In the News: Week of December 15th

What happened in the world from December 15th - 21st

Happy Sunday morning everyone! Welcome to the second edition of In the News. I’ve got some great stories included in this week’s edition. If you come across any stories you think are interesting or noteworthy, feel free to reply to this email with your stories or ideas.

Update on the Ring story from last week: Last week my Recommended Reading was a series about Ring, the Amazon-owned video doorbell/surveillance company. Hackers have gained access to peoples’ homes and private information by breaching their Ring accounts. I wrote that Ring claimed their customer information was not exposed, and the information used to hack into accounts was obtained from different data breaches. This is not true. Either Ring is being dishonest about the breach or they were unaware of the breach when they made that statement. Log-in credentials of Ring owners were exposed, and the format of the data strongly suggests it was taken from a Ring company database.

In the news this week

President Donald Trump was impeached on Thursday night, becoming the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House. The other two U.S. presidents impeached by the House, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were both acquitted by the Senate instead of removed from office. It would be shocking if President Trump is not acquitted by the majority Republican Senate, as it requires a two-thirds supermajority vote for conviction and removal. 

To avoid an acquittal in the Senate, and what she sees as a biased trial of President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is likely to delay the delivery of articles of impeachment to the Senate, or may not even deliver them at all. It’s unclear what impeachment will accomplish, if anything. It could hurt either parties’ chances in the 2020 election, but is unlikely to have a major impact.

The U.K. Parliament advanced the Brexit withdrawal agreement on Friday, with little resistance. The agreement still must be approved by the House of Lords (I’m assuming this is like a fancier version of the U.S. Senate), but it is likely to get through the Lords without much resistance. It looks like Brexit will finally be happening in January, but it remains to be seen whether it will positively impact Britain or not.

Boeing plans to halt production of 737 MAX planes in January. The planes have already been grounded for nine months, but Boeing kept making the plane in anticipation of getting the 737 MAX back in the air quickly. U.S. regulators made it clear that the planes would not be returning to the skies anytime soon, and Boeing has now halted production entirely. 737 MAX crashes are responsible for the deaths of over 300 people, and the crashes were reportedly due to problems with a new feature. Boeing’s 737 MAX software was outsourced to engineers in India making only $9 an hour, and many believe the plane’s problems are a direct result of the cost-cutting measures employed by Boeing. 

The December Democratic debate took place Thursday night, and featured “only” seven candidates. Highlights: (Pictured below) PBS forgot to turn the lights on when they went to break, and were filming their news anchors speaking in the dark for what seemed like an eternity before someone finally realized the lights were off. 

Later in the night, Joe Biden was asked what he thought about potentially being the oldest president in American history. Biden countered by reminding us all of Winston Churchill, the actual oldest president in U.S. history. Nobody laughed because it’s not really funny to see grandpa lose his marbles, but luckily it was apparently a joke. In the words of Joe Biden, “I was joking. That was a joke.”

The Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren wine cave clash was my personal highlight of the night. It started with Warren criticizing Mayor Pete for holding a closed-door fundraiser for rich people in some fancy wine cave. Buttigieg fought back by pointing out he has the lowest net worth of anyone on stage, and that Elizabeth Warren wouldn’t be able to pass her own purity test. And then the best exchange of the night happened…

Warren: I do not sell access to my time. I don’t do call time with millionaires and billionaires.

Buttigieg: As of when, Senator?

Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want anyone to know this, but her campaign is funded by millionaires and billionaires. Warren rolled over $10.4 million from her 2018 Senate race to fund her 2020 presidential campaign. The money that rolled over was raised at private fundraisers in Hollywood, Martha’s Vineyard, Silicon Valley, etc. Warren collected money at the private homes of mega-donors. She doesn’t do those private fundraisers anymore, but she should have known better than to criticize Mayor Pete when her own campaign funds are far from clean.

Note: This debate recap is more for entertainment than information, and should not be used to make decisions about which candidate you support. Please visit to educate yourself and find candidates who share the same values you do.

A federal appeals court ruled the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate unconstitutional on Wednesday. The insurance mandate is the provision of Obamacare that requires individuals to maintain health insurance or pay a penalty. Starting in 2019, the penalty was reduced to $0 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Although the insurance mandate was ruled unconstitutional, the rest of the law was not; the fate of the ACA is still very much up in the air. If the entire law were thrown out, 17 million Americans could lose health coverage, and over 50 million Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied health insurance.

Headline of the Week: When the O.K. Sign Is No Longer O.K.

Apparently the “okay sign” - the gesture of making a circle by touching your index finger and thumb together - is now a symbol of white power. This is the first I’m hearing about this, and hopefully the last. White supremacists may be infiltrating more and more aspects of society, slowly chipping away at equality and human rights, but I’ll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize the okay sign as some sort of white power hand signal. I say we take back the okay sign before millions of Americans accidentally join the white power movement by flashing the hand gesture at an inopportune moment.

