News and Views

News and Views


After 36 years of lobbying by Iraq, the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon was designated in July a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO warned that the site is in an “extremely vulnerable condition” and in need of urgent conservation. “The property suffers from a variety of threats including illegal constructions, trash dumping and burning, small-scale industrial pollution, urban encroachments and other environmental factors. At the time of inscription, and despite conservation efforts undertaken since 2008 with international collaboration, the general physical fabric of the site is in a critical condition and lacks a well-defined and programmed approach towards conservation,” it continued. — Al Monitor, 8/29/2019. (Editor’s note: Jeremiah 51:37, NKJ, prophesies: “Babylon shall become a heap, a dwelling place for jackals, an astonishment and a hissing, without an inhabitant.”)

Reports from the Vatican indicate its deficit doubled in 2018 to $76.7 million on a budget of $331,378,500. In a letter to the head of the Vatican’s financial oversight council, Pope Francis expressed the gravity of the situation in May, but the letter has not been made public. A September meeting of Vatican department chiefs will address the issue. “I ask you to study all measures deemed necessary to safeguard the economic future of the Holy See and to ensure that they are put into effect as soon as possible,” Pope Francis wrote. Redundant jobs, wasteful procurement and a costly car fleet push up costs, while real estate holdings around Rome are sometimes not maintained and rents not collected. The Vatican also took a heavy loss last year on a loan to a Catholic hospital. — Wall Street Journal, 9/3/2019

Nearly four in 10 young adults ages 18 to 29 are religiously unaffiliated and are four times more likely as young adults a generation ago to identify this way, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute. Among college students surveyed by Trinity College, 32% identified their worldview as religious; 32% as spiritual; and 28% as secular. “The younger population is becoming more nonreligious,” said Kevin Bolling, executive director of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a newly formed organization with 10 chapters for secular students at religiously affiliated schools. “That’s a trend happening in our larger society, so religious campuses are going to be seeing that as well.” — Religious News Service (RNS) 9/6/2019

A federal watch list of more than 1 million people identified as “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of those placed on it, a federal judge ruled in September. The FBI watch list, called the Terrorist Screening Database, was established in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Before then, the government had a list of just 16 people prohibited from boarding flights due to suspected terrorism links. By 2017, the list had swollen to include about 1.2 million people, including about 4,600 U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Most on the list are Muslim. In most cases, the government is not required to notify people of their placement on a watch list or why they have been included in the database. It is used by 18,000 federal, tribal, state, local, county, city and university and college law enforcement agencies. It is also shared with 533 private entities the government has deemed “law enforcement adjacent” — which the government acknowledged in February, after years of denial — including a megachurch, private investigators, animal shelters and hospitals. — RNS, 9/5/2019


A potentially habitable “super-Earth” has been discovered 31 light-years from our solar system. The Vatican planet is about six times larger than Earth and orbits its sun every 55.7 days. Whether or not it has an atmosphere for “Earth-like conditions” is unknown. — Astronomy and Physics, August 2019. (Editor’s note: 31 light years is about 300 trillion kilometers or 17 trillion miles.)

According to a 2018 report by NITI Aayog, a government policy think tank, India’s potable water supply is shrinking dramatically. The Ladakh region of northern India is one of the world’s highest, driest inhabited places. A tourism boom has sent the summer population soaring, and impeded the region’s traditional system of conserving water. Meltwater from winter snows in the Himalayan Mountains is no longer adequate to sustain the tiny villages. Nearly all of India’s biggest cities, including New Delhi, are rapidly depleting their groundwater reserves. Inhabitants of Chennai are already confronting a shortage of drinking water. — Wall Street Journal, 8/19/2019

Superlative in several ways, the largest lake in the U.S. boasts a whopping 9,799,680,000 acre-feet of freshwater. This astounding number represents 400,000 gallons of water for every woman, man, and child on the planet explains Lakelubbers. Not only is Lake Superior the biggest lake in the U.S., but it’s also the cleanest, coldest, and deepest of the five Great Lakes. When measured by surface area, Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the entire world. — Travel Trivia, 8/26/2019

The collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on 9/11/2001 produced thick dust clouds, and fires burned for months in the rubble. Many rescue and recovery workers later developed respiratory and digestive system ailments potentially linked to inhaled and swallowed dust. Some were diagnosed with other illnesses, including cancer. Research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins. A 2018 study did not find higher-thannormal death rates overall among people exposed to the dust and smoke, but researchers have noted more deaths than expected from brain cancer, nonHodgkin’s lymphoma and certain other diseases; an unusual number of suicides among rescue and recovery workers. Over 51,000 people have applied to a victims compensation fund that makes payments to people with illnesses potentially related to 9/11; it has awarded over $5.5 billion so far. — AP, 9/9/2019

A new study involving more than 1,000 people across 17 countries spanning every continent but Antarctica concludes that, on average, people pay more attention to negative news than to positive news. The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hint that this human bias toward negative news might be a large part of what drives negative news coverage. But the results also revealed that this negative bias was not shared by everyone, and some even had a positive bias. — LA Times, 9/5/2019


As it stands, Britain is set to crash out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a divorce deal to cushion the economic shock. Most economists say a no-deal Brexit will disrupt trade between Britain and the bloc and plunge the U.K. into recession. The pound, which has lost more than 15% of its value since the 2016 referendum, is likely to fall further. Food prices are set to rise and medicines could run short. Many Brexit supporters believe the long term benefits of an independent trade policy will outweigh any short term pain. And some simply don’t care about the economic cost. — AP, 9/8/2019

The Turkish defense minister says Russia will resume the delivery of its S-400 missile defense system to Turkey. Turkey took delivery of the first part of the Russian system last month despite strong objections from the United States, which had been pressing Turkey to cancel the deal with Russia and has threatened sanctions against Turkey. Washington says the Russian system is incompatible with NATO and poses a threat to the US-led F-35 fighter jet program. It has suspended Turkey’s participation in that program. — AP, 8/26/2019. (Editor’s note: Compare the description of Gog’s future attack on Israel from Ezekiel 38:6 NAS, “Gomer with all her troops; Beth-togarmah from the remote parts of the north with all its troops — many people with you.”)

The U.S. government will allow oil and gas companies to make lease bids on lands considered archaeologically sensitive near a national monument stretching across the Utah-Colorado border that houses sacred tribal sites. The parcel is part of a broader area and is located from 5-20 miles north of Hovenweep National Monument, a group of prehistoric villages overlooking a canyon with connections to several indigenous tribes throughout the U.S. Southwest. The sale comes amid an ongoing debate over drilling in states like Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, where a coalition of tribes are calling for a halt on energy development near land that Native Americans consider sacred. — AP, 9/9/2019

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most visited cities, but the disruption from riots over Chinese repatriation is hurting its hospitality sector. The tourism industry is one of the major pillars of Hong Kong’s economy, contributing around 5% of the city’s GDP. A large majority of Hong Kong’s visitors come from mainland China. From January to June 2019 alone, mainlanders made 27 million visits to the territory. Tourism in the latest month has fallen 40% from a year ago, according to city officials, the worst decline since May 2003 when the city was grappling with the SARS virus that killed hundreds of people. — BBC, 8/12/2019


U.S. consumer debt, not counting mortgages, reached $4 trillion in July — higher than it has ever been even after adjusting for inflation. Student debt totaled $1.5 trillion, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages. — Wall Street Journal, 8/2/2019

In past times, when a country’s currency lost value relative to trading partners’ money, the country would cut prices on exports to increase market share. While it may be true today for some economies, others find the opposite happens just as often. With some 80% of global trade finance conducted in dollars, devaluation can create problems in a country’s supply chain. With many borrowing money outside of their home country, a depreciation of the national currency can strain debtors by forcing them to pay more of their local money to service foreign-denominated debts. —Wall Street Journal, 8/2/2019

Volkswagen is rolling out what it bills as the breakthrough electric car for the masses, the leading edge of a wave of new battery powered vehicles about to hit the European auto market. The cars are the result of massive investments in battery technology and new factories. But it’s not at all clear whether consumers are ready to buy them. Electric cars remain a niche product with less than 2% of the market due to higher prices and worries about a lack of places to charge. — AP, 9/9/2019

