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Yemen's 'turnover'

and other news briefs

Issue: "2012 Cities Issue," March 10, 2012

Yemen became the fourth country in the Middle East and Gulf region to undergo a transfer of power as a result of Arab Spring street revolts. But unlike Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, change did not come through violent overthrow: The California-sized nation on the Arabian Peninsula on Feb. 21 elected vice president Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi to replace Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for more than 30 years. Hadi's was the only name on the ballot-and Yemenis cheered the opportunity to vote in a brokered election after more than a year of upheaval and violence. But the peaceful transition of power is hardly a turnover: Saleh's son and nephews dominate the military and security forces, and Saleh himself will head the ruling General People's Congress party, which dominates the country's parliament.

Freeze and thaw

The Arctic cold and snow have passed, but a frozen Danube River has halted essential trade over much of Central Europe and is raising fears of flooding should it melt too fast. Already breaking ice has crushed hundreds of boats and barges along the 1,800-mile waterway. Record snowfall and a late January to early February freeze left the river 90 percent frozen, in some places 18 inches thick. While European countries have shifted away from inland waterways as their main shipping route, according to Stratfor, Central Europe, particularly Bulgaria and Romania, remains dependent on the Danube for nearly all freight transport.

Procrastination

The Feb. 17 passage in Congress of a yearlong extension of a payroll tax cut was mostly about avoiding a nasty election year political fight. The defiance displayed last December by fiscal conservatives over a two-month version of the extension did not materialize this time around. Republican leaders insisted that the rank-and-file drop their demand that an equal amount of budget cuts be included with the extension. The $143 billion package allows 160 million Americans to keep in their wallets an extra $80 each month. But the deal will increase the federal deficit by $89.3 billion over the next decade.

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Even conservatives who opposed the package did tout the $5 billion in cuts it makes to a prevention fund created by Obamacare. After 2011 was marked by fierce fiscal battles, the payroll deal could signal an early end to significant congressional action on federal spending between now and November. That sets up the possibility of a legislative logjam after the elections. Lawmakers will have to revisit this extension and the Bush-era tax cuts, both of which expire at the end of 2012. Also on the lame duck calendar: votes to increase the debt ceiling again and to finalize the $1.2 trillion spending cuts mandated by the failure of last year's supercommittee on deficit reduction.

Sending agent

Two hundred years after the first American missionaries set off from the New England coast for India, the United States still sends more Christian missionaries abroad than any other country. Brazil is a distant second among missionary-sending countries. In 2010 the United States sent abroad 127,000 of the world's estimated 400,000 missionaries, according to Todd Johnson, director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Brazil sent 34,000, Johnson told Reuters news service.

Hall of Fame

When Gary Carter, 57, died from a malignant brain tumor on Feb. 16, he left behind a baseball Hall of Fame record that included 11 years as an All-Star catcher. He also left behind a testament on his Gary Carter Foundation website: "The Baseball Hall of Fame is something every player dreams about, but being a member of God's Hall of Fame is the greatest achievement of all. God offers each of us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. When we accept God's gift of salvation, our name is written in The Book of Life, guaranteeing us a place in heaven forever. I made that decision during spring training in 1973. ... You can become a member of God's Hall of Fame too, by making the same decision today."

One year later

As Japan prepares for the one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 19,000 victims, survivors are facing mountainous reminders of the disaster: The Japanese government reported in February that they had cleared only 5 percent of the rubble created by the massive tsunami.

That means that carefully separated piles of debris-everything from clothing to appliances to cars-still line the roadsides and vacant lots of towns along Japan's northeastern coast. Garbage disposal was already a strict business for the small, island nation with limited space when the tsunami created an estimated 23 million tons of debris in the three hardest-hit prefectures alone.

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