• American Government Tags

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  • The Rights of...Children?

    McDain's, a restaurant in Western Pennsylvania, has made news in the past two weeks after beginning a policy of banning children under age 6 from being in the establishment. Public reaction has been mixed with many supporting the owner's right to create his own policies and others fighting for the rights of these now banned children. The harshest critics, however, have argued that this ban is similar to actions taken against other minority groups throughout our nation's history.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Do you believe the decision of the restaurant is legally discriminatory toward children? Why or why not? What about toward their parents?
    • What would have to be proven to make parents and/or children a protected class according to U.S. law?
  • Should Teachers Be Permitted to Friend Students on Facebook?

    On July 30, the state of Missouri passed a law outlawing teacher-student friendships on Facebook and any other social media sites that permit private communication.

    This is just one piece of the bill that's meant to protect students from predatory teachers. SB54, which will go into effect on Aug. 28, is also known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act." Hestir was repeatedly molested and assaulted by her Junior High School teacher over 20 years ago. The bill requires school districts to report any allegations of sexual misconduct to state authorities within 24 hours and also states that districts will be liable if they fail to disclose suspected or known sexual abuse by teachers.

    Many teachers have voiced their displeasure with Missouri's decision--stating that they feel the state is saying they do not trust them to act in an ethical manner. Others argue that any legislatively mandated curbing of media usage risks creating a slippery slope.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should government regulate the relationship between teachers and students? Why or why not?
    • How have social networking sites altered the way media law is understood in the United States?
  • Untangling the Debt Crisis

    With only hours to spare, the House and Senate reached a compromise last week on a deal to raise the national debt limit and permit the U.S. government to be financially able to pay off last year's debts. After much partisan bickering and media attention, the immediate deal calls for 6 members of the House and 6 of the Senate to form a "supercommittee" to find ways to reduce our national deficit by $1.5 trillion.

    Pundits, politicians, and citizens alike have begun assessing who "won" with the compromise. On average, Americans have voiced more dissatisfaction than satisfaction with the outcome and many have wondered what impact the outcome will have on 2012 House and Senate elections--particularly for incumbents. Of most interest, however, has been whether President Obama or the Republican Party emerged better off. The following graphic presents the prisoner's dilemma that faced these two sides (thanks to Kyle Saunders for directing me toward this via Seth Masket).

    If both Obama and the GOP had failed to reach a compromise and held out, we would have reached financial Armageddon. Ultimately, we would have been in default and the stock market and economy would have fell further into a state of despair. If either side held out while the other agreed to a compromise, their opposition would have gained victory. Ultimately, both Obama and the GOP tried to hold out as long as possible, knowing that Armageddon was the result if neither side moved. While both Obama and the GOP have spent the days following the deal trying to convince their supporters that they walked away with the political victory, most Americans seem to feel we have ended up with a compromise that no one really likes--much like the healthcare bill.

    Given the seriousness of the discussions within our country for the past week, the question that remains is whether twelve individuals can come together and bridge the partisan divide to create workable solutions to reducing our ever-growing budget deficit in our nation.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Can six Democrats and six Republicans agree on how to reduce $1.5 trillion from the national deficit? How do you believe we could best begin to tackle this problem?
    • Was there a winner in the budget showdown? If so, who? If not, why? What will the impact of this compromise be on the 2012 elections?
  • American Media: Racist or Unethical?

    A Chicago news station has come under fire in the past week for broadcasting an interview with a four-year-old in which they deliberately edited the video to show a quote being taken out of context to pervert its meaning. The story , which originally aired on June 30 as part of a package about overnight violence around the city, involves a reporter asking the child, "What are you going to do when you get older?" The young boy responds: “I’m going to have me a gun!” Unfortunately, editors chose to cut the rest of the boy's actual answer.

