Category: Acton Occasional Series

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, May 22, 2015
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memorial-dayOn Monday, Americans will observe Memorial Day, a federal holiday for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Here are five facts you should know about this day of remembrance:

1. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military both in wartime or peacetime.

2. Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. Three years after the Civil War, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the head of an organization of Union veterans, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30 since it was believed flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
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7figuresAt The Atlantic, Derek Thompson provides some depressing numbers related to lotteries in America. Here are seven figures you should know from his article:

1. Americans spend more on lottery tickets than on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, and recorded music sales combined — $70 billion on lotto games in 2014.

2. In five states, people spend more than $600 dollars per person per year on lottery tickets.

3. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets.

4. Winners of more than $600 are subject to 45 percent windfall taxes on their winnings.

5. Out of the 20 counties in North Carolina with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult.

6. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43.

7. As recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal.

7figuresThe Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an a new survey by the Pew Research Center that compares the religious landscape of 2015 to 2007. Here are seven figures you should know from the report.

1. Between 2007 and 2014, the share of the U.S. population that identifies as Christian fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent, driven primarily by declines among mainline Protestant and Catholics.

2. The rise in intermarriage appears to be linked with the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population. Nearly one-in-five people surveyed who got married since 2010 are either religiously unaffiliated respondents who married a Christian spouse or Christians who married an unaffiliated spouse. By contrast, just 5 percent of people who got married before 1960 fit this profile.

3. Catholics appear to be declining both as a percentage of the population and in absolute numbers. The new survey indicates there are about 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S. today, roughly 3 million fewer than in 2007. But taking margins of error into account, the decline in the number of Catholic adults could be as modest as 1 million.
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MOTHERS-DAY11. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation that officially established the first national Mother’s Day holiday to celebrate America’s mothers. Many individual states celebrated Mother’s Day before then, but it was not until Wilson lobbied Congress in 1914 that Mother’s Day was officially set on the second Sunday of every May.

2. President Wilson established Mother’s Day after years of lobbying by the mother of the holiday, Anna Marie Jarvis and the World’s Sunday School Association. Anna Jarvis’ mother, Ann Jarvis, had attempted to establish a version of Mother’s Day during the Civil War as a time for remembrance. By the 1920s, though, Anna Jarvis became disgusted by the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace at a Mother’s Day carnation sale. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. As she said, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.”

3. Mother’s Day was the most important Sunday on the organized crime calendar. According to Joe Pistone, an FBI undercover agent, the mafia often closed for business when Mother’s Day arrived each May.
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Unemployment-0306Series Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).
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HUMAN_TRAFFICKING_8705943What is the story with the human trafficking bill?

The recent human trafficking bill, officially known as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, was originally introduced in in the Senate on January 2015 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The bill had 34 cosponsors in the Senate, 13 Democrats and 21 Republicans (Sen. Barbara Boxer initially signed on as a cosponsor but withdrew her support a day later.) However, after initially supporting the bill, Democrats launched a filibuster because of language in the bill related to abortion.

In response, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until the trafficking bill made it out of the Senate. After weeks of negotiations, a bipartisan agreement was reached and the bill was put up for a vote, passing unopposed (99-0).

Why did the Democrats oppose the bill?

Senate Democrats—including ten of the cosponsors—filibustered the bill to prevent it coming up for a vote after learning of opposition by abortion rights groups, such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood. The abortion lobby opposed the bill because it included the Hyde amendment, an addition routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976 which bans federal funding of abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

According to NPR, Democrats said restrictions on abortions should apply to only taxpayer money, and that the fund created by the trafficking measure was not taxpayer money because it’s collected from fines on people convicted of sex-trafficking crimes. A deal was later reached which would allow the criminal fines to be used for victim services unrelated to health. The money related to the bill used for health services would still be subjected to the Hyde amendment.

As NPR’s Alisa Chang says, “both sides can say they won. Republicans can say no part of the fund pays for abortions. Democrats can say the Hyde Amendment was never expanded to apply to non-taxpayer money.”

What does the trafficking act do?
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
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earth-day-1970What is Earth Day?

Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement.

How did Earth Day get started?

Earth Day was started by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. Nelson originally tried to bring political attention to environmental issues in 1962-63, when he convinced President Kennedy to venture out on a five-day, eleven-state conservation tour. But as Nelson later said, “For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda.”

Six years later, Nelson got the idea that became Earth Day after watching anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” which had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Nelson used the anti-war protest as a model for a large-scale grassroots protest on environmental concerns.

What was the result of the original Earth Day efforts?
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
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7figuresToday is tax day, the day when individual income tax returns are due to the federal government. Here are seven figures you should know about tax day:

1. The average federal tax rate for all households (tax liabilities divided by income, including government transfer payments) before taxes is 18.1 percent.

2. Households in the top quintile (including the top percentile) paid 68.8 percent of all federal taxes, households in the middle quintile paid 9.1 percent, and those in the bottom quintile paid 0.4 percent of federal taxes. (Quintiles — fifths — contain equal numbers of people.)

3. Social insurance taxes (e.g., Social Security, Medicare) account for the largest share of taxes paid by households in all but the top quintile.

4. The U.S. tax code is approximately 2,600 pages long (about 1.5 times longer than Tolstoy’s War and Peace and 2.5 times longer than Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged).

5. At midnight, the U.S. Treasury gets an extra $760 million. Taxpayers have three years to claim refunds, so the $760 million that is owed to 918,600 people will, by statute, go to the governments coffers tomorrow.

6. If you’re owed a refund, you won’t get in trouble if you miss the April 15 filing deadline. But if you’re wrong and you actually owe money, you’ll incur a maximum penalty of 5% for each month after the deadline. If you’re more than 60 days late, you’ll be fined $135, or 100% of the unpaid tax — whichever amount is smaller.

7. Examining 30 years of road crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers found that fatal car crashes increase 6 percent on April 15.

Series Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No significant change is marked by (NC).
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ym-mapWhat just happened in Yemen?

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has been in a state of political crisis since 2011 when a series of street protests began against poverty, unemployment, corruption. In recent months, though, Yemen has been driven even further into instability by conflicts between several different groups, pushing the country “to the edge of civil war,” according to the UN’s special adviser.

Yesterday, to prevent further instability, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen, saying it is “defending the legitimate government” of US-backed president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. There are conflicting reports about whether Hadi has fled Yemen or who is in control of the government.

Egyptian military and security officials told The Associated Press that the military intervention will go further, with a ground assault into Yemen by Egyptian, Saudi and other forces, planned once airstrikes have weakened the capabilities of the rebels.

Why did Saudi Arabia get involved?

Saudi Arabia (comprised of mostly Sunni Muslims) and Iran (comprised mostly of Shi’a Muslims) are in a sort of “Cold War” conflict and in direct competition for influence in the region. Saudi Arabia considers the Houthis are an Iranian proxy and believe they need to take action to prevent an Iranian client state from developing on their southern border.

Do Sunnis and Shi’ite have the same beliefs in common?
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