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Iraq’s smaller religious groups have been facing “ongoing severe abuses,” a religious freedom watchdog said. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report citing “threats and intimidation” against Chaldo-Assyrians and other Christians, Sabean-Mandaeans and Yazidis. “Iraq’s non-Muslim religious minorities—particularly Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis—have suffered religiously-based attacks and other abuses, and have fled the country, at rates far disproportionate to their numbers, seriously threatening these communities’ continued existence in Iraq,” the report said.

—CNN, 12/16/2008

Kyrgyz deputies passed legislation to strengthen government control over religious groups. Proselytism would be strongly curtailed in the impoverished, mostly Muslim Central Asian nation under the bill. The law includes a ban on private religious teaching at all levels of education—outlawing private religious schools—while providing for the inclusion of religious education in public schools. The dissemination of religious literature in public places will also be prohibited. Kyrgyzstan has long been considered the most democratic ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia, but the government has come under growing criticism for backtracking on political freedoms since Bakiyev came to power in 2005.

—Associated Press, 11/6/2008

They’re still ready for Armageddon at the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious sect that for almost two decades has kept a bomb shelter stocked for 750 people deep in a forest near Yellowstone National Park. Church leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet has been silenced by advanced Alzheimer’s disease. The church has transformed itself into a New Age publishing enterprise and spiritual university. But still in the background is its “insurance” against the end—the shelter buried beneath a hillside on the sect’s 7,500 acre Royal Teton Ranch.

—Associated Press, 11/25/2008

The Vatican is considering publishing the full record of the 17th century trial of Galileo Galilei for heresy as part of its rehabilitation of the great astronomer. The year 2009 marks the four hundredth anniversary of Galileo’s development of the telescope. The Vatican is to erect a statue of the astronomer in the Vatican gardens, close to the apartment in which he was incarcerated while awaiting trial in 1633 for advocating heliocentrism, the Copernican doctrine that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

—Times online, 11/26/2008

According to a 2008 survey released by the Pew Research Center, as part of its Global Attitudes Project, hatred of Jews and general xenophobia are on the rise in Europe. Pew also noted a strong correlation between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. Partially accounting for the rise in European anti-Semitism has been the views held by continental Muslims. Unfavorable opinions of Jews in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt reach levels of 95 percent or more.

—Arutz 7, 11/05/2008

Attending a weekly religious service, regardless of your faith, may lower your risk of death by 20 percent compared to people who don’t attend services, researchers are reporting. Results of the study were published in the current issue of the journal Psychology and Health. The study participants came from the large Women’s Health Initiative observational study, and included nearly 95,000 women from all over the United States. Although the study noted a decreased risk of death, the researchers wouldn’t say that the prescription for good health is to attend religious services regularly.

—HealthDay News, 11/26/2008


Information gathered last year from the math tests of 7.2 million kids in Grades 2 to 11 in ten states revealed that there are no longer any significant differences between boys’ and girls’ average [math] scores. Similarly, an equal number of both sexes were found to perform so well that they ranked among the highest mathematical achievers. Scientists say the results show that more girls are taking math courses and, most important, sticking with them as they get older.

 —TIME, 12/1/2008

The poinsettia is the nation’s bestselling potted plant—an astonishing fact considering about 100 million are sold each year in just six weeks.

—Los Angeles Times, 12/23/2008

Utility companies are becoming more aggressive about collecting money from delinquent customers just as economic woes are pushing up the number of households falling behind on bills. The ease with which utilities can use digital meters to cut off service has alarmed some consumer advocates. Digital meters allow power companies to do things remotely that previously required sending out work crews. Some Utilities use a “service limiter” feature to cut power flows to a trickle until customers pay up.

—Wall Street Journal, 11/3/2008

The rate of new cases of diabetes soared by about 90 percent in the United States in the past decade, fueled by growing obesity and sedentary lifestyles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Experts say that losing even modest amounts of weight and getting more physical exercise can help prevent diabetes but many people are not taking these steps.

—Reuters, 10/30/2008

Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering, a field long dominated by PhDs toiling in university and corporate laboratories. Some proudly call themselves “biohackers”—innovators who push technological boundaries and the spread of knowledge before profits.

—Associated Press, 12/28/2008

Before melamine-laced milk killed and sickened Chinese babies and led to recalls around the world, the routine spiking of milk with illicit substances was an open secret in China’s dairy regions according to the accounts of farmers there. Farmers say that “protein power” of often-uncertain origin has been employed for years as a cheap way to help the milk of undernourished cows fool dairy companies’ quality checks.

—Wall Street Journal, 11/3/2008

Hundreds of people have died in a cholera epidemic that is spreading throughout Zimbabwe, according to the World Health Organization. Cholera is a highly contagious but easily preventable disease carried by tainted water.

