U.S. war commander Gen. David Petraeus, in two days of testimony before Congress last week, forestalled calls for immediate troop withdrawal with an unflappable delivery of a progress report: Civilian deaths are down 45 percent across Iraq since their height last December, and down 70 percent in Baghdad. With the limited success, Petraeus recommended that 30,000 extra troops ordered to Iraq this year come home by next July. But, despite an acknowledgment that the way forward in Iraq is "complex, difficult, and sometimes downright frustrating," Petraeus argued against demands by congressional lawmakers for immediate withdrawal. To do so, he said, would be "rushing to failure."
Residents of the island of Sumatra camped outdoors in streets, parks, and parking lots and fled for higher ground after three earthquakes hit Indonesia within 24 hours. The first, measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale, hit Sumatra on Sept. 12, followed by multiple aftershocks the next day, including two strong earthquakes in their own right. Authorities in the hardest-hit cities of Padang and Bengkulu initially reported low casualties of about a dozen. In Padang, authorities relayed warnings with mosque loudspeakers normally used to call Muslims to prayer. The earthquakes sparked tsunami warnings in a dozen countries where officials worried about a repeat of 2004, when giant waves killed more than 230,000.
After a short, disappointing year in office, a worn-out Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resigned on Sept. 12. The next day he went to a hospital suffering from stress and gastrointestinal problems. Corruption scandals among his cabinet ministers, a dim sense of Japan's political mood, and a July defeat in parliament led to Abe's downfall. He left at a crucial point, just as Japanese officials debate extending a six-year naval mission in the Indian Ocean that supplies fuel to U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Americans are living longer than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted last week that the average American baby born in 2005 would live 77.9 years, up from 77.8 years in 2004 and 75.8 years in 1995. The increase is part of a decades-long surge in life expectancy, which was only 69.6 years in 1955. Women tend to live longer than men, with life expectancies of 80.8 years for white women and 76.5 years for black women. White men (at 75.7 years) and black men (at 69.6 years) lagged behind both groups. The CDC credited a downturn in death rates from heart disease, cancer, and stroke for the steady increase in American lifespans.
Hillary Clinton tried to turn a negative into a political positive last week, announcing that she would return $850,000 in donations that came from disgraced Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. Clinton made the announcement as Hsu, who during the previous week had been on the run from California authorities over a grand theft case, was being apprehended in Colorado. Clinton later said that if individual donors who had their donations "bundled" by Hsu wanted to give the returned money back to the campaign, she would accept it.
The Hsu scandal drew attention to the legal practice of bundling small donations from individuals into a large donation by a group, a common way for grassroots groups to expand their influence. With proposals to regulate bundling emerging in Hsu's wake, some campaign finance experts worried that legislation would violate the freedom of association rights of small donors and restrict the activities of legitimate fundraisers.
The GOP campaign to regain control of the U.S. Senate in 2008 became more difficult last week as another incumbent Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, announced that he would not run for reelection. "I said after I was elected in 1996 that 12 years in the Senate would probably be enough," Hagel said, "and it is." GOP Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Wayne Allard of Colorado have also said that they would not run in '08. Democrat Mark Warner, the popular former governor of Virginia, announced last week that he would run for the retiring Warner's seat.