• North Korea and War

    North Korea made aggressive announcement Saturday that they’re entering a “state of war” with South Korea. North Korea’s threat is the latest in a string of warnings it has issued since February, many threatening nuclear warfare against the United States. Despite the frequency of the threats and the unlikelihood of their coming to fruition, U.S. officials have been taking them seriously. "The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over," reads the announcement. But the announcement's wrong: North and South Korea have technically been at war since 1953, as the armistice that ended the Korean War was never turned into a treaty.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Is North Korea a legitimate threat? Why or why not?
    • Do you think North Korea will launch a missile? Why or why not?
  • The Supreme Court and DOMA

    Justice Anthony Kennedy yesterday joined the four liberals on the Supreme Court in questioning the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples. The court-watching website SCOTUSblog said Wednesday that it looks “80 percent likely” that the Supreme Court will strike down DOMA. But the conservatives on the court questioned President Obama’s unwillingness to defend DOMA in 2011—a possible sign that they could be cautious about striking down the law. The now widely unpopular law, signed in 1996, bans any federal institution from recognizing same-sex marriage.

    Discussion Questions:

    • How do you think the Supreme Court will rule? Why?
    • What other policy areas could this decision have an impact on? Why?
  • Slowing the Transition in the Spread of HIV

     Recognizing that condoms are widely available but that many men don’t like using them because they decrease pleasure and women don’t like asking them to use them, Bill and Melinda Gates are offering, through their foundation, a prize ($100,000) for someone who can develop a condom that people will want to use. “Is it possible to develop a product without this stigma, or better, one that is felt to enhance pleasure?” Such a product could reduce unplanned pregnancies and cases of STDs and prevent HIV.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you think this challenge could make a difference? Why or why not?
    • What other ways could we help fight to curb the transmission of HIV?
  • Changes at NASA

    Due to sequestration-induced cutbacks, the space agency is halting its education and outreach efforts until further notice. Travel and training expenses were also cut back, preventing several scientists from attending a space conference this week. Particularly hard-hit are NASA's online outreach programs, which have won several awards in the past few years and have now been halted in development.

    Discussion Questions:

    • What impact do you believe these cuts will have?
    • What do you think NASA will look like in a decade? Why?
  • End of the Redskins?

    Meet the Non-Disparagement of American Indians in Trademark Registrations Act of 2013, a proposed bill that would prohibit trademarks from using the term “Redskin” to refer to Native Americans. The bill was introduced by a group of U.S. House members, though it is not guaranteed that the bill will receive a committee hearing, let alone a vote. The bill comes in the same month that a three-judge panel on the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board heard arguments over whether the term “Redskin” should be considered a slur and denied trademark protection. Even if the NFL team loses the trademark, however, it would not necessarily have to change its name.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe the nickname is offensive? Why or why not?
    • Should Congress be interfering? Why or why not?
  • Steubenville Rape

    Two football players in Steubenville, Ohio, were found guilty on Sunday of raping a female classmate at a party in August. The girl testified Saturday that she had no recollection of the alleged crime, and that she was drinking frozen slushies and vodka at the party, and she remembers sitting on the curb the morning after the rape, with her hands between her legs and vomiting in the street. She said she only later learned about the incident after photos and video of the alleged assault were posted online. The boys, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, could be in prison until they are 21. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also said he planned to convene a grand jury next month to investigate whether anyone else should be charged with possible crimes, including failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you think the punishment was strong enough? Why or why not?
    • How has the media been accused of mishandling this case?
  • Rand Paul in the Lead

    Ron Paul, the libertarian Kentucky senator, won CPAC’s Saturday night’s presidential straw poll—which many people consider an indicator of how the Republican Party will swing in 2016. Paul has been somewhat of a star at the annual convention for conservative voters, although he received real competition from Sarah Palin, whose theatrical sip from a Big Gulp nearly stole the show on Saturday. While CPAC used to just be for the fringes of the Republican Party, this year’s convention has brought out Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul, with Tea Party Texas Sen. Ted Cruz giving the keynote address on Saturday night.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Why do you think Rand Paul did so well in the CPAC Straw Poll?
    • What do you think the odds of Rand Paul being President in 2016 are? Why?
  • We Have a Pope!

