newsviews.gif (3768 bytes)
Audio MP3

PBI News

Religious

Some 95 percent of all Poles still say that they are Catholic. Yet loyalty to the church is waning. Even the conservative Catholic publicist Tomasz Terlikowski estimates the true number of devout Catholics at little more than 20 percent. Only slightly more than 44 percent of young people say they go to church on Sundays, compared with 62 percent in 1992. Forty-two percent admit that they do not observe all religious commandments. In addition, four-fifths of Poles are bothered by the fact that the church regularly intervenes in politics. — Der Spiegel, 7/11/2012

The number of evangelical Christians in Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country, has soared over the last decade, from 15% of the population in 2000 to 22% in 2010. — CNN, 7/2/2012

Phoenix police arrested a minister, saying that he violated city code ordinances when he allowed approximately 20 people to enter his home to study the Bible. In addition to a 60-day jail sentence, the minister received a fine of $12,180 and three years probation. The city states that his Bible study was the equivalent of a church that they weren’t zoned for. Multiple comments on Facebook point out that many people have parties with more than 20 people in attendance. They also state that home Bible studies are protected under the First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. — The Examiner, 7/11/2012

The Crystal Cathedral congregation recently announced that it will vacate its modernist steel-and-glass church by June 2013. The Diocese of Orange re-baptized the church Christ Cathedral earlier this month and plans to turn the Protestant landmark where the "Hour of Power" TV ministry is based into its spiritual and administrative headquarters. The fast-growing, 1.2 million-person diocese bought the church campus for nearly $58 million last year. — AP, 6/27/2012

Christian communities across the Middle East continue to wither. The latest to face a possible exodus are Syrian Christians, many of whom are on the wrong side of the deepening civil war there. A century ago, Christians made up perhaps 1 in 5 of Middle East peoples. Today it’s not even 1 in 20. The toppling of Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt exposed a tragic result: resurgent Muslim radicals making life harder on the Christians of those lands. Iraq is the most extreme example; two-thirds of its original 1.5 million Christians have fled homes and churches since U.S. forces invaded nine years ago.

About 13 million Christians account for 4 percent of the people of the Middle East and North Africa, the smallest share of its population that is Christian of any other major geographic region, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Jerusalem is now 1.5 percent churchgoers, leading some to foresee what would amount to an empty Christian theme park for Western visitors. Bethlehem was once 90 percent Christian; now it’s 14 percent. — Kansas City Star, 8/31/2012

The contemporary church movement has radically impacted both the church and culture. Many of the new churches that start are contemporary and many traditional churches have added contemporary services. A whole generation of boomers and busters are now trying church and finding that the contemporary church meets their needs and brings them closer to God. The significant increase of these churches is in large part responsible for the growth of mega churches. While traditional churches are struggling with declining numbers, contemporary churches are rapidly growing. — Huffington Post, 9/5/2012

The Federal List of Extremist Materials was first published by Russia’s Justice Ministry in July 2007. As of 20 July 2012, it contained 1,359 entries. These include books and other forms of printed matter, and electronic materials such as image files, videos and websites. This figure is not exhaustive, however. A few entries appear twice, some are blank where titles have been excluded, and others list multiple items. The Federal List is now so lengthy that thorough examination of each entry is impossible. — Forum 18 News Service, 7/23/2012

Social

India’s energy crisis cascaded over half the country when three of its regional grids collapsed, leaving 620 million people without government-supplied electricity for several hours in, by far, the world’s biggest blackout. Hundreds of trains stalled across the country and traffic lights went out, causing widespread traffic jams in New Delhi. Electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies half burnt, power officials said. The massive failure has raised serious concerns about India’s outdated infrastructure and the government’s inability to meet its huge appetite for energy as the country aspires to become a regional economic superpower. The new power failure affected 20 of India’s 28 states — about double the population of the United States. The blackout was unusual in its reach, stretching from the border with Myanmar in the northeast to the Pakistani border about 3,000 kilometers (1,870 miles) away. — AP, 7/31/2012

The floods that have hit parts of North Korea since late June appear to have been more devastating than what the country first acknowledged. On Saturday, the official Korean Central News Agency said floods and a typhoon killed almost 170 people, left 400 missing and made more than 212,000 people homeless. A recent United Nations mission had found there was also much damage to farmland, a devastating prospect for a country that already can’t grow enough food to feed its own people. North Korea officially says some 160,000 acres of farmland were affected. — BBC, 8/6/2012

