Uber, Lyft popular in Boston area


Boston taxi companies have seen their business continue to plummet over the past few years, largely due to the rise of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Bostonians have lauded the apps for helping them move around the city for less money and in a shorter amount of time.

Jim O’Donnell, a Boston University professor of city planning and urban development, wrote how he believes Uber and Lyft have thrived in cities due to the innovative way they connect the same services taxis provide to one’s phone.

“When you get in a taxi cab, you don’t know what it’s going to cost, when you’re trying to hail a taxi cab, you don’t know when it’s going to come. I think that that has been a real inconvenience for a lot of people,” he stated. “Ride apps allow one to get all the information about their trip length, price and availability at their fingertips.”

Along with the taxi industry, public transportation has also taken a hit from the advent of ride-sharing. While residents might benefit from catching Ubers, a report from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that the city has been suffering from this switch. According to the report, the average ride-hailing trip represents 35 cents of lost revenue for the MBTA.

Efforts to combat these issues have been put in place by the Massachusetts government. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law in 2016 issuing a charge of five cents per ride to be given to a taxi innovation fund.

MAPC has estimated that 15 percent of ride-hailing trips are taken during rush hour by people who would have otherwise used public transit. This has implications of traffic congestion, air pollution and dangerous emissions.

Students get look at world of politics


The Beacon Hill Project launched on Friday, Sept. 21, which plans to provide opportunities for students to get a glimpse into the real world of politics.

The project involves monthly trips to Boston where students will meet with legislators, government officials and advocacy groups, while also gaining important insights into the arena of policy-making.

This project is one of the star attractions for students in master’s programs at the School of Public Policy. The school’s mission has always been to prepare students for public service, but this year the school is trying to implement programs to make the degrees offered more interesting for students who desire a future in government.

Raija Vaisanen, director of research at the Commonwealth Corporation and a panelist for the first event, described the project with great appreciation.

“The small-group format allows students to ask questions and have robust conversations with panelists,” she said. “It also allows students the opportunity to see people in different roles and occupations throughout the public service realm. This can help them envision themselves being in these jobs one day.”

The project will be taking another trip on Oct. 19 to visit experts at UMass Boston and the Kennedy School at Harvard. The project aims to connect students who want to do public service with people who actually engage in policy-making. The School of Public Policy hopes to expand this project to more places with a larger set of students getting the exposure they need to create a future in public policy.

Fans offer more October Fenway magic?


The 2018 Red Sox division title banner went missing for about 48 hours last week, before it could even be hoisted at Fenway.

A 44-year-old Malden man, Louie Iacuzzi, says he found the precious banner on McGrath Highway in Somerville Monday. At first, he suggested he wanted something in return, but brought it to Fenway Park Wednesday afternoon when the story started to get a little suspicious.

The Sox confirmed shortly before 4 p.m. that the banner was in their possession. A team spokeswoman said the people who returned it received nothing in exchange.

The CEO of the company Flagraphs (who manufactured the banner), Tony Lafuente wasn’t sure if the original banner “fell off the truck or if it walked off the truck … I’ve been doing work for the Boston Red Sox since 1992. Nothing ever happened like this.”

Later in the interview, Lafuente said flatly that “these guys stole my banner” and “should be ashamed of themselves. This is not Boston.” He did, however, concede that his drivers sometimes use McGrath Highway during normal business hours.

Iacuzzi described himself as a good Samaritan, claiming that he and his friend did the right thing in stopping to recover the banner, because if otherwise it may have been ran over by on coming cars.

Crimson Tide and Coke reach a deal


The University of Alabama and Coca-Cola signed a 10-year contract in July, which made Coca-Cola the exclusive beverage provider at the university. It is the first time in 20 years that a single beverage provider will work for both campus and the athletics programs.

For $2 million a year for 10 years, students will find new vending machines on campus, new beverage options at dining halls and more opportunities to purchase Coca-Cola products on campus. The new vending machines will have a variety of payment options.

“We’ve added over 300 pieces of vending, 40 pieces of fountain equipment, added new products at dining halls, and added coolers to different areas throughout campus,” said Kevin Horton, sales center manager at Coca-Cola.

In addition to beverages, Coca-Cola will also be providing students with new academic and career opportunities. A student ambassador was hired at the university to connect with other students and inform them of new opportunities through Coca-Cola. In addition, Coca-Cola will also offer a summer internship, a speaker series on campus and an annual scholarship.

Once it was awarded the contract, Coca-Cola created five new job titles at the university.

Iraqi police capture top IS members


Iraqi forces in coordination with U.S.-backed Syrian forces have captured five senior Islamic State group leaders, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday in a statement.

The arrest was a “significant blow to Daesh,” U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, coalition spokesman, said, using the Arabic acronym for the extremist group.IS fighters no longer control significant pockets of territory inside Iraq, but do maintain a grip inside Syria along Iraq’s border.

The U.S.-led coalition supported Iraqi ground forces and Syrian fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces in the more than three-year war against IS. After Iraqi forces retook the Iraqi city of Mosul from IS last summer, Syrian forces on the other side of the border claimed a series of swift victories, but the campaign was stalled recently when Turkey launched a cross-border raid into Syria’s north.

