Soaring & sinking
Never mind a real estate crash and crushing foreign debt. Dubai on Jan. 4 opened the world's tallest building-at 2,717 feet more than twice the height of the Empire State Building, and over 1,000 feet higher than its record-setting predecessor, Taipei Financial Center. With the world's highest swimming pool and its highest mosque, along with views stretching more than 60 miles, the Burj Khalifa is likely to become a symbol of the Gulf emirate's decadence-and perhaps its last. Last month, neighboring Abu Dhabi gave Dubai $10 billion to stave off financial collapse.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni broke his silence over a looming anti-homosexuality bill that could make some homosexual activity in the African nation punishable by death. Musevini-expressing wariness about the bill gaining international condemnation-told members of the country's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement, that officials from the U.S., U.K., and Canada had all contacted him about one thing: Gays.
The controversial bill-first introduced by parliament member David Bahati in October-increases the penalties for homosexuality, which is already illegal in Uganda. Bahati's legislation would impose the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," including cases of the offender being HIV-positive or raping a child. Other forms of homosexual conduct would carry a sentence of life in prison.
The New York Times reported that Ugandan officials wrote the legislation after a March conference on homosexuality conducted by three American evangelicals. All three evangelicals oppose homosexuality, but they say they never encouraged such severe penalties for the practice. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, who has maintained close ties with relief ministries in Uganda, issued a statement condemning the bill and noting that the legislation could require pastors to report homosexuals to authorities if they seek counseling or help.
By mid-January the bill was scheduled for a February reading in the parliament, leaving international observers anxious to see if the bill might be revised or dropped altogether. - by Jamie Dean
U.S. forces and CIA operatives continue to seek recovery and retribution from the Dec. 30 terrorist attack that killed seven CIA employees at a base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. A Jordanian militant the CIA believed to be a double agent, and was recruited by both U.S. and Jordanian intelligence to divulge information on top al-Qaeda leaders (including the location of number-two Ayman al-Zawahiri) turned out to be a triple agent still posting jihadi instructions on al-Qaeda websites. He detonated an explosives belt once inside Forward Operating Base Chapman near Khost, just before he was searched. The killings included five top CIA officers with experience tracking Osama bin Laden that preceded 9/11 and represented the worst single incident against the intelligence agency since a bomb killed eight CIA officers in Beirut in 1983. Officers were so hopeful about the meeting they had informed both the White House and Langley that it was taking place. Instead, the U.S. intelligence community has suffered one of its worst setbacks in the terror war just as it is ramping up counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and in Yemen, where al-Qaeda operations are growing. President Obama will request a record $708 billion in defense spending from Congress next month, including additional funding for Pentagon and CIA operations in Yemen, where Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab received training.
Setting the record straight
Homerun titan Mark McGwire created the news, but in Fargo, N.D., it's Roger Maris everyone is thinking about. Hometown fans of the Yankee slugger, whose 37-year-old single-season record of 61 homers was broken by McGwire in 1998, now wait for the asterisk by Maris' name to be removed. Neither Maris nor McGwire has been admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, pending McGwire's admitting on Jan. 11 what everyone had known: The Cardinals slugger had used steroids on and off for a decade. McGwire called Maris' widow before he broke the news. "He was apologizing to my mom, and he wanted to apologize to Dad and the kids," Maris' son Kevin told Sports Illustrated.
Taxing Wall Street
The government has received most of its money back from the banks involved in last year's Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), much of it with interest, but that isn't stopping the Obama administration from using TARP as a rationale for a special tax on the nation's largest banks.
Under the plan, the government would apply the tax to banks, insurance companies, and trading houses that have more than $50 billion in assets and received money under TARP. The goal: Raise between $90 billion and $120 billion for Uncle Sam over the next 10 years. The danger, say critics: It will syphon capital from banks just when the economy most needs them to have it. "How you are going to tax banks and expect them to lend more is frankly lunacy," Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, told The Wall Street Journal.
Google made the stunning announcement Jan. 12 that it might shut down its operations in China along with its search engine google.cn because of cyberattacks originating in China targeting the company's very infrastructure as well as the Gmail accounts of a number of human-rights activists. A Google senior vice president, David Drummond, said in a statement that the attack "goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech." Originally Google had agreed to demands from the Chinese government that it censor its search results, but since the attacks Drummond said the company is "no longer willing." In response to the statement, Chinese citizens placed flowers outside Google's Beijing offices. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has demanded an explanation for the attack from China, and she said she will deliver a speech on internet freedom Jan. 21.
