Tuesday Talks: Tuition-Free College and Education in General

The main argument Governor Cuomo makes for tuition-free college is that it prepares the workforce of the state for the future. It is quite clear that automation and outsourcing has put pressure on American workers to seek employment outside of manufacturing. More and more jobs will require college degrees. However, what this bill doesn’t do is combat rising student loan interest rates that can keep students in debt for decades. Sure, it helps prevent debt. Yet for many New Yorkers, this bill comes far too late. College graduates who are in debt now will still be unable to renegotiate their student loan interest rates. College students will continue to have to pay for room and board which is becoming more expensive.

This bill also doesn’t seem to acknowledge a very large group of people – blue-collar workers. The state government and society often claim that college is the way to go. It often seems it is the only way to go. However, for many workers, college is irrelevant and a waste of time. It doesn’t achieve their goals. This comes at a time when many trades cannot be outsourced. You can’t, for example, send a bridge to China for a worker there to weld it. It’s impractical. Welding is an insanely high-demand job. We place a lot of emphasis on education, but where is the leadership for training people for these jobs?

Governor Cuomo realizes that his plan doesn’t help a lot of people. He even calls his plan a “fight for the middle class.” It doesn’t provide free tuition to wealthier families who should be able to foot the bill themselves. But, what about the working poor? What about concerns about dwindling social mobility in our post-industrial economy? What about the fact that there continue to be people who work long hours every week and still cannot make ends meet? My qualms over this bill are not related to the residency requirement after receiving the tuition scholarship. This requirement is pragmatic in that it aims to make a return on its investment through taxation of graduates’ income. Plus, 80% of graduates in New York state stay anyway. My real issue with this bill is that it does not address key concerns facing working-class New Yorkers. They will also be paying the taxes that support the ability of young middle-class Americans to remain in the middle class.

My hope is that this bill, despite its imperfections, shines a lot on our true intentions when it comes to bettering our society. My hope is that low-income high school students will have more of a reason to graduate high school so that they can go to community college or a four-year program. Many students give up because high school diplomas aren’t good enough for most jobs, and they couldn’t afford college anyway. However, we can’t always predict future decisions. Humans are irrational beings after all. Despite all this, I support this bill because it is leadership in the right direction. It understands that education is not an entitlement program but rather an empowerment program. We invest in students so that they have the skills and power to improve our society. I pray that this actually happens, and if the program fails to deliver improved outcomes, we must be mature enough and courageous enough to demand some changes.

PATRICK WOOD:  Well said, John. The bill isn’t perfect, and leaves a lot of issues unaddressed, but before delving into that, I think it’s important to celebrate this monumental step forward. After many of our peer nations offered free 4-year university for citizens (and in the case of Germany, even non-citizens), the USA finally has a state that has gotten its priorities straight and offered the same. Hopefully this gives credence to a movement and the momentum of the free college movement spreads. I absolutely agree that we are continuing to overlook the great value of vocational schools.

Unfortunately, most bachelors degrees are worth less than they used to be in terms of relative earning potential and the proportion of graduates who find work in their fields quickly. Those who know they don’t want to pursue a STEM field or a graduate program may actually be in a better position having taken a couple years to learn a trade than the person who spent four years getting a bachelor’s degree. There will always be a need for mechanics, beauticians, plumbers, electricians, and other specialized services – it’s a wrongheaded approach to push high school graduates away from these careers.

JOHN: I think one possibility is that it might open up unintended consequences. If a lot of students go for the scholarship, it might make the value of their degree lower than before. This is because job markets are competitive in that you must be “more qualified” than another person. Social sciences have a lot of students, but you need even more education to stand out because an undergraduate degree is simply not enough in most cases. For a political science major, you might need to get a law degree. Most psychology students will need postgraduate education, maybe for research, therapy, or a school psychologist.

