War on terror no more
The Obama administration has ditched the Bush administration phrase "war on terror," and Pentagon officials have been using the phrase "overseas contingency operations" instead. Administration officials deny that they have issued any specific direction on the phrase. "The administration has stopped using the phrase, and that speaks for itself, obviously," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters during her trip in Europe. The softening of language on terrorism appears consistent with Clinton's emphasis on "soft power" emphasizing diplomacy. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano went one step further, refusing to utter the word terrorism in her confirmation testimony to Congress, saying instead "man-caused disasters."
Special election limbo
In a special election so nationalized that some of the campaign literature featured President Barack Obama instead of the candidate, officials are still counting ballots to determine the outcome. On March 31, Republican James Tedisco and Democrat Scott Murphy vied for Kristen Gillibrand's New York congressional seat after she replaced in the Senate Hillary Clinton, appointed by Obama to be U.S. Secretary of State. Tedisco, the New York State Assembly minority leader, began the race with a 12-point lead, but on Election Night Murphy was 65 votes ahead with over 10,000 absentee ballots yet to be counted. A week later with some 6,700 ballots still uncounted, Tedisco had a lead of only 97 votes.
In a race called a referendum for the stimulus package, Tedisco's campaign linked Murphy, a venture capitalist, with AIG. Murphy first scolded Tedisco for not taking a stand on the stimulus package and then for saying he would have voted against it. National party leaders made the race a priority, with Obama emailing voters and Vice President Joe Biden recording radio ads and robo calls. RNC Chairman Michael Steele campaigned for Tedisco and party money flowed: $800,000 from the National Republican Congressional Committee and $591,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Defamation of freedom
The UN Human Rights Council passed-for the second year in a row-a resolution pushed by Islamic states and opposed by a broad coalition of religious freedom advocates. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran) advocates the resolution, which combats the "defamation of religion" by urging states to protect against "acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions." The resolution passed on March 26 with 23 members for it, 11 against, and 13 abstentions.
Religious rights advocates say that Islamic nations use the resolution to legitimize their own coercive blasphemy laws, and that the resolution subverts human-rights law by protecting beliefs instead of individuals. Over 180 NGOs signed a petition saying the resolution "would alter the very meaning of human rights, which protect individuals from harm, but not beliefs from critical inquiry."
A new plane specifically designed to serve mission organizations in remote areas is ready for deployment. JAARS, a North Carolina-based organization providing aviation services to Bible translators around the world, dedicated its first Kodiak April 4 and will send the aircraft to aid ministry in Papua New Guinea this August (see "Pilot project," June 9, 2007). Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) will follow close behind, dedicating its own Kodiak May 2 before deploying to the same region of Indonesia later this year.
The two planes represent the first tangible realization of former missionary pilot Dave Voetmann's vision to provide his successors in the field with a tool he'd only dreamed about. To that end, he helped found Quest Aircraft, which delivers to a missionary organization at cost one plane for every 10 Kodiak planes sold. But JAARS purchased its first Kodiak at the commercial price-to actually save money. The Kodiak uses readily available jet fuel, instead of the aviation fuel of comparable aircraft, one of several advantages that explains Quest Aircraft's three-year backlog of orders. Many of the same features designed for missionary use have proved equally appealing to private and commercial users. The Kodiak needs just 700 feet to get into the air when loaded to capacity at 6,750 pounds. And its sturdy landing gear and extra-high propeller make it ideal for touching down in severely rough terrain.
The Tiller saga
Late-term abortion specialist George Tiller escaped one frying pan only to land in another. Soon after a Kansas jury on March 27 acquitted Tiller of sidestepping a state requirement that two physicians sign off on late-term abortions, the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts (KSBHA) slapped him with 11 more counts of violating state law. A KSBHA petition issued the day of Tiller's acquittal resurrects the charge at issue in his trial. Also, according to KSBHA, Tiller routinely fudges conception and due dates in order to skirt state laws restricting abortion after a certain gestational age. The board alleges he engages in "unprofessional or dishonorable conduct or professional incompetency, and commitment of acts likely to deceive, defraud, or harm the public." Patient complaints form the basis of the allegations. One woman told KSBHA that Tiller attempted to conceal her life-threatening post-abortion complications, one of which was a facial staph infection contracted from an unsanitary oxygen mask used at his clinic. If KSBHA finds Tiller guilty of the violations, he could lose his medical license.
