Economy still in Decline

Written by: Jason Garoutte

Warning sign stating Slow Economy Ahead.

Slow economy ahead.

The economy is still taking a blow and in a state of decline, despite the slight rise in the stock index seen recently as the DOW Jones index rose above 14,000 points for the first time since 2007. The unemployment rate in the United States as of January 2013 still remains at 7.9 percent with 12.3 million Americans still without work.

Another 8 million workers are considered “under-employed”, having been laid off from higher paying careers and having to settle for  lower paying jobs just to make ends meet. An estimated 2 or 3 million more have simply given up looking for work and are not counted in the government unemployment numbers which are based on applications for unemployment insurance from the Federal government.

It appears that these numbers may increase not only in the next few months but in the upcoming years with many giant retailers closing the doors on numerous locations across the country.

Economists measure economic decline by measuring the income for the whole economy, which is called gross domestic product or GDP. For a recession to take place there must be six straight months with a negative GDP report.

Based on that measure, Americans have been facing a recession for years now and even with the slight increase in the stock market index, there does not appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel any time soon. There are many factors why an economy might decline and economists don’t always agree on what those factors might be. Some of those factors include declines in the housing market, high unemployment, inflation, high oil prices, government spending, and taxes.

So why is the unemployment rate still at 7.9 percent? Businesses earn less profit during a recession and lay off workers, which leads to less demand for products. If enough workers lose their jobs throughout the economy, then many businesses will earn less in profits and continue to lay off more workers. Increased taxes and regulations can have a further downward pressure on both large and small businesses struggling to maintain profitability much less increase their profit levels.

This is still happening today as eight giant retailers are forecasting numerous closures in the upcoming years. J.C. Penney, who has been struggling since this recession started, continues to struggle. They are forecasting 300 to 350 store closures nationwide. The video game giant GameStop announced it will close the doors on 200 stores in the year 2013 alone, with 300 to 400 more closures to occur in following years.

Other giant retail companies forecasting closures are Best Buy, Sears, Barnes & Noble, Office Max, and Radio Shack. Between 2010 and 2011, Radio Shack closed over 120 locations with even more forecasted in the near future.

All of these store closures mean more and more citizens becoming unemployed, which would once again add to the unemployment rate, which is a leading indicator of economic decline.

HHS proposes broader exemptions for contraceptive coverage

Written by: Ken Fallon

The Obama administration on Friday proposed new rules that it said would alleviate concerns by religious organizations opposed to paying for contraceptive insurance coverage.

Photo of oral contraceptives

The Obama administration says its proposed rule changes would ease concerns by religious organizations opposed to paying for contraceptives, while still providing a way for their employees to be covered.

The Department of Health and Human Services is facing dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of plaintiffs, from both non-profit and for-profit organizations, that object to contraception on religious grounds. The new rules, seen as trying to stave off some of those lawsuits, eliminates criteria that previously required that a religious employer could only qualify for an exemption if its primary role was to instill religious values and if it employed and/or served people of that religion. The new rules more closely follow the Internal Revenue Service definition of a church.

Under the new health care proposal, a religious employer that objects to paying for contraceptive coverage would request an exemption from the government. Any employee wishing contraceptive coverage could join a free plan directly from the insurance company, which would pay for the coverage. The employer would not have to “contract, arrange, pay or refer” for any such coverage.

“Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a written statement.

However, the rule does not resolve the issue of private for-profit employers who object to paying for contraceptive coverage. Critics also charge that it fails to adequately accommodate religious non-profit organizations such as colleges or hospitals, as well as self-insured religious groups.

Friday’s change is not dissimilar to changes announced last year, in which the insurance companies would pay for coverage rather than the employer directly. However, then as now, critics suggested it was an empty gesture because their health insurance premiums still would go into the same pool, which would be used to pay for the contraceptives they opposed. In addition, they argued that their premiums would likely still increase since the insurance companies would not pay for contraceptive coverage without increasing other costs elsewhere.

