Category: Acton Occasional Series

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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7figuresThe United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women recently released a report that includes data on gender-based violence. Here are seven sets of figures on violence against girls and women that are based on their data:

1. Recent global estimates show that 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. While there is some variation across regions, all regions have unacceptably high rates of violence against women.

2. Almost half of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partner or family members (the figure for men is just over 1 in 20 homicide victims).

3. Data from developing countries show that 21 percent of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she argues with him. Similarly, 27 percent of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she neglects the children.

4. Women account for between 55 percent and 60 percent of all trafficking victims detected globally, and women and girls together account for some 75 percent. Moreover, the trafficking of children remains a serious problem, as 27 percent of all victims are children and, of every three child victims, two are girls and one is a boy.

5. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated in 2013 that more than 125 million girls and women had undergone some form of female genital mutilation/cutting in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East. Another 30 million girls were estimated to be at risk of being cut in the next decade.

6 Approximately one quarter of girls aged between 15 and 19 are victims of physical violence from the age of 15,149 and 120 million girls under 20, about 1 in 10, are subjected to sexual violence.

7. Early childbearing is commonly linked to non-consensual sex in contexts of sexual violence, exploitation and child, early and forced marriage. More than 16 million girls aged between 15 and 19 and some 1 million girls under the age of 15 give birth annually, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, the highest rate being in sub-Saharan Africa.

Today Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation making Wisconsin the nation’s 25th right-to-work state. Here is what you should know about right-to-work laws:

What is a right-to-work law?

right-to-work laws are state laws that guarantee a person cannot be compelled to join or pay dues to a labor union as a condition of employment.

righttoworkWhy are right-to-work laws considered a matter of economic freedom?

Economic freedom exists when people have the liberty to produce, trade, and consume legitimate goods and services that are acquired without the use of force, fraud, or theft. Mandatory unionism violates a person’s economic freedom since it forces them to pay a portion of their income, as a condition of employment, to a third-party representative—even if they disagree with the aims, goals, or principles of the representative group.

What’s wrong with being forced to pay for union representation?
In many countries that have a state religion citizens are forced to pay a portion of their income to support the activities of the state-approved church. Most Americans recognize that being required to directly finance the sectarian and dogmatic activities of a religious organization they may not wish to be associated with is a violation of their freedom of association.

Similarly, Americans should not be forced to financially support unions that claim to their economic interest if they believe such organizations are engaging in activities (such as political campaigning) they disapprove of.

Aren’t right-to-work law anti-union?
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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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ferguson-shootingSince last August, federal prosecutors and civil rights investigators have been investigating whether the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson was a civil rights violation. In an 86-page report released Wednesday, the Justice Department cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing or violation of civil rights in the shooting. Here are some highlights from that report.

• FBI agents independently canvassed more than 300 residences to locate and interview additional witnesses. Federal investigators also collected cell phone data, searched social media sites, and followed up on tips from citizens in order to investigate all sources of information. (p. 4)

• “The evidence, when viewed as a whole, does not support the conclusion that Wilson’s use of deadly were “objectively unreasonable” under the Supreme Court’s definition.” (p. 5)

• The investigation uncovered forensic evidence that confirms Brown reached into the police officer’s vehicle and punched and grabbed Wilson. Brown also grabbed Wilson’s firearm and attempted to wrestle control of it from the police officer, suffering a bullet wound to the hand during the altercation and leaving DNA evidence inside the vehicle. (p. 6).

• Brown was not shot in the back and there is no evidence he was shot while running away. Brown ran 180 feet away before turning back and advancing on Wilson. Wilson fired a total of 12 shots, 2 in the vehicle and 10 on the roadway, but only hit Brown 6-8 times, including the shot to the hand. Brown fell to the ground with his uninjured hand balled up in his waistband. (Wilson testified he thought Brown was reaching into his waistband for a weapon.) Evidence proves that Wilson did not touch Brown’s body after the shooting. (p. 7)

• All credible witnesses established that Brown was moving toward Wilson—“charging”, “moving slowly,” “running,” etc.—when he was shot. Although some witnesses state Brown held his hands up at shoulder level with his palms facing outward for a brief moment, these same witnesses describe Brown as dropping his hands and “charging” Wilson. (p. 8)
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7figuresEach year the International Bulletin of Missionary Research lays out in summary form an annual update of significant religious statistics. Here are seven sets of figures based on their latest report:

1. Global population by religion: Christians – 2.38 billion; Muslims – 1.7 billion; Hindu – 1 billion; atheists – 136 million; Jews – 14 million.

2. Membership by 6 ecclesiastical megablocs: Catholics – 1.2 billion; Protestants – 441 million; Independents – 407 million; Orthodox – 280 million; Anglicans – 92 million; Unaffiliated Christians – 110 million.

3. Number of Christians by 6 continents, 21 UN regions: Africa (5 regions) – 520 million; Asia (4 regions) – 368 million; Europe (including Russia; 4 regions) – 561 million; Latin America (3 regions) – 562 million; Northern America (1 region) – 229 million; Oceania (4 regions) – 25 million.

4. Christian organizations: Denominations – 45,000; Congregations – 4.7 million; Service agencies – 30,000; Foreign-mission sending agencies – 5,000.

5. Christian finance (in US$, per year): Personal income of church members – $35 trillion; Giving to Christian causes – $626 billion; Churches’ income – $249 billion; Parachurch and institutional income – $377 billion.

6. Scripture distribution (all sources, per year): Bibles – 80 million; Scriptures including gospels, selections – 5 billion; Bible density (copies in place) – 1.8 billion.

7. World evangelization: Unevangelized population – 2.1 billion; Unevangelized as % of world: 29.2 percent.