A bridge too far
The senator who fought for the infamous "bridge to nowhere" is now fighting to stay out of prison. Federal prosecutors say Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, failed to disclose more than $250,000 in home renovations and other lavish gifts from VECO Corp., an oil services contractor that often lobbied for federal grants and projects. Stevens was indicted on July 30 on seven felony counts, each of which carries up to five years in prison.
One of the Senate's most powerful appropriators and longest-serving members, the 84-year-old Stevens developed a reputation for securing funding for pork projects in Alaska and for helping to increase government spending in general. Stevens, who has served in the Senate for 40 years, said he was innocent and vowed to fight the charges. He may, however, have to fight alone, politically: National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Ensign refused to endorse Stevens in his primary battle against six other GOP opponents. "The candidates are on the ballot right now," said Ensign, "and we're going to wait to see how that whole thing plays out."
Zimbabwe's president and its opposition leader met for the first time in a decade last month and agreed to a framework for negotiations toward a unity government. But with a deadline for talks fast approaching, it's unclear what the leaders will have to talk about: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said any agreement should respect the results of a first round of voting in March. Tsvangirai won that election, but by a slim and contested majority. President Robert Mugabe insists that the basis for talks be a June 27 runoff, which he won because Tsvangirai bowed out over violence against opposition supporters. Mugabe, 84, has been Zimbabwe's leader for 28 years and is blamed for state-sponsored violence and runaway inflation.
What's clear is that tightened sanctions issued by the United States and the European Union seem to be forcing the Mugabe regime to the table. The U.S. Treasury moved to freeze the assets of 17 business enterprises controlled by the Zimbabwean government and on July 25 banned Americans from doing business with them. President Bush said that should the talks lead to a new government, the United States stood ready to provide a substantial assistance package, development aid, and normalized relations.
A federal appeals court ruled July 23 that the state of Colorado violated constitutional rights when it blocked Colorado Christian University (CCU) students from receiving taxpayer-funded financial aid.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned a lower court decision holding the nondenominational CCU "pervasively sectarian" and thus ineligible for state scholarship dollars. The three-judge panel said the state discriminated without constitutional justification by granting funds to some religious institutions-including Methodist and Roman Catholic universities-but then refusing to distribute money to other schools labeled "pervasively sectarian."
Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, told the Associated Press that students "attending institutions such as CCU who take their faith-based commitment seriously should have an equal opportunity to participate in Colorado's financial aid program."
The CCU ruling is the latest in a string of legal victories for religious schools seeking state financial aid. In recent years, courts in California, Virginia, and Ohio have affirmed the rights of religious institutions to receive state aid, marking a departure from past tradition in which the courts approved funding for colleges with religious affiliation, but not for those requiring students to adhere to such things as faith statements or chapel attendance.
Colorado Christian president William Armstrong told The Denver Post he was thankful for the outcome: "We think that it's a great victory for our students but also for the First and 14th amendments."
Indonesian terror suspects arrested in early July have confessed to executing a Christian teacher in front of his family last year. They also say they were planning to assassinate an American language teacher before their arrest. The teacher has been identified only by his first name, Samuel, in the town of Sekayu, and according to the Associated Press left his post in recent months.
The confessions illustrate the tenacity of hardened and radical Islamic networks in Indonesia, despite a U.S.-backed crackdown that has netted more than 400 suspects in recent years. The 10 alleged militants told officers they were plotting to attack Indonesia's Supreme Court in retaliation for the upcoming executions of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombers, in addition to the 2007 shooting death of 59-year-old Dago Simamora, an Indonesian teacher, in front of his children last year in the south Sumatran town of Pekanbaru.
River of red ink
The White House announced last week that the fiscal year 2009 budget deficit would jump to $482 billion. Democrats pounced on the report, arguing that the record number is the result of an irresponsible president, but Bush budget director Jim Nussle was quick to point out that a large portion of the red ink came from the bipartisan "stimulus" plan with its $150 billion in tax rebates. Nussle also noted that the deficit is 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, not far from the norm over the past 30 years. The deficit figure does not include $80 billion in war funding that is considered off budget.
The Beijing Games organizing committee has reneged on an earlier promise that the 20,000 journalists covering the Olympic Games would receive unfettered internet access. The Chinese government routinely censors websites it considers politically or socially incorrect, but visiting media had received assurance that they would not encounter such blockades. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge had previously counted that allowance among the achievements of his "silent diplomacy."
Now, journalists have begun complaining that their jobs are exceedingly more difficult without access to sites like that of Amnesty International, which highlights human-rights issues in China. Mark Allison, an East Asia researcher for Amnesty International, accuses the IOC of caving to China on the matter: "This blatant media censorship adds one more broken promise that undermines the claim that the Games would help improve human rights in China."
Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC's press commission, admitted to the Reuters news service that "IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games- related." That kind of backpedaling is undermining original ideals about the power of Olympism to transform China.
Movement to McCain
Barack Obama is making headlines with his outreach efforts to evangelicals, but John McCain may be making more headway. The Arizona senator and members of his campaign have met with dozens of high-profile evangelical leaders over the past several months, a drive now paying off in endorsements. Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, David Barton of WallBuilders, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, and Phil Burress of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values are among the names lining up behind the presumptive Republican nominee.
Burress, who changed his mind on McCain after a private meeting with the GOP candidate, says more in-depth knowledge of the two presidential contenders will press many more evangelical heavyweights into McCain's camp soon-most notably Focus on the Family's James Dobson. "I believe he will eventually come out to support McCain, whether that's more for McCain or against Obama, because there's too much at stake here," Burress told WORLD. "And when Dr. Dobson speaks and finally endorses McCain, that will be the green light for the entire movement."
Dobson opened up the possibility of endorsing McCain on a July 21 radio broadcast: "I never thought I would hear myself saying this," he said. ". . . While I am not endorsing Sen. John McCain, the possibility is there that I might."
McCain's selection of a running mate could put a kink in those plans were he to choose a candidate fuzzy on the abortion issue such as Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida. But Burress, who believes McCain needs to talk about social issues more on the campaign trail, is confident that the vice presidential pick will reflect conservative values: "We were basically assured by his staff that there's no way in the world that he would pick a pro-abortion candidate."
In the Saddleback
Pastor Rick Warren will interview presidential contenders John McCain and Barack Obama on stage at his Southern California megachurch Aug. 16. The bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life intends to question the candidates on matters of compassion and leadership. Obama and McCain will appear in succession for one hour each with a few minutes of overlap in between.
Warren told WORLD's Joel Belz that the platform he is providing the candidates is quite different from his pulpit at Saddleback Community Church-from which he expects to preach that same weekend about Christians' responsibility in the current election cycle. But Warren says he also wants, in a smaller and more private setting, to provide an opportunity for the candidates to hear from and speak to a variety of about 30 religious leaders.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released results of a survey on gender and church attendance this summer. The findings: Women go to church more than men. That reality hardly qualifies as news for many ministers who have long since launched campaigns directed at correcting the imbalance. In fact, the new numbers suggest such efforts may be working.
Pew reports that men make up 47 percent of evangelical Protestant congregations and 46 percent of mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Those figures represent marked improvement from the long-reported 60-40 split that has driven many churches to more masculine practices and aesthetics.
But work remains: The survey also revealed that among churchgoers, men are about 8 percentage points behind woman in weekly attendance.