News and Views

Religious

Churches in Kansas, California, Maryland, Illinois, Virginia, Texas and elsewhere have been donating to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit organization based in Rye, New York, that arranges payoff of medical debt, which contributes to two-thirds of bankruptcies, according to the American Journal of Public Health. When a person can’t pay a bill, that debt is often packaged with other people’s debt and sold to bill collectors for some fraction of the total amount of the bill. RIP Medical Debt buys debt portfolios on this secondary market for pennies on the dollar with donated money and then forgives it. RIP Medical Debt sends letters notifying the beneficiaries their debts have been forgiven. Donating churches can have their names listed on those letters, but not everyone opts to do so. “We need to do not just this thing but many things that practically show the love of God,” an organization spokesperson said. “It’s hard to tell somebody ‘God loves you’ if they’re starving and you don’t try to deal with the problem.” — US News & World Report, 6/6/2019

A German government official has advised Jewish people to avoid wearing yarmulkes in parts of the country amid rising incidents of anti-Semitism. Felix Klein, the commissioner for the fight against anti-Semitism, was quoted in an interview as saying that “my opinion has unfortunately changed compared with what it used to be” on the matter. “I cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany,” The skullcap, also called a yarmulke or kippah, is a traditional Jewish head covering. There are around 100,000 Jews in Germany, and the vast majority are relatively secular and don’t outwardly display signs of their faith. — NBC News, 5/26/2019

The Church of England’s published a set of new digital commandments. The rules for how to be a good Christian online include not sharing any explicit, threatening or discriminatory posts, verifying the accuracy of anything shared online, and speaking to others online as you would speak to them in person. — The Guardian, 7/2/2019

The Mennonite Church will consider creating a Church Peace Tax Fund. Encouraging a faithful witness to the nonviolent life and ministry of Jesus, who calls his followers to love God, the neighbor and the enemy, a Church Peace Tax Fund would redirect participating individuals’ federal tax assessments that underwrite killing, war and militarism toward activities promoting peace. — 1040 for Peace, 6/24/2019

(Editor’s Note: During the years 1968-1972, several movements arose declaring an intention to refuse to pay the 10% Vietnam War surtax. War tax resisters during the Vietnam War era faced a wide range of consequences for their non-cooperation including levies on bank accounts and garnishment of wages, letters and visits from IRS agents, lost jobs, seized cars and houses, and in a few cases, jail time.)

A Vatican document said the Church should consider ordaining older married men as priests in remote areas of the Amazon, a historic shift which some say could pave the way for their use in other areas where clergy are scarce. It was the most direct mention ever in a Vatican document of the possibility of a married priesthood, albeit limited. Such men would be elderly, outstanding members of the local Catholic community and with grown-up families. — Reuters, 6/17/2019

Social

In a mission to clean up trash floating in the ocean, environmentalists pulled 40 tons of abandoned fishing nets from an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Mariners on a 140-foot (43-meter) cargo sailboat retrieved the haul of mostly plastic fishing nets as part of an effort to rid the waters of the nets that entangle whales, turtles and fish and damage coral reefs. The volunteers with the California-based nonprofit Ocean Voyages Institute fished out the derelict nets from a marine gyre location where ocean currents converge between Hawaii and California. The group is among a handful of nonprofits working to collect plastic trash from the open ocean. — AP, 6/28/2019

Facing a shortage of affordable housing or shelter accommodation options, Maine’s homeless people, or those at imminent risk of becoming homeless, are being offered tents and camping gear. In Bangor, city officials cleared out a large homeless encampment, an action that resulted in more numerous, smaller camps springing up around the city. The homeless problem in Maine conforms to many across the country. On Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, property owners are going to court to block a legal settlement that restricts the city’s rights to clear homeless encampments. The city may no longer toss homeless people’s personal property that exceeds what would fit into a 60-gallon garbage bag or container. — The Guardian, 7/5/2019

Hundreds of farmers in Nebraska stood in silence during an auction so that a young man could buy back his family’s farm. The man’s family had been farmers for decades but, unfortunately, an ancestor decided to sell the 80-acre farm. When the land went up for sale again through an auction, the heirs decided that they would save up money to buy the land back. On the day of the auction, more than 200 farmers were present. After the young man and his father placed their bid, not a single person spoke up. The Auctioneer had to slam down the gavel and give the young man and his father the winning bid. “I’ve had two profoundly humbling days in my life,” he said. “The first was the day my son was born. The second was that unforgettable day at the auction house.” — Sunny Skyz, 5/30/2019

Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Systems. The primary operation’s goal of the mission is to assure a safe crew module entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery. In addition to sending Orion on its journey around the Moon, SLS will carry 13 small satellites that will perform their own science and technology investigations. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis 1 will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis 2. — NASA, 6/29/2019

Political

Since 2002, Russia has been part of the so-called Middle East Quartet along with the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Russia’s vision for the conflict is that it should be settled via an international legal framework as set forth in UN resolutions as well as the 1991 Madrid Conference and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. On a parallel track, Moscow has tried to take advantage of its historic ties with various Palestinian factions — thus far rather unsuccessfully — to broker an intra-Palestinian deal for Palestine to become a united actor before negotiating with Israel or regional Arab leaders. Russia also has demonstrated its interest in a political deal in Syria and rebuilding the country with President Bashar al-Assad still in power. — Al Monitor, 5/29/2019

The past three decades have seen a sea change in attitudes toward religious freedom in the U.S. In 1990, the Supreme Court rejected a claim that the Free Exercise Clause obliged the state of Oregon to accommodate Native Americans’ sacramental use of peyote. But things changed by 2014, when the (Supreme) court decided that Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a private company owned by Christians, did not have to provide contraceptives to employees as required by the Affordable Health Care Act. Recently the court decided that a 40-foot concrete Latin cross on public land doesn’t violate the First Amendment. Suddenly there was a shift in the way the free exercise of religion was thought of. In the legal academy, a growing body contends that the First Amendment is too favorable toward faith. — Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2019

Malaysia’s government plans to drop criminal penalties for the possession and use of drugs in small quantities in order to battle addiction but stressed the move is not akin to legalizing narcotics. Malaysia has one of the world’s harshest penalties for drug possession. Anyone found with 200 grams (7.05 ounces) of cannabis, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of opium, 40 grams (1.41 ounces) of cocaine, and 15 grams (0.53 ounces) of heroin or morphine face being charged with drug trafficking, which carries the death penalty. More than 1,200 prisoners are on death row, most of them convicted of drug crimes. — AP, 6/27/2019

Iran announced that it exceeded the limit of enriched uranium allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency verified the claim. Iran had declared in May that it would start operating outside of the limitations imposed by the nuclear deal unless the remaining participants, namely Germany, Russia, Britain, France and China did more to dig the Islamic State out of the pit of sanctions imposed by the United States in 2018. Iran’s next step could be to enrich the uranium to levels needed to develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, however, require uranium of 90% purity, and Iran — which had reached 20% before 2015 — still falls far short. — Bridges for Peace, 7/2/2019

Israeli cyber intelligence has helped thwart major terrorist attacks in multiple countries. For example, Israel alerted Australian authorities about a planned Islamic State attack on an Etihad Airways (national airline of UAE) flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, foiling an explosion in the air. Israel shares information about cyber-threats and attacks with 85 countries. In May, Israeli intelligence services tipped off the United States on an impending Iranian attack on “US interests in the Gulf.” Last November, Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, provided Denmark and Sweden with the information to stop the attempted assassination of the leader of the Danish branch of an Iranian opposition group. In June 2018, France, Germany and Belgium foiled a planned attack against a meeting of thousands of Iranian opposition supporters just north of Paris. — The Israel Project, 6/27/2019

Financial

Of the 2,153 members of the 2019 Forbes World’s Billionaires List, 551 live in just 10 of the world’s 1,860 cities. Billionaires living in this relative handful of locations possess a collective $2.3 trillion of wealth, exceeding the GDP of all but seven nations on earth. New York City tops the list with 84 billionaires, whose combined net worth of $469.7 billion is greater than the GDP of Austria. China has the most cities in the top 10, with 145 of the nation’s billionaires living in just three places: Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. — Forbes, March, 2019

Today, cattlemen can pick out superior calves better than they ever have before thanks to DNA testing. Lower-quality beef is forecast to all but vanish from the U.S. market, while the highest-quality, once a rarity, is common enough that discount retailers stock it. One breed is dominant when it comes to the quantitative genetics game: the hornless, black Angus. When new calves are born, they’re registered with the American Angus Association, and their pedigrees are confirmed with DNA testing and compared against databases that can include millions of animals. — Bloomberg, 5/30/2019

