Category: Explainer

US-government-shutdownAre we headed for a government shutdown?

Probably not—at least not for a few more months. The Senate is voting today on a “clean” stopgap spending measure that will fund the federal government until Dec. 11. The House is expected to also approve this bill.

What does a “clean” measure mean?

After a Congressional committee has amended legislation, the chairman may be authorized by the panel to assemble the changes and what remains unchanged from the original bill and then reintroduce everything as a clean bill. A clean bill may expedite Senate action by avoiding separate floor consideration of each committee amendment.

The amendment that was stripped was a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. Although it was supported by most conservatives in Congress, as the AP reports, eight Republicans did not support that measure, leaving it short of a simple majority, much less the 60 votes required to overcome the filibuster. (A recent poll found that by a margin of almost two-to-one (60 percent to 32 percent), the public says any budget agreement must maintain funding for Planned Parenthood.)

Why do we seem to be under a threat of a potential government shutdown every fall?

drowned-syrian-toddler-was-trying-to-come-to-canada-body-image-1441309587What is the Syria refugee crisis?

For the past four years, Syria has been in a civil war that has forced 11 million people— half the country’s pre-crisis population—to flee their homes. About 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and 4 million have fled Syria for other countries. The result is one of the largest forced migrations since World War Two.

If this has been going on for years, why is this now in the news?

Last week the images of the lifeless body of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee captured the attention of both global news sources media. The child had drowned after the 15-foot boat ferrying him from the Turkish beach resort to Greece capsized.

The images reignited a debate about whether the European Union—and other Western countries—was doing enough to aid refugees from the war-torn country.

How did this all start?

ap_220157184201What is the story about?

When the Supreme Court handed down the <Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, it made same-sex marriage legal throughout the U.S. and required every state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis, the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, said she could not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious objections. To avoid claims that she was discriminating, Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses — to both same-sex and opposite sex couples.

Two gay couples and two straight couples sued her, arguing that her duties as an elected official required her to act, despite her personal religious beliefs. A federal judge ordered her to issue the licenses, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. She appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied her request without explanation in a brief one-line order. Since then she has still refused to issue marriage licenses.

On September 3, Davis was found to be in contempt of court and was taken into federal custody.

Who is Kim Davis?

Davis has worked in the Rowan County Clerk’s office for 27 years as a Deputy Clerk (her mother was the clerk for decades). In 2014, she ran as a Democrat and was elected as Clerk. She is a member of congregation of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church.

What are Davis’s specific objections?


Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Yesterday Zack Pruitt explained why when “sanctuary cities” disregard the rule of law on immigration, humanitarian issues become clouded and morality is challenged. But what exactly are sanctuary cities?

This short video by The Daily Signal explains what they are and why they’ve become so controversial.

greekbanks_3357117bWhat’s going on in Greece?

Greece is defaulting on a key debt owed to the international community—and the Greek government is putting the question of whether the country will default on even more government debt up for a popular vote this week.

How did Greece get into such a financial mess?

Too much debt. For the past twenty years the government of Greece has spent more than it has collected in taxes.

Wait, that can’t be all there is to it. The U.S. does the same thing, doesn’t it?

Yes, but the U.S. is a rich country with a good credit rating while Greece is not.

A good way to measure a country’s debt is to compare it to its GDP. The United States deficit averaged -3.03 percent of GDP from 1948 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 4.60 percent of GDP in 1948 and a record low of -12.10 percent in 2009 (low is bad). Greece averaged -7.19 percent of GDP from 1995 until 2014, reaching an all time high of -3.20 percent of GDP in 1999 and a record low of -15.70 percent of GDP in 2009. In other words, Greece spends about twice as much (as a percentage of its GDP) as does the U.S.

Let’s imagine two countries—Greece and the U.S.—as if they were persons: GDP would be the person’s “income”; the deficit would be “additional credit card debt”; and interest on the deficit would be like “interest on a credit card.”

The U.S. has a high income (16.7 trillion a year) and every year adds about 3 percent to the total it owes the credit card companies (the national debt). No one is too worried that the U.S. will default on its loans so the credit card companies give them a low interest rate (2.43 percent).

Greece, on the other hand, has a relatively modest income (242 billion, or 1/70 the size of U.S GDP) and adds a lot more to its debt every year (7 percent). Greece has a low credit score (i.e., the credit card companies aren’t sure Greece will pay off its debt) and so is charged a high interest rate (about 15 percent).

Now Greece is refusing to pay its creditors, causing financial turmoil throughout Europe.

