Women in long white dresses toting small black Bibles packed into an early morning church service on Jan. 12-the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed about 230,000-singing, swaying, and remembering the dead. Notoriously snarled traffic eased as many store owners closed for the day. Near the massive tent city situated on the Champ de Mars across from the abandoned presidential palace, an English-speaking voice wafted over a PA system: "Today is the first day of a new beginning for Haiti."
But in many ways, it was just like the day before: As much as 95 percent of the rubble in Port-au-Prince remains unmoved, and the UN estimates that 810,000 Haitians continue to sleep outdoors. One reason: Of $8.36 billion pledged in aid commitments by donor nations last March, less than $3 billion has been received. The good news: About 690,000 people have been moved off the streets to new temporary or permanent housing, and of those most have adequate access to food and medical care.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, concluded his three-year probe into the financial affairs of six televangelists without handing down any penalties-even though only two ministries fully cooperated with the investigation. Instead, Grassley's report recommends that the IRS form an advisory committee to ensure that religious organizations don't abuse their tax-exempt status. Additionally, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) will create a national commission to lead an independent review of religious organizations.
Donor advocates and ministry watchdogs were disappointed by the announcement. Rod Pitzer, of MinistryWatch.com, said Grassley's conclusions were "far less than we could have hoped for." Pitzer criticized Grassley for naming the ECFA to lead the commission, calling it a "cop out" that will end up protecting large organizations at the expense of grassroots donors. Michael Batts, an ECFA board member, will chair the commission. In a statement he said that "self-regulation and accountability" as "a model has worked very well for more than 30 years." But none of the so-called "Grassley Six" televangelists were members when the investigation began. Joyce Meyer Ministries has since joined.
Voters in southern Sudan turned out in numbers sufficient to legitimize a historic referendum three days into the seven-day vote expected to give the area independence from the northern, Muslim-dominated Sudan. Over 4 million registered for the vote-part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended over 20 years of civil war. A key requirement is that 60 percent of those registered participate. In southern villages voters lined up well before dawn at polling places starting Jan. 9, while over 60,000 of an estimated 2 million refugees from the war around the world voted in places from Australia to the refugee camps of northern Kenya. Most had walked many miles and escaped many hardships to reach the day when they could vote for independence: Nyakor Manyang, 25, like most southerners a Christian, said she was tired of being afraid of being bombed at her church. "That's why I decided to come today to vote. . . . I want to be free. I want to be looked at as a first citizen."
The next al-Qaeda?
Last month the UN Security Council voted to increase the number of peacekeepers in Somalia-from 8,000 to 12,000. The move reflects growing concern about the strength of al-Shabaab, often called al-Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa. The group recently absorbed its rival, Hizbul Islam, according to STRATFOR, and now operates three main factions of jihadists:
• A global faction led by Godane Abu Zubayr
• A nationalist wing led by Muktar Robow, also known as Abu Mansur
• The Hizbul Islam wing led by warlord and Somali nationalist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys
On Jan. 9 Mansur said the group will redouble its attacks "against African crusaders and their apostate government" and visited a mosque in Baidao in southern Somalia to warn worshippers, "The people who live in al-Shabaab controlled areas must help al-Shabaab fighters to overthrow the government." Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings in Uganda last July that killed 76 people.
Ashley Turton, 37, a Progress Energy lobbyist married to a key White House liaison to Congress, died mysteriously in a car fire at her Capitol Hill home Jan. 10. Neighbors called emergency services when they noticed a pre-dawn fire at her home, and first responders discovered Turton's body in her car, still in the garage. They haven't determined a cause of death, but the timing aroused suspicion because Progress Energy announced a planned $13 billion merger with Duke Energy the same day, which will create the country's largest utility company. Turton would have been a point person on the merger for political staff in D.C. Still, police said they saw no immediate evidence of foul play in her death. Turton, married to Daniel Turton, the White House deputy director of legislative affairs for the House of Representatives, was the mother of three young children.
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
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.
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.