Answer the following questions to see who you should vote for in the 2018 Pennsylvania US Senate election.
The United States Electoral College is the mechanism established by the United States Constitution for the indirect election of the President of the United States and Vice President of the United States. Citizens of the United States vote in each state at a general election to choose a slate of "electors" pledged to vote for a party's candidate. The Twelfth Amendment requires each elector to cast one vote for president and another vote for vice president.
In most countries, suffrage, the right to vote, is generally limited to citizens of the country. Some countries, however, extend limited voting rights to resident non-citizens.
Since 2011, twelve states have passed laws that require a photo identification to vote. Supporters argue that ID’s are needed to increase confidence in elections and prevent voter fraud. Critics argue that voter fraud rarely exists and that ID requirements are intended to suppress turnout by economically disadvantaged voters.
A tax return is a document which states how much income an individual or entity reported to the government.
In the U.S. a citizen may give $2,700 per election to a federal candidate, $5,000 per year to a PAC, $10,000 per year to a State or local party committee and $33,400 per year to a national party. Citizens and corporations may give unlimited amounts to a Super PAC. A Super PAC is freed from traditional campaign finance laws as long as it does not fund a candidate or campaign or coordinate directly with a campaign how to spend donations.
The U.S. constitution does not prevent convicted felons from holding the office of the President or a seat in the Senate or House of Representatives. States may prevent convicted felons candidates from holding statewide and local offices.
Currently, federal election law prohibits political candidates from knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving donations from foreign nationals or entities under any circumstances. However, a loophole exists where foreign nationals or entities can hire lobbyists to meet with or donate directly to politicians to persuade them to vote favorably for the foreign interest.
Currently, the “Honest Leadership and Open Government Act” which was signed by President George W. Bush in 2007 bans former senators and top executive branch officials from becoming lobbyists for two years and they leave the government.
“Defund the police” is a slogan that supports divesting funds from police departments and reallocating them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support, such as social services, youth services, housing, education, healthcare and other community resources.
Militarization of police refers to the use of military equipment and tactics by law enforcement officers. This includes the use of armored vehicles, assault rifles, flashbang grenades, sniper rifles, and SWAT teams. Proponents argue that this equipment increases officers’ safety and enables them to better protect the public and other first responders. Opponents argue that police forces which received military equipment were more likely to have violent encounters with the public.
In April 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order which restored voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons living in the state. The order overturned the state’s practice of felony disenfranchisement, which excludes people from voting who have been convicted of a criminal defense. The 14th amendment of the United States prohibits citizens from voting who have participated in a “rebellion, or other crime” but allows states to determine which crimes qualify for voter disenfranchisement. In the U.S. approximately 5.8 million people are ineligible to vote due to voter disenfranchisement and only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no restrictions on allowing felons to vote. Opponents of felon voting rights argue that a citizen forfeits their rights to vote when they are convicted of a felony. Proponents argue that the arcane law disenfranchises millions of Americans from participating in democracy and has an adverse affect on poor communities.
Qualified immunity is a defense that police officers cannot be sued for misconduct if they were unaware at the time that their conduct was illegal and if there is no previous legal case with similar facts that ruled that officers may not engage in that conduct. Proponents argue that more intense criticism of police will disincentivize officers from doing their jobs resulting in crime rates going up. Opponents argue that police officers should be held more accountable for misconduct.
Prison overcrowding is a social phenomenon occurring when the demand for space in prisons in a jurisdiction exceeds the capacity for prisoners.The issues associated with prison overcrowding are not new, and have been brewing for many years. During the United States’ War on Drugs, the states were left responsible for solving the prison overcrowding issue with a limited amount of money. Moreover, federal prison populations may increase if states adhere to federal policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences. On the other hand, the Justice Department provides billions of dollars a year for state and local law enforcement to ensure they follow the policies set forth by the federal government concerning U.S. prisons. Prison overcrowding has affected some states more than others, but overall, the risks of overcrowding are substantial and there are solutions to this problem.
Mandatory minimum sentences are automatic, minimum prison terms set by Congress. Judges in the U.S. are required to base their sentences on the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, or both. In 1986 the U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which enacted new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs. People caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine were given jail sentences of 5 years without parole (the same sentence as people caught with 500 grams). The legislation was in response to the moral panic involving the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s. In 2010 Congress and President Obama eliminated the crack cocaine mandatory sentence with the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. Opponents of mandatory minimum sentences argue that they often impose long prison terms on non-violent criminals. Proponents argue that the sentences are designed to help judges punish drug cartels and those responsible for the country’s drug epidemic.
