BP had initial success on July 15 in stopping for the first time since April the world's worst oil spill, but Senate Democrats are raising the prospect of more public-relations trouble for the oil company. Four U.S. senators are calling for the State Department to investigate whether the London-based company pressured Britain to free Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing that killed 270. They say a $900 million exploration agreement BP reached with Libya in 2007 might have influenced the British and Scottish governments to release al-Megrahi. "If BP is found to have gained access to Libyan oil reserves by using a mass murderer as a bargaining chip, then make no mistake, any money it makes off that oil is blood money, pure and simple," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
No subjects here
As Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, he frequently crossed out words and replaced them. Such edits provided historians with insights into the thought process of the Founding Father as he tried to put into words why the colonies sought a break from England. But Jefferson took extra pains to remove one word: Blotting it out, he wrote the word "citizen" over it to form the phrase "our fellow citizens," and historians have long debated what was hidden by the blot. But thanks to spectral imaging technology, scholars at the Library of Congress announced on July 2 that they have uncovered what was hidden-and it's not equivalent to "citizens." Jefferson originally addressed the people of the 13 colonies as "subjects"-showing just how powerful British colonialism weighed on the minds of the New World's top revolutionaries and wordsmiths.
Let voters decide
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle staved off same-sex civil unions when she vetoed lastminute legislation that would have legalized them. In a July 6 veto statement, Lingle, a Republican, criticized last-minute passage of the bill and said she objected to it because a civil union "is essentially marriage by another name." She denied that her decision wasn't about religion but said voters should decide-not "one person sitting in her office or . . . members of the majority party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus." The American Civil Liberties Union has promised to take her veto to court.
Found and lost
On July 8 Nagla al-Imam and her two children were singing. On July 12 they disappeared. A controversial attorney and human-rights activist in Egypt, al-Iman made public her conversion from Islam to Christianity in the last year. In an interview broadcast by Free Christian Voice, she described being arrested and beaten by Egyptian security forces for her change of faith. She said an officer took her by the hair and bashed her head against his desk. Later al-Imam published on YouTube a video of herself singing with her two children-an Arabic spiritual song about suffering-displaying facial bruises and a broken tooth. Four days later Al-Tarek, the TV station that helped to make her broadcasts, reported that it had been unable to contact al-Imam, and friends said neither she nor her children could be found. Al-Tarek also reported its office in Egypt had been vandalized by Egyptian security.
Delegates for the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly elected Cynthia Bolbach, an elder from Arlington, Va., to serve as the denomination's new moderator. Of six candidates, Bolbach was the only one to express complete support for same-sex marriage: "Those in favor of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our life together-and I include myself in that group-believe that we fail to satisfy the gospel imperative of inclusiveness as we continue to exclude gays and lesbians from leadership in our church."
The 2010 General Assembly took other actions regarding the denomination's decades-long debate over human sexuality: PCUSA commissioners meeting in Minneapolis voted to send to local presbyteries for ratification a constitutional amendment deleting the PCUSA's standard for church officers to exercise "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." But it turned aside attempts to convey the PCUSA's blessing upon same-sex marriages. "Leaders of the PCUSA are still confused about the biblical teaching that channels sexual expression through the marriage of man and woman," said Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "But we can take comfort that people in local Presbyterian churches do uphold the teaching. They have proven that in four votes over the past 14 years to confirm the 'fidelity and chastity' standard for church officers. It is unfortunate that we will have to summon them again to defend that biblical standard in another set of presbytery votes."
Ties to terror
Former Michigan congressman and U.S. ambassador to the UN Mark Siljander pleaded guilty to two felonies July 7 in connection with his advocacy for an Islamic charity that could land the former Republican lawmaker in prison for up to 15 years. Siljander, 59, admitted to obstruction of justice and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. He admitted that in 2004 he agreed to accept $75,000 from the Islamic American Relief Agency to lobby for the group's removal from a Senate Finance Committee list of charities with suspected ties to terror.
Signs of the times
Ever seen those signs on construction sites that proclaim the project is funded by the "American Reinvestment and Recovery Act," or the stimulus? The EPA insists the signs are required on its stimulus projects, but Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., introduced a bill at the beginning of July to cut funds for them-which would save about $20 million nationwide. "Less than 8 percent of this bill actually went to infrastructure, and then of that tens of millions of dollars [are] getting wasted on signs," he told Pajamas Media. He and other Republicans don't think it's just unnecessary spending-they say it's also political propaganda. President Obama himself said about the signs last year, in remarks at the Department of Transportation announcing stimulus projects, "These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people-a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely." The House rejected Schock's proposal, in a 232-184 vote that fell mostly along party lines.
In a move to accommodate Beijing, Google made changes to its search engine after officials threatened not to extend its content-provider license-set to expire June 30-if it continued to redirect mainland Google users to a site in Hong Kong. Now mainland China users must click on a link to redirect searches to Google's Hong Kong facilities, which are not subject to Chinese censorship. Google first threatened to exit China's search market, with its estimated 350 million online users, in January and explicitly repudiated the censorship in March by automatically rerouting mainland-originated searches to Google Hong Kong.
Germany's fragile coalition government reached an agreement July 6 to fund an increasing deficit in its public health system-often cited as a model for U.S. government healthcare-by increasing health premiums to 15.5 percent of gross pay. Officials said employers will contribute 7.3 percent while employees will pay 8.2 percent of the premium. Without the increase, Germany's healthcare system faced a $13.9 billion funding gap. But it further weakens the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel; 62 percent of the German public says it is skeptical of the ability of the current governing coalition to maintain its hold on power.
NBC & GLAAD
NBC will change its application process to allow same-sex couples to participate in the Today show's "Modern Day Wedding Contest." A staple of the popular morning show, the contest allows viewers to vote on plans for a wedding, which is then broadcast live. Its rules allowed only couples who could be legally married in New York, since the weddings take place there. But GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, launched a campaign against the requirement "since New York State legally recognizes same-sex marriages licensed in other states," adding, "NBC mistakenly equated the marriage license with the wedding celebration."