We know automation is happening and we know outsourcing is happening. I definitely believe that we should promote professions or vocations that are the least prone to those happening. We need to prepare students for a world that has less routine skills and more critical thinking and creativity. Instead, in many cases, we are teaching students to simply accept information and not challenge it. This is setting them up for failure. If not failure, we set them up for a career where they only have to accept orders. In many cases, this is law enforcement and the military.

PATRICK: I don’t see NY state providing free higher education as a bad thing, even though it certainly puts a vocational schools and a private colleges in a worse position. Teaching students to accept information and not challenge it is more a problem related to current campus political atmosphere and less inherent in the concept of university.
If these are the only jobs, the government will have a lot more motivation to conduct military operations where we don’t need to be.
JOHN: What I’m talking about isn’t necessarily college’s fault. I’m discussing education before that. In many cases, schools are run like businesses where we value productivity far more than creativity. Why? The students aren’t going into fields like manufacturing where they do something repetitive. “Do your work” is the mantra far more than “Oh, that’s unusual and interesting. Tell me more about that.”
PATRICK: I agree. I think students feel very constrained in how far they can push boundaries in expressing themselves. Both just in expressing opinions and in their formal work.
JOHN: I’m not encouraging disrupting class. The students have to remain on topic. What I am saying, however, is students should have an opportunity to look at an issue in new ways.
PATRICK: I think my issue here is that students are typically afraid to go against the grain. They think they’ll it’ll be a stain on their record and rightly or wrongly often believe that more creative and unique thinking isn’t “what the professor is looking for.”
A friend of mine at law school told me on the day of the final “just quote the damn professor in your essay and you’ll get an A.” Whether that’s the truth of not, it’s the prevailing belief.
JOHN: I think a lot of it comes down to how we assess student learning. It’s far easier and more objective to grade a student using a Scantron. It’s far more difficult to grade a student on creativity or critical thinking through essays or projects. I also don’t believe everything needs to require novelty in thought. Sometimes common sense suffices. I think the common sense perspective should remain a part of the discussion to keep people grounded. I also believe people should seek out new information and new ideas.
I think in scientific research, for example, it helps to take risks. You are required to find something new. If you just memorize a textbook, you’re not really contributing much to the field.
PATRICK: I think introductory level classes should be structured to develop basic understanding of underlying principles and common sense, trying to stick to objectivity
JOHN: But absolutely you need a scientific foundation
PATRICK: And upper-level classes are for seeking something new and really branching out.
JOHN: You have to be able to connect new information to old information.
PATRICK: Exactly!
JOHN: I think there are simply excellent, excellent universities with a lot of talented faculty members and students. I think America has some of the best-performing students in the world. But we also have a lot of low-performing students who are impoverished and might act out because they don’t feel school can do anything for them.
It’s very difficult, and I work with these students personally, to teach them positive behavior. In many cases, teachers will outline expectations and then the students go home to a difficult home life that unteaches them everything school did about behavior.
It feels like a battle honestly. What can we do?

PATRICK: I’m not a great person to ask, but I think part of the value of school is keeping kids safe while they are attending.