Additional costs incurred by health-insurance company or health care administrators would be offset by a fee of 3.5 percent of each policy premium sold through a government-run health insurance exchange. Those fees could be passed on to consumers.

In its release Friday, the HHS argued that the new rules would be “cost neutral” because of fewer childbirths and improvements in women’s health.

Photo of a rally where people hold "Stand Up For Religious Freedom" signs

Religious conservatives oppose the health insurance mandates as a violation of their religious freedoms.

Religious conservatives oppose any method of birth control that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, thus terminating the pregnancy. It would force them to violate their consciences, they argue, for the government to require they financially subsidize such methods. They argue that such mandates violate their religious freedom under the First Amendment.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing several parties in lawsuits against the mandated rules, issued a statement saying it was “extremely disappointed” in the proposal.

“Today’s proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans. For instance, it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund.

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retail chain, is one of the highest-profile opponents to the HHS rules. Evangelical Christian David Green, who runs the Oklahoma-based company, said in a Dec. 1, 2012 letter to supporters that the company would incur government fines of up to $1.3 million per day if it complied with the rules. “Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill,” he wrote. “We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs. It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one.”

A month later, after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor upheld the 10th Circuit Court’s denial for an injunction in the Hobby Lobby case even though other courts had granted such injunctions, Green announced he would refuse to comply with the mandate. A week later, the company announced it would shift the plan year for its health insurance by several months in order to buy time to fight the mandates.

Christian rapper reaches new heights with MTV video popularity

Written by: Ken Fallon

Christian rap artist Lecrae climbed to new heights in his nine-year career Friday night, when he released the video for his song, “Fakin’ ” on MTV and MTV2.

MTV's Top Videos Page

A screenshot of the MTV website shows Lecrae’s Fakin’ video in the top spot on the network’s Top Music Videos page.

It promptly became one of the network’s top-viewed, top-commented and top-shared videos currently in the Music Video Picks section.

The video makes no bones about its goal: to make fun of and point out the hypocrisy in the supposed “gangsta ” lifestyle portrayed by contemporary rappers, and to offer a path toward Jesus. A portion of the lyrics reads:

Quit tryna’ act like the trap is cool, ‘cause we tired hearin’ that garbage
Hey, bags of white, pints of lean, I been on dope boys since a teen
But this ain’t what we meant to be, and y’all don’t make no sense to me
You pump fakin’, ain’t shootin’, ain’t killin, ain’t doin’
Half them thangs you say you doin’, but 116 we stay true an’
Ain’t dope dealin’, ain’t Po pimpin’, talkin’ ‘bout my own folk killin’
We on that Jesus soul healin’, so serious, gorillas
Wild ain’t we, can’t tame us, been changed, can’t change us
1:16 – You can’t shame us. Live that truth; you can’t blame us

The number 116 is a reference to 116 Clique (pronounced one-one-six click), a Christian hip hop group with whom Lecrae performs. It is also shorthand for Romans 1:16, a Bible verse that many consider Lecrae’s core message, and which reads, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”

The reaction from commenters on MTV’s website was enthusiastic. One commenter named Elisabeth wrote, “finally something real worth hearing and watching. Best rapper in the game right here.” Another commenter named Gabe said, “Props to you MTV, for getting this real word out. These two fellas are legit, and crazy talented. No fakin when it’s for the Lord.” The comment about “two fellas” refers to guest rapper Thi’sl, who performs on “Fakin’ ” with Lecrae.

Some of the commenters on Lecrae’s Facebook page questioned why a Christian artist would submit his work on a secular channel like MTV, but a broad majority of commenters were supportive of the move as a way to “change hearts” among unbelievers.

