Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, explicitly explained how the administration regulated the CIA's interrogation methods. The use of waterboarding (strapping detainees down and pouring water over their faces to think they were drowning) and the "Dutch method" (covering victim's mouths with cloth or cellophane while pouring water on their faces) were confirmed. However, in his testimony, he claims that the methods used weren't torture because they didn't cause enough severe and lasting pain to count as torture. Disregarding attempts to spin the tortures to make them seem less immoral (such as changing the wording to "rough interrogations" and calling them distressing, uncomfortable, and frightening), Bradbury was far more honest about the methods than before. Hopefully this results in a few more steps in the right direction.

While tortures are unconstitutional due to the 8th amendment, they do seem like they could be helpful in some situations. A fanatic group such as the one that planned the 9/11 attacks would almost definitely not surrender any information by a simple questioning, and their answers could very easily be necessary for stopping any subsequent attacks. On the one hand, we can torture them and possibly save lives by catching the rest of the group before they have a chance to kill more people, on the other hand, we could save people from going through the torture that would be required for them to give up the information. What do you think?

Justice Official Defends Rough CIA Interrogations