Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Apr 20, 2018 in Stuff You Should Know

Facebook vs. Congress

Last week, Election Central brought you the story of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, which resulted in private information of up to 87 million Facebook customers being harvested by Cambridge Analytica and used by Trump’s presidential campaign. In the wake of this privacy breach, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, was called to testify before Congress, where he spent two days answering almost 600 questions from 100 legislators.

Basically, the questions centered around how Facebook handles its users information and deals with privacy issues: in other words, how much privacy do people have the right to expect when they sign onto a program like Facebook? When lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about this, he stated that people always have the right to delete their Facebook accounts, or to limit the information that they share there. The problem is, once you have shared information or signed onto an app, even if you delete it later, your personal information is still out there. Zuckerberg also pointed out that Facebook’s privacy policy is all spelled out in its user agreement. However, the user agreement is long and filled with legal jargon, and many people don’t take the time to read it.

In response to privacy concerns, Facebook is now rolling out a new dashboard which will allow people to more easily see what information they are sharing, what apps they have used Facebook to sign into, who sees their information, and more. This will give people a greater ability to protect their privacy while using the program and hopefully avoid such security breaches in the future.

What Do You Think? In your opinion, if you share personal information online, do you have the right to expect it to stay private? Explain.

Heritage Lost

The historic UNESCO site--totem poles, Ninstints, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada

The historic UNESCO site–totem poles, Ninstints, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada Credit: Bob Hilscher/Shutterstock

What do the Statue of Liberty, the Great Wall of China, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have in common? They are all World Heritage Sites. The World Heritage Program began in 1972 and now includes 1,073 sites that “are of outstanding universal value to humanity.” It is run by Unesco, the cultural organization of the United Nations. The United States was instrumental in beginning the program over forty years ago and now has 23 sites on the list, including national parks and several important monuments. But as of last fall, Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from Unesco, effective at the end of this year.

So what will this mean for our World Heritage Sites? On the surface, not a lot. Each member nation is responsible for maintaining its own sites, so nothing much will change in that regard. But Unesco does offer valuable services to its member nations, which the U.S. will no longer benefit from. For example, Unesco monitors the sites and sets certain standards for their upkeep. It also provides financial assistance to sites, and promotes tourism. But the larger effects of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw will be felt on a global scale. The U.S. once made up 22 percent of Unesco’s total budget. Without U.S. funding, the organization will be less able to help fund sites in poorer nations, who maybe can’t afford to maintain their sites without this much-needed financial assistance. And even more than that, the U.S. is now no longer a participant in this program which unites the global community behind a shared appreciation for our cultural treasures.

Dig Deeper Imagine that you are planning a trip around the world. Visit the online list of World Heritage Sites and choose ten that you would like to see, and why.

The Cost of Doing Business

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is facing some major ethical problems. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office–a nonpartisan group–accused Pruitt of breaking the law last year when he ordered a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for his office so that he could talk without his employees overhearing him – and he did it without notifying Congress first.

That’s bad enough, but this wasn’t the only time that Pruitt spent taxpayers’ money inappropriately. He insists on flying first class when he travels, and on having bodyguards 24 hours a day. During a trip to Italy, he spent $30,000 to hire private security guards, rather than using the embassy ones for free. He also is accused of asking his staff to find excuses for him to fly back to his home state of Oklahoma, so that he can spend weekends at home–at the expense of about $15,000 so far. Pruitt also fired five EPA officials who complained about his over-the-top spending.

One especially troublesome violation was when Pruitt rented a room in a condominium complex on Capitol Hill for $50 per night. That’s an extremely low rate. The problem? The condominium complex is co-owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist who was doing business with the EPA.

Now, Democrats–and even many Republicans–are calling for Pruitt to resign or to be fired. On April 7, President Trump responded to the controversy by tweeting that he thinks Pruitt is doing an excellent job.

What Do You Think?  Write a letter to the editor in which you discuss whether or not you think Pruitt should lose his job as head of the EPA, and why.

Oklahoma Teachers Walk the Walk

Last month, teachers across West Virginia walked off the job. The result? Pay raises of about $2,000 per teacher, as well as widespread public support. So last week, teachers in Oklahoma tried the same thing.

Several years of a Republican-controlled state government and budget cuts have caused major damage to public schools in Oklahoma, as well as other states; for example, some rural Oklahoma districts have gone to a four-day school week. The teacher walkout managed to shut down at least fifty school districts across the state. The teachers were protesting budget cuts and demanding higher pay. They asked for a $10,000 raise for themselves, a $5,000 raise for support staff, and $200 million over three years for public schools. Parents of students also participated in the walkouts.

The Oklahoma governor signed legislation to increase salaries and raises, but not as much as the teachers had hoped: about a $6,000 raise for teachers, and $1,250 for support staff. After nine days, however, the teachers’ union realized that they had achieved as much as they could with the walkout. Even though they fell short of their original goals, they encouraged teachers to go back to their classrooms and focus their efforts instead on electing candidates this fall who will support public schools.

Teachers in Kentucky have already begun a walkout of their own, and teachers in Arizona have been watching closely as well. The fact that these four states are all traditionally Republican could spell trouble for the Republican Party in the November elections, as dissatisfied voters make public education a major issue at the polls.

What Do You Think? In your opinion, should teachers and school staff have the right to strike to demand better pay or benefits? Why or why not? Please remember to be respectful with your answer.