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Religious

The Museum of the Bible, the newest tourist attraction near the National Mall, has drawn 565,000 visitors since it opened six months ago, according to museum figures. By comparison, other museums have had a smaller draw in their first half-year.
The Broad, a new contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, attracted fewer than 500,000 within six months of its 2015 opening. — RNS, 5/17/2018

A new survey by the Pew Research Center looks past the headlines that worry the established churches to ask what Western Europeans think about religion.  Despite the region’s widespread secularization, 64 percent of the 24,599 adults Pew surveyed in 15 countries still identify as Christians, even if only 18 percent say they attend church at least once a month. At 46 percent of the total sample, non-practicing Christians make up the largest single group in the survey, almost double the 24 percent of religiously unaffiliated — atheists, agnostics and “nones” — that often dominate commentaries about the state
of Christianity in its erstwhile stronghold. — RNS, 5/29/2018

The number of Catholic priests worldwide declined by 136 to 415,656 in 2015, the last year for which data is available. But according to Vatican statistics, the decrease was greatest in Europe, where there were 2,502 fewer priests compared with 2014. The number was offset by increases in priestly vocations
in Africa and Asia, where the church as a whole is growing. — AP, 5/21/2018

Social

American women are having children at the lowest rate on record, with the number of babies born in the U.S. last year dropping to a 30-year low, federal figures showed. Some 3.85 million babies were born last year, the lowest number since 1987, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The general fertility rate for women age 15 to 44 was 60.2 births per 1,000 women — the lowest rate since the government began tracking it more than a century ago. They have now fallen for three straight years, and last year’s fertility-rate drop was the largest
one-year decline since 2010. The only age group that had babies at a higher rate in 2017 was women in their early 40s, with those age 40 to 44 having 11.6 births per 1,000 women, up 2% from the prior year. — AP, 5/18/2018

Freight train robbers in Mexico are increasingly blocking tracks or loosening rails to stop trains and steal the contents. The federal rail agency said the number of cargo thefts increased to 561 for the three-month period ended March 2018. — AP, 5/29/2018

Suicide death rates have risen significantly in most states since the late 1990s, with 25 states recording increases of more than 30%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The rates rose in men and women and across all age and ethnic groups, propelled by mental illness, substance use disorders,
financial hardship and relationship problems, the CDC said. Death by firearm was the most common method of suicide, accounting for 48.5% of cases. Data from 27 states in 2015 showed that 54% of those who died from suicide weren’t diagnosed with a mental health condition, the CDC said. —
AP, 6/11/2018

Political

Mexico City has elected a Jewish person as mayor for the first time in history, local politician and scientist Claudia Sheinbaum. Sheinbaum, 56, won the election to lead North America’s largest city with between 47.5 and 55.5 percent of the vote, according
to an estimate by polling firm Mitofsky. Her victory is a historic electoral win in a country with deep-rooted problems of gender inequality and violence against women. Sheinbaum, who holds a
doctorate in physics, is the first woman elected to the post. Sheinbaum worked as an environmental engineer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico until recently. She spent four years as a PhD student in California. In a speech last month, Sheinbaum, who also goes by Sheinbaum Pardo, told a Jewish audience she was connected with the Jewish community thanks to her grandparents, who emigrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria. Almost all of Mexico’s 40,000 Jews live in Mexico City, according to the World Jewish Congress. — Times of
Israel, 7/2/2018

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative leader who governs in coalition with an anti-immigration party, announced the closure of seven mosques and the potential expulsion of 40 imams, in a crackdown on political Islam and foreign funding
of Muslim communities. There are around 400 mosques in Austria, a country with a population of 8.7 million, an estimated 8% of which is Muslim.  In total, 60 of the 260 imams registered in Austria are being investigated. The move follows a government investigation into alleged radical activities in
mosques that was ordered after a series of revelations in the media about extremist preachers. “Parallel societies, political Islam, and radicalization have no place in our country,” Mr. Kurz said at a press conference. He added this was the first time
the Austrian government was using laws passed in 2015 to tackle radical religious organizations. — Wall Street Journal, 6/8/2018

