Underrated and misunderstood
With the media spotlight on his successor, President George Bush quietly received the first International Medal of PEACE for his fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria. Before a small audience of several hundred, including White House staff and supporters from think tanks and nonprofits at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health in Washington, pastor Rick Warren presented the medal to the president on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day. Since its inception five years ago, The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has treated more than 2.1 million people living with the virus around the world, which exceeded the administration's goal. Prior to the president's HIV/AIDS program, only 50,000 people were receiving antiretroviral treatment for AIDS. "It's the most underrated and misunderstood program of this administration," said Warren, who referred to PEPFAR as a "BHAG" (big, hairy, audacious goal).
Bush foes and friends alike showered praise on the outgoing president for PEPFAR, which promotes HIV/AIDS education and treatments administered through local clinics and faith-based organizations around the world, mainly in Africa. Former President Bill Clinton sent his commendation in a letter, while others did so by video, including President-elect Barack Obama, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and rock star Bono, an outspoken activist in the fight against AIDS. "You are a hero, sir," the leader of the band U2 said.
But the president, in a sit-down conversation with Warren, deflected any credit for the program. "I don't deserve an award," he said. "The people who made this policy work deserve an award."
With expenditures totaling $18.8 billion over the past five years, PEPFAR is the largest program focused on a single health pandemic and has drawn criticism because of its size and the inclusion of faith-based groups. But Obama in his video message reiterated his promise to continue the program. Congress has already passed an additional $48 billion for programs fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The moral call to fight pandemics in Africa continues despite whatever economic climate the country is in, the president said.
"People get compassion fatigue," said Warren in an interview after the presentation. "Hollywood has moved on. Hollywood is having babies now. We say as the church, 'We're here to stay.' This isn't the flavor of the day."
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej fell ill on the eve of his 81st birthday, dashing hopes that he might intervene successfully in a political crisis that has dissolved the coalition government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat over allegations of voter fraud. Anti-government protesters at Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi international airport brought tourism to a standstill, stranding more than 300,000 travelers during a week-long siege.
Despite its own report showing a continuing nuclear buildup in Iran, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei issued a limp warning to the atomic rogue Nov. 27. He did, however, turn up the heat on Syria, demanding (again) that Syria grant access to UN atomic inspectors to a site bombed last year by Israel. Inspectors already have found "significant" quantities of manmade uranium at the site, which the United States said in April was a secret nuclear reactor being built with North Korean aid. Syria says it was a military installation and denies the charges.
The best-selling ESV Study Bible, which debuted in October and is already in its third printing, will soon be available on the iPhone, Blackberry, and other popular digital platforms. Crossway Books & Bibles president Lane Dennis said the company hopes by offering a digitized ESV version "to distribute the Bible and essential resources for understanding the Bible as broadly as possible around the world."
Rest in peace
In November 1943 more than 100 U.S. ships bearing 35,000 soldiers, sailors, and Marines descended on the island of Betio, seized it, then moved west across the Tarawa Atoll chain, a strategic location in the Pacific. In the 72-hour offensive, 1,677 Americans died and 541 were declared missing in action. Now, 65 years later, a team of searchers has located the bodies of 139 sailors and Marines. Searchers used GPS and ground-penetrating radar to complete the second of two survey trips to Tarawa last month. They will return to the area once more to search for additional remains and make arrangements for the return and identification of the 139 already located. "Allowing the families of the missing to finally have closure is our foremost goal," said Mark Noah of History Flight, a member of the search coalition. More than 72,500 American fighters are still listed as MIA from World War II.
New day for Anglicans
Orthodox Anglican leaders representing over 100,000 congregants gathered in Wheaton, Ill., Dec. 3 to introduce a draft constitution for a new North American church body that is separate from the U.S. Episcopal Church. The event followed a Jerusalem gathering in June of conservative Anglican leaders representing half of the world's 77 million Anglicans, who called for a new Anglican body in North America as part of a declaration of faith. The step formalizes a growing divide over biblical orthodoxy and the ordination of homosexuals. Martyn Minns, bishop over one of the breakaway groups, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), said the constitution is an important part of the "new Anglican province's structural and spiritual foundation." The move to form a new denomination within the worldwide Anglican communion that Minns called "biblically grounded, Christ-centered, mission driven," is likely to prompt more congregations to leave the American and Canadian Episcopal church.