Jan. 9 marked the fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, which ended the longest-running war in Africa, the battle between Sudan's mostly Islamic North and its predominantly Christian South. But the anniversary was greeted by stepped-up violence between allegedly reconciling factions as both sides move toward a referendum on remaining one or two countries later this year. On Jan. 7 UN officials reported that at least 140 people were killed and 90 wounded during an attack on the Wunchai region of Warrap state in southern Sudan. This month 10 aid agencies issued a report saying the CPA was on the brink of collapse because of a "lethal cocktail" of rising violence, chronic poverty, and political tensions. "A great deal hangs on what can be achieved in the next 365 days," when CPA is due to expire, said Richard Poole, director of humanitarian aid programs for the International Rescue Committee.
Hall of shame
The No. 1 state persecutor of Christians, for the eighth-straight year, is North Korea. That's the conclusion of Open Doors in releasing its 2010 World Watch List of 50 countries considered at-risk locales for Christians. According to a Jan. 6 statement from the California-based Christian advocacy group founded by Brother Andrew, the regime of Kim Jong Il targeted Christians all over the country in 2009, resulting in arrests, torture, and killings. Of an estimated 200,000 North Koreans in political prisons, said the group, 40,000 to 60,000 are Christians.
Iran is No. 2 on the World Watch List, moving up from its No. 3 position of recent years behind Saudi Arabia as a result of the political crackdown following the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June. A wave of arrests of Christians that began in 2008 grew in 2009, according to Open Doors, resulting in the detention of at least 85 Christians.
Eight of the top 10 countries have Islam as their dominant religion; 35 of the 50 countries on the list have Islamic governments.
If Fox News analyst Brit Hume wanted to be transparent about his advice for disgraced golfer Tiger Woods, he succeeded on a Sunday morning broadcast in early January: "My message to Tiger would be: Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world." Hume added that Woods' professed Buddhism "doesn't offer the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith."
If media critics wanted to be transparent about their scorn for Christianity in the public square, they succeeded after the broadcast. Comedy Central's Jon Stewart lampooned Hume in a four-minute segment. MSNBC's David Shuster called Hume's remarks "truly embarrassing." Washington Post critic Tom Shales asked: "Who did he sound more like-Mary Poppins on the joys of a tidy room, or Ron Popeil on the glories of some amazing potato peeler?" He predicted Hume's remark would rank "as one of the most ridiculous of the year."
Ultimately, Shales demanded Hume apologize for offering Woods the lifeline that saved Hume in the mire of his own personal tragedy: Hume, an Episcopalian, says he "came to Christ" after his son's suicide in 1998. That Hume would publicly express a similar hope for Woods strikes Shales as "looniness." Given an opportunity to clarify his remarks, Hume offered this response: "I think Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods badly needs."
Virginia mother Lisa Miller defied a court order Jan. 1 to deliver her 7-year-old biological daughter, Isabella, to her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins. Instead, Miller and her daughter appear to have disappeared after a Vermont judge handed Jenkins full custody of Isabella. Jenkins has filed a missing person report in Virginia, where a local court is ordering Miller to comply with the Vermont ruling. A Jan. 22 hearing in Vermont will evaluate whether to issue an arrest warrant for Miller. Meanwhile, Liberty Counsel, which represents Miller, is appealing the Nov. 20 Vermont ruling and is awaiting a decision from the Virginia Court of Appeals, which heard arguments Dec. 9 about whether Virginia must enforce the Vermont orders. The firm had "no comment" on Miller's whereabouts.
An April 2009 study on the link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer subtly shifted the language on the abortion-breast cancer link. The study, published in the April issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, named abortion as a "known or suspected risk factor" for breast cancer and also stated that this conclusion was consistent with earlier studies. But that's not what this study's co-author, Louise Brinton, has always said. Brinton organized the National Cancer Institute 2003 workshop that eventually claimed that according to current research, having an abortion "does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer."
Now, her 2009 paper maintains that abortion is a "known or suspected risk factor" and that this is consistent with what earlier studies found. Joel Brind, professor of biology at Baruch College, said Brinton should address the inconsistency: "Here we have a direct contradiction between what the NCI says officially and what she says in the study. . . . You say essentially, 'It doesn't exist,' and then you say, 'Oh yes, we found it and that's in line with what earlier studies have found.' How do you explain that?"