A regime offensive in southern Syria has forced more than 270,000 people from their homes, the United Nations said. “We were expecting the number of displaced in southern Syria to reach 200,000, but it has already exceeded 270,000 people in record time,” said Mohammad Hawari, the spokesman for
UN refugee agency UNHCR in Amman, Jordan.  The Daraa region is considered to be the cradle of the uprising against President Bashar Assad seven years ago that sparked the civil war in which more than 350,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced. — Times of Israel, 7/2/2018

Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer with no previous political experience, was chosen to head a coalition of the far-right League and the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement. His government is expected to reduce the number of troops it has in Afghanistan, a point on which the Five-Stars have long campaigned. On NATO, Conte said Italy is a committed member of the alliance, “with the U.S. as privileged ally.” But he warned: “Be careful, we’ll be supporters of an opening up of relations towards Russia … we’ll promote a revision of the sanctions system.” — AP, 6/6/2018

Financial

Hundreds of technology firms raising money in the fevered market for cryptocurrencies are using deceptive or even fraudulent tactics to lure investors. In a review of documents produced for 1,450 digital coin offerings, The Wall Street Journal has found 271 with red flags that include plagiarized investor
documents, promises of guaranteed returns and missing or fake executive teams. Investors have poured more than $1 billion into the 271 coin offerings where the Journal identified red flags, according to a review of company statements and online
transaction records — nearly one in five of those reviewed. Investors have so far claimed losses of up to $273 million in these projects, according to lawsuits and regulatory actions. — Wall Street Journal, 4/17/2018

Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it will launch the world’s longest commercial flight on October 11 between Singapore and New York. The flights will offer 161 business class and premium economy seats but will not have economy class seating. The
flight with higher ceilings, larger windows, and better air quality will take off from Singapore’s Changi Airport bound for Newark Liberty Airport near New York City — a distance of 16,700 km which will be covered in 19 hours. — International Business
Times, 5/30/2018

In November 2017, Tesla unveiled the Tesla Semi to electrify long-haul trucking. Transportation is responsible for 27 percent of America’s total carbon emissions, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 23 percent of transportation’s total carbon output. Replace diesels with zero-emission engines,
and you’d drop U.S. carbon emissions over 6 percent.

But there’s another heavy-duty truck strategy, with near-zero emissions, that’s flying way under the radar. The first dozen or so trucks using the new technology — powered by natural gas — are already in the hands of customers. The engines have
a larger market opportunity in the near term. The engine lineup can be used in medium- and heavy-duty trucks, including buses, refuse vehicles, and long-haul trucks. — International Business Times, 5/30/2018

Trade between Germany and China reached an all-time record in 2017. The two export giants long had a symbiotic economic relationship. German companies are Europe’s largest investors in China and the fast-growing country has lapped up the capital
goods — robots, machine tools, factory equipment — German businesses are experts at making. This made China Germany’s biggest trading partner last year for the second time in a row, with trade between the two rising 10% to €186.7 billion ($219
billion). Unlike the U.S., Germany recorded only a modest trade deficit with China last year at €14.4 billion. As Beijing erects new barriers shielding its market from foreigners, Germans are beginning to question their prospects there. A survey released
by polling institute Allensbach showed that seven out of 10 top German business managers were concerned about Germany’s growing dependence on China and two-thirds didn’t expect China to fulfill the German government’s demand for reciprocity
when it came to market access. — Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2018

The annual report from the Pew Charitable Trusts finds that public worker pension funds with heavy state government involvement owed retirees and current workers $4 trillion as of 2016, the latest year for which data is available. They had about $2.6 trillion in assets, creating a gap of about one-third, or a
record $1.4 trillion. That puts downward pressure on wages and benefit checks as governments struggle to close the funding gap. It suggests the recent outcry over teacher pay could spread in coming years, whether pension costs are widely acknowledged as a driving factor or not. — AP, 5/1/2018