Christian rapper Lecrae

Christian rapper Lecrae released his new video on MTV Friday, and it quickly became one of the highest-viewed videos on the Network

Lecrae, also known as Lecrae Moore, grew up on the streets of Houston, San Diego, Denver and Dallas, sometimes living with his working mom, sometimes with his grandmother in San Diego; he never met his father (who he later learned was a drug addict). At night after his grandmother went to bed, he secretly turned on the TV to watch videos of rappers such as Tupac, who became his role models. Through those videos, he learned to rap, and he learned to covet the lifestyle he saw.

“My world view at that point in time was what I saw on television,” he told CNN in a 2010 interview. “I just [rapped] about what I esteemed to be, what I wanted to be like. Most of that was gangsterism, false sense of masculinity, money, women.”

By the end of high school, Lecrae was dealing and taking drugs, and drinking alcohol. His name ended up a list of suspected gang members, and he was arrested on drug and theft charges.

He gave up that lifestyle as a 19-year-old, when he attended a conference where he saw people with stories like his, but who were “in love with Jesus.” Combined with an auto accident in which he walked away without a scratch, he pledged to follow God.

Five years later, he founded Reach Records and released his first album, Real Talk. Since then, he has released 10 additional albums, either under his own name or with 116 Clique, each to critical acclaim and increasingly-high sales. His 2012 album, Gravity, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 72,000 copies.

The same day that Lecrae released his videos on MTV, he was one of six performers at the annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, an NFL-sanctioned gospel music performance that happens during Super Bowl Weekend. In addition to Lecrae, this year’s performers included Fantasia, Marvin Winans, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin and Bishop Paul S. Morton.

Lecrae’s popularity extends beyond rap music circles. As detailed in an October 2012 ESPN article, Lecrae is in popular with athletes around the country, and is in demand as a leader of pre-game prayer sessions. Among the players who have reached out to Lecrae are Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets, Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers and Justin Forsett of the Houston Texans. His reach also extends to teams such as the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA; New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL; and New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks in Major League Baseball.

What Happened to MTV?

Written by: Jason Garoutte

MTV logo

Updated MTV logo

In 2010, when MTV dropped the slogan “Music Television” from underneath their renowned logo, they finally got something right. The original purpose of MTV was to be “Music Television”, playing music videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but the famous cable music channel hasn’t been the same since the dawn of the reality show sensation.

In the year 2000, MTV aired 36.5 percent fewer music videos than they did in 1995. In the year 2000 MTV still managed to air upwards of eight hours of music videos per day. By 2008, that number dropped to just three hours of air time for the music videos that MTV was so famous for a decade ago.

To fill the air time, MTV decided to introduce reality based shows like “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.” For those unfamiliar with the show, it was similar to “The Bachelorette” where male contestants vied for Tila’s “love”. Since she is a bisexual, female contestants also competed for her attention, which was the subject of much criticism.

Another show that has acquired more controversy than it can handle is “Jersey Shore.” This show brings eight young adults into one home on the Jersey shore to watch them experience the drama that comes with living together, including fights, drinking, sex, and enough crazy antics to deem it a reality show.

These reality shows cross a fine line when it comes to defining true life reality, especially when MTV’s targeted audience are adolescent teenagers. The President of MTV, Van Toeffler explained, “Clearly, the novelty of just showing music videos has worn off. It’s required us to reinvent ourselves to a contemporary audience.”

Why are these kinds of shows so popular on the air? What is a contemporary audience and how is it that Snooki & JWoww appeal to that contemporary audience? Why does MTV need to reinvent themselves if its original purpose was to air music videos? And why are parents allowing their children to view this kind of entertainment? These are questions that deserve answers, and nobody seems to know the answers.

Some people believe reality shows such as these are appealing because it allows the audience to feel as if they’re participating vice being spectators. Americans have a fascination, a morbid curiosity if you will, for tales of self-destruction and MTV provides that. Yet others believe the script-less programming allows the audience to feel that the show is happening in real time. Another reason for the appeal may be the fact that viewers witness the lives of screwed up individuals and realize their problems and daily life routine aren’t as bad as what they are witnessing on television.

