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THIS WEEK'S ARTICLES
Militants In Syria Advance Despite Airstrikes
Opting Out of Unions Get Boost in States
High Court To Decide Same-Sex Marriage
Obama Tax Push Hits Bumps
Obama's Middle-Class Pitch

Militants In Syria Advance Despite Airstrikes
by: Dion Nissenbaum
Jan 15, 2015
Click here to view the full article on WSJ.com
Click here to view the video on WSJ.com WSJ Video

TOPICS: Iraq, Middle East, Mideast, Syria, Terrorism

SUMMARY: U.S. bombing and missile attacks against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are focusing primarily on Iraq, where airstrikes have weakened Islamic State forces. However concern that action in Syria against the Islamic State would strengthen Bashar al-Assad's government, the U.S. has made far less effort, resulting in Syrian territory becoming a heaven for the ISIS. While the U.S. works to rid Iraq of ISIS militants, it is leaving it primarily up to moderate rebel forces, which the U.S. is involved in training, to attack Islamic State forces there. Reports though show some competing rebel forces joining up with Islamic state fighters. Republicans, such as Senator John McCain (R.,Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, is expected to challenge U.S. strategy in the upcoming confirmation hearing of secretary of defense nominee Ashton Carter. Some critics of the Iraq first strategy contend that the U.S. could set up a buffer zone between Syria and Turkey; coordinate airstrikes with rebels fighting in Syria; and give Kurdish forces, fighting in Syria, more sophisticated weapons.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION: Dion Nissenbaum evaluates the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). The article notes a similarity between the Iraq and Syria situation with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The class can compare these two, presenting similarities and differences. A major difference is that the U.S. is not trying to topple the Pakistani government while it is trying to do so in Syria, complicating the issue of weakening forces that are fighting Bashar al-Assad's government. Besides airstrikes and moderate rebel force training, students can list other ways the U.S. is working to weaken Islamic State forces, especially efforts at cutting off funds and countering recruitment pitches that the radical Islamists use to attract young people to join their efforts. Why the U.S. pulled virtually all of its troops out of Iraq, allowing a more open field for the Islamic State, can be reviewed? Was the prime minister very short-sighted in not agreeing to a status of forces pact? The class can also examine why many young Sunni Muslims have decided to join the Islamic militants.

QUESTIONS: 
1. (Introductory) Why are many congressional Republicans, such as Senator John McCain, more interested in seeing an increase in U.S. military efforts in Syria than the Obama administration?

2. (Introductory) Discuss the complexities of increased U.S. military activity in Syria, including airstrikes and provision of sophisticated weapons to moderate rebels and Kurdish forces?

3. (Advanced) How has the Islamic State been able to finance their military forces?

4. (Advanced) It is often said that airstrikes are insufficient to defeat an enemy. The U.S. has to some extent struck command and control, enemy forces, and weapons in Syria. Why then does Dion Nissenbaum's article suggest that it has not had a great deal of effect in restraining the advance of Islamic militants in Syria?

Reviewed By: Edward Miller, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

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Iraqi Frustration Swells Over Coalition Approach to Fighting Insurgents
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Jan 15, 2015
Page: A10


Opting Out of Unions Get Boost in States
by: Mark Peters
Jan 16, 2015
Click here to view the full article on WSJ.com
Click here to view the video on WSJ.com WSJ Video