The hot pursuit of places to park money abroad by Chinese investors drove an estimated $100 billion in property purchases outside China in 2016, according to Juwai.com, a Chinese real-estate website. The buying frenzy, which grew from $5 billion
in 2010, helped swell prices for housing and commercial real estate in cities on the Pacific Rim and beyond. Chinese buyers have scooped up condos, apartments and houses from Vancouver to Auckland to Sydney. Chinese nationals bought $1.5 billion in residential sites last year, about a third of
Australia’s total. While foreign capital was welcome in the years following the financial crisis, officials have found that trying to control the flood of foreign money into housing is like squeezing a balloon: Taxes on foreign buyers in one city only
divert them to another spot — and sometimes buyers return, taxes or no taxes. — Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2018

Israel

Hundreds of Orthodox teenagers bused to the capital from high schools around (but not exclusively from) Judea and Samaria, gathered at the Heichal Shlomo Jewish Heritage Center for lectures and panel discussions about Israel’s right to rule the
entire Land of Israel. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a prominent rabbinic supporter of the religious Zionist movement, held the audience spellbound with an energetic recitation of the halachic (Jewish religious law) view that declaring sovereignty over the Land
of Israel is a religious obligation. The gathering was far from the first for the Sovereignty Movement, founded in 2010 by long-time Land of Israel activists Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, together with right-wing journalist Caroline Glick, former
Knesset Member Geula Cohen, Bar Ilan University Professor Mordechai Kedar and others. The group’s annual conference, held each January, typically attracts about 1,000 people as well as a smattering of pro-settlement politicians and activists. — Tazpit News Agency, 5/30/2018

The Iron Dome system was initially designed to shoot down incoming rockets and missiles, which it did effectively during the 2014 conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. Over the years, the system has been upgraded to also be able to intercept drones and mortar rounds. In order for the Iron Dome to intercept an incoming projectile, the system must first spot it, determine based on its trajectory if it is heading toward a populated area and, if so, launch an interceptor missile to shoot it down.  Mortar shells, on the other hand, are in the air for
far less time. Residents of the Israeli communities closest to the Gaza border have 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter once a mortar shell is fired. “Nothing is hermetic, nothing is 100 percent,” IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis told Israel Radio. — Times of Israel, 5/30/2018

Over the years, Saudi Arabia has largely relied on its strategic alliance with the United States, but the American administration’s willingness to get involved in the Middle East’s bloody conflicts has dropped in recent years, and Saudi Arabia has basically been left without any support for its attempts
to effectively curb the Iranian influence. Under these circumstances, Israel has become a key player in changing the regional balance of power. In addition to its intelligence and strategic abilities, Saudi Arabia sees Israel as an economic role model. As the Saudi economy undergoes a real revolution
from an economy relying on oil to a productive and advanced economy, the Israeli knowledge and technology are becoming more and more attractive. Saudi Arabia’s strategic location and seniority in the Arab world could help Israel improve the fighting against Iran and deepen its security cooperation
with other Arab countries. The Saudis no longer support the Palestinian demand for a right of return; rather, they are pursuing a solution that Israel would find acceptable too. — Ynet News, 6/3/2018

Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have rushed for the exit since Egypt opened its border. It is a rare opportunity to leave a territory that has been largely sealed off from the outside world since Israel and Egypt tightened border controls after the Islamist group Hamas took power in 2007. Egyptian
President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi ordered the Rafah border crossing opened for a month. The Egyptian border is usually open only intermittently, and thousands of people are on the waiting list. Many Gazans who have come to the Egyptian border in
recent days are united by unfulfilled ambition, frustrated by the collapsing Gaza economy, and eager to jump-start lives that have been on hold. “People used to work in the Gaza Strip and in Israel and make good money,” said Imad Al Hamayda, who
is 51 years old and unemployed. “Now, I can’t find words to describe how miserable the situation is.” — WSJ, 5/23/2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

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