News and Views

Religious

Religious riots between Hindus and Muslims in New Delhi, India have left about 38 people dead, and 200 injured. The protests were centered around
a new law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed in December 2019 by the Parliament of India. The CAA grants an easier path to citizenship for Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis, who are illegally in the country. Muslims were specifically excluded from the CAA causing hundreds of Indian Muslims to protest in the streets. — Christian Headlines, 2/27/2020

A proposed California law would allow a person to have their remains turned into soil. Known as “human composting,” the procedure is seen as a more sustainable alternative to cremation, which requires fossil fuels and releases carbon dioxide. The process for composting a body was first introduced by the Seattle-based company Recompose, which involves a reusable container and a process that transforms the body into soil over a span of 30 days. The Catholic Church, however, has denounced it as an undignified way to treat the body. And to others, it still seems like an outlandish way to dispose of human remains. — Religious News Service

Bemoaning divisions within the “body of Christ,” Baptist pastor John MacArthur told a conference of churches that Christianity has been harmed by “identity” groups that have led to anger and discord — and a loss of joy. Preaching from Philippians 1, MacArthur read from verse 27, where the Apostle Paul wrote: “[L]et your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” MacArthur commented, “Do I need to say the churches are marked by anger, disappointment, discord, resentment? Do we need to say that evangelical Christianity is fractured into all kinds of identity groups that are all demanding their moment in the sun?”
Christian Headlines, 3/10/2020

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo filed for bankruptcy protection, taking another major step in its effort to recover from a clergy misconduct scandal that resulted in hundreds of lawsuits, Vatican intervention and the resignation of its bishop. The diocese is one of more than 20 dioceses to seek bankruptcy protection nationwide. It already has paid out about $18 million — including $1.5 million from the sale of the bishop’s mansion — to
more than 100 victims under an independent compensation program established in 2018 and faces more than 240 new lawsuits filed since August. — AP, 2/28/2020

For the past 25 years, the number of Americans claiming no religion has steadily ballooned as more and more people openly acknowledged a lack of
religious affiliation. Forty percent (40%) of millennials (born 1981-1996) say they have no religion, according to Pew Research.. — Religious News
Service, 3/9/2020

Most Amish households aren’t headed by farmers anymore. And their relationship to the earth depends heavily on the assumption that God gave it to human beings to use, not to preserve. Those who do farm most often use pesticides and other chemicals, and if they pursue organic farming, it’s often an economic choice, not a faith-based one. The Amish practice and approach to conservation and stewardship of the land they inhabit is guided in large part by local traditions and guidance of church area leaders rather than an overarching theological framework. Only about 10% of those belonging to the larger Amish communities still farm, said cultural anthropologist David McConnell, a professor at The College of Wooster and co-author, with Marilyn Loveless, of “Nature and the Environment
in Amish Life.” — RNS, 2/26/2020

Social

Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s. They get their name from their crown-like shape. Sometimes, but not often, a coronavirus can infect both animals and humans. Most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through infected people coughing and sneezing or
touching an infected source. Almost everyone gets a coronavirus infection at least once in their life, and they are more common in the fall and winter. Severe coronavirus outbreaks include COVID-19: In early 2020, after a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a new type, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which can be fatal. The organization named the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and named the disease it causes COVID-19. The outbreak quickly moved from China around the world. — WebMD, 3/9/2020

The worst plague of locusts in generations across Africa has destroyed up to 40% of the harvest. Across Somalia, a swarm the size of Manhattan destroyed a swath of land the size of Oklahoma. In Kenya, billions of the insects have eaten through 800 square miles of crops and survived a weeklong spraying program. The billions of insects have swept across 10 nations on two continents, eating some 1.8 million metric tons of vegetation every day. — Wall Street Journal, 2/28/2020

Astronomers have found the biggest explosion seen in the universe, originating from a super massive black hole. The explosion carved out a crater in the hot gas that could hold 15 Milky Ways, according to the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. — AP, 2/28/2020

