Author Archive for Jason Cheung

Take Trump Tower

With President-Elect Trump using Trump Tower as his base of operations for his transition team, 5th Avenue in Manhattan is swamped by police, secret service, and security guards. If the rumors that Trump plans to spend weekends at Trump Tower are true, than New Yorkers could face diverted traffic, rerouted subways, and a no-fly zone over the city for the next four years. Security concerns are also abound, as having the President live in a skyscraper in the city will be a magnet for terrorists and madmen alike.

So far, New Yorkers have had to contend themselves with protests and taking the Trump name off some buildings. However, there may be a legal option that New York could pursue that would save them from this nightmare: Take Trump Tower.

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain should be a familiar term to the President-Elect. Mr. Trump has spent years abusing eminent domain, a process whereby government can seize private property for public use if the property owner is given just compensation. New York may have the opportunity to turn the tides on the alleged billionaire. 

Eminent domain requires that the government seize property for public use, such as a highway. New York requires a determination that a property is necessary for construction of a public improvement. Although the state could come up with a feasible “public improvement,”  like a public park or charity, here the mere act of taking the tower could also be considered a public use. Trump’s mere presence is congesting traffic and disrupting the local economy. Having Trump in New York on a regular schedule for the next four years would destroy any public use around Trump tower and potentially endanger the lives of many Americans.

Trump’s lawyers would likely argue that Trump is putting his tower to public use, as he is the President-Elect and running the nation. However, America already has a location for that kind of use: the White House. It would be a huge waste of money to maintain both the White House and Trump Tower as headquarters for the nation’s Executive branch.

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Civil Asset Forfeiture allows the government to take property from alleged criminals. In order for the government to seize property under civil asset forfeiture, the property has to be associated with the crime. This definition allows the government to bypass traditional criminal due process – the defendant need not be found guilty for the government to seize the property. States have often abused civil asset forfeiture to seize all kinds of property, including cash, cars, and even real estate.

New York is probing the Trump Foundation for fraud. If New York were to bring criminal charges against Mr. Trump, they could assert civil forfeiture over Trump Tower if the state could show that Trump ran his foundation from his tower.

Conflicts of Interest

If New York were to seriously threaten Trump Tower, the President-Elect would almost certainly take to Twitter to insult everyone involved. Republicans would no doubt accuse New York of harassing the President-Elect through shady legal avenues.

Trump and his supporters should ask themselves though, how is it that Trump is the first President who could have his property taken from him ? Although Trump’s property is more prominent than most – Trump loves to put his name on buildings in big gold letters – there is another reason. Unlike prior Presidents, the President-Elect has neglected to place his businesses into a blind trust. Instead, he’s letting his kids run his businesses.

This presents serious conflicts of interest. If Trump had to choose between defending America and defending his property, which would Trump choose? Trump properties are in many locations around the country, including California and New York. It would not be difficult for the states most opposed to Donald Trump to threaten to seize his properties if Trump tries to push policies that those states do not want.

If blue states in America can threaten Trump’s properties, what about Trump’s real estate abroad? If Trump’s property in Scotland or Dubai were threatened, would Trump threaten military action to save his businesses, even if his businesses have nothing to do with America’s interests?

Utah Judge Was Wrong To Order Gay Couple to Surrender Foster Child

Judge Scott Johansen ordered a lesbian couple to give up the one year old child living in foster care in their home. Beckie Peirce and her wife, April Hoagland, were caring for the child while the state terminated the biological mother’s parental rights. Peirce and Hoagland were married last October and were licensed as foster parents earlier this year. Judge Johansen claims he has research to back up that children do better in heterosexual homes. A copy of the order currently isn’t available, but a court spokeswoman confirmed its contents.

Aside from the alleged research, there doesn’t appear to be a legal basis for Judge Johansen’s ruling. Utah doesn’t have a law prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting children. According to Hoagland, “the mother has asked us to adopt” the infant girl. Neither the Utah Division of Child Family Services nor the Guardian Ad Litem Office have advocated that the baby be removed from the couple’s care. No party, other than Judge Johansen, believes the adoption would be a bad idea.

Child’s Best Interest

In any child custody case, the deciding question should always be whether the decision is in the child’s best interests. The child’s welfare cannot be traded for the desires of the “adults.” The only evidence available is that Judge Johansen has research showing that children do better in heterosexual homes.

