War without end
Israel and Gaza's year ended miserably: After Hamas forces repeatedly fired rockets into Israel at the end of a six-month ceasefire between the two sides, Israel retaliated with air strikes on the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. The intense bombing campaign killed more than 300 people in Gaza in the first three days, including at least 57 civilians. Israeli bombs also obliterated symbols of Hamas power, including a wing of the Islamic University, the alma mater of many top Hamas officials.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel wasn't fighting civilians in Gaza, but that the country was in "a war to the bitter end" with Hamas. He said Israel intended to deliver "a severe blow" to the Islamic militant group, and that the operation would be "widened and deepened as needed." In Jerusalem, Israel's Cabinet approved calling up 6,500 reserve soldiers for the possibility of a ground invasion, though the country would likely need far more troops for a full-scale offensive.
The deepening conflict presents a dilemma for President-elect Barack Obama, who had pledged to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict from "day one."
The History News Network last year asked professional historians (most of whom teach at colleges and universities) to rate the Bush presidency. Unsurprisingly, 98 percent called it a failure. Astoundingly, 61 percent labeled Bush the worst president in U.S. history.
The worst? Worse than James Buchanan, who fiddled while the U.S. headed toward Civil War? (George W. Bush did not fiddle after 9/11, and we haven't had any more disasters of that kind.) Worse than U.S. Grant or Warren G. Harding, whose administrations were extraordinarily corrupt? (Or Bill Clinton, who stained the Oval Office itself?) Worse than Richard Nixon, whose attempt to cover up crimes led to a political rout that doomed millions in Vietnam and Cambodia?
WORLD has sometimes praised the Bush administration and sometimes criticized it, particularly for its failures in spending and school reform, and its twisting of compassionate conservatism into a government-enlarging proposal. But labeling what's happened recently as the best or the worst ever is always suspect. -Marvin Olasky
Rival forces in remote eastern Congo accused each other of a grisly church massacre that killed more than 100 people the day after Christmas. Survivors and witnesses said attackers used machetes, clubs, and swords to beat and hack to death people who had sought refugee in a Catholic church in the village of Doruma, near Congo's border with Sudan. "The scene at the church was unbelievable. It was horrendous," Ugandan army Capt. Chris Magezi told the Associated Press. Magezi accused the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) of the slayings, as did Abel Longhi, a Doruma shop owner who witnessed the massacre. Longhi said he recognized the LRA by their Acholi language and the number of young boys among the attackers. The LRA is a violent rebel faction that purports to have a Christian base and is led by Joseph Kony, a self-described spokesman for the Holy Spirit and a spirit medium; it is infamous for kidnapping and forcing young boys into its army. But the LRA denied responsibility, saying the Ugandan military killed the church refugees in order to blame the LRA and justify Ugandan forces' continued presence in Congo.
Man knows not his time
Conservative leader Paul Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and founding president of the Heritage Foundation, died Dec. 18. Weyrich, 66, coined the term "Moral Majority," which later described the organization he helped found. "Paul was one of the giants of the conservative movement," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. "His passing is a great loss for conservatism, and for our country."
Mark Felt, the former FBI second-in-command who in 2005 revealed his identity as the infamous "Deep Throat" informant, died on the same day as Weyrich, Dec. 18. Felt, 95, had kept mum for three decades before disclosing his role in tipping off Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward about the Watergate scandal that toppled Richard Nixon's presidency.
Rabbi David L. Lieber, president emeritus of what is now the American Jewish University and general editor of conservative Judaism's modern Torah commentary-the Etz Hayim, or "Tree of Life"-died Dec. 15 at the age of 83.
Her California abortion empire in shambles, Bertha Pinedo Bugarin faces a pile of felony convictions in Los Angeles and San Diego. In courtroom appearances late last year, the 48-year-old admitted to posing as a doctor and pleaded guilty or no-contest to 16 felony counts, including at least nine of performing abortions without a medical license. Police last June arrested Bugarin after California health and law enforcement officials investigated a raft of suspected violations at Clinica Medica Para La Mujer, the chain of abortion businesses Bugarin built to target Hispanic women (WORLD, The Buzz, July 12, 2008). Bugarin faces up to 10 years in state prison for the Los Angeles charges when she is sentenced Jan. 20, and up to nine years when she is sentenced Feb. 6 in San Diego.