Earlier this month the coalition announced a drive to clear the final pockets of IS territory inside Syria. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted about the anti-IS raid Thursday, saying those arrested were the “five most wanted” IS “leaders.”

Last year the Pentagon said that there were “some indicators” that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was still alive a month after Russia claimed to have killed him in a strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa. None of the statements released Thursday from the president or the coalition named the IS fighters arrested. IS fighters swept into Iraq in the summer of 2014, taking control of nearly a third of the country. At the height of the group’s power their self-proclaimed caliphate stretched from the edges of Aleppo in Syria to just north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Now, with the group’s physical caliphate largely destroyed, anti-IS operations are increasingly focused on targeting the extremists’ remaining leadership.

FDA looks at e-cigarettes marketing


In response to the growing prevalence of vaping among teenagers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last Wednesday issued a warning requiring electronic cigarette manufacturers to prove within 60 days that their devices are not marketed toward minors.

If manufacturers fail to do so, the FDA threatens to ban certain e-cigarettes, such as JUUL, from the market.

 2016 Surgeon General’s report first captured the rise in vaping among minors. Some experts worry that e-cigarettes companies are putting out flavors trying to appeal to a younger audience, such as mango and creme brulee, which can serve as a gateway to smoking tobacco products.

E-cigarettes, particularly JUUL, are ubiquitous on college campuses. Students can be found vaping while walking between classes, in dorms and at parties. 

Older students who vape do not plan to stop and are unfazed by the FDA’s warnings.

Meanwhile, some e-cigarette vendors believe further regulation could hurt adults trying to quit smoking. In recent months, the U.S. government has taken closer aim at e-cigarette manufacturers.

The FDA opened an
 investigation into JUUL’s marketing practices in April and the department has begun alerting teenagers about the risks of vaping. 

In spite of the government’s concerns, Farok claimed most of his customers are of legal age to purchase e-cigarettes, leading him to question whether concerns about underage vaping are warranted.

North Korea nears denuclearization


Moon Chung-in, who is a special adviser for the South Korean President Moon Jae-in, announced that Kim Jong-un is willing to negotiate for North Korea’s denuclearization in a bid to stabilize North Korea’s economy and solidify his position as North Korean leader. 

This announcement comes just after President Trump said he would meet with Kim Jong-un and just before the third-ever inter-Korean summit, an event being hailed as a “cautious starting point” for peace efforts by South Korean Presidential Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok. The summit is expected to be an opportunity for open communication between both North and South Korea, the United States and other nations near the Korean Peninsula.

“Although the special envoys have already confirmed a willingness to denuclearize, it will make a difference if the two heads of state will meet and more clearly confirm it and make it a formal statement,” said Jong-seok.

Despite these rosy forecasts, skeptics are left wondering why Jong-un would announce denuclearization when he appears close to achieving his long-stated goal of owning nuclear missiles able to reach the mainland of the United States. However, last year’s increase in United Nations’ sanctions are expected to take a massive toll on North Korea’s slow-growing economy, a toll that Jong-un cannot afford if he wants to continue to control the fate of the Northern Korean Peninsula. 

In addition, Chung-in hypothesized that North Korea might have believed the United States would not take the country seriously unless nuclear capabilities were reached. Chung-in said that Jong-un believes the advances in his missile programs will force the United States into the negotiations. Washington has repeatedly rejected earlier calls for negotiation from North Korea over a lack of sincerity. There is the distinct possibility that North Korea comes to this negotiation with the intent of humiliating the United States through absurd or over-the-top demands for peace, allowing Jong-un to both save face and his weapons program. 

Conservative hawks such as National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, advocate for measures as extreme as preventative war with North Korea. North Korea has long advocated for the complete removal of the nearly 30,000 United States troops in South Korea and the end to their joint exercises with the South Korean military. If such drastic demands come to the fore of President Trump’s summit with Jong-un, denuclearization and peace may be a far-off dream yet. But if North Korea’s economy and people continue to dwindle in strength and faith in their leader, Jong-un may be left with no choice but denuclearization.

Trump has plans to meet with Jong-un in May or early June, though that largely depends on the cautious optimism behind the April 27 inter-Korean summit.

UCLA prof exonerated from lab accident


A Los Angeles judge dismissed criminal charges against a UCLA professor whose failure to enforce proper safety precautions resulted in a 2008 lab fire and the death of a lab assistant.

Patrick Harran, a professor of chemistry, is thought to be the first American professor criminally charged for an academic lab accident.

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji was working as a lab assistant in Harran’s lab to save money for law school when a bottle of tert-Butyllithium, a chemical that ignites when exposed to air, spilled and started a fire. She was not wearing a lab coat at the time and did not go under the emergency shower until emergency responders arrived.

Sangji suffered second- and third-degree burns on more than 40 percent of her body, which ultimately caused her death in January 2009.

Harran agreed to a deferred prosecution deal in 2014 that would dismiss charges if he fulfilled a number of requirements for five years. These requirements included performing 800 hours of community service in the UCLA Hospitals, teaching organic chemistry classes to inner-city students in the summer and paying $10,000 to the Grossman Burn Center.

Although the original agreement was supposed to end June 2019, a Superior Court judge shortened the length of the agreement at the request of Harran’s attorney. Had he been convicted on all charges, Harran could have faced up to 4 1/2 years in prison.