Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Mar 10, 2017 in Current Events

Sessions Faces New Questions About Russia

On Wednesday, the day after President Trump’s successful speech to Congress, the Trump administration faced yet another setback: The Washington Post revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met twice with a Russian official during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Last month, Michael Flynn resigned from his post as National Security Adviser after it came to light that he had met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about possibly relaxing Obama’s economic sanctions against the Russians. Now, Attorney General Sessions is facing similar accusations. During Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing in January, Sessions stated that he had not met with Russian officials. However, this later proved to be false.

Sessions argues that, although he perhaps was not as accurate in his answers during the confirmation hearing as he should have been, he did not discuss political matters or anything having to do with the presidential campaign with Kislyak. He claims that he met with Kislyak as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee, not as a supporter of Trump’s campaign. Nevertheless, on Thursday, under pressure from Senate Democrats and Republicans alike, Sessions recused himself from any investigation into charges that Russia tampered with the 2016 election. This means that any probe into Trump’s campaign will likely be headed up by acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente instead.

According to U.S. intelligence, Kislyak is one of Russia’s top spies and spy recruiters in Washington. Many congressional Democrats have called for Sessions’ resignation. President Trump has defended Sessions, calling Democratic opposition to him a witch hunt. One thing is for sure: questions about Russia’s role in the election aren’t going away anytime soon.

Dig Deeper: Attorney General Sessions has announced his intention to recuse himself, rather than resign. Using a dictionary, define the terms “recuse” and “resign.” How are they different?

JC Penney Closing Stores Nationwide

Despite holding steady for the past fifteen years, JC Penney has become the latest traditional retailer to face economic challenges. Recently, the department store chain announced that they would be closing up to 140 stores nationwide–13 percent to 14 percent of its total stores–and offering early retirement to 6,000 full-time employees. They did not reveal how many total jobs would be cut. As of last year, JC Penney had 1,021 stores with 105,000 employees.

©McGraw-Hill Education/Jill Braaten

©McGraw-Hill Education/Jill Braaten

All over the nation, malls have struggled as their traditional department store anchors close down. For example, Macy’s recently announced plans to cut 100 stores (and 10,000 jobs). Sears will close 150 stores, including 108 Kmart locations. The Limited closed all of its stores last month, and Sports Authority went out of business last year. In contrast, bargain chains such as TJ Maxx and Dollar General are still doing well. Amazon, which continues to expand, plans to hire additional 100,000 U.S. workers this year. In other words: American shoppers want a bargain, and traditional retailers must struggle to keep up.

After the closures, JC Penney expects to save $200 in annual costs. In an effort to stay afloat, the company will also add toys, beauty products, appliances, and home goods to its product line. The company is also looking at using “regional pricing,” which means charging more at some stores than at others, in order to increase revenue.

What Do You Think? When you shop for something, where do you go: to an online retailer such as Amazon; to a bargain chain such as Target, Walmart, or TJ Maxx; or to a department store at the mall, such as JC Penney or Macy’s? Why? Given your own experiences, what advice would you give to the owners of JC Penney about ways to improve business for their company?

Human Embryo Research Raises Questions

How long can a human embryo survive outside of the womb? Until recently, scientists thought the answer was about a week. Recently, however, researchers in New York and Great Britain have learned how to keep embryos alive outside of the womb for twice as long: at least 14 days. This means that, for the first time ever, scientists will be able to study living embryos at this important stage in their development.

What they have discovered has amazed them. Embryos kept alive beyond seven days have begun secreting hormones, organizing themselves to form the cells needed to create tissues and organs, and extending tiny hairlike structures which are used to attach to the wall of the uterus–all without any outside stimulation.

However, this research also raises many ethical debates. At the moment, a rule exists that prohibits keeping embryos alive externally for more than 14 days. This is because, at two weeks old, embryos begin showing signs of developing a primitive central nervous system. The rule is meant to limit ethical concerns about experimenting on human embryos.

While the debate over the “14-day rule” continues, scientists are working on finding a way around it by creating “embryo-like structures,” called embryoids, from human stem cells. These structures, though alive, would not be limited by the 14-day rule. Scientists in Great Britain have already successfully created artificial mouse embryos from stem cells grown in a lab: embryoids which are identical to natural mouse embryos in every way. However, these experiments raise their own set of ethical issues, with some people concerned that artificial embryos could pave the way to creating genetically-modified or even cloned babies.

Scientists, on the other hand, argue that these studies could eventually be used to help prevent miscarriages, treat infertility, avoid birth defects, and even provide insight into the human aging process.

What Do You Think? In your opinion, should scientists be allowed to create and study embryoids? Why or why not? Do the benefits of these studies outweigh the potential ethical risks? Remember to be respectful when expressing your opinion about controversial issues.

New Developments in the Death of Kim Jong Nam

International debate continues surrounding the February 13th death of Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of North Korea’s former leader Kim Jong Il and half-brother of current leader Kim Jong Un.

According to Malaysian authorities, Kim Jong Nam was attacked by two women at the Kuala Lumpur airport. The women smeared his face with VX, an extremely deadly nerve agent which is considered a weapon of mass destruction. Kim Jong Nam died on the way to the hospital. The assassination was caught on video, and the women involved–one Indonesian, one Vietnamese–remain in custody, charged with murder. Both say they thought they were part of a prank for a TV show. One North Korean suspect was released due to lack of evidence, and several others are missing. In total, eight North Koreans are suspected to be connected to the murder. The fact that VX is so rare and specialized–it is the most potent of all existing nerve agents–seems to indicate that the state of North Korea itself is behind the assassination. Last week, however, a North Korean representative stated that Kim Jong Nam, who had a history of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, was not assassinated, but rather probably died naturally of a heart attack.

The death of Kim Jong Nam has led to a significant feud between Malaysia and North Korea, because Malaysia refuses to hand over the body. Most recently, Malaysia has announced that it will no longer allow North Koreans to enter the country without a visa. It has caused a diplomatic rift with China as well, because he was under China’s protection at the time of the assassination.

Dig Deeper Locate North Korea, China, and Malaysia on a map. Using internet resources, write a few paragraphs describing the relationships between Malaysia and North Korea, between China and North Korea, and between Malaysia and China, before Kim Jong Nam’s death. How will his assassination change the way these nations interact with each other in the future?