Lows and highs
Officials of the Federal Reserve will meet March 18, and analysts expect them to cut interest rates for the sixth time since September. The goal: Keep a sluggish economy growing amid a housing downturn and a credit crunch. But a report from the Labor Department late last month complicated this strategy: Consumer prices rose 4.3 percent during 2007, and many economists say Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's continuing rate cuts will lead to more price hikes in the future. "They are cutting rates with a bill to be paid later," economist John Ryding of Bear Stearns told The New York Times. "The question is not, will we get inflation, but how much will it cost to stuff the genie back in the bottle."
Missing the story
President Bush on Feb. 21 wrapped up a five-nation tour of Africa with a visit to Liberia, a close U.S. associate and the only nation on the continent that may ultimately host the U.S. Africa military command (AFRICOM). Bush became the first American leader in 30 years to visit the country, which was founded in the 1820s by freed American slaves. Still, the president's efforts to help Africa received scant press attention and most of that negative, a fact not lost on humanitarian activist Bob Geldof of Live Aid fame. In a Washington press corps briefing, Geldof praised Bush for what he called "a triumph of American policy" in delivering billions to fight poverty and disease in Africa. He also scolded the assembled reporters for ignoring that story: "You guys didn't pay attention."
The Hollywood writers strike, which ran from last November into early February, cost the local economy $2.5 billion, according to an estimate from Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The cancellation of the Golden Globes alone accounted for $60 million of the lost revenues. The rest resulted from unmade films and television shows and unused support services such as catering and limousine rides.
Wolves on the rebound
The gray wolf population is soaring in the northern Rockies, so much so that federal officials announced plans Feb. 21 to take the animal off of the endangered species list. But environmentalists aren't celebrating. They vow to sue to keep the wolves on the list, fearing that hunters will otherwise target the 1,500 gray wolves that are estimated to be in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Wages of bribery
On Feb. 20, the priciest bribery scandal in congressional history crept toward closure as a federal judge sentenced former defense contractor Brent Wilkes to 12 years in prison. The sentence fell short of the 25 years prosecutors called for, but exceeded the eight years and four months that Rep. Randall "Duke" Cunningham, the central figure in the scandal, is now serving. In 2005, the San Diego Union-Tribune exposed a fishy real estate transaction between Cunningham, an eight-term congressman and America's first Vietnam fighter ace, and another defense contractor, Mitchell Wade. The story triggered a federal investigation in which Cunningham ultimately confessed to accepting $2.4 million in bribes, mostly from the two contractors. Wilkes was convicted in November of 13 counts of bribery, fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. In total, the Cunningham case led to five convictions as well as new strictures on lobbyist-legislator relationships. Wade is still awaiting sentencing.
Environmentalists concerned that polar bears may soon lose the last chunks of their ice habitat to global warming should take heart. New satellite data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that polar ice levels, which had dropped markedly from 5 million square miles in January of last year to about 1.5 million square miles last October, have roared back over the winter to near their original size.
That news combined with reports throughout the Northern Hemisphere of some of the coldest winters on record suggests the earth's recent warming trend could be changing. Almost 1,000 people have died from unusually frigid conditions in Afghanistan since December as half of the country's 34 provinces have reached low temperatures of --20 degrees Fahrenheit. In the northern region of Vietnam, a record cold spell lasting more than a month has killed tens of thousands of cattle.
As yet, no environmentalists have called for increasing greenhouse gas emissions to save the cows.
Prison ministry ends
Iowa state prison officials are closing a Bible-based treatment program run by Prison Fellowship Ministries after a five-year federal court battle. The InnerChange Freedom Initiative will be terminated in mid-March, prison spokesman Fred Scaletta said, following a circuit court decision last December that prohibits taxpayer funding of such programs. The eight-year-old Newton program has operated solely on donations since last July 1. Prison Fellowship had a three-year state contract that ends in June but can be terminated when enrollment falls below 60 inmates. That will happen after a March 14 graduation. Prison Fellowship will still be welcome to minister to inmates at the Newton prison, Scaletta told the Des Moines Register "on a volunteer basis. There will be no funds allocated or applied in any way."
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency director told a Senate committee that the Pakistani military is not trained or equipped to fight al-Qaeda and other militants at its lawless Afghan border, even after the United States invested $10 billion in aid and counterterrorism efforts for Pakistan since 2001. Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 27 that the Pakistan government is trying to crack down on the border area where Taliban and al-Qaeda are believed to be training, and from which they launch attacks in Afghanistan. The insecurity is fueling calls for President Pervez Musharraf's resignation, following Feb. 18 parliamentary elections where opposition parties, including the party of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, captured the majority of seats.
Iraq and campaign '08
Even before tight primary elections in Ohio and Texas March 4, candidates began focusing on the general-election battle, where the war in Iraq will headline the political debate. Standing between two retired generals before giving a speech at George Washington University, Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would consult with military commanders on Iraq and acknowledged that a pullout would not result in a quick end to the conflict.
Asked during a Feb. 26 debate if he would send troops back into Iraq to deal with insurrection or civil war, Sen. Barack Obama said, "If al-Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad." When Republican candidate Sen. John McCain countered, "I have some news: Al-Qaeda is in Iraq," Obama later said, "I have some news for John McCain, . . . There was no such thing as 'al Qaeda in Iraq' until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq." Apparently Obama didn't hear of Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaeda franchise operating out of northern Iraq. Its headquarters were taken out by U.S. bombing runs in the early hours of the U.S. invasion five years ago this month.
A bill committing at least $30 billion of taxpayer money to fighting global poverty has slipped through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by voice vote and without hearings. The legislation, of which Sen. Barack Obama is a co-sponsor, would require the president to submit to the UN-crafted Millennium Development Goal of reducing global poverty by one half by 2015.
That agenda fails to take into account that the bulk of foreign handouts wind up lining the pockets of anti-American dictators. It also takes a significant step toward the UN goal of international governance and taxes, an affront to U.S. sovereignty.
More than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood in favor of another religion-or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44 percent of American adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether, according to a just-published survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Reagan was right
It was 25 years ago, on March 8, 1983, that President Ronald Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Fla., where he characterized the Soviet Union as the "focus of evil in the modern world"-an "evil empire."
The president's pronouncement was a shot heard round the world, as were his motivations: "There is sin and evil in the world," said Reagan to his Christian brothers, "and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."
Those who wished to accommodate rather than oppose the USSR, and who were not as troubled by atheistic communism, denounced the speech. In The New York Times, Anthony Lewis described the speech as "sectarian," "outrageous," "simplistic," and "terribly dangerous," before concluding it was "primitive-the only word for it." Historian Henry Steele Commager asserted, "It was the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." This was because of its "gross appeal to religious prejudice."
Certain quarters in the Kremlin hoped to turn Reagan's remarks into a propaganda tool to deride the president as a warmonger. The tactic backfired. One case in point was Natan Sharansky and his fellow inmates inside Permanent Labor Camp 35-the gulag. The Soviet prison guards shared Reagan's "primitive" words with Sharansky. Rather than being horrified, Sharansky couldn't contain his excitement. The moment his persecutors left, he eagerly tapped out Reagan's words in Morse code on his cell wall, a pattern repeated throughout the ecstatic prison camp, as the words "Evil Empire" echoed from its very source. Sharansky called Reagan's words "a great encourager for us."
The Evil Empire speech was not an anti-communist rant. It was a moral statement laying out a just cause in a just war against a militantly atheistic empire that killed tens of millions. It was a historic line in the sand 25 years ago.
-Paul Kengor, a professor at Grove City College, wrote The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2006)