—The Week, 12/12/2008

BP, the British petroleum giant, is offering free wireless at more than 90% of its 9,000 gas stations and truck stops in the USA and Canada with the goal to entice drivers to stay longer and check out the goods other than gas that many stations offer.

—USA Today, 12/29/2008

Venice was hit by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 20 years, as historic St. Mark’s Square was submerged under more than 3 feet of water. The lagoon city, which is crisscrossed by canals, floods whenever the Adriatic Sea surges, although it is rarely as bad as it has been recently. Some scientists believe the city may be doomed if the sea level rises permanently.

—The Week, 12/12/2008

More drivers are letting their car insurance lapse because of the sour economy, putting themselves and others at risk. Several hundred thousand drivers dropped their insurance in the past year as the jobless rate climbed, estimates a study by the Insurance Research Council, an industry-funded group.

—Wall Street Journal, 12/17/2008

An example of the effectiveness of vaccinations can be seen in the case of measles. The vaccination is effective in preventing morbidity that is caused by the virus, and with its aid the number of deaths in the world has been reduced, with most deaths today being found in developing countries; the number dropped from 750,000 deaths in the year 2000 to 197,000 in 2007. But while the death rate from measles was cut by 74 percent, the disease still exists.

—Haaretz, 12/23/2008

The nation’s first near-total face transplant has been done on a woman at the Cleveland Clinic. Reconstructive surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow replaced nearly all of the woman’s face—80 percent—with that of a dead female donor. Such transplants are controversial, because they are aimed at improving a patient’s quality of life rather than saving it, and require recipients to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their life.

—MSNBC, 12/16/2008


Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian was returned to custody on corruption charges after a district court reversed its decision to release him without bail. Chen, his wife and their son were indicted for money-laundering, forgery and corruption while Chen was president. He is the island’s first leader to be prosecuted after leaving office. Prosecutors also alleged Chen accepted bribes for facilitating two property deals, and then laundered the proceeds overseas. Charges against Wu today include taking bribes of $2.7 million.

—Bloomberg, 12/30/2008

Tijuana fired its police chief after a record 38 people were murdered in the Mexican border city in a single weekend.

—The Week, 12/12/2008

The election of Barack Obama as the first black to become President of the United States ends a long struggle for representation in the White House. The first black to hold a policy or political position in the White House was E. Frederick Morrow, a former public relations executive with CBS, who was appointed to the Department of Commerce under Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. Colin Powell would become the highest-ranking black of any White House to that point when he was named President Reagan’s national security adviser in 1987. Condoleezza Rice would have that same position under President George W. Bush.

—Washington Post, 11/7/2008

Through the next to the last week of the year, job losses have totaled 1.9 million and economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast payroll cuts of 475,000 in December. Jobs losses are likely to continue into next year, as economists forecast the jobless rate to rise to 8.2 percent by the end of 2009 from 6.7 percent last month … [and] projected gross domestic product would shrink this quarter by 4.3 percent, the biggest decline since 1982, and would continue contracting through the first half of 2009.

—Bloomberg, 12/31/2008

Saudi Arabia opened the door for OPEC’s most dramatic output reduction since the 1970s, calling for the group to slash world oil supplies by at least another two million barrels a day to keep abreast of faltering demand. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Russian officials are expected to show solidarity with OPEC, but the country’s oil fields are already declining amid limited investment and aging infrastructure.

—Wall Street Journal, 12/17/2008.

After much delay the United States opened its new $700 million embassy in Iraq on Monday, inaugurating the largest—and most expensive—embassy ever built. The 104-acre compound, bigger than the Vatican, … is six times larger than the United Nations compound in New York. It has space for 1,000 employees with six apartment blocks and is 10 times larger than any other U.S. embassy.

—, 1/5/2009


Amid a sour economy, one business appears to be thriving: counterfeiting. Counterfeiters passed $64.4 million in fake cash into the economy and arrests for making fake money have hit a five-year high according to the Secret Service, a division of the Homeland Security Department that safeguards the nation’s currency.

—USA Today, 12/29/2008

From Tokyo to Mumbai, Asian stocks plunged by record amounts this year as the region’s powerhouse economies lost steam and foreign investors pulled billions of dollars from its once-booming markets. In China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 65 percent—its largest-ever annual drop—becoming the year’s second-worst performing market after Russia, where a key index fell about 72 percent. Japanese shares also suffered their biggest yearly decline, with the Nikkei 225 dropping 42 percent as world’s second-largest economy slid into recession. In Hong Kong, also in recession, the Hang Seng Index closed the year 48 percent lower, its second-biggest drop to date and its worst since the global oil shock of the early 1970s. India’s main index in Mumbai retreated about 52 percent. Major Western benchmarks were down far less, with the Dow off nearly 35 percent and Britain’s FTSE 100 slipping 32 percent.