Dare to be one
After federal prosecutor Ken Starr spent 12½ hours in the lion's den known as the U.S. House of Represen-tatives, WORLD selected him its first Daniel of the Year 10 years ago. Starr gave civil testimony and was a model of character as specially appointed independent counsel in sullied times, charged as he was to investigate the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the death of Vince Foster, and the financial dealings of President Bill Clinton and his wife then known as Whitewater.
From then until now-whether humanitarians, persecuted pastors, public servant, brave teenagers, bullied law professor, New York artist, or pregnancy caregiver*-each year's Daniel has displayed God-given strength to stand up to the tyrants and terrorists of the day. Our times are sullied still, and we look to men and women who display fierce dependence on God alone and bravery in the daily battle, as does the 2008 Daniel (See "Broadcast news").
*Previous Daniels are Ken Starr, John Ashcroft, Franklin Graham, Michael Yerko, Columbine survivors, Phillip Johnson, Baroness Caroline Cox, Mako Fujimura, Archbishops Peter Akinola and Henry Orombi, and Wanda Kohn.
Violence in the Nigerian city of Jos left at least 400 people dead and forced another 7,000 to flee their homes following the region's Nov. 27 election, which awarded power to the largely Christian-backed People's Democratic Party. Although initial reports attributed the bloodshed to political tensions between Muslims and Christians, other sources are calling it a well-orchestrated attack intended to target Christian pastors, churches, and businesses. "Why were politicians and political party offices not attacked if it were a political conflict?" said Ignatius Kaigama, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Plateau State. "We strongly feel that it was not political but a premeditated act under the guise of elections." According to a Nigerian pastor who asked not to be identified because of concerns about his safety, the bloodshed stemmed from anger and bitterness dating back to 2001, when similar religious violence in Jos left nearly 1,000 people dead. In the most recent incident, he said, after Muslim militants began "unleashing their anger on the Christians," some Christians retaliated by inflicting heavy damage to Muslim property: "There is much more destruction than in 2001." He also said that many of those killed appear to be Muslims because the authorities-not Christians-opened fire on the militants in order to quell the violence.
Bubble that keeps on bursting
Until a few years ago, many Americans believed that "housing prices always go up." But was it ever really true? Not if you look at prices after adjusting for inflation. While nominal values had been on an upswing since the 1940s, real prices held remarkably steady. That changed when the Fed started bringing interest rates down to historic lows in the early part of this decade, helping to inflate a housing bubble. With the bubble now bursting, analysts predict that prices will have to fall another 15 percent to 25 percent to reach their typical, inflation-adjusted level.
Count me in
A Los Angeles judge ordered Mel Gibson to sit for a deposition after screenwriter Ben Fitzgerald sued the Hollywood star for $10 million he says is due him for writing the screenplay for The Passion. Fitzgerald, son of Flannery O'Conner editor Sally Fitzgerald and poet and linguist Robert Fitzgerald, says he agreed to take a smaller-than--normal fee for his work on the 2004 blockbuster because Gibson persuaded him it was a low-budget "indie" film. That was before the R-rated film depiction of the crucifixion of Christ grossed over $611 million worldwide.
The government's retrial of five Muslim leaders of the now defunct Holy Land Foundation has ended in guilty verdicts on all 108 charges of illegally funding the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. A jury needed just eight days to deliver a decision in the complicated case, far less time than the 19 days a jury took last year before declaring a deadlock in the government's first attempt at convictions in the case.
This time around, federal prosecutors streamlined their evidence and presented jurors a more cohesive narrative of how the Texas-based charity operated as a front group for Hamas fundraising. They emphasized the $12 million channeled from Holy Land to Hamas since 1995, when the organization made the U.S. list of official terrorist groups.
The defense argued that Holy Land monies served only non-political Palestinian initiatives like the building and operation of hospitals and schools. Prosecutors did not dispute that claim, but charged that such initiatives amounted to Hamas public-relations tasks, ultimately serving to ingratiate the terrorist group among Palestinians and to aid recruiting.
President George W. Bush shut down the Holy Land Foundation in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The guilty verdicts are the culmination of a 15-year federal investigation into the group and a major victory for the Bush administration strategy of drying up stateside terrorism financing via prosecution.