    We have a pope! Jorge Mario Bergoglio from Argentina has been selected as the new leader of the Catholic Church, the first pontiff from Latin America and the first from outside of Europe in over 1,000 years. The 76-year-old will take the name Francis I. Shortly after being selected, Francis spoke from Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and asked Catholics to say a prayer for his predecessor. “I’d ask you to pray to God so that he can bless me,” Bergoglio told the cheering crowd. According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the new pope’s first act will be to visit recently retired Pope Benedict tomorrow at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, Italy.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe it is meaningful that Pope Francis is not from Europe? Why or why not?
    • What are the expectations for the papacy of Francis?
  • North Korea is Not Playing Nice with Others

    PNorth Korean leaders lashed out Friday, ending its peace accord with South Korea, in response to the United Nations Security Council’s vote Thursday punishing it for nuclear testing. The unanimous approval of the strict sanctions came in spite of threats from the aggravated country, which claimed that it would retaliate against the United States and engulf Washington in a “sea of fire.” A top general confirmed that Pyongyang is armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles and ready to launch at any time. The South responded by warning that if North Korea does attack with a nuclear weapon, Kim Jong-un’s regime “will be erased from the earth.”

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe war is inevitable? Why or why not?
    • How can the world convince North Korea to possibly maintain peace?
  • Guns in the Classroom

    South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law Friday a bill that allows teachers to carry firearms in the classroom. Although there are other states with provisions in their own laws that allow some teachers to carry guns, South Dakota is the first to pass a bill that explicitly permits it. Daugaard says the law is necessary, as some schools are too far from emergency responders to be properly protected from an attack like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. The law gives school districts the option of allowing armed employees, and Daugaard predicts many districts will opt not to.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Is this a solution to school violence? Why or why not?
    • Do you believe other states will follow suit? Why or why not?
  • A Real Filibuster!

    After nearly 13 hours, Rand Paul ended his filibuster blocking the confirmation of John Brennan for CIA director. The Kentucky Republican took to the floor at 11:45 a.m. and refused to yield the floor, using the opportunity to object to the Obama administration’s use of drones. He spoke for three hours alone before being joined by Utah Republican Mike Lee. After that he was joined by seven others, including Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Paul left the Senate floor to a round of applause. He still fell short of the longest Senate filibuster on record, when Strom Thurmond blocked the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe filibusters are useful legislative techniques? Why or why not?
    • How would you describe Paul's filibuster?
  • Dennis Rodman...Ambassador to North Korea?

    It doesn't sound like President Obama will not be giving Kim Jong-un a call any time soon. On Monday, press secretary Jay Carney denounced former NBA player Dennis Rodman's bizarre trip to North Korea last week to dine and watch basketball with the Hermit Kingdom's leader—a man Rodman later professed to loving. “Instead of spending money on celebrity sporting events to entertain the elites of that country, the North Korean regime should focus on the well-being of its own people, who have been starved, imprisoned, and denied their human rights,” Carney said. The State Department has declined to debrief Rodman, and struck a similar tone in comments a few days ago.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe Rodman's visit will help relationships between the United States and North Korea? Why or why not?
    • Why has the media been so critical of Rodman's visit?
  • Rebels Call for Weapons

    Syrian rebels say they would love America's aid—just not the kind it's offering. "We don't want food and drink and we don't want bandages. When we're wounded, we want to die. The only thing we want is weapons," Gen. Salim Idris, chief of staff of the Syrian opposition's Supreme Military Council told The Associated Press Friday. The United States pledged an additional $60 million in assistance in "nonlethal aid" to Syrian rebels Thursday, but many rebel leaders are expressing that they are in "desperate" need for actual weapons. "The whole world knows what we need," Idris said, "and yet they watch as the Syrian people are slaughtered."

    Discussion Questions:

    • Should the U.S. provide the Syrian rebels with weapons? Why or why not?
    • How else could the U.S. provide aid?