JOHN: What do you mean by safe?
PATRICK: Mostly physical safety but perhaps also refuge from a difficult home life
Even if, as you say, a lot of what is taught in school is unlearned.
JOHN: A lot of students take pride in demonstrating challenging behavior because they see it as power. And a lot of students don’t want to come off as vulnerable, they act tough. Or they are so used to conflict and drama that peace and quiet is boring; so, they engage in drama to keep themselves entertained. It’s a big deal when kids get into a fight because it’s exciting.
PATRICK: Fair point but I think the fights and conflicts are perhaps better had within the confines of the school building instead of the home or the street. There are more adult figures who care about the safety of the students there.
JOHN: I haven’t seen as many physical fights, but students often battle teachers to refuse work or deny that they were talking when the teacher was trying to do a lesson. I will say the students are much better behaved 1 on 1 because they aren’t trying to perform. What I mean is a lot of students act bad because it makes them cool to their friends. So, they’ll talk back to the teacher or even curse at them. Then there’s the times the teacher talks to the student, and the student doesn’t even respond to the teacher and continues talking to their friends.
PATRICK: Right. Better to look “hard” than like a suck up to the teacher.
JOHN: I don’t need students to suck up to me or another teacher. I just want the students to focus on learning.
PATRICK: That can be perceived as sucking up or worse. You certainly face a real challenge.
JOHN: A lot of the students come to school and want to learn and get good grades, but then you have a handful of kids who don’t care about that. They end up disrupting and distracting other students. Just a handful of students in a class can make a big difference in the classroom environment.
PATRICK: It will be interesting to see how New York’s private colleges respond to SUNY tuition becoming free. They will most likely have to up their scholarship offers considerably to keep enrollment numbers up, we’ll see how they respond to this narrowing of their income stream.
JOHN: They definitely don’t like the bill because it will hurt their enrollment, but they might end up having to reduce their tuitions to compete.
PATRICK: We’ll soon found out just how heavy that blow is, and what they plan to do to compensate.
JOHN: They might want to boost their postgraduate programs because the Excelsior Scholarship doesn’t apply to postgraduate studies. I think a shift is very likely.
PATRICK: Their hand will be forced.
JOHN: Postgraduate tuition is higher than undergraduate tuition anyway. Prospective jobs requiring postgraduate coursework are generally higher-paying and more competitive.

New York’s Tuition-Free College Plan

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed tuition-free college in a rally beside progressive populist Bernie Sanders last January. This month, the New York Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly approved the plan as part of the budget and Cuomo is expected to sign it into law. Bill A03009 aims to prepare New York’s workforce for the future through higher education. The plan is to provide free tuition to eligible applicants at one of its many public universities and community colleges.

The Excelsior Scholarship provides certain students with an award that covers the cost of their tuition at a public university or community college. This program will receive $87 million in state funding.

To be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship, applicants must…

  • Be a resident of New York State at the time of application
  • Have an adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 for the 2017-2018 school year, less than $110,000 for the 2018-2019 school year, and less than $125,000 for the 2019-2010 school year.
    • This means you and your parents (or if you’re married, you and your spouse) must make less than the numbers provided to be eligible for the scholarship.
  • Not already have a Bachelor’s degree if they seek a Bachelor’s degree or not have an Associate’s Degree if they seek an Associate’s degree
  • Not already have a scholarship that pays for their full cost of attendance
  • Enroll at least 12 credits a semester and completes at least 30 combined credits a year
  • Attain the grade-point average needed to successfully complete your coursework
  • Complete a two-year, four-year, or five-year program within two, four, or five years, respectively. Allowable interruptions to this requirement are the death of a family member, medical leave, military service, and parental leave.
  • Live in New York state and not be employed in another state for as long as you received the scholarship. For example, if you received an award for a four-year program, you must remain in New York state for four years. Exceptions to this rule are completing undergraduate coursework and attending graduate school. If the applicant violates this rule, you must the scholarship becomes a loan the applicant must repay.
  • Apply for the scholarship before the deadline the college president sets. The college president can also decide which students will receive the scholarship if funding is insufficient. Priority goes to current students of the college.

The Enhanced Tuition Awards provide certain students with a scholarship that covers the cost of their tuition at a four-year private, not-for-profit college. This program will receive $19 million in funding. The sum of these awards, student TAP funds, and institutional scholarships would be equal to $6,000.

To be eligible for this program, you must meet the same requirements as those above for the Excelsior Scholarship. However, fewer students can take advantage of these awards as the state only allocates $19 million to this program.

Greater Scheme will discuss the potential consequences of this bill in a separate article.

Donald Trump Is a Fascist

When are we justified in using the F-word to describe someone who would never use it to describe themselves? What is fascism?

Merriam Webster provides two definitions:

1. A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

2. A tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control

Exalts nation and often race above the individual. Check. When NFL players took a knee during the National anthem, Donald Trump went ballistic on Twitter, chastising them in a series of tweets that stretched out over a period of several months. Trump even went so far as to call for a boycott of the quintessentially American and massively popular National Football League if they refused to crack down on these silent political protests directed at police brutality against black folks.

