The independent global think tank Control Risks issued its five "states to watch" for 2011: These are states in current upheaval that have the potential to be transformed from underachievers into significant regional competitors in the coming year. At the top of the list is Iraq-followed by Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and Turkey. Iraq's formation of a coalition government in November, followed by the naming of a cabinet in December, suggests political stability, Control Risks said, in contrast to a widespread interpretation that Iraq's political system is in disarray.
"It may not be pretty, but Iraq is showing that it does have a functional democracy, thereby refuting the argument made by so many critics of the 'surge' that its gains were transitory and unsustainable," noted Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The good news is that throughout the year-long political crisis that has followed the elections, Iraq's major factions have mostly refrained from violence, preferring to settle their differences in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms. There have been terrorist atrocities committed during the past year, but they have not upset Iraq's political equilibrium."
Drawing new lines
Legislators will redraw congressional lines in 18 states as a result of new Census numbers, which are compiled once a decade. Texas will gain four U.S. House seats, the most in the country, largely due to the growing Hispanic population there. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington will each gain a seat, and Florida will pick up two. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania will each lose a seat, while New York and Ohio will each lose two. Louisiana, the only southern state to lose a seat, saw its population decline largely because of Hurricane Katrina.
In most states, the legislatures will redraw the district lines to divide the population. Republicans notched massive victories at the state level this year, sweeping up more than 680 seats, so the party is positioned to draw lines in its favor. The reapportionment also alters the electoral college map: Each state's number of electoral votes is determined by its number of congressional seats. States President Obama carried in 2008 saw a net loss of six electoral votes.
Rules of the House
Responding to an all-time low congressional approval rating of 13 percent, House Republicans on Dec. 22 unveiled strict new House rules for 2011. The new Republican majority will force lawmakers to take recorded votes to raise the nation's debt ceiling. This eliminates the long-standing House rule allowing lawmakers to put the nation deeper into debt without having to make a direct, and likely unpopular, vote. Something else that is not always popular among Washington politicians-actually attending committee hearings-will also come under scrutiny: The publication of committee attendance records will now be required. In addition, bills will be made available in electronic form, legislation will not be considered until after it has been published for three days, and mandatory spending increases will have to be offset by spending cuts in other programs. The biggest losers under the new rules: Washington's small army of former House members turned lobbyists. They will be banned from pumping iron (and pressuring their former colleagues between sets) at the House gym.
A California man is suing the Presbyterian Church (USA), saying the denomination failed to protect him and other children from sexual abuse in a Congo boarding house for missionary children in 1988. Sean Coppedge, 36, filed the suit in December, saying the PCUSA had reports of sexual abuse at mission stations before 1988 and should have better protected missionary children.
The suit came two months after the denomination released a 546-page report by an independent panel that reported 30 victims of sexual or physical abuse at PCUSA mission stations between 1950 and 1990. (A separate report in 2002 found that a now-deceased PCUSA missionary sexually abused 22 girls and women in the Congo and the United States over a 40-year period.) Denomination officials apologized to victims, but didn't have an immediate comment on the lawsuit.
In August, New Tribes Mission-one of the largest evangelical mission agencies based in the United States-apologized to victims of sexual and physical abuse at a West African missionary boarding school in the 1980s and 1990s (see "Fear at Fanda," Sept. 25). An independent group recommended action against 20 former and current NTM workers. By late September, NTM officials reported they had completed 16 of the recommendations, and began planning a "repentance retreat" to apologize to victims in person.
A landmark abortion case decided last month in Europe did not, as some pro-lifers had feared, create a sweeping and universal right to abortion. In A, B and C v. Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Dec. 16 that the European Convention on Human Rights' Article 8, which guarantees a right to privacy and family life, did not guarantee a right to abortion in the cases of two women who argued that their pregnancies threatened their "health and well-being."
In the case of a third woman, who feared that her cancer would return if she continued her pregnancy, the court ruled that Ireland violated the woman's right to privacy by failing to establish a clear procedure to determine whether a pregnancy is life-threatening. A 1992 Irish Supreme Court case ruled that abortion is permissible if pregnancy poses a "real and substantial risk" to the mother's life, but Ireland has never passed legislation clarifying the procedures for lawful abortion. Ireland recognizes both "the right to life of the unborn and . . . the equal right to life of the mother" in its constitution.
Good news from the National Center for Health Statistics: The birth rate for both teen and unwed mothers is falling. A preliminary analysis of 2009 data reveals that the teen birth rate fell 6 percent from 2008 to 2009-a record low after researchers became concerned when the rate increased from 2005 to 2007. The birth rate for unmarried women has decreased as well, declining 4 percent in 2009 after charting a 20 percent increase from 2002 to 2008. These trends follow the decline of birth rates for almost all age groups, with the fertility rate overall showing a 3 percent decline in 2009.
Predator era ending
The U.S. Air Force won't buy any more Predators, having completed its scheduled purchase of 268. It will take delivery in early 2011 of the last of the drones that have dramatically shifted the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Johnson. President Bush expanded the use of Predator drone strikes against militants in Pakistan in 2008, and President Obama has relied on them even more. Of 209 reported U.S. drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, 113 took place in 2010, according to a study by the New America Foundation. Drone strikes were responsible for between 550 to 940 total deaths, the overwhelming majority of which were militants, according to the study. In 2010 those strikes also were responsible for killing 12 militant, Taliban-linked leaders. The Air Force plans to phase in the new Reaper drone to replace Predators.