And now back to our regular programming...

Yesterday, Passport discussed North Korea's first beer commercial. Today it seems that in the face of economic downturn, many unexpected organizations are resorting to commercialism. Vatican Radio, the wide-reaching voice of the Roman Catholic Church, will begin hosting advertisements for increased revenue.

Until now Vatican Radio has been wholly funded by the Catholic Church at a cost of some $30m (£17m) a year.

But the Holy See's latest finances show that it too is suffering from the global economic downturn...

The station - like other organisations - has recently been looking for outside financial help.

That has now come in the form of Enel. Its commercials are likely to be in keeping with the measured conservative tone of the station.

In return, Vatican Radio could receive some $250,000 (£155,000) over the next six months.

While it is true that profits from these advertisements will contribute to making up a deficit in the Church's finances, the announcement comes at a bit of an awkward time. Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the current capitalist system in a 144-page encyclical entitled "Charity in Truth," calling for a new financial order driven by ethics.

Enel, the Italian gas and electric company, stated that it "has some of the shared values of the Catholic Church"--one of which, apparently, is a large customer base.

AFP/Getty Images 


Did Obama accomplish anything in Moscow?

I agree with my FP colleague Chris Brose that U.S.-Russia cooperation in containing Iran's nuclear program is unlikely any time soon, though I don't really see what harm there is in continuing the lobby for it. The Kremlin has its own quarrels with Tehran and may one day -- like China with North Korea -- come around to the view that the aggressive regime to the south is more trouble than it's worth.

I also think that Chris is a bit too quick to dismiss the two diplomatic achievements of the current talks, the reduction in nuclear arsenals and the opening of Russian airpace for U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Yes, the nukes that the U.S. and Russia will have after the cuts could still "annihilate the world several times over" but surely we have to start somewhere. The greenhouse gas reductions in the currently being debated climate bill probably won't be enough to offset the worst effects of global warming, but it allows U.S. negotiators to show up in Copenhagen with a legitimate achievement under their belt. Same goes for next year's Nonproliferation Treaty review conference.

As for the airspace, it's true that the U.S. probably wants to avoid dependence on Russia's good will in Afghanistan. But it's not exactly like there are a lot of great options in the region of Afghanistan. Given that the U.S. is already working with such reliable partners as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, it certainly seems prudent to look for other options. 

So while the disagreements remain sizeable, I wouldn't be quite so quick to dismiss the breakthroughs that were made on some critical issues and the potential for progress on others.