Strong autocratic control? Increasingly, check. Trump frequently attacks both the intelligence and integrity of perceived enemies in the judicial and legislative branches of government. Trump is above the law, purposefully interfering with the investigation into possible collusion with Russian agents to ensure electoral victory in 2016, led by Robert Mueller. Trump did this at least twice. First, when he fired FBI Director James Comey to ease the investigation’s pressures and admitted in an interview with NBC that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he made the decision to terminate Comey. The President obstructed justice once again when he personally directed former chief executive officer of the Trump campaign and Chief Strategist in the Trump administration Steve Bannon to avoid answering queries posed by a House Committee conducting the Russia probe.

Trump loyalists are occasionally rewarded with public praise and appointments to lofty positions. Meanwhile members of the Republican Party who dared take issue with Trump’s approach to a couple issues are seeing their Senate career end (neither Bob Corker or Jeff Flake will seek re-election this year). Corker and Flake discontinued viability as Republican senators is likely less because of Trump and more because of a Republican Party that is complicit in rule by a fascist, preferring to pass off the president as a valid and respectable leader rather than raise a challenge to Trump’s unlawful and dangerous behavior.

Okay. Let’s move on before I get carried away. A dictatorial leader presiding over a country with “severe economic regimentation.” Heck, yeah. The three richest Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 50% (over 150 million Americans) combined. While America is often considered a rich country, if not the richest in the entire world, roughly 20% of Americans have zero or negative net worth.

Granted, income and wealth inequality in the United States was terrible before Trump took office. Yet Trump’s response has been a tax cut bill that handed massive cuts to top earners, and a crackdown on food stamps resulting in 2 million Americans being booted from the program.

Forcible suppression of opposition? We saw this before Trump was even elected. Trump used to encourage violence at his political rallies, going so far as to promise to pay legal fees associated with “knock[ing] the crap” out of protesters.

Now that he is president, he has called Democratic lawmakers who did not applaud him during his State of the Union address as “treasonous.”

Any news story that doesn’t fit his narrative is “fake news.”

And of course, there’s this page.

Lest we commit the “dictionary fallacy,” we should consider other factors that reek of fascism and authoritarianism, such as his frequent boasts about military strength and obsession with expanding and modernizing our already ludicrously large nuclear arsenal.

Appeals to machismo, such as Trump’s utilization of the word “little” as a prefix to the names of various men he quarrels with, and a reference to Trump’s “button” as bigger and more powerful than that of Kim Jong Un, and proudly proclaiming that he is not “politically correct” are as worrisome as they are infantile and stupid.

Lastly, Trump seems to openly condone other fascists and strong men, retweeting the likes of “Britain First” and lavishing compliments on Russian President Vladimir Putin. This includes one incredible exchange with Joe Scarborough in which he acknowledged Putin had opposition journalists killed and in the same breath appeared to dismiss the fact as unimportant.

The United States stands on tremulous grounds. Nothing short of Trump’s impeachment, conviction, and removal from office will return our nation to normalcy. Richard Nixon, who actually won the popular vote quite handily, was forced to resign after committing obstruction of justice. While Nixon was “tricky” and corrupt, he was not a fascist.

If a standard politician considered by many to be shrewd and intelligent was out after strike one, why are we now letting a much more dangerous commander-in-chief commit the same offense as Nixon time and time again?

The solution cannot rely solely on Democratic success at the ballot box. Fixing this mess requires Republican representatives to acknowledge the stark reality that the man representing their party and sitting in the White House (or Mar-A-Lago) is as dangerous a criminal as any.

Trump Has Awakened A Dangerous American Machismo

Of the many factors that contributed to the election of Donald Trump, one of them was undoubtedly Trump’s exploitation of a growing sentiment among Baby Boomers and seniors that American society was becoming too sensitive.