    Citizens and groups have spoken out in opposition to WBBM's choice to edit the clip to change the context of his answer. First, critics argue that a four-year-old should not be interviewed to discuss issues related to crime and murder. More importantly, however, many have argued that the story attempts to confirm stereotypes about African-Americans in our country. While the station has apologized for what happened, questions still remain.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Why do you believe WBBM edited the video the way that they did?
    • How can we prevent incidents like this from occurring moving forward? What punishment (if any) should networks, newspapers, or other media outlets face if they intentionally alter the context of information--especially with children involved?
  • The Importance of Fine Print...

    Raymond Johnson was shocked when at age 26 he was diagnosed with cancer. Even more surprising, he was diagnosed with breast cancer (one percent of all breast cancer cases occur in men.) Johnson--who does not have health insurance--received the most shocking news, however, when his Medicaid claim to assist with his $10,000 chemotherapy treatments (of which he will need five or six) was denied. Johnson failed to meet a key criteria in the state-run breast cancer medicaid program; he was not a woman.

    The Department of Health and Human Services claims to realize there is a problem and that they want the federal government to help them fix it. Help, however, cannot come soon enough for Raymond.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Is the Medicaid policy discriminatory toward men? Why or why not? Why do you think this policy was adopted originally?
    • Who is to blame for this policy? Congress? The state? Bureaucrats who write the rules for the Department of Health and Human Services? How can we assure that these situations do not occur in the future?
  • Law & Order in the Wake of Katrina

    In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, our country has undertaken a serious dialogue about whether our cities and infrastructure are truly prepared for disasters. One often overlooked aspect, however, is on training our public safety officers to handle citizens in times of crisis.

    During the Katrina disaster, police were challenged to work with citizens that were unhappy with response and aid. On September 4, 2005, four New Orleans police officers shot unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge and then plotted with two colleagues to cover up what they knew was an unjustified attack. Now, years later, five have been convicted in federal court and four face potential life sentences for their crimes. The officers argued--to no avail--that they were in danger and doing as they were told in keeping individuals from crossing the bridge. Yet at least one victim was shot in the back while fleeing the scene.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who is to blame for the actions of the police officers? Could better training have prevented their actions? Should public safety officers have more discretion in disaster situations to act as they deem necessary?
    • What is an appropriate sentence for these officers? Should the drama surrounding life in New Orleans during Katrina be considered a mitigating factor that lessens their responsibility? Why or why not?
  • Drug Tests for Assistance

    Florida has recently begun a program whereby they drug test welfare recipients. If you fail your test, you ultimately lose your money.

    Citizens have fallen on both sides of the issue. Those in favor of the policy largely cite the importance of financial stewardship and assuring that public tax money is used by individuals with a true need and desire to succeed on their own. Opponents, on the other hand, point to civil liberties issues along with questions about whether young children should ultimately suffer due to the decisions and actions of their parents.

    In this video, Governor Rick Scott defends the policy (which is now under consideration in Missouri along with being discussed in many others):

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should a state be allowed to drug test welfare recipients? Why or why not? What are the strengths and weaknesses of such a program?
    • How could such a policy be evaluated? What would a good outcome be? If you were the governor of your state what factors would you consider when deciding whether to adopt the policy or not?
  • Concerns with Facebook Hacking?

    In the wake of the 5.9 earthquake that struck the metro-Washington, D.C. area on Tuesday, an individual claiming to be Paul Krugman took to Google+ stating that the national economy may have benefited more had the quake produced more damage. The post became a fast-growing internet session as individuals reposted the story and began offering their own assessments of "Krugman's" statement. Even right-wing columnists seemed to wonder if the statement actually came from Krugman. Ultimately, Krugman took to The New York Times to explain that he did not have his own Google+ account. Instead, it was an individual posing as Krugman. While this has been verified, Krugman's image has still suffered some damage as many pundits have pointed to arguments he has made that mirror the sentiment shared in the Google+ note.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Should we better protect individuals like Krugman on social media sites? While they attempt to be accessible and share information with citizens, they make themselves vulnerable for possible attacks. If citizens expect them to be a presence on these sites, do they deserve special protections?
    • What legal actions should be taken for individuals who hack social media accounts or improperly pose as individuals they are not, if any? Or is this strictly a civil issue?
  • The Right to Videotape

    Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot has made news this week after his staff ordered police to confiscate all cameras being used by citizens at a town hall meeting he hosted in Cincinnati. The officer tells citizens that Chabot wants to protect the identities of other constituents in attendance. Watch the following raw video from the interaction between the citizens and the officer.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What arguments could be made for why citizens should not be able to tape town hall meetings? What arguments can be made against it?
    • What are the possible ramifications of this policy for Chabot? How could he control potential damage?
  • Christine O'Donnell v. Piers Morgan

    Christine O'Donnell joined Piers Morgan for an interview on his CNN nightly show recently. She was there to talk about her recently released book Troublemaker. The interview, however, did not go as planned.O'Donnell became unhappy with a line of questioning from Morgan and he became confused regarding her behavior and reasons for wanting to be on the show. Watch the exchange between O'Donnell and Morgan and then consider the discussion questions that follow.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who do you believe is to blame for the interview abruptly ending? Why?
    • Who should determine what topics will be discussed during an interview? The person doing the interview or the person being interviewed? Why?
  • Welcome to College...or Not?

    Colleges and universities across the country are working to become paperless by moving more and more toward electronic communications. Unfortunately for one student, a failure to adapt to e-mail has cost him his spot with his freshmen class. Hanaroo Kim had been e-mailed by San Jose State University regarding an error in his English placement test and set a deadline for him to respond before being unenrolled.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Who is to blame for Hanaroo being unenrolled from classes?
    • Should technological fluency be a requirement for success in the college classroom? Why or why not?
  • Government Interference with Social Media

    Two stories have been revealed in the past two weeks that demonstrate the uncomfortable tensions present between government and social media. In one, Prime Minister David Cameron (of the United Kingdom) placed blame on Twitter, Facebook, and Blackberry for the outbreak of riot violence throughout London. Then BART--the San Francisco subway system--admitted to cutting off cellphone signals at select stations in response to planned protests.

    Some argue that these actions are nothing more than a usurpation of free speech while others believe such government actions are necessary at times for security and protection. No matter what way one views it, the decision is dangerous.


    Discussion Starters:

    • Should the government be able to turn off cell service and social media sites? Why or why not?
    • Do you believe either David Cameron or BART had the right to take the actions they did? What are the potential consequences of their actions?
  • Ames Straw Poll

    On August 13, Iowa Republicans held the Ames Straw Poll to help gauge the current status of the 2012 Republican presidential primary. While not all candidates participate (most notably Mitt Romney and Rick Perry), the poll can help propel candidates forward (or eliminate them from contention). Michele Bachmann won this year's poll by approximately 200 votes over Ron Paul. Tim Pawlenty finished third and withdrew from the election in the aftermath of the straw poll. The following video discusses the poll and its importance to Republican candidates.


    Discussion Starters:

    • What impact do you believe polls like this have? Why would Pawlenty resign after one poll in one state?
    • Who do you think benefits most from this year's results? Why? Besides Pawlenty, who else was hurt?
    • Why do you think Romney may have opted to skip the poll this year after participating in 2007?
  • Buffett: Rich Should Pay More Taxes

    Warren Buffett has recently made national news for again repeating that the rich in our country need to pay a higher share of taxes in order to alleviate some pressure from middle and lower income families and individuals. Buffett's claims led pundits to bring up the idea of class warfare. In the following video, Jon Stewart discusses Buffett's editorial and the ideas of class warfare.

    Discussion Starters:

    • What do you think about Buffett's editorial? Do you think he is correct or not? Why?
    • Why do you believe there is such a great income disparity in our nation? Do we have class warfare occurring?