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Religious

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The Center for the Study of Global Christianity reports that of the Christians who lost their lives in 2016 because of their faith, 70 percent were in Africa. Most were killed in tribal fights. The remaining 30 percent lost their lives in terrorist activities in countries such as Syria and Iraq. Persecution of Christians is so high in Syria that in just five years of civil war, the total Christian population has fallen from 1.5 million to a mere 500,000, according to the Bishop of Aleppo. — World Religion News, 12/30/2016

A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that mainline Protestant churches, once a mainstay of American religion, are now shrinking by about 1 million members annually. Fewer members not only means fewer souls saved, a frightening thought for some clergy members, but also less income for churches, further ensuring their decline. — Washington Post, 1/4/2017

In Spain, Roman Catholicism has reached a historic low. The official statistics of the Sociological Studies Centre show that 69% of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics (falling from 77% in 2006). Many of these Catholics do not attend church services regularly, and 60% of students in state schools choose “alternative subjects” to religion class when these are offered. In 1992, 79% of all marriages were officiated by the Church. In 2015, this number had fallen to 29.1%. About 35 new evangelical churches were opened in France last year, 3 per month. In other words, one church is opened approximately every 10 days. The overwhelming majority of evangelical churches in France at the moment (1,750 out of 2,200) were opened after 1970. — Evangelical Focus, 1/10/2017

The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Indeed, among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. — Pew Research Center, 1/3/2017 Pope Francis said he is open to the possibility of permitting married men to become priests to address the serious shortage of Catholic priests in some countries. — USA Today, 3/10/2017

Social

More than 5,400 Americans overseas renounced their U.S. citizenship in 2016, a 26% increase over 2015 and more than triple the number in 2010, when Congress passed a law that significantly increased tax penalties for unreported foreign transactions and holdings. The law, known as FATCA, projected to raise $8.7 billion over 10 years. It required taxpayers to disclose foreign accounts on returns, sharply increased penalties for non-compliance and pressured banks worldwide to help the IRS enforce the rules by using the threat of withholding 30% of payments from U.S. sources. — USA Today, 2/10/2017

Air pollution from China, India and several other Asian countries has wafted across the Pacific Ocean over the past 25 years, increasing levels of smog in the western U.S. Scientists measured ozone levels recorded at springtime for the past 25 years in 16 national parks in the western U.S. The team looked at levels in the spring when wind and weather patterns push Asian pollution across the Pacific Ocean, said Spanish Cathedral scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who led the study. Since 1992, Asia has tripled its emissions of smog-forming chemicals such as nitrogen oxides. — Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 3/1/2017

Atmospheric rivers are responsible for up to 65% of the western USA’s extreme rain and snow events. Made visible by clouds, these ribbons of water vapor known as atmospheric rivers extend thousands of miles from the tropics to the western USA. They provide the fuel for the massive rainstorms and subsequent floods along the U.S. West Coast. Globally, up to 75% of extreme precipitation events come from atmospheric rivers. The onslaught has knocked out the five-year drought in Northern California. Much of the Sierra Nevada saw its rainiest and snowiest October-February period on record. — USA Today, 2/27/2017

Researchers from the Australian National University concluded that women who work outside the home should limit their hours to 34 per week in order to prevent mental and physical health erosion due to the need to still perform home-based chores. The healthy limit for men was determined to be 47 hours per week. The study looked at a sample of Australians ages 24 to 65. — USA Today, 2/11/2017

Overall cancer survival has barely changed over the past decade. The 72 cancer therapies approved from 2002 to 2014 gave patients on average only 2.1 months more of life than older drugs, according to a study in JAMA. Two-thirds of cancer drugs approved in the past two years have no evidence showing that they extend survival at all. — Kaiser Health News, 2/11/2017

Reports of 1,242 cases of mumps have been reported in the U.S. since the beginning of 2017. The contagious viral infection normally affects a few hundred people a year, and the high number so early in the year has some health officials concerned.

Though the vaccine for mumps is not 100% effective, two dosages typically gives enough protection to prevent them. However, more parents are opting out of any kind of vaccinations, putting their children at a higher risk to contract such viruses. Last year, 5,311 cases were reported, the highest number in a decade. — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3/10/2017

Malta’s famous Azure Window rock arch has collapsed into the sea after heavy storms. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the news was “heartbreaking.” A study in 2013 said that while erosion was inevitable, the structure was not in imminent danger of collapsing. Officials had recently introduced signs and a fine to stop people from walking across the landmark but they were often ignored. Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter: “Reports commissioned over the years indicated that this landmark would be hard hit by unavoidable natural corrosion. That sad day arrived.” — BBC News, 3/8/2017

Scientists have developed a sensor that can monitor blood sugar levels by analyzing sweaty skin. It needs just one millionth of a liter of sweat to do the testing. The team at the Seoul National University were trying to overcome the need for “painful blood collection” needed in diabetes patients. Tests before and after people sat down for a meal, published in the journal Science Advances, showed the results from the sweat patch “agree well” with those from traditional kit. — BBC News, 3/9/2017

Political

Former President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 1,715 prisoners, more than the past 12 presidents combined, including 568 inmates with life sentences. He granted 212 pardons. His final group of clemencies in the last week of his presidency was the most granted on one day in U.S. history. — Washington Post, 1/19/2016

Iran rolled out new weapons that its leaders said would help national defense, and China tested a missile following President Trump’s Twitter assault on Beijing’s expansion in the South China Sea. Iran subsequently warned Washington against any hostile actions, saying it would target its missiles against the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, American installations in the Indian Ocean and Tel Aviv. — USA Today, 2/7/2017