While people on the right seem to acknowledge this by continuing to applaud Trump and his uniquely bizarre approach to presidential leadership and penchant for attacking virtually everyone with bombastic rhetoric on Twitter with comments like “I’m glad we have a president who isn’t politically correct!” and “He says it like it is.”

There is surprisingly little talk on the left about how the obsession with rooting out political and emotional sensitivity is extremely dangerous and is responsible in part for the Democrats’ catastrophic loss in 2016.

At the inception of Trump’s candidacy, the right had worked itself into a frenzy over “participation trophies,” “safe spaces,” and “trigger warnings.”

“Snowflake” and “whiney millennial” began being replaced in online political discussion with words like “cuck” and “beta male” — which show a much more hostile, viscerally negative reaction to non-conservative thinking and behavior (which begs the question, who are the real snowflakes so easily upset)?

It’s a social phenomenon I find disheartening. We are no longer at a point in our history where all our men must grow to be hardened warriors. I think it is far more important to care about others and to vocally object to their mistreatment than it is to know how to sand a table, build a deck, or shoot a deer.

It is time to embrace compassion and shout its value from the mountaintops.

The Absolute Truth Never Left

Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. – Henry David Thoreau

I remember the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. After the solar eclipse, horrible things just kept happening. Massive hurricanes were relentlessly battering the Western Hemisphere. A chain of hellish wildfire set the forests of the West in flames. Two earthquakes struck Mexico in rapid succession. North Korea threatened the U.S. with nuclear war. Mass shootings took scores of lives in Las Vegas and Texas. I remember going on Facebook and reading a post that connected the events of 2017 to the prophecy in Luke 21:25-26.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

As an agnostic, I posted an article claiming that Luke 21:25-26 does not prophesy 2017. I argued that the prophecy was about the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. However, I looked up any solar eclipses prior to the Siege of Jerusalem. Not a single solar eclipse appeared over Jerusalem in 70 AD. Then, on September 23, 2017, the sign of the woman with birth pangs appeared in the constellation Virgo. This was prophesied in Revelation 12:1-2.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.

If the events of today were in any way Biblical, I set out to find evidence disproving the resurrection or even the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. I had been considering the conspiracy theory that the Flavian dynasty of Rome invented the pacifist savior Jesus story to put down the militaristic Messianic movement of Judea occurring in the 60s AD (as argued in Caesar’s Messiah by Joseph Atwill). However, when you date Paul’s epistles, you realize he discusses Jesus as early as 50 AD, two decades before the Siege and two decades after the crucifixion. In addition, the Gospel of Luke flows directly into the Acts of the Apostles which ends before the well-documented trial and execution of the apostle Paul. This would mean that Luke and Acts were written before 68 AD at the latest.

So what if Paul and the apostles of Jesus made up the resurrection? If you can disprove the resurrection, Jesus is no longer a supernatural figure but simply a man. I consulted this page and discovered a few things. The Gospel’s account of Jesus clearly indicates that Jesus died because water and blood came out of him when he was speared. This is evidence of death by asphyxiation. There are theories that the disciples stole the body and hid it or that the disciples were all delusional about the resurrection. However, it is very difficult to prove group hallucination as that phenomenon is very individualized. What if the apostles simply lied? Then, they paid a high price for a hoax. Would you be crucified upside down because you said that Jesus was resurrected when you knew he wasn’t? I wouldn’t.

I concluded that the resurrection was indeed a historical event. That was the only conclusion that made sense. Now let’s say you believe that Jesus died for your sins and was resurrected and that believing in him gives you eternal life. If you were an eyewitness, you would realize that a resurrection is not a natural event but a supernatural one. You would conclude that the resurrected individual was trustworthy and divine, even the Son of God. If he’s the Son of God, what he saws is to be taken seriously. This is the crux of Christianity.

