Tragedy at 40,000 Feet: The World Grieves Over Flight MH17

Last week, the world reacted in shock and disbelief as reports of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 surfaced. The plane went down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, and resulted in the loss of all 298 passengers on board, including delegates en route to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Investigators believe that the crash was most likely caused intentionally by a guided missile, which makes the tragedy all the more horrific.

Just one week after the tragic news about Flight MH17 broke, information has surfaced that two more planes have crashed. According to a breaking report from the Huffington Post, “An Air Algerie plane that went missing on Thursday has crashed. The flight with 116 passengers aboard was on its way from Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital when it disappeared from the radar.” Additionally, at least 48 people were killed in another plane crash in Taiwan. Because these multiple tragedies in the span of one week are still so fresh, no news has been released yet about whether the planes went down because of technical failure, or if other forces were at play.

In the wake of both of these grave developments, many people from around the world are recalling a time in which there was far more public hysteria surrounding terrorism and plane hijackings. As International Relations professor Bruce Newsome points out, “Since 2001, passengers have become sensitized to all sorts of diabolical schemes to bring down planes with smuggled explosives. Now they must be sensitized to ground threats as well,” noting that guided missiles have never been so prolific a threat.

These extremist attacks on international airlines are not something that U.S. is taking lightly. Earlier this year, David Petraeus, former CIA Director and chairman of KKR’s Global Institute, warned against the threat of militant groups and guided missiles. “That was always our worst nightmare,” he said of such attacks, “that a civilian airliner would be shot down by [a missile]. Which is why we were so concerned when they moved around,” he says, of U.S. attempts to track these kinds of weapons.

Hopefully, investigators and world leaders will come forward soon with more answers to help grieving families and the public make sense of these tragedies.

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Cost of Living Keeps Increasing – When Will the Federal Minimum Wage Go Up?

There has been a lot of debate lately about the federal minimum wage. Most people agree it should be raised, but how much? Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of the federal minimum wage being raised at $7.25 per hour. Since then, the minimum wage hasn’t changed at all, while the cost of living has gone up quite a bit.

The Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index has gained almost 9 percent during those 5 years, not including volatile food and energy prices. In some cases, food and energy prices have jumped even more: Beef and gasoline, for example, are up around 40 perfcent since July 2009.

The average hourly earnings of a private-sector employees has risen about 10 percent, but that has mainly been just to keep up with inflation. According to the Labor Department, about 1.5 million Americans made the federal minimum wage in 2013. That’s definitely not enough to live on!

Check out this graph made by The Huffington Post to see the price increases of a sample of different goods and services, compared to the minimum wage’s flatline:

2014 Minimum Wage

Infographic by Jan Diehm for The Huffington Post.

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NOM Encourages People to “Void Chase” After Employee Survey On LGBT Issues Surfaces

Void Chase Campaign

Void Chase Campaign

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is boycotting another company – JP Morgan Chase. Their “Void Chase” petition has over 5,000 signatures so far, and is “urging people across the globe to ‘Void Chase’, boycotting the mega-bank because of its highly invasive and inappropriate internal survey that asked employees if they were “allies of the LGBT community.”

NOM President Brian Brown dissed the company in a blog post saying that Chase was, “clearly pushing an LGBT agenda” with the online questionnaire. This apparently creates and intimidating and threating atmosphere.

“We are demanding that the bank issue a formal apology for their offensive conduct and

pledge never again to invade the privacy of their employees by attempting to learn their private views about LGBT issues, and — until they do so — pledge to take your banking business elsewhere,” officials write on the “Void Chase” website. “Chase has refused to answer for this survey, or to apologize and reassure its employees and customers. This is a major violation of trust, the central value in any banking relationship.”

The website shows a screenshot of the question, as well as arguments against JP Morgan chase supporters that the survey was optional and anonymous.

“While Chase has claimed the survey was anonymous, we have proof that employees were required to log in with their unique ID number to take the survey, so the answers to the questions were tied to each employee’s identity,” said Joseph Grabowski, director of communications at NOM told the Christian Post.

A couple of years ago, the traditional marriage group launched the “Dump Starbucks” campaign after the company advocated for same-sex marriage legalization.

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Will the Addition of a Casino Improve Saipan’s Failing Economy?

Saipan Island

Saipan Island IMG: via Shutterstock.

Saipan is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the U.S. in the western Pacific Ocean. However, despite choosing to be a U.S. territory in the 1970s, it has control over many of its laws including employment and immigration.

Tourism is the principal economic activity in Saipan. Most of the country’s income comes from tourist attractions and luxury hotels. This is why a lot of local developers are fighting to construct a casino in Saipan – to help improve its failing economy.

Former Governor Benigno R. Fitial showed his support in early July, saying that, “I am for casino. I’m for economic development,” when asked by the Saipan Tribune for a comment on the casino issue. He also went on to say that the local people, especially the retirees, need their money. “We need resources and casino is a very, very huge resource,” Fitial explained.

Voters have rejected two casino proposals already, but legislation to authorize a single US $2 billion casino resort was approved despite corruption allegations. Saipan gaming law gives the government a fixed $15 million annual gaming license fee over the 40-year license term, with no additional tax on the casino’s revenue.

Regardless of the potential competition and its negative impact on other gaming operations, leading developer Mega Stars says it is committed to investing in Dynasty and the island of Tinian for a prospective casino location. When asked if the development firm was granted the license despite the pushback from locals, Sean King, senior VP of Park Strategies and Mega Stars consultant told Variety, “We respect the will of the people, and we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.”

Once the casino is finished, the municipality may be able to work with nearby destinations for direct flights, bringing in more tourists. Although locals are disapproving of the project, when completed, the casino has the potential to completely transform Saipan’s economy.

What are your thoughts? Will this new casino help or hurt the economy?

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Amazon Testing Out a “Netflix for Books” Service

Have you ever wanted a service that was kind of like Netflix but for books? While a couple different companies, Oyster and Scribd, have been trying this out – but it looks like Amazon might take the cake.

Amazon briefly put up a new page on its website for unlimited e-book and audiobook subscriptions called “Kindle Unlimited”, but it has since been removed.

This signup page was mentioned by several people on Twitter on Wednesday. According to a screenshot of that page, Amazon plans to offer users unlimited access to 600,000 digital books for just $9.99 a month.

The question is – will users only be able to use this service on their Kindle, or will iPad and Nook users be able to subscribe as well?

Oyster CEO Eric Stromberg said in a statement that, “We’re not surprised. They have pivoted from transactional to subscription-based in other media, and have had limited success. They really paved the way in ebooks, and it’s exciting to see them embrace the market we created as the future of books.”

Amazon’s pricing is comparable to Oyster and Scribd, which charge $9.95 a month and $8.99 a month, respectively.

What are your thoughts on Amazon’s new service? Hopefully it will be rolled out soon!

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