A cold day in Moscow brought a cold-blooded end to the life of Stanislav Markelov, a Russian human-rights lawyer devoted to battling Russian abuses of Chechens. A masked assailant gunned down the 34-year-old attorney in broad daylight, less than a half mile from the Kremlin. The gunman also shot and killed Anastasia Baburova, a freelance journalist in her mid-20s who tried to intervene. Russia's state-run news agency reported the assailant used a silencer on his gun and shot Markelov at close range in the back of the head, indicating a planned killing. Authorities haven't named a suspect.
Markelov fought the early release of a Russian colonel convicted of strangling a Chechen woman in 2000, and told reporters he was considering filing an international court appeal in the case. Authorities released Col. Yuri Budanov one week before Markelov's murder.
The killing drew comparisons to the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a high-profile Russian journalist who wrote about Russian abuses in Chechnya. Politkovskaya, once a client of Markelov, was one of more than 12 journalists killed in Russia in the last eight years.
Kremlin critic and human-rights activist Lev Ponomaryov lamented the latest murder in a pattern of violence against Russian critics and said: "When one needed a bold journalist, one called Politkovskaya; when one needed a bold lawyer, one called Markelov."
Since when do capitalists urge communists to increase government spending? Since China's roaring surge toward modernization hit the global economic downturn. Growth in the fast-developing nation slowed to just 9 percent last year, down from the 13 percent of 2007 and the first time since 2002 that the number dipped below 10 percent-raising concerns that 2009 might fail to meet the baseline standard of 8 percent that Beijing officials say is necessary to maintain employment levels. Economists hope that China's $600 billion stimulus package can reverse the downward trend, but some project that growth could dip as low as 5 percent in 2009 before an upswing begins. Newly confirmed U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants China to adopt "a more aggressive stimulus package as we do our part to try to pass a stimulus package here at home."
A Vermont judge ruled Jan. 28 that Isabella Miller, 6, should remain in the custody of her biological mother, Lisa Miller, but granted extensive visitation rights to Miller's former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins ("Are you my mother," May 12, 2007). While Miller is still pursuing appeals in Virginia, Judge William Cohen warned her that failure to comply with the court-ordered visitation, which includes five weeks in the summer, could jeopardize her custody rights. According to Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel, which is representing Miller, the latest ruling underscores the importance of the federal Defense of Marriage Act: "If that law is repealed, it would be over for us. We would have no more hope to fight for Isabella's future."
Slower snail mail
Faced with a potential volume loss of over 15 billion pieces of mail, the U.S. Postal Service is projecting a total net loss of $5 billion this year. On Jan. 28 Postmaster General John E. Potter asked Congress to allow a one-day-a-week cut in mail delivery: "I do not make this request lightly, but I am forced to consider every option given the severity of our challenge."
When Israel ended a three-week Gaza offensive aimed at weakening Hamas, Gazans began assessing damage and looking for aid. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offered a swift, sweeping response: a pledge of $1 billion for reconstruction. United Nations (UN) aid chief John Holmes said the UN would raise money for emergency repairs, but warned an ongoing power struggle between Gaza's Hamas rulers and the opposing Palestinian party, Fatah, would mire aid efforts.
Israeli officials said they wanted to direct international aid to moderate forces in Gaza instead of handing funds to Hamas, a militant party that launched some 6,000 rockets into Israel over the last three years.
Relief groups, including Christian organizations like Barnabas Fund and Open Doors USA, are aiding both Muslims and the region's small Christian minority, working with local Bible societies and churches to provide food vouchers to residents. World Vision is preparing emergency kits for up to 100,000 people but says distribution depends on delivery access over Israel's otherwise closed border.
