Can Better Angels Depolarize America?

by Autumn Herring

He dramatically changed his views on gay marriage. Here’s how he says the nation can come together. David Blankenhorn, the co-director of The Marriage Opportunity Council, spoke out in 2010 saying that he was against gay marriage. He was against gay marriage because he believed that people were not taking it seriously politically. However, one of his friends showed him a book that changed his outlook on same-sex marriage.

He completely flipped his views on the matter and is not the founder of an organization called Better Angels. Better Angels works with people from all sides to try and encourage them to be more open minded on the subject.

Blankenhorn invited both Trump and Hillary voters after the presidential election as part of the Better Angels mission to try and dispel stereotypes and get the people to agree. The discussion was around thirteen hours long, but the two groups managed to come together and find some common ground amongst one another. David now has been devoting the majority of his time to try and engage people in the act of depolarizing the nation. He most recently wrote about seven ways that you can be an effective depolarizer. I agree with what he wrote where he stated “reframing your thinking to see issues differently, or at least, not as black and white.”

Blankenhorn is a perfect person to advocate depolarizing the nation, because he himself changed his opinion about gay marriage. He was so against it and looked at it so negatively until he stopped being close minded. I think it is a good example that he can show to to people to show them that even he himself can change his political opinion on issues. To me, it is important to be open-minded, especially in regards to politics and topics such as same-sex marriage. If people were more open-minded and willing to see the other side of things our nation would not be so polarized. Diversity is important in regards to politics, and I strongly agree with David as he stated “Diverse groups make better decisions than the smartest individual. If that’s a fact and I really believe it, then no one person knows everything.”


The End of Mandatory Jail Time?

by Mohamed Mohamedali

My action plan is to advocate for the institution of mandatory treatment, rather than jail time, prescribed by mandatory sentencing policy, for minor and nonviolent drug offenders. One political activity that has been in the news headlines in recent times in relation to this topic is the changing attitudes toward drug offenses. In 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to reduce sentences in most drug cases arguing that it was not fair and justified to sentence someone for 25 years for selling a small amount of drugs. The AG sought to reset the sentencing policies for federal judges and reduce sentencing for such crimes by an average of nearly a year (Zuckerman, 2014).

This indicated the changing wind of times and in a recent article by Alan Greenblatt on the wave of new district attorneys who are redefining justice, the author notes that new attorneys, a case in example being Kim Ogg, Harris County new attorney who wants her office along with law enforcement as a whole to pay less attention to minor drug offenses and in fact, she announced in February 2017 that she would no longer seek jail time in most cases for the crime of possessing up to four ounces of marijuana, but instead, the offenders would be diverted toward treatment instead (Greenblatt, 2017). Her sentiments are supported by Dwight Boykins, a member of the Houston City Council who notes that is that two-thirds of the people in jail are minorities and nonviolent based on minor drug offenses and this is not proof of an effective criminal justice system.



Greenblatt, A. (2017, April). Law and the New Order: A Fresh Wave of District Attorneys Is Redefining Justice. Retrieved from Governing:


Zuckerman, M. B. (2014, May 9). Get a little less tough on crime. Retrieved from U.S. News:

Haunted Houses & Renters Rights

by Philip Erdman

Michele Callan and her fiancé, Josue Chinchilla are a New Jersey couple that are suing their landlord for their $2,250 deposit on a Toms River home that they claim is haunted. They have claimed that they are the victims of various forms of paranormal activity, including menacing voices, flickering lights, moving bedsheets, and clothing flying from their closet. Chinchilla even went as far as telling ABC News that he did not believe in this type of stuff, but was forced to once he felt an invisible hand on his shoulder and had to go to the hospital briefly because of the paranormal experience.

The couple and her two children claim that they fled the Lowell Avenue rental and have been living in a single room at a motel in Point Pleasant Beach and they refuse to move back as their lives are in mortal danger if they return. The couple’s landlord, Richard Lopez, does not believe the story. He is countersuing the couple and believes they are creating a hoax to get out of paying $1,500 a month and to break the year lease they have signed. The landlord’s lawyer believes that because Michele is a single mom, she must be over her head and unable to afford the monthly payments.

