Answer the following questions to see who you should vote for in the Pennsylvania midterm 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
On January 2, 2020 Major General Qassem Soleimani, leader of the foreign wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes were killed in Iraq when the convoy they were traveling in was struck on a road near Baghdad International Airport. U.S. President Donald Trump announced he ordered the attack after U.S. intelligence agencies learned that that General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq. Iran’s foreign minister called the attack and act of terrorism and Ayatollah Khamenei promised “harsh revenge.” NATO offered support for the U.S. and stated that NATO member countries had been alarmed about Iran’s support for ISIS and its activities in the Middle East.
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.
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.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles deployed by U.S. defense and intelligence agencies to collect data and strike suspected enemy targets.
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.
The United States and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the September 11 terror attacks. After the attacks, U.S. intelligence officials determined that the Afghani-based militant organization Al-Qaeda was responsible. In 2001 90% of Afghanistan was controlled by the Sunni Islamic military organization The Taliban. After the Taliban refused requests by U.S. President George W. Bush to dismantle Al-Qaeda the U.S. launched military operations known as Operation Enduring Freedom. As of June 27, 2019 2,419 U.S. troops have died in the conflict.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently proposed declaring war against the Islamic State (ISIS). The declaration would give the President more authority to carry out broader attacks on the militant group without Congressional approval. Opponents argue that the order would give the President too much power by eliminating Congressional oversight. Proponents argue that fighting an organization like ISIS requires an unconventional war plan that requires the President to make quick decisions without Congressional oversight.
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 late September 2015, the Russian army conducted its first airstrikes in Syria and claimed they were intended to target ISIS positions within the country. U.S. military leaders and the Obama administration immediately warned that Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that the Russians will eventually turn their airstrikes against Syrian rebels who were recently supported by the U.S. Opponents of any further intervention in Syria argue that U.S. efforts to train rebels have failed miserably and we should stay out any further conflict in the region.
In March 2014, Russian soldiers entered Ukraine and took control of several strategic positions within the country. The following month the Ukrainian parliament declared that its territory was officially being occupied by Russia. The invasion was immediately condemned by the U.S. and other U.N. member states as a direct invasion of a sovereign country and an act of war. In response NATO countries began military exercises in the region including the addition of 600 U.S. ground troops in Poland. Opponents of military action argue that the conflict the U.S. should not get involved in regional conflicts that do not directly threaten the U.S. Proponents argue that Russian military aggression against Ukraine threatens the balance of power in the region and the U.S. military should directly aid Ukrainian forces to prevent the conflict from spreading to Europe.
In October 2019 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a series of bills supporting protesters in Hong Kong who have a called for democratic reforms in the City. In March 2019 a series of protests began in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) after the government there introduced the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill. The Fugitive Offenders bill established a mechanism for transfers of fugitives from Hong Kong to Mainland China, Macau and Taiwan. The bill was proposed in response to the 2018 murder of Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan. After the murder her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, left Taiwan and traveled to Hong Kong where he told police that he killed Poon. Taiwanese police were unable to extradite Tong-kai and charge him with the murder because the Taiwanese police did not have an extradition agreement in place with Hong Kong. Opponents of the bill argued that it would allow the mainland Chinese government to extradite citizens in Hong Kong - effectively putting them under Chinese law. Opponents also argues that the Chinese criminal process does not have an independent judiciary, fair public trials and lack of access to legal representation. On September 4, 2019, after 13 weeks of protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam promised to withdraw the bill.
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.
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.
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.
In July 2017, 43 U.S. Senators proposed a law that would make it a crime for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel. The bill would levy large fines and prison time for businesses and individuals who don’t buy from Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories, and who make statements, including social media posts, saying that they are doing so in order to boycott. The international boycott of Israel was launched in 2006 by Palestinian NGO’s to protest Israel’s “occupation and colonization of Arab lands.” Supporting the boycott is considered a “civil wrong” in Israel and has been officially condemned by the governments of Australia, France and the U.K. Proponents of the law argue it could cause severe economic harm to, Israel which is an important ally of the western nations in the Middle East. Opponents of the law argue that it is a suppression of free speech and citizens should be able to protest and boycott any foreign country.
In March 2015, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was removed from office during a civil war with the Shiite Houthis movement. The Houthis were led by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh who was removed from power during the 2011 Arab Spring. Neighboring Sunni Saudi Arabia viewed President Hadi’s removal as a threat and responded by conducting airstrikes against the Houthi’s in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s allies, including the U.S., U.K. and Egypt, suspected Iran was behind the Houthi uprising and responded by providing military aid to the Saudi armed forces. The United Nations declared the airstrikes a violation federal law after several hundred civilians were killed in the first month of the airstrikes . Proponents of the intervention, including Secretary of State John Kerry, claim that the Houthis are being supported by Iran and U.S. intervention is necessary to maintain the balance of power in the region. Critics argue that the U.S. should not be involved in a conflict which has killed hundreds of innocent civilians.
In January of 2016, North Korea announced that it detonated its first hydrogen bomb. CBS News reported that the U.S. intelligence community is skeptical that North Korea used a thermonuclear device. The blast was in single-digit kilotons, and a thermonuclear device is measured in megatons. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has been more ambitious than his father in the pursuit of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, even in the face of warnings from China. Proponents of military strikes argue that North Korea crossed a line with its latest test and must be stopped at all costs. Opponents argue that North Korea repeatedly lies about its missile capabilities and that the we should let other countries in the region, such as China and South Korea, address this issue.
After the November 13th attacks in Paris several Presidential candidates gave new positions on how the U.S. should combat ISIS in the Syria. The U.S. is currently involved in a coalition of 19 countries that has launched 8,000 airstrikes against ISIS. None of the countries currently have ground troops in Syria.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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).
Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power station. In the U.S. 100 nuclear reactors provide 20% of the country's energy. Proponents argue that nuclear energy is now safe and emits much less carbon emissions than coal plants. Opponents argue that recent nuclear disasters in Japan prove that nuclear power is far from safe.
In January 2014, 102 measles cases linked to an outbreak at Disneyland were reported in 14 states. The outbreak alarmed the CDC, which declared the disease eliminated in the U.S. in the year 2000. Many health officials have tied the outbreak to the rising number of unvaccinated children under the age of 12. Proponents of a mandate argue that vaccines are necessary in order to insure herd immunity against preventable diseases. Herd immunity protects people who are unable to get vaccines due to their age or health condition. Opponents of a mandate believe the government should not be able to decide which vaccines their children should receive. Some opponents also believe there is a link between vaccinations and autism and vaccinating their children will have destructive consequences on their early childhood development.