Category: Explainer

nigeria-boko-haramWhat’s going on in Nigeria?

During an attack that started January 3 and continued through this past weekend, the African Islamic militant group Boko Haram opened fire on 16 northern Nigerian villages. The death toll estimates range from 200 to as many 2,000 people.

Another 10,000 people who managed to escape have fled to neighboring Chad. Many Nigerians drowned in an attempt to cross Lake Chad to escape what is now described as  the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.

Over the past six months, Boko Haram has taken control of more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria, most of them in Borno State, and launched attacks into Chad and Cameroon. As Alexis Okeowo notes, their territory now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.

What happened this weekend?

A girl believed to have been no more than 10 years old detonated a bomb concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more.

The explosion is believed to be a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with Boko Haram’s decision to use perhaps their youngest-ever suicide bomber.

What was the recent criticism by the Catholic archbishop?
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Yesterday, in a short, videotaped preview of his upcoming State of the Union address, President Obama unveiled a new proposal: Make two years of community college free for all students who meet certain eligibility standards.

Here is what you should know about the proposal.

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charlie-hebdoWhat just happened in Paris?

Today at 11:30 a.m. local time in Paris (5:30 a.m. ET), two gunmen wearing black hoods and carrying Kalashnikovs killed twelve people, including two police officers, and seriously wounded four others in an apparent terrorist attack on the offices of a French satirical news magazine that had published cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

The gunmen escaped and are currently on the loose and being hunted by French police. (The police say they are looking for three men.)

Why is it assumed to be a terrorist attacks by Muslims?

In an eyewitness video of the attack, the gunmen are heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) while the shootings took place.

According to a video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV, one of the men shouted in French, “Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo.”

The attack is believed to be in response to a recent tweet by the publication of a cartoon of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, with the caption (in French): “Best wishes, by the way.”

France has raised its terror threat level following the shooting.

What is Charlie Hebdo?
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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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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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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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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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net-neutralityOn Monday, President Obama came out strongly for the concept of net neutrality, saying that “an open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life.” What exactly is net neutrality? And why should Christians care?

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality (short for “network neutrality”) refers to both a design principle and laws that attempt to regulate and enforce that principle. The net neutrality principle is the idea that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally. At its simplest, network neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that every website – from Google.com to Acton.org — should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.

Net neutrality laws are legislation or regulation that prevents Internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating or charging different prices based on such criteria as user, content, site, platform, application, or type of attached equipment.

What is the basic argument in favor of net neutrality regulation?
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