That's the price tag for every man, woman, and child living in the United States, according to Bloomberg News Service, for what "the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have spent or lent or committed" in new pledges this year. That's $12.8 trillion-nearly the value of everything the United States produced last year.
University of Maryland students recently scheduled a pirate-themed movie night on campus. But these were not your Captain Hook or Jack Sparrow pirates. Students reported steady ticket sales for Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge, a pornographic film with a XXX rating. Shocked, Maryland State Sen. Andrew P. Harris offered an amendment to the budget that would forfeit state funding to universities that show hard-core films. Staring at a possible loss of $424 million, school officials yanked the screening. "I thought it would be something fun to program toward the end of the semester to give a little stress break for students," Lisa Cunningham, the student-run theater's program director, told The Washington Post. Countered Harris: "Pornography is not fun. It's poison."
Students did not just say "Arr!" In the name of academic freedom, they went ahead and screened portions of the movie in protest. And this was not the debut of pornography on the campus: A recent film series titled Shakesporn looked at ways hard-core movies reference Elizabethan plays.
Our public grief
The April 5 arrival home of the remains of Air Force Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Myers, who died April 4 in Afghanistan, marked the first time in 18 years that the military has permitted media coverage of returning war dead at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The ban, which the Obama administration lifted in February, originated during the Persian Gulf War as a way of shielding grieving families from the media glare. Critics alleged, however, that it was the government's way of hiding the human cost of war. Under the new guidelines, family members decide whether to allow media coverage at the ceremony.
Online dating site eHarmony launched its new matchmaking website for the gay and lesbian community March 31. The venture, CompatiblePartners.net, fulfills a settlement reached between Neil Clark Warren's company and a homosexual man in New Jersey, who filed a discrimination complaint against eHarmony in 2005 because it only matched heterosexual couples. Although Compatible Partners features a relationship-preferences questionnaire similar to eHarmony, the company posted a disclosure notice on the new website saying the matching system "was developed on the basis of research involving married heterosexual couples" because "the company has not conducted similar research on same-sex relationships."
Sudan will hold parliamentary and presidential elections in February 2010-the first democratic national election in more than 20 years in the war-riddled country. The vote is the touchstone of a 2005 peace deal that ended over two decades of north-south civil war (a conflict separate from violence in Darfur), though it is taking place later than called for under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But thorny issues remain to be resolved, including clashes between northern and southern armies, most recently in the central oil region, and a final determination on drawing the border between north and south in the disputed, oil-rich areas.
America's "mainline" Protestant denominations have been shrinking for four decades. But the Episcopal Church has suffered unusual afflictions during years when it liberalized on gay clergy, judging from a bleak "State of the Church" report analyzing statistics and a survey that involved a tenth of its congregations.
Since 2003, when the church consecrated its first gay bishop living with a partner, active U.S. membership declined 9 percent, to 2,116,749, and average Sunday attendance by 14 percent, to 727,822.
Conflict over the gay clergy issue was reported by 64 percent of the congregations, and in 47 percent the strife was considered "serious"; 40 percent lost members as a result, and 18 percent said some parishioners withheld donations in protest.
Total contributions have been increasing. But the panel depicted an "alarming" jump between 2000 and 2005 in parishes reporting financial difficulties. Fully 67 percent of parishes reported budget problems in the 2008 survey, which was taken before the nation's market meltdown. Those trends are expected to worsen due to an aging membership. Among all Americans, 31 percent are age 50 and above, while among Episcopalians it's 51 percent. The deficit of births versus deaths produces a net loss of 19,000 members per year.