Answer the following questions to see who you should vote for in the Illinois midterm 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health services in the United States and internationally. In 2014, federal and state governments provided the organization with $528 million in funding (40% of its annual budget). The majority of this funding comes from Medicaid which subsidizes reproductive healthcare for low-income women. In 2014, abortions accounted for 3% of the services they provided. The majority of the other services include screening for and treating sexually transmitted diseases and infections and providing contraception. Proponents of funding argue that federal funding for Planned Parenthood does not pay for abortions and that the vast majority of government funding that the organization receives is through Medicaid reimbursements. Opponents of funding argue that the government should not fund any organizations that provide abortions.
Abortion is a medical procedure resulting in the termination of a human pregnancy and death of a fetus. Abortion was banned in 30 states until the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. The ruling made abortion legal in all 50 states but gave them regulatory powers over when abortions could be performed during a pregnancy. Currently, all states must allow abortions early in pregnancies but may ban them in later trimesters.
On June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the denial of marriage licenses violated the Due Process and the Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The ruling made same sex marriage legal in all 50 U.S. States.
On August 1st, 2012 the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) required all health insurers and employers to cover the cost of contraceptives in their health insurance plans. The provision currently exempts religious organizations and churches.
Gender identity is defined as a personal conception of oneself as male, female, both, or neither. In 2014, President Obama signed an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity among federal contractors. The order covered employers who perform federal work and protected an estimated 20 percent of American workers. Opponents included religious groups, who argued that the order would prevent them from receiving federal money or contracts if they could not meet the new guidelines because of their beliefs. Proponents argue that the order was necessary to protect millions of LGBT people whose rights were threatened after the Supreme Court ruled in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. In that ruling, the court said that family-run corporations with religious objections could be exempted from providing employees with insurance coverage for contraception.
In 1993 the federal government passed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law was intended to protect Native Americans in danger of losing their jobs because of religious ceremonies that involved the illegal drug peyote. Since then 20 states have passed their own versions of the “religious freedom” laws and 12 more have introduced the legislation this year. Supporters of the law argue that the government shouldn't force religious businesses and churches to serve customers who participate in lifestyles contrary to their owners’ beliefs. Proponents of the law argue that the political context has changed since 1992 and states are now passing their own versions of the law with the intent of discriminating against gay and lesbian couples.
LGBT adoption is the adoption of children by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. This may be in the form of a joint adoption by a same-sex couple, adoption by one partner of a same-sex couple of the other's biological child (step-child adoption) and adoption by a single LGBT person. Joint adoption by same-sex couples is legal in 25 countries. Opponents of LGBT adoption question whether same-sex couples have the ability to be adequate parents while other opponents question whether natural law implies that children of adoption possess a natural right to be raised by heterosexual parents. Since constitutions and statutes usually fail to address the adoption rights of LGBT persons, judicial decisions often determine whether they can serve as parents either individually or as couples.
In the U.S. rules vary from state to state. In Idaho, Nebraska, Indiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas students must play on the team that matches their birth certificate, have undergone surgery or have had extended hormone therapy. The NCAA requires one year of testosterone suppression. In February 2019 Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) asked Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to investigate USA Powerlifting over its rule barring biological males from competing in women’s events. In 2016 the International Olympic committee ruled that transgender athletes can compete in the Olympics without undergoing sex reassignment surgery. In 2018 the International Association of Athletics Federations, track’s governing body, ruled that women who have more than 5 nano-mols per liter of testosterone in their blood—like South African sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya—must either compete against men, or take medication to reduce their natural testosterone levels. The IAAF stated that women in the five-plus category have a “difference of sexual development.” The ruling cited a 2017 study by French researchers as proof that female athletes with testosterone closer to men do better in certain events: 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,500 meters, and the mile. "Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes," said IAAF President Sebastian Coe in a statement.
In some progressive universities, professors provide “trigger warnings” to students before discussing sensitive topics, emotionally charged issues, or events that may trigger post-traumatic stress. “Safe spaces” are places where students can gather to avoid a speaker or event that offends them.
A gun buyback program is one where the government purchases guns from private citizens. The goal of these programs is to reduce the number of guns owned by private citizens. In most gun buyback programs the police are the agents buying the guns. In 2019 Presidential candidates Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro each proposed a mandatory gun buyback program where the federal government would purchase AK-47’s and AR-15’s from private citizens. In the past U.S. gun buyback programs have been implemented by state and city governments.
In the United States, women hold 19.2 percent of board seats of companies listed in the Standard and Poors directory. In Norway 35% of companies have women on their board seats and just 3% of Japanese companies do.
The death penalty or capital punishment is the punishment by death for a crime. Currently 58 countries worldwide allow the death penalty (including the U.S.) while 97 countries have outlawed it.
In 1956, Congress passed a resolution declaring “IN GOD WE TRUST” as the national motto of the United States. President Eisenhower signed the law and the motto was added to paper money beginning in 1957. Opponents argue that the motto violates the U.S. Constitution since it is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Proponents argue that it does not prefer one religious denomination over another.
Several Western countries including France, Spain and Canada have proposed laws which would ban Muslim women from wearing a Niqab in public spaces. A niqab is a cloth that covers the face and is worn by some Muslim women in public areas. The U.S. currently does not have any laws banning burqas. Proponents argue that the ban infringes on individual rights and prevents people from expressing their religious beliefs. Opponents argue that face-coverings prevent the clear identification of a person, which is both a security risk, and a social hindrance within a society which relies on facial recognition and expression in communication.
In 1961, the South Carolina State Government passed a law mandating that the confederate flag be flown on the ground of its state capitol building. The law was passed to commemorate the centennial of the Civil War assault on Fort Sumter. Opponents argue that the flag is a political symbol that represents racial inequality and should be removed after the shooting deaths of nine African American church members in June 2015. Proponents argue that the flag is an important historical symbol that commemorates the state’s role in the Civil War.
Euthanasia, the practice of ending a life prematurely in order to end pain and suffering, is currently considered a criminal offense.
Marital rape is nonconsensual sex in which the perpetrator is the victim's spouse. Marital rape was not criminalized by many countries until the mid-nineteenth century. In 1993 the U.N. designated marital rape as a human rights violation. Marital rape is illegal in Australia, Canada, Ireland, England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil. Marital rape is not a criminal offence in China and India.
In December 2015, the Pentagon announced that all combat roles would be opened to women. The roles include driving tanks, firing mortars, and leading infantry soldiers into combat. Women would also be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps Infantry and Air Force parajumpers. Proponents of women in combat argue that women have been serving in Afghanistan and Iraq for 15 years and preventing them from combat operations is discriminatory. Opponents argue that allowing women to serve in these roles would limit the military's ability to fight in combat situations.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Currently, GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods in the United States are not classified differently by the FDA and do not require labeling. Although no reports of ill effects from GMO foods have been documented, advocacy groups such as Greenpeace and the Organic Consumers Association argue that past studies cannot be trusted because they were sponsored by pro-GMO companies and do not measure the long-term effects on humans, the environment, and nature. Opponents argue that labeling adds an unfounded stigma over organic foods and that if a nutritional or allergenic difference were found, current FDA regulations would already require a label.