If MTV continues to air these reality based shows and not bring back music videos like their name suggests, perhaps they should consider changing their name to RTV (Reality Television) and alter their entire logo.


Love Don’t Cost a Thing

Written by: Aleksandra Lyanskaya

Lets talk about love; whether it’s that lust feeling you acquired when you saw that someone walk across the room; whether it’s an infatuation you just can’t get over, no matter if the future entails being with that person or not; or whether it’s the real thing, love. We all experience this insightful and heartwarming and at times heartbreaking feeling of love. All of us have our own, different stories about how we fell in love with that someone we now have in our lives, or how we fell in love and lost that love over time. No matter what, love is a part of our heart we will never fully and truly lose or forget. Questions have come to how many people you can love at one time or how many people you can love throughout your lifetime. However, everyone will have their own opinion on this based on their life experiences and encounters. A first grader who has been in puppy-love may have an intriguing story about the day they met their soul mate on the swings the fist day of school and how the first day they held hands later on that year meant the world to them. A teenager who feels they have moved on from their childish days in life and is now fully ready for true love will tell a story about spending every minute of every day thinking of their loved one and how their future will look together as they scribble their name a million times on the back of their journal during math class. As a high schooler, love may be what is holding a pair of individuals together and while they try to choose a college near one another, no one can tell right away whether the distance will end up pulling them apart or closer together after all. As the college days fly by, studies are all we can focus on, but the thought of love isn’t forgotten. Yet, it is set aside, allowing lust and infatuation to hit the spot. Meeting all of these new faces on campus and feeling a push of adulthood on your back, it’s a question of whether you’ll be settling down for the first person you meet or it’s time to see all that is out there before the four years are over. With a blink of an eye, graduation day has come, caps are being thrown into the air, and a glass of champagne is being raised. We’re either left where we started, single and open to find a loved one for this bright future ahead of us, or leaving the college days behind and with that special someone who has been there and ready to move on in life with you. Love is interesting. We all have our points of view on it and it is ever changing. Each story holds a new spark and experience. It never ends and we never really want it to.

Autumn Fashion

Written by: Aleksandra Lyanskaya

Ladies, autumn has officially arrived, but whoever gave us the idea that it was time to put all of our cute clothes away in exchange for a full wardrobe of sweatshirts and sweatpants, was completely wrong. There are so many ways of transforming that spring-dress into a fall outfit by adding a few layers and warmer-toned colors in contrast to it. Cardigans were made to be worn as an overthrow for just about any outfit. On those chilly days when the sun is still out, a scarf of absolutely any color will do the trick. Thrown on top of a t-shirt, a long sleeve, tucked into a jacket, any way you think of wrapping it, it’ll always look good. If jeans are your thing, stick to them. With the seasons changing, so can the wash of your denim. Switch from lighter wash to darker jeans. Use longer work-fit pants as every day-wear. Who can forget about a females most favorite obsession, shoes? It’s always hard having to say goodbye to our sandals and strappy heels as we wrap them up and put them back in their boxes, tucked away in the closet until next years warm days. However, it shouldn’t always be the most difficult and saddening situation we experience. Just remember the upsides of autumn; fall boots! By being able to buy a boot in any shape and color, we can make ourselves stand out from everyone else. Ranging from an ankle high boot to a mid calf, may it be made of leather, suede, or anything else that we think looks good. A flat shoe, a small heel, a higher platform, it all upgrades our outfit from simple to outstanding.

Any idea can be turned into a design of our own. Magazines are boosters for fashion, along with the many sites, such as Facebook and Pinterest where people can gather all of their pictures, wants, likes and dislikes, and share with others what they can be doing as well.

What we wear makes us feel the way we do. Not wanting to let go of the happiness of spring and summer, a fashionista must simply remember, we’re not letting go of our fashion sense, just of the bear-all clothing that would only keep us cold during the autumn and winter months.