The Food and Drug Administration granted approval Jan. 23 for California biotechnology company Geron Corporation to conduct the first human clinical trial using embryonic stem cells. Researchers plan to inject the stem cells, which were derived from leftover embryos at fertility clinics prior to former President George W. Bush's 2001 research restrictions, into the spines of up to 10 patients who suffer from severe spinal cord injuries. While the study will focus primarily on the safety of using the cells in humans, many proponents view the trial as the first step to further embryonic stem-cell research under the Obama administration. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a vocal critic of embryonic stem-cell research, questioned the FDA's decision: "With the approval of a clinical trial utilizing embryonic stem cells, the FDA has taken it upon itself to determine when human embryos should be subject to research and experimentation."
Chinese courts handed down death sentences Jan. 22 to two men involved in the tainted-milk scandal that killed at least six children and sickened thousands more last year. Authorities allege that Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinpin intentionally produced or sold dairy products laced with melamine, a toxic chemical used to inflate the milk's protein levels. Several others also received sentences, including dairy executive Tian Wenhua, who will serve life in prison for continuing to produce and sell the contaminated milk even after her company, Sanlu Group, learned it was dangerous.
The sentencing brings little satisfaction to Chinese families who say the perpetrators are scapegoats. More than 20 companies sold the tainted milk, but thus far the government has prosecuted only Sanlu's executives. Some parents allege that officials, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment, covered up the scandal ahead of the summer Beijing Olympics and others question why government officials and health inspectors have yet to face scrutiny for their glaring oversight.
Mi casa es su casa
Author and pastor Rick Warren has reportedly told a number of Anglican leaders that he is willing to aid dissident Episcopal churches "who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation," according to EP News, by sharing facilities on the campus of Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.
About 100 Episcopal church congregations have split from the mainline church hierarchy over orthodoxy issues, and last month the California Supreme Court ruled against a Newport Beach parish, saying departing churches have to give up their property.
Free speech now
Yuba Community College permitted free speech on its Sacramento, Calif., campus-but only for an hour at lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And then only with a permit secured two weeks in advance. So last year police threatened student Ryan Dozier with arrest and expulsion for engaging in evangelism in a park-like area of the campus. But in a settlement reached Jan. 23, Yuba officials agreed to correct the school's speech code and clear Dozier's record.
Little blue book
The Jan. 12 release of a new pocket book anthology of quotations from President Barack Obama's speeches and writings is generating controversy for its likeness to Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, the "Little Red Book" that was required reading during China's Cultural Revolution. According to the History Company's website, Pocket Obama "is an unofficial requirement for every citizen to own, to read, and to carry this book at all times." Company spokesman Jeff Turback told WORLD the book has been pretty popular-it has already sold out once on Amazon.com. "We've gotten a lot of positive comments and an amazing amount of negative comments [about the book]," Turback said. "It was done with a good spirit but people are really polarized about Barack Obama."
Man knows not his time
Simultaneously called one of the most theological American novelists and one of the most sexually and otherwise explicit, John Updike died Jan. 27 at age 76 of lung cancer. The author of dozens of novels, short stories, and other works was a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner and a favorite of critics. Updike died with a collection of short stories set to be published in June.
"My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class," Mr. Updike said in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. "I like middles," he continued. "It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules."
As HBO prepared to premiere The Trials of Ted Haggard, a documentary about the fallout from the former pastor's 2006 sex and drug scandal, more trials surfaced. A former volunteer at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Haggard, 52, was pastor, revealed that Haggard performed a sex act in front of him in a hotel room in 2006 and sent him thousands of explicit text messages. Grant Haas, who was 22 at the time of the incident, also provided KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs documents that showed he was to be paid $179,000 by New Life through this year. Haas claims he is coming forward now because the church did not follow through on promises to pay for his counseling and medical treatment.
Haggard, who headed the National Association of Evangelicals from 2003 to 2006 and was listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals in America, said in a statement released Jan. 26 that he met with Haas two years ago-after the first allegations came to light-and asked him for "forgiveness for our inappropriate relationship."
Brady Boyd, Haggard's successor as pastor at New Life, called the money the church has given to Haas "compassionate assistance-certainly not hush money."