However, all factors must be considered to determine whether the custody decision is in the best interests of the child. Factors such as employment of each parent, the emotional, mental, physical, and educational needs of the child, level of responsibility each parent has, and the nature of the child’s Peirce and Hoaglandrelationship must all be considered. The sexual orientation of the parents, if it is a factor at all, should only play a small role. It certainty shouldn’t be the deciding factor, as is the case here.

Second, “better off” cannot be a legal standard. People come from different backgrounds, but nobody can say that one experience is better than another as long as basic emotional, mental, physical, and educational needs are met. Children grow up in households where the parents are of mixed race, different religions, different political ideologies, or different income levels. Children may have multiple siblings or be an only child. The point is, being different may be harder, but the law doesn’t remove custody simply because a child could be in a “better” environment.

Justice is Based on Judgment of the Individuals

Third, breaking up a family based solely on research is not acceptable. Social studies research deal with generalizations, but the law must judge people as individuals. A research showing that children with heterosexual couples are better off than children with gay couples cannot be the basis for a legal decision unless the research is applied to the specific case. Being gay cannot be a reason to exclude homosexuals from foster parenting and adoption if the judge cannot point to a problem with the specific gay couple’s parenting.

Indeed, social science research makes all kinds of conclusions that courts would be unwillingly to act on, even the conclusions favor certain results. For example, there’s a new study showing that children raised in religious households are more selfish and judgmental than children raised without religion. By Judge Johansen’s reasoning, we should remove children from Christian and Mormon households and give them to atheists because of this research. But we know that this wouldn’t be right. Religious parents must be judged as individuals and not based on a generalized (and flawed) study. Gay couples shouldn’t be treated any differently.

The limited information available doesn’t exclude Hoagland and Peirce as capable parents. They are already raising two children, ages 12 and 14, who are Peirce’s biological children. The infant has already spent three months with them, so there may be a small emotional bond already. The mother has allegedly given her blessing and Utah’s Child Services haven’t found evidence of abuse. The baby’s situation could be better, but Judge Johansen suggests that any heterosexual couple would be more qualified. If the heterosexual couple included the baby’s father or a blood relative, there may be an argument.

However, to suggest that a random heterosexual couple would be better parents than Hoagland and Peirce would be absurd. The two women are experienced parents who have met Utah’s criteria for foster parenting and are prepared to take on additional parental responsibilities.

Red Team vs. Blue Team: Minimum Wage

Today’s article is a special two for one: two of our writers debate the merits of raising the minimum wage. Who do you think makes the most convincing argument?

Should the Federal Minimum Wage Rise?

by Alexis Watts

Recently, presidential candidates have discussed raising the Federal Minimum Wage, which is currently set at $7.25 an hour. Bernie Sanders advocates a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which is more than double the figure. Hillary Clinton argues that wages should gradually be raised to $12 an hour. Conservative candidates do not generally favor such high wage hikes, and this may be an issue for debate in the 2016 election.

The US currently has one of the lowest minimum wages of any high-income country. It has had a higher minimum wage in the past. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60, the equivalent of $10.34 an hour in current dollars. The US has also had lower minimum wages; in 1938, for example, the minimum wage was 25 cents, the equivalent of only $3.98 today.

So, should the national minimum wage be raised?

What is the Federal Minimum Wage, and who benefits from it?

The Federal Minimum Wage was originally part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), passed in 1937. This act also regulated how many hours employees could work without receiving overtime pay. The federal government is authorized to set a minimum wage and make hours regulations because the Constitution gives it broad power to regulate many aspects of commerce in the United States. FLSA benefits many low-wage workers who are paid by the hour. While some characterize these workers as teenagers with no real responsibilities, statistics show that 89% of those who would benefit from a national raise are workers over the age of 20.  Minimum Wage

There are some exceptions to FLSA. Employees who receive tips or work on commission (such as waiters) receive a lower base wage, but employers must make up the difference if their total pay falls below a certain hourly minimum. Domestic and agricultural workers do not benefit from these minimum wage protections. One notable criticism of FLSA is that it leaves out these important workers, who are often from minority groups.

What about State and Local Minimum Wages?

29 states have raised their minimum wage to above $7.25 an hour. Some cities have raised their wages even higher. Berkeley, CA is now contemplating a minimum of $19 an hour. Seattle has already raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. These high local wages may reflect unique economic conditions. In both the Bay Area and Seattle, the price of rent has been driven higher by an influx of highly paid technology industry employees. However, these cities still need hourly workers like clerks an baristas; they are often the backbone of a rich local cultural scene.

