Category: Explainer

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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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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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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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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Today in the United States is the 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 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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islamic-state-beheads-christiansWhat just happened in Libya?

Islamic State (IS) released a video on Sunday that appeared to show the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. The footage showing the deaths of the Egyptian martyrs appeared on the Twitter feed of a website that supports IS.

In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange overalls, to a beach the group said was near Tripoli, the capital of Libya. The victims—all men—were forced down onto their knees and then beheaded.

A caption on the five-minute video read: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.” Before the killings, one of the militants stood with a knife in his hand and said: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for. . . The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”

The militant speaker then pointed northward and said, “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.”

The video is one of the first showing beheadings by IS affiliated group outside their core territory in Syria and Iraq.

Why were the Egyptian Christians in Libya?

According the Jerusalem Post, despite the increasing chaos in Libya, thousands of Egyptians have traveled to the region over the past four years in search of jobs. The 21 Christians were workers kidnapped by IS in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, an area now under the control of Islamist groups.

Who is Islamic State?
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244-BudgetCover-FY2016What is the President’s budget?

Technically, it’s only a budget request—a proposal telling Congress how much money the President believes should be spent on the various Cabinet-level federal functions, like agriculture, defense, education, etc. (A PDF of the 150 page document can be found here.)

Why does the President submit a budget to Congress?

The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires that the President of the United States submit to Congress, on or before the first Monday in February of each year, a detailed budget request for the coming federal fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

What is the function of the President’s budget request?

The President’s annual budget request serves three functions:
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nigeria-boko-haramWhat’s going on in Nigeria?

During an attack that started January 3 and continued through this past weekend, the African Islamic militant group Boko Haram opened fire on 16 northern Nigerian villages. The death toll estimates range from 200 to as many 2,000 people.

Another 10,000 people who managed to escape have fled to neighboring Chad. Many Nigerians drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad to escape what is now described as  the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.

Over the past six months, Boko Haram has taken control of more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria, most of them in Borno State, and launched attacks into Chad and Cameroon. As Alexis Okeowo notes, their territory now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.

What happened this weekend?

A girl believed to have been no more than 10 years old detonated a bomb concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more.

The explosion is believed to be a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with Boko Haram’s decision to use perhaps their youngest-ever suicide bomber.

What was the recent criticism by the Catholic archbishop?
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Yesterday, in a short, videotaped preview of his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled a new proposal: Make two years of community college free for all students who meet certain eligibility standards.

Here is what you should know about the proposal.

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