Doing a deal
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that she was "very proud" of U.S. involvement in a power-sharing deal signed by ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti on Oct. 29. With national elections scheduled for Nov. 29, the agreement remained shaky, and critics warned it could undercut the democratic principles Obama administration officials say they are upholding.
U.S. officials played a key role in the deal that would return Zelaya to power until his term expires in January, but under one substantial condition: approval from the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress that ousted the leader in June. (Both bodies said the president was attempting to circumvent the constitution to serve more than one term.) Both Zelaya and Micheletti belong to the Liberal Party, with members split over whether to support Zelaya's return. Getting Micheletti to sign the agreement hinged on a golden carrot: The U.S. and international community would recognize the outcome of Nov. 29 elections, a crucial dynamic for the country's stability. But critics say the United States should recognize the elections regardless of Zelaya's status. Even if the legislature agrees to Zelaya's reinstatement, it's not clear how the agreement will unfold. If Zelaya returns to power, he's unlikely to have time to push for a constitutional revision for a run at another term.
President Obama fulfilled a promise from the early days of his presidency by lifting a ban on HIV-positive visitors traveling to the United States, a move welcomed by Democrats and Republicans. "We talk about reducing the stigma of this disease, yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat," the president said. The decision to introduce the ban in 1987, he said, was "rooted in fear rather than fact."
The ban originated as an executive order under President Ronald Reagan and then became law through an amendment by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms. President Bush took the first step toward lifting the ban in 2008 by removing it from immigration regulations, while Obama lifted the ban that still stood in health regulations. "Canceling the ban on HIV-infected people coming to this country is clearly correct and long overdue. It was very unfortunate to have been discriminating against people based on HIV status," David Thomas, head of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, told WORLD.
In harm's way
When two massive explosions ripped through three government buildings in Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing more than 150 and wounding at least 600, soft targets suffered too.
St. George's Anglican Church, restored and reopened shortly after the U.S. invasion, was heavily damaged, perhaps beyond repair. "Christians do have it hard," said pastor Canon Andrew White, noting that the church has endured repeated bombings and attacks ("Soft targets," Jan. 26, 2008). Last year 93 members of the church were killed, including 11 of 13 converts he baptized, said White. But there was some good news: The October bombing took place at 10:30 in the morning, not during afternoon services when about 500 Iraqis would have been attending.
In the crowded field of new iPhone applications comes one perhaps more applicable than Tap Tap Revenge or even Weather Channel Max: Logos Bible provides up to 30 leading Bible translations at a touch, as well as Greek and Hebrew lexicons. The free application also allows comparison of various translations of all books of the Old and New Testament.
Traditional marriage advocates won a victory in Maine when voters approved a referendum to overturn Maine's law legalizing same-sex marriage. Gay marriage has now failed every time it has been put to a popular vote, and the five states legalizing it-Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut-have done so through legislation or court order. The National Organization for Marriage contributed $1.8 million to the Stand for Marriage Maine campaign, and executive director Brian Brown told reporters the vote proves "marriage is a winning issue."
Honor and horror
U.S. officials marked Veterans Day in part by hosting the first-ever mental health summit to draw attention to the acute need faced by returning soldiers now serving in the nation's longest wars, often punctuated by random bombings that maim soldiers and civilians, including children. Defense secretary Robert Gates, in a keynote address Oct. 26, criticized a government and military bureaucracy that is "frustrating, adversarial and unnecessarily complex" for addressing post-traumatic stress and other syndromes. He cited a Rand study last year that said the number of veterans affected by these mental health problems could top 600,000.
Burma villages attacked
On Oct. 7 a Burmese army unit shot and wounded Karen villagers in Nya Mu Ki, including a pastor named Baw Pae. A day later the army attacked another village, burning down houses, and in subsequent days attacked multiple villages in the area, sending thousands of Karen, who are predominantly Christian and have historically mounted a movement for independence from Burma's ruling junta, into hiding in nearby jungles. Schools in the area are closed and food and medicine are scarce, according to a watchdog team from Free Burma Rangers that visited last month. Rice paddies have been destroyed by flooding since August, and more recently by an infestation of rats.
