Current Events
Current Events

A SmartHER Veterans Day

The history of Veterans Day & why it matters with a
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Current Events

Will a longer school day lead to happier families
(and smarter kids)?

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What Happened

  • Who: Presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced legislation Wednesday called the Family Friendly Schools Act.
  • What: Extends the school day by 3 hours (typically from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
  • Why: To ease the burden of childcare on low-income/working families.
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“It is time we modernize the school schedule to better meet the needs of our students and their families.”

Senator Kamala Harris who introduced the bill that would provide extra money (grants) to 500 schools in low-income communities over the course of five years. The extended day may NOT necessarily include more class time - individual schools would determine how students spent their time whether in instruction or theater, sports, etc.
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Is This Good For Students?

  • Avg. school day nationwide is around 6.5 hours – This would increase it to 10.
  • “Extended Learning Time” or ELT is a trend in schools across the country, more than doubling between 2009 – 2018.
  • Data mixed on the benefits for children. Some districts say it improved test scores; others say it didn’t.
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Something To Consider

One recent study in 2015 looked at longer days at school with SHORTER weeks. Some districts have tried this in rural areas or as a cost-saving measure.

5th graders attending school 4 days per week instead of 5 showed a “statistically significant” increase in math scores with the shorter weeks, and no detriment to reading scores.

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Sen. Harris' plan includes asking the Dept of Education to study the results of schools that receive the grants for extended days to see if the longer school day benefited students and families. What do you think about this idea?

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DNA Collection At The Border — And Beyond?

Will a new twist on an old law expand rules to collect the DNA of hundreds of thousands of people?

 

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THE LATEST

Proposed rule would require DNA collection by federal agencies for any person who has been either:

  • arrested,
  • facing charges,
  • convicted, OR
  • detained non-citizens (this includes those apprehended for crossing the border illegally).
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Why Now?

  • Over the last year, 800,000+ people were apprehended at the U.S. southern border ~ the highest number in more than a decade.
  • Deputy AG Jeff Rosen said the aim of DNA collection is reducing “victimization of innocent citizens.”
  • Gov’t says DNA collection is a deterrent and a tool in crime fighting.

 

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BACKGROUND

  • A 2005 law allows DHS to collect DNA from non-citizens in federal custody & anyone unlawfully present in the U.S.
  • 2010: DHS made exception for non-citizens in custody but not facing criminal charges
  • Currently, those who enter the country illegally are fingerprinted. That data is shared with federal, state & local law agencies
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“Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dissenting in a 5-4 decision that affirmed after arrest (but pre-conviction) DNA collection does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
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BIGGER PICTURE

  • Federal law *permits but does not require* DNA collection from those in custody or arrested for a federal crime (such as crossing the border illegally). This new rule may mandate it (citizens or not).
  • This isn’t a new law. The Trump admin. wants to end exceptions to it, applying it to all those (14-years-old & older) apprehended for crossing the border illegally.
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The proposed rule was published in the federal register Tuesday and now the public has 20 days to weigh in. What do you think?

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TOP SECRET

Secret Talks, Trips & Moves…
at the site of America’s longest war.

The Latest From Afghanistan

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“Unbeknownst to the public as part of our optimization . . . we reduced our authorized strength by 2,000 here.”

Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, commanding officer of US Forces - Afghanistan, announcing for the first time a change in America's numbers in Afghanistan from approx. 15,000 to 13,000. Most forces left from the command center in Kabul.
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What’s Happening

  • This weekend, the U.S. Defense Sec. went to Afghanistan for his first official trip to the country.
  • Separately, a congressional delegation, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intel Chair Adam Schiff & others traveled to Afghanistan. The trip wasn’t publicly announced (as is typical, especially for areas with security concerns).
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Why It Matters

  • The sudden change in the number of U.S. forces in Syria has raised further questions about what’s next for other deployed U.S. forces whom Pres. Trump has discussed wanting to withdraw, such as those in Afghanistan.
  • House Dems, leading the impeachment inquiry, highlighted their critique of Pres. Trump’s foreign policy by their travels.
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Number To Know
(And Watch)

8,600

Number of U.S. forces the American military believes it needs in order to maintain current counter terrorism operations in Afghanistan (and keep the country from harboring terrorists who attack the U.S. and our allies).

