News and Views

Religious

The Guardian Angels private crime prevention group have begun patrolling Brooklyn’s Jewish neighborhoods to provide “visual deterrence” following an ongoing rise in the number of anti-Semitic attacks against the city’s Jews. Curtis Sliwa, who founded the unarmed group in 1979 promised in an interview with NBC News on Saturday evening their patrols would begin in the Crown Heights neighborhood. As promised, the patrols did indeed begin right on schedule. Sliwa said the patrols
would expand to the Williamsburg and Borough Park sections later in the day. — Jewishpress.com, 12/29/2019

Major news outlets are reporting that a secretive court in China has sentenced detained Christian pastor Wang Yi to 9 years in prison for inciting subversion of the government. Yi is one of the country’s most famous Christian leaders who founded and
leads a large, well-known house church in the country. In response, religious persecution watchdog Open Doors USA is condemning China’s actions and sounding the alarm about a dangerous escalation in anti-Christian discrimination and violence in the region. — Religious News Service, 12/31/2019

FBI hate crime statistics show that incidents in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques increased by 34.8% between 2014 and 2018, the last year for which FBI data is available. Three of the deadliest attacks on congregation members have occurred since June 2015, when a gunman killed nine people
at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in
Charleston, South Carolina, the stabbing of an Orthodox Jewish man as he approached the driveway of his synagogue, a Las Vegas incident where a suspect torched a Buddhist temple, and the killing of more than two dozen people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The most recent attack was in
White Settlement, Texas, in which the gunman was shot dead by a highly trained leader of the church’s security team. — AP, 1/1/2020

Factions in the United Methodist Church (UMC) have reached an initial settlement around its intractable division over LGBT marriage and ordination — offering $25 million to a group of conservative congregations who want to break away and form a new denomination. — Christianity Today, 1/3/2020

Responding to a rash of violent attacks on Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey, several Jewish organizations will lead a march in New York City and the American Jewish Committee will kick off a new campaign urging Jews around the world to wear clothes or jewelry that identifies them as Jewish. “The premise is, ‘Let’s stand up
and identify ourselves very publicly as Jews,’” said
David Harris, CEO of the AJC. “Whether we’re Orthodox or not, let’s all stand up and say, ‘We’re one people with a common destiny.’” The purpose of the campaign is to show solidarity with Orthodox Jews who have been subject to street violence and acts of terror over the past few months. Attacks on
Orthodox Jews have been growing more frequent this year, climaxing in the stabbings of five Jews who had gathered for a Hanukkah celebration in the home of an Orthodox rabbi in Monsey, New York, about 30 miles northwest of New York City, last week. That followed a mass shooting Dec. 10 at a kosher deli in Jersey City, New Jersey, that killed two Hasidic Jews. — Religious News Service, 1/3/2020

Social

Australia deployed military ships and aircraft to help communities ravaged by wildfires that have left at least 17 people dead nationwide and sent thousands of residents and holidaymakers fleeing to the shoreline. Navy ships and military aircraft were bringing water, food and fuel to towns where
supplies were depleted and roads were cut off by the
fires. — AP, 1/1/2020

San Diego’s city council installed 14,000 LED streetlights in 2016, touted as a major step toward reducing the city’s carbon footprint and transforming the city into a hub for innovation. Since the installation of the first 4,700 lights, local civil rights
activists and minority community leaders have raised questions about the potential for the smart streetlights — which are equipped with cameras, mics and sensors — to be used to create data profiles on populations where the lights are installed, including many gatherings at the area’s mosques.
— RNS, 9/20/2019

Beijing is amassing a colossal amount of individual and company data as part of its ambitious plans to build a national Social Credit System pegged to be fully operational by 2020. The vastness of China means it could take years for the system to be fully implemented. The data-driven system is designed to
monitor and engineer better individual and business
behavior by awarding the trustworthy and punishing the disobedient. Since the SCS blueprint was released in 2014, millions of discredited individuals have been banned from luxury spending including air travel and boarding fast trains. — ABC (au) News, 1/1/2020

