News and Views- Current Events

2015-September/October

2015-Sep-Oct-Cover

 Religious

Religion has a robust following among China’s younger generation despite the country’s rule by the officially atheist Communist Party. Islam has the largest proportion of young followers, with 22.4 percent of those queried for the annual China Reli­gion Survey, which was conducted by the National Survey Research Center at Beijing’s Renmin Uni­versity. Catholicism was the second-most-practiced religion among those under 30. Unsurprisingly, re­ligions traditionally practiced by Chinese like Bud­dhism and Taosim, still remained popular among religious worshippers at least 60 years of age. In general, the survey found Buddhism has the high­est number of followers of the five religions per­mitted. — International Business Times, 7/7/2015

Since the beginning of the 20th century and the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, Tur­key’s Jewish population has been in sharp decline. A discriminatory wealth tax in the 1940s intro­duced by a secularist government, along with the establishment of the state of Israel, reduced the number of Jewish residents by tens of thousands. Over the past decade, under the government of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, and pressured by a string of deadly terrorist attacks on synagogues and a surge in anti-Semitism, the Jew­ish population — the vast majority of whom are Sephardic — has shrunk to 17,000 from 19,500 in 2005, according to figures obtained from the chief rabbinate in Istanbul. — New York Times, 5/27/2015

Not satisfied with the way Hamas terrorists have governed the Gaza region, the ISIS group has de­cided to seize control of the enclave itself. And the terrorist organization says it does not plan to stop there, either — the group issued a video statement warning of its intent to conquer the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority as well, according to the Reuters news agency. The video since has been removed from the Internet. — Reuters, 7/1/2015

An upstate New York school district has agreed to pay $4.48 million and enact broad reforms in cur­riculum and training to settle a lawsuit by five cur­rent and former Jewish students who claimed that they had been victims of pervasive anti-Semitism in the schools.The civil rights lawsuit had accused officials of the Pine Bush Central School District of failing for years to take action to  protect the Jewish students from anti-Semitic bullying, slurs, and other intimidation.  The students had told of finding swastikas drawn on walls, desks, lockers and other school property; of being subjected to epithets and nicknames; and of being shoved and beaten.  The students also described terrifying bus rides with classmates leading “white power” chants and making Nazi salutes. New York Times 6/30/2015

Tens of thousands of Seventh-day Adventists met from July 2-11 in a General Conference which is held every five years. They faced an issue as divi­sive as any in the Protestant group’s 152-year his­tory: Does the Bible allow women to be ordained as clergy? The question has special complexity for Ad­ventists, who to this day revere one of their found­ers who saw visions — a writer named Ellen White — a woman described in documents from her life­ time as “ordained.” Adventists also are expected to reaffirm two of their fundamental beliefs: that the world was created in literally six days, before God rested, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. These votes, which are not expected to be seriously contested, reflect a recent push by Adven­tist leadership to keep the faith firmly on orthodox grounds, experts said. — Washington Post, 7/5/2015

 Social

For many Californians, the state’s long drought has meant small inconveniences such as shorter show­ers and restrictions on watering lawns. But in two rural valleys, the Coachella southeast of Los Ange­les and the San Joaquin to the north, farm workers and other poor residents are feeling its impact in a far more serious and personal way. Groundwater that took thousands of years to form is being sucked dry. Water tanks have been placed at about 1200 homes, but that is only slightly more than half of the households that do not have water. Every day, the county puts 3000 gallons of non-potable water in two tanks at different locations in Porterville so some of those residents can fill drums and buckets for basic uses such as flushing toilets. “This whole thing with the tanks was intended to be an interim solution” but has continued for a year as the drought drags on, said Paul Boyer, director of community development for Self-Help Enterprises. — Washington Post, 7/5/2015

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill im­posing one of the strictest school vaccination laws in the country following an outbreak of measles at Disneyland late last year. Brown issued a statement just one day after lawmakers sent him the bill to strike California’s personal belief exemption for immunizations, a move that requires nearly all pub­lic schoolchildren to be vaccinated. The bill will take effect next year. “The science is clear that vac­cines dramatically protect children against a num­ber of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote. California joins Mississippi and West Vir­ginia as states with such strict requirements. — AP, 6/30/2015