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Peace talks between the U.S. & Taliban stopped last month after another American soldier was killed in action (reportedly by the Taliban). Talks will reportedly resume in China by the end of the month. This is the deadliest year for American soldiers in Afghanistan since 2014.

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Spacewalking Into History

Two NASA astronauts take part in the first all-female spacewalk ever.

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BACKGROUND

The Astronauts:  Christina Koch and Jessica Meir

MISSION: Replacing a “faulty power unit.”

NASA says unit is not an essential piece of equipment for everyday power to International Space Station but still important (we humbly agree).

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WHY IT MATTERS

  • While female astronauts have participated in spacewalks before, two women have never completed one exclusively together.
  • Men have participated in 10x more spacewalks then women.
  • Koch is *also* expected to make history as the longest-serving woman in space, spending nearly a year (328 days) on a spaceflight.
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“We’re part of the team. It’s really nice to see how far we’ve come.”

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir on her upcoming spacewalk - her first. Jessica and Christina represent two of only 38 active duty American astronauts.
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NASA wants to send the first woman to the moon in less than 5 years. NASA had scheduled an all-female spacewalk earlier this year but the correct size spacesuit for one female astronaut wasn't available. Read more about the ongoing controversy over spacesuit size:

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WILL ISIS FIGHTERS GO FREE?

The President says he’s stopping America’s endless wars. His critics say he’s setting up the next big one.

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Quick Backgrounder

U.S. partnered with Kurds to combat ISIS in Syria; U.S. provided weapons & support (equipment, $$). Kurds provided reliable boots on the ground.

Kurds: 30M people living in a swath of land that straddles Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran & Armenia. Kurds are diverse, with their own distinct language & culture.

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What’s Happening Now

  • White House announced sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops along Syria-Turkey border.
  • Turkey considers *some* Kurds a threat, “terrorists” for wanting an independent Kurdish state; Turks reportedly planning a military offensive against Kurds near the border.
  • Without U.S., Kurds vulnerable to Turkish military.
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“The endless and ridiculous wars are ENDING! We will be focused on the big picture, knowing we can always go back & BLAST!”

Pres. Trump has repeatedly stated he wants the U.S. out of Syria, and says America cannot interfere with "tribal" fights (referring to tensions between Kurds and Turks).
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“We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake.”

Former UN Ambassador (and Pres. Trump appointee) Nikki Haley. Critics say leaving minimal U.S. presence in Syria will create a power vacuum to be filled by Iran, China and Russia.
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Something To Consider

  • The Kurds currently hold (imprison) thousands of ISIS fighters & their families. Estimates: 12,000 ISIS fighters & 58,000 women and children.
  • Kurds say if Turkey pushes them out, these fighters will go free.
  • ISIS fighters include foreigners holding European passports who can easily travel.
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Reminder: Pres. Trump abruptly announced full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria last Dec.; Sec. of Def. James Mattis resigned shortly after. The President ended up leaving some U.S. troops in Syria.

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REMOTE “CONTROL”

How (and why) America can now command its key air assets in the Middle East remotely from U.S. soil.

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WHAT TO KNOW

Al Udeid Air Base

What: Main point of command for all of U.S. air power in the Middle East. Largest U.S. airbase in the region.

Where: Qatar

Why: Positions hundreds of planes, drones, fighter jets and as many as 10,000 troops strategically in the Persian Gulf.

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WHAT HAPPENED

Historic First: On the last Sunday of Sept., instead of controlling hundreds of air assets from the Middle East, U.S. command & control operations moved to a South Carolina air base.

The U.S. military plans on shifting control to S.C. base (or elsewhere) periodically; has goal of doing so routinely, even daily, in the future.

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WHY IT MATTERS

Having a “remote” Middle East command center for air assets gives America a “back up” to its regional base.

“…we can’t afford to have a single point of failure.”

Maj. Gen. Chance Saltzman

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ALSO…

“Iran has indicated multiple times through multiple sources their intent to attack U.S. forces.”