In January 2016, President Obama issued a series of executive actions banning federal prisons from using solitary confinement to punish juveniles and prisoners who commit low level infractions. His orders also lowered the number of days an adult inmate could be subject to solitary confinement from 365 days to 60 days. A recent study found that prisoners who were subject to solitary confinement were 20-25% more likely to be repeat criminal offenders than prisoners who avoided it.
Currently, police unions are allowed to collectively bargain with government officials over the methods used to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. Proponents argue that collective bargaining stands in the way of accountability. Opponents of limiting collective bargaining argue that more intense criticism of police will disincentivize officers from doing their jobs resulting in crime rates going up.
In the wake of the lethal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri a petition has been launched to have the White House look into requiring all police officers in the country to wear body cameras. The petition has now exceeded 128,000 signatures, the Obama Administration said it will respond to petitions that exceed 100,000.
Private prisons are incarceration centers that are run by a for-profit company instead of a government agency. The companies that operate private prisons are paid a per-diem or monthly rate for each prisoner they keep in their facilities. In 2016 8.5% of the prisoner population was housed in private prisons. This is an 8% decline since 2000. Opponents of private prisons argue that incarceration is a social responsibility and that entrusting it to for-profit companies is inhumane. Proponents argue that prisons run by private companies are consistently more cost effective than those run by government agencies.
In March 2018, President Trump asked the Justice department to seek more death-penalty cases against drug traffickers. Trump announced the proposal as part of a plan to combat the opioid epidemic which is claiming the lives of more than 100 people a day in the U.S. In 1988 the federal government passed a drug law which imposed the death penalty on drug “kingpins” who commit murder in the course of their business. Analysts estimate that this law has resulted in only a few executions. 32 countries impose the death penalty for drug smuggling. Seven of these countries (China, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore) routinely execute drug offenders. Asia and the Middle East’s tough approach contrasts with many Western countries who have legalized cannabis in recent years (selling cannabis in Saudi Arabia is punished by beheading).
In 2015, the U.S.’ estimated military budget is expected to be $601 billion, down from $610 billion spent in 2014. The U.S. outspends the next six highest spending nations combined. China has the second largest budget at $216 billion and Russia has the third largest with $84.5 billion.
President Obama recently declared that the U.S. will accept 10,000 refugees from Syria. The U.S. has been under pressure from its Syrian allies to help out with the crisis in which 3 Million refugees have fled Syria in the past year. Those in favor of accepting refugees believe that the U.S. has a duty to join its allies in Europe and accept at least 10,000 refugees. Opponents argue that the U.S. should stay out of this crisis and accepting refugees from the Middle East leads to a risk of letting terrorists into our borders.
In 2002, the George W. Bush administration issued the Torture Memos which argued for a narrow definition of torture under U.S. law. They included granting the CIA authority to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on enemy combatants. The techniques included waterboarding subjection to extreme cold and confinement in small boxes.
The UN. is an organization of governments founded in 1945 after World War II. The organization's objectives include promoting peace and security, protecting human rights and the environment and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. Recent U.N. interventions include the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The U.S. joined the U.N. as a founding member in 1945. The U.S. is the largest financial contributor to the UN and contributes more than $650 million annually.
Currently, the United States gives $31.55B, or .19% of GDP, development assistance to other countries. The top 10 recipient countries include Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, West Bank/Gaza, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Malawi, Uganda, and South Africa.
The U.S. currently gives $3.3 billion to Israel every year, which is 1/3rd of the U.S.’s foreign aid budget. Most of the aid is used by Israel to buy American military hardware, such as jets and components for missile defense.
After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks the George W. Bush administration authorized the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” at secret detention facilities around the world run by the defense department and CIA. The authorization approved the use of many techniques including beatings, binding in stress positions, hooding, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. In 2008 President Obama signed an executive order banning the use torture by the U.S. military and CIA. In 2016 the use of torture became a topic during the Presidential race when candidate Donald Trump suggested it should be used against the Islamic State. Opponents of torture argue that the U.S. should never practice torture since it is inhumane and illegal under international law. Proponents argue that the military should not be prevented from using torture if they believe it will keep the country safe.
