Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Apr 13, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

Gas Attack, U.S. Air Strikes in Syria

Early in the morning on Tuesday, April 4, the deadly civil war in Syria took a tragic turn when bombs carrying sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent, were dropped on Khan Sheikhoun, a Syrian town held by rebel forces. Dozens of civilians were killed, including several children. President Trump immediately spoke out against the attack, while U.S. intelligence agencies worked to confirm that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was the one responsible.

President Trump spent the next two days being advised about possible options for response. By late Thursday afternoon, he had settled on a plan of action: to launch an airstrike of 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Syrian airfield where the gas-carrying government planes were kept. The goal, according to the White House, was to find a way to respond proportionally to show Assad that he had crossed a line, but without escalating the conflict further.

The decision to strike came just 63 hours after the poison gas attack in Syria, and has already generated vigorous debate. The president’s supporters argue that the response was appropriate and proportional, and criticize the Obama administration for not taking steps against Assad’s regime sooner. Those who are against the airstrikes, however, worry that the strike will endanger U.S. troops stationed in the area, as well as potentially cause conflict with Russia (Russia has been reluctant to take action against Assad). Furthermore, many Republican and Democratic representatives alike are upset about the fact that Trump proceeded with the attacks without seeking Congressional approval, which is required by the Constitution.

What Do You Think? Locate the article in the Constitution that requires the president to seek authorization from Congress before waging an act of war. In your opinion, was President Trump in violation of the Constitution when he ordered last week’s airstrikes on Syria? Why or why not?

Bannon Removed from Security Council Post

On April 5, President Trump removed his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from his post on the National Security Council. The demotion is the latest in a series of recent White House shake-ups that have seen Michael Flynn removed from his role as National Security Advisor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes temporarily stepping down.

The current National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, was the one to remove Bannon from a position that many people felt Bannon should never have held in the first place. As a top political advisor, Bannon’s role is to advise the president on policy matters, not to make decisions about war and peace.

Some White House insiders say that Bannon was irate over the demotion, even threatening to quit if McMaster went through with it. Bannon’s spokespeople, however, insist that Bannon was happy to step down and that he had only ever viewed the position as a temporary one. Bannon claims that he was only put onto the National Security Council to keep an eye on Michael Flynn, and now that Flynn has been removed, there is no more need for Bannon to be there. Either way, the change is widely viewed as an empowering one for McMaster.

Recent setbacks to the White House agenda – including the failed first immigration order, and the now-defunct health care replacement plan – have reflected poorly on Bannon. Nevertheless, his role in the administration is still a significant one. As chief adviser to President Trump, he has a great deal of influence over many of the president’s decisions about policy and legislation.

Dig Deeper Use internet resources to investigate the role of the National Security Council. Why might it be considered a conflict of interest to have the president’s top political adviser serving on the Council?

Krispy Kreme Owner Buys Panera Bread

What do your favorite healthy Panera Bread sandwich and your favorite deep-fried Krispy Kreme doughnut have in common? Not much . . . though as of last week, both restaurants are now owned by the same company.

European conglomerate JAB Holdings has purchased the Panera Bread chain for $7.5 billion. JAB, based in Luxembourg, controls several other well-known coffee brands, such as Krispy Kreme, Keurig, Peet’s, and Caribou, as well as Einstein Bagels. Though Panera is usually thought of as a place to buy sandwiches and bread, a large part of their business is also centered around coffee.

Some Panera customers have expressed concern that there will be changes to the menu or to the laid-back restaurant atmosphere. But JAB has stressed that it doesn’t plan to change anything significant about the way Panera currently does business. Panera will keep its executive leadership, and will not be serving any of JAB’s other coffee brands. However, they might try to expand some of the restaurant’s products into retail. Panera is known for its trendy, health-conscious menu and has enjoyed a recent streak of financial success. The restaurant chain currently has over 2,300 stores and does about $5 billion in business every year.

What Do You Think? Panera Bread and Chipotle are considered to be the leaders in the rapidly-growing fast-casual restaurant industry. What do you think has caused this type of dining to become so popular in recent years? How are Americans’ changing lifestyle choices reflected in the kinds of dining experiences they choose?

Philadephia’s Soda Tax Challenged

A view of the tops of six various soda cans with condensation. One of the cans in the foreground is open.

Credit: Andrew Bret Wallis/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Last June, the Philadelphia City Council approved a 1.5 cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks, such as soda and sweetened tea. Artificially-sweetened drinks such as diet sodas are also included in the tax, which took effect on January 1 of this year. Now, the American Beverage Association and the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association are fighting back with a lawsuit against the city. The companies say that the new law conflicts with the existing state sales tax, essentially double-charging consumers.

The controversial new tax has already generated about $12.3 million in its first two months. The city of Philadelphia has used the money to fund 2,000 pre-K seats for low-income families. The tax is expected to bring in roughly $91 million in its first year, which the city plans to invest in schools, parks, recreation centers, and libraries. But the new lawsuit may jeopardize these improvements. For example, the city had planned to add an additional 1,000 pre-K seats, but has been forced to put a temporary halt on those plans. Moreover, the city hopes that the new tax will cause consumers to make healthier beverage choices in the long run.

Local businesses, on the other hand, say that their sales have suffered as a result of the tax, and argue that potential customers are driving to the suburbs to shop where they won’t have to pay the tax. This causes store owners to have to lay off employees, which damages the local economy.

Currently, the case is under consideration by the seven-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court in Pittsburgh.

What Do You Think? Would you pay a few extra cents for a can of soda, if that money were being used to fund local schools and other community-improvement projects? Why or why not? Do you think the new tax would change your beverage consumption habits? Explain.