A 25-year-old Army staff sergeant on Nov. 16 became the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor since 1976. President Obama awarded the nation's highest medal of valor to Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 25, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In 2007 when Taliban fighters unleashed a barrage of AK-47 and rocket-propelled grenades from two sides at his unit, Giunta ran forward, entering enemy areas alone to return fire and single-handedly to rescue one wounded U.S. soldier who was being dragged away by the enemy. He killed one Taliban fighter and wounded another. Although his friend died, Giunta's quick actions, according to Defense Department officials, helped his unit fight off the attack without suffering more casualties. "It is a great thing," said Giunta, who was shot twice in the attack, of the award. "But it is a great thing that has come at a personal loss to myself and so many other families."
Cindy McCain drew accolades and then scorn from homosexual activists after appearing in an ad against bullying gay teens. In a celebrity shot for the No H8 Campaign, McCain said, "Our political and religious leaders tell LGBT youth that they have no future. . . . They can't serve our country openly." She goes on, "Our government treats the LGBT community like second-class citizens." Gay-rights campaigners praised McCain for standing against her husband, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is leading a filibuster against repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy-until Cindy McCain explained that she supports her husband's stand on the repeal. Huh?
Opponents of the military's long-standing ban on homosexuals openly serving in the armed forces have jumped on a leak of a yearlong Pentagon study, not due until Dec. 1, which suggests that the risks of overturning the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy would be isolated and minimal. The report's authors apparently will argue that objections to openly gay service members will abate as troops live and serve with them. But missing in that assessment is the threat to religious freedom if such a reversal occurs. Already the Southern Baptist Convention, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church in America, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the Rabbinical Alliance of America have issued warnings against ending the policy. Chaplains need the endorsement of their sponsoring denominations to serve, and, if those are withdrawn, the military will begin to process out those chaplains. Two days after the leak, the Supreme Court issued an order on Nov. 12 that allowed the continued enforcement of DADT while the Justice Department appeals a lower court ruling that found the policy unconstitutional.
In case smokers aren't convinced that cigarettes carry serious health risks, the government has a new plan: Put a picture of a corpse with a toe tag on cigarette packaging that reads: "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease."
That's one of 36 warning labels the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing for cigarette packaging. The FDA will choose nine of the labels next June and require cigarette makers to begin using the labels by October 2012. The move comes a year after a new law gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco products. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, said the labels would spur smokers to quit and discourage new smokers from beginning the habit. The graphic images include a man blowing smoke out of a hole in his throat and a corpse with his chest sewn shut, presumably after an autopsy. Several tobacco companies are protesting the labels in a federal court.
After two and a half years of investigation, the House Ethics Committee convicted Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., on 11 of 13 counts of ethics violations, including leaving income and holdings unreported on his tax documents. The conviction won't result in much penalty for the 80-year-old lawmaker, who already lost his chairmanship of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. But House ethics hearings are rare-the last one was in 2002.
Newly empowered House Republicans unanimously voted for current Minority Leader John Boehner to be the next Speaker of the House on Nov. 17. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., will serve as Majority Leader. Meanwhile current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi easily won the post of Minority Leader, beating out her Blue Dog challenger, Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., who garnered 43 votes to Pelosi's 150. With half the Blue Dog Democrats not returning to the next Congress, Shuler's 43 backers included more liberal members, reflecting discontent within the Democratic caucus.
In a test for the Obama administration's detainee policy, the first civilian trial for a Guantanamo detainee concluded Nov. 17 with the federal jury acquitting the defendant, Ahmed Ghailani, of all but one of 285 charges. Ghailani, a Tanzanian charged for his role in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, will serve a minimum of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to destroy U.S. government property.
A federal judge has temporarily blocked Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning Shariah law. The amendment, passed with 70 percent of the vote, forbids Oklahoma's courts from looking to the "legal precepts of other nations or cultures," specifically international law or Shariah, also known as Islamic law. Muneer Awad, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, sued, claiming it turned the state constitution into an "enduring condemnation" of his faith. Joseph Thai, a professor at the University of Oklahoma's College of Law, said the amendment could also bar judges from citing the Ten Commandments as a form of international law. Charles Haynes, senior scholar with the First Amendment Center, said because of broad terms like "international law," it's difficult to determine what the amendment's ripple effects might be.