Research shows that text messages have an open rate as high as 98%, making it a prime method of choice to reach voters and consumers. By comparison, email has an open rate of just 20%. — USA Today, 3/9/2020

America is a country of immigrants. But that makes it relatively rare in the world. The reality is that more than 90% of people in the world live where
they were born. — Bloomberg, 7/23/2019

San Francisco and six other cities have passed laws to block government use of facial recognition. Other states are considering it as well. The number of companies and groups registered to lobby Congress on facial recognition soared in 2019. Concert promoters Live Nation Entertainment Inc. and AEG Presents say they don’t have plans to use facial recognition at their events. More than 60 college campuses have also disavowed the technology. Supporters see facial recognition as a means to keep intruders out of buildings, speed up entry lines at stadiums and airline gates, identify criminal suspects and locate missing children. Opponents fear it will usher in a surveillance state. — Wall Street Journal, 3/9/2020

Red pandas, the bushy-tailed and russet-furred bamboo munchers that dwell in Asian high forests, are not a single species but rather two distinct ones, according to the most comprehensive genetic study to date on these endangered mammals. Scientists found substantial divergences between the two species — Chinese red pandas and Himalayan red pandas — in three genetic markers in an analysis of DNA from 65 of the animals. International experts have estimated a total population of roughly 10,000
red pandas in the wild. — Reuters, 2/26/2020

Political

From autocratic Iran to democratic India, governments are cutting people off from the global web with growing frequency and little scrutiny. Parts or
all of the internet were shut down at least 213 times in 33 countries in 2019, the most ever recorded, according to Access Now, a nonprofit that has monitored the practice for a decade. Human rights advocates claimed the shutdowns were used to stop protests, censor speeches, control elections and silence people. — Wall Street Journal, 2/25/2020

In Philadelphia, an algorithm created by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania is being used to predict how likely probationers were to commit another crime by comparing information about them to statistics describing known offenders. Nearly every state in America has turned to this new sort of governance algorithm, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit dedicated to digital rights. If someone was arrested and charged with a new crime while on probation — and had
been deemed “high risk” by the algorithm — the probation office automatically instructed the jail not to release the person. — New York Times, 2/6/2020

Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Thousands flee the country every day, mostly on foot. Recent elections in Venezuela have been beset by allegations of fraud. There were also allegations of vote-rigging in the 2018 presidential election in which incumbent President Nicolás Maduro won another six years in power. At least half a dozen Venezuelan banks have begun using vaults to store millions of dollars and euros accumulated in cash by businesses during an unexpected economic liberalization according to Reuters News Agency. Some $1.8 billion worth of foreign currency entered Venezuela in the last year, according to three senior banking sources, as the country attempts to salvage the economy in the face of an annual inflation rate over 39,000%, according to the Central Bank. — Global Conflict and Yahoo News, 3/9/2020

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and his main political rival held dual inaugurations as they both sought to claim rights to lead the nation, despite intense U.S. intervention aimed at averting the rift. In February, Afghanistan’s election commission declared Mr. Ghani the winner of last September’s contested presidential election, which was marred by irregularities. His rival, unity government partner Mr. Abdullah, immediately said he would form a parallel government, alleging fraud in the process. — Wall Street Journal, 3/9/2020

Russia’s parliament gave its final seal of approval to constitutional changes potentially allowing President Vladimir Putin to stay in power for years to
come. The amendments would allow Putin to serve two additional six-year terms until 2036. — Wall Street Journal, 3/11/2020

Financial

Oil crashed more than 30% after the breakup of the OPEC alliance triggered an all-out price war, with both Russia and Saudi Arabia poised to flood the
market with cheap oil. The former allies pledged swift retribution for the collapse of the cartel’s meeting, with the Gulf kingdom slashing its official crude prices and threatening record production, while Russia’s largest producer said it will ramp up output. They risk swamping the market just as the coronavirus caused the first contraction in oil demand since 2009, according to the International Energy Agency. — Bloomberg, 3/9/2020

