President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton campaigned together for the first time in 2012 on April 29 at a Washington reception (tickets starting at $1,000) and dinner (tickets starting at $20,000). Obama has now attended 61 fundraisers this year and 127 since filing for reelection on April 4, 2011.
By contrast, George W. Bush attended a total of 97 fundraisers during his entire 2004 reelection campaign, from May 2003 to November 2004. Obama, who talked about the "corrosive influence of money in politics" during his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, has $104 million cash on hand-10 times the cash on hand for rival Mitt Romney. As Obama's schedule gets more crowded with campaign events, the Republican National Committee filed an official complaint on April 25 with the Government Accountability Office over Obama's use of official resources for campaign travel. "This president and Air Force One seem to have a magic magnet that only seem to land in battleground states in this country," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus alluding to Obama's recent "official event" trips to such key states as Iowa, Colorado, and North Carolina (see "Carolina blues").
End of the road
Newt Gingrich's long goodbye from the presidential race was set to become official May 2, one week after he lost five contests by an average of more than 48 points and nearly one year after announcing his White House bid. It was a wild, sometimes bizarre, year for Gingrich, who survived the en masse resignation of 16 of his top aides last June to emerge as the winner of the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary. But Gingrich only won one more state (Georgia) as his campaign racked up over $4 million in debt. Along the way he talked of moon colonies, made trips to eight zoos, and held numerous book signings for the four books he and his wife Callista published during the campaign. Gingrich told supporters he would "stay very, very active. ... I am committed to defeating Obama."
Tom White, 1947-2012
Tom White, for 20 years the head of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), was discovered dead last month of possible suicide. "Allegations were made to authorities this week that Tom had inappropriate contact with a young girl. Rather than face those allegations, and all of the resulting fallout for his family and this ministry and himself, Tom appears to have chosen to take his own life," read an April 20 statement from the Bartlesville, Okla.-based organization. But state authorities are investigating the death after police discovered his body at VOM headquarters, according to the Associated Press. White was well known for unflagging support for the persecuted church. In 1979 a plane from which he was dropping leaflets over Cuba crashed, and Fidel Castro imprisoned White for over a year.
An incumbent president with a 50 percent approval rating just before an election has never lost in his reelection bid-and President Obama's current Gallup approval rating, based on a survey done April 22-24, is 50 percent. A president with a 50 percent approval rating six months out (May before November elections), according to the polling data, has about a 75 percent likelihood of reelection.
Less than two months before South Sudan is set to mark its first anniversary of independence on July 9, the country remains on the brink of war with neighboring Sudan over disputed borderlines and oil fields. It also continues to absorb thousands of refugees fleeing Sudanese bombing in the Nuba Mountains.
But South Sudan has another looming crisis: It could run out of money by June. The nation that derives more than 90 percent of its budget from oil fields halted production in January. Officials said that once the oil traveled north to Sudan via the only pipeline in the country, Sudanese officials sold the oil, but sent meager payments back to South Sudan.
South Sudanese authorities vowed to build a new pipeline running south to Kenya, predicting such a project would take a year. But that timeline seems deeply unrealistic in a country with only a few paved roads and intermittent services like water and electricity.
If South Sudanese officials are worried about running out of funds, they aren't showing it yet. President Salva Kiir traveled to China in late April, seeking investment for the Kenya pipeline. China's involvement may be a long shot since the country has closer relations with Sudan, but during the trip Kiir had even bigger problems than cash flow: The president cut short his visit after news broke that Sudanese forces had bombed South Sudanese territory again.
Toward secular states?
Jordan's lower house of parliament has voted to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, voting 83-46 to prevent the establishment of any political party on a "religious basis." The move would block Islamist parties from running in upcoming elections. If the measure wins expected upper house approval, it would disqualify the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, from taking part in parliamentary elections. Libya's National Transitional Council also took steps in April to ban religious parties, ahead of June elections, and Egypt has disqualified some religious candidates in upcoming elections.
Ceasefire that's not
Despite a UN-brokered ceasefire, violence continues to rock Syria, with deadly bombings reaching Damascus, the capital, and other cities. Two suicide bombs on April 30 in Idlib targeted security personnel and killed at least eight-with some estimates that explosions killed more than 20. By May 1 the head of the UN observer mission, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, had arrived in Syria along with about 15 observers. Under the peace plan brokered by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, 300 observers are approved and 30 scheduled to arrive this month. But activists report as many as 500 killed since the ceasefire was agreed to April 12.
The Christian community is suffering "enormous distress" as the conflict rages on between supporters and opponents of President Bashar Assad, church leaders told the Barnabas Fund. Churches throughout the country remain open, a church leader told WORLD, except for the Homs area, where the focus of the fight has left many places of worship destroyed or unable to operate (see "Houses of God"). Elsewhere, he said, churches are "more packed with worshipers and getting closer to [the] church and Bible, which is a good sign."
The Tennessee legislature passed a bill on April 30 that forces Vanderbilt University to abandon its nondiscrimination policy if it wants to keep $24 million in state funding. The bill also forbids state schools from adopting similar policies (see "Campus divide," May 5). Thirteen Christian groups oppose the policy, saying it restricts their religious freedom. They plan to move off campus next year. School officials say 17 others have complied with the policy but declined to name them all.
Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer and one of China's most well-known activists, escaped captivity on April 20 after 18 months of brutal house arrest in Shandong Province. American authorities refused to comment immediately on reports that the activist took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The dramatic escape comes nearly six years after Chinese officials first imprisoned Chen for exposing the official practice of forced abortions and sterilizations of thousands of women in Linyi County. Chen served four years in prison, but has been under house arrest since his release in September 2010. Guards severely beat Chen, 40, and his wife last year after the couple smuggled out a video describing their plight.
A free Chen appeared in a YouTube video on April 27, describing his abuse and demanding his family's freedom. The activist reportedly left behind his wife, daughter, and mother, hoping to secure the whole family's release. In the video, Chen directly challenged Prime Minister Wen Jiabao over his family's imprisonment: "You owe the people an explanation."
Chen's escape-coming days before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was set to visit China-stoked concerns that any U.S. involvement in Chen's case could strain U.S. relations with the Communist nation. But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, called on Clinton to press Chinese authorities to release Chen's family, and "raise the issue of all harassed, arrested, disappeared, and disbarred human rights lawyers and defenders with the Chinese Government on an ongoing basis."