TPP-CountriesYesterday the U.S. Senate voted 92-0 to approve an amendment which adds a religious liberty provision to the overall negotiating objectives outlined in Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The addition would require the Administration to take religious freedom into account whenever negotiating trade agreements within the partnership.

During a floor speech on the amendment earlier tonight, Senator James Lankford’s (R-OK) said, “Our greatest export is our American value. The dignity of each person, hard work, innovation, and liberty. That’s what we send around the world. It has the greatest impact.” Lankford added,
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Blog author: ehilton
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
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rohingya refugeesGreed. Lust. Corruption. Thirst for power. A wretched lack of compassion for human life. That is Myanmar.

Myanmar is home to 1.3 million Rohingya, a religious and cultural minority in what was once known as Burma. The Myanmar government staunchly refuses to recognize the citizenship of the Rohingya, claiming they are all illegal immigrants of neighboring Bangladesh, despite the fact that many Rohingya families have lived exclusively in Myanmar for generations. This lack of citizenship makes the Rohingya vulnerable to trafficking, forced labor, and poverty. (more…)

united-states-constitutionThe U.S. Constitution is arguably one of the most important legal documents in the history of the world. Because of this venerated status, though, many people assume that you need to be a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and an expert on recondite Constitutional law to understand how to read the document, much less interpret the Constitution. But as Michael Stokes Paulsen says, reading and understanding the Constitution is not an especially complicated intellectual exercise. It takes lawyers, judges, and law professors to turn it into something difficult and convoluted.

“Ninety-five percent of constitutional law amounts to deciding how to go about the enterprise of reading and applying the Constitution itself,” adds Paulsen. In the first of a two part series for Public Discourse, he outlines five broad categories of techniques one might use for interpretation.
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tppThe controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), backed by many Republicans and President Obama, hit a snag Tuesday when key Democrats spoke out against the agreement.

What exactly is the TPP? It is a free trade agreement with 12 nations (including China and Japan) that purports to increase economic growth, jobs and free trade. However, there is much opposition in Congress.

Leading opponents of the measure in the Senate have pushed for additional protections for U.S. workers and address concerns about alleged foreign-currency manipulation by China that makes American products too expensive.

“It’s a betrayal of workers and small business in our communities to pass fast track, to put it on the president’s desk without enforcement  … and without helping workers,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told The Washington Post.

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
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A meeting in Managua – liberation theology 30 years later
Alejandro Bermúdez, Catholic News Agency

If the Soviet bloc wasn’t the mother of liberation theology, it was certainly a sinister stepmother, enlisting Catholics in a geopolitical cause and inviting them to sell their souls for funding and support.

Do Churches Fail the Poor?
Ross Douthat, New York Times

Last week two prominent Americans — an eminent social scientist and the president of the United States — decided to answer the question: How have America’s churches failed the poor?

American nuns, Chinese booze and religious persecution
Mark L. Rienzi, USA Today

Forcing Chinese Muslims to sell alcohol and smokes is an obvious ploy to hurt Islam.

What If Everybody Didn’t Have to Work to Get Paid
David R. Wheeler, The Atlantic

Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.

I attended an informative — and very moving — presentation yesterday on the humanitarian relief effort underway in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The talk was given here in Grand Rapids by Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities (see my podcast with him here). What I learned was that despite the massive scale of human suffering, the crisis is likely to get much worse. Given the gains that the Islamic State is making in Iraq, that might be a safe prediction.

Ohanian said that the relief effort in Syria, where IOCC works alongside Red Crescent and other principal agencies, is made more difficult and expensive because of the breakdown in Syrian society and the need to import so much of the supplies. The video above shows how entrepreneurial Syrians are already starting businesses in the refugee camps to help themselves.

If you want to offer direct help the refugees, you can make a donation on the IOCC site here. IOCC, in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, serves all refugees regardless of religion or ethnicity. (more…)

barcode traffickiingHuman trafficking is a huge problem, morally, economically and legally. One reason it’s so hard to fight it is that it’s a hidden crime. Largely gone are the days when prostitutes hang out on darkened streets. Instead, a girl or woman is pimped out via the internet. Even more difficult, traffickers often use the Deep Web:

The term “Deep Web,” refers to the “deeper” parts of the web that are accessible, but are considered hard to find because they aren’t indexed by regular search engines. Information on the Deep Web can be indexed, but only using complex search algorithms that have the ability to break down certain barriers.

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wimbledon_tuesdayTwenty years ago, religious freedom was an issue that almost everyone agreed on. But more recently, support for religious liberty has tended to divide the country along political lines. Most conservatives still consider it the “first freedom” while many liberals believe religious freedom is less important than advancing a progressive agenda and promoting their understanding of “equality.”

What gets lost in the discussion, as Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom notes, is that sooner or later everyone benefits from religious liberty protections:
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poorbox1For those in poverty, or those simply facing tough times, churches are often places they turn to for help. It may be organized aid: soup kitchens and food pantries. It may be a gas card given to a single mom who is struggling to get from one pay day to another. But if that help comes with merely a handout, and no spiritual support, is the church failing the poor?

Ross Douthat says so. In his May 16 column for The New York Times, Douthat first takes to task the “progressive” claim that churches are too focused on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, and not enough on really helping people.

Over the last 30 years,” Harvard’s Robert Putnam told The Washington Post, “most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for … It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

President Obama’s version, delivered when he shared a stage with Putnam at Georgetown University, was nuanced but similar in thrust: “Despite great caring and concern,” the president remarked, when churches pick “the defining issue” that’s “really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians,” fighting poverty is often seen as merely “nice to have” compared to “an issue like abortion.”

It would be too kind to call these comments wrong; they were ridiculous.

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7figuresAt The Atlantic, Derek Thompson provides some depressing numbers related to lotteries in America. Here are seven figures you should know from his article:

1. Americans spend more on lottery tickets than on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, and recorded music sales combined — $70 billion on lotto games in 2014.

2. In five states, people spend more than $600 dollars per person per year on lottery tickets.

3. The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets.

4. Winners of more than $600 are subject to 45 percent windfall taxes on their winnings.

5. Out of the 20 counties in North Carolina with poverty rates higher than 20 percent, 18 had lottery sales topping the statewide average of $200 per adult.

6. As recently as 1980, just 14 states held lotteries. Today it’s 43.

7. As recently as 2009, lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal.