News and Views


News and Views – Religious, Social, Political, Financial and Israel

The sexual abuse crisis has had a heavy impact on Catholic church finances. From 2004 to 2020, dioceses and religious orders in the U.S. spent $4.3 billion on costs related to abuse allegations, mostly in payments to victims and attorneys’ fees. Thirty-one (31) dioceses and religious orders in the U.S. have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to Pennsylvania State University. Pew Research found that 26% of U.S. Catholics have reduced the amount of money they donate to their parish in response. In a 2021 survey by the Center for Applied Research, 31% of adult U.S. Catholics said they were embarrassed to identify themselves by religion. — Wall Street Journal, 12/13/2021

Since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the religious affiliation of the enlisted force of the U.S. Army has seen a shift toward Protestant and away from Catholic when compared to the general U.S. population. The report, released by the RAND Corporation, was based on Army data and figures as part of their chaplain program. The increase comes despite a decline in the number of Protestants in the general U.S. population during the same period. RAND said it couldn’t definitively determine why the shifts have occurred, but the report suggests “people with certain identities” have become more likely to join and remain in the Army. — Army Times, 11/30/2021

According to a recent Barna Group survey, pastors have increasingly been contemplating quitting their jobs since the beginning of 2021. These increasing stresses of being a pastor in a pandemic are affecting the way many seminarians are thinking about their “careers.” Seminaries, like other institutions of higher education, have stepped up mental health services, but how much help students get can depend on the cultural climate of the school, as some schools may offer more services than others.” — RNS, 12/27/21

A recent surprise discovery has shed light on the gruesome execution practice of Roman crucifixion. As first reported in the magazine British Archaeology, a team excavating several graves at a site near Fenstanton in southeastern England came across the remains of a person executed by crucifixion during the second century. Despite crucifixion being a relatively common method of Roman execution, this is only the fourth time an archaeological find has provided direct evidence of the practice. The Fenstanton burial preserves evidence of the nail that pierced the individual’s heel bones during crucifixion. — Bible History Daily, 12/20/2021


Following reports of multiple COVID-19 outbreaks aboard cruise ships, one senator is calling on public health officials to pause sailings once again. Passengers aboard cruise ships operated by both Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean complained in recent days about their trips being disrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks. It’s the latest blow for the cruise line industry, which has struggled to recover after being shut down by public-health officials at the height of the pandemic. — MarketWatch, 12/29/21

The world’s largest and most powerful space telescope rocketed away December 25, 2021 on a high-stakes quest to behold light from the first stars and galaxies and scour the universe for hints of life. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope soared from French Guiana on South America’s northeastern coast, riding a European Ariane rocket into the Christmas morning sky. The $10 billion observatory hurtled toward its destination 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) away, or more than four times beyond the moon. It will take a month to get there and another five months before its infrared eyes are ready to start scanning the cosmos.” — Associated Press, 12/25/21

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. is facing mounting legal challenges by Rohingya refugees who blame the social media company for inciting genocidal violence in 2017 against the Muslim minority in Myanmar. The company allowed an “out-of-control spread of anti-Rohingya content” despite repeated warnings from civil society groups and human rights activists about its deadly consequences, according to a complaint filed in state court in California. The company is battling accusations that it has prioritized the growth of its platforms at the expense of fighting hate speech, disinformation and violent extremism. — Bloomberg News, 12/8/2021

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that children and young adults were already facing a mental health crisis before the coronavirus pandemic began: One in three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 40% increase from 2009 to 2019, he said. Suicide rates went up during that time by 57% among youth ages 10 to 24. During the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression have increased, he said. — NPR, 12/7/2021


Center-left leader Olaf Scholz became Germany’s ninth post-World War II chancellor, opening a new era for the European Union’s most populous nation and largest economy after Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure. Scholz’s government takes office with high hopes of modernizing Germany and combating climate change but faces the immediate challenge of handling the country’s toughest phase yet of the coronavirus pandemic. — AP, 12/8/2021