Col. Frederick Coleman, commander of the 609th Air & Space Operations Center at Al Udeid, went on to say "the region is calming down…except for Iran.” Some suggest a remote command center makes Al Udeid less of a physical target.
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MIDDLE EAST LATEST

  • Iran: Recently bombed an oil tanker; reportedly behind a drone strike in Saudi Arabia.
  • Iraq: Nationwide protests ignited this week due to poor living conditions. Current gov’t viewed as having tight ties with Iran.
  • Saudi Arabia: U.S. recently deployed equipment & 200 “support personnel” to Saudi Arabia in light of oil field attack.
Current Events

Al Udeid is pronounced "All You Deed" - Col. Coleman who overseas the base told The Washington Post (granted access to observe the remote command operation): "Eventually I'd like to be able to do this from Starbucks."

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HIT OR MISS?

The maker of the Barbie has released a new doll that allows children to choose their own design down to the gender: girl…boy…or neither.

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“My whole philosophy behind Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented that a woman has choices.”

Barbie creator, mother and Mattel founder Ruth Handler who designed the doll after noticing her son had toys to manifest his dreams, but her daughter did not. The first Barbie debuted in 1959.
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Mattel’s New Doll

  • “Creatable World” = 6 doll “kits”
  • $30 each (approx. $10 more than a single Barbie doll).
  • Kit includes: 1 doll, 2 hair styles & a variety of clothing.
  • Doll has no physical features dictating gender. Child can create a girl, boy or mix clothing & hairstyles to be non-specific.
  • “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.”
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“Through research, we heard that kids don’t want their toys dictated by gender norms.”

Senior Vice President of Mattel Fashion Doll Design Kim Culmone who says toys are created through a collaboration of "experts, parents, physicians and most importantly, kids." Mattel's President Richard Dickson went on to add, "We’re not in the business of politics...Our job is to stimulate imaginations."
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Despite overall U.S. toy sales declining last year, doll sales increased. Mattel's Barbie sales have continued to rise as the company offered a greater diversity of dolls. What do you think the future holds for the "Creatables"? Hit or miss?

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Connecting The Dots

The basics on the American President’s phone call to Ukraine and why it matters.

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Backstory

  • 2013: Protestors in Ukraine take to the streets against a pro-Russian president, who – by taking money from Russia – seems to be pulling Ukraine away from the EU & U.S.
  • 2014: Protests turn deadly. Pro-Russian president ousted; Russia invades Crimea. Obama admin sanctions (penalizes monetarily) Russia for seizing Ukrainian territory.
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The Bidens

  • As VP, Joe Biden took on an active diplomatic role in Ukraine.
  • 2014: His son, Hunter, joins board of a natural gas company with Russian ties; reportedly earns up to $50,000 a month.
  • 2016: VP Biden threatens to withhold aid from Ukrainian gov’t if a prosecutor isn’t fired, alleging corruption; prosecutor at one time investigated Hunter’s employer.
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“I do not want Ukraine to again be the subject of U.S. presidential elections. Hunter Biden did not violate any Ukrainian laws — at least as of now, we do not see any wrongdoing.”

Ukraine's then-prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko this past May. Pres. Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani maintains there's reason to question whether the Bidens had a conflict of interest.
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Pres. Trump

  • July 2019: Pres. Trump asks to “freeze” aid to Ukraine.
  • During a phone call with the new Ukrainian president, Pres. Trump emphasizes America has provided aid to Ukraine, while others like Germany have not. Ukrainian President agrees.
  • Pres. Trump discussed many issues, including cybersecurity, firing of prosecutor & the Bidens.
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“I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair…There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

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The Whistleblower

  • Intel employee raises concerns about the July 2019 call.
  • Whistleblower did not directly witness call but cites “U.S. officials” sharing information; writes “deeply concerned” about an abuse of presidential power.
  • Complaint alleges White House tried to “lock down” call record. (WH released a rough transcript of call this week).

 

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Something To Consider

  • Pres. Obama’s administration faced questions about whether Hunter Biden’s job was unethical; they defended his choice of employer as a private citizen.
  • America sent foreign aid to Ukraine this year. Congress learned the White House had put a hold on the aid. Bipartisan lawmakers lobbied for its release.
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Lingering Question

Did Pres. Trump solicit help from a foreign power to investigate a political opponent (VP Biden)?

Did he withhold aid (money and supplies) in order to force that investigation?

Either/both could be deemed impeachable offenses.

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Why This Matters: Democrats have launched an impeachment inquiry alleging Pres. Trump abused his presidential power. If he did, it could be considered an impeachable offense. If he didn't, the story effectively ends here.

