News and Views

Religious

News and Views

Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, is “in exile” after resisting Kremlin pressure to support the war in Ukraine, his daughter-in-law has said. Goldschmidt, who also heads the Conference of European Rabbis, left Russia just weeks after it launched its invasion of Ukraine, saying he had to take care of his ailing father in Jerusalem. But his daughter-in-law revealed that Goldschmidt and his wife had also been put under official pressure to support the war and now considered themselves to be in exile because of their opposition to what Russia has called its “special military operation.” — The Guardian, 6/8/2022

While Southern Baptist churches claim 13.7 million members, actual attendance at church services — both in person and online — was closer to 5 million people in 2021, according to Tom Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, and leading candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Ascol’s focus on the Bible has led him to become a vocal critic of the SBC in recent years. Ascol has long argued that Southern Baptists have been too eager to embrace pragmatic ideas on how to attract people to church and have been too accommodating to the broader culture, writing in a recent essay that Southern Baptists are “embarrassed of the teachings of the Scripture.” — RNS, 6/10/2022

The 2021 annual report of the Vatican bank, published June 7, showed a net profit of 18.1 million euros (about $19.3 million) last year, a significant decrease from the 36.4 million euros it netted in Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, president of the Commission of Cardinals, which oversees the bank, in a statement accompanying the report said that two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, plus the war in Ukraine, put a strain on the church’s finances. Currently a financial corruption trial is going on at the Vatican tribunal, which has shown that church funds had been invested in movie production and luxury real estate deals. — RNS, 6/8/2022

Gunmen opened fire on worshippers and detonated explosives at a Catholic church in southwestern Nigeria. The attackers targeted the St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo state just as the worshippers gathered on Pentecost Sunday. Authorities did not immediately release an official death toll, but sources said at least 50 people had been killed. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the church. While much of Nigeria has struggled with security issues, Ondo is widely known as one of Nigeria’s most peaceful states. The state, though, has been caught up in a rising violent conflict between farmers and herders. — AP, 6/6/2022

Social

Voyager 1 is the farthest human-made object from Earth. After sweeping by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, it is now almost 15 billion miles (24 billion kilometers) from Earth in interstellar space. Both Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, carry little pieces of humanity in the form of their Golden Records. These messages in a bottle include spoken greetings in 55 languages, sounds and images from nature, an album of recordings and images from numerous cultures, and a written message of welcome from Jimmy Carter, who was U.S. president when the spacecraft left Earth in 1977. The Golden Records were built to last a billion years in the environment of space, but in a recent analysis of the paths and perils these explorers may face, astronomers calculated that they could exist for trillions of years without coming remotely close to any stars. — The Conversation, 6/7/2022

Scientists searching through compost piles have discovered an enzyme that degrades plastic bottles and food containers in record time. The enzyme PHL7, which the German researchers found in a compost heap in Leipzig, could make bio-PET recycling possible much faster than previously thought. The results showed that within 16 hours, PHL7 caused the PET to decompose by a whopping 90 percent compared to 45 percent previously. In a study at Queensland’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, a “superworm” with an appetite for polystyrene was found capable of munching plastic waste thanks to a bacterial enzyme in their gut. — Good News Network, 6/8/2022 and 6/12/2022

Vast settlements dating back to the Middle Ages and featuring earthen buildings and pyramids as tall as eight-story buildings have been discovered hidden in the Bolivian Amazon, scientists said in a paper published in the journal Nature. The landmark findings, made possible with the help of advanced laser- mapping technology capable of penetrating the dense vegetation that has long stymied research efforts in the region, upend long-held beliefs among many experts that the region lacked sophisticated societies until European colonizers arrived in the 16th century. — Wall Street Journal, 5/25/2022

Murder rates across the rural U.S. have soared, data show, bringing the kind of extreme violence long associated with major metropolises to America’s smallest communities. Homicide rates in rural America rose 25% in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rise came close to the 30% spike in homicide rates in metropolitan areas in 2020. Veteran law enforcement officials said they had never before witnessed the level of violence of the past two years. — Wall Street Journal, 6/10/2022

