Answer the following questions to see who you should vote for in the 2018 Tennessee District 19 State Senate election.
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.
5 U.S. states have passed laws requiring welfare recipients to be tested for drugs. Proponents argue that testing will prevent public funds from being used to subsidize drugs habits and help get treatment for those that are addicted to drugs. Opponents argue that it is a waste of money since the tests will cost more money than they save.
In 2014 the U.S. Senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act which would make it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform the same work. The goals of the act were to make wages more transparent, require employers to prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business qualifications and not gender and prohibiting companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based wage discrimination. Opponents argue that studies which show pay gaps don’t take into account women who take jobs that are more family-friendly in terms of benefits rather than wages and that women are more likely to take breaks in employment to care for children or parents. Proponents point to studies including a 2008 census bureau report that stated that women's median annual earnings were 77.5% of men's earnings.
The U.S. currently levies a 35% tax rate at the federal level and an average tax of 4% at the state and local level. The average corporate tax rate worldwide is 22.6%. Opponents of argue that raising the rate will discourage foreign investment and hurt the economy. Proponents argue that the profits corporations generate should be taxed just like citizen’s taxes.
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.
In 2011 the level of public spending on the welfare state by the British Government accounted for £113.1 billion, or 16% of government. By 2020 welfare spending will rise to 1/3rd of all spending making it the largest expense followed by housing benefit, council tax benefit, benefits to the unemployed, and benefits to people with low incomes.
Labor unions represent workers in many industries in the United States. Their role is to bargain over wages, benefits, working conditions for their membership. Larger unions also typically engage in lobbying activities and electioneering at the state and federal level.
Proponents of deficit reduction argue that governments who do not control budget deficits and debt are at risk of losing their ability to borrow money at affordable rates. Opponents of deficit reduction argue that government spending would increase demand for goods and services and help avert a dangerous fall into deflation, a downward spiral in wages and prices that can cripple an economy for years.
Several major U.S. companies including Netflix, Chipotle and Microsoft recently began offering their employees paid sick and maternity leave. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized country that doesn’t require companies to provide sick leave to their employees. 35% of American workers do not receive any type of paid sick leave.
Capital gains are the profits earned from the the sale of stocks, bonds and properties. Investment managers pay a 15 to 20 percent capital gains tax on profits earned from their customers’ holdings. Supporters of the increase argue that capital gains should be taxed like any other income and should be raised to at least 31.5% (the average U.S. tax rate). Opponents of an increase argue that taxing capital gains will discourage investments in the U.S. economy and prohibit growth.
In May 2016, the Obama Administration announced new regulations that would increase the number of American entitled to receive time-and-a-half overtime pay. Salaried workers who earn up to $46,476 per year are now entitled to earn time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours per week. The previous regulations, issued in 2004, set the threshold for overtime pay at $23,660. The Labor department estimates that 4.2 million workers will become newly eligible for overtime pay under the new regulations. Proponents argue that the rule is necessary due to inflation and note that only 7% of salaried workers currently qualify for overtime pay in 2015, down sharply from 60% in 1975. Opponents argue that the new rules will hurt employers and incentivize them to cut their employee’s hours.
The estate tax is a tax that is levied on all property that is declared in a deceased person’s will. The tax is also known as the “inheritance tax” or “death tax.” In 2016, the estate tax rate is 40% and only applies to estates with a value greater than $5.45 million. In 2015 5,300 estates in the U.S. were subject to the tax and paid $18.4 billion in taxes. Proponents of the tax, including Hillary Clinton, argue that more estates should be subject to the tax and the threshold should be lowered from $5.45 million to $3.5 million. Opponents of the tax, including Donald Trump, argue that people who have paid income taxes their entire life should not be subject to another tax when they die.
An economic stimulus is a monetary or fiscal policy enacted by governments with the intent of stabilizing their economies during a fiscal crisis. The policies include an increase in government spending on infrastructure, tax cuts and lowering interest rates. In response to the 2008 financial crisis Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Act included increased spending on energy, infrastructure, education, health and unemployment benefits. The Act will cost an estimated $787 billion through 2019.
