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Haiti's dismal year

"Haiti's dismal year" Continued...

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Limit on debt limit

In a letter sent to every member of the new 112th Congress, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned that a failure by lawmakers to increase the legal limit for the national debt would lead to a debt default, sparking "catastrophic economic consequences that would last for decades." The current debt limit of $14.29 trillion, enacted in February 2010 by the 111th Congress, could be reached as early as March 31.

"It is important to emphasize that changing the debt limit does not alter or increase the obligations we have as a nation," Geithner wrote, "it simply permits the Treasury to fund those obligations Congress has already established."

But during its first day of deliberations under Republican leadership, the House of Representatives agreed to change voting procedures on increasing debt limit: Lawmakers will be forced to go on record in support of raising government borrowing or vote "no" and risk default. In the past debt-limit increases were usually agreed to by voice vote or as part of a larger budget resolution. Now, said new House Speaker John Boehner, any increase in the debt limit would have to be paired with significant spending reductions to be palatable to the electorate-a view echoed by Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee: "Cutting rampant spending is the resounding message the American people sent last November." -by Joseph Slife

Crossed up

The U.S. Supreme Court decided earlier this year that one memorial cross could remain, but a different memorial cross is facing the ax. Last April, the Supreme Court ruled in Salazar v. Buono that a memorial cross in the Mojave desert could stand, but that cross stood (until it was later vandalized) on private land that the federal government ceded to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The second controversial cross stands in La Jolla, Calif., on land that the federal government took through eminent domain in 2006 after a district court judge ruled that the cross violated the California State Constitution. The ACLU sued the government, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Jan. 4 that the cross also violates the U.S. Constitution. Joe Infranco, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), said that Justice Anthony Kennedy's language in Salazar v. Buono makes ADF hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the cross standing. Kennedy said the Mojave memorial cross "evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten." The Justice Department has 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Turning point

NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus announced Jan. 10 that one of the largest tribes in southern Afghanistan had pledged to fight alongside U.S. and Afghan forces to oust Taliban militants in Helmand Province. The area has seen some of the worst fighting in the last year, and the Alikozai tribe has agreed to help halt insurgent attacks and expel foreign fighters from one of the most violent spots in the country-Helmand's Sangin district. More than 20 Marines have been killed in Sangin since mid-October, but Petraeus believes there is increasing dissension among insurgency fighters: "The sheer losses that they've sustained are tremendous . . . it's caused enormous stress on the central nervous system of the command and control structure," he said just before delivering the news to Vice President Joe Biden on a visit to Kabul.

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