TOPICS: States, Unions

SUMMARY: While about half the states have adopted right-to-work laws, allowing individuals working in firms with collective bargaining rights to not belong to the union or pay union dues, only three states, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Indiana, have joined their ranks in the last two decades. However, the increase in Republican controlled state legislatures has renewed interest in right-to-work laws. . Governors of these states, however, such as in Ohio and Wisconsin, are less supportive, arguing that this contentious issue would divert their state from working on other policy issues. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker does not see this issue as a priority after Walker's proposal passed the Republican-controlled legislative four years ago that virtually ended collective bargaining rights for public employees. Republicans, who support right-to-work provisions, argue that such laws give workers a choice whether to join the union. Opponents maintain that right-to-work laws depress wages to all and are aimed at reducing the political power of unions by reducing their membership. In right-to-work states, only 4% of private sector workers belong to a union while in other states 8.9% do. Including public workers, the difference is even starker. In right-to-work states 6.4% belong to a union while in other states the percent is 15.2.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION: Mark Peters reports on the new pressure in Republican controlled states to pass right-to-work laws that few states in the last two decades have adopted. The class can first review the origins of the right- to-work provision of the Taft-Hartley Law (14B of the law) that was passed over the veto of President Harry Truman in 1947. Following its enactment, many southern states adopted these laws. Students can then compare arguments for and against enacting these laws. Proponents emphasis the importance of the right of workers to not belong to a union or pay the equivalent of union dues. No one should be forced to pay funds to a union, especially if they oppose to the union organization, in order to keep a job. Opponents stress the argument that those who benefit from union negotiations for collective bargaining agreements would essentially be "free riders" on the benefits that they receive. The argument that workers in right-to-work states have lower compensation has been debated but difficult to absolutely verify because of the presence of other factors that affect wages. The same problem exists to determine the jobs impact of right-to-work laws. Nonetheless, research seems to suggest that it does have some effect in depressing wages and most likely not a significant factor in increased employment. Pensions and the provision of health insurance are somewhat lower in right-to-work states. The class can then turn to the political impacts, affecting by the decline in union members, which in turn reduces the coffers of unions that can be used for supporting Democratic candidates.

QUESTIONS: 
1. (Introductory) Mark Peters writes that Wisconsin's Governor Walker is not pushing for the adoption of a right-to-work law in Wisconsin but did get a virtual end to collective bargaining for public workers four years ago. If private workers are allowed to collectively bargain and have an "agency" shop, why shouldn't public workers? Are there differences?

2. (Introductory) Do you believe that not to pass a right-to-work law is constitutional based on the right of association in the first amendment? How do those who advocate an "agency" shop get around this?

3. (Advanced) Why has there been renewed interest in northern states in adopting right-to-work laws when no state has adopted one until Oklahoma did in 2001 and Michigan and Indiana in 2012?

4. (Advanced) Analyze the politics behind the adoption of right-to-work legislation.

Reviewed By: Edward Miller, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

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High Court To Decide Same-Sex Marriage
by: Jess Bravin
Jan 17, 2015
Click here to view the full article on WSJ.com
Click here to view the video on WSJ.com WSJ Video

TOPICS: Constitution, States, Supreme Court

SUMMARY: The U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case to be argued this spring of whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry. Using U.S. v. Windsor (2013), which invalidated the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that had prohibited federal marital benefits from going to legally married same-sex couples, all U.S. Courts of Appeals had overturned state bans on same-sex marriage. Given the consistency of the court decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court had denied accepting an appeal of these rulings in the fall. However, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, decided to affirm states' bans on same-sex marriage, thus creating a diversity of opinions from the Circuit Courts. As a result of different opinion coming out of the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court decided to accept an appeal from that ruling. The court will first decide whether same-sex marriage is protected under the 14th Amendment provisions of equal protection of the laws and due process. If they conclude that it is not, they will then have to determine whether states where same-sex marriage is banned must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. Justice Anthony Kennedy has written several gay rights decisions, including U.S. v. Windsor and Romer v. Evans, where the court determined that the state of Colorado could not remove civil rights protections for gays and lesbians that had been provided by cities in the state. Today, 36 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION: Jess Bravin's front page story reports on the Supreme Court's decision to accept an appeal from the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on same-sex marriage, where the appeals court's decision to permit state bans varies from decisions of all the other Courts of Appeals decisions. The class can review the judicial record on gay rights, including overturning laws that made gay sex illegal and U.S. v. Windsor, which invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act. Focusing on Justice Anthony Kennedy's decision in the Windsor case, students can discuss why the decision, which explicitly did not overturn states' bans on same-sex marriage, has been a key basis for court decisions deciding that state laws that do not allow gays and lesbians to marry violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. In his dissent in Windsor, Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that this would be the result. While marital law is determined by states, it cannot violate the U.S. Constitution. In this vain, the voiding of laws that prohibited interracial marriage can be discussed (Loving v. Virginia 1967). Students can indicate why they think the Loving decision was 9-0 while the Windsor case was 5-4. (It was obviously a different court but there was no dissents in the Loving decision while there was in Windsor, which left bans on same-sex marriage in place.) Given what has transpired in the last few years--change in public opinion supporting same-sex marriage, its legalization in 36 states plus D.C., and consistent court decisions but one--the class can evaluate the pressure that justices are under to find in favor of a constitutional right for two people of the same sex to marry. To find otherwise, the court would have to accept arguments of an overriding interest of state governments to prohibit same-sex marriage. One argument made is that the purpose of marriage is to have children. This has been countered by the argument that some heterosexual couples who marry explicitly decide not to have children and some same-sex couples do adopt or use surrogates to have children. With this, the equal protection argument is persuasive. The class can further analyze the argument that state legislatures or citizens through state constitutional amendments should be able to decide martial policy for that state. Despite this argument's appeal to democracy, the counter is that the Supreme Court has said in numerous cases that the people cannot counter a constitutional right. An example is that when reapportionment decisions occurred, some states voted to allow their state senate to be apportioned on other than population basis (mostly counties). The Supreme Court said that this was not allowed because of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