Still, I did not instantly find my place in Christ. It was a process. After researching different theologies, I found out about Unitarian Universalism. I attended a service on October 29, 2017, and I really enjoyed the service because they used the song “What a Wonderful World” in their service. I wanted to learn more about the Biblical foundations for universalism. I also hoped that I could meet people that were about the same age as I. However, I found that the Biblical evidence against universalism was way stronger and the young adult population at the UU Congregation was lacking. I realized that I was ultimately lying to myself by attending UU services because I wanted Jesus. Yet, I still had to look for a congregation where I could grow in my spiritual journey with people my own age. Having lasting friendships outside of work and school is important.

Back in 2013 when I was in my junior year of college, I was called to play bass guitar on Friday nights for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Geneseo. I enjoyed playing bass, but I felt like I was lying to myself. Here were all these people who believed, and I simply didn’t feel like the Spirit was flowing through me. I hadn’t truly believed in a personal God since about August 2006 (back when people still used AIM). I felt like I couldn’t enjoy the fruits of the services if I didn’t believe. I felt sad because I felt like this group of people cared about me. I definitely didn’t feel a part of the fast-paced college culture of drinking and risky behavior. However, I didn’t feel a part of the Christian group either. I felt that my group was small. It’s hard to find non-believers who don’t engage in some sort of risky behavior.

Flash forward to December 2017. I was about to give up hope in finding a congregation with a young adult presence. I figured I would go to the Binghamton University InterVarsity Fellowship’s website to see if they offered anything for non-students. I didn’t find on-campus events for non-students. However, I did see a list of five churches that students at BU attend. I settled on Grace Point Church in Vestal after watching videos of the praise band. If there are young people leading the band, perhaps there are young people in the congregation.

On December 3, 2017, my roommate and I attended a service at Grace Point. It was a small leap of faith, but it was worth it. The band was simply too good for words. I absolutely adored their song selection — “Glorious Day” was transformative for me. The guest speaker’s sermon was absolutely awesome. I was not disappointed. I filled out an info card and within just a few hours, the young adult coordinator reached out to me. Talk about prompt! He informed me of a young adult Christmas Party the next night! Everything just seemed to click together. I got introduced to some new faces and people I think I will be good friends with. I came back the next Sunday, and I’ll be back Monday night for the young adult group that meets that night.

When I found my place in Christ, I prayed and prayed and prayed. I pray everyday. I don’t pray for material things. That’s not the purpose. Christ died to reconcile God’s people with God. I prayed to be delivered from my sins. I wept for the people who not found their place in Christ. I reached out to someone who then promised to consider it. I recommended the movie The Case for Christ. The man in it tries to disprove the resurrection and ends up believing not on intuition but on evidence. This was a lot like the process that led me to believing.

Fortunately, there is a lot of good news. That’s what the Gospels are. Good news. If you put your trust in Christ to cleanse you of your sins, you will be rewarded. And now I’m in the process of spreading this news to others, the lost children of God who need Him back in their lives.

Based on the Book of Revelation, there is a Great Tribulation that lasts either 3.5 or 7 years. Whether it is upon us or not, we live and die in the midst of a battle between good and evil. Follow the Word of God and build a relationship with God through prayer. Let the Lord do the heavy lifting.

The absolute truth never left. “It is the nature of God to conceal a thing” but there will be a revelation of the absolute truth in the future.

Please reach out to me below if you would like to discuss this very important topic. The stakes have never been higher.


Yemen is Ripe for an Explosive Civil War


Yemen is a relatively new country. Only in 1990 did North Yemen and South Yemen unite to form the Republic of Yemen. With rising unemployment and poverty (more than 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day), the Yemeni people have many reasons to be angry. It’s only going to get worse.

If a country relies on a single export for 25% or more of its GDP, an explosive civil war is likely to emerge. Not only is Yemen an oil export-driven economy, but Yemen’s oil fields are expected to run dry by 2025. When this happens, knowing what the country’s new primary export will be difficult. Only 3% of the country’s land is arable, making it a poor candidate for agriculture.

A longtime hotbed for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, turbulence and terrorism already threaten Yemen’s stability. While Yemen has not yet reached a full-on civil war, current conditions suggest it is only a matter of time.