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PRESIDENT’S CHOICE

A peek at a unique position at the White House with high-profile access to the Oval Office
(without the people’s approval).

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President’s Crew

  • Cabinet Members: Positions require Senate confirmation, a process mapped out by the U.S. Constitution and first used by Pres. Washington.
  • National Security Advisor: Position appointed by the President and part of the National Security Council (NSC). Some cabinet members & military leaders attend NSC meetings.
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National Security Advisor

  • Official title: Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs but “NSA” for short.
  • Established post-WWII as part of the National Security Act that tried to streamline work between gov’t agencies.
  • Past advisors: Condoleeza Rice (Pres. G.W. Bush) & Susan Rice (Pres. Obama).
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“The Council’s role is advisory only. It recommends; it does not decide.”

Robert Cutler, America's first National Security Advisor to Pres. Eisenhower in 1953. He says Cabinet members often develop a department's policy, while a National Security Advisor should help provide information to the president to develop his own national security policy.
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Robert O’Brien

  • Lawyer; worked as top hostage official at the State Dept.
  • Helped with the rescue of an American in Yemen & release of rapper A$AP Rocky in Sweden.
  • Worked with former NSA John Bolton at the United Nations under Pres. George W. Bush.
  • Worked with Bush & Obama administrations training lawyers & judges in Afghanistan.
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President Trump's fourth national security advisor, Robert O'Brien, will field his own team that not only helps coordinate between different gov't agencies but also helps prioritize foreign policy objectives.

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POWDER KEG?

A surprise attack in Saudi Arabia ripples through the global economy and raises questions about all out war.

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THE BASICS

  • What: Drone strike Saturday on a Saudi oil field – the world’s largest crude processing facility.
  • Why It Matters: Damage disrupted the equivalent of 5% of the world’s daily oil supply, raising concerns about the lasting impact on oil supply & leading to a spike in oil prices worldwide.
  • Who: Houthi Rebels take responsibility; questions remain.
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BACKGROUND

  • A civil war rages next door to Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
  • Saudi Arabia backs Yemeni gov’t; Iran backs the opposition, aka Houthi Rebels.
  • Worst humanitarian crisis on the planet.
  • While fighting in Yemen has spilled over the border into Saudi Arabia, this oil field is NOT close to the border.
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HIGH STAKES

“It’s almost like an open season for a big attack.”

Managing director of Clearview Energy Partners Kevin Book on the ramifications of this single attack potentially encouraging more attacks.
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BIG PICTURE

Global oil prices don’t just impact gas prices. Petroleum by-products are in almost everything we use head to toe: from makeup, plastic packaging, to shoes. The price of oil has a HUGE on the U.S. economy.

“A spike in oil prices has preceded nine out of 10 post-WWII recessions.”
Investopedia

Current Events

While the U.S. Sec. of State blamed Iran for the attack, Pres. Trump tweeted America is "locked and loaded" awaiting confirmation. Iran has called accusations "maximum lies." World leaders will gather in NYC a week from today for annual diplomatic meetings at the U.N.

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Terror Watchlist

Created to keep us safe, is “the list” weaker today than ever before?

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THE LIST

  • Terrorist Screening Database.
  • Contains names of those “known” or “reasonably suspected” of terror ties (exact criteria unknown)
  • Created after 9/11, run by FBI & shared with 18,000+ law enforcement agencies
  • Gov’t does not confirm or deny if you’re on the list.
  • 1M+ people on list; 4,600 Americans (as of 2017).
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THE CASE

  • 23 U.S. citizens who *believe* they’re on the list sued the gov’t.
  • Plaintiffs argued “the list” violates their constitutional rights to due process, adds unnecessary scrutiny while traveling.
  • Gov’t argued national security trumps the inconvenience to an individual, and an acceptable process is in place to challenge one’s status.
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What Happened:

The list can stay, but it may change.

  • Court ruled individuals are *not* entitled to notice or a hearing before being placed on the list.
  • Court *also* ruled the process to challenge one’s status (at least for U.S citizens) is inadequate.
  • Judge ordered both sides to submit proposals for a solution by mid-October.
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The very nature of the secret database ignites questions. Critics say it unfairly targets Muslims & doesn't prevent terror attacks. The gov't says it's updated daily & provides useful information sharing between security agencies. What do you think?

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