QUESTIONS: 
1. (Introductory) Give main arguments that the Supreme Court would use to overturn bans on same-sex marriage and main arguments for sustaining bans where they exist. Which do you find most persuasive and why?

2. (Introductory) Discuss the pressures on the Supreme Court to overturn the decision of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the same-sex marriage case.

3. (Introductory) Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution says that states must accept "public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State." Given this, on what basis did the Defense of Marriage Act say that one state did not have to accept legally performed same-sex marriages in another state?

4. (Advanced) Why did Justice Antonin Scalia say that U.S. v. Windsor decision would ultimate result in overturning bans on same-sex marriage?

5. (Advanced) Some have argued that case of same-sex marriage is a 10th Amendment case similar to others in the last 20 years. Others say that this differs from the other 10th Amendment cases. Explain.

Reviewed By: Edward Miller, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

RELATED ARTICLES: 
Supreme Court's Gay-Marriage Review to Tackle 14th Amendment
by Jess Bravin
Jan 16, 2015
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Obama Tax Push Hits Bumps
by: Carol E. Lee, John D. McKinnon, and Kristina Peterson
Jan 20, 2015
Click here to view the full article on WSJ.com

TOPICS: Taxes, Obama

SUMMARY: President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress for several tax increases, primarily on the wealthy, and for government spending programs to enhance educational opportunities and infrastructure construction. Additionally, his proposal will include tax breaks for the lower and middle classes, including a $500 tax credit for moderate income families with two earners and a permanent expansion of the earned income tax credits. To pay for these initiatives, the president is proposing an increase in the capital gains tax from the current 23.8% to 28% on high income earners, constituting the top 1% of taxpayers; the application of the capital gains tax for investment earnings that are inherited, currently not taxed; closing some business tax breaks; and imposing a tax on large financial institutions. Republicans, especially potential presidential candidates, increasingly stressing the importance of helping the middle class and reducing income inequality, oppose Obama's initiatives. Instead Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has advocated increasing the child tax credit and instituting a monthly credit for low income earners. Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) advocates a tax credit to promote investment in poor communities. Republicans see Obama's proposals as redistribution of wealth. Instead the prefer policies that would expand the economy by reducing taxes across the board.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION: In their front page story, Carol E. Lee, John D. McKinnon, and Kristina Peterson report on President Barack Obama's tax and spending proposals that will be incorporated in his State of the Union message. Obama is being viewed as an economic populist and working to reduce economic inequality, intended to mold his legacy and to set the issue stage for the 2016 presidential election. The class can explain and debate several of his proposals. One of the most controversial elements is to impose a capital gains tax on investment increases that are inherited that escape taxes. Current tax law says that an investment, such as a stock, which has gained value doing someone's lifetime, escapes taxes on its increased value once the person dies and the stock is inherited. Given that this increase is not taxed, it is expected that the Republican majority will kill this proposal. How has this tax provision (called step up) contributed to economic inequality? Another key recommendation is to increase the capital gains tax for more wealthy investors, which had been reduced to a maximum of 15% during the Bush administration and now has a top rate of 23.8% for those in the top tax bracket. Students can discuss why the capital gains tax is less than the tax on earned income, and how those who run hedge funds are able to use the lower capital gains rate for most of their income. Should this be changed to bring in funding for needed programs (e.g. education and infrastructure)? More generally, the contrast beetweem Republican emphasis on expanding the economy by across the board tax cuts to help the poor and middle class and Democratic proposals, aimed more at specifying tax breaks for the middle class, can be discussed. In terms of helping lower income groups, Republicans have stressed the importance of education to acquire skills for higher paying jobs . Given this, students can predict whether sufficient Republicans will sign on to Obama's proposal to provide free community college education.