The North American Free Trade Agreement is an agreement that was created to lower trade restrictions between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
The average retired federal employee receives a pension (retirement plan) of $32,824 annually. Total unfunded pension liability for all U.S. cities and counties is an estimated $574 billion. In addition to their pensions, federal employees are offered a 401(k) plus 5% matching, whereas the average private employee is offered 3 percent matching of 401(k) without pension.
In October 2016 AT&T announced that it intended to buy Time Warner Cable for $84.5 billion. The merger would create one of the biggest media companies in the history of the U.S. The announcement sparked criticism from Congressional Democrats and Republicans who argued that huge corporate mergers create monopolies which prevent competition. Since President Obama took office his administration has prevented several mega-mergers from taking place including Sprint and T-Mobile, AT&T and T-Mobile and Allergan and Pfizer. In 2015 $3.8 trillion dollar’s worth of mergers and acquisitions occurred which made it the largest year for corporate consolidation in the history of the U.S. Proponents of mergers argue that the government should not interfere with corporations and the free market should be allowed to run its own course.
A government pension is a fund into which a sum of money is added during the period in which a person is employed by the government. When the government employee retires they are able to receive periodic payments from the fund in order to support themselves. As the birth rate continues to fall and the life expectancy rises governments worldwide are predicting funding shortfalls for pensioners. In the U.S. federal, state and local governments are eligible to receive pensions.
An offshore (or foreign) bank account is a bank account you have outside of your country of residence. The benefits of an offshore bank account include tax reduction, privacy, currency diversification, asset protection from lawsuits, and reducing your political risk. In April 2016, Wikileaks released 11.5 million confidential documents, known as the Panama Papers, which provided detailed information on 214,000 offshore companies serviced by the Panamanian Law Firm, Mossack Fonesca. The document exposed how world leaders and wealthy individuals hide money in secret offshore tax shelters. The release of the documents renewed proposals for laws banning the use of offshore accounts and tax havens. Proponents of the of the ban argue they should be outlawed because they have a long history of being vehicles for tax evasion, money laundering, illicit arms dealing and funding terrorism. Opponents of the ban argue that punitive regulations will make it harder for American companies to compete and will further discourage businesses from locating and investing in the United States.
A tariff is a tax levied on the import and exports of goods in international trade. The U.S. currently trades over $590 billion in goods with China every year. In 2015 China exported $466 billion worth of goods to the U.S. and imported $123 billion worth of U.S. goods. The 2015 China - U.S. trade imbalance of 344% is a new world record. During the 2016 Presidential race Donald Trump proposed levying a 45% tariff on China and any other U.S. trade partner which violates trade deals through currency manipulation and illegal export subsidies. Proponents of tariffs argue that China breaks trade rules by subsidizing its exports, manipulating its currency and stealing intellectual property from the U.S. and other western countries. Opponents argue that tariffs will cause a dramatic rise in the cost of goods for U.S. consumers and cause an unnecessary conflict with
In March 2016, the Carrier air conditioning company announced it would move 1,400 jobs from the U.S. state of Indiana to Mexico. In November 2016 U.S. President elect Donald Trump and Carrier announced a deal which would keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. Proponents argue that the deal prevented jobs from moving overseas and will help grow the U.S. economy. Opponents argue that the deal will encourage more private companies to make threats about job losses in exchange for tax breaks.
In 2019 the European Union and U.S. Democratic Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren issued proposals that would regulate Facebook, Google and Amazon. Senator Warren proposed that the U.S. government should designate tech companies who have global revenue of over $25 billion as “platform utilities" and break them up into smaller companies. Senator Warren argues that the companies have “bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.” Lawmakers in the European Union proposed a set of rules which include a blacklist of unfair trading practices, requirements that companies set up an internal system to handle complaints and allow businesses to group together to sue platforms. Opponents argue that these companies have benefited consumers by providing free online tools and bring more competition into commerce. Opponents also point out that history has shown that dominance in technology is a revolving door and that many companies (including IBM in the 1980’s) have cycled through it with little to no help from the government.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal that would make it easier for American companies to sell their goods and services in Pacific Rim countries. The deal will benefit American service companies who will be able to open up operations in Asian and South American countries. Opponents argue that this bill will incentivize US companies to move service and manufacturing jobs overseas. Proponents argue that it would make American companies more successful at selling their goods and services in Pacific Rim countries, leading to a stronger economy, more jobs and higher incomes for American workers.