Eating Organic

Written by: Aleksandra Lyanskaya

Many people come to ponder the question of whether or not eating organic will benefit their health in the long run. There are so many things we do not know about within the making of our food we buy at local grocery stores every day. Knowing that we should eat more fruits and vegetables is great knowledge to be had, but these fresh foods we are buying could also be toxic to our health.

In the Annals of Internal Medicine Review, it was stated that “Between 1997 and 2010, sales of organic foods increased from $3.6 to $26.7 billion” (348). While they prices may have varied on these fresh products, consumers and buyers are becoming more apt to buying something that costs more but that which will also benefit their health as well. The nutrients in these pesticide-free grown products are seen as being much healthier for us than eating those products grown on farms where everything is about quantity rather than quality.

To be even safer and more conscious of what we are allowing to enter our system, some individuals have chosen the route of growing their own home grown gardens and only eating the food they have seen grow in their own gardens under their own soil, untouched by any other. However, we’re never completely blocked off from pesticides. With all that is carried throughout our air and transmitted from bugs of all types coming from many different places and coming in contact with other things, even the soil we buy at a local store can turn out to not be the most clean thing either. It’s important to keep trying to bring ourselves back to how the times used to be. Home-grown food and health-conscious lifestyles would be health enhancing and life preserving.

So next time you head out to the grocery store, maybe stop by the farmers market first and see what they have to offer. Buy a few seeds and start your own garden. Even seeing and knowing that what you’re eating is all your own effort and love will make the taste and satisfaction greater in the end.

Smith-Spangler, C., Brandeau, M. L., Hunter, G. E., Bavinger, J., Pearson, M., Eschbach, P. J., & … Bravata, D. M. (2012). Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 157(5), 348-366.

Life After College

Written by: Aleksandra Lyanskaya

You know those few weeks before graduation day where all you can think about is getting through finals and finally walking across that stage and receiving your diploma? Along with a piece of paper, for which you spent four years working on, in hand, it’s time to get all your friends together for celebratory drinks. Oddly enough, the one thing not all of us think about is where in this world we will go to after moving out of our dorm rooms, our five-roommate houses, our college towns where we’ve set up four years of our lives. So once we’ve payed the biggest guys we know on campus a nice six pack of beer for them to carry our beds and dressers down the stairs, gotten someone willing enough to help us drive all of our things back to our parents’ house, there we are, sitting in our childhood bedrooms. Now what? Where to go? Who to work for? What in the world to do? Decisions, decisions. Well, seeing as just about everyone has made it in life; whether it was sticking with their plan of never leaving their hometown, working a million jobs to afford rent, traveling and exploring the world and all it entails, or finding the career they love. I guess the time has come for those of us who have recently graduated or are on the track coming close to that time in life. No matter where we decide to go, what we decide to do, we just have to know, understand, and mainly believe that it will all work out for each and every one of us.

Backtracking, back in high school, we were told to set up a five year plan, something that would get us on some kind of track to knowing what college we’d be attending in the next few years or at least where we’d be going. A portfolio we thought would be the answer to everything if we were able to present it to five other individuals from the community alongside our teachers and peers. However, looking back, being brave enough to stand in front of this group of people for eight minutes telling them our hopes and dreams didn’t happen to be the answer after all. We’ve all been taught to fake it until you make it. No matter how much we try and learn from our past, procrastination will always be a go-to, with the adrenaline rush and knowing that we’ll have to accomplish something or other in the end, we’re constantly pushing ourselves to strive for whatever the future holds for us. We just have to keep stepping, one foot at a time, to whatever beat that pushes us forward.

Hurricane Sandy to Play Important Role in Presidential Election?

Written By Jessica Nichols

Hurricane Sandy has been declared the highest costing and the largest hurricane on record. Scientists cite global warming and its effects to the recent spike in ‘super storms,’ which then begs the question of how Sandy is going to effect the upcoming presidential election.