Whether one looks at the percentage of income going to the highest earners (the top ten percent earn 47 percent of national income now, versus 34 percent in 1980), differences in income across educational groups (the premium that college-educated workers earn over high-school-educated workers nearly doubled over the same period), or stagnating real wage performance for many workers (the median real weekly wages for men working full time have not grown at all since 1980), the United States has
become markedly more unequal over the past four decades. That period was also characterized by rapid globalization and technological change, which, as a large body of research demonstrates, helped increase inequality. — Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020

Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the U.S. has the most progressive income tax system in the world,
with the top 10% of earners paying 45% of all income taxes, including Social Security and Medicare taxes, compared with only 28% in France and 27%
in Sweden. — Wall Street Journal, 2/25/2020

Two years after Tesla Inc. installed it, the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery is helping to avert blackouts and lower costs as Australian grids struggle to
handle surging renewable power generation. The battery started in 2017 after Elon Musk famously won a bet that he could get a 100-megawatt system up and running in 100 days to help solve a power crisis in South Australia, where half its power came from renewable sources last year. The battery’s introduction also slashed the cost to regulate South Australia’s grid by 91%, bringing it in line with other regions in the nation, according to Aurecon. — Bloomberg, 2/28/2020

Israel

Jewish Federations of North American CEO Eric Fingerhut said that the love of Israel by North American Jews “is deep and real,” Fingerhut said.
He explained that even though there are “lots of disagreements,” they should not be mistaken for what the “majority of American Jews believe, certainly not with regards to Israel.” “The communities have supported and loved Israel all these years, and most importantly they are connected not because of a particular government, whether they agree or disagree with a government, they’re connected because of the people.” — Arutz Sheva, 2/28/2020

In Europe throughout the Middle Ages and afterward, laws barred Jewish citizens from owning land or farming commercially. They sought less regulated professions in order to survive. The diamond trade provided the flexibility to adjust working practices to the observance of Jewish religious
customs without engendering further persecution. Today, the diamond industry remains an integral part of the Israeli economy, with exports in polished diamonds totaling approximately US $5 billion annually. What began as one of the few professions that Jewish people could practice has blossomed into an industry of the highest professional expertise and craftsmanship, making Israel a global leader in the diamond industry. — Dispatch from Jerusalem, February 2020

Researchers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum have found a Nazi photo album with a cover made of human skin, likely made at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. The determination was made by comparing it in a laboratory to a similar object in the museum collection.” The research suggests that it is very likely that both dust jackets, owing to their technology and composition, came from the same bookbinding workshop,” said Elzbieta Cajzer, head of the Auschwitz
Museum Collections. “The use of human skin as a production material is directly associated with the figure of Ilse Koch, the murderer from the camp in Buchenwald.” — Times of Israel, 3/8/2020

For the first time, the remains of a Jewish settlement of the Second Temple period have been discovered in Beersheva, revealing evidence of Jewish day-to-day life there. The site, dated from the first century AD until the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD 135, appears to contain underground hidden passageways used by the Jewish rebels. — Bridges for Peace, July 15, 2019

The name Bethsaida appears seven times in the gospels. Jesus performed miracles there (Matthew 11:21, Mark 8:22). It was the hometown of Peter,
Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44). Biblical references situate Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee. Around 30 AD, Herod Philip, one of the sons of Herod the Great, who governed the area, transformed this fishing village into a city. Josephus reports that Herod Philip renamed the site Julias and increased its population and “grandeur” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.28). The city lasted for several centuries before disappearing from the historical record. Now, two archaeological sites — et-Tell and el-Araj — are contenders for biblical Bethsaida. Both are being excavated by reputable teams of archaeologists and biblical scholars, and both teams are confident that
they have found the real Bethsaida-Julias. — Biblical Archaeology Review, March 2020

Blue & White party MK Aida Touma-Suleiman told Reshet Bet radio: “I don’t think the Law of Return is necessary. Anyone who wanted to return to Israel has already arrived. Anyone who chose to be in the US or to be French — has chosen. The law is superfluous.” The Blue & White party is supporting a move to establish a minority government and ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. — Jewish Press.com, 3/8/2020

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