In February 2018, President Trump pledged to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff aluminum imports into the U.S. A tariff is a tax on imports or exports between countries. The proposed tariffs would increase the cost of aluminum and steel imports into the United States. In promoting the plan, Trump predicted that the tariffs would revive the U.S. steel and aluminum industries which were heavily concentrated in the industrial Midwest. Supporters of the tariffs argue that U.S. steel and aluminum manufacturers have been wiped out due to low-cost competition from foreign manufacturers. Supporters note that governments in countries like Japan and China provide subsidies to manufacturers. These subsidies, they argue, allow the manufacturers to then undercut the price of U.S. manufacturers. Supporters include Republicans and Democrats from the Midwest and unions who represent factory workers. Opponents argue that the tariffs will hurt U.S. based manufacturers who need aluminum and steel to produce their products. Manufacturers of cars, boats, beer, chemicals and oil pipelines stated that they would be forced to raise prices in order to absorb the higher costs imposed by the tariffs.
A farm subsidy is a form of financial aid paid to farmers by the government. The purpose of the aid can be to supplement their income or influence the cost and supply of agricultural products. The U.S. government pays farmers more than $20 Billion a year in farm subsidies. Proponents argue that the subsides are necessary since net farm income has decline by 32% between 2014 and 2015. Opponents argue that the farmers should fend for themselves and point out that 2,300 farmers who do not grow crops receive annual subsidies.
The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow state governments to collect sales taxes from online retailers who do not have a physical location in their state and have revenues of over $1 Million per year. Online retailers would be responsible for collecting the taxes and distributing them to state and local governments. Proponents of the bill include brick and mortar retailers who argue that exempting online retailers from sales taxes penalizes traditional stores who are forced to charge customers higher prices due to cover the tax. Opponents argue that since online retailers do not use local services funded by sales taxes they should be exempt and that the federal government should not get involved in state tax issues.
Most local governments in the United States impose a property tax as a principal source of revenue. This tax may be imposed on real estate or personal property. The tax is nearly always computed as the fair market value of the property times an assessment ratio times a tax rate. Values are determined by local officials, and may be disputed by property owners. A primary advantage of a property tax over a sales tax or income tax is that the revenue always equals the tax levy, unlike the other taxes, which can result in shortfalls producing budget deficits. The property tax always produces the required revenue for municipalities' tax levies. Property owners, especially seniors, believe the tax is unfair and does not represent the owner's ability to pay.
Bitcoin is a type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank. Bitcoins are stored in a digital wallet, which is like a virtual bank account that allows users to send or receive bitcoins and pay for goods or services. Bitcoin is anonymous, meaning that, while transactions are recorded in a public log, the names of buyers and sellers are never revealed.
In April 2019, Congress passed the Taxpayer First Act which made it illegal for the IRS to create its own online system of tax filing. The IRS system would allow taxpayers to file their taxes on the IRS website without having to pay to use private tax filing services or software. Tax software companies including the maker of TurboTax and H&R Block lobbied congress to pass the bill. Countries including Spain, Denmark and Sweden use a “return-fee filing system that gives taxpayers pre-filled forms using information from employers and banks. Proponents argue that the free filing system would save a collective $2 billion and 225 million hours in prep costs and time. Opponents, including Intuit the maker of TurboTax, argue that such a system would cause taxpayers to make mistakes in their fillings and end up paying more in taxes.
The Federal Reserve is the central banking system of the US government. The main goal of the bank is to manage the US government’s money supply and stabilize the nation’s banks during panics and recessions. In 2015, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2015 which would require the bank’s board of governors to conduct an audit and release it to Congress. An audit would determine if the accounting records the bank makes public are true and give Congress an insight into how the bank is run. Senator Paul has been a fierce critic of the bank’s practices, calling it a "political, oligarchic force, and a key part of what looks and functions like a banking cartel." Proponents of the audit argue that the Federal Reserve bank should be audited after the role it played in the 2008 fiscal crisis when it took on trillions in debt to bail out several of the country’s largest banks. Opponents of the audit argue that the government accountability office already audits the Federal Reserve and a Congressional audit would destroy its independence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Affordable Care Act is a federal statute signed into law in 2010 that introduces a sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system. The act grants the federal government significant regulatory powers and price controls over U.S. medical service providers and insurance companies.
