Currents Updates: April 2017

United Airlines Controversy

Occurred: April 9th, 2017

What Happened:

A 69 year old man identified as David Dao, a physician in Elizabethtown, KY, was dragged out of his seat after boarding a United Airlines flight. The footage, captured by numerous sources, was released the following day (April 10), revealing an aggressive, violent, and forcible removal from his seat.

Why This Happened:

The initial cause of this conflict was attributed to a common airline practice known as ‘flight overbooking.’ This controversial—but legal—practice involves booking more than the available quantity of seats to take advantage of the high probability (managed by sophisticated revenue systems) that some people will miss their flight, leaving empty seats that may or may not make profit.  However, this was not the case, according to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.  Instead, United needed to accommodate four of crew members, so they selected four passengers (based on fare type, check-in time, etc.)  to be removed. David Dao, the fourth selectee, refused, citing his patients as a need to stay. Then, United Airlines called Chicago Aviation Security Officers to force him out.

Public Response:

The sight of an elderly man left bleeding sparked a harsh pushback against United and the Chicago Aviation, particularly against their first official response to the situation. Oscar Munoz stated in his letter, “I want to commend you for continuing to go above and beyond to ensure we fly right,” also describing Dao as “belligerent” and “disruptive”. He later deepened his apology after further uproar. Others, especially in China, have also attempted to invoke race as a potential factor for the passenger removal selection process. Many celebrities, like Ellen DeGeneres, have also responded to this event, reprimanding both the United Airlines’ actions as well as the concept of overbooking as a whole. Furthermore, jokes and memes mocking United Airline’s disregard towards their customers proliferated through social media and rival airline’s advertisements  shortly after the video’s release.

Aftermath:

It was revealed that Dr. Dao suffered from a concussion, two lost front teeth, and a broken nose.  In addition to the PR disaster that United Airlines faces, economic losses have also been a large concern.  United fears this outrage will deter potential investors. Although United’s shares have started to recover, their profits have suffered and their is some concern over the effect this incident while bear on future ticket sales.

Most recently, United Airlines settled a non-disclosed amount to David Dao on the April 27th.  Dr. Dao’s lawyers have since applauded Munoz’s profuse apologies and promised policy reforms.

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United States uses MOAB in Afghanistan to target ISIS

Occurred: April 13, 2017

What Happened:

The United States unleashed the  “most powerful conventional, non-nuclear bomb” in its arsenal on what they identified as an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan. This was the first time that the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, more commonly known by its nickname the “Mother Of All Bombs”, was used in combat.

What It [MOAB] Does:

The MOAB’s main objective is to flatten areas of land and access targets that are normally shielded by geographical barriers like caves. This 20,000 pound weapon boasts a blast radius equivalent to 11 tonnes of TNT, costing the United States around 300 million dollars in development. The original intention for crafting such an intimidating weapon was to have a non-nuclear deterrent against Saddam Hussein in the 2003 Iraq War.

Why Now?

The particular timing for the MOAB launch can be considered a strategic attack based on the general isolation of the cave complex or a statement on the United States’ increased willingness to use military power. On one hand, Afghanistan’s ambassador described the difficulties mines surrounding the tunnel complex imposed on US and Afghan troops.  By this justification it seems to serve as a strategic necessity.  On the other hand, this bombing may have been simply used as a statement of the United States’ rejuvenated efforts in the fight against ISIS and assertion of strength towards other countries like Syria, Russia, and North Korea.

Was It Effective?

U.S. officials have released limited information regarding the MOAB’s damage in Afghanistan under the justification that it is a “combat zone.” However, Afghan officials provide estimates of 36-96 ISIS fighters killed over the last few days and US military spokesman Capt. William Salvin has expressed “high confidence” in the success of the operation.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 5.27.30 PM.pngLandscape located near ground zero

 

North Korea Tensions Rise

Occurred: Beginning/mid April

Context:

Their first interaction with nuclear technology occurred in the 1950’s, in which the Soviet Union helped North Korea build nuclear reactors for energy purposes. However, upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea saw it as an uncompromising necessity to build nuclear weapons for protection.

North Korea has continued to develop their nuclear weapons since their first successful launch in 2006. Among their arsenal consist numerous short and medium range missiles that pose a threat to regional neighbors, yet they lack any Inter- Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) that would directly endanger the United States. The fact that the United States is capable of targeting North Korea and North Korea cannot the U.S., gives the international community some leverage that Kim Jong-Un is looking to put in his favor.

Current Situation:

In response to recent nuclear tests, President Donald Trump’s Administration expressed the possibility of exercising military action. However, Pyongyang’s continues to showcase its unyielding defiance through new missile tests, four of which were unsuccessful since March. The United States currently faces fresh threats towards its nuclear-powered submarine that is stationed within the Korean peninsula waters which Pyongyang says will be turned into an “underwater ghost”.

Implications:

If North Korea becomes successful in developing nuclear weapons that directly endanger the United States, their alliance with Japan and South Korea will likely weaken. This would effectively force South Korea and Japan to develop their own nuclear weapons, which can potentially influence other countries into their own pursuit. The expansion of nuclear development would also compromise the international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Pursued Solutions:

Although Trump has stated the viability of military action towards an advancing North Korean threat, the most heavily pursued route of action involves China cutting its economic ties. This would deprive Pyongyang of its ability to further invest in its nuclear technology. However, pursuing this option is not as easy as it might seem due to complications with U.S. missile defenses stationed in South Korea that China views as “undermining” of their security.

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Berkeley Riots/Protests

Occurred: April 15, 2017

What Happened:

A pro-Trump “free speech” rally hosting several far-right activists, organized by Rich Black, was met with counter-protests in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park. Violence involving the use of fireworks, smoke bombs, and pepper spray broke out between the two groups. Around a dozen people were injured and six were hospitalized. Numerous reports of antisemitic and neo-nazi symbolism were noted.

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Occurred April 27, 2017

What Happened:

Ann Coulter, a conservative columnist, was scheduled to speak on UC Berkeley’s campus until the administrators cancelled the event due to “safety concerns.” After Coulter’s twitter pushback, the administration offered an option to speak May 2. However, no classes were scheduled for that week and Coulter claimed she was unavailable. Although Coulter was not able to speak, other conservative activists provided speeches on her behalf. Meanwhile, the International Socialist Organization coordinated their own rally at Sproul Plaza with 150 people in attendance. Despite increased tensions, the activists remained somewhat separated from each other and there were no reports of violence and injury.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 5.33.08 PM.pngAnn Coulter, conservative columnist