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News and Views – Religious, Social, and Political


Recently uncovered notes reveal that Isaac Newton attempted to uncover the secrets of the pyramids in Egypt while proving his theory of gravity. The unpublished notes, thought to have been written in the 1680s and only discovered 200 years after Newton’s death, are now being sold by Sotheby’s. Newton, who studied the pyramids in the late 17th century while at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, believed that finding out how the pyramids were made would unlock other secrets about the world. He was desperately trying to work out the unit of measurement the ancient Egyptians used while making the pyramids. — Daily Mail, 12/6/2020 — (Editor’s note: Isaac Newton’s main interest was Bible study. He wrote books on Daniel, Revelation, and Chronology, an early treatise on 1 John 5:7, and held unconventional beliefs including anti-Trinitarian that kept him out of the London Royal Society for years.)

The Satmars are adherents of Hasidism, a branch of Orthodox Judaism with dozens of different groups that closely adhere to the teachings and rulings of their rabbi-leader, including anti-Zionism. The Satmar dynasty was founded in what is now Satu Mare, Romania, in 1905 by an eventual survivor of the holocaust who brought it to Brooklyn, New York after the conclusion of the war. It grew to be one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world. Their recent violation of New York City masking regulations and secretly holding a wedding with thousands of men at a synagogue in Brooklyn has pushed many American Jews away. The city fined the synagogue $15,000 for the brazen violation. — Wall Street Journal, 12/8/2020

One of only three artifacts ever recovered from inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid has been found in a misplaced cigar tin in a Scottish university collection, academics revealed. The fragment of cedarwood, which has been found to date back 5,000 years to the building of the pyramid at Giza, was first discovered in the late 19th century but had been missing for more than 70 years. The fragment — initially measuring five inches or around 13 centimeters but now in several pieces — was first discovered in the Great Pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber in 1872 by engineer Waynman Dixon. It made its way to the Scottish city because of a link between Dixon and a medical doctor named James Grant who studied in Aberdeen and went to Egypt to treat cholera in the mid-1860s. More evidence that the lost piece of wood, as well as the other items known as the “Dixon relics,” could have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid has come to light following modern tests on the artifact. — Al Jezeera, 12/16/2020

A small number of mainline churches are part of a #LandBack movement, which calls on both Canada and the United States to return land to the First Nations and Native American peoples who first lived there. The group repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery, first expressed by Pope Nicholas V in the 1452 papal bull “Dum Diversas,” and used as justification for European Christians to seize lands inhabited by indigenous peoples who were non-Christians. The “Requerimiento” (Request), a section within the document, was used in what is now the United States to explain that the land had been donated to Spain and requested the natives of the land to submit to the pope and the king and queen. — RNS, 12/10/2020

In the United States, awareness of anti-Semitism is slipping, said the American Jewish Committee in Italy, a liaison to the Vatican. The group cited a recent AJC survey on anti-Semitism in the United States that found that 46% of respondents “are not familiar” or “never heard of the term” anti-Semitism. A newly released FBI report shows that in theU.S., hate crimes against Jews grew 14% in 2019 compared to the previous year. Numerous attacks against American Jews took place, including the shooting at a synagogue in California and a spate of violent attacks in the New York area. — RNS, 12/10/2020

Social

Lindbergh Teacher of the Year, and 2021 Missouri Teacher of the Year, is Darrion Cockrell, who teaches physical education in St. Louis. In his acceptance speech at the Teacher of the Year Recognition Ceremony, he detailed his upbringing. “I was born to a drug-addicted mother who had two of her six kids by the age of 16. My father was murdered when I was 4, and I began my journey in and out of the foster care system not long after my 6th birthday. I was a gang member” he said. But in the end, a handful of people recognized his potential and put him on a path toward success. — SunnySkyz, 12/10/2020

Ten years ago, the “Arab Spring” began when a fruit seller set himself ablaze in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid after an altercation about where he had put his cart. Tunisians are now free to choose their leaders. Yet many look back on the events of 2010 and regret that their dreams remain unfulfilled. Protests have flared again across Tunisia’s poorer southern towns against joblessness, poor state services, inequality, and shortages. The scramble to get enough cooking gas to provide for families underlines the hardships faced in a country where the economy has stagnated, leaving the public as angry as it was a decade ago. — Reuters, 12/15/2020