In December 2014 President Obama ordered the restoration of full democratic relations with Cuba. The order lifted a 54 year old trade embargo and eased restrictions on banking and American’s travel to the country. Proponents of relations with Cuba argue that U.S. influence through tourism and trade will promote capitalism and weaken its communist regime. Opponents argue that trade and diplomatic relations will only strengthen the communist regime’s grip on the Cuban government.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on April 4th, 1949. It is a political and military alliance of member countries from Europe and North America that agree to provide military and economic security for each other. NATO makes all of its decisions by consensus and every member country, no matter how large or small, has an equal say.
In December 2017 U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announced the U.S. would move it’s embassy there. The announcement was controversial as both Israel and Palestine claim that Jerusalem is their capital. Foreign governments that recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel support the notion that Israel has sovereignty over the city. In 1949 Israel took control of the western half of the city and Jordan took control of the eastern half. In 2017 the current population of Jerusalem was 61% Jewish and 37% are Arab. Opponents argue that moving the U.S. embassy to Israel is a violation of international law and would set back decades of peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Proponents argue that Jerusalem has been the defect capital of Israel for many years and foreign governments should recognize it.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles deployed by U.S. defense and intelligence agencies to collect data and strike suspected enemy targets.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance formed by 28 countries in 1949 after the Second World War. To join NATO each member country pledged to spend at least 2% of their GDP on military spending and defense and defend each other against threats from any non-member country. In a July 2016 interview with the New York Times Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested that the United States would not defend NATO member countries who had failed to increase their military budgets to above 2% of Gross Domestic Product. The suggestion defies a pact made by NATO members when it was formed in WWII that they would defend each other against any attack by a non-member nation. France, Turkey, Germany, Canada, and Italy are countries that are currently spending less than 2% of their GDP on military defense.
The cache of documents revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed that the U.S. used surveillance methods to monitor the emails and phone calls of its closest foreign allies including Germany, France and Brazil. The revelations have severely damaged the U.S.'s relationship with these countries even though State Department officials have insisted that these surveillance programs have thwarted many terrorist threats worldwide.
In September 2018, the U.S. signed a security agreement with India unlocked the sales of billions of dollars of high-tech American weapons. India will purchase fighter jets, transport planes, drones and missile defense systems from American military manufacturers including Lockheed Martin. The U.S. government is seeking India as an ally to counter the rise of China and Russia’s military strength in the Indo-Pacific region. Proponents argue that the agreement is necessary to counter China and Russia’s influence and the agreement will generate billions of dollars in revenue for U.S. military defense contractors. Opponents argue that the agreement will encourage China and Russia to beef up their militaries and trigger a global arms race.
The F-35 fighter is a stealth fighter jet being produced for the U.S. military by The Lockheed Martin corporation. Three variations of the single seat stealth fighter jet are being produced for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. By 2037 2,457 F-35’s will be delivered to the military and will fly until they retire from service in 2070. The research, development and construction of the F-35 will be the most expensive military weapons program in the history of the U.S. When the F-35 retires in 2070 analysts estimate that the cost of the program will have exceeded $1.5 trillion. Opponents of the program argue that costs for the program are out of control and that the military should scrap the F-35 and continue to fly its current planes. Proponents argue that the fighter is necessary for the U.S. military to maintain its edge over foreign adversaries.
Military service is not required in the U.S. Proponents of required service argue that it isn’t fair that a small percentage of Americans serve in the military to protect the rest of the population. Opponents argue that the requirement is unnecessary because modern warfare is fought less and less with ground troops and more with unmanned technology including drones.
In June 2019 tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated after a U.S. surveillance drone was shot down by Iran’s revolutionary guard in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. claimed it was an “unprovoked attack” and the drone was flying in international airspace. 2 weeks earlier the Trump administration blamed Iran for the attacks on two oil tankers who were bombed in the Gulf of Oman. Iran denied any involvement. In early June Iran announced that it would break its uranium stockpile limit set under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Under the deal Iran was allowed to keep a maximum of 660 pounds of uranium enriched to 3.67%. Analysts predict that if the uranium is enriched to 20% or more Iran would be capable of developing nuclear weapons.