When the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was enacted in 2010 it required all states to expand their Medicaid programs to include people with incomes slightly higher than those allowed under traditional Medicaid, as well as groups, like childless adults, that had not previously been covered. In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that forcing States to expand their Medicaid coverage was unconstitutional. Since then 22 states have expanded their coverage and more than 35 have opted not to do so. Proponents of the expansion argue that it will lower healthcare costs for everyone by reducing the number of Americans without health insurance. Opponents argue that states should be allowed to run their own Medicaid programs without the intervention of the federal government.
U.S. law currently bans the sale and possession of all forms of marijuana. in 2014 Colorado and Washington will become the first states to legalize and regulate marijuana contrary to federal laws.
Single-payer healthcare is a system where every citizen pays the government to provide core healthcare services for all residents. Under this system the government may provide the care themselves or pay a private healthcare provider to do so. In a single-payer system all residents receive healthcare regardless of age, income or health status. Countries with single-payer healthcare systems include the U.K., Canada, Taiwan, Israel, France, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
In September of 2016, US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released a proposal that would create an oversight panel that would protect U.S. consumers from large price hikes on long-available, lifesaving drugs. The proposal was in response to recent steep price increases on drugs including the AIDS drug Daraprim and the EpiPen. Proponents of drug price regulation argue that drug makers raise prices to benefit the value of their stock and invest little of their profits in the development and research of new drugs. Opponents of regulation argue that consumers rely on drug companies to develop new drugs and limiting prices will prevent new lifesaving drugs from being developed. Clinton's campaign cited Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC's raising the price of its AIDS drug Daraprim (pyrimethamine) and Mylan NV’s repeated steep price increases on EpiPen for severe allergy sufferers as “troubling” examples of price hikes that have attracted bipartisan congressional scrutiny.
In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would allow U.S. states to require able-bodied adults to work in order to be eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for low-income Americans. Each state determines its own requirements for Medicaid eligibility. In most states children from low-income households, pregnant women and low-income seniors are covered. Medicaid also offers benefits not normally covered by Medicare, like nursing home care and personal care services. The Trump administration said Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin had requested approval to test programs including job training, job search, education, volunteer activities and caregiving.
In 2018, officials in the U.S. city of Philadelphia city proposed opening a “safe haven” in an effort to combat the city's heroin epidemic. In 2016 64,070 people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses - a 21% increase from 2015. 3/4 of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. are caused by the opioid class of drugs which includes prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. To combat the epidemic cities including Vancouver, BC and Sydney, AUS opened safe havens where addicts can inject drugs under the supervision of medical professionals. The safe havens reduce the overdose death rate by insuring the addicted patients are given drugs that are not contaminated or poisoned. Since 2001 5,900 people have overdosed at a safe haven in Sydney, Australia but no one has died. Proponents argue that the safe havens are the only proven solution to lower the overdose fatality rate and prevent the spread of diseases like HIV-AIDS. Opponents argue that safe havens may encourage illegal drug use and re-direct funding from traditional treatment centers.
The government is currently prohibited by law from negotiating drug prices for Medicare. Medicare Part D is a federal government program which subsidizes the costs of prescriptions drugs for people enrolled in Medicare. Since it was approved by Congress in 2003 39 million Americans have enrolled in the program which now costs more than $80 billion per year. Opponents of Medicare Part D argue that it should be changed to allow the federal government to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. They point out that the Veterans Affairs administration is allowed to negotiate prices and pays 40-58% less for drugs than Medicare does. Analysts estimate that the government would save up to $16 billion a year if they were permitted to negotiate drug prices. Proponents of Medicare D argue that the government should not interfere with prices set by private drug makers who use profits for the development and research of new drugs.
In February 2017, Congressional Republicans issued a proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The proposed plan would use tax credits to finance individual insurance purchases and cut federal payments to states which have been used to expand Medicaid. Conservatives who oppose the ACA argue that the plan did not go far enough in removing the government’s role in health insurance. They demanded that the new plan should remove the ACA requirement that health insurers could not discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions. Under the ACA health insurers cannot deny coverage or charge higher premiums to individuals who have pre-existing conditions. Opponents argue that the requirement will raise costs for insurers and cause them to drop out of the ACA healthcare exchange. Proponents argue that it is immoral to ban people with pre-existing conditions from getting health insurance.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.