JAN. 28: Security forces patrol the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Park in Russia ahead of the Feb. 7 opening ceremony. The Sochi games will be the most expensive in Olympic history—surpassing the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and quadruple the original estimate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
War raged in Syria, as the first day of Syrian peace talks floundered in Geneva. Western officials, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, joined members of the opposition in insisting Syria’s future doesn’t include President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government declared al-Assad wouldn’t budge. The brutal war has killed more than 130,000 people, forced millions from their homes, and stoked fierce persecution against the country’s ancient Christian community.
A federal grand jury indicted Dinesh D’Souza on charges of making illegal campaign contributions. The conservative author is also former president of The King’s College in Manhattan. Prosecutors allege D’Souza illegally used straw donors to funnel $20,000 to a congressional candidate in New York in 2012. D’Souza’s attorney said his client did not act with any “corrupt or criminal intent,” and famed liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz said the case “smacks of selective prosecution.”
South Sudan struggles
South Sudanese officials and members of a rebel delegation signed a cease-fire agreement nearly six weeks after fighting erupted in South Sudan. The fighting began on Dec. 15 between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar. The cease-fire remained tenuous as reports of fighting continued, and church leaders pleaded with those warring in the predominantly Christian nation to beat their swords into plowshares.
The U.S. Department of Defense announced it would accommodate “sincerely held religious beliefs” by allowing service members to grow beards or wear long turbans as part of their religious expression. (Service members must ask for a waiver for the special accommodations.) Some Christians in the armed services say the military hasn’t accommodated their beliefs in recent years. An Army Reserve training brief labeled evangelical Christians as extremists as dangerous as al-Qaeda.
End of lives
A Texas judge ordered a Fort Worth hospital to remove a pregnant woman from life support. Marlise Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant when a suspected blood clot left her in a coma on Nov. 26. Her husband and parents asked doctors to remove her from life support, but the hospital refused. Though hospital officials acknowledged Munoz was brain dead, they cited a Texas law requiring treatment for pregnant women. Following the court ruling, Munoz and her daughter died seven days before the unborn child reached 24 weeks—the point when doctors agree a baby has a good chance for survival.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to shorten the party’s presidential primary season and hold its convention earlier in 2016. Under the new rules, the first four states must hold primaries in February 2016, instead of scheduling contests as early as December in a battle to be first. (The remaining states face penalties for holding primaries sooner than March 1.) Republicans hope the changes will help avoid protracted, sometimes brutal intraparty battles that can weaken a candidate before he becomes the nominee.
Constitutions and carnage
Less than a week after Egyptian voters passed a constitutional referendum by 98 percent, the country prepared to celebrate “Revolution Day”—the third anniversary of the demonstrations that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25, 2011. Since then, Egyptians have elected and ousted another president (Mohamed Morsi), canned a rushed-through constitution, and adopted a new one. But the celebrations met carnage, as a series of five car bombs ripped through Cairo on Friday, killing at least six people. An al-Qaeda–linked group claimed responsibility for the attacks, and left Egyptians wary as they move toward electing a new president.
Underdog down under
Heading into the Australian Open, Swiss tennis pro Stanislas Wawrinka had never won a set against No. 1 ranked Rafael Nadal. By the end of the tournament, Wawrinka had won his first match against the Spaniard in a victory that also delivered Wawrinka his first major championship. Though Nadal suffered back pain during the final match, Wawrinka was dominating Nadal before the injury occurred. On the women’s side, Chinese player Li Na became the first Asian woman to win the tournament.
The big uneasy
Less than a decade after Ray Nagin blasted the federal government for its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, the former mayor of New Orleans faces a storm of his own: Jury selection began in Nagin’s trial for alleged government corruption. Prosecutors allege the former mayor took some $200,000 in bribes in exchange for lucrative city contracts. If convicted, Nagin could face 20 years in prison.
Police continued to search for a motive in a mall shooting in Maryland that left three people dead, including the gunman. Officials said 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar entered a store in The Mall in Columbia near Baltimore two days earlier, killing two employees before killing himself. One victim, Brianna Benlolo, was a 21-year-old single mother of a 2-year-old son. A friend described her as an “incredible mother and friend.”