First, the religious composition of the country makes bloodshed more likely. Sectarian conflict has emerged between two insurgent groups –Sunnis in the south aligned with President Hadi and the Shia Houthi insurgents in the north (see Shia insurgency in Yemen). Over 10 years, this conflict has already cost 16,200 lives, 10,000 of which were civilians. Thousands more have been wounded or displaced from their homes.

Second, the current government has been ineffective at lifting the population out of poverty. It has not kept its people safe from terrorist attacks and drones from the West. It maintains an authoritarian regime under the façade of democracy and rebellions and coup attempts are to be expected.

However, the exhaustion of Yemen’s oil fields will very likely catalyze civil war. In this case, Yemen virtually becomes a failed state and possibly even a collapsed state. Exceedingly rare, Somalia and Afghanistan formerly met this definition as both lacked any effective central authority.

The implications of a collapsed state in the 2020s would be enormous, requiring increasingly likely international intervention. Terrorist organizations take advantage of failed or collapsed states; Al Shabaab maintains a strong presence in Somalia, and Al Qaeda and its allies controlled half of Mali up to just four years ago.

There are so many indicators of an impending explosive civil war in Yemen that if such an event does not happen, we must admit that much of our understanding of political science and international relations is false. Leading authorities on failed states and civil war, such as Paul Collier, may face harsh scrutiny or complete discredit.

1/23/2017 Composite News

Attendance at the Trump inauguration ceremony was much smaller than that of Obama, who had an estimated 1.8 million in attendance (Source). The White House Press Secretary told reporters that the media reports on the true attendance numbers were false (Source).


Photo – Reuters. Left is Trump’s attendance. Right is Obama’s attendance.

On his first “real day in office,” President Trump signed an executive order taking the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He also signed orders imposing a “federal hiring freeze” and a directive to prevent American NGOs from using federal funds for abortions abroad (Source). Many populists within both the Republican Party and Democratic Party agree with Trump’s opposition to TPP. Trump also plans to renegotiate NAFTA and meet with foreign leaders (Source).

On January 21, 2017, millions of women participated in the Women’s March and sister marches in hundreds of cities around the world (Source). Trump has stirred strong discontent due to controversial comments about women. Before Trump’s inauguration of January 20, anti-Trump riots broke out in Washington, D.C. Protesters broke windows of such establishments as Bank of America (Source). Vandalism of cars and businesses as well as property damage have been reported in the nation’s capital as well (Source).

Can We Handle the Truth?


By John Buterbaugh

An agenda is something that poisons the truth, and in many ways we can’t handle the truth. We accept the lie that makes us more comfortable and is consistent with our prior beliefs. If we are willing to accept cognitive dissonance, we will have to refer to a variety of sources and develop a composite that may constitute the truth. The problem is there’s a paradox — there is so much information that we end up being less informed. It is very easy to find information, and yet we don’t always have the time or skills to critically analyze it. We can only spend so much of our attention to it. Most of our attention is spent on what lies within our horizon because it is more tangible and it is more relevant to our everyday survival. This continuous experience contributes to common sense.

However, certain malevolent influences warp our sense of common courtesy and practicality. I believe this comes back to the conclusions on cultural discrepancies in antisocial behaviors. We also resort to trusting our basic instincts, which are often animalistic, because we want to avoid processing the dauntingly large body of information in the world. This seems to relate to Donald Trump’s tendency to avoid in-depth analysis in favor of his instinct. To many people, Trump’s view of the world liberates them from this existential crisis of Too Much Information (TMI) and a restoration of a simpler era. This time was comfortable and easy to understand.

There are different customs in the East than there are in the West. There are different views in urban areas than there are in rural areas. Through experiences in varied contexts and not simply research, you may attain a greater understanding of the truth.


The Need for Speed: Are Faster Trains the Solution?

Pictured: Amtrak train on the Acela Express service, which runs from Boston to Washington.