A deadly, drug-resistant superbug outbreak that began last summer at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center claimed its seventh victim September 7, when a seriously ill boy from Minnesota succumbed to a bloodstream infection. The boy was the 19th patient at the research hospital to contract an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae that arrived in August 2011 with a New York woman who needed a lung transplant. His case marked the first new infection of this superbug at NIH since January — a worrisome signal that the bug persists inside the huge brick-and-glass federal facility in Bethesda. "It’s heartbreaking," said John Gallin, the physician-researcher who directs the clinical center. "What happened this summer was a very unfortunate case. All of these cases are hugely sad cases." — Washington Post, 9/14/2012

Political

China’s arms exports have surged over the past decade, flooding sub-Saharan Africa with a new source of cheap assault rifles and ammunition and exposing Beijing to international scrutiny as its lethal wares wind up in conflict zones in violation of U.N. sanctions. Weapons from China have surfaced in a string of U.N. investigations in war zones stretching from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Ivory Coast, Somalia and Sudan. It has raised questions about whether Chinese diplomats have a grip on the reach of the country’s influence in the arms industry beyond its borders. Beijing has responded to the disclosures not by enforcing regulations at home but by using its clout within the Security Council to claw back the powers of independent U.N. arms investigators. — Washington Post, 8/25/2012

Iran does not have a nuclear bomb, but if it continues to enrich uranium at the current pace, it will become a "nuclear threshold" country within a year. According to intelligence officials, there is a possibility that between mid-2014 and the end of that year the Islamic Republic will become a nuclear power with more than one bomb in its arsenal. — YNet news, 7/30/2012

Canada has suspended diplomatic ties with Iran, plunging relations between the two nations to their worst level in years and raising fears about the fate of Canadians on death row in the Middle East nation.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced that Canada was closing its embassy in Tehran and expelling Iranian diplomats from Canada as it formally declared Iran a state sponsor of terrorism. Baird branded Iran as the "most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today." — TheStar.com, 9/7/2012

The U.S. is "not setting deadlines" for Iran and still considers negotiations as "by far the best approach" to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week the sanctions are not slowing Iran’s nuclear advances "because it does not see a clear red line from the international community."Asked if the Obama administration will lay out sharper "red lines" for Iran, Clinton said, "We’re not setting deadlines." — Bloomberg News, 9/10/2012

Evidence continues to mount that supports claims by opposition activists that Syrian government forces massacred hundreds of people in the Damascus suburb of Daraya. Activists say around 320 bodies have been found, including women and children, most of whom were reportedly summarily executed during raids. The opposition says more than 630 people were killed in the city throughout the week, including nearly 300 who appear to have been executed. — Reuters, 8/26/2012

The Chinese government accused Japan of stealing a group of islands in the East China Sea, as the mystery over the whereabouts of Beijing’s top leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping continues to grow. Japan on Tuesday confirmed that it had sealed a deal to buy the disputed islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, for $26 million from the private owner who has been leasing them to the government.

In Japan, the move was seen as a way for the country to avoid the nationalist Tokyo governor from taking control of the islands and developing them. China has called the move illegal and sent two patrol ships to the islands while state-run media have been carrying unusually strong statements on the issue. — Christian Science Monitor, 9/11/2012

Financial

JP Morgan & Chase, fighting over $6.3 billion it says Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. owes it, was sued by the defunct investment bank as it seeks to reject $2.2 billion in derivatives obligations. The derivatives claims also feature in Lehman’s $8.6 billion suit against JP Morgan, which was the main short-term lender to Lehman around the time of its 2008 collapse during the credit crisis.

Now out of bankruptcy, Lehman is gathering money for its second payment to creditors on October 1. It has said it expects to pay creditors 18 cents on the dollar by 2016 or so. Lehman filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history in September 2008, listing $613 billion in debt. — Bloomberg, 9/17/2012

The Federal Reserve launched another aggressive stimulus program, saying it would pump $40 billion into the U.S. economy each month until it saw a sustained upturn in the weak jobs market. The central bank’s decision to tie its controversial bond buying directly to economic conditions was an unprecedented step that marked a big escalation in its efforts to drive U.S. unemployment lower. Unlike in its two previous bond-buying sprees, the Fed said it would only purchase mortgage-backed securities, hoping in part to unstick a housing sector that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke called "a missing piston" in the U.S. recovery. — Reuters, 9/14/2012

The European Central Bank announced that it would buy the bonds of struggling governments without limit, an initiative that could save the euro zone and blunt one of the main threats menacing the global economy. The unprecedented step is meant to reassure fearful investors that euro-zone governments would not default. By committing its massive firepower, the ECB is seeking to ease the pressure on beleaguered European countries that have faced steep and potentially unsustainable costs for borrowing money. A default by a major economy, such as Italy or Spain, could trigger a deep recession in Europe and snuff out the U.S. recovery. Europe’s recession has been proving a significant drag on the global economy and taking a toll on the bottom line of U.S. and other companies that export to the 17-nation euro zone. — Washington Post, 9/6/2012