Cybercriminals are increasingly launching attacks on kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, in some cases rendering their computer networks inaccessible, disrupting distance learning, according to an advisory from the federal government. Schools across the county have been the victim of ransomware attacks, which lock computers until a ransom is paid, as they have shifted to remote classes during the pandemic. The hackers have also threatened to leak confidential student data unless institutions pay a ransom. — Bloomberg, 12/10/2020

India is facing two public health emergencies simultaneously: critically polluted air and the pandemic. The Indian economy contracted by 23.9% in the April-June quarter — its worst performance in at least 24 years — and by 7.5% in the next quarter. The virus meanwhile continues to spread with over 9.7 million cases, and more than 140,000 deaths. And India’s underfunded hospitals, already strained by the virus, are also filling up with patients in respiratory distress from air pollution. — AP, 12/10/2020 — (Editor’s note: More than 116,000 Indian infants died from air pollution in the first month of life, and the corresponding figure was 236,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a State of Global Air 2020 study which said that nearly two-thirds of the deaths came from noxious fumes from cooking fuels.)

The Ohio Senate unanimously passed a bill that would create the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and Education Commission. State Senator Michael Rulli drafted Senate Bill 372 after reading a study that ranked Ohio 32nd in Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z. — JNS, 12/10/2020

Political

The leaders of Iran and Afghanistan inaugurated the first railway link between the two countries, expressing hope it would enhance trade links across the region. The 140-kilometer line running from eastern Iran into western Afghanistan will eventually be expanded by 85 kilometers to reach the Afghan city of Herat, providing a crucial transport link for the landlocked country, where decades of war have hindered infrastructure development. The $75 million project began in 2007. — AP, 12/10/2020

The giant tech companies whose services are woven into the fabric of social life are now the targets of a widening assault by U.S. government competition enforcers. Regulators filed landmark antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, the second major government offensive in 2020 against seemingly untouchable tech behemoths. The Federal Trade Commission and 48 U.S. states and districts sued the social network giant, accusing it of abusing its market power to squash smaller competitors, labeling its growth as coming through “predatory acquisition.”
— AP, 12/10/2020

China’s most powerful leader in a generation wants even greater state control in the world’s second-largest economy. The government is installing more Communist Party officials inside private firms, demanding executives tailor their businesses to achieve state goals. In some cases, it takes charge entirely of companies it regards as undisciplined, absorbing them into state-owned enterprises. The push is driven by a deepening conviction within the country’s leadership that markets and private entrepreneurs, while important to China’s rise, are unpredictable and not to be fully trusted. — Wall Street Journal, 12/10/2020

China will sanction more U.S. officials and place new travel restrictions on American diplomats in retaliation for measures taken by the U.S. over Hong Kong. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said sanctions will include people in the executive and legislative branches and their immediate families, as well as non-government organizations. China would also revoke visa-free entry to Hong Kong and Macau for U.S. diplomatic passport holders. — Bloomberg 12/10/2020

Scores of private charitable foundations received money from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which was created last spring to save jobs at small businesses. At least 120 foundations collectively received more than $7.5 million in PPP funding. That’s a small slice of the overall program, which disbursed about a half-trillion dollars, but some of the foundations are linked to individuals of considerable means. — NPR, 12/16/2020

Financial

An emerging group of entrepreneurs has pushed into a wide array of service businesses as job losses due to closures from the coronavirus create a cohort of the laid-off. It isn’t uncommon for workers who are laid off to turn to self-employment, but most switch back to payroll positions once economic conditions improve. Many in this newer group, however, are finding ways to build lasting relationships, creating a more permanent shift in the economy. It is difficult to pinpoint the number of Americans in such positions due to one-person cash operations that become part of a growing underground economy —Wall Street Journal, 11/10/2020

In an elaborate sting operation, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it had dismantled hundreds of cyber currency accounts operated by Hamas, al-Qaeda and ISIS to fundraise for their violent actions. The impressive operation even involved covertly taking over a Hamas Bitcoin account and diverting the funds to the U.S. government. In the end, the U.S. seized more than a million dollars, 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages related to the terror fundraising campaigns.— Clarion Project, 8/18/2020

The U.S. Treasury Department labeled Switzerland and Vietnam as currency manipulators, saying the two countries had intervened in foreign-exchange markets in a persistent, one-sided manner to limit the appreciation of their currencies. The Treasury determined that at least part of both countries’ foreign exchange intervention over four years aimed to prevent effective balance of payment adjustments. Vietnam also sought to gain unfair competitive advantage
in international trade through exchange-rate management. — Wall Street Journal, 12/16/2020

