Category: Explainer

gmo-food1Last year, the House passed a bill to preempt states from imposing mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food (GMOs). But as Daren Bakst notes, “While it looked like the Senate was going to follow suit, in the last minute, the new Senate bill would actually effectively mandate the labeling of genetically engineered food.”

“In the Senate bill, there would be a national mandatory labeling requirement unless the Secretary of Agriculture determines that there has been substantial participation by labeled foods in voluntary labeling,” says Bakst. “The Secretary has to develop regulations to clarify the process, but there has to be at least 70 percent substantial participation after two years.”

Here is what you should know about GMOs and GMO food labeling: 

What are genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
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What the story about?

Last week the Senate passed, and President Obama signed into law, a bill that would block imports “made with convict labor, forced labor, or indentured labor.”

The new law is enforceable under Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping multinational trade pact affecting 40 percent of the world’s economy.

What constitutes “forced labor”?

According to 19 U.S. Code § 1307, “Forced labor refers to all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily, including forced or indentured child labor.

Why weren’t such goods already banned?
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voting-2-27How are presidential candidates chosen?

Political parties are independent organizations that choose who will be their candidate at a presidential nominating convention. (For the purpose of simplicity, this article will focus mainly on the two major U.S. political parties, the Democrats and Republicans).  While many different types of people attend the conventions, they are formally a gathering of “delegates” — political party members chosen as representatives. The delegates (collectively known as the “delegation”) vote on who should be the party’s candidate.

For example, the GOP convention this year will have 2,472 official delegates. To win the nomination a candidate needs to have the votes of 1,237 (50 percent + 1) delegates.

How are delegates chosen?

Each party has two types of delegates, pledged and unpledged (non-binding). Pledged delegates are representatives of the individual state’s political parties and must cast a vote at the convention for a particular candidate, while unpledged can vote for any candidate.

What is a “Superdelegate”?
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iphone-passcodeWhat is the issue about?

In December, 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The two terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were later killed in a shootout with police. Law enforcement recovered Farook’s iPhone 5c, which they believe may contain information relevant to the terror investigation.

Farook’s iPhone is protected by a passcode set to wipe the contents of the smartphone after 10 attempts to log in with the wrong code. A federal court in California has ordered Apple to “provide reasonable technical assistance” by either creating a special version of the operating system that’s currently on Farook’s phone, in order to disable the 10-try maximum and allow a computer to connect to the phone and guess every possible passcode, or to provide an alternative means of accessing the phone.

The Obama administration defended the Justice Department’s request Wednesday, vowing that the government would solely use the new program on Farook’s phone.

Apple is currently refusing to comply with the request. Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a statement, “A Message To Our Customers”, in which he says, “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

What is the case against complying with the order?

Opponents of the order fear that it gives the government power over the smartphone’s encryption technology by building a “backdoor” to the iPhone. As Tim Cook claims,
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Today is the U.S. federal holiday known as Washington’s Birthday (not “Presidents Day—see item #1). In honor of George Washington’s birthday, here are 5 things you should know about the day set aside for our America’s premier founding father.

George Washington1. Although some state and local governments and private businesses refer to today as President’s Day, the legal public holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code. The observance of Washington’s birthday was made official in 1885 when President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill establishing it as a federal holiday.

2. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in effect at the time he was born. But his birthday is considered to be February 22 under the Gregorian calendar which was adopted throughout the British Empire in 1752.

3. Because the public holiday is on the third Monday in February, the observance can never again occur on Washington’s actual birthday since the third Monday in February cannot occur any later than February 21.

4. Some sources—including Wikipedia and the U.S. Mint—incorrectly claim that President Nixon changed the name of the holiday to “Presidents’ Day” to honor all past presidents. While Nixon did issue an executive order making the third Monday in February a public holiday, the claim that he changed the name is a modern myth. “President’s Day” was created by marketers who jumped at the opportunity to play up the three-day weekend with sales, and “Presidents’ Day” bargains were advertised at stores around the country.

5. Almost every February 22 since 1888 President Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address has been read in the United States Senate. Here is the text of that address:

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francis-and-krill-mugs-duo.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxWhat’s going on?

Tomorrow, for the first time in history, a Roman Catholic pontiff and the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church will meet face to face. According to the joint press release of the Holy See and of the Patriarchate of Moscow:

The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration.

The meeting is scheduled to last about two hours. Cuba’s President Raúl Castro will join the two religious leaders during the exchange of gifts.

Why are they meeting? 

According to Vatican Insider, Metropolitan Hilarion said in a recent press conference that the historic meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Pope “had been in the making for about 20 years” but was speeded up by the “Christian genocide” being caused by terrorists. In the face of what is going on and is “causing concern” to both Churches, the two spiritual leaders simply “had to meet.”

Vladimir Legoida, head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations and the Mass Media, said the meeting is called for by the need to exert joint efforts in giving help to Christian communities in the Middle East countries.

Although many problems in relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church remain unresolved, the protection of Christians in the Middle East against the genocide is a challenge that requires urgent united efforts.…The exodus of Christians from the Middle East and North Africa countries is a catastrophe for the whole world.

Why are they meeting in Cuba?
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coal_power_plant

What just happened?

On Tuesday the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s effort to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The vote was 5-to-4, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, to put a temporary halt on the implementation of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule change.

Why is this significant?

As the New York Times notes, the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court:

“It’s a stunning development,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, said in an email. She added that “the order certainly indicates a high degree of initial judicial skepticism from five justices on the court,” and that the ruling would raise serious questions from nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate change pact in December.

In negotiating that deal, which requires every country to enact policies to lower emissions, Mr. Obama pointed to the power plant rule as evidence that the United States would take ambitious action, and that other countries should follow.

What was the EPA rule change?

In June 2014, the 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?
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