Political

The U.S. and South Korean militaries launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea in a show of force matching a North Korean missile display a day earlier that extended a provocative streak in weapons demonstrations. The tit-for-tat missile launches were aimed at demonstrating the ability to respond swiftly and accurately to North Korean attacks, the South Korean military said. It was North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone — a streak that included the country’s first launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years. — AP, 6/6/2022

China has been a trade partner in Africa for a long time. Xue Bing, China’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa, held a summit during which he claimed his country now wants to play a larger role in the peace and development of the area. Foreign ministries from Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Djibouti participated in the Chinese-hosted event. Many are expressing concerns that China may use its military to conduct operations that would make Africa’s governments new allies, rather than to promote peace in the region. The Chinese envoy said its country would continue its massive investment in roads, railways, and shipping ports throughout the region. — BrightPress.org

The government of Poland, where a near total abortion ban is in place, faced accusations of creating a “pregnancy register” as the country expands the amount of medical data being digitally saved on patients. The matter gained attention after Health Minister Adam Niedzielski signed an ordinance expanding the amount of information to be saved in a central database on patients, including information on allergies, blood type and pregnancies. — AP, 6/6/2022

Three Russian submarines, seemingly equipped to carry 16 ballistic missiles with multiple nuclear warheads, simultaneously broke through the ice near the North Pole in March 2021. The boats were soon joined by two MiG-31 aircraft and ground troops participating in Umka-2021, a Russian Arctic military exercise that signaled a new and dangerous era for the polar region and the world. The maximum ice coverage hit the lowest level on record, 5.57 million square miles, in 2017. Nations bordering the Arctic, including the U.S. and Russia, will have an enormous stake in who has access to and control of the resources of this energy- and mineral-rich region as well as the new sea routes for global commerce the melt-off is creating. Fortythree of the nearly 60 large oil and natural-gas fields that have been discovered in the Arctic are in Russia, according to a 2009 American Energy Department report.. — Wall Street Journal, 6/10/2022

British journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira, an indigenous expert, were murdered while motorboating the Itaquaí River in the Amazon early on June 5. Investigators believe a group of fishermen killed Mr. Pereira as retribution for his efforts to combat illegal fishing and subsequently killed Mr. Phillips because he had witnessed the death of his guide. The killing has raised questions over rising criminality across the world’s biggest rainforest. Over 20 criminal gangs operate across the Amazon, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, a nongovernment research group. Amazonas is the main gateway for Colombian and Peruvian cocaine into Brazil. Other criminals traffic everything from gold to the prized pirarucu fish, police said. — Wall Street Journal, 6/20/2022

A U.S. company is helping Ukraine build a missile defense system — its own version of Israel’s Iron Dome — to prevent Russian rockets from striking its populace. According to Israeli officials, the Iron Dome, which detects and destroys incoming missiles, has an over 90% success rate. Ukraine’s defense system, meanwhile, intercepts just 20% of Russia’s missiles and rockets. — MarketWatch, 6/20/2022

Financial

New rules in the European Union require cryptocurrency businesses to operate with a license and mandate that issuers hold reserves like banks. The European Council and Parliament agreed on the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) proposal to bring digital asset businesses under a regulatory framework for the first time. Under the new MiCA rules, crypto service providers will be liable in case they lose investors’ assets, and will be subject to European market-abuse regulations, including those on market manipulation and insider trading. — Barrons.com

Genetic medicine is already a billion-dollar industry, with forthcoming research and drug development that could potentially cure the incurable day, not only have scientists mapped the genome, but drugs are being developed for the manipulation of genes that have the potential to cure the incurable. In the last few years, $150bn has been deployed in genetic medicine across Venture Capitalists, equity, market partnerships, and Mergers and Acquisitions, and the impact of this capital is being felt. There are 18 drugs currently approved in the space, and there are ten more that RBC Capital Markets Senior Biotech Analyst Luca Issi believes will come down the pipeline in the next few years. — RBC Capital Markets Research Report, 11/4/2021

