• Ft. Hood Shooter Will Be Executed

    On Wednesday a military court sentenced Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan to death for the 2009 shooting spree in Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead and more than 30 injured. Hasan, who represented himself at the trial, never denied his role in the attack, acknowledging in opening statements that he opened fire on a waiting room of troops prepping for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was convicted last week and faced either death or life imprisonment without parole. The 13-member jury of military officers unanimously voted for death, which will make him the first American soldier executed since 1961. Many wonder, however, whether he will ever be executed.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Should Hasan be executed? Why or why not?
    • How many appeals should a defendant be given before penalties are carried out? Why?
  • Zimmerman Wants Bills Paid

    George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in July in the killing of Trayvon Martin, will file a request to have the state of Florida cover an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 in legal expenses. The law requires the state to pay legal costs, not including lawyer fees, to a defendant who is acquitted. Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, announced the motion "is in the works." Public agencies have already spent around $902,000 in the five-week trail. O'Mara estimates that he is owed more than $1 million in payment for the case, which Zimmerman has not yet paid.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Should taxpayers cover Zimmerman's bills? Why or why not?
    • Why do you think these policies are in place? Should they continue to be?
  • Chemical Weapons in Syria

    Last week, the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons on civilians in a Damascus suburb. Evidence for the use of illegal weapons is piling up, with one more incriminating piece added on Saturday. Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, released the number of patients the organization saw in Damascus that day, stating that approximately 3,600 patients showed signs of neurotoxocity. Symptoms included respiratory distress, blurred vision and even convulsions. Of those displaying symptoms, 355 died.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Why are chemical weapons worse than traditional weaponry?
    • Why is the Syrian government allegedly using chemical weapons against its own people?
  • Manning to Prison

    Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old private convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has been sentenced to 35 years in prison, a military judge ruled today. Manning was convicted of multiple charges, including violations of the Espionage Act, and faced up to 90 years in prison. The government had asked for a 60-year sentence to “send a message to any soldier contemplating stealing classified information.” Manning will get 1,293 days credited toward his sentence for the time he has already spent in prison, including 112 days for being subjected to abusive treatment and solitary confinement. He'll have to serve one third of his sentence before he’s eligible for parole.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you agree with the sentence? Why or why not?
    • How is Manning similar to Edward Snowden? Different?
  • Can Cruz Be President?

    For all the trouble Donald Trump caused Barack Obama about questions regarding where he was born and his citizenship status, we should expect to see similarly pointed attention coming toward Ted Cruz. Cruz, a potential 2016 Republican nominee, is a citizen of Canada as well as the U.S. The Texas Republican released his Calgary birth certificate to The Dallas Morning News, which shows he was born in Alberta, Canada. His mother was American, so he’s an American citizen, but because he was born in Canada, he’s automatically a Canadian citizen as well. It’s unclear how this would affect a 2016 bid: the Constitution allows only “natural born” American citizens to serve as president, but says nothing about those with dual citizenship.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you think Cruz should be eligible? Why or why not?
    • How do you think this will impact Cruz's potential candidacy?
  • Republicans and the Hillary Miniseries

    At its summer meeting in Boston on Friday, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted unanimously to approve a resolution excluding CNN and NBC from hosting any Republican presidential debates in 2016.  The decision, which also applies to MSNBC, Telemundo and CNN Espanol, is in response to programs that the two networks are planning to run about Hillary Clinton. CNN is planning a documentary about the former Secretary of State while NBC Entertainment, a separate division of NBC Universal from NBC News, has commissioned a four-hour miniseries about Clinton starring Diane Lane. In remarks prior to the vote, RNC chair Reince Priebus stated, “a network that spends millions to spotlight Hillary Clinton is a network with an obvious bias. And that’s a network that won’t be hosting a single Republican primary debate.”