The Minimum Wage Must Properly Reflect Current Economic Needs

In the United States, the minimum wage makes it difficult to afford shelter and other essentials. Purchasing power varies widely from place to place; a dollar buys more housing, food, and other essentials in many rural areas than it would in a major city. However, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition recently issued a study showing that these regional differences still do not allow any minimum wage workers much breathing room. Most financial planners suggest that no more than 30% of a worker’s income go to housing. However, there is no state in which average minimum-wage workers can secure housing using only that portion of their income. An average two-bedroom apartment for a small family would now require a full-time wage of $12.65 an hour in Arkansas and a whopping $28.04 in Washington, D.C. Many low-wage workers have little ability to save or to buy non-essential goods.

While some argue that the minimum wage causes inflation, the reality is that inflation also devalues the minimum wage. The minimum wage does not automatically increase as the price of basic food or housing rises, leaving many individuals who provide important services without the means to earn a living.

If the Minimum Wage is Raised Gradually, it Will Not Increase Unemployment

When the minimum wage is raised, it redistributes some of the country’s entire income from the top (where it is often saved or invested) to the bottom (where it is often spent). Households in the bottom 20% make their income mostly through wages and employment-based tax incentives, and they experience an increase in discretionary income when wages rise. The money these households spend flows into the economy and may allow employers to create new jobs, rather than decrease their staff.

A Department of Labor survey recently showed that 3 out of 5 small business owners support a gradual increase in the minimum wage. This type of an increase would make it possible for business to operate without laying off employees. Department of Labor data also shows that there is no negative effect on unemployment when the minimum wage is raised.

Experiments like the minimum wage hike in Seattle may help to clarify what happens to a local economy when much higher wages are introduced. If the wage increase creates jobs and helps to eliminate poverty, it may prove detractors wrong.

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Arguments Against Raising the Federal Minimum Wage

by Sarah K. Lee

Is raising the federal minimum wage all it’s cracked up to be? Although recent presidential candidates have taken a stance for raising the minimum wage in support of more sustainable wages for low-income earners, there are a number of economists who widely disagree. Many economists claim that raising the minimum wage would in fact be detrimental to the economy and the low-income earners such advocates seek to protect. Economists predict raising the minimum wage would result in a steep decline in minimum wage jobs, higher consumer prices for goods, and less entry-level positions for less experienced workers—all of which would negatively impact low-income communities the most.

Increased Unemployment

A number of studies have shown raising the minimum wage results in a loss of jobs due to employers being unable to hire as many minimum wage employees as they would have been able to at lower wages. The Congressional Budget Office predicts a rise in minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would result in a loss of 500,000 jobs across the nation. Supporting that prediction, a study showed the incremental minimum wage increases between 2006 and 2012 resulted in an overall decrease in the national employment-population ratio by 0.7 percent, equating to a loss of

conceptual sign with words minimum wage increase  ahead over blue sky

approximately 1.4 million jobs. Economists argue inflating the minimum wage would actually do more harm than help to low-income communities, those who are purportedly meant to benefit from such a raise.

Higher Consumer Prices

Economists argue hiking the minimum wage could drive businesses to charge more for goods in order to make up for the additional labor costs. This would be particularly detrimental in low-cost, low-wage states where such an increase in prices would affect poor consumers the most. Again, economists argue such an outcome would negatively impact the very target group a raise in the minimum wage seeks to help.

Fewer Positions for Entry-Level Workers

A higher minimum wage could also result in more experienced workers feeling less compelled to move on to higher level positions because the pay at a minimum wage job is adequate. Such a scenario would be bad for less experienced workers, shutting them out from potential entry-level positions. These less experienced workers are primarily made up of teenagers, immigrants, and low-income populations—many who lack the skills to obtain any other type of employment and rely on minimum wage positions to help escalate them to higher paying positions. Economists argue a higher minimum wage could throw off the balance of employment dynamics.

Alternative to Raising the Minimum Wage? Raising the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Many who oppose raising the minimum wage are not against it for malicious reasons, but rather believe low-income populations can be aided through alternative means without disrupting employment rates. One of the most popular proposals has been to raise the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a refundable tax credit calculated based on a recipient’s income and number of children. By increasing the EITC, more money would be afforded to those who are not making enough on wages alone. Advocates of this proposal maintain this change would provide real assistance to those who truly need it, the low-income population, and would not adversely affect employment rates or consumer prices.

Red Team vs. Blue Team: Divorce Reform

Today’s article is a special two for one: two of our writers debate the merits of divorce reform. Who do you think makes the most convincing argument?

