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Personhood politics

And other news briefs

Issue: "2012: The Year Ahead," Jan. 14, 2012

The Nevada Pro-life Coalition hopes to collect more than 72,000 signatures by June to get a personhood measure on November ballots. But a Nevada judge on Dec. 19 rewrote the proposed initiative after pro-abortion groups challenged it. The personhood measure would amend the state's constitution to protect the right to life of every prenatal person. Siding with Planned Parenthood, Nevada District Judge James E. Wilson ordered the measure to include language that the change would affect embryonic stem-cell research and impact a woman's ability to get fertility treatments and birth control. "This court order significantly compromises the truth of the life-saving personhood amendment we have proposed," said Chet Gallagher, Director of the Nevada Pro-life Coalition. Personhood groups are trying to get similar initiatives placed on ballots across the nation this year, and pro-abortion groups have filed nearly a dozen lawsuits to slow the movement.

Medicare lies

Conservatives have long disputed PolitiFact, the left-leaning (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) blog from the St. Petersburg Times that "fact checks" politicians' statements, but now the fact checker has ignited liberal criticism. PolitiFact named its 2011 "Lie of the Year" Democrats' assertion that House Republicans voted to end Medicare. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have repeated that Republicans voted to end Medicare in ads all over the country, with one ad depicting an elderly man taking a job as a stripper to pay his medical bills.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget, which passed the House but failed in the Senate, maintains Medicare as it is now for those over age 55, and then provides vouchers for those under 55 to buy private insurance when they reach the program's eligibility age. PolitiFact said Democrats were using "scare tactics" with seniors over the Ryan plan and noted, "In the past, some Democrats have even favored such proposals." Ryan recently introduced a modified plan with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden that would allow seniors to choose between a voucher plan or traditional Medicare. PolitiFact's 2010 "Lie of the Year" was Republicans' assertion that the healthcare law was a government takeover of healthcare. According to a study by the University of Minnesota's Eric Ostermeier, 76 percent of the statements PolitiFact disputes are from Republicans, and only 22 percent are from Democrats.

Disapproving public

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According to a year-end Gallup poll, Congress sank to an 11 percent approval rating to close out 2011. That's a new record monthly low. Another record: the 86 percent of respondents who said they disapproved of the job Congress is doing. That bested the 84 percent record reached last August. For 2011, Congress averaged a 17 percent job approval rating, which is yet another record for lowest yearly average. For nearly four decades the average annual job approval rating for Congress has been 34 percent. There is an old saying that Americans hate Congress but love their own congressman. These poll results must have some Capitol Hill lawmakers wondering if that is still true.

A house divided

As 2011 came to a close, Iraq appeared to be in danger of descending into a civil war. With U.S. troops withdrawing from the country on Dec. 18, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, moved quickly to order the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi and to threaten other Sunni rivals.

Hashemi, whom Maliki accused of running death squads, found refuge in Kurdish areas and from there denied the charges. With battle lines drawn-increasingly influential Iran and Iraqi Shiites on one side, Sunni Arabs and Kurds on the other-

al-Queda in Iraq set off a deadly wave of bombings in Baghdad on Dec. 22, killing 65 and further inflaming Shiites against Sunnis.

A recent deal between Exxon-Mobil and the Kurds to allow oil exploration in the Kurdish region is also increasing tensions. The central government in Baghdad claims authority to oversee resources in the northern territory: Sunni Arabs and Shiites both support that assertion. The deal with Exxon-Mobil includes land claimed by both Kurds and Arabs.

Some Iraqis hope that the United States could play a diplomatic if not military role in resolving the crisis. In a Dec. 28 op-ed for The New York Times, Iraqi Sunni leaders Iyad Allawi, Osama al-Nujaifi, and Rafa al-Essawi accused Maliki of reneging on a 2010 power-sharing agreement. They called on the Obama administration not to give "unconditional support" to the prime minister: "Unless America acts rapidly to help create a successful unity government, Iraq is doomed."

-For more on other nations in transition, see "Around the world."

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