Election Day speech
In a tone that swayed from conciliatory to chastising, President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address Jan. 27 contained one response to his uneven first year in the White House: "I don't quit." Obama admitted that "our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved." Fearful of being counted out after the recent spate of losses in statewide races, Democrats left to Obama the job of reconnecting with the middle class: "Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010," said Obama, tellingly burying last year's top priority-healthcare-until late in the speech. "What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day," he said. But that didn't stop him in his speech from taking his own jabs at the Supreme Court, senators, Republicans, and (yet again) the previous administration.
March for life
Politicians and pundits spoke to the tens of thousands of pro-life supporters at the National Mall Jan. 22, but the real heart of the 37th annual March for Life rally could be found in the story of one protestor. Seventeen years ago, Amanda Martis' mother had a choice after becoming pregnant her freshmen year in college: adoption or abortion. And her choice of life is the reason Amanda got to visit Washington, D.C., for the first time in conjunction with the annual rally held on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Standing in front of the Supreme Court building, Amanda, who has never met her biological mother and lives in Toledo, Ohio, with her adoptive parents, held up a poster with the words: "Thanks mom."
Youth was featured at this year's rally, which seemed to co-opt President Barack Obama's campaign slogan of "hope." Hope, supporters said, because national polls show that the majority of Americans now oppose abortion, because House lawmakers successfully blocked the federal funding of abortion in a proposed healthcare reform bill, and because the growing personhood movement now has promising initiatives to protect life in 32 states.
Campaigns and the court
The primaries for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama in Illinois take place Feb. 2, making it the first race that will test the impact of a January Supreme Court decision Obama strongly opposes-so strongly the president called out for Congress to rewrite the law during his State of the Union speech. The departure from protocol respecting the independence of the judiciary-something the Legal Times called "almost unprecedented"-underscored scorn by Democrats for the high court's 5-4 ruling, issued Jan. 21, that corporations' funding of campaigns no longer can be regulated. The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allows money to flow from corporations in support of a political issue or campaign, and law experts believe that from now on outside groups will be stronger voices in campaigns. In this ruling, the court overturned its own precedents as well as laws like McCain-Feingold that restricted campaign spending. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, supported by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia. Kennedy wrote in his opinion that Congress' laws regulating campaign spending "burden speech."
A new Pew Research Center study shows that wives make more than their husbands in 22 percent of households. In 1970 just 4 percent of women earned more than their mates. And today, 28 percent of wives have more education than their husbands-up from 20 percent in 1970. The study says that the current 33 to 44 age group is the first in U.S. history to include more women than men with college degrees. The role reversal means that more men are now enhancing their economic status through marriage: Today median household incomes of married men are about 60 percent higher than in 1970 but just 16 percent higher for unmarried men compared with four decades ago.
Not much unites self-described socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the most conservative members of the Senate. But in January they and other senators from both parties joined to oppose the nomination of Ben Bernanke to another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Bernanke's liberal opponents said he had been too cozy with the big banks, and to win the support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Bernanke had to promise to "redouble his efforts" to make credit available to the middle class. That's just what troubles many conservatives: Bernanke, as a Fed governor, was instrumental in former chairman Alan Greenspan's easy money policies of the early 2000s, which they claim inflated the housing bubble until it burst. Conservatives worry that he may keep money too easy for too long again. With Bernanke's Jan. 28 confirmation in the Senate, questions linger: Did the Fed chairman box himself in with his promise to Reid? Will Bernanke be able (or willing) to raise interest rates if new bubbles appear likely? And just how politicized has the "independent" Fed become?
Bipartisanship on Capitol Hill is an endangered species, but 16 lawmakers-ranging from the liberal Barney Frank of Massachusetts to conservative Dan Burton of Illinois-signed onto a letter expressing "grave concern" over events in Egypt surrounding the Christmas Eve killing of six Coptic Christians. The incident "is indicative of a systematic pattern of violence," the lawmakers wrote to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, calling on him to "better protect the Coptic Christian community," itself endangered, and to provide compensation to survivors of the victims.
The killings took place in the southern Egyptian province of Qena on Jan. 8 (the eve of Orthodox Christmas) when gunmen opened fire on worshippers as they exited the service. Later, as thousands of mourners in the town of Naga Hamady turned out in support of the victims, government security forces sprayed them with tear gas. Three perpetrators, all Muslims, turned themselves in and were charged with premeditated murder.