Pentagon leadership has urged military personnel not to take mail-in DNA tests, warning that they create security risks, and could negatively affect service members’ careers. Over the past decade, millions of Americans have purchased DNA tests
through various companies. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits discrimination by health insurers and employers based on genetic information but the Act does not apply to members of the military, however. If a DNA test shows that someone has carrier status for sickle cell trait, for example, it could limit advancement in some aviation specialties. — New York Times, 12/24/2019

Healing Hands of Nebraska is a surgery center in Norfolk led by physician Dr. Demetrio Aguila. He recently launched a new program named M25, which allows patients who cannot afford surgery or any other healthcare procedure to pay by donating
their time to community service. For example, a patient needs surgery on their left ulnar nerve. The insurance fee is $5,000. A patient would need to donate 250 hours of community service to pay for their surgery. The spiritual inspiration for the M25 Program comes from Matthew 25:40. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” — SunnySkyz.com, 12/24/2019

The Council on Foreign Relations reported that murders in Mexico are soaring, driven by a surge in drug cartel activity. Homicides reached a new high of 36,000 in 2018 and in 2019 averaged 90 a day. The report also reported that Americans spent almost $150 billion in 2016 on cocaine, heroin, meth
and marijuana, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Most of these drugs come across the Mexican border, with bribery to law enforcement in both countries a major factor. — Dow Jones, 10/22/2019

Political

Countries including China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United States are already developing and deploying precursors to fully autonomous weapons, such as armed drones that are piloted remotely. These countries are investing heavily in
military applications of artificial intelligence with the goal of gaining a technological advantage in next-generation preparedness for the battlefield. These “killer robots” once activated would select and engage targets without further human intervention. — Arizona Republic, 12/29/2019

The federal government is now taking a path toward consistent $1 trillion budget deficits. Annual Social Security and Medicare shortfalls will rise from $440 billion to $1,656 billion over the next decade, pushing annual budget deficits above $2 trillion under current policies. These shortfalls are the result of 74 million retiring baby boomers, which will produce benefits that far exceed the payroll taxes collected from younger workers and Medicare premiums from seniors flowing into the two systems each year. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts $15.5 trillion in total budget deficits over the next decade under current policies. — Manhattan Institute, 10/17/2019

An image posted in Australia appeared to be a Chinese naval warship carrying an electromagnetic railgun. The gun is capable of firing one shot at 2.5 kilometers per second. This gun, oft-touted as a super-weapon, does away with the use of conventional explosives to fire a projectile, instead using
an incredibly powerful electric circuit to launch a projectile. The technology forms part of a suite of “next-generation” weapons that global powers have touted over recent years, such as Russia’s hypersonic glide missiles announced in December 2019. — ABC (au), 1/4/2020

An attempt by supporters of Iran-backed militias to storm the U.S. Embassy there ended after their leadership ordered the suspension of a violent challenge to American troop presence in Iraq. The assault on the embassy led to no deaths. Subsequently, U.S. President Trump’s decision to order an airstrike that killed a powerful Iranian military leader on Iraqi soil reverberated through the Middle East, with Tehran
vowing to avenge the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and its allies in Iraq pressing to expel U.S. troops from that country. The President ordered some 3,500 additional troops to the region to boost security, and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq urged
all American citizens to leave the country immediately. — Wall Street Journal, 1/1/2020, 1/3/2020

Russia has increased its campaign to prevent Russians arrested for criminal hacking charges from being extradited to the U.S. In some cases, prisoner exchanges are offered. The country is also trying to alter the 2001 Budapest Convention agreement
which included provisions supporting international cooperation related to cybercrime. U.S. officials said many Russian hackers have ties either to the Kremlin or to Russian oligarchs and are being forced into working for an intelligence service if they are brought home to Russia. — Wall Street
Journal, 11/5/2019

Financial

The African Development Bank has decided not to fund a coal-fired power plant project in Kenya and has no plans to finance new coal plants in the future. The project was backed by a group of investors from Kenya and China, and construction had been postponed from a start in 2015. Dozens of top banks, insurers and development finance institutions are restricting coal investments due to climate activists’ concerns about the impact of burning fossil fuels. — Reuters, 11/13/2019

Only about half of U.S. federal taxpayers surveyed realize that refunds are money already paid to Uncle Sam, according to financial services firm Credit Karma. Almost all of the remaining respondents believe refunds are payments from the government rather than reimbursements for overpayment. —
USA Today, 12/31/2019

