A February report from the Department of Defense warns that the ballistic missile threat is growing as nations like North Korea and Iran develop more missiles that are "more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable and accurate while also increasing in range." Coincidentally, President Barack Obama's new defense budget restores over half of his first budget's $1.4 billion cut to missile defense programs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress he is requesting $9.9 billion total for missile defense-almost $700 million more than last year. Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, calls the increased funding "a positive step" in response to a growing threat.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surprised members of Congress by announcing recently that they personally support a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the military's policy that honorably discharges those who acknowledge themselves to be in a homosexual relationship. Others of the Joint Chiefs still oppose the policy change, and Gates has said he doesn't want to overturn the law before a year-long review is complete. The review will provide analysis of how the change could affect the military, from recruiting to its daily operations. More cynical observers on Capitol Hill conclude that the Obama administration wants to repeal the policy after this year's elections. Others have their own assessment to offer: Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, believes repealing the policy will make gays a "protected class" subject to different standards and will affect "recruiting and retention, morale, and readiness."
Where to try?
New York City officials may be unraveling the federal government's plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorists there. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that he no longer wanted the trial to take place in New York: "It would be great if the federal government could find a site that didn't cost a billion dollars, which using downtown will." Obama's budget allocated $200 million for such trials, but New York officials also worried about a strained police force, disruption of downtown living, and security. Aaron Harison, executive director of Keep America Safe, noted the trauma of holding trials near the fallen towers: "In a way it's almost another attack when you consider these guys will be given a platform right next door, and in the faces of the people they hurt. It's almost unconscionable." Early this month, anonymous White House aides began telling the press that the administration would find a different location for the trial. But in a Feb. 7 interview with CBS News, President Obama left the door open: "I have not ruled it out, but I think it's important for us to take into account the practical, logistical issues involved."
Debate still rages over the number of jobs that President Obama's stimulus law has created, but one definitive job creator came from the private sector, the company headed by Steve Jobs: Apple. Apple's app store currently holds about 134,000 programs for its iPhone and iPod Touch, and each time one sells, 70 percent of the revenue goes to the person who developed it. In December alone, users downloaded 280 million apps, generating about $150 million in revenue for the 28,000 developers behind those apps, according to numbers compiled by Flurry.com. And anyone with the wherewithal to create an app can do it using Apple's platform-then it just has to sell.
The San Francisco Chronicle calls it the "biggest open secret" in the federal trial of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California: Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is gay. Walker was randomly assigned the trial and will not comment on reports about his sexual orientation. Andy Pugno, the attorney defending Proposition 8, said supporters will not make Walker's sexual orientation an issue; but the National Organization for Marriage quickly sent an email missive calling Walker "an amazingly biased and one-sided force . . . far more akin to an activist than a neutral referee." Proposition 8 supporters have long charged Walker with bias for his decision to televise the trial (later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court) and for making Proposition 8 leaders submit private correspondence as evidence. Walker has a libertarian reputation, and gay activists bear him a grudge for his part in a case that banned San Francisco gays from using the title "Gay Olympics."
Saint of a QB
For Drew Brees, the Super Bowl victory on Feb. 7 was the culmination of a journey of faith that began four years ago. "I've said before that coming to New Orleans was a calling," Brees, the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIV told reporters. "God puts you in a place for a reason."
New Orleans had just upset favored Indianapolis, 31-17. Brees tied a Super Bowl record for pass completions with 32, and was second in all-time completion percentage in the Super Bowl. He was 32 of 39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
But beyond the numbers, faith is at the heart of the quarterback and his team's unexpected Super Bowl story. In 2006, the Saints, a team with its city in shambles after Hurricane Katrina, took a gamble on a quarterback virtually no one wanted. His shoulder had been shredded in 2005, and he was without a contract. New Orleans signed Brees, and the quarterback, a franchise, a region, and a city rebuilt-together.
"Four years ago, who would've thought this would be happening," Brees said. "Eighty-five percent of the city was under water. All of its residents evacuated to places all over the country. Most people not knowing if New Orleans would come back or the organization or the team would come back."
Back then, rookie coach Sean Payton crafted a team made up of a core of free agents who, like Brees, had been cast aside by other teams. "We all looked at one another and said, 'We're going to rebuild together; we're going to lean on each other.' This is the culmination of all that belief and that faith," Brees said.
And on Feb. 7 in Miami, Brees took a handoff from Coach Sean Payton he never would have expected four years ago, as the coach passed the Vince Lombardi Trophy to his quarterback.
"I've tried to imagine what this moment would be like for a long time and it's even better than I expected," said Brees. "God is great."
-reported by Paul South
A duo of powerful blizzards in the mid-Atlantic delivered Washington, D.C., a frigid distinction in February: the snowiest winter on record. The snowstorms crippled regions accustomed to tough winters from Virginia to New York. In D.C., the blasts garnered epic names: Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, and Snowzilla. The storms shut down nearly everything in the capital: schools, airports, the mail system, and-crucially-federal government offices. Even snowplows weren't immune: Transportation officials in D.C. and Montgomery County temporarily suspended snowplowing operations, saying the effort was too dangerous.
The storm marked the first three-day, winter-related shutdown of the federal government in 14 years. The Office of Personnel Management estimated the loss of worker productivity during the whiteout would cost $100 million a day-the same amount President Obama ordered his cabinet to find in savings last year.
Having a Democrat in the White House and large Democratic majorities in Congress hasn't stopped the decline of labor unions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in late January reported that the number of American union members fell by 771,000 in 2009, down to 15.3 million. And for the first time, unionized government workers (7.9 million) outnumber unionized workers in the private sector (7.4 million).
For Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych, the country's Feb. 7 presidential elections marked a stunning comeback. Six years ago, the Kremlin-backed politician lost the presidential elections during a court-ordered revote. A crush of protesters in the 2004 movement-dubbed the Orange Revolution-demanded the revote, saying Yanukovych's initial win was tainted. Yulia Tymoshenko-one of the movement's leaders-later became prime minister.
This year, the tables turned dramatically: Voters ousted the current president and chose the once-defeated Yanukovych over Prime Minister Tymoshenko. Voters said worries over the bleak economy dominated, and they expressed disillusionment over the prime minister's efforts at reform.
But Yanukovych's win wasn't immediately secure: Tymoshenko's supporters said the losing candidate would contest Yanukovych's win by a 3.5 percent margin. Her protest may be short-lived: International observers-including the U.S. Embassy in Kiev-deemed the elections fair.
A new federally funded study shows the effectiveness of abstinence education among a group of 12-year-olds in an urban public school: After two years, 33 percent of the students in the abstinence class had lost their virginity compared to 52 percent of the students enrolled in a class on safe sex.
The findings throw into question the Obama administration's decision to eliminate $170 million in funding for abstinence programs, in light of the president's promise to "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." The study, released Feb. 1 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, concluded that "abstinence-only interventions" might be important for delaying sexual debuts.
"I am not surprised to see these study results since experience in Africa has shown that abstinence-oriented programs can indeed work," Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at Harvard University, wrote in an email. "It's a tragedy that there is so much venomous polarization over this issue."
Members of the Obama administration didn't put much weight on the study's results. "No one study determines funding decisions, but the findings from the research paper suggest that this kind of project could be competitive for grants if there's promise that it achieves the goal of teen pregnancy prevention," Nicholas Papas, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told The Washington Post.
The abstinence class in the study did not teach students that they should save sex for marriage, but rather that abstinence is the best prevention for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.