News and Views

Religious

There were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003, but by mid-2019 that figure had fallen to well below 150,000; by some estimates the number of Christians there may have fallen as low as 120,000 — a decline of more than 90 percent within a single generation. In Syria, the size of the Christian population has fallen by two-thirds since the country’s civil war began in 2011, when Christians still numbered more than 2 million. The 2019 edition of “Persecuted and Forgotten?”, a biennial study of the persecution of Christians around the world, warns that Christianity is disappearing from towns and cities in the faith’s ancient homeland. Despite the defeat of ISIS, the impact of genocide has led to the hemorrhaging of great numbers of Christians from the region, says the report. — Religious News Service, 10/23/2019

The earliest New Testament manuscripts are notoriously difficult to date, with informed guesses sometimes differing by more than a century. Establishing precise dates of secular documents is often possible because these everyday writings may contain a date or a historical clue. Professor Sabine Huebner, a Swiss scholar, was able to pinpoint the oldest Christian letter in this way. Papyrus Basel 2.43 reveals that it belongs to the famous Heroninus Archive from Theadelphia in the Fayum of Egypt. The events and people mentioned in the letter are known from other, reliably dated documents and position this one to the early 230s — about a half-century prior to any other securely dated evidence. The Christian identity of the author is pinpointed by a distinctly Christian phrase and the way it is abbreviated. — Biblical Arch. Review, Nov./Dec. 2019

Protestant Christian denominations in Illinois’ Cook County together paid off $5.3 million in medical debt for almost 6,000 families of “the poorest of the poor” — many in the city’s South Side neighborhoods. The families were greeted with the news in a Thanksgiving letter — AP, 10/28/2019

Social

Major police departments around the U.S. are arresting fewer people for minor crimes. New statistical studies show years-long deep decline in misdemeanor cases across New York and California and in cities throughout other regions, with arrests of young black men falling dramatically. Some say the falling arrest rates signal a fundamental shift in crime prevention. Some experts say technologies like the internet and mobile phones help to keep social interaction off the streets. The decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has also contributed, they say. — Wall Street Journal, 10/7/2019

A police officer in Milwaukee bought a struggling mother two car seats after he pulled her over for not having proper registration and noticed her children were not in child-safe seats. The woman, who couldn’t afford the seats and was struggling to buy school supplies and winter clothes, was expecting a hefty ticket from Officer Kevin Zimmerman for not having car seats for her two young daughters. Instead, Zimmerman purchased and installed two car seats for the girls. Zimmerman also stopped by the police station to pick up stickers and children’s books for the girls. “I am a dad of three kids and can’t imagine anything happening to them or not being able to have them secured in their car seats,” Zimmerman said. — SunnySkyz, 10/23/2019

Surveillance footage captured the moment Oregon Parkrose High School football coach Keanon Lowe disarmed a student with a shotgun and then embraced him for at least a minute. Police eventually arrive and take Granados-Diaz, who was suffering from a mental health crisis, into custody. “I feel like I was put in that room for a reason. You know, the shooter didn’t — he didn’t know that I was in that room when he opened the door and I think there are things in my life that have prepared me for that very moment,” Lowe said. “I thank God that no one got hurt and I thank God I was in that room.” — ABC News, 10/21/2019

The $2.4 billion-a-year avocado boom, fueled by soaring U.S. consumption, has raised parts of western Mexico out of poverty in just 10 years. But the money has drawn gangs and hyper-violent cartels that have hung bodies from bridges and cowed police forces, and the rising violence is threatening newfound prosperity. — AP, 10/25/2019

Political

The killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does not mean the automatic end of Isis (IS). But the immediate future of IS depends more on local dynamics in Syria than on whether it still has a leader or not. Baghdadi was a powerful tool for IS, especially at a time when the organization was planning to establish a so-called state. Considering that there could not be a caliphate without a caliph, IS put Baghdadi in the public eye to give its supporters around the world an identifiable figurehead. At its peak, IS controlled 88,000 sq. km (34,000 sq. miles) of territory stretching from western Syria to eastern Iraq, imposed its brutal rule on almost eight million people and generated billions of dollars in revenue from oil, extortion and kidnapping. — BBC, 10/28/2019

Unions are making a powerful comeback in the U.S. Americans approve of labor unions by 64%, only two percentage points shy of the highest mark recorded in the past 50 years and 16 points above the low in 2009. — Gallup, 8/28/2019

The EU has agreed to extend Brexit until 31 January 2020, according to a tweet from the European Council president. Donald Tusk said the bloc would allow for a so-called “flextension” — meaning the UK could leave before the deadline if a deal was approved by Parliament. It comes as MPs prepare to vote on proposals by Boris Johnson for an early general election on 12 December. The draft text of an agreement for the 27 EU ambassadors included a commitment that the Withdrawal Agreement on the UK’s exit from the EU cannot be renegotiated in the future. — BBC, 10/29/2019

In Iraq, demonstrators are being shot dead in the streets. In Lebanon, protesters have paralyzed the country and seem set to bring down the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Egyptian security forces crushed attempts to protest against the police state of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The demonstrations started in Lebanon on 17 October after the government tried to introduce taxes on tobacco, petrol and WhatsApp calls. The new taxes were canceled quickly but it was too late. A rough approximation is that 60% of the region’s population is under the age of 30. Iraq ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to a number of indices of worldwide corruption. Lebanon is slightly better, but not by much. — BBC, 10/29/2019

Financial

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently testified before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee regarding, among other things, the Business Roundtable’s recent change in its statement of the purpose of corporations. The statement “moves away from shareholder primacy” as a guiding principle and outlines in its place a “modern standard for corporate responsibility” that makes a commitment to all stakeholders. In questioning, Commissioner Pierce confirmed the SEC view that the focus should remain on maximizing shareholder value and that the claims of other stakeholders were ancillary to that main purpose. — IR Update, 9/30/2019

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced charges against Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company Mylan N.V. for accounting and disclosure failures relating to a Department of Justice (DOJ) probe into whether Mylan overcharged Medicaid by hundreds of millions of dollars for EpiPen, its largest revenue and profit-generating product. Mylan agreed to pay $30 million to settle the SEC’s charges. — SEC Press Release, 9/27/2019

Israel

The commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said that destroying Israel was now an “achievable goal.” The remarks were made at a meeting in Tehran of the commanders of the IRGC. Iran regularly threatens Israel, but news reports suggest Iran is growing stronger and has gained far-reaching nuclear capabilities. Some, however, call the remarks “meaningless” and part of a continuing desire to threaten Israel with annihilation. Israel has recently been preparing for a war against Hezbollah, which has an arsenal of rockets and missiles larger than that of most countries, it says. — AFP, 9/30/2019

Archaeological discoveries of the past two years may include Naboth’s vineyard mentioned in 1 Kings 21. According to 1 Kings 21:1-2, Naboth’s vineyard was located next to King Ahab’s heykal, a Hebrew word translated only here as “palace.” But the word heykal is related to the Akkadian ekallu, a military compound. There is now evidence that many Assyrian cities contained an ekallu. Since Jezreel was the mustering place for the Israelite army, there probably would have been a large military structure here. Archaeologists discovered bedrock in the Jezreel area which suggested an early winery installation. Although not conclusive, based on comparisons with nearby wineries and the absence of evidence for a screw press (which were later innovations), it most likely dates to the same period. Even if not Naboth the Jezreelite’s vineyard mentioned in 1 Kings 21, the excavated Jezreel winery reflects the reality on the ground as described so vividly in 2 Kings. — Bible History Daily, 11/1/ 2019

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and five other Gulf nations joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions on a financing network controlled by Iran’s military and several men linked to the Tehran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah. Top U.S. Treasury Department officials said the action is the largest ever by the Riyadh-based Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, whose membership also includes the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. The action is viewed by U.S. officials as a strategically important regional collaboration as well as a milestone in regional governments cracking down on local terror networks. The move is likely to also reassure Israel after President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria rattled the close U.S. ally over concerns that the pullback was a gain for Iran. — Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2019

Regional council heads have urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that any unity government must include a commitment to annex the Jordan Valley to Israel. As political pundits focus on the impossibility of such a government and bemoan a scenario in which Israel heads to a third election, council members told Netanyahu he had sparked a new Zionist fervor that strengthened the spirit of return to the basic value of strengthening the Jewish hold on the Land of Israel. Placing the Jordan Valley, which includes Judea and Samaria, within sovereign Israel would provide an opportunity for a “joint and significant” historic step, “even if it is only the beginning of the sovereignty path.” — Jerusalem Post, 10/30/2019

Israel is currently dealing with multiple arenas and enemies at the same time, with the northern front the most fragile and at risk of deteriorating into war, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi said. Tensions with the Hamas-run Gaza Strip continue to pose a threat to Israel. Close to 2,000 rockets were fired from the blockaded coastal enclave towards Israel by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the last year alone, killing five Israeli civilians, the highest number of civilian casualties since 2014. Ongoing violence in the West Bank by Palestinians has also killed several civilians and IDF soldiers. But, according to Israel’s top military officer, the “central strategic challenge of the State of Israel lies in the northern arena,” where Iran continues to consolidate its forces in Syria and work with Hezbollah on its precision missile project. — Jerusalem Post, 10/25/2019

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