Facebook’s new Libra digital currency is aimed at the entire developing world where financial services are often less sophisticated and many people live far from a bank or money transfer center, or currently use a currency prone to inflation or volatility. Libra addresses this issue by providing a universal, stable currency that is easily transferrable between persons or businesses without involving setting up an entire payment infrastructure. With citizens of developing countries now using cellphones as a way to store money, Libra could become a universal currency which can be transferred across multiple cellphone networks and across borders. It could also resolve the issue of cost, which is cited by the World Bank as being the biggest issue with financial systems outside of developed markets. Facebook says Libra would have a near-zero cost. — AP, 6/28/2019

(Editor’s note: Using Libra means you must deal with currency risk and, potentially, fees to make a conversion to regular currency. If exchange rates swing the wrong way, Libra owners could find themselves losing 10% or more of their initial purchase when they try to cash out. If you live in a country prone to hyperinflation, Libra may be less risky than your local currency. But for everyone else, its main value is the ability to transfer money, and there are ways to do that without taking on currency risk.)

Israel

In 1948, it had a population of 806,000 people. Seventy-one years later, for the first time, there are more than nine million Israelis. In preparation for Independence Day (May 14), the Central Bureau of Statistics [CBS] published a wealth of data on Israel and its residents. As of today, there are 6,697,000 Jews living in the country, 1,890,000 Arabs — 20.9% of the population of Israel, and 434,000 defined as “others” — 4.8% of the country’s population. Since the creation of the state, Israel has absorbed 3,000,000 immigrants, 43% of whom immigrated after 1990. Of the current Jewish population, 75% are native Israelis. The average Israeli family has 3.11 children. — Bridges For Peace, 5/13/2019

In Jerusalem, there was a small celebration for the historic one year anniversary of the US Embassy opening in Jerusalem. US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman spoke and mentioned Israel’s “secret weapon” — “Israel has one secret weapon that no other country has. Israel is on the side of God and we don’t want to underestimate that.” — Israel Unwired 5/15/2019

Israel is home to three major world religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is not only glad to see Israel’s commitment to freedom of religion, but also the status of the Christian community in the Jewish state. The Israeli approach to that freedom contrasts severely with that of their archenemy, Iran. Just last month, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, was quoted by the State Department website as saying that “in Iran, blasphemy, apostasy from Islam and proselytizing of Muslims are crimes punishable by death.” — Mideast Update, 6/4/2019

A dark shadow hung over the biennial convention of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), which took place in Antwerp Belgium. Rabbis from across Europe, as well as senior Israeli rabbis, discussed the burning issues facing European Jewry. Flanders, the Flemish-speaking region of Belgium, banned kosher slaughter, joining five European countries where slaughter is already banned. Proposals to ban non-medical circumcision are also being examined in several countries, and European Jews beholden to Jewish law (halacha) are feeling increasingly under attack. — Ynet News, 5/20/2019

German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, marked the 70th anniversary of the admittance of Israel to the United Nations [UN] by offering his nation’s ongoing support for the Jewish state and by criticizing the UN for continuing to act in a biased manner against Israel. “Germany stands, also in the UN, shoulder to shoulder with Israel, whose security and right to exist must never be called into question by anyone anywhere,” said Maas in a press release from the Federal Foreign Office. “Nevertheless, Israel is still being denounced, treated in a biased manner and marginalized inappropriately in UN bodies to this day.” — Mideast Update, 5/12/2019

The U.S., Russia and Israel broadly concurred that Iranian forces would leave Syria during a historic trilateral meeting, but no agreement was reached as to how or when that would happen. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with reporters after a Jerusalem trilateral meeting between him and Russian, US and Israeli national security advisors. “It is not a question about a disagreement about the outcome, but a mutual effort to find a way to make it happen,” US representative John Bolton said. Russia struck a much less conciliatory note, supporting Iran and against Israeli and US efforts. “All three of us would like to see a peaceful, stable, and secure Syria,” Netanyahu said. “We also have a common objective to achieve that goal … that no foreign forces that arrived in Syria after 2011 remain in Israeli President Reuven Rivlin Syria.” — Jerusalem Post, 6/25/2019

Subscribe for Notification of Current Release

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,677 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: