One campaign ends...
. . . And another begins. Dressed in a black suit and a somber expression, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced on Oct. 27 the end of her failed attempts to form a coalition government and set national elections for Feb. 10. To win, Livni will need to vanquish a tough competitor: Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
The former prime minister has a growing base of support among Israel's right-wing voices, and a victory for Netanyahu could alter the course of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process launched by the Bush administration a year ago in Annapolis. Netanyahu is strongly opposed to land-for-peace initiatives and has a history of supporting policies that strengthen Israel's grasp of current territory. Recent public opinion polls show Netanyahu and Livni in a dead heat.
China will widen its investigation into contaminated food-and so will the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-amid growing evidence that the toxic industrial chemical melamine has leached into the country's animal feed supplies, posing potential health risks to consumers throughout the world. Food safety tests in three provinces in China last week found that eggs were contaminated with melamine, which is blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants. Already melamine-tainted milk supplies in China have sickened over 50,000 children and caused at least four deaths. In the United States, email rumors about Chinese-made candy threatened to dampen some Halloween activities, but few of those goods actually reach the United States. "Thus far, most of FDA's testing of milk and milk-derived ingredients and products from China focused on human foods, but have included animal feeds as well," said FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek. "The FDA is currently re-evaluating its overall approach to keeping these products out of the U.S. market."
Need good news for your wallet? Here's some: The dollar is suddenly worth a lot more in Europe. A year ago Europhiles were decrying $8 cups of coffee in London and thinking about heading to Argentina next time. But in the last few weeks, the $2 it once took to buy £1 has dropped to $1.60, and financial experts say it may go as low as $1.40 in 2009. Harrods, anyone?
The defense industry is wondering which Barack Obama it will get. A year ago, Obama promised the Caucus for Priorities, a liberal, anti-defense spending group, that he would slash the Pentagon's budget by "tens of billions of dollars." His campaign website, however, didn't mention cuts but focused on increases-upping, for example, the number of U.S. ground troops by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines. Part of that increase could include female ground troops, who may be thrust into forward combat roles under the incoming commander-in-chief. In October Obama national defense spokeswoman Wendy Morigi told reporters that current Pentagon prohibitions on women in combat should be "updated to reflect realities on the ground" in Iraq.
The worst flooding to hit Honduras since record-setting Hurricane Mitch struck nearly 10 years to the day later. Three weeks of torrential rains created Mitch-like mudslides in late October, forcing more than 20,000 people from their homes (Honduran newspapers say over 670,000 are affected) and killing at least 29. While the devastation is nowhere near the 10,000 death toll recorded in Central America during Mitch, the slides have created the same widespread need. Operation Blessing International and MAP International combined forces with shipper DHL to rush $150,000 worth of medication, followed by emergency supplies, including MRE meals, blankets, and cans of vegetables. As dozens of families remained in shelters in the capital of Tegucigalpa, even nearby hills are subject to more devastation. "Certain areas of our neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods are at risk of greater damage in the days to come," reports Michael Miller, head of the Tegucigalpa-based Micah Project. "Because many houses are built with substandard practices and are literally clinging to the side of hills, the rain is saturating the foundations to the point that they give way."
Even though a jury found Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, guilty Oct. 27 on seven counts of lying about receiving thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil contractor, the day after the election he was still leading by a slim margin in the race against Democrat Mark Begich, 46. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Stevens, 84, was ahead 48 percent to 47 percent. Stevens' precarious future will come down to more than 40,000 absentee ballots, which officials were set to count within 10 days of the election. Spokesman Aaron Saunders said the long-serving senator was cautiously optimistic about the outcome, while many in the GOP have called for him to step down.
King David lived
Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a shard of pottery at the ruins of an ancient fortified city that is believed to date back to the time of King David. Researchers say carbon dating indicates the fragment, which they unearthed at the Elah Fortress in Khirbet Qeiyafa near Jerusalem, carries the earliest-known Hebrew text-about 1,000 years older than the famed Dead Sea Scrolls. Initial interpretation of the artifact suggests it was a legal text. Until now, archaeological evidence of King David's legendary kingdom has remained exceedingly sparse, leading many scholars to assert that the biblical account was a myth. Lead archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel says continued excavation of the 3,000-year-old site may finally provide clear evidence.
You've got mail
Delinquent borrowers with home mortgages through IndyMac Bank are getting a reprieve from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Trouble is, the message is getting lost in the junk mail.
The FDIC has sent 35,000 notices of a generous program to reduce borrowers' total monthly payments after it assumed control of the overstretched California savings and loan in July. The offer includes potential interest rate reductions to as low as 3 percent, loan extensions to 40 years, and temporary waivers on interest for a portion of the loan balance. The financial industry held high hopes that such a program could serve as a model for other troubled lenders and borrowers.
The unforeseen snag: Only about half of the desperate homeowners targeted for the program have bothered to reply. FDIC officials speculate that many of those receiving letters have long ago stopped opening mortgage-related mail-too stressful.
Battles that erupted in late October between the Congolese army and rebel forces under Laurent Nkunda are spiking a humanitarian crisis reminiscent of the confrontation 10 years ago between the government (of then Zaire) and rebels. It ultimately put the current government, led by former rebel Joseph Kabila, into power.
The conflict thus far has displaced more than 1 million people in the North Kivu province and driven thousands across borders into Uganda and Rwanda, according to Samaritan's Purse, which is airlifting supplies into Goma, the provincial capital. As many as 50,000 people have sought refuge in and around Goma despite rebel strongholds there. An 800-man UN peacekeeping force-the largest in the world-is holding the airport but could be pulled. An aid worker told World Relief, "I think Goma is going to fall," and humanitarian workers are staying in nearby Rwanda to escape fighting. World Relief is assisting 3,000 displaced families, and Seattle-based Mercy Corps is providing clean water to the area as well.
Nkunda vowed Nov. 4 to take his battle all the way to the capital, where lawmakers are asking the Kabila government to negotiate rather than reenact the fight of 10 years ago, which claimed the lives of more than 5 million Congolese.
HarperOne released an environmentally friendly Bible last month that uses green ink to highlight more than 1,000 Scripture passages addressing God's care for creation. Available in the New Revised Standard Version, The Green Bible features a cotton-linen cover and is published on recycled paper using soy-based ink. According to the publisher's website, "The Green Bible is the definitive movement Bible that shows that God is green and how we can care for and protect God's creation."
Muslim attackers beheaded a Christian aid worker in Somalia who converted from Islam and circulated a video of his death. Mansuur Mohammad, a 25-year-old World Food Program (WFP) worker, is one of 24 aid workers killed in Somalia this year alone. Militants from the al Shahab group intercepted Mohammad and a WFP driver on the morning of Sept. 23, according to Compass Direct News. The driver managed to escape, but Mohammad was paraded before villagers in Manyafulka who were told by the militant group to assemble for a feast. To the horror of the villagers, the militant leaders began to recite from the Quran, accusing Mohammad-who converted two years ago-of apostasy. A witness said Mohammad remained composed, never uttering a word, as his captors yelled "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") and then beheaded him. Some say video of his death is being circulated in an attempt to prevent Muslims from converting to Christianity.
Man knows not his time
Louis H. Evans Jr., pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., from 1973 to 1991, who counted President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan and other luminaries among his congregants, died Oct. 29 in Fresno, Calif., of ALS, or "Lou Gehrig's Disease." He was 82.
Evans' father was longtime pastor of influential Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. The younger Evans married Hollywood actress Colleen Townsend Evans, who gave up her film career to devote herself to him and his ministry. Evans organized a new congregation in his home in 1956, Bel Air Presbyterian Church. By the time he left the church in 1963 it had 700 members. Before and after the Reagans' eight years in Washington, they worshipped at Bel Air under the ministry of Donn Moomaw, who succeeded Evans. Today Bel Air is the city's largest Presbyterian congregation. Following his retirement from National Presbyterian, Evans assisted at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in suburban San Francisco.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 58 years and four children. His son Jamie is pastor of First Presbyterian, Fresno.