NEWS AND VIEWS MARCH APRIL 2015

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RELIGIOUS

Technically speaking, there are four “official” religions in Russia: marchapril-2015Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism. But given that almost 70 percent of Russians identify as adherents to the Russian Orthodox Church, it’s pretty apparent that one religion is more “official” than others. The smallest of the four is Judaism. There are fewer than 200,000 self-identified Jews in Russia today—less than the number of pagans—though the number of Russians from Jewish backgrounds who no longer identify with the religion is likely much higher. They are what remains after a mass exodus that saw more than 2 million Jews leave the countries of the former Soviet Union shortly before and after its collapse, mainly for the United States and Israel.—Slate, 11/28/2014

Pope Francis  issued a stinging critique, telling the priests, bishops and cardinals who run the Curia, the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church, that careerism, scheming and greed had infected them with “spiritual Alzheimer’s”. Francis, the first non-European pope in 1,300 years, has refused many of the trappings of office and made plain his determination to bring the Church’s hierarchy closer to its 1.2 billion members. He listed no fewer than 15 “sicknesses and temptations”, from the “spiritual Alzheimer’s” of those who had become enthralled by worldly goods and power to the “existential schizophrenia” of those who had succumbed to a joyless, hard-hearted mindset.  He told his audience that too many of them suffered from “rivalry and vainglory”.—Reuter’s, 11/22/2014

SOCIAL

Kenyan miners were marched off in the predawn dark on Tuesday, some barefoot, others shirtless. The Somali militants methodically separated the Christian workers from the Muslims and took the Christians to the side of a hill, near a gravel pit. Then they ordered the disbelievers to lie face down. According to the Kenyan authorities, the militants killed 36 people, most of them young men. Many were shot in the back of the head, at close range, and some were decapitated. It appeared all the Muslims had been spared.—New York Times, 12/2/2014

The number of homeless people in Tokyo dropped to a record low, plummeting 75% from 6,731 people in 2004 to 1,697 in August, 2014.—Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2014

Across the United States, local governments are moving to prevent outdoor camping by the homeless, according to advocates for the nation’s nearly 600,000 homeless, estimated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.   Over a third of U.S. cities impose citywide bans on public camping, a 60 percent increase in such ordinances since 2011, according to a 2014 survey of 187 cities by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.  One of the most visible moves against camps occurred in San Jose, California, where a site known as the “the Jungle” was cleared out. Before the city took down the camp, however, a $4 million program was established to help find housing for 200 former residents, said Ray Bramson, the city’s homelessness response manager.”The best long-term solution is to get people the support they need – then they won’t be outside,” Bramson said. –Reuter’s, 12/23/2014

POLITICAL

China’s Xinjiang region has banned the practice of religion in government buildings and will fine those who use the Internet to “undermine national unity,” in a package of regulations aimed at “combating separatism” in the north-western province. The rules, passed by the standing committee of Xinjiang’s parliament on Friday, stipulate penalties of between 5,000 and 30,000 yuan ($4,884) for individuals who use the Internet, mobile phones or digital publishing to undermine national unity, social stability or incite ethnic hatred.–Today’s Zaman—11/30/2014

Russia said NATO was turning Ukraine into a “frontline of confrontation” and threatened to sever remaining ties with the Atlantic military alliance if Ukraine’s hopes of joining it were realized. The Kiev parliament’s renunciation of Ukraine’s neutral status in pursuit of NATO membership has outraged Moscow and deepened the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.—Reuter’s, 11/24/2014

FINANCIAL

Russians are racing to take out mortgages on concern that borrowing costs will rise further after the ruble’s weakness prompted the central bank to increase interest rates. The number of people applying for mortgages at Bank VTB 24, a retail unit of state-controlled VTB Group (VTBR), almost tripled in the first two weeks of December compared with the November average. The ruble’s rout, sparked by falling oil prices and sanctions imposed on businesses  prompted Russians to began buying luxury goods from Porsche sports cars to Tiffany rings to preserve the value of their savings.—Bloomberg, 12/24/2014

UBS Group AG is flagging risks from China’s $1 trillion worth of unhedged foreign debt as forecasters see bets against the greenback unwinding in 2015. The world’s second-largest economy is exposed to shifts in currency and interest rates as never before because of expanding international trade and easing foreign-exchange regulations, said Stephen Andrews, head of Asia banks research in Hong Kong at UBS.—Bloomberg, 12/23/2014 (Editor’s note:  An unhedged position, or naked position, means that the holder has taken no step to reduce the risk inherent to the position. Hedging risk by buying options is normal practice for institutional investors. If one takes no action to prevent this then they will suffer the full effect of any decline in value of the underlying asset.)

Greece marked 2014 by exiting a six-year recession that cost the country about a quarter of its economic output and tripled the unemployment rate.—Bloomberg, 12/23/2014

ISRAEL

Iran has long provided military assistance to Palestinian and Lebanese terror groups, and they certainly aren’t hiding that fact. In an interview published November 12 with Qiam Sejjilha’ magazine, an Iranian official actually boasted that the terrorists have missiles that can hit anywhere in Israel thanks to the Islamic Republic [Iran].   A separate report by Fars, this one cited in the Asharq Al-Awsat publication, made it clear that three missiles had been developed to launch quickly and [to] specifically hit Israel. The missiles are housed underground.–Www.themideastupdate.com, 11/16/2014

After nearly a decade of research, Dr. Alon Friedman and his team of researchers at Ben Gurion University developed a contrast-enhanced MRI that is able to identify significant damage to the blood vessels of the brain much earlier than was previously possible.  “We tested it in football players from a local team and used athletes in non-contact sports as a control group,” Friedman said. “The big difference is that 40 percent of the football players showed significant pathology (in the blood vessels and blood barrier) before any other pathology can be seen,” he said.—Bridges for Peace, YNetnews, 11/29/2014

A 1,600-year-old bracelet fragment engraved with the seven-lamp menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem was discovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Mount Carmel National Park.  Infrastructure work to build a water reservoir for the city of Yoqneam was conducted at the dig site. Diggers at the site uncovered an industrial area and refuse pits of a large settlement from the Roman era and the early Byzantine period, at the end of the fourth century AD.—Ynetnews, 12/24.2014

Harvard University Dining Services [HUDS] has been rebuffed in its efforts to join the boycott movement against Israel. A group of radical anti-Israel Harvard students and faculty had persuaded the dining service to boycott Sodastream, an Israeli company that manufactures soda machines that produce a product that is both healthy and economical. But Harvard President Drew Faust rebuffed this boycott and decided to investigate the unilateral action of the Harvard University Dining Services.  Faust visited the Sodastream factory in Israel and spoke to many of its Palestinian-Arab employees, who love working for a company that pays them high wages and provides excellent working conditions.  He found Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, working together.—Gatestone Institute, 12/19/2014

An impressive farm house, 2,800 years old, which comprised twenty-three rooms, was exposed in recent weeks during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in the central Israeli town of Rosh Ha’ayin.  According to Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the IAA, the farm is extraordinarily well-preserved and was built at the time of the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century BC. Farm houses during this period served as small settlements of sorts whose inhabitants participated in processing agricultural produce.  The building continued to be used during the Persian period (also known as the Time of the Return to Zion) in the sixth century BC and in the Hellenistic period as well, which began in the country with the arrival of Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military leaders of antiquity.— Ashernet, 12/15/2014

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