Social Security’s finances are being hit by a wave of demographics as baby boomers reach retirement, leaving relatively fewer workers behind to pay into the system. In 1970, there were 4.9 workers paying Social Security taxes for each person getting benefits. Today, there are about 2.8 workers for each beneficiary, a ratio that will drop to 1.9 workers by 2035, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office. About 56 million people collect Social Security benefits, and that is projected to grow to 91 million in 2035. — AP, 8/13/2012

Detailing the heavy financial toll of unrest in South Africa’s crucial mining sector, President Jacob Zuma said Monday that strikes have cost close to 4.5 billion rand (nearly $563 million) in lost gold and platinum production this year while a major company announced it is halting construction of a platinum mine shaft, putting 1,200 people out of work. The strikes that have stopped work at seven gold and platinum mines also spread to the chrome sector, according to the South African Press Association. — Bloomberg Business Week, 9/17/2012

Israel

A new research project by two desert research institutes has strung several Israeli agriculture and clean-tech specialties together to push back the desert through an artificial desert oasis using low-cost desalination technology that runs on solar power. A small model is up and running in the desert north of the Dead Sea, while the researchers aim to build a larger testing and training facility for agronomists from across Israel and other countries. A Jewish philanthropist from Switzerland gave the researchers the fuel to develop the sustainable system. The solar-powered model oasis, located on a quarter of an acre near the Dead Sea, is successfully sustaining four different crops. Each system would be custom-made to maximize each customer’s particular crop needs and energy availability. This is good news for regions in the Middle East and Africa where micro-farmers are losing ground to desertification. A 1.25- acre area has been leased to develop into an operational demonstration site and field school where Israel’s thousands of agricultural visitors could come to learn the new oasis method every year. This could provide a life-changing experience for those looking to farm for their future, such as the Nigerian rebels who come to Israel to learn how to trade their weapons for plows. — Israel21c, 8/9/2012

A conference in Jerusalem has launched an element new to the mix of public prattle but nevertheless replete with historical bona fides: the rights of 850,000 Jewish refugees forced from Arab countries between 1948 and 1951 and certified as refugees by the United Nations [UN]. Organized by the Israeli government and the World Jewish Congress, the parley signaled an effort that will doubtless be tagged as a new issue by some and derided for adding fuel to a process already hostile to the point of stagnation. — Media Line, 9/10/2012

Defying the perception of absolute stagnation in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority [PA], Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz signed agreements that will regulate existing trade and taxation agreements. Officials said the process took more than one year and was carried out in secrecy. The new agreements will impact the 1994 Paris Protocol which dealt with the implementation of financial arrangements set forth in the 1993 Oslo Accords, including the collection of certain duties and taxes by Israel on behalf of the Palestinians, improving revenue collection for the cash-strapped PA. The pact also includes plans for a new pipeline to improve the flow of fuel from Israel to the PA. — Media Line, 8/2/2012

Hamas leaders seem increasingly content to enjoy the fruits of splendid isolation. The parliamentary car park, full of rickety bangers when Hamas first took office, now gleams with flash new models hauled through the tunnels under the Egyptian border. Two Hummer H3s and a golden Porsche were recently spotted cruising the streets. Ministers and members of parliament seem unbothered by the lack of accountability as well as reports of money-laundering. "We’re hunted and targeted," explains a self-pitying MP on Hamas’s parliamentary ethics committee, who recently spent $28,000 on a new car with the help of a $12,000 loan from the movement. — The Economist, 6/17/2012

The US State Department’s annual report on International Religious Freedom for 2011 indicates a rise in anti-Semitism. The report also focuses on the rise in anti-Semitism around the world "manifested in Holocaust denial, glorification, and relativism"; conflating opposition to certain policies of Israel with blatant anti-Semitism. A rise in "growing nationalistic movements that target ‘the other;’ and traditional forms of anti-Semitism, such as conspiracy theories, acts of desecration and assault, ‘blood libel,’ and cartoons demonizing Jews," have also been reported. The report mentions anti-Semitic declarations in Venezuela’s official media and widespread anti-Israel sentiment in Egyptian media including anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial or glorification. The report mentioned web sites promoting Holocaust denial operated with Iran’s consent; desecration of Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in France; rise in popularity of an openly anti-Semitic party, (Jobbik party) in Hungary; defacing Jewish property in Ukraine, including a synagogue and several Holocaust monuments and soccer matches in the Ukraine and the Netherlands marred by anti-Semitic slogans. — Ynetnews, 7/31/2012