Foreign electoral interventions are attempts by governments, covertly or overtly, to influence elections in another country. A 2016 study by Dov H. Levin concluded that the country intervening in most foreign elections was the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000. In July 2018 U.S. Representative Ro Khanna introduced an amendment that would have prevented U.S. intelligence agencies from receiving funding that could be used to interfere in the elections of foreign governments. The amendment would ban U.S. agencies from “hacking foreign political parties; engaging in the hacking or manipulation of foreign electoral systems; or sponsoring or promoting media outside the United States that favors one candidate or party over another.” Proponents of election interference helps keep hostile leaders and political parties out of power. Opponents argue that the amendment would send a message to other foreign countries that the U.S. does not interfere in election and set a global gold standard for preventing election interference. Opponents argue that election interference helps keep hostile leaders and political parties out of power.
Global warming, or climate change, is an increase in the earth's atmospheric temperature since the late nineteenth century. In politics the debate over global warming is centered on whether this increase in temperature is due to greenhouse gas emissions or is the result of a natural pattern in the earth's temperature.
In June 2017, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord in an effort to boost the nation’s industry and energy independence. Mr. Trump argued that the climate accord was unfair to the U.S. since the agreement imposed easier restrictions on China and India who lead the world in carbon emissions. Opponents of the climate agreement argue that it unfairly penalizes U.S. energy companies and consumers by imposing restrictions on domestic energy production. Proponents of the climate accord argue that exiting it sets back decades of diplomatic efforts by the U.S. government to reduce worldwide carbon emissions.
The Dakota Access pipeline is a 1,172 mile oil pipeline that stretches through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and southern Illinois. The pipeline would allow oil companies to transport crude oil from North Dakota to oil refineries along the Eastern Seaboard. The pipeline’s construction was permitted by the participating state governments under eminent domain. Opponents of the pipeline (including several Native American tribes, including the Meskwaki and Sioux tribal nations) argue that the pipeline has the potential to pollute their water supply and destroy Native American burial sites. Proponents argue that the pipeline is necessary for the U.S. to achieve energy independence.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19-million-acre national wildlife refuge in northern Alaska. The refuge includes a large variety of species of plants and animals, such as polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, moose, caribou, wolves, eagles, lynx, wolverine, marten, beaver and migratory birds, which rely on the refuge. In August 2020 the Trump administration approved program to auction oil leases that would enable oil companies to drill for oil within the refuge. Environmentalists argue that oil development threatens wildlife and is likely to worsen climate change. Proponents argue that drilling would be limited to the coastal ranges and would make the U.S. more energy independent.
In 2016, France became the first country to ban the sale of plastic disposable products that contain less than 50% of biodegradable material and in 2017, India passed a law banning all plastic disposable plastic products.
Fracking is the process of extracting oil or natural gas from shale rock. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which fractures the rock and allows the oil or gas to flow out to a well. While fracking has significantly boosted oil production, there are environmental concerns that the process is contaminating groundwater.
In 1990 President George H.W. Bush passed an executive order banning all offshore drilling in U.S. coastal waters. In response to rising gas prices in 2008 President George W. Bush lifted the ban. Currently, there are 3,500 offshore oil rigs, 79 of which are deep water wells.
As of July 2013, nearly 4% of all electricity generated in the U.S. is produced by wind turbines. By installing wind turbines on their properties farmers can earn up to tens of thousands of dollars per year in tax credits. Since 2008 these tax credits have amounted to more than $14 Billion.
In November 2018 the online e-commerce company Amazon announced it would be building a second headquarters in New York City and Arlington, VA. The announcement came a year after the company announced it would accept proposals from any North American city who wanted to host the headquarters. Amazon said the company could invest over $5 billion and the offices would create up to 50,000 high paying jobs. More than 200 cities applied and offered Amazon millions of dollars in economic incentives and tax breaks. For the New York City headquarters the city and state governments gave Amazon $2.8 billion in tax credits and construction grants. For the Arlington, VA headquarters the city and state governments gave Amazon $500 million in tax breaks. Opponents argue that governments should spend the tax revenue on public projects instead and that the federal government should pass laws banning tax incentives. The European Union has strict laws which prevent member cities from bidding against each other with state aid (tax incentives) in an effort to lure private companies. Proponents argue that the jobs and tax revenue created by the companies eventually offset the cost of any awarded incentives.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the U.S. Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The resolution authorizes the president to undertake war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates without Congressional approval. Since 2001 the law has been used to approve military conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Proponents argue that the law is necessary to give the President the powers to act quickly in order to prevent another terrorist attack on the U.S. Opponents argue that all U.S. military conflicts should have Congressional approval and this act has been used in military conflicts that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda.