We the government
President Barack Obama began his fifth State of the Union address by declaring to Americans: “It is you, our citizens, that make the state of our union strong.” But the president spent much of the next hour extolling the powers of the federal government, and threatening to use executive orders if Congress didn’t pass enough bills: “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The president started by ordering an increase in the minimum wage for federal contractors. Such moves may do little to raise Obama’s lackluster approval rating, or ease concerns about programs like Obamacare. The president touted his signature healthcare plan nearly 40 minutes into the speech, but mentioned none of the massive problems that plagued its rollout.
The prime minister of Ukraine resigned his post, as anti-government protests spread through the nation (see “Winter at the barricades” in this issue). The move came nearly two months after President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a free trade deal with the European Union and embraced ties with Russia. Many Ukrainians have bitter memories of life under Soviet rule and took to the streets in widespread protests that have rocked the capital city of Kiev. The president acknowledged the opposition’s growing momentum, and scrapped anti-protest legislation that had sparked more demonstrations.
Frozen in place
As morning dawned in Atlanta, thousands of miserable commuters, truck drivers, and children on school buses entered the second day of an epic traffic jam during a rare snowstorm. The chaos started on Tuesday afternoon, as officials dismissed city employees, closed schools, and encouraged many businesses to close—all at the same time. As the jammed roads began freezing, the packed traffic couldn’t budge. Some churches, stores, and residents near the highway offered shelter to drivers who abandoned their cars.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rescinded its Oscar nomination of “Alone Yet Not Alone” for best original song, claiming the composer inappropriately lobbied for academy members’ votes. The song’s nomination had come as a surprise to many industry observers. (Christian author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada performed the song from an independent Christian film of the same name.) The academy’s rare retraction stunned composer Bruce Broughton, who said he had “simply asked people to find the song and consider it.” The last time the academy revoked a nomination was in 1972.
The Seattle Seahawks won their first Super Bowl title in league history by crushing the Denver Broncos in a game that ended with a searing final score of 43-8. For viewers unenthused by a lopsided contest, the night also offered a tense pregame interview, with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly grilling President Obama on issues like Benghazi and Obamacare. Meanwhile, New York Police officers and FBI agents dealt with some of the darker and less-seen events surrounding the yearly game (see “Buying sex at the Super Bowl” in this issue).
Philip Seymour Hoffman, hailed as one of the greatest actors of a generation, died in a Manhattan apartment from an apparent heroine overdose. He was 46. The actor won an Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of Truman Capote, and took on dozens of complex roles that plumbed the depths of sin and darkness. In 2008, Hoffman acknowledged his frantic pace. “I try to live my life in a way that I don’t have profound regrets,” he said in an interview. “That’s probably why I work so much. I don’t want to feel I missed something important.” Hoffman leaves behind three young children.
Lack of appeal
Tens of thousands of Americans are confronting another bewildering problem with Obamacare: The appeals system for the online marketplace isn’t working. The Washington Post reported more than 22,000 consumers have filed appeals that remain untouched, and that customer service agents say the computer system won’t yet allow federal workers to make changes. Problems on appeal include the marketplace charging customers too much, miscalculating government subsidies, advising the wrong insurance programs, and denying coverage.
Using the force
Janet Yellen officially took the reins of the Federal Reserve, becoming the first female to lead the nation’s central bank. Yellen faces an enormous task, as she navigates a still-wobbly economy and the management of Ben Bernanke’s quantitative easing policy. Yellen’s views on Fed policy are similar to the chairman she replaces: She joked she is the Luke Skywalker to Bernanke’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi for final preparations ahead of the Winter Olympics. The president took members of the Olympic committee to visit a leopard rehabilitation clinic to show that Russian officials are environmentally conscious. (State media reported the leopards are under Putin’s personal care.) But Russian authorities faced bigger questions about alleged corruption ahead of perhaps the most expensive Olympic games in history: Some estimates put the cost at nearly $50 billion.
Marriage in Virginia
A federal judge in Virginia began hearing arguments aimed at overturning the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The hearing came less than two weeks after Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he wouldn’t defend the state’s ban. Virginia voters passed the ban by 57 percent in 2006. Federal judges have overturned similar bans in Oklahoma and Utah.
A Paris court opened its first trial for a suspected accomplice in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, faces charges of arming and directing Hutu killers against ethnic Tutsis. The French government has faced criticism for its slowness in investigating and prosecuting Rwandan suspects living in France. A 1996 French law authorizes French courts to try in France Rwandans suspected of being involved in the genocide. This spring marks the 20th anniversary of the three-month massacre in Rwanda that killed some 800,000 people.