Breaking with tradition, U.S. Catholic bishops elected New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as their next president, choosing an assertive and more conservative leader over the frontrunner, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz. In a third and final round of voting on Nov. 16, Kicanas, who has been vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, lost 128 to 111. It was the first time since the 1960s that a sitting vice president was on the ballot and lost. Kicanas received criticism over handling of the molestation case involving a priest, now in jail, and more than a dozen boys.
Who's to blame?
Violence erupted in Haiti, as cholera-stricken communities blamed UN workers for the waterborne disease that has killed more than 1,000 victims. Rumors swirled that a group of UN peacekeepers from Nepal brought the cholera strain to the island nation, but UN officials said the workers weren't responsible for the outbreak. At least one protester died in violent clashes with UN peacekeepers.
The epidemic that began in northern Haiti spread to Port-au-Prince. By mid-November, the Ministry of Health said 27 cholera victims had died in the capital city, with another 600 hospitalized. Officials reported more than 14,000 victims hospitalized nationwide. Aid workers expect the outbreak to grow worse in coming months, and they say as many as 200,000 Haitians may contract the disease.
Meanwhile, UN officials said tension over the country's Nov. 28 presidential elections may have contributed to the riots in northern Haiti. "We are facing the consequences of a cholera epidemic and in two weeks the elections, so the population is scared," said UN spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese. "It's a volatile situation."
Taste of freedom
Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi walked free on Nov. 13 after seven years of house arrest by Myanmar's ruling military regime. Suu Kyi, 65, greeted thousands of jubilant supporters and vowed to press for freedoms in a country notorious for oppression and human-rights abuses. The government of Myanmar-also known as Burma-has confined the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 15 of the last 21 years. But freedom brings challenges: The opposition leader must work with a slate of new opposition groups, including some willing to compromise with government officials. Suu Kyi's release came days after Myanmar's ruling party claimed victory in the country's first elections in 20 years. Human-rights groups criticized the results, saying the elections weren't fair. Post-election violence could plague Myanmar's ethnic minorities, including Christians. The military regime has long harassed and abused minorities to retain control of the country. A Human Rights Watch report last year said soldiers inflicted forced labor and persecution on Christians, particularly in the Chin state. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported a leaked government memo in 2007 with a telling title: "Program to Destroy the Christian religion in Burma."
Chalk up an early victory for Tea Party influence in Congress: Even though the new Congress won't be seated until January, current Washington lawmakers are tipping their hat to the more conservative climate. On the first day of the lame duck session, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced his support of a ban on earmarks. This marks a policy reversal for the long-serving lawmaker who has made a career out of sending federal pork home to Kentucky. On the Senate floor Nov. 15, not long after the body had been gaveled into session, McConnell said: "There is simply no doubt that the abuse of this practice has caused Americans to view it as a symbol of the waste and the out-of-control spending that every Republican in Washington is determined to fight." McConnell made no apologies for the projects he has supported in his state but made clear that lawmakers may have listened to voter anger delivered on Nov. 2.
The Islamic Saudi Academy near Washington, D.C., has gained a new one-year lease from Fairfax County even while its academic accreditation is in question. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reported unsatisfactory results in five of seven core standards, and the private school has been a subject of controversy because its textbooks, which the Saudi government provides, in the past advocated killing non-Muslims and those who leave Islam. School valedictorian of the class of 1999, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was sentenced to life in prison for plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. SACS plans to visit the school in spring 2011, when its concerns must be addressed for the school to continue to be accredited-and the county to continue pulling $2.6 million a year in rent for the property.
Disaster and delivery
Grassroots groups launched heroic efforts to aid victims of an Oct. 25 tsunami that devastated the remote Mentawai Islands of Indonesia. The UK-based Barnabas Fund said church groups on nearby West Sumatra loaded boats with supplies to make the treacherous, 90-mile sea crossing to the predominantly Christian islands. A 7.1-magnitude earthquake triggered the tsunami, killing more than 400 residents and leaving some 18,000 villagers homeless. Government aid arrived nearly a week after the tsunami struck, leaving early relief efforts to Christian groups and other aid agencies. Relief work was already taxed before the tsunami: The ongoing erupting volcano at Indonesia's Mount Merapi has displaced nearly 400,000 evacuees from their homes.
Cost of peace
How generous is the next Congress? That could determine the course of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Nov. 15 he would support a freeze on housing construction, a major source of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but it's contingent on, among other things, President Barack Obama asking for, and Congress approving, the sale to Israel of 20 next-generation Stealth fighters. If it goes through, Israel could halt all building in the West Bank and coordinate plans for East Jerusalem construction with the United States for a period of three months.