Blockbusters need not apply
Remember Iraq? Now it's the other war, but film critics haven't forgotten. In early polling by The Los Angeles Times of 16 leading film critics, The Hurt Locker was one of two films to receive nods from all 16 as most likely to garner a Best Picture nomination in upcoming Oscars. The film, which follows the work of a U.S. bomb disposal squad in central Iraq, was never released widely and stars no name actors (Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce have small cameos). Invictus, the other film to draw best odds from the critics, is a look at Nelson Mandela's quest for the World Cup in post-apartheid South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood, it's not due in theaters until next month.
But what about those jobs?
A White House report Oct. 30 acknowledged that some jobs created by the $787 billion stimulus program were overcounted, but stood by a claim of 640,000 jobs created.
Observers continue to find big questions with the numbers. In a sample of the 9,000 federal contracts under the stimulus program, the Associated Press found errors in one in six jobs credited to stimulus spending-or 5,000 of the 30,000 jobs it examined. At Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, officials claim to have saved 935 jobs-but only 508 people work there. In another, a Colorado business claimed that its stimulus contract created more than 4,200 jobs. But the review found that the firm hired most of them for five weeks or less. According to Onvia (recovery.org), only 5 percent of jobs reported are for contracts actually awarded-meaning only 31,080 actual jobs thus far. Obama officials have said the stimulus would create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.
President Obama on Oct. 28 signed into law the defense spending bill, which contained sweeping new hate crimes legislation. Controversy ensued when the hate crimes legislation became tied to the $680 billion defense spending bill, forcing lawmakers to choose between supporting the nation's troops or their belief that the hate crimes act could interfere with the freedom of religious beliefs. The law expands the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability; it was pushed by an alliance of Jewish and gay-activist groups.
The Commerce Department's Oct. 29 report that U.S. GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter signaled an end to the recession that saw four quarters of U.S. economic decline. Arriving on the 80th anniversary of the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression, the good news was the best indication yet that the longest recession since then has ended. Even business investment and real fixed residential housing investment (for the first time in 14 quarters) rose. But the third-quarter improvement was fueled overwhelmingly by consumer spending, much of it driven by stimulus programs. More than 1 percentage point of GDP growth in the third quarter came from car sales, driven by the temporary "cash for clunkers" program. But after spiking in July and August, retail car sales dropped 10.4 percent in September, once the program ended. For recovery to continue, said former Clinton adviser William Galston, "within two years at most, the private economy will have to wean itself off public stimulants and find its own internal sources of energy." Excessive consumer debt, high unemployment, and the likelihood of rising taxes all mean that the good news may not feel good for awhile.
The Census Bureau will be sending temporary workers to the homes of Americans next year to gather personal information, and lawmakers want to make sure none of those workers are criminals. An Oct. 7 GAO report found that a flawed fingerprinting system may have led the bureau to hire up to 200 workers with criminal records. Four congressmen-Reps. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah., Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., John Mica, R-Fla., and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.-wrote an Oct. 26 letter to Census Bureau director Robert Groves asking for his "commitment in writing" that nobody with a criminal record would serve as an enumerator, which not only would undermine public confidence in the census, but "the safety and security of Americans in their own homes are at stake."
In what NASA billed as the first step in returning astronauts to the moon, the agency on Oct. 28 successfully launched the Ares I-X rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The $445 million sub-orbital flight went 25 miles high and lasted two minutes before the rocket's booster headed for the Atlantic Ocean with its hundreds of sensors full of data for NASA to analyze. The only complication for the unmanned flight was bad weather, with more than 150 lightning strikes near the launch pad the night before causing a delay. But the first step in returning to the moon may also be the last step. The Obama administration is reportedly considering scrapping manned missions and sending NASA in a different direction.