By John Buterbaugh

I was riding around in my parent’s car and somehow the topic of Richard Hanna, a former Republican congressman from the Utica area, came up. My dad’s support for him has grown as he has flown with him on a plane. He’s learned he is a common-sense guy who makes enough money not to owe anyone favors. He thinks he should run for Governor of New York. However, he said the only downside of him would be that he wouldn’t support funding high-speed rail construction in New York state (even though the federal government would provide most of the funding, if at all). My dad thinks this would be a cool idea, and I agree. We disagreed on how feasible it is.

Supporting high-speed rail will be met with a lot of popular opposition. First, it’s not a sexy idea — people find social justice or terrorism far more interesting. Second, people will complain that billions of their tax dollars will be wasted on a system that people won’t even use and will take too long to build. Third, people like the independence of driving around a car because they don’t have to stop for anybody and they can go exactly where they want. They don’t see the need for trains. That’s how most commuters in upstate New York and most of America like to travel. There is one thing most commuters don’t like — they generally don’t like driving to New York City and having to pay a premium for parking. It’s a pain. People in Long Island think you’re crazy if you drive into the city. The Long Island Railroad is the busiest commuter railroad in North America in large part because of its convenience.

If high-speed rail is going to happen, New York City will have to be a part of the equation. I don’t know what the number of people who would start using a train would be if it were high-speed. If high-speed rail is to work, it would have to connect the Megalopolis that is Boston through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to Washington. These cities have enough commuters to support this system — businesspeople and government workers can travel a lot. It would make airfare cheaper between these cities due to the increased transportation competition.

But I don’t know if high-speed rail is the answer. Is our goal to get people to places faster to show we can improve our infrastructure or discourage traffic, sprawl, and parking annoyances? If it’s the former, maybe we need high-speed rail. We put a man on the moon after all. We can put pieces of metal on the ground that makes trains go faster.

However, if it’s the latter, maybe we just need to make riding a train more pleasurable and give people more reasons to ride. Perhaps free Wi-Fi would do that. Maybe having a free movie would be nice. Maybe if the trains arrived on time. If people started enjoying trains more and had some entertainment to pass the time, we might not even need high-speed rail. It would be a lot less expensive, and we could accomplish the same goal.

Simplify Healthcare – Seriously


Although the single-payer system may seem like a radical system, it is the system that would be most effective in simplifying the health care system and control rising healthcare costs. When hundreds of thousands of doctors want the single-payer system, the American people should listen. We have already observed the benefits of a government-financed healthcare system in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Healthcare costs in those countries are much smaller than those in the United States. There are a number of reasons why this is the case.

First, doctors don’t have to waste money determining how much a private insurance plan will cover for medical expenses. As a result, more time is spent seeing a patient and less time is spent on paperwork and other administrative costs. We would be saving billions of dollars every year doing this.

Second, people would no longer delay treatments or operations. Treating an illness or injury as soon as possible prevents the medical problem from getting worse. When an illness or injury is untreated after a long time, it becomes more and more expensive to treat it. Many people avoid going to the hospital because of the mountain of debt that might ensue. In fact, the leading reason that Americans go bankrupt is because of medical bills. In this way, a single-payer system is the most fiscally responsible system.

Third, a single-payer system means that government insurance agencies can determine true medical costs, which are often not well-defined, and negotiate based on that. Patients have less leverage in negotiating for cheaper prices. They have to accept medical costs as they are because the other option is further deterioration of their health or even death. When the government is allowed to negotiate, it has more leverage because it can make certain professionals exclusive providers of a service so long as it is high quality.

Unfortunately, a big reason why we do not have a single-payer system is because private insurers would lose business and pharmaceutical companies do not want to cut drug prices. These entities are beholden to stockholders who invest to reap dividends. Healthcare companies cannot keep stockholders investing and keep prices low. Nevertheless, with all the complications caused by the Affordable Care Act and the industry itself, it becomes necessary to reconsider the system as a whole. Every system has its benefits and flaws, and we should develop a system regardless of ideology that gives people the healthcare they need.


The bigger picture of a shrinking world.