Last Spring the U.S. Senate defeated The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act by a vote of 58-38. The act, proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would lower the interest rate on existing student loans from 7% to 3.86%. The act would be financed by levying a mandatory income tax of 30% on everyone who earns between $1 Million and $2 Million dollars per year. Proponents argue that current student loan interest rates are nearly double normal interest rates and should be lowered to provide relief for millions of low-income borrowers. Opponents argue that the borrowers agreed to pay the interest rates when they took out the loans and taxing the rich would hurt the economy.
A 2017 College Board study estimated that the cost of college has increased 100% since 2001. The St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank estimates that U.S. college tuition debt has increased from $480 billion in 2006 to $1.5 trillion in 2018. Several 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary candidates have argued that the cost of college is out of control and that the government should pay for tuition. Opponents argue that the government cant afford it and point to estimates from the Committee for a Responsible Federal budget that estimate programs would cost the government $80 billion a year.
Critical race theory is the claim that American institutions, laws, and history are inherently racist. It argues that white people have put up social, economic, and legal barriers between the races in order to maintain their elite status, both economically and politically and that the source of poverty and criminal behavior in minority communities is due exclusively to these barriers.
Universal preschool is a proposal that would use funding from the federal government to provide school to children before they reach Kindergarten. In the current U.S. public education system government funded school is guaranteed to all children from kindergarten to 12th grade. number of U.S. states use state tax revenue to fund part-time and full-time preschool for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Half of the states that offer pre-K programs limit enrollment to low-income children. Proponents that preschool is too expensive for most American families and according to The Chicago Child-Parent Center's Longitudinal Study children who attend preschool found on average that children make significant gains in cognitive, language and early math and reading skills. Opponents point to a 2005 study done by the RAND Corp. which showed “no significant impacts in education – in the short or long term.”
Charter schools are tax payer funded K-12 schools that are managed by private companies. In the U.S. there are approximately 2.9 million students enrolled in 6,700 charter schools. Charter schools are approved and governed by city, county or state governments. Beneficiaries of private schools include real-estate investors who typically own the buildings and land where the schools are housed. Opponents of charter schools argue that they take money away from the public education system and enrich private companies and real estate investors who own the land where the schools are built. Proponents argue that students in charter schools consistently have higher test scores than public school students and note that there are millions of students across the U.S. who are currently on waitlists for private schools.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an education initiative that details what K-12 students should know in English and Math at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the <a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Governors_Association">National Governors Association</a> and the <a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Chief_State_School_Officers">Council of Chief State School Officers</a> and seeks to establish consistent education standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter two or four year college programs or enter the workforce. <a target="_blank" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Core_State_Standards_Initiative">Learn more</a> or
Truancy is intentional, unjustified, unauthorized, or illegal absence from compulsory education. Its absence is caused by students of their own free will and does not apply to excused absences. In the U.S. truancy laws are regulated by local school districts and vary widely across the United States. Penalties include fines or jail time for parents or children. In 2019 Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke introduced plans that would require the government to decriminalize truancy at the federal level.
A school voucher is a certificate of government funding that students can use to pay for the school of their choice. Students are given the vouchers and can use them to pay for non-public school systems including private schools, home schools and charter schools Proponents argue that the vouchers will create a better education system by promoting competition between schools. Opponents argue that the voucher system removes funds from public schools and redirects it toward private institutions.
Australia currently has a progressive tax system whereby high income earners pay a higher percentage of tax than low income tax. A more progressive income tax system has been proposed as a tool towards reducing wealth inequality.
The federal minimum wage is the lowest wage at which employers may pay their employees. Since July 24, 2009 the U.S. federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour. In 2014 President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and tying it to an inflation index. The federal minimum wage applies to all federal employees including those who work on military bases, national parks and veterans working in nursing homes.
A Universal Basic Income program is social security program where all citizens of a country receive a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government. The funding for Universal Basic Income comes from taxation and government owned entities including income from endowments, real estate and natural resources. Several countries, including Finland, India and Brazil, have experimented with a UBI system but have not implemented a permanent program. The longest running UBI system in the world is the Alaska Permanent Fund in the U.S. state of Alaska. In the Alaska Permanent Fund each individual and family receives a monthly sum that is funded by dividends from the state’s oil revenues. Proponents of UBI argue that it will reduce or eliminate poverty by providing everyone with a basic income to cover housing and food. Opponents argue that a UBI would be detrimental to economies by encouraging people to either work less or drop out of the workforce entirely.