The Societal Advantages of Divorce Reform

by Pearl Rimon 

Divorce is a crime onto children. Children are born from the union of two parents. When the parties leave the courtroom though, a child is only left with one parent. The debate around marriage these last few decades has emphasized the parties within the marriage union. However, the debate has often ignored the community aspect of marriage, especially child-rearing. It is this negligence in our discourse that has harmed so many families. Divorce reform is necessary to strengthen the nuclear family.

Divorce Reform Defined

Divorce reform is typically based on two ideas: mandatory marriage counseling before divorce and/or elimination of no-fault divorce. Mandatory marriage counseling means that couples who wish to divorce must visit a marriage counselor before the family court will hear their case. No-fault divorce is the idea that there does not need to be a showing of wrongdoing by either party for the dissolution of the marriage.  Divorces Everywhere

No-fault divorce has created a system that supports the disintegration of families. After New York changed to no-fault divorce, divorces rose 12% in the first seven months of its enactment. It is clear that the ease of obtaining a divorce leads to higher divorce rates, thus tearing apart more families and effectively costing taxpayers more.

The ease of filing for divorce has caused people to not try and fight for their marriages as they once did, where instead of rushing into marriage, they are rushing towards the dissolution of the marriage. The concept of rushing into marriage is often talked about, but the concept of rushing into divorce is often disregarded.

Effects of divorce

Divorce not only has a great cost to the parties involved, but has a greater cost to society.

  • It has cost the American public $112 billion annually
  • The average divorce costs about $2,500

The passage of no-fault divorce has made it considerably easier for couples to file for divorce, thus having a rippling effect not only on the personal lives of families, but an effect on the economy due to the costs associated with it. Since divorce breaks apart families, the standard of living for many families drops off, and most must seek public assistance like food stamps, housing assistance, and child welfare services.

Children tend to benefit from growing up in stable families where there is no upheaval, which is generally caused by divorce. The effects on the children of the divorced range from changing schools, constant traveling from one parent to another, getting used to a new family, a change in the standard of living, and unfortunately being present for the many child support and custody trials. Children from stable family environments are less likely to be suspended from school, commit acts of delinquency and have fewer suicide attempts.

Divorce Reform Proposals

Mandatory waiting periods require parents wait about a year before a divorce is final. This makes couples “wait it out” and would result in both parties wanting to try harder to save their marriage rather than going the easy route of divorce. Currently, the waiting period for divorce ranges from ten states with no waiting period, 29 states less than six months and a minority states have a year waiting period. Many of the proposals of divorce reform would require divorce education or marriage counseling for couples during the waiting period, which would enlighten them about the negative effects of divorce and to consider the possibility of reconciliation.

Mandating reconciliation counseling and waiting periods before finalizing a divorce would make couples reconsider other routes to fixing their marriage. Divorce reform in the long run would result in lessening the burden on our court systems because less couples would ideally finalize their divorce after counseling and the waiting period. Prolonging divorce proceedings would make the parties involved think about other solutions to their marital woes rather than simply thinking divorce would essentially solve all of their spousal problems.

Divorce Reform Will Not Strengthen Marriages

by Jessica Tran

“50% of marriages end in divorce.” This is a statistic many are familiar with, but a “fact” that is only partially rooted in truth. If you were to say that the divorce rate in the United States was high, then you would be correct, but only if you were living in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  Trapped Until Death Do Us Part

Currently, the trend for divorce is actually decreasing.

  • Roughly 70% of marriages that began in the 1990s have reached their 15th anniversary.
  • Couples that married in the 2000s are divorcing at much lower rates than those in the 1990s.
  • People are marrying later in life, therefore entering into more mature marriages.

So if divorce rates are actually decreasing, then why are some groups advocating for divorce reform?

What is Divorce Reform?

Divorce reform may mean many different things to many different advocates. Here are a few of the most prominent:

The leading advocate for divorce reform is the Coalition for Divorce Reform (CDR). Their goal is to reduce “unnecessary” divorces by mandating an eight-month reconciliation and reflection period during divorce proceedings. The CDR believes that no-fault divorces are too easy and the main reason why the divorce rate is so high.

No-fault divorce allows one spouse to end the marriage on the grounds that they no longer get along. Prior to no-fault divorce, divorce was granted if one spouse was able to prove things, such as:

  • Adultery,
  • Abandonment
  • Cruelty, or
  • That the other spouse was a felon

Under fault divorce, if you couldn’t get consent from your spouse or prove any of the faults listed above, then you were stuck in a marriage you didn’t want to be in. Currently, all states offer some form of no-fault divorce.