—Associated Press, 12/31/2008

In a year of bizarre economic events, here’s one of the strangest: the rate on four-week Treasury bills fell to 0 percent. Even so, the Treasury managed to sell $30 billion of these non-performers. A New York dealer in government debt actually sold some three month Treasury bills with negative yields of 0.01 percent to 0.02 percent. If a 0 percent yield is the equivalent of putting your money under a mattress, a negative yield is the equivalent of paying the Treasury to put your money under the government’s mattress.

—Bucks County Courier Times, 12/14/2008

Manufacturing in the U.S. shrank in December at the fastest pace in almost three decades as the recession deepened and spread overseas. The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index fell to the lowest level since 1980. Manufacturing deteriorated around the world signaling a worsening global recession. The euro-area’s gauge fell to a record low, while industry in China contracted for a fifth month. Indicators for the U.K., Sweden, Hong Kong and Australia also showed factories in decline. Automakers have been among the hardest hit as November sales plunged to the lowest level in a quarter century, according to industry figures.

—Bloomberg, 1/2/2009

Roughly 1.5 million homes were in foreclosure at the end of June, and economists expect several million more borrowers may default in the coming year as housing prices erode and job losses rise. Nearly one in ten mortgages is either delinquent or in foreclosure.

—New York Times, 10/31/2008

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported that interest rates had fallen to the lowest level on records dating back to 1971. Average rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages sank to 5.19 percent. The three-month Treasury bill yielded zero percent. The Labor Department reported that new applications for jobless benefits … remains near 26-year highs.

—Associated Press, 12/18/2008

Only three of 89 major indexes tracked by Bloomberg posted gains in 2008, as equities lost $30 trillion in value. Ghana’s All-Share Index was the best performer, surging 60 percent. An offshore oil discovery and government spending on roads and other projects lifted stocks in the country. In Europe, all 19 industry groups in the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index slid at least 18 percent as the measure tumbled 46 percent this year for the worst annual decline on record.

—Bloomberg, 12/31/2008


Archaeologists discovered a silver half-shekel coin used to pay taxes in ancient Temple times … in the rubble rescued from illegal construction carried out on the Temple Mount by the Muslim Wakf. The coin minted by Antiochus bears a portrait of the Greek monarch, who ruled from 175-163 BCE, during which time he looted the Temple of its treasures. The silver half-shekel coin is one of those that were used to pay the annual Temple tax and appears to have been minted in 66/67 CE. The tax, which every Jew was required to pay annually to the Temple, is described in Exodus [30:11-15].

—Arutz Sheva, 12/21/2008

The global quest to ferret out money and property left behind by Jews killed in the Holocaust is now targeting Israel. Many big banks and the government itself have resisted efforts to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for bank deposits, land, corporate shares, art and other assets that investigators say once belonged to Jews killed by the Nazis and their allies. After many were killed in the Holocaust, their substantial assets went unclaimed, passing into the hands of the government of the newly created nation of Israel and some of its largest banks.

—Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008

While the global economic crisis has affected tourism around the world, Israel’s coastal city seems to have remained untouched, as an all-time record high in tourist accommodation in Tel Aviv in 2008 was reported the week of November 9.

—Ynetnews, 11/11/2008

The head of the Water Authority, Dr. Uri Shani, promised that 600 million cubic meters (MCM) of fresh water will be added to Israel’s annual supply in 2012 through construction of desalination plants. The total average annual potential of renewable water in Israel amounts to some 1,800 MCM, of which about 95% is already exploited and used for domestic consumption and irrigation.

—Arutz 7, 12/16/2008

Archaeological evidence of a Jewish town located on the edge of the Samaria desert during the Second Temple Period (516 BCE to 70 CE) will be made public later this month. The recently-discovered artifacts include the remains of a mikveh (ritual bath), stone tools and hidden chambers. The town was located in the Akraba district, a frontier region northeast of Jerusalem.

—Israel net news, 12/16/2008

Many of the investors allegedly swindled by Wall Street money manager Bernard Madoff are, like him, Jewish, and for many of them, contributing to Jewish causes is a crucial part of their culture. The effect of their losses on the Jewish philanthropic world is being seen as nothing less than catastrophic. Countless family foundations have been devastated. The loss to Jewish philanthropy as a whole has been estimated between $600 million and $1.5 billion.

—Associated Press, 12/17/2008

The first detailed color pictures ever published of the Holy Land have been discovered in a museum library. The first edition of the collection of fascinating images of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem was unearthed by volunteers cataloguing the Yorkshire Museum library in York, England. The complete version of The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia and Nubia, by David Roberts, is one of only 400 copies of the first edition ever made. The first edition was printed in London in 1842, and include hand-colored lithographs of famous sites throughout the Holy Land from 1838 and 1839.

—Times online, 12/18/2008