Emerging out of the ashes of the financial crisis, Bitcoin was created as a bypass to the banks and government agencies mired in Wall Street’s greatest calamity in decades. At first, it was slow to break through, muddied by a slew of scandals:
fraud, thefts and scams that turned away many and brought closer regulatory scrutiny. But once it burst into the mainstream, it proved to be the decade’s best-performing asset. The largest digital token, trading around $7,200, has posted gains of more than 9,000,000% since July 2010. — Bloomberg,
1/1/2020

The steady decline of Italy’s South, one of Europe’s poorest regions, is emerging as a critical issue for the country’s fragile governing coalition, as banking and industrial troubles there provide a possible opening for a hard-right party seeking to return to power. The Italian government has said it will take
over an important southern bank to save it from collapse, and it is fighting to keep alive Europe’s biggest steel plant and a large factory in Naples. The struggling economy of Italy’s South has defied government efforts since the unification of the country in the 19th century. While the North industrialized, helped by its proximity to the rest of Europe, the South long remained agrarian and underdeveloped. Immigration to the North, or to foreign countries including the U.S., was a way out of poverty for many but further weighed on the region. — Wall Street Journal, 1/4/2020

Hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets to show support for what has become the longest transport strike in French history, testing President Emmanuel Macron’s resolve to forge ahead with his pension overhaul. Union workers, who make up about 11% of all workers, fear that Mr.
Macron ultimately aims to end their decades-long influence on the French economy. Macron wants to consolidate France’s 42 pension plans into one universal system, and therefore eliminate so-called “special regimes” that allow some workers to retire before 62 years old, the legal age of retirement in
France. France’s pension deficit will reach €8 billion ($8.9 billion) to €17 billion by 2025, according to a recent report by the government’s pensions advisory council, and the country spends about 14% of its economic output on pensions. — Wall Street Journal, 1/9/2020

Israel

The ultra-Orthodox share of the population is expected to reach one-third by 2065, but labor force participation rates trail far behind the Israeli and developed world average. According to figures published in August 2019 by the Labor Ministry,
only 50.2% of ultra-Orthodox men are currently employed. Employment among ultra-Orthodox women has increased significantly in recent years, with approximately 76% now employed, just below the high national average of 78.3%. — Jerusalem Post, 1/1/2020

Israel targeted the conversion of 10% of the country’s electricity supply to renewable energies by 2020, and is aiming for a cumulative reduction of 17% by 2030. In November, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz vowed that Israel will move into a coal-free era of power production by the end of 2025, five years earlier than originally targeted. Electricity production from coal has been halved since 2015, according to the Energy Ministry, as Israel increasingly relies on its domestic supply of natural gas. — Jerusalem Post, 1/1/2020

A 2018 FRA (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) survey found that 65% of French citizens and 43% of Germans consider anti-Semitic incidents a “very serious problem.” In Italy, however, only 21% shared the view, while merely 14% of
Danes said they thought this was problematic. Most cases of anti-Semitic harassment were registered in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, according to the FRA. — DW.com, 10/14/2019

A groundbreaking clinical approach has been developed combining new diagnostic techniques to detect a leaking blood-brain barrier (BBB) with a new anti-inflammatory drug that for the first time slows or reverses age-related cognitive decline. In
two related studies published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers from Ben Gurion University of the Negev and the University of California, Berkeley, report that when given the new drug to reduce inflammation, senile mice had fewer signs of dysfunctional brain electrical activity and were better able to learn new tasks, becoming almost cognitively adept as mice half their age.
— JNS, 12/4/2019

Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee green-lighted construction of a desalination plant in the Western Galilee — Israel’s sixth. The new plant will be erected in two stages on agricultural land near Kibbutz Shavei Zion. Each stage will
provide 100 million cubic meters of water annually. The Western Galilee has suffered from years of low rainfall and is unable to receive desalinated water from plants further south because of the difficulties and cost of infrastructure to move the water over the Carmel Ridge. Israel has built five desalination plants — in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Palmachim, Sorek, and Hadera. These supply around 80 percent of the country’s drinking water. Mekorot, the national water company, receives
water from the plants and channels it into the national water carrier. — Times of Israel, 12/17/2019

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