The New York City Council voted to give local voting rights to some 800,000 non-citizens of voting age who are living in the city, about 11 percent of approximately seven million New Yorkers. Residents with green cards and work permits will be allowed to vote for the city’s mayor and city council members, as will those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, those known as “the Dreamers.” All must have lived in the city for at least 30 days in order to be eligible to vote. Noncitizens in New York City will still be unable to vote
in presidential, state and federal elections. — Jewish Press, 12/10/2021

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 drove the biggest increase in death benefits paid by U.S. life insurers since the 1918 influenza epidemic, according to the American Council of Life Insurers. Death benefit payments rose to $90.43 billion, an increase of over 15%, mostly due to the pandemic. In 1918, payments were up 41%. Covid also spurred the fastest rise in sales of insurance policies in 25 years. — Wall Street Journal, 12/10/2021

Ethanol prices have skyrocketed to their highest level in a decade, contributing to surging U.S. gasoline prices as oil refiners pay more for the biofuel they are required to blend with their products. The price spike is adding grist to a political debate over the federal ethanol blending mandate, known as the Renewable Fuel Standard. Politicians from oil-and-gas states have sought to repeal the requirement, calling it ineffective and expensive, while corn-state politicians have defended it, arguing it has added to U.S. fuel supplies and decreased consumer costs. — Wall Street Journal, 11/24/2021

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the U.S.-led military organization must prepare for the worst as concern mounts that Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine. NATO is worried about a Russian buildup of heavy equipment and troops near Ukraine’s northern border, not far from Belarus. Ukraine says Moscow kept about 90,000 troops in the area following massive war games in western Russia earlier in 2021 and could easily mobilize them. — AP, 12/1/2021

The 20-year war in Afghanistan, seen as a fight between bands of Taliban insurgents, was won by a large underground network of urban operatives. The so-called Bari force of the Haqqani network had for years planted operatives in Afghan government ministries, universities, businesses and aid organizations. When U.S. forces withdrew, the operatives stepped out of the shadows, surprising neighbors and colleagues, pulled their weapons from hiding, and helped the Taliban rapidly seize control from the inside. — Wall Street Journal, 11/30/2021

Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are stationed in Venezuela, on the northeast tip of South America, where some 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) separate them “from skyscrapers in Miami,” according to a new report from the research department at the Alma Center, a defense watchdog located in northern Israel. It is the first known arrival of Iranian-made UAVs in the western hemisphere. Venezuela is a state that the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei classifies as being, at least symbolically, a part of the radical Shi’ite axis. — Jewish News Service, 12/30/2021

Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old self-described “moderate socialist,” will be sworn in as Chile’s president in March, making him both the youngest leader in South America and the youngest president in modern Chilean history. The left-wing former student protester secured 56% of the vote [in the presidential election]. During his presidential campaign, he promised to “bury” the neoliberal, free-market economy implemented under Pinochet’s rule, vowing to tax the richest in society to improve social services. — ABCNews, 12/21/21


A chip shortage has snarled global business and amplified calls from governments world- wide to boost local production of the tiny tech components in devices that power much of our daily lives. Component shortages have hit everything from car production to availability of some consumer goods. That has triggered a spree of record chip investment—and driven governments to offer financial incentives to secure these new factories. U.S.- based companies represent about half of the $464 billion semiconductor industry, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association and market-researcher International Data Corp. — Wall Street Journal, 11/24/2021

Cryptocurrency industry executives are arguing that their technologies hold promise for the future, as lawmakers and regulators wrestle with how to bring the more than $2 trillion market under government oversight. New rules could change the views of finance chiefs, many of whom are refraining from investing in these assets due to a lack of regulation and price volatility. While millions of Americans have invested in crypto assets, many experts say the asset class needs clearer rules of the road, which Congress could provide. — CFO Journal, 12/10/2021

The headline-grabbing labor strife of 2021 is being fought along traditional fronts like pay and benefits. But increasingly, restive workers weary from the Covid-19 pandemic are turning to companies with a newly urgent demand: Give back my free time. From Hollywood sets to snack factories, and heavy equipment makers to hospitals, employees are fighting back against what they see as a pernicious encroachment on their personal life — with work such as mandatory overtime and “suicide shifts” (16-hour work days) restricting their ability to relax, or just to get a good night’s sleep. — Bloomberg, 10/25/2021

