Category: Explainer

20140305-cuba-exteriors-sl-1538_53ee39d1154ce422fc2278062244c068What just happened with Cuba?

Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.

Can the President do all that?

Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.

The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.

Why the change now, after 50 years?
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garnerA New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer in the death of a 43-year-old man that was caught on video. Here are some details about the controversial case:

What was the incident that caused Garner’s death?

On July 17, 2014, two New York City police officers, Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, attempted to arrest Eric Garner. When Garner resisted, Pantaleo grabbed him around the neck and tackled him to the ground. As Damico and three other officers assisted in pinning him to the sidewalk, Garner repeated nine times that he couldn’t breath. Garner was 6’3”, 350-pounds, and had a history of medical problems, including asthma.

Although Garner was in obvious respiratory distress, none of the officers or the EMT personnel who arrived on the scene performed CPR. He died of cardiac arrest a few minutes later while on the way to the hospital.

Why was Garner being arrested?
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Abolition-of-Slavery-dayTomorrow is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, a commemoration of the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949). As part of the effort to help eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking across the world by 2020, Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Orthodox leaders will gather at the Vatican tomorrow to sign a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery.

Here are some things you should know about the modern slave trade:

What is modern-day slavery?

Modern-day slavery, also referred to as “trafficking in persons,” or “human trafficking,” describes the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

How many people today are enslaved?
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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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