Years of disappointing job markets for lawyers have dramatically reduced the number of people interest­ed in getting a law degree. According to the Law School Admission Council, just under 53,000 peo­ple are expected to apply to law schools by the be­ginning of the 2015 academic year, down from more than 100,000 in 2004. In 2013, 10 law schools were unable to place more than 30 percent of their graduat­ing class in permanent jobs that required passing the bar, according to ABA data. — Bloomberg, 7/1/2015

The Iraqi Ministry of Planning estimated that nearly 30% of Iraq’s population of more than 33 million lives below the poverty line because of Iraq’s condi­tions following IS taking control of more than a third of the country’s area in June 2014. Nevertheless, the war alone, in the sense of military operations, was not a key reason behind the rise in poverty rates. Rather, it was coupled with other reasons — most notably the mass displacement of Iraqis from IS- controlled areas, unemployment and the decline in crude oil global prices to less than $60 per barrel, particularly since 90% of Iraq’s federal budget re­lies on oil revenues. — Al-Monitor, 7/1/2015

 Political

A Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds is a religious symbol and must be removed because it violates the state’s constitution­al ban on using public property to benefit a religion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled. The court said the Ten Commandments chiseled into the six­foot­ tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, are “obviously religious in nature.” The 7-to-2 ruling overturned a decision by a district judge  who said the monument could stay. — AP, 6/30/2015

The United States and Cuba have reached a deal to reopen embassies and reestablish diplomatic rela­tions for the first time since 1961, said a senior ad­ministration official. — Washington Post, 6/30/2015

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management an­nounced that it was taking the Web-based system used for background investigations offline after “vulnerability” was discovered. That move followed the massive cyber attacks on the agency, potentially exposing the security clearance database and the personnel files of at least 4.2 million current and for­mer federal employees. OPM, which conducts the majority of federal background investigations, has a massive workload, completing more than one mil­lion investigations last year, according to the agen­cy’s most recent annual report. — Reuters, 7/1/2015

$ Financial

Greece lost its financial lifelines June 30, as the country missed a crucial payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amid growing ques­tions about whether it would be able to remain in the euro zone. The missed payment, confirmed by the IMF, was a landmark moment in Europe’s five- year battle to preserve its common currency. Greece is one of 19 countries that share the euro, allow­ing goods and services to cross borders without exchanging currency. In Greece, meanwhile, the economy was near frozen. Fearing a panicked run to withdraw euros, the governments closed banks and set a withdrawal limit of 60 euros, about $67, per day at ATMs. — Washington Post, 7/1/2015

(Editor’s Note: A subsequent referendum in Greece resulted in the populous declining to take more aus­tere measures to preserve the euro, resulting in “un­charted territory” for the country.)

Puerto Rico’s debt crisis may soon blow up into a significant 2016 issue. The island is poised to default on its crushing $72 billion debt. Its government wants to file for Chapter 9 municipal bank- ruptcy, following the path of cities like Detroit, but as a U.S. commonwealth it is barred from doing so. The island’s leaders are launching a campaign to get the law changed, using a mix of public pressure on 2016 candidates and a bipartisan lobbying blitz in D.C. But they face opposition from Wall Street, the Koch brothers’ political network and movement conservatives who think it smacks of a bailout. — Washington Post, 7/6/2015

BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion over 18 years for damages caused by its oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, an accident that resulted in the deaths of 11 people and the largest marine oil spill in history. The settlement covers lawsuits filed by parties including the U.S. government, five U.S. states that were affected by the spill, and several hundred local government organizations. It also includes a civil penalty of $5.5 billion under the U.S. Clean Water Act. With this new settlement, BP’s total bill (including amounts already paid for clean-up) for the spill climbs to $53.8 billion — a number that exceeds the company’s profits in the last three years. — Slate, 7/2/2015

Four of the world’s largest banks agreed to pay more than $5 billion in penalties for rigging the currency markets. The four banks — JP Morgan Chase, Citicorp, Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland — worked together to manipulate rates on the foreign exchange market where hundreds of billions of dollars and euros change hands back and forth. The banks have agreed to help prosecutors investigate individuals who took part in the rigging. — AP, 5/21/2015