Starting in the new year (2022), supervised financial institutions will need to stop using Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) as a reference rate for new contracts in order to be in compliance with guidance issued by several U.S. financial regulators. What this means is that the price of certain goods and services could change. Loan contracts between financial institutions and companies seeking capital to manufacture products are often tied to Libor. It remains to be seen whether the cost of credit in those scenarios will increase or adjust to reflect uncertainty surrounding the transition. The end of Libor also could result in a change in the amount consumers pay each month for certain loan contracts and the schedule on which the rates in these contracts are adjusted. — MarketWatch, 12/20/21

(Editor’s note: The secured overnight financing rate (SOFR) is a benchmark interest rate for dollar denominated derivatives and loans that is replacing the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR). Interest rate swaps on more than $80 trillion in notional debt switched to the SOFR in October 2020. This transition is expected to increase long-term liquidity but also result in substantial short-term trading volatility in derivatives.)


Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata announced that 27,000 new immigrants will have made Israel their home by the end of 2021. “We are seeing a trend—especially in France and the US, where there is a spike in requests to make aliyah,” Tamano-Shata said. According to the ministry, this year saw a 50% rise in the number of immigrants from Argentina compared to last year. In the US the number of immigrants increased by no less than 34% compared to 2020, with about 4,000 immigrants set to arrive by the end of the year. Immigration from France has also seen a significant increase of 41% compared to 2020, an increase of 3,500. In addition, about 7,000 are expected to arrive from Russia and another 2,800 approximately, from Ukraine. — Ynet News, 12/17/2021

The United Nations General Assembly passed three resolutions that targeted Israel, which brings the total to 14 resolutions being adopted in December that single out the Jewish state. “The UN’s assault on Israel with a torrent of one-sided resolutions is surreal,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer after the three resolutions were adopted. “It’s absurd that in the year 2021, out of some 20 UN General Assembly resolutions that criticize countries, 70% are focused on one single country: Israel. What drives these lopsided condemnations is a powerful political agenda to demonize the Jewish state.” — Bridges for Peace, 12/6/2021

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently announced the discovery of a 2,000-year-old silver coin in Jerusalem’s City of David Archaeological Park. Archaeologists believe the coin, which is made of pure silver and weighs approximately half an ounce, was likely minted within the Jerusalem Temple itself. On one side of the coin are the words “Shekel of Israel,” written in Old Hebrew script, along with a depiction of a chalice and the Hebrew letters shin and bet, shorthand for “second year.” The coin’s reverse has the words “Holy Jerusalem” and an image of three budding pomegranates, thought by some to be a symbol of the Temple’s high priest. — Biblical Archaeology Society, 11/29/2021

In the three months since the beginning of the Hebrew year of 5782 in Tishrei (beginning of September) more Jews ascended the Temple Mount than throughout the entire Hebrew year six years ago. In all of the Hebrew year of 5776 (2015-2016), 12,148 Jews ascended the Temple Mount. Since then, the number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount has been climbing, and from the beginning of the current Jewish year, 12,177 Jews have already ascended to pray on the Temple Mount. Jewish worshippers are enabled only limited access in time and space during their visits to the Temple Mount. However, in recent years, the trend of Jewish visits to Judaism’s holiest site has only increased. — Jewish Press, 12/10/2021

(Editor’s note: The Temple Mount was home to Jerusalem’s two temples, the last of which
was destroyed in 70 AD All that remains is the outside Western Wall that surrounded the Temple structure. It is still considered the holiest site in all Israel.)

The red-green alliance between radical progressive groups and Islamist organizations has been ‘migrating’ from Europe to the US. In light of the rise of identity politics, the collaboration between these two groups is having an increasing influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as on the status of both Israel and the Jewish community in the US. This may explain the shift in the US policy towards its traditional allies in the Middle East, the slowing momentum in the normalization process and the Abraham Accords, the hesitant American approach towards Iran, and the seemingly surprising support of many within the progressive movement for the Hamas organization. — Reut Group, 12/5/21

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