Category: Explainer

GRAND-JURY-Sign1By the end of this month, a grand jury is expected to hand down a decision in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the most frequently considered questions related to the case is, “What exactly is a grand jury?”

Although seemingly shrouded in mystery, grand juries are an essential part of the protections of our liberties within the legal system of the United States. Here is everything you ever needed to know about the grand jury system.

(Note: Most of this information is based on federal grand juries. Grand juries at the state level may have slightly different policies.)

What is a grand jury?

The grand jury is a jury of citizens that determines whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that a specific person or persons committed it. If the grand jury finds probable cause to exist, then it will return a written statement of the charges called an “indictment.”

After the issuance of an indictment, the case moves to trial where the accused can then defend themselves against the charges brought against them before a petit jury (also called a trial jury).

Why are grand juries important?
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jerusalem-synagogue-attackWhat just happened in Jerusalem?

Two Palestinian men armed with axes, meat cleavers, and a pistol, entered a synagogue complex in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and killed four rabbis, one from the UK and three from United States (all had dual-citizenship in Israel). Israeli police killed the assailants in a gun battle that critically wounded one officer. 

According to the New York Times, relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32.

What was the motive for the attack?

According to the relatives of the killers, they were motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism) and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel have increasingly been challenging the long-standing ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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net-neutralityOn Monday, President Obama came out strongly for the concept of net neutrality, saying that “an open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life.” What exactly is net neutrality? And why should Christians care?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality (short for “network neutrality”) refers to both a design principle and laws that attempt to regulate and enforce that principle. The net neutrality principle is the idea that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. At its simplest, network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website – from Google.com to Acton.org — should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.

Net neutrality laws are legislation or regulation that prevents Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating or charging different prices based on such criteria as user, content, site, platform, application, or type of attached equipment.

What is the basic argument in favor of net neutrality regulation?
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Nobel-Peace-Prize-winners-012Who are the people who won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Malala Yousafzai, a 17-year-old Muslim girl from Pakistan, and Kailash Satyarthi, a 60-year-old Hindu man from India, jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people.”

What exactly is the Nobel Peace Prize?

The Nobel Peace Prize is an international prize awarded annually since 1901 by the Norwegian Nobel Committee according to guidelines laid down in Alfred Nobel’s will (“. . . to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses.”). The prize includes a medal, a personal diploma, and a large sum of prize money (currently, about $1.1 million).

What did Malala Yousafzai do to deserve the award?
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hong-kong-44What is the protest in Hong Kong?

Pro-democracy activists in the city are protesting the Chinese government’s decision ruling out open nominations for the election of Hong Kong’s leader in 2017. According to the BBC, China’s leaders had promised direct elections for chief executive by 2017, but last month the top legislative committee ruled that voters will only have a choice from a list of two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee. This committee would be formed “in accordance with” Hong Kong’s largely pro-Beijing election committee and any candidate would have to secure the support of more than 50 percent of the nominating committee before being able to run in the election.

Who is leading the protest?

Various groups, though Occupy Central with Love and Peace — an organization that promotes universal suffrage — seems to be the most prominent. Occupy Central, led by Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, organized the unofficial referendum on political reform held in June.

Is Occupy Central connected to the Occupy Wall Street protests?

Yes. Both are part of the Occupy movement, an international protest movement that has promoted protests on six continents.

Why is the protest sometimes referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution”?
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
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ebola-treatmentWhat is the Ebola crisis?

Over the past six months, the Ebola virus has been spreading through several countries in Africa. The result is a potential epidemiological, humanitarian, and global security threat. “The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has the potential to alter history as much as any plague has ever done,” says Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. President Obama said he has “directed my team to make this a national security priority.” And Dr. Kent Brantly, an American who was infected by Ebola, recently told the U.S. Senate:

The use of our military is a legitimate and defensible request because if we do not do something to stop this outbreak now, it quickly could become a matter of U.S. national security-whether that means a regional war that gives terrorist groups like Boko Haram a foothold in West Africa or the spread of the disease into America. Fighting those kinds of threats would require more from the Department of Defense than what I am asking for today.

What is the Obama administration’s goal and strategy for the Ebola crisis?

In his recent speech, President Obama laid out four goals: (1) to control the outbreak, (2) to address the ripple effects of local economies and communities to prevent a truly massive humanitarian disaster, (3) to coordinate a broader global response, and (4) to urgently build up a public health system in these countries for the future — not just in West Africa but in countries that don’t have a lot of resources generally.

To accomplish these goals, President Obama plans to:
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scotland-independenceWhat’s going on in Scotland?

On September 18, voters in Scotland will vote in a referendum whether they want the nation to become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

What is the reason for the push for Scottish independence?

Mainly for political and economic reasons. Scotland is more economically liberal than the rest of the UK and in favor of a broader welfare state. And because of offshore oil resources, many believe an independent Scotland would not only be wealthier than the rest of the UK, but would put the them in the top 20 of countries globally.

What’s the argument against independence?

As the Better Together campaign explains, “We think that the case for staying a part of the UK is a compelling one – and it is based around a simple notion: We have the best of both worlds in Scotland.”

The idea is that Scotland currently benefits from the safety and security of being part of one of the biggest economies in the world. They also have their own Scottish Parliament making decisions about many domestic policy issues, so leaving the UK wouldn’t be much of a benefit for the small country.

Wait, what’s the United Kingdom? Is that the same as Great Britain?
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children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?
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ISIS-syriaWhat just happened in Iraq?

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq have converged into one widening regional insurgency and Iraq risks a full-scale civil war after an al-Qaeda-linked militant group called ISIS quickly seized a large section of the country’s northern region. The group has already taken Mosul, the country’s second largest city, and is within striking distance of Baghdad.

Insurgents stripped the main army base in the northern city of Mosul of weapons, released hundreds of prisoners from the city’s jails, and may have seized up to $480 million in banknotes from the city’s banks.

Government forces have stalled the militants’ advance near Samarra, a city just 68 miles north of Baghdad.

How did ISIS take control of Mosul?

The short answer: the Iraqi army ran away. Iraqi officials told the Guardian that two divisions of Iraqi soldiers – roughly 30,000 men – simply turned and ran in the face of the assault by an insurgent force of just 800 fighters. Senior government officials in Baghdad were equally shocked, accusing the army of betrayal and claiming the sacking of the city was a strategic disaster that would imperil Iraq’s borders.

Who is ISIS?
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coal_power_plantWhat is this latest news about an EPA rule change?

On Monday, June, 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule change on “emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units.”

Specifically, the EPA is proposing state-specific rate-based goals for carbon-dioxide emissions from energy producers (mostly from 600 coal-fired power plants) and setting guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to achieve new state-specific goals.

Is this is an important change?

According to the New York Times, if implemented the change “could close hundreds of the plants and also lead, over the course of decades, to systemic changes in the American electricity industry, including transformations in how power is generated and used.”

How would the rule change work?

States will be required to develop their own plans based on a range of policy options to meet the new stringent goals. They can replace their current systems with wind or solar or join state and regional “cap and trade” programs, that allow states to cap carbon emissions and buy and sell permits to trade those limits with other areas. If they don’t come up with a plan themselves, the EPA will impose one on them.
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