Whether one is a democrat, republican or a third party supporter, a natural disaster transcends party lines. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which experts are saying was so severe partially due to global warming, how the candidates respond to these very real issues may be a decisive point in the minds of voters.

After breaking ground in the United States on October 29, Sandy has become the second-most costly hurricane in US recorded history, racking up an estimated $50 billion in economic losses, and is second only to Hurricane Katrina. Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, recently tweeted this in regards to the strength and severity of Sandy, “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

Global warming is not necessarily the most widely accepted notion, however, especially outside of the scientific community. There are still many political and religious figures that do not believe in climate change as well as our role in it, and responsibility that humans have on this planet.

President Obama supports Donna Vanzant, the owner of the North Point Marina, which was damaged in the hurricane, during a tour through Brigantine, NJ this October 31, 2012

But how can global warming alter weather patterns or the severity of storms? Scientists look to indicators like sea level to determine this. This past summer heralded a large loss on the level of sea ice. Climate Central had this to say, “The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which then absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns.”

Romney has been unclear on the subject at best, citing an unclear scientific stance as the source for his measured view on the topic. He told donors at the Consol Energy Center, “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

Obama, on the other hand, may be taking a much more active role in the wake of Sandy. While Obama has never before had a problem mentioning global warming, he has of yet has not brought to the table the seriousness of the issue at hand, though he did say in a speech in Charlottesville, Va. last week, “Denying climate change doesn’t make it stop.”

As coverage of Sandy spreads and the clean-up effort is put into place, the pressure is on for this presidential election. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are on the ropes to ensure that they are sending their message to the public, assuring them that they, too, take this issue very seriously.

Proposition 37 in California Hanging in the Balance as the Election Draws Near

Written By Jessica Nichols

As this election draws near, both sides of every debate are revving their engines and gearing towards the final battle. Proposition 37, which requires labeling on genetically modified foods, is despite having a strong lead earlier in the race, is finding its footing as opponents to the bill fight back.

In a poll from California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy done four weeks ago, the labeling initiative was supported by more than two-thirds of Californians who said they would vote for it November 6. However, in their latest poll from Tuesday, October 29, results showed the support for the initiative to have fallen to only 39 percent, with the opposition nearing 51 percent of the vote.

The opposition is largely funded by biotechnology company, Monsanto, DuPont, and PepsiCo Inc, managing to sway public opinion with a $46 million campaign against genetically modified organism, popularly referred to as GMO, labeling, making Proposition 37 one of the most well-funded ballot measures fights.

Opponents to the initiative claim that it is “poorly written,” and will result in costly effects to farmers and consumers, adding $400 to their monthly grocery costs. These ads also point at “special interest exemptions” toward restaurants and animals that consume GMO feed.

Those in support of the initiative say that consumers have the right to know what is going in the food that they eat, and say that claims to higher expenses to consumers, farmers, and businesses have no founding.

Many of the processed foods that we see stocking the shelves at grocery stores use GMOs—corn and soybeans being some of the top most used. These genetically modified foods are crossed with the DNA of other species to resist insects and pesticides.

Each side claims insufficient evidence and shotty science on the part of the other with the intent to mislead voters. And without sufficient government testing on the long-term effects of GMOs, the voter is left to the mercy of both sides and their campaign talking points.

Currently, the United States does not require labeling on GM foods so long as they are “substantially equivalent” to their non-GM counterparts. The US also does not require pre-market safety testing of these foods. Supporters of the initiative cry that we just do not know what these foods could do to people health-wise, especially after long-term use in our daily diets.

DuPont and Monsanto, the lead in contributions at $8 million contributed, lead the industry in their genetically modified seed businesss.

As the clock counts down to the election, it seems that opponents may have surpassed those in favor of the proposition. However, only time will tell if voters will support or opposed this polarized and controversial topic.