A new study of old data suggests that pledges among youth to abstain from sex until marriage have little impact. The findings, published in the January issue of Pediatrics, rely on information collected throughout the 1990s and indicate that 53 percent of teens who made virginity pledges still engaged in premarital sex as compared to 57 percent among comparable non-pledging teens.
The study also found that among those sexually active, pledging teens were slightly less likely than their non-pledging peers to use birth control, 46 percent to 52 percent. The average age when youth from both groups began having sex was 21.
Report authors believe such figures belie abstinence-only education and provide a mandate for broadening the dissemination of materials on having safer sex. "The results suggest that the virginity pledge does not change sexual behavior," wrote researcher Janet Rosenbaum, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University. "Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially abstinence-only sex education participants."
But doesn't that conclusion betray authorial bias? According to the numbers, virginity pledges may have moved 4 percent of youth to adopt the only manner of truly safe premarital sex, that being none at all. So-called safe-sex education may have moved 6 percent of sexually active youth to reduce their risks with birth control. Those results are something of a statistical tie with regard to reducing teen pregnancy. Yet researchers recommend more funding and emphasis on birth control education while dismissing virginity pledges as ineffective-despite past research indicating virginity pledges at least postpone sexual activity among those ages 12 to 17.
The few and the proud in the Marine Corps aren't as few as they used to be, according to U.S. military officials. Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr. of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command says the Corps has grown by nearly 27,000 members in two years. That's half the time officials allotted for such growth.
After launching a program in 2007 to reach a total of 202,000 Marines by 2012, the Corps will likely hit that number early this year. (Marines already total over 200,000.) Milstead said the Marines added 500 additional recruiters and increased the budget for recruiting bonuses. The group also retained more of its force: In 2008, 35 percent of active duty Marines re-enlisted. That's up from 24 percent in 2006. Army officials also reported reaching their recruiting goals for the third year in a row, adding 80,000 soldiers last year, and expect the growth to continue.
Milstead said a teetering economy and a plunging job market may make enlistment more attractive, but he says the service remains attractive too: "Kids join the Marines because they want to join the Marines, not because they're tired of flipping burgers."
Eleven conservative congregations that broke away from The Episcopal Church and formed the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) in 2006 can keep their property as they realign under the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary branch of the Church of Nigeria.
A Virginia judge ruled Dec. 19 that the churches were covered by a state statute dating back to the Civil War that allows the majority of a congregation's members to leave without giving up church property. The Diocese of Virginia claims the statute is unconstitutional and has vowed to appeal, but ADV vice-chairman Jim Oakes said, "We hope that The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia will realize that it is time to stop this legal battle. In these economic times, we should be focused on helping our communities and spreading the gospel, not spending millions of dollars on ongoing legal battles."
Line of fire
Good news for law enforcement agencies reeling from a spike in police officer deaths in 2007: The number of officers killed by gunfire in 2008 dropped to its lowest level in nearly 50 years. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) reported 41 officers died from gunfire in the line of duty last year, down from 68 in 2007. The 2008 figure represents the lowest number since 1956, when 35 police officers died from gunfire.
NLEOMF chairman Craig Floyd attributes the drop in deaths to increased use of bullet-proof vests and stun guns that allow officers to maintain a safer distance from violent criminals. More than 70 percent of officers use body armor, according to Floyd. Fewer than 50 percent used the vests just five years ago.
The report included at least one grim increase: The number of female officers killed more than doubled. Fifteen women officers died in 2008, compared with six in 2007. Floyd said more women are taking on dangerous assignments. One of those women, Nicola Cotton, was one of the first graduates of the New Orleans police academy after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and depleted the city's police force. In early 2008, rape suspect Bernell Johnson overpowered Cotton, 24, as she tried to handcuff him near a busy intersection in broad daylight. Johnson shot Cotton to death with her own gun. Police superintendent Warren Riley said of Cotton: "I can tell you this officer fought with a man twice her size, and she fought very courageously."
Faith on the Hill
When senators and representatives convene Jan. 6 for the 111th Congress, the religious makeup of the U.S. legislature will reflect a nation that is much more religiously diverse than it was a half century ago. According to a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the total percentage of Protestants in Congress has decreased from 74.1 percent in 1961 to 54.7 percent today. Catholic representation grew from 18.8 percent in 1961 to about 30 percent today. Meanwhile, Buddhists and Muslims gained representation for the first time during the 110th Congress. The survey also found that some religious groups-including Catholics, Jews and Mormons-are overrepresented in Congress as compared to the U.S. population, while other groups-such as Hindus and unaffiliated individuals-are underrepresented.