Callan countered the lawyer’s claims by explaining that Chinchilla and her children fled only one week after moving in and that they already paid the entire first month, so if anything, they are losing money right now.

The article goes on to reveal exactly why tenants need the protection of landlord disclosure of potentially haunted residences before they sign their lease: “In any case, if Lopez had consciously rented the couple a home with any shady or ghost-ridden history, he wouldn’t have had to reveal it. Most states in the United States do not have formal renter/seller disclosure laws regarding a home’s non-material facts (i.e. outside structural concerns, leaks in the foundation or walls, etc.) and do not require Realtors to tell prospective buyers about a home’s grisly past or purported hauntings, though that’s strongly recommended.

There was such disclosure in the case of the Lutz family, who moved into the now world famous Amityville Horror house in New York and were supposedly haunted by the demonic images and supernatural activity of the home’s murdered tenants.

But there was apparently no warning for the Callas-Chinchilla household: they reportedly were so spooked that they even hired paranormal investigators, who set up five cameras, electronic voice phenomena recorders and electromagnetic field meters in the rental. The Asbury Park Press reported that the presence of paranormal activity appeared in the videos, including bowling pins falling over in the recreation room while the infrared cameras were recording.”

The ABC News interview and following notes clearly show why there is a problem when a landlord knows that they are renting out an apartment or house, knowing that it is haunted and they refrain from telling the potential buyers even after they sign their lease. This creates situations like the one in the article above. Had the landlord disclosed the residence’s haunted past then the renters would never have signed the lease and would not be stuck with a $1,500 a month bill for a place that they do not even live anymore. The rent, plus the security deposit comes out to about a $20,000 loss for the renters by the end of a year, that is almost just as bad as purchasing a home only to find out it is haunted or has a haunted history and then losing money on the sale of the home because all the locals know its history and will not pay your asking price.

Because renting an apartment or house that is haunted produces the same if not worse consequences then the purchase of a haunted house (you can at-least rent out the house and recoup some of your loss) and people who are living in apartments may not have the financial means to seek out another apartment, which would result in the burden of paying two leases each month, there should be laws in place to protect them.

Link to story:


The Revival of the Keystone XL Pipeline

by Lizzie Cohen

The Keystone XL Pipeline is now back into play under President Donald Trump’s Administration, that was previously stopped under Former President Barack Obama’s Administration. The pipeline would carry approximately 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil to Nebraska, where it would flow on to different refineries along the Gulf Coast. The pipeline has been debated very visibly in American politics with costs and benefits thrown around on both sides.

Those arguing for the pipeline believe the following benefits would occur.The pipeline would have a very high short term influence on job growth with thousands of jobs created for the time being, with a low long term job growth with experts projecting only 35 permanent jobs being created. It has also been estimated that the pipeline would cause an increase in tax revenue at both the state and local level along the pipeline route.

Those arguing against the pipeline believe the following costs will occur such as more carbon emissions being release into the atmosphere due to the type of oil that would be refined from the pipeline. More generally it would have the negative effects on the environment due to the pipeline, as well as disturbing native American lands that the pipeline will go through.

There are other costs and benefits that are not mentioned in the article, but overall it provides an argument for the effects that will happen from the Keystone XL pipeline. The article discusses the positive and negative effects as well as future projections that the pipeline could have on the United States as well as Canada.

IDEA and Judge Gorsuch

by Darshan Jha

The father of student had testified against Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, claiming that his son’s education was threatened by Judge Gorsuch’s views. Defending the decision, Judge Gorsuch stated that he was bounded by the circuit precedent and he had apologized. However, the Supreme Court did not rule in whether the parents should be reimbursed.