A major attack this year by cyber security criminals on the computer network at the U.S. Internal Revenue Service originated in Russia. The IRS believes the hackers are part of a sophisticated criminal operation in Russia. This is not the first time that the IRS has been successfully breached by cyber thieves. Taxpayers whose accounts were accessed will be notified and provided with credit monitoring services, the IRS said. The IRS inspector-general reported in 2012 hackers managed to manipulate the IRS system into sending 655 tax refunds to a single address in Lithuania. Another 343 tax refunds were sent to another address, this one in Shanghai. Following these attacks, system administrators tweaked the network safeguards to block other hackers. This year’s attack began sometime in February, according to the report, and continued until mid-May. So far, the thieves have stolen at least $50 million in fraudulent tax refunds. — AP, 5/27/2015

35 percent — amount of population in 1939 favoring wealth distribution through heavily taxing the rich. 52 percent — amount of population in 2015 favoring wealth distribution through heavily taxing the rich. — Gallup Organization, 5/20/2015

Israel

Seventy years after the Holocaust, the number of Jews worldwide is close to returning to what it was before World War II — nearly 16 million Jews, a report issued by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) has revealed. Before the Holocaust, there were some 16.6 million Jews across the world. After the Nazis’ mass extermination, only around 11 million Jews remained in 1945. According to the report, since the end of the war in 1945, the number of Jews in the world consistently increased, reaching some 14.2 million in early 2015. The past decade, between the years 2005-2015, saw the biggest jump since the end of the war, with an over 8 percent increase.

These estimates are based on halacha (Jewish religious law) criteria for those living in Israel and self-identification for those living outside of Israel. — YnetNews, 6/26/2015

“The gas reserves are a great gift that we have received. A vast quantity of gas is under the seabed. A small part of it has been extracted; a very great part is still in reserves under the sea. We must extract it from there. It is commercial firms that are extracting it. We have seen to it that 60% of their profits will enter into state coffers. We are using this, and will use it, for health, social welfare, education, and security. We are talking about hundreds of billions of shekels — not hundreds of millions of shekels — but hundreds of billions of shekels in the coming years.” — Benyamin Netanyahu, during a news conference in Be’er Sheba, 7/2/2015

Israel and the World Bank (WB) signed their second agreement that will focus on sharing water expertise and industry best practices with developing countries. The Israeli Ministry of Economy committed $500,000 to the World Bank Group’s Water Global Practice as part of the deal. Late last year Israel joined the World Bank’s Global Practices program to help develop technology in the developing world. — Israel 12c.org, 6/23/2015

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered a 3000 years old jug bearing the inscription Ishba’al son of Beda near Beit Shemesh. Ishba’al is a name mentioned in the Tanach (Bible) and is unique to the period of King David. This is yet another example of the many facts on the ground that tell the story of the Jewish state that flourished here in this land 3000 years ago. — Israel Pulse, 26/2015

Dolphins communicate under water using sound waves that travel great distances. UTC (Underwater Technologies Center) decided to imitate the dolphin’s ability to communicate underwater by developing a small system that performs the same action as these magnificent animals. The system allows the Israeli Navy, which operates a complete line of defense to protect recently discovered natural gas deposits along the Israeli coastline. When several divers were underwater in a mission, they had no way to communicate amongst themselves, or to communicate with the vessel that carried them. The new device transmits sound waves which are translated to preset messages, which, when clicked on a menu, sends a message to all the divers in the range,allowing them to communicate among themselves. One model of this system enables 14 divers to communicate with one another, and another model grants this ability to 28 divers. — iHLS, 5/21/2015

For Jews seeking eternal rest, the most coveted real estate on Earth lies in the soil of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, the city is rapidly running out of room to bury the dead. And so it has come to pass that an Israeli burial organization has teamed with a cutting-edge construction firm to bore deep under a mountain here to create a vast underground necropolis — with elevators. The first phase of the new subterranean city of the dead will include 22,000 crypts, arranged floor to ceiling in three tiers, in a network of intersecting tunnels now being dug through the rocky clay soil beneath Jerusalem’s largest cemetery. The $50 million project, begun a few months ago and paid for with private funds generated by the sale of burial plots — mostly to Jews overseas — is the first of its kind here in modern times. — Washington Post, 5/19/2015

Israel’s economy is defying international doldrums. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is extremely upbeat about the Israeli economy. Its recent preliminary report noted that Israel’s economy is “performing well” and the economic outlook is positive. Over at the World Bank, Israel signed an agreement to share best practices on water. And Israel and China are working on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesman said that Israel is one of China’s major economic and trade partners in the Middle East and an FTA will lift bilateral cooperation to a new height. — Good News from Israel blog, 7/13/2015

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