If Greece is such a small economy why does it really matter if they default?

ssm-caseThe Supreme Court issued its ruling today on the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. (You can find our explainer article on the case here.)

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, which was joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia and Thomas joined. Scalia also wrote an opinion that was joined by Thomas. Thomas also filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Scalia. And Alito filed a dissent that was joined by Scalia and Thomas.

In the ruling and four dissents—which total 103 pages—there are dozens of interesting and important quotes. Here are 50 key passages you should know about.


What was the same-sex marriage case that was decided by the Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which is consolidated with three other cases—Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee); DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan); Bourke v. Beshear (Kentucky). These cases challenged two issues concerning whether the Fourteenth Amendment must guarantee the right for same-sex couples to marry.

o-SUPREME-COURT-BUILDING-facebookWhat issues was the court asked to decide?

The two issues that were answered in this case are:

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

These are known as the “marriage” and “recognition” questions, respectively. The Court answered both in the affirmative.

What did the Court rule?

Supreme CourtIn a significant victory for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court voted in a 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell that the Affordable Care Act authorized federal tax credits for eligible Americans living not only in states with their own exchanges but also in the 34 states with federal exchanges. Here is what you should know about the case and the ruling.

What was the case about?

At the core of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), the Court noted, were three key reforms: (1) Guaranteed issue and community rating requirements, (2) Require individuals to maintain health insurance coverage or make a payment to the IRS, unless the cost of buying insurance would exceed eight percent of that individual’s income, and (3) Seek to make insurance more affordable by giving refundable tax credits to individuals with household incomes between 100 per cent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line

Additionally, Obamacare requires the creation of an “Exchange” in each State—basically, a marketplace that allows people to compare and purchase insurance plans. The law gives each State the opportunity to establish its own Exchange, but provides that the federal government will establish “such Exchange” if the State does not. This case hinged on what “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]” could mean since several individual states refused to establish their own exchanges.

The Internal Revenue Service interpreted the wording broadly to authorize the subsidy also for insurance purchased on an Exchange established by the federal government. The four individuals who challenged the law argued that a federal Exchange is not an “Exchange established by the State,” and section 36B does not authorize the IRS to provide tax credits for insurance purchased on federal Exchanges. Several district courts agreed with the government, but because one sided with the plaintiffs the case ended up at the Supreme Court.

Can you explain that without the legalese?

opm-hackWhat is the “OPM hack”?

The “OPM hack” refers to a massive data breach in which hackers, believed to be based in China, acquired personnel records of federal employees from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

What is the OPM?

The OPM (Office of Personnel Management) serves as the human resource department for the federal government. Among other duties the agency conducts background investigations for prospective employees, issues security clearances, and compiles records of all federal government employees.

How many records were stolen?

The OPM said that 4 million employees, both current and past employees, have been affected. But the American Federation of Government Employees, the union for federal employees, claimed Thursday that all federal employees and retirees, as well as one million former federal employees, had their personal information stolen. (UPDATE (7/10/15): The OPM has announced the records of  21.5 million Americans were stolen.)

The exact amount of data stolen, however, may be unknowable since, according to one U.S. official, “OPM officials and other authorities still don’t have a good handle on how much information was actually stored by OPM in the first place.”

What type of records were stolen?

Some of the records stolen were the Questionnaire for National Security Positions form, known as the SF-86 form. The 126-page form contains a plethora of information about an individual, including their Social Security number, birthdate, addresses, passport information, financial information, previous employment activities, connections to foreign nationals, etc.

When did the data breach occur?

Pope-Francis-writing-On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis will issue the encyclical, Laudato si’. Here are some answers to questions people who aren’t Catholic—like me—may have about the document:

What is an encyclical?

The term encyclical (from the Greek egkyklios, kyklos meaning a circle) refers to a circular letter, that is, a letter that gets circulated to a particular group. A papal encyclical is a letter written by the Pope to a particular audience of patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and bishops of the Catholic Church. Sometimes encyclicals are written to an even narrower group (e.g., the bishops of a particular country) but they normally tend to be for a broader audience. Encyclicals addressed to the bishops of the world are generally concerned with matters which affect the welfare of the Church at large.

What do encyclicals do?

As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains, encyclicals condemn some prevalent form of error, point out dangers which threaten faith or morals, exhort the faithful to constancy, or prescribe remedies for evils foreseen or already existent.

How many encyclicals have been published?

290, so far.

Have encyclicals always been issued by popes?