Areas of Nigeria continued under curfew after ethno-religious violence in and around Jos, a city on the north-south fault line between tribal and religious divisions, left an estimated 500 dead and over 17,000 people displaced. State Police Commissioner Greg Anyanting said that Muslim youths attacked worshippers without provocation as they left services on Jan. 17, and other witnesses called the onslaught "premeditated, wicked, deliberate, and terrifying." At least two churches were burned during the riots and seminary students from the Evangelical Church of West Africa, at 5 million one of the largest denominations in Nigeria, died as a result of gunshot wounds.
The violence between Christians and Muslims in the largest African nation of 155 million underscores Nigeria's delicate political state: With president Alhaji Yar Addua out of the country for two months receiving medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, vice president Goodluck Jonathan deployed the military to stop attacks. On Jan. 23 soldiers pulled bodies killed in the clashes from wells and sewage pits in the mostly Muslim village of Kuru Jantar near Jos. "They were armed with cutlasses, guns, sticks, and bags of stone. It was not the Christians from our community but those from outside who came," one 32-year-old resident of Kuru Jantar, who was not named, told Human Rights Watch. "The children were running helter-skelter. The men were trying to protect the women. People who ran into the bush were killed. Some were burned in the mosque and some went to the houses and were burned," he said.
A Michigan defense contractor has had its sights set on getting the Word out, inscribing Bible verses on more than 300,000 combat rifle sights made for the U.S. military. For the last three decades, Trijicon of Wixom, Mich., has embedded New Testament references in the end of stock numbers. The raised lettering includes "JN8:12" ("I am the light of the world") and "2COR4:6" ("the light to shine out of the darkness"). Why the references to light? The company uses a form of radioactive hydrogen in its sights to create light to improve a shooter's aim. The references are not obvious, but that didn't stop claims that the practice violates a government rule against proselytizing. After Gen. David Petraeus, head of the Central Command, this month called the practice "disturbing," the company agreed to stop-and to provide the military with free modification kits to scrub the Scripture references on current weapons.
Rifqa Bary, the Ohio runaway teen who said her Muslim father threatened to kill her after learning she had converted to Christianity, will not be forced to return to her parents' home after they dropped their opposition to her dependency request. In exchange, Bary agreed to plead guilty to an "unruly minor" charge, which will not count as a criminal charge against her. Bary is expected to remain in foster care until her 18th birthday on Aug. 10, at which time she will have another dependency hearing.
A new audio tape has surfaced detailing a heated conversation last September between pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz, the Florida couple who housed the Christian convert after she ran away from her parents, and officials at Global Revolution Church. During the recording (which the Lorenzes contend was done without their consent) church officials fired the couple, saying the Lorenzes' involvement with Bary had forced the church to face "difficult decisions." Since then, Blake Lorenz has filed an affidavit alleging that church official Brian Smith intercepted personal mail and "apparently sent my mail to the attorneys for the father of Rifqa Bary in Ohio." Smith provided his own affidavit to attorney Omar Tarazi, who represents Bary's parents and was appointed by the controversial Muslim group CAIR, claiming the Lorenzes used deception and failed to heed legal advice in helping Bary-allegations the Lorenzes deny.
In 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made a shocking prediction: Himalayan glaciers may disappear by 2035 because of global warming. Some scientists who study glaciers were suspicious of the claim, and last year the Indian government published a paper stating that India's 9,500 Himalayan glaciers showed no evidence of abnormal retreat; environmental minister Jairam Ramesh called the IPCC claim "alarmist." IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri shot back that the report was based on "voodoo science."
As experts dug into the controversy, it became clear last month that Pachauri himself was the voodoo scientist. It turns out that the IPCC prediction on glaciers was based on a single comment that Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain made in a 1999 interview with the journal New Scientist, a comment that Hasnain now says was speculative. The IPCC was forced to admit the mistake, even as the IPCC's Murari Lal admitted the political motivation behind it: to "impact policy makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action," he told Britain's Sunday Mail.
The Sunday Times of London on Jan. 24 reported that the same 2007 IPCC report also included another claim that was based on unpublished and non-peer-reviewed research: that the world had "suffered rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s." In 2007, the same year of the IPCC's bogus claims, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for its work involving global warming.