Category: Explainer

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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VA-Medical-Center-jpgWhat is the VA and what does it do?

VA is the acronym for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet-level organization whose primary function is to support Veterans in their time after service by providing benefits and support. The benefits provided include such items as pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, burial benefits, and healthcare. It is the federal government’s second largest department, after the Department of Defense. The VA’s health-care wing, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), is the largest health-care system in the country, with more than 53,000 independent licensed health-care practitioners and 8.3 million veterans served each year.

What is the current scandal involving the VA?

The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days. But last month, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said that as many as forty VA hospital patients in Phoenix, Arizona may have died while awaiting medical care. Miller also claimed that the Phoenix VA Health Care System was keeping two sets of records to conceal prolonged waits that patients must endure for ¬doctor appointments and treatment.

According to internal VA emails obtained by CNN, the secret list was part of an elaborate scheme designed by top-level VA managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor. The process involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care, and the head of the office even instructed staff to not actually make doctor’s appointments for veterans within the computer system. This allowed the VA executives in Phoenix to be able to “verify” that patients were being treated in a timely manner

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said similar scandals have surfaced in at least 10 states. The American Legion has documented those cases in the following infographic (click to enlarge).
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vietnam-protestsWhat is going on in Vietnam?

For decades, China and Vietnam have clashed over control of parts of South China Sea, which is rich in oil and fish. Earlier this month, China moved an oil drilling rig into waters claimed by Vietnam. The Vietnamese government sent vessels trying to stop Beijing’s deployment. Chinese ships responded by firing water cannons, which sparked protests in Vietnam. Thousands of protestors torched Chinese-owned businesses and factories. On May 18, Vietnamese security forces moved to stop the protests while the Chinese government sent four ships to evacuate Chinese citizens from Vietnam.

Where exactly is Vietnam?

Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The country is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east. Although roughly the size of New Mexico, Vietnam has a population of over 89 million, about the same as California, New York, and Texas combined. It is the world’s 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country.

What type of government and economy is in place in Vietnam?
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boko-haram-nigeria-350x187What is going on with the mass kidnappings of children in Nigeria?

During the night of April 16, dozens of armed men from the terrorist group Boko Haram captured over 300 Christian girls aged 12 to 15 who were sleeping in dormitories at Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeast Nigeria. About 50 students managed to escape, but 276 were still being held according to Nigerian state police. The group has since captured 8 more girls.

The kidnappers took the girls into the 23,000 square miles Sambisa Forest, which is nearly eight times the size of the U.S.’ Yellowstone National Park, a known shelter for the extremists.

Who is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram (which translates to “Western education is sinful”) is the Hausa language nickname for the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad. Founded in 2002, the terrorist group is comprised of radical Islamists who oppose both Westerners and “apostate” Muslims. Based in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger, the organisation seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, putting a stop to what it deems “Westernization.” Its followers are said to be influenced by the Koranic phrase which says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors.”

The group is known for attacking, kidnapping, and killing Christians and Muslims, bombing churches, attacking schools, and destroying police stations. Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in an estimated 10,000 deaths between 2002 and 2013.

Why did they take the children?
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Anti-Abortion Activists Demonstrate Outside The Supreme CourtWhat was the Greece vs. Galloway case about?

The short answer: The constitutionality of saying religiously specific prayers (e.g., praying in Jesus name) at government meetings and functions.

The (slightly) longer answer: In the town of Greece, located in upstate New York, the Town Board sessions were opened by a prayer from local clergy, mostly leaders of Christian congregations although in a few instances members of other faith traditions offered the invocation (a Jewish man, a Baha’i leader, and a Wiccan). The Second Circuit Court ruled the prayers were unconstitutional since they aligned the town government officially with a particular faith — Christianity. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

What was the Supreme Court’s ruling?

In a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines with Justice Kennedy joining the majority, the court ruled that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court concludes:
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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
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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
Monday, April 14, 2014
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holyweekWhat is Holy Week?

Holy Week is the week before Easter, a period which includes the religious holidays of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Holy week does not include Easter Sunday.

When did Holy Week get started?

The first recording of a Holy Week observance was made by Egeria, a Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381-384. In an account of her travels she wrote for a group of women back in Spain, Egeria describes the Palm Sunday she observed in Jerusalem:

. . . all the children who are [gathered at the top of the Mount of Olives], including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others, olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led.

What is Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. In many Christian churches, Palm Sunday includes a procession of the assembled worshipers carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. Because of the difficulty in some parts of the world of procuring palms for Palm Sunday, leaves from yew, willow, olive, or other native trees are frequently used. The Sunday was often designated by the names of these trees, as Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

What is Spy Wednesday?

An archaic and infrequently used name for the Wednesday before Easter is “Spy Wednesday”, named for Judas’ becoming a spy for the Sanhedrin.

What is Maundy Thursday?
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putinNote: This is an update and addition to two previous posts, “Explainer: What’s Going on in Ukraine?” and “What Just Happened with Russia and Ukraine?.”

So what just happened in Crimea?

On Sunday, Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to break with Ukraine and join Russia. Today Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty making Crimea part of Russia (it was a former satellite state of the Soviet Union). Putin says he does not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine.

Why would Russia want to annex Crimea?

In 1997, Crimea and Russia signed a treaty allowing Russia to maintain their naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip (the lease is good through 2042). The base is Russia’s primary means of extending military force through the Mediterranean. (The Black Sea is connected to the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosphorus Straits.) Without a military base in Crimea, Russia would be weakened as a global military power.

Earlier this month Russia’s parliment authorized a Putin to use the military on Crimea. (Technically, Russia’s parliament authorized Russia’s military forces to enter “Ukraine,” giving themselves a legal cloak to target more than Crimea.)

Where (and what) exactly is Crimea?
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