Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Stuff You Should Know

U.S. Drops “Mother of All Bombs”

Last Thursday, the United States dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. The target was a suspected ISIS base: 300 meter-long system of tunnels and caves in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. According to Afghan officials, 36 ISIS militants were killed in the attack, though ISIS denies any casualties. Both U.S. and Afghan forces claim that there was no evidence of any civilian deaths as a result of the attack.

The bomb, called MOAB (Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb–or, as it is better known, the “mother of all bombs”), is 30 feet long and weighed 21,600 pounds. It is the U.S.’s most destructive non-nuclear weapon. The blast wave, created by 18,000 tons of TNT, is estimated to stretch for a mile in every direction. The bomb is specially designed to destroy underground bunkers and tunnels. It was developed fifteen years ago during the Iraq war, but has never been used in combat until now.

It is unknown whether or not President Trump personally approved the use of the bomb (because it is non-nuclear, its use doesn’t require presidential approval), which cost $16 million. But he has spoken out in support of the mission, calling it “very successful.” Critics, on the other hand, have voiced concern over whether or not it was appropriate to use such a massive weapon, and worry about the way other nations now view the United States as a result.

What Do You Think? Use internet resources to locate footage of the MOAB bomb being dropped on Afghanistan last week. Do you agree or disagree with the U.S. military’s decision to deploy such a massive weapon? Explain, remembering to give reasons or evidence in support of your opinion.

Sanctuary Cities Fight Back

Earlier this year, President Trump signed an executive order that would take away federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” around the country for failing to comply with his immigration ban. (A sanctuary city is a city that provides a safe haven for refugees and undocumented immigrants by refusing to turn them over to the federal government for deportation.)  Now, many sanctuary cities are striking back, by filing lawsuits challenging Trump’s executive order.

Cities from Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Seattle, Washington have filed suits calling Trump’s order unconstitutional, meaning that the federal government does not have the right to withhold funds from cities just because they won’t obey the new immigration ban. They also argue that it’s unconstitutional to make local police enforce federal laws. In many places, such as Lawrence, the police force is simply not large enough to devote the time and resources necessary to follow Trump’s orders. The cities also contend that the immigration ban actually makes communities less safe; if immigrants fear police, they will be less likely to report crimes.

Lawrence, a struggling small town, relies very heavily on federal funds in order to provide basic services to its residents. The removal of federal money would devastate the already challenged city. The city of Seattle stands to face at least $10.5 million in cuts to public safety programs if Trump carries out his order.

So far, the Trump administration has responded by filing motions to dismiss the lawsuits. But if the sanctuary cities are successful in their litigation, it’s possible that the president’s order could be overturned on a national scale.

Dig Deeper Using internet resources, locate a list of sanctuary cities and find the one closest to you. Do you believe that all cities should be required to comply with federal orders, even when they disagree with them? Why or why not?

White House Seals Visitor Records

Last Friday, the White House announced that it would no longer allow the public to have access to visitor records. This new policy means that no one will know who has been entering or exiting the White House for at least the next five years.

Already, government watchdog groups have begun filing lawsuits to gain access to the records, which they say are important because the public has a right to know which lobbyists, donors, and others have regular access to the president and his cabinet. President Obama made all White House visitor logs public, even when a federal court said he didn’t have to; though he did not reveal the names of some high-profile guests or the names of children who visited to have playdates with his daughters, his policy was to keep the visitor logs as open as possible without jeopardizing safety or security.
Now, however, the Trump administration claims that keeping this information public presents a serious risk to national security. It’s true that presidents before Obama did not release their visitor logs. But many critics see this as yet another way that President Trump is keeping secrets from the American people (he also refuses to release his tax returns). The White House also announced that it will be ending open.whitehouse.gov, a site which discloses information such as the visitor logs and the salaries of White House employees, calling the site a waste of taxpayer money.

What Do You Think? Should White House visitor logs remain open and accessible to the public? Why or why not? Do you think disclosure sites such as open.whitehouse.gov are a waste of taxpayer funds? Explain. Remember to give reasons to support your position.

Phone Calls to the Dead?

Have you ever wished it were possible to reach out across time and space to contact a friend or loved one who had passed away? There may be a place you can do just that (symbolically, of course) . . . though you’d have to travel to Japan to try it.

Near a town called Otsuchi, Japan, there is a glass phone booth on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Inside is a disconnected rotary phone which was placed there in 2010 by a 70-year-old gardener named Itaru Sasaki. At the time, Sasaki had recently lost his cousin and came up with the “wind phone” as a way to help him deal with his grief. (It is called a “wind phone” because the calls are said to be carried not through cords or wires, but on the wind.) The following year, an earthquake and tsunami devastated the community, killing about ten percent of its residents and displacing tens of thousands more. Ever since, mourners have come from great distances to communicate using the “wind phone.” Some reports state that in the three years following the earthquake and tsunami, ten thousand people visited the phone, with thousands more making the trip every year since.

In addition to the phone, a notebook placed next to it is a place for visitors to leave messages if they wish. Of course, no one makes a phone call actually expecting to receive a response. The phone booth is almost like a shrine, the calls mostly symbolic. It’s a way to help visitors process and verbalize their grief.

What Do You Think? Write a short letter to someone you don’t see anymore, either because they have passed away or because they are no longer in your life. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to show it to anyone.) Update your loved one on things that are happening, either in the world or in your own day-to-day experiences. How do you feel after completing the letter? Was it helpful or cathartic to write it? How do you think your experience of writing the letter is similar to or different from the experiences of visitors to the Japanese “wind phone”?