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you agree with the GOP decision? Why or why not?
    • What impact could this have on the 2016 debates?
  • Educating about Marijuana at Hempfest

    The Seattle Police Department is taking advantage of Hempfest, the world’s largest pot rally, by distributing information about the limits of legalization laws in the form of stickers attached to Doritos bags. “Distributing salty snacks at a festival celebrating hemp, I think, is deliberately ironic enough that people will accept them in good humor,” said SPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “We want to make sure people learn the rules and that they respect the vote.” The labels will direct festivalgoers to the Seattle Police Department's marijuana FAQ site, called “Marijwhatnow?” which went viral last November.

    http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/AP_seattle_police_hempfest_doritos_jt_130817_16x9_608.jpg

    Discussion Questions:

    • If you were a citizen of Seattle, would you be glad the police were taking these measures? Why or why not?
    • What do you think the rationale is behind these innovative informational techniques?
  • Changes to Mandatory Minimums

    Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the overhaul of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. The overhaul is part of a widespread prison reform package that the Justice Department has worked on for months, senior department officials said Sunday. Holder outlined the new policies in a speech at the American Bar Association in San Francisco. His talk highlighted the “vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration” that has occurred since the mandatory minimums went into effect. “We simply cannot prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” Holder said. Some have labeled the move as a gamble, however, given Obama's lack of attention to similar issues during his first term.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you agree with the plan to revisit mandatory minimums? Why or why not?
    • Do you believe this measure would safely limit the number of prisoners in American prisons? Why or why not?
  • Race Relations Today

    According to a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos, 40 percent of white Americans don't have non-white friends, while 25 percent of non-white Americans have no friends outside their racial demographic. Suprisingly—given legal segregation ended 60 years ago—schools are still extremely racially divided. According to 2009 data from a UCLA Civil Rights Project, the schools attended by 40 percent of black and Latino students are 90 percent black and Latino. While white students go to schools that are 77 percent white.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you find these results surprising? Why or why not?
    • Why do you think such a poll was conducted? Do you think it is useful?
  • A Difficult Candidate to Forget

    Australian Stephanie Banister, a 27-year-old running for a seat in Australian Parliament, seemed less than informed when it comes to other religions during a recent TV news interview. "I don't oppose Islam as a country," she said. "But I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia. Less than two percent of Australians follow haram." By "haram," of course, she meant "the Quran." Bannister also wants halal food banned from Australia, but kosher food is fine because, according to her: "Jews aren't under haram. They have their own religion, which follows Jesus Christ." She is running on the One Nation ticket.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Should candidates be forced to show a level of competency before running for election? Why or why not?
    • What American candidates or politicians would you compare her to? Why?
  • Al Qaeda Threat Leads to Embassy Closings

    On Sunday, the U.S. closed down 21 embassies across North Africa and the Middle East due to intelligence of a potential al Qaeda attack. Many will remain closed for at least a week. Earlier in the day, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed that "this is the most serious threat I've seen in the last several years." Although information on the threat is not available to the public, another senator claimed the administration has identified 25 embassies that are particularly at risk.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe the embassies should have been closed? Why or why not?
    • How serious of a threat do you believe al Qaeda to be today? Why or why not?
  • Prison Over-Crowding in California

    Recently, the Supreme Court ruled California must release nearly 10,000 prisoners. In May 2011, the court had decided state prison conditions violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and gave the state two years to release 30,000 prisoners, which would still leave the prisons at 37 percent above capacity. After the state began progressing toward the goal, it asked for a stay, but the court has now refused. “California must now release upon the public nearly 10,000 inmates convicted of serious crimes,” Alito wrote in his dissent.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you believe prison overcrowding is a concern? Why or why not?
    • What are the possible impacts of this release on society at large?
  • The Russian Olympics and National Law

    Despite assurances from the International Olympic Committee that gay or “pro-gay” Olympic athletes and spectators wouldn’t be arrested under Russia’s antigay laws during the 2014 Games, Vitaly Milonov, the lawmaker who sponsored the “non-traditional relationships” bill is saying the government doesn’t have the right to suspend the laws. “It doesn’t have the authority,” he said in an interview with Interfax. And according to him, several of his U.S. counterparts agree with the anti-LGBT legislation. “Having spoken with many American politicians, I understand that they support the stance I’ve taken on this issue,” he said. Whether that is true or not has yet to be determined.

    Discussion Questions:

    • Do you think Russia will ultimately suspend these laws during the Olympics? Why or why not?
    • Should countries boycott the Olympics in Russia? Why or why not?