Moderator Robby George and historian Newt Gingrich won a Sept. 5 GOP presidential candidate forum in Columbia, S.C., that gave candidates significant chunks of time to answer often complex questions. Hosts at the forum organized by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., didn't ask the five invited candidates if they preferred American Idol or Dancing With the Stars (à la the CNN debate); instead, George, Princeton's conservative professor, asked tough questions about religious freedom and whether Congress should abide by Supreme Court decisions that violate the 14th Amendment's guarantees of due process and equal protection. Along the way Michele Bachmann said she would try to abolish the Department of Education, and Ron Paul said he would end income taxes and close all U.S. military bases overseas. Mitt Romney assessed the Obama presidency: "I don't think I've seen an administration that has gone further afield from the Constitution." The forum was supposed to be Rick Perry's debate debut, but the new frontrunner and Texas governor withdrew from the event to tend to a wildfire crisis in his home state.
NATO warplanes struck the hometown of Muammar Qaddafi 52 times on Sept. 4 in an apparent effort to flush out the deposed dictator as rebels cemented control of the northwestern sector of the country, once Qaddafi's stronghold. More quietly, officials say U.S. intelligence officers are working with rebels to locate Qaddafi's weapons of mass destruction arsenals. Last February a UN chemical weapons watchdog group reported tracking 9.5 tons of mustard gas in an army facility south of Tripoli. "Libya has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and explosives that must not fall into the wrong hands," said Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger, D-Md., a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Smell a rathole?
Solyndra, a California-based solar panel producer that received more than half a billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, closed its doors last month and filed for bankruptcy protection in a major setback for the Obama administration's renewable energy initiatives. Key financial backer and billionaire George Kaiser is a top Democratic donor, and Solyndra was the first company to receive federal loan guarantees under the Obama administration.
Lawmakers are investigating the White House's involvement in awarding the Department of Energy funds to Solyndra, a company they say was at high risk of failure. "For an administration that parades around the banner of transparency, they fought us tooth and nail all summer long in turning over relevant documents related to the credit approval, and today we found out why," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., after the company announced its closure. The Obama administration has awarded more than $38 billion in loan guarantees to other renewable energy companies, but the Government Accountability Office found last year that the administration hadn't properly assessed the risk of five of the companies, Solyndra among them. Taxpayers are unlikely to recover the $535 million in loan guarantees.
More than half of Americans disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of 1,000 adults taken Aug. 27-31 showed. It found that 44 percent of Americans approve of Obama's work as president, with 51 percent disapproving-for the first time since his inauguration. About 73 percent polled said the country is headed in the wrong direction, a level of pessimism not found since late 2008, as the financial crisis struck. And over 70 percent of those surveyed said the economy hasn't yet hit bottom.
More parents are choosing to send their children to private and parochial schools in Indiana after it enacted the nation's largest school voucher program this year: Over 3,200 students received vouchers to attend private schools, with nearly 70 percent of them attending Catholic schools. The government-issued certificates allow parents to pay private school tuition with tax money that would have gone to public schools-and that upsets Nate Schnellenberger, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, who told the Associated Press that "public money is going to be taken from public schools, and they're going to end up in private, mostly religious schools." The teachers union is suing: It claims the voucher program violates "the separation of church and state" since only six of 240 private schools in the voucher program are secular.
Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice called the lawsuit a "misdirection" and said parents are simply choosing available schools: "We're giving aid to students, not aid to religion."
Take it outside
If the mayor of a western Indonesian town has his way, authorities will ban Christian churches from opening on streets with Islamic names. The effort signals escalating persecution against religious minorities in the world's largest predominantly Muslim nation.
When members of the Taman Yasmin congregation tried to occupy a new building in the town of Bogor in 2008, local residents protested and authorities blocked access to the facility. Though the Indonesian Supreme Court ruled in the church's favor in December, Mayor Diani Budiarto refused to comply, saying he's pushing for a national decree to ban churches from meeting on streets with Islamic names. (The congregation's building is on Jalan Abdullah bin Nuh, a street named after an Islamic cleric.) Nearly 40 places of worship belonging to religious minorities have faced closure in recent years, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and an Indonesia-based human rights group reports that attacks (including physical violence) against religious minorities tripled in the last two years. For now, members of Taman Yasmin continue meeting outside their building, where they've held weekly outdoor services for three years.
In a stinging development for Anglicans in Zimbabwe, the nation's chief justice awarded control of all Anglican Church properties to Nolbert Kunonga, an ally of President Robert Mugabe excommunicated in 2008 by the Anglican Church. Even as the diocese of Harare appealed the judge's Aug. 4 ruling, Kunonga moved quickly: The ex-bishop by the end of August had forcibly evicted 27 Anglican pastors and their families from their church-owned homes. The ruling follows Mugabe's ongoing crackdown on political opponents that increasingly is falling on churches. Diocese official Clifford Dzavo told The Zimbabwean that Kunonga's agents severely beat one pastor during a sudden eviction. Meanwhile, Bishop of Harare Chad Gandiya said diocese leaders were trying to find new homes for evicted pastors, and wondering who would live in the church-owned properties: "This is not going to be easy at all. ... God help us."
The Washington Monument will remain closed indefinitely as water leaks from Hurricane Irene appear to have compounded cracks to the 555-foot-tall monument made by last month's East Coast earthquake. That 5.8 magnitude quake, centered in Mineral, Va., created several fissures, some four feet long, in the obelisk, which first opened in 1888. Workers sealing the cracks discovered water pooled inside the stairwell following Irene's heavy rains in the nation's capital. National Park Service officials have declined to say when the popular landmark will reopen.
Two top Justice Department officials lost their jobs Aug. 30 over the controversial Operation Fast and Furious, a botched investigation into gun smuggling that culminated with federal agents losing track of 2,000 guns sold under the program at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of the guns ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels-with two of the weapons discovered last year at the scene of an Arizona shootout that left U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry dead.
Kenneth Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, received reassignment to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy. Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke resigned. In a Sept. 1 letter to the acting U.S. attorney in Phoenix, lawmakers said the office's role "in the genesis and implementation of this case is striking," and sought extensive documents in what they say is an intensifying investigation. Federal prosecutors there urged a judge not to confer victim status on the Terry family, which allows family members to be notified of court proceedings in the case, confer with prosecutors, testify at sentencing, and receive restitution. "I think it's pretty bold of the government to take a position on this," George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 17,000 Border Patrol agents, told reporters last month. "It's the government trying to cover its backside and minimize the embarrassment over a failed gun investigation."
What is Boko Haram?
Boko Haram began in northern Nigeria in 2002 under the radical Islamic cleric Mohammad Yusuf. The fast-growing terror group's name colloquially translated means, "Western education is sin," and its Aug. 26 car bombing of the UN compound in Nigeria's capital, Lagos-the largest ever on a Western target in Nigeria, killing 23 and injuring over 80-highlighted its intent. In 2009 the group upped its jihadist strategy against Nigeria's Christian population, and experts now worry that it is linking arms with AQIM, the al-Qaeda affiliate in northern Africa, and Somalia's al-Shabaab terrorists.