Although there are many that stand against no-fault divorce laws, there are some that see the benefit of having such laws.

  • Since the passage of no-fault divorce laws, the divorce rate has fallen from 23 divorces per 1,000 to 17 per 1,000.
  • Domestic violence and female suicide rates declined in states that passed no-fault divorce laws.

What About the Children?

Besides lowering the divorce rate, proponents often advocate and want divorce reform for the sake of children. Many believe that children are the ultimate victims of divorce. Proponents staunchly believe that couples should try to salvage their marriage and stay together in order to have a harmonious nuclear family.

Many couples that do recognize problems in their marriage often claim they remained married for their children. Children will encounter fear, anxiety, and other emotional distress during their parents’ divorce, but the reality is that many of these children grow up to be well-adjusted adults that aren’t eternally scarred by their parents’ divorce.

Staying together and trying to work out your marital problems is great and can be successful for some couples. However, keeping up the façade of a happy home may not be the healthiest thing for you or your children. Maintaining an unhappy marriage may lead to problems such as:

  • Your children mimicking and thinking that being in a toxic relationship is okay and acceptable
  • Staying in a loveless marriage may keep up appearances, but it can be detrimental and harmful for your emotional health

Being concerned and thinking about the welfare of children is important when discussing divorce reform. However, proponents often advocate for reconciliation because they believe that a two-parent home is crucial for healthy children. The emphasis seems to be about the number of parents as opposed to the quality of parenting. Often, proponents disregard single-parent homes or co-parenting options that can be healthy and good for both children and parents.

Divorce reform is a noble idea, but it’s just that—a well-meaning idea. Forcing two adults to play nice when they’ve reached their limits is exhaustive on the couple, their family, and the court system. Mandating reconciliation counseling would be a step back in divorce law and is harking back to the old days of fault divorce laws. Enforcing reconciliation counseling is another unnecessary step for couples that prolongs the divorce proceeding with no guarantee of a happy ending.

Impact of California’s Drought on Water Rights

California is in the midst of its fourth year of one of the most severe droughts on record. A drought State of Emergency has been called by Governor Brown and imposed strict conservation efforts statewide. While water conservation efforts have been monopolizing the headlines in most local and state newspapers, the fight over water rights, both surface and ground, have been garnering more and more attention.Empty

Riparian rights determine how water is allocated among those who possess land along its path. Typically, the rights belong to landowners whose property the natural waterway runs, whether it’s a stream, creek, or river. In California, riparian rights are determined by a doctrine known as “prior appropriation.” Under this doctrine, the first person to take a quantity of water from a water source for agricultural, industrial, or household use, has the right to continue to use that quantity of water for that purpose.

In mid-June, the state of California reduced the water usage of farmers with rights to California water dating back more than one-hundred years. In an average year, agriculture use in California amounts to about eighty percent of all of the water consumed on the state. Since the drought began, farmers in the Central Valley have had their water usage drastically reduced incrementally each year.

However, this cut could have devastating consequences for farmers who rely on water to feed their crops and support their businesses. Only once in the history of California have people with the most senior water rights been affected by droughts. Farmers have anticipated that this may happen and as a result have been digging new wells for groundwater. Despite the stress it will put on farmers, California has no choice. Litigation is expected by farmers to fight for their most senior water rights as we move into fall with no rain in sight.

Marijuana Could Destroy California’s Water Supply

While there is no doubting that the California drought affects all of its citizens, environmentalists are scrambling to protect precious and valuable ecosystems that are slowly being destroyed by water diverting tactics of marijuana growers. The marijuana industry in California produces up to seventy-percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States.

However, the marijuana industry remains largely unregulated. There are few protections to ensure that illegal water diversions for marijuana growing farms don’t dry up rivers, destroy salmon and steelhead habitats. Although not legal, the debate over whether or not to legalize marijuana is more amplified as marijuana growers develop extensive plots along California’s most sensitive habitats. A single marijuana plant demands substantial water to grow and since this industry is unregulated, most water to feed the plantations is taken illegally. These diversions have drastically reduced many parts of California, including stretches of the Eel River and many of its tributaries affecting salmon and steelhead habitats, as well as affecting the water supply that wildlife in the area rely on. The diversions have become so extensive that even legal water users in the area don’t have enough water because of marijuana poachers.

While legislation regarding water rights and marijuana growing is making its way through the legislature, environmentalists and concerned citizens are hoping for a more expeditious solution to the problem before marijuana growers permanently destroy sensitive habitats forever.