The U.S. has filed criminal charges against a Chinese professor in Texas who had earlier been accused in a civil suit of stealing a U.S. startup’s technology for China’s Huawei Technologies Co., marking an escalation of the Justice Department investigations into issues related to the telecom giant. The case closely parallels a civil suit filed by Silicon Valley’s CNEX Labs Inc. against Huawei. A Texas jury in June found Huawei had stolen CNEX’s solid-state drive computer technology but declined to award damages. For more than a decade, Huawei has faced a number of allegations in civil suits about intellectual property theft, including criminal cases accusing the company of stealing from T-Mobile US Inc., and violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. — Wall Street Journal, 9/9/2019

In 2017, some 5.3% of adults in metro areas of between 500,000 and three million people worked from home, a rough proxy for remote workers. That was up from 3.7% a decade earlier, according to an analysis of the latest Census Bureau data. One analysis according to data scientists at LinkedIn, the workplace networking website, found workers are moving from New York City to Charlotte, NC, and Orlando, FL, and from Chicago to Nashville, TN, and Indianapolis. They are also leaving Los Angeles for Las Vegas, San Francisco for Reno, NV, and Seattle for Eugene, OR. — Wall Street Journal, 9/7/2019


On August 11, the Mount Zion archaeological project announced in a press release that archaeologists have discovered evidence of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem from 587/586 BCE. They found a deposit with Scythian type arrowheads of bronze and iron, layers of ash and burnt wood, Iron Age potsherds and lamps, and a gold and silver tassel or earring, bell shaped at the top in gold, with a silver cluster of grapes beneath. — Bible History Daily, 8/21/2019

The city of Jerusalem will see the rise of 40,000 more apartments in the next ten years, according to Mayor Moshe Lion. The mayor made the announcement at an inauguration for the Aura Institute for Law, Social Entrepreneurship and Urban Renewal at the Interdisciplinary College (IDC) of Herzliya. Lion cited an increase in urban renewal plans and high land values as important signs of healthy growth in the capital, despite the current housing shortage and the problem of young people who seem to be leaving. The mayor also said master plans are being pushed in the eastern sector of the city to implement urban renewal and more efficient exploitation of the land, Globes reported. Israel estimates total population in the capital will reach 1.4 million by 2040. —, 9/8/2019

More than 2,000 children and teens from 37 countries who made Aliyah (immigration to Israel) in 2019 entered the Israeli school system for the first time on September 1. Among them are 31 Jewish children who made their way to Israel with their families in complete secrecy, in covert Jewish Agency operations, from countries with hostile re lations with Israel. According to the Jewish Agency, around 1,450 of the young new immigrants who will start their first school year in Israel are children and teens aged 6 to 17. More than 550 are children aged 3 and over. The countries with the greatest number of new immigrant children are Russia (around 880), the United States (around 400), France (around 270) and Ukraine (around 150). The new pupils also come from less common countries such as Armenia, China, Thailand, Cyprus, India and Panama — as well as the countries that must remain confidential. — Ynet News, 8/28/2019

Researchers led by Dr. Lior Carmi from the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel have found that focusing powerful non-invasive magnet stimulation on specific areas of the brain can improve the symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — and it could soon help treat the large minority of sufferers who do not respond to conventional treatment. Around 2.3% of adults will suffer OCD at some point in their life. It is generally treated through exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and medication. Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (dTMS) is a type of brain stimulation technique where pulsed magnetic fields are generated by a coil placed on the scalp, activating neuronal circuits at the target brain area. It is clinically used for treatment of some difficult cases of depression. — Good News Network, 9/9/2019

The tiny Pacific island of Nauru has become the latest country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, following in the footsteps of a number of countries, with the US at their head. The declaration came after diplomatic negotiations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz and the Nauruan embassy in Israel, with the help of the honorary consul of Nauru in Israel, David Ben Basat. The government is soon to approve plans to help relocate several embassies and foreign government agencies to Jerusalem, Nauru’s mission included. — Ynet News, 9/2/2019

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