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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "2008 Daniel of the Year," Dec. 13, 2008

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.

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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."

Thai crisis

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.

UNheeded

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.

Digitized

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.

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