At a time when there is a battle in the Senate to fill the 9th position on the Supreme Court, there are critics of Judge Gorsuch coming out on his previous rulings. Some of the critics against Judge Gorsuch have used his ruling on the Thompson R2-J School District v Luke P. In the court case, Judge Gorsuch had applied the “de minimis” standard and rejected the parent’s claim that the school didn’t provide enough for their son. The parents enrolled their son in a specialized school for children with autism and were asking for reimbursement of the costs because the parents claimed that the school was doing enough to provide a fair education.  The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that the “de minimis” standard is a low standard and stated by Chief Justice Roberts:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

This comes at a crucial time when the Education Secretary has been questioned on her policy as well the Trump Administration. Prior to this, the Education Secretary had suggested that the States are in charge of how to implement Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Federalism & Special Education

by Kim Braun
Late last week, the Supreme Court decided a case increasing educational requirements that schools must provide for students with disabilities. Previous rulings stipulated that, under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), special education needed only to meet a standard defined as more than the minimum education. The Supreme Court now indicates that this threshold was too low. While the court did not specify that special education achieve equivalency with regular education, it lifted the standard to an “‘appropriately ambitious’” standard where “‘every child … [has] the chance to meet challenging objectives’” (qtd. in Brown and Marimow). The court also indicated that these levels would vary depending upon the unique needs of the special education student, typically delineated in individualized education plans (IEPs).
This Supreme Court decision nicely illustrates federalism at work. The court performed its checking function on the other branches by ruling on the administration of legislation. Interest groups were also evident during the process: Autism Speaks and the National School Boards Association voiced support and opposition, respectively, for raised standards. These groups, among others, filed amicus briefs during the judicial process to advocate for their members’ perspectives during the deliberations.
Interestingly, the case connects to recent Trump nominees: the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals previously decided the case. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was not involved in the initial ruling, but used the precedent in later cases he decided on that same court. The father of a student affected by a Gorsuch ruling on the standard testified against the judge’s nomination to the highest court, relating how the decision negatively affected his child. Additionally, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ responses to questions about her plans to implement IDEA concerned several confirmation committee members, who felt that she was not adequately familiar with the legislation.
 Brown, Emma, and Ann E. Marimow. “Supreme Court sets higher bar for education of students with disabilities.” Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2017,

Initial Reaction to Budget Proposal & What it Means to our Values/Programs

by Lisa Duelfer

This article was a preview of more recent articles and of course, the actual budget itself, but it was the first notification I had of my advocacy program, the Corporation for National and Community Service, was being cut. There are many programs being cut, or their funding being reduced, and I invite everyone to discuss all of them, however I will be focusing on CNCS.

To better frame this, earlier that week, we had submitted our proposals for what we were going to push for, and I had written a modest commentary on better benefits for a term of community service (currently corps members are issued about $160 every two weeks as a living stipend) a more enticing scholarship program (currently just above $5,000) and better recognition (currently most employers do not know about the program, and graduates are not granted additional status to apply for federal jobs). Then on Saturday I see this article and all of the sudden I am going from “let’s improve this awesome program” to “hey! Leave my Americorps alone!”

CNCS, as I will go into during my presentation, is a bipartisan program that has been expanded by every previous president since it was proposed by G.H.W. Bush and passed by Clinton. It has also been on the chopping block numerous times, again due to its lack of prestige. Previous champions of the program include southern gulf representatives and senators who saw the benefits of the program first hand, helping rebuild after Katrina. Likewise we would look to the northeast now, beseeching those whose constituents were benefited by the service of Americorps members after Sandy.

There are over 1,000,000 Americorps alums that are rallying to alert their law makers of the relevance of National Service. There are many other programs whose budget is being reduced or cut that have other champions – Earth Day there will be a “march for science,” pushing back on the EPA and National Parks issues. Recently videos of Elmo being fired and Fred Rogers saving PBS from Reagan cuts have been circulating around Facebook. How is the state budget fighting back? Who is standing up for HUD?

When reaching out to a representative about the upcoming budget, is it better to stay on a single issue like a personal special interest group, or should you make multiple please for all of your issues? What are you opinions of the current proposals for the “hard power” budget that is proposed?