Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "On the road again," May 9, 2009

Demanding deficit

A $1.85 trillion deficit projected by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for fiscal year 2009 is nearly triple the actual deficit for fiscal year 2008 and is $100 million more than White House projections.

Justice

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 20 declined to review the case of a death row inmate who claimed jurors violated his rights when they consulted the Bible. In March 1998, Khristian Oliver, 31, of Waco, Texas, and three accomplices broke into the home of Joe Collins, 64. Oliver shot Collins to death and also bludgeoned him with the barrel of a gun. Oliver's co-defendants drew sentences of from five to 99 years in prison, but the jury sentenced Oliver to die. In appealing a 2008 5th U.S. Circuit Court decision upholding Oliver's sentence, defense attorneys argued that jurors were unduly influenced by non-evidentiary factors, in particular, Numbers chapter 35, which says, "But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death." Oliver's attorneys claimed jurors consulted the passage during sentencing deliberations, but prosecutors argued there was no evidence jurors voted based on the Bible or any religious discussion. At a lower court hearing, jurors testified variously concerning the presence and use of the Bible, including how many volumes were present and when jurors read them. One juror said the reading occurred only after the panel had made its decision.

Storm damage

A group of storms that swept through the Southeast just days before Easter claimed the lives of five people and left a trail of destruction. Within hours of the storms, Samaritan's Purse dispatched a disaster relief unit to Mena, Ark., where a tornado created a 40-mile path that destroyed 300 homes April 9 in the town of 5,000. Samaritan's Purse volunteers worked alongside other relief groups like God's Pit Crew to clear away debris and to help families sort through the rubble. The Convoy of Hope also provided two tractor-trailers filled with 80,000 pounds of water, nonperishable food, and cleaning supplies. Meanwhile in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where a tornado killed a 30-year-old woman and her infant daughter on Good Friday, area churches sprang into action to provide clean-up aid as well as food, water, even portable toilets to storm victims.

Targeted killings?

A total of 750 Christians have been murdered in Iraq in the past five years, according to the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako. The number includes the archbishop of the Chaldean church in Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was kidnapped and killed in 2008. Last month four Iraqi Christians were killed in Baghdad and Kirkuk within 48 hours of one another. Church officials said they did not know if the killings were related, or whether random gunmen, armed gangs, or Islamic jihadists carried them out. On April 1 one man was gunned down in Kirkuk, and the following day three were killed in Dora, a historically Christian neighborhood in Baghdad that has been systematically emptied in the last two years by insurgent violence. The killings "put a renewed fear in our hearts," said Julian Taimoorazy, president of Iraqi Christian Relief Council, speaking to International Christian Concern. "What we need is a more safe and secure Iraq for all Iraqis, especially for the Christians who have faced ethno-religious cleansing."

Casualties of violence remain down in Iraq but officials are concerned about recent apparent targeted attacks against specific groups. On April 20 a suicide bomber struck at an army post south of Baghdad where members of the Awakening Council were waiting to collect paychecks-killing 9 and wounding 31. The council fighters are themselves former insurgents who switched sides to support Iraqi and U.S. forces for pay.

Zeroing out

The Massachusetts House on April 15 released a budget that axed $850,000 in funding for pro-homosexual programs in public schools. The line-item zero marks the first time since the early 1990s that a state budget contained no money earmarked for pro-gay school programming. Such programs have included an elementary school curriculum that normalizes homosexuality, campus-based gay clubs, and a transgender prom. The House action followed a full-court press by state conservatives: MassResistance, a pro-family group, lobbied the statehouse while citizens, angered over a March 2008 statement by the Massachusetts state commission on homosexuality that "homophobic parents are the problem," phoned legislators and wrote letters. The state budget now passes to the Senate where, MassResistance warns, liberal lawmaker Therese Murray and others have in past years succeeded in reversing cuts to homosexuality-related public-school programs in the name of "student safety." And in the House one hurdle remains: Pro-gay legislators have introduced amendments that could shoehorn the funding back in. On April 20, MassResistance held a meeting to organize people in House Speaker Robert DeLeo's district "just to make sure the amendments don't go through," said MassResistance president Brian Camenker. "The district is very conservative, but since he was elected Speaker, Deleo had appeared at some fundraisers for the homosexual lobby. I don't think that's sitting very well in his district. We still think we're going to win this fight."

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