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.
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.
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."
No longer interested
In what may be bad news for President Obama, a new report predicts lower voter turnout for the 2012 election after a historically high turnout in 2008. Many young voters who supported Obama in 2008 will probably stay home in 2012, according to the Dec. 27 report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University.
Curtis Gans, director of the center, argues that "because Obama the president did not fulfill the hope invested in Obama the candidate, there has been an enormous sense of disappointment among those young who had been previously politically active, and the current crop of college-resident young do not have the same compelling motivation to engage as those who preceded them." Gans notes a lack of enthusiasm for other candidates and a likely wave of "often ad hominem television advertising" from both parties: "Against this backdrop, it is hard to envision anything other than a substantial decline in turnout."
Gans predicts that a strong economic rebound would change this equation and would lead to President Obama's reelection, while continued stagnation would ensure his loss. According to the report, voter turnout in 2008 reached 62.3 percent of eligible citizens, the highest level since 1960-and up from 51.4 percent in 1996.
The House on Dec. 19 passed a bill, authored by House Speaker John Boehner, to place a statue or bust of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inside the U.S. Capitol. The measure, just the fourth piece of legislation sponsored by Boehner in 2011, says that "the United States Capitol does not currently appropriately recognize the contributions of Sir Winston Churchill or that of the United Kingdom." Churchill, who led the opposition to the Nazis while serving as prime minister during most of World War II, addressed a joint session of Congress on Dec. 26, 1941. "Winston Churchill was the best friend America ever had," Boehner said. President Barack Obama in 2009 sent back to England a Churchill bust loaned to the White House after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Churchill, whose mother was American, would be one of just a few foreign leaders depicted in the U.S. Capitol's art.