Sweden is reinstating the military draft for men and women because of dwindling volunteers and growing concerns over a more assertive Russia in the Baltic and Ukraine. “The security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel,” the Swedish defense ministry said. A defense ministry spokesperson says 4,000 men and women will be called up for service, drawn from some 13,000 people born in 1999. — USA Today, 3/4/2017

Egypt is eager to make the best use of free trade agreements to enhance its presence in the Arab, European and American markets, with a particular focus on the African market. Economist Ahmed el-Shamy said. France is a top industrial country, especially in the pharmaceutical and automotive industries. Egypt, meanwhile, is in desperate need of French expertise to implement its ambitious development projects in the Suez Canal. According to statements made in Paris, the volume of trade between Egypt and France decreased in 2015 to approximately 2 billion Euros. Egypt’s exports to France, nevertheless, increased by 6% during the same period. Total French investment in Egypt, up until 2016, is estimated at 4.2 billion Euros. — Al Monitor, 3/3/2017

Only 30 people were sentenced to death in the United States in 2016, the lowest number since the early 1970s, and a further sign of the steady decline in use of the death penalty. — AP, 2/15/2017

Europe’s most populous and economically powerful country could easily afford to spend more on its military defense as NATO requires, but Germany simply doesn’t want to do that. Even in today’s dangerous world, Germany is a largely pacifist nation, analysts say. The world’s fourth‑largest economy spent just 1.2% of its economic output, below the 2% designated by NATO. Reports of arms shortages and malfunctioning weapons have tarnished Germany’s reputation. Some media stories said German soldiers used broomsticks instead of weapons in NATO training exercises. — USA Today, 3/10/2017

The Syrian civil war is now entering its sixth year and has killed some 470,000 people. Despite cease‑fire talks in Geneva, fighting continues in many areas. — Arizona Republic, 3/11/2017

Financial

Greece and its European creditors agreed to resume talks on economic reforms the country must make in order to get the money it needs to avoid bankruptcy and a potential exit from the Euro. The latest Greek bailout was agreed on in 2015. It was the third one following Greek default on public debt. The Eurozone countries have ruled out an outright debt reduction. — AP, 2/2017

An Apple Inc. plan to import used iPhones into India looks at first like a clash between the parties as they negotiate a broader array of concessions. But through difficulty comes opportunity. The operation is rigorous, time-consuming and laborious. That’s perfect for a developing nation that wants to build its operations prowess, provide skilled jobs and make money. To make it work, India will need to impose and enforce strict recycling regulations, include a zero-landfill policy. It will also need to extract promises from companies such as Apple that all the recycling work be done in India instead of selected “dirty” processes and that those companies will bear the full cost of reverse logistics, from cradle to grave. — Bloomberg, 2/7/2017

President Trump’s proposed 20% tariff on products from Mexico will impact more than a third of subcompact cars sold in the U.S., which have price tags less than $20,000. Buyers, generally from the lower income group, would face an average of $2,679 increase in prices. — USA Today, 2/11/2017

Eight men now own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world. The study by Oxfam released at the World Economic Forum found that the eight richest people on the planet have net wealth of $426 billion — equivalent to what’s held by the bottom half of the world’s population. A Credit Suisse report shows that Russia is the world’s most unequal country in terms of wealth versus poverty, with the exception of Comoros and Zambia. — USA Today, 1/16/2017

Israel

When Israel declared its statehood in 1948, there were fewer than 800,000 Jews living in the land. The most recent figures (2016) show roughly 6.5 million Jews or approximately 40% of the Jewish population worldwide, live in Israel. The majority of Jews living outside the land of Israel call North America home. New York City alone boasts a Jewish population of more than one million. — Bridges for Peace, 2/24/2017

The Trump administration is in talks with Sunni Arab states about having them form a NATO-like mutual defense organization to counter Iran and the Islamic State which would share intelligence with Israel, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The coalition would consist of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan, and would be open to other Arab countries as well. Israel’s role would be intelligence sharing, not training or boots on the ground. Emirati and Saudi officials have expressed admiration for Israeli security and intelligence capabilities, tacitly agreeing to pool intelligence with the Israelis if the alliance is formed. Saudi Maj. Gen. Ahmed Asiri said, “With Israel, we don’t have official relations [But] the Israelis are facing the same Iranian threat, exactly like us.” — Wall Street Journal, 2/15/2017

December was the rainiest month in Israel since 1992 shown by the data released by the Israel Meteorological Service. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), a major freshwater source in Israel, saw a moderate rise in its water level during December. The Kinneret must remain a strategic water source for the State of Israel despite the fact of desalinization. — Ynetnews, 1/2/2017

The Eros B satellite operated by the Israel based ImageSat International (ISI) has located two long range Russian ground to ground SS-26 Iskandar missile launchers in the Syrian Latakia air base. The base is also used by the Russian Air Force. Experts from ISI say that the launchers are hidden under camouflage nets the majority of the time, but the heavy rains seen across the region forced the Russians to move the launchers out from underneath the nets, thus exposing them to the satellite. — Ynetnews, 1/5/2017

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the United Nations to defend a “two-state solution” and support creation of a Palestinian state. This came after the U.S. declined to veto a U.N proposal condemning Israel for building in the West Bank. — USA Today, 2/28/2017

More than 1,500 Jews attended the Manhattan “Mega Aliyah” fair hosted by Nefesh B’ Nefesh, 350 of whom were from medical and high-tech backgrounds. While the event — which was attended by a record number of Jews — was protected by heavy security, the surge in anti-Semitic incidents which have swept across the US, appear to have had no bearing on the increased enthusiasm for moving to Israel.” Organizers of the event say that over the last few years, the number of people choosing to make the move from North America has gradually increased. — Ynet News, 2/28/2017

 

 

 

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