by David C. Grabbe
» According to the London-based Financial Times, the "invisible powers" behind the throne of the European Union (EU) are thirty diplomats who shape the majority of EU laws in weekly meetings behind closed doors. These hoary heads do most of the work that really matters in an obscure body called the Committee of Permanent Representatives, or COREPER. Every important piece of legislation has to go through one of COREPER's two incarnations: the deputies' body, which deals with the regulatory issues that can transform businesses' balance sheets, and the ambassadors' gathering, which focuses on "big picture" issues like foreign policy and general economic affairs. Proposals never become law without the authorization of the members of COREPER.
» Although extreme-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen suffered defeat in the recent French presidential elections, his surprising second-place finish in the primary elections marks a change in Europe's political landscape. Despite the recent landslide defeat, he still earned 20% of the popular vote. This is significant because he based his electoral platform on immigration, crime, and a growing distrust of integration with the EU—themes that embody a growing concern in France, as well as the rest of Europe. These issues cannot be ignored much longer, and if the political left in Europe continues to crumble, the new political leaders and lawmakers will have to address them. As the governments of the EU continue to shift to the right, nationalism will continue to rise and likely impede European integration in the short term.
According to a poll by The Wall Street Journal, more Americans have lost confidence in the leadership of the Catholic Church than in any other institution, including the bankrupt energy company Enron. The scandal, which is being called the greatest crisis in the Catholic Church since the Reformation, has become so big that some commentators believe that the world's biggest, richest national Catholic Church could possibly split from Rome over the issue of priestly celibacy. Father Richard McBrien, a liberal theologian at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, says, "Obligatory priestly celibacy is dead. We're just waiting for the funeral."
» Chinese health officials estimate that 850,000 of the 1.3 billion people in China have contracted the HIV virus, an increase of more than a quarter of a million (30%) over last year's figure, and more than double the number in 1999. Although its infection rates are still far lower than in Africa, health experts say China has all the preconditions for a massive AIDS epidemic—a large mobile population, widespread prostitution, and increasing sexual promiscuity among young people.
» The Organization of African Unity recently reported that malaria is claiming the life of at least one person in Africa every 30 seconds.
The Times (London) reports that in the United States alone the pornography industry has an estimated total annual income of $10-14 billion, making pornography a bigger business than professional football, basketball, and baseball combined. People spend more money for pornography in America than they do for movie tickets—indeed, more than they do on all the performing arts together. Some 11,000 pornographic videos are produced each year, compared with about 400 Hollywood films. An estimated 30,000 websites offer pornography for monthly subscriptions, attracting tens of millions of visitors a day. As many as half of the business travelers who check in to hotels offering pornographic films pay to watch those channels. In a clear sign of a declining culture, women now make up between 10-40% of the audience for adult videotapes.