Bonus Headline of the Week: A DNA Test Revealed This Man Is 4% Black. Now He Wants to Abolish Affirmative Action.

This headline is a few months old now so I couldn’t make it the main Headline of the Week, but I had to include it somewhere.

In Washington state, small businesses with white owners receive more than six times as much money from state government contracts as small businesses with black owners, on average. To level the playing field, the governor of Washington created an initiative to give more contracts to businesses owned by women and people of color. If you are a certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), you are eligible for these contracts.

A white man in Washington took a DNA test that revealed he has 4% African DNA. Using this new found information, he was able to get approved for the MBE certificate in Washington, but was rejected when he applied for a similar federal certificate (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, DBE). The man is now suing the office that rejected his application for the federal certificate.

His case brings up an intriguing question. Who decides racial identity, and how do we determine if someone is “diverse” enough to qualify for programs designed for historically disadvantaged minorities?

Homer Plessy, a man born in the south in 1862, was 1/8 black and 7/8 white. He appeared white in every way, but was still not allowed to travel on the train car meant for white passengers. Today, white Americans can enjoy all the benefits of being white while identifying on paper as a person of color. It’s easier than ever to steal advantages meant for groups that have been historically discriminated against.

One of the Democratic candidates for president, Elizabeth Warren, has a past history of racial misrepresentation. It is possible that this misrepresentation was accidental; Warren claims to have previously believed her ancestry to be more Native American than recent DNA tests showed. Harvard, Warren’s former employer, was subject to a discrimination lawsuit in the 1990s and was openly looking to hire more women and people of color at its law school when Warren was brought on. This is important only because Warren was hired as a woman and a person of color.

After her hiring, she was touted as Harvard Law’s first woman of color. It’s likely that Warren would have gotten the job no matter what her race; she was highly qualified and everyone seems to agree that her position wasn’t contingent on her racial identity. The problem with Elizabeth Warren is that she misrepresented her race (again, this could have been an accidental misrepresentation) and allowed Harvard to proudly put her on display as their token woman of color. DNA tests have revealed that Warren has very little Native American DNA, and the presidential candidate now admits that she is not a person of color

How do we determine if someone is a person of color? Is an eye test good enough? If we use a DNA test, how do we determine the threshold for how much non-European DNA someone must have to be considered a person of color?

We could allow anyone to self-identify as a person of color, but it seems like that would lead to people with a mostly white ancestry taking advantage of the system. Another solution would be to get rid of programs designed to help persons of color entirely, but that would really hurt people who actually are at a disadvantage due to the color of their skin. I’m not sure if there is a good solution to this conundrum.

Recommended Reading: Five Years Later, Who Really Hacked Sony?

Around Thanksgiving, 2014, Sony was hacked just before their Seth Rogen film The Interview was scheduled to release. In the film, the characters played by James Franco and Seth Rogen are enlisted by the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong Un. In the real world, the FBI quickly determined that Sony was hacked by North Korea. It seems very believable; North Korea, a communist dictatorship, is very sensitive to any criticism of their leader. They are also not very fond of the United States. It makes sense that North Korea would do everything they could to damage a studio that portrays two Americans on a mission to assassinate their leader.

The official FBI story, though, doesn’t really add up. A few months after the supposed North Korean attack was contained, a Ukrainian hacker sent proof to a U.S. cyber researcher that the hack did not originate from North Korea. The proof was an internal email from Sony sent nearly two months after the hack was ruled to be contained. Obviously someone from the outside still had access to private information from Sony. The Ukranian hacker claimed that his Russian associate had been the one to hack Sony, and could do it again at will.

A former Sony executive has said “I never believed it had anything to do with The Interview.” Seth Rogen, the star of the film, also has doubts. He said "I've got to say, the fact that we were never really specifically targeted always raised suspicions in my head," referring to the fact that the stars of the film, he and Franco, were never the target of hackers. 

The former CSO of News Corp., the American mass media and publishing company, doesn’t buy the official story either. He said that “From day one, I didn't believe this had the hallmarks of a nation-state, and I still don't. Pointing the finger at an enemy is the easy way out.” It appears that there is more to this story than meets the eye, and there are many wild theories about who actually hacked Sony in 2014. Check out the full article if you want to read more.

Word of the Week: Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole. This device is used often in politics; for example, Democrats may use Trump as a representation of the entire Republican party. Trump also uses the most unpopular Democrats to represent the party as a whole, frequently targeting Nancy Pelosi and members of “The Squad” - Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley - in his attacks against Democrats. 

Synecdoche is commonly used in attacks against immigrants and religious minorities as well. Although there is no evidence that undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than citizens, those strongly against immigration would like for you to believe that the small number of immigrants that commit crimes are representative of all immigrants. Trump infamously said in 2015, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have a lot of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The vast majority of immigrants are good people, not a small minority like some who are anti-immigrant would have you believe.

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