QUESTIONS: 
1. (Introductory) What good is the earned income tax credit, advocated by President Richard Nixon and enacted in his administration, if close to half of U.S. workers pays no federal income tax?

2. (Introductory) Explain how increases in the value of investments now escape any federal taxes? How is this related to economic inequality?

3. (Advanced) Given a documented need for expanded and repaired infrastructure in America, why have Republicans not followed the Democratic lead to pushing for funding this program?

4. (Advanced) What is the tax loophole for those running hedge funds? Do you believe this should be changed?

Reviewed By: Edward Miller, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

RELATED ARTICLES: 
Obama Tax Plan Likely to Stir Up Long-Simmering Debate
by John D. McKinnon
Jan 19, 2015
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Obama to Propose Tax Increases on Investments, Inherited Property
by Carol E. Lee, Colleen McCain Nelson, and John D. McKinnon
Jan 17, 2015
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Obama's Middle-Class Pitch
by: Carol E. Lee and Colleen McCain Nelson
Jan 21, 2015
Click here to view the full article on WSJ.com
Click here to view the video on WSJ.com WSJ Video

TOPICS: Congress, Obama, Taxes

SUMMARY: In his 2015 State-of-the-Union message to Congress, President Barack Obama recounted the improvements in the economy and the need to extend this success to the middle-class. Programs such as paid sick leave, free community college education, and a cut in the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance premium were among the programs Obama included. To pay for these the president is recommending a tax increase on the wealthy, including imposing the capital gains tax on inherited investments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said that the prospect for Obama's proposals is remote, but he did not rule out some tax compromise, especially if it involved lowering the corporate tax rate. The president also pushed for approval of Trade Promotion Authority, known as "fast track," to get approval for several trade agreements. While Republicans may support this, few Democrats are inclined to agree. On foreign policy the president pushed for the end of the embargo on Cuba, indicated that U.S. leadership in countering the Islamic State has stopped their advance, and pushed for adoption of cybersecurity measures.

CLASSROOM APPLICATION: Carol E. Lee and Colleen McCain Nelson report on President Barack Obama's 2015 State-of-the-Union message to a joint session of Congress. The nature of State-of-the-Union messages can be reviewed, including the constitutional requirement that they be given from time to time (it doesn't say annually) and that they do not have to be given in person. From President Thomas Jefferson to President Woodrow Wilson they were written. The class can analyze the nature of these speeches, which typically are upbeat and include a long list of proposals. Obama's speech this year had fewer proposals than typically. While presidents cannot expect to get many through, especially with a Congress where the majority is the opposite party, presidents do shoot for having their priorities enacted. In Obama's case, he plans to make speeches throughout the country on the themes included in his State-of-the Union address. Students can analyze the intended impact of these speeches. Is it to use the "bully pulpit" to pressure Congress to enact some of his proposals or is it intended to be a challenge to Republicans, including for the 2016 election, on middle class oriented programs since Republican presidential candidates are now stressing the importance of helping this group. Carol E. Lee and Colleen McCain Nelson report that the president's public approval rating is rising, which should give the president greater influence in getting some his proposals passed. The class can discuss the factors behind the increased approval rating. Is much of it due to an improving economy? It can be noted that when the economy was good during President Clinton's administration he had high approval ratings despite the impeachment proceedings against him.

QUESTIONS: 
1. (Introductory) President Obama wants to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The number of prisoners there has been reduced, and the president says that it is stands as a symbol that is used by terrorist groups to recruit. What are the objections of some members of Congress to closing the facility?

2. (Introductory) In his State-of-the-Union speech, President Obama spoke about the great improvement in the economy. However, he noted, the middle-class was not doing as well as others and aimed his recommendations at this segment of the population. Name some factors that have resulted in stagnating incomes for this segment of the population.

3. (Advanced) President Obama pressed for increased construction and repair of U.S.'s infrastructure. Typically the highway bill is easy to pass because it provides benefits to many members' districts. However, last year it ran into trouble. Why did it have problems in being enacted?

4. (Advanced) In analyzing State-of-Union messages, observers have used several metrics to compare them. Suggest some that can be used.

Reviewed By: Edward Miller, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

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Obama Pushes for Trade Support, Warns on China
by William Mauldin
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