Public debt has ballooned around the globe as countries raise funds to fight the global pandemic. Most countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios have increased substantially, so it has become important for investors to focus on a country’s ability to control and pay off the debt, according to bond managers. — Wall Street Journal, 11/19/2020 — (Editor’s note: GDP (gross domestic product) is an economic indicator of a country. It can indicate whether a country is able to pay the outstanding debt. At the end of the 4th quarter of 2019, US public debt-to-GDP ratio was at 106.7% — Japan 246.1%, China 46.7%, and India 61.8% in 2017, according to the IMF.)

There are roughly 43 million student loan borrowers holding over $1.5 trillion in federally held debt. The amount of all student debt held and securitized, when including privately-held loans, is $1.7 trillion. Comments among leading Democrats called on President-Elect Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per individual. That amount of forgiveness would erase the balances of roughly 80% of borrowers across the country and nearly 70% of total debt at a cost of roughly $1 trillion to the U.S. government. — Yahoo Finance, 12/12/2020

High-frequency traders (HFT) are using an experimental type of cable to speed up their systems by billionths of a second. The cable is a next-generation version of fiber-optic. But instead of being solid, it is hollow-core with dozens of channels narrower than a human hair. Because light travels nearly 50% faster through air than glass, it takes about one-third less time to send data through it. The difference is often just a minuscule fraction of a second, which in HFT can make the difference between a profit and a loss. — Wall Street Journal, 12/16/2020

Israel

When shielded by assurances of anonymity, some Biden aides have admitted that Israel, and even the Middle East more broadly, is not going to receive the amount of attention that it has enjoyed during recent presidencies. One senior campaign adviser told Foreign Policy magazine in October that the Middle East would be “a distant fourth” in the list of foreign policy priorities, after Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and Latin America. — Times of Israel, 12/11/2020

A group of approximately 8,000 impoverished Jews in Gondar and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) who are short of food and medicine are waiting for Israel to fulfill a 2015 decision to bring the entirety of the community on Aliyah. “The war is dangerous for them,” says a spokesman for the Struggle for the Aliyah of Ethiopian Jewry, describing soldiers in the streets and rocket attacks from the rebellious province of Tigray. Since the 2015 pledge, 2,250 Ethiopian Jews have been brought to Israel. They accuse Mr. Netanyahu, who promised to bring 7,500 immigrants to Israel before the country’s election last March, of using the issue to win the votes of the country’s 150,000 Ethiopian Jews. — Christian Science Monitor, 10/15/2020

Ethiopia’s situation is “spiraling out of control with appalling impact on civilians” and urgently needs outside monitoring, the United Nations human rights chief warned. Ethiopia, however, rejected calls for independent investigations into the deadly fighting in its Tigray region saying it “doesn’t need a babysitter.” The government’s declaration came amid international calls for more transparency into the month-long fighting between Ethiopian forces and those of the fugitive Tigray regional government that is thought to have killed thousands, including civilians. At least one large-scale massacre has been documented by human rights groups, and others are feared. — Al Jezeera, 12/9/2020

Arab nations once were committed to driving Israel into the sea, but in a “groundbreaking” shift, an Arab organization backed by the king of Bahrain has joined the coalition labeling anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. — Mideast Update, 11/6/2020

Israel and Morocco have agreed to normalize relations as President Trump, in his final weeks in office, announced the fourth Arab-Israeli agreement in four months. — AP, 12/10/2020

A strategic agreement between the Israeli Watergen Company and Emirati Al-Dahra was signed on November 25 in Abu Dhabi. The agreement establishes a partnership between the companies to bring Watergen’s revolutionary water solutions to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the region. Watergen is an Israeli company that has developed a patented technology to generate clean drinking water from the air in the most economically efficient manner. High temperatures and humidity of the region’s air are ideal conditions for Watergen’s devices, which can produce up to 5,000 liters of clean drinking water per day. — JNS, 12/10/2020

Israeli authorities will unveil structures within King Herod’s hilltop palace-fortress Herodium, in the Judean Desert, that were previously off-limits. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority plans to open the revamped site, allowing visitors to see Herodium’s arched stairway, foyer, and private theatre. Herodium is a cone-shaped mound in the desert, six miles from Jerusalem, covering remains of King Herod’s impressive palace. — Daily Mail, 12/12/2020

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