U.S. households have boosted spending in April, but they dipped deeply into their savings to do so. The saving rate fell to 4.4%, the lowest in 14 years, from a downwardly revised 5% the prior month, suggesting that many Americans are tapping their savings to offset cost increases from high inflation. A closely watched U.S. inflation reading, meanwhile, decelerated slightly for the first time this year but remained near a four-decade high. Consumer prices rose 6.3% in April from a year earlier, down from 6.6% in March, as measured by the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditures price index. — Wall Street Journal, 5/27/2022

Axon, the company best known for developing the Taser, said it was halting plans to develop a Taser equipped drone after a majority of its ethics board resigned over the controversial project. As a result, “we are pausing work on this project and refocusing to further engage with key constituencies to fully explore the best path forward,” CEO Rick Smith said. The board had voted previously to recommend Axon not proceed with a pilot of the Taser drone and had concerns about introducing weaponizing drones in communities of color. — AP, 6/6/2022

Israel

The United States is mediating talks to transfer two islands in the Red Sea from Egypt’s control to Saudi Arabian control. The swap also affects Israel, meaning the Jewish state is hovering in the background of the talks — which could warm ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Tiran and Sanafir are both islands in the Red Sea that lie between the Gulf of Aqaba to the open Red Sea. Hovering in the middle of the Straits of Tiran, control of these uninhabited islands yields control of a strategic shipping passage that connects Israel’s Eilat port to the rest of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. — Bridges for Peace, 5/24/2022

An Israeli official said recently that Iran has accumulated enriched uranium in sufficient quantity to make three nuclear bombs. Both houses of US lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at creating an integrated air defense system to boost cooperation between Israel and neighboring Arab states against Iran. The Deterring Enemy Forces and Enabling National Defenses (DEFEND) Act is the latest effort in the US to bolster the Abraham Accords normalization agreements that the Trump administration brokered between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in 2020. — Times of Israel, 6/10/2022

The specter of an emerging Arab-Israeli bloc that could tilt the Middle East balance of power further away from Iran is driving the Islamic Republic to pursue nuclear talks with world powers with renewed determination, officials and analysts said. Indirect talks in Qatar between Tehran and Washington on salvaging a 2015 nuclear pact ended without progress. But the talks’ difficulty has not discouraged Iran, two officials and a politician, all Iranian, told Reuters, adding Iran’s hardline establishment was set on pursuing diplomacy. — Ynet News, 6/30/2022

Ankara’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and local police have thwarted a number of Iranian attempts to murder and abduct Israelis in Istanbul, including a former Israeli ambassador and his wife. A shadow war between Jerusalem and Tehran has been going on for some time, and Israeli media has been abuzz with reports of Jerusalem and Ankara working side by side to prevent Tehran from striking at citizens of the Jewish state in Turkey. Iran blames Israel for a number of Iranian scientists and military officials involved in the mullahs’ nuclear program dying under suspicious circumstances over the past weeks. — Bridges for Peace, 6/24/2022

Top defense officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates [UAE], Bahrain and Jordan sat down for a secret summit convened by the US in Sharm el Sheikh in March to discuss the regional threat, Iran. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi represented Israel, alongside his Saudi Arabian counterpart Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili. Qatar, Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan sent top military officials to attend. The summit was the initial step towards regional defense cooperation and marks the first time such high-ranking officials from the Jewish state and Arab countries sat down together. — Wall Street Journal, 6/26/2022

Israel will sell natural gas to Europe via Egypt, Israel’s Energy Ministry revealed. Egypt is involved because Israel doesn’t have the technical resources to send gas to Europe directly. The catalyst for Europe’s urgency is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has awakened the continent to the danger of relying on Russian fossil fuels. Israel has been looking to export gas to Europe for years, signing a deal in 2020 for an EastMed pipeline that would have extended from Israel’s offshore reserves to Greece. — JNS, 5/25/2022

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is building a massive new support ship near the strategic Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to international energy supplies and beyond, satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press show. The construction of the Shahid Mahdavi provides the Guard a large, floating base from which to run the small fast boats that largely make up its fleet designed to counter the U.S. Navy and other allied forces in the region. — AP, 5/26/2022

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