Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Apr 27, 2017 in Current Events

UPDATE: Georgia’s Special Election

Back in March, Election Central brought you a look at the hotly-contended congressional special election race in Georgia’s 6th district, and at Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat who seemed poised to take a seat that has not gone to a Democrat since the Carter administration. Last Wednesday night’s special election, however, did not go as hoped for the Democrats. Ossoff won 48.1 percent of the vote, far more than any other candidate in the race. However, in order to win outright, he would have needed at least 50 percent. Now, the race will continue to a June runoff between Ossoff and the top-earning Republican candidate, Karen Handel.

So, why is the nation watching this election so closely? Georgia’s 6th district, despite having a strong Republican tradition, went to President Trump last November by only a single point. For Democrats, this election was a chance to see if they could gain a foothold by capitalizing on Trump’s unpopularity (Ossoff ran an online fundraising campaign with the catchphrase “Make Trump Furious,” raising a shocking $8.3 million). Similarly, Republican representatives watched to see if aligning themselves too closely with Trump could eventually cost them their own seat.

Immediately after the election, President Trump tweeted that the election was a Republican victory. Democrats, however, disagree: Handel received only 19.8 percent of the vote, compared with Ossoff’s 48.1 percent. It is unlikely that Ossoff will be as successful in the June runoff, because he will be competing against just one Republican, rather than the 17 Republicans he faced last Wednesday. A unified Republican base behind Handel, combined with support from the White House, most likely means that Mr. Ossoff faces a tough campaign road ahead.

What Do You Think? Using internet resources, define the terms “special election” and “runoff election.” Do you think it’s fair that Ossoff did not win the Georgia election despite receiving 48.1 percent of the vote (compared to Handel’s 19.8 percent)? Defend your position based on the terms you defined.

California Rains Destroy Homeless Colony

Whether you live in California or not, chances are you’ve heard a lot about the record rainfall the state has received this year, ending an historic five-year drought. This unprecedented rainy season has brought flooding, threatened aging dams, and, most recently, wiped out a colony of displaced persons living near the Sacramento and American rivers.

Officials estimate that roughly 2,700 homeless people live on the outskirts of Sacramento, largely hidden by the dense underbrush near the water. But a series of downpours last weekend caused the level of the rivers to rise rapidly, driving people to the city streets where they have suddenly become visible to the city’s other inhabitants.

Anri Gor/ShutterstockPuffy clouds cast a shadow over a California city.

Clouds form over California cities, causing unexpected results. (Credit: Anri Gor/Shutterstock)

The same is happening all over California, where about 118,000 homeless and displaced persons live. An encampment of forty to fifty people was wiped out by flooding in San Jose. Four hundred people live along the Santa Ana River in Orange County, where they must constantly relocate to avoid rising water. Homeless people living near rivers already face increased health risks from cold, dampness, and disease. Now, they also face the increased threat of floods and failing dams.

Authorities are doing what they can to help. In Sacramento, for example, Democratic mayor Darrell Steinberg ran his campaign on the premise of aiding the homeless. When two homeless persons died of exposure shortly after Steinberg took office, he opened five 24-hour warming centers in response. Recently, the city has taken steps to create new housing for the homeless and expand mental health and addiction treatment services. However, many people say they will return to the riverbanks once floodwaters recede, preferring a quiet life “under the radar” to more public dwelling in the city streets.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, research one or two organizations that provide aid to homeless and displaced persons who are victims of the floods in California. Present your findings to the class. Is there anything that you or your friends could do to help?

British P.M. Calls for Surprise Vote

Last Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will call for a surprise general election to be held on June 8, rather than waiting until 2020 as expected. An early vote requires the approval of Parliament, which May is expected to receive.

Many analysts believe that the reason for the early vote is that May wants to secure stronger support for Brexit (the separation of Britain from the European Union, the process of which is already underway). At the moment, May’s Conservative Party has a strong lead over the opposition Labour Party. Many Labour Party members have vowed to do whatever they can to block the Brexit process. So it is likely that May is using this surprise election as a way to fill Parliament with Conservatives who support Brexit, in case the public begins to change its mind about Brexit later. (Right now, the Conservative Party holds only a slight majority–only 330 out of 650 seats–and the Brexit referendum itself passed by a narrow margin of only 52 percent to 48 percent.) May has called for unity and stressed the need for the country to come together during this time of upheaval.

Public reaction to the surprise election is mixed. A recent poll showed that the majority of British voters support May’s proposal to hold a general election. Others, however, are suspicious about her motives, confused that she wants to hold an election at a time of such national insecurity, and frustrated by her refusal to participate in any televised debates.

Currently, the Conservatives enjoy a 21-point lead, making it likely that May will succeed in gaining a strong Conservative majority in Parliament.

Dig Deeper Using the library or internet resources, research the British system of government. How is it similar to ours? How is it different? If it’s helpful, feel free to draw a picture or diagram.

Dolly University?

When you think about college courses, chances are you imagine classes like English, math, and engineering. But what about a course on Dolly Parton?

At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Dr. Lynne Sacco teaches an elective course called “Dolly’s America.” The class, aimed at honors history students, uses the life, music, and cultural contributions of country music superstar Dolly Parton as a way to explore the history of the 20th century in Appalachia. According to the course overview, students use popular culture to explore such regional themes as hillbillies, feuds, bluegrass music, Christian entertainment, and tourism.

Parton herself was born to a poor family in Tennessee in 1946, and moved to Nashville after high school to launch her music career. Since then, she’s had four #1 hits on the Billboard country chart and has received a Grammy lifetime achievement award. She is also well known for her social contributions. Her program “Imagination Library” delivers a free book each month to children under age five all over the country.

University of Tennessee students feel especially connected to Ms. Parton: Dollywood, her theme park, is located about an hour away from the university. Roughly 87 percent of the university’s undergraduate population comes from Tennessee. Using a local icon like Parton as a lens to view the region’s history allows students to make a personal connection to the material–as well as giving them pride in their rich cultural heritage.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, create a timeline of key events in the life of Dolly Parton. Be sure to include important career milestones and awards. If your school offered a class like the one taught at the University of Tennessee, would you sign up for it? Why or why not? Do you think a course like this one has value for students? Explain.