Category: Acton Occasional Series

As the most widely observed cultural holiday in the world, Christmas is a time of produces many things — joy, happiness, gratitude, reverence. And numbers. Lots of peculiar, often large, numbers. Here are a few to contemplate this season:

christmasnumbers$35.03 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on real Christmas trees in 2013.

$81.30 – Average amount U.S. consumers spent on fake Christmas trees in 2013.

33,000,000 – Number of real Christmas trees sold in the U.S. each year.

9,500,000 – Number of fake Christmas trees sold each year.

7 – Average growing time in years for a Christmas tree.

350 million – Number of Christmas trees currently growing on Christmas tree farms.

319 million – Current population of the United State.

$27.21 — The energy costs of lighting a six-foot Christmas tree, lit 12 hours a day for 40 days, decorated with various light types.

$1,000,000,000 – Estimated value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and September 2014.

$24,000,000,000 – Estimated retail sales by the nation’s department stores (including leased departments) in December 2013. This represents an estimated 40.9 percent jump from the previous month when retail sales were estimated at 17.3 billion.

800,000 – Number of new employees hired to compensate for the holiday rush in 2013.

37.5% — Estimated percentage of charitable giving that occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

$781 – Average amount people in the U.S. estimated they’ll spent in on Christmas presents in 2014.

108,000,000 — Average number of homes Santa Claus has to visit on December 25 (assuming there is at least one “nice” child in each).

20140305-cuba-exteriors-sl-1538_53ee39d1154ce422fc2278062244c068What just happened with Cuba?

Yesterday, President Obama announced that, “the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” He instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since 1961. High-ranking officials will visit Cuba and the U.S. will reestablish an embassy in Havana. He also instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

The President also says the U.S. will take steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba. Americans who travel to Cuba will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions and exporters will be able to sell goods to the country.

Can the President do all that?

Sort of. The president controls the State Department, but the Congress controls the money. Senator Rubio (R-FL) has said that he’ll do everything he can to block funding for a Cuban embassy and prevent an ambassador from being selected.

The trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba also cannot be lifted without congressional approval. The executive branch has the authority under current law merely to issue licenses that permit US citizens and corporations to do business with Cuba, travel there, and send money to family members there.

Why the change now, after 50 years?
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7figuresHomicide and acts of personal violence kill more people than wars and are the third-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44, according to a new report by the United Nations.

The Global Study on Homicide 2013 was released last week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Here are seven figures you should know from the report:
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7figuresYesterday the Bureau of Justice Statistic released the report, Rape And Sexual Assault Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013. The report compares the characteristics of rape and sexual assault victimization against females ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled and not enrolled in college, and examines the relationship between the victim and offender, the involvement of a weapon, location of the victimization, reporting to police, perceived offender characteristics, and victim demographics.

Here are seven figures from the report you should know:
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_70189222_464_unemployedSeries Note: Jobs are one of the most important aspects of a morally functioning economy. They help us serve the needs of our neighbors and lead to human flourishing both for the individual and for communities. Conversely, not having a job can adversely affect spiritual and psychological well-being of individuals and families. Because unemployment is a spiritual problem, Christians in America need to understand and be aware of the monthly data on employment. Each month highlight the latest numbers we need to know (see also: What Christians Should Know About Unemployment).

Positive news is marked with the plus sign (+) while negative employment data is marked with a minus sign (-). No change is marked by (NC).
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garnerA New York grand jury refused to indict a police officer in the death of a 43-year-old man that was caught on video. Here are some details about the controversial case:

What was the incident that caused Garner’s death?

On July 17, 2014, two New York City police officers, Justin Damico and Daniel Pantaleo, attempted to arrest Eric Garner. When Garner resisted, Pantaleo grabbed him around the neck and tackled him to the ground. As Damico and three other officers assisted in pinning him to the sidewalk, Garner repeated nine times that he couldn’t breath. Garner was 6’3”, 350-pounds, and had a history of medical problems, including asthma.

Although Garner was in obvious respiratory distress, none of the officers or the EMT personnel who arrived on the scene performed CPR. He died of cardiac arrest a few minutes later while on the way to the hospital.

Why was Garner being arrested?
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Abolition-of-Slavery-dayTomorrow is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, a commemoration of the date of the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317(IV) of 2 December 1949). As part of the effort to help eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking across the world by 2020, Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Orthodox leaders will gather at the Vatican tomorrow to sign a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery.

Here are some things you should know about the modern slave trade:

What is modern-day slavery?

Modern-day slavery, also referred to as “trafficking in persons,” or “human trafficking,” describes the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

How many people today are enslaved?
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UntitledToday the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released their 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

“Unfortunately, the report shows there is no place in the world where children, women and men are safe from human trafficking,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov “Official data reported to UNODC by national authorities represent only what has been detected. It is very clear that the scale of modern-day slavery is far worse.”

Here are seven figures you should know from the latest report:
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GRAND-JURY-Sign1By the end of this month, a grand jury is expected to hand down a decision in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. One of the most frequently considered questions related to the case is, “What exactly is a grand jury?”

Although seemingly shrouded in mystery, grand juries are an essential part of the protections of our liberties within the legal system of the United States. Here is everything you ever needed to know about the grand jury system.

(Note: Most of this information is based on federal grand juries. Grand juries at the state level may have slightly different policies.)

What is a grand jury?

The grand jury is a jury of citizens that determines whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that a specific person or persons committed it. If the grand jury finds probable cause to exist, then it will return a written statement of the charges called an “indictment.”

After the issuance of an indictment, the case moves to trial where the accused can then defend themselves against the charges brought against them before a petit jury (also called a trial jury).

Why are grand juries important?
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jerusalem-synagogue-attackWhat just happened in Jerusalem?

Two Palestinian men armed with axes, meat cleavers, and a pistol, entered a synagogue complex in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and killed four rabbis, one from the UK and three from United States (all had dual-citizenship in Israel). Israeli police killed the assailants in a gun battle that critically wounded one officer. 

According to the New York Times, relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32.

What was the motive for the attack?

According to the relatives of the killers, they were motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism) and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel have increasingly been challenging the long-standing ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site.
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