About 12 million Iraqis braved threats of attacks and suicide bombings to vote in the nation’s first election without the presence of foreign troops. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expects his Shiite party to remain in power, even as his eight-year rule is marked with a close relationship with Iran and growing sectarian bloodshed. In April alone, 750 people were killed in political violence, according to the UN. Iraq’s electoral commission hopes to announce the winners by the end of May.
Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016, arguing that such a hike would force employers to cut jobs. Senators voted 54 to 42 to raise the minimum wage, falling short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. Democrats hope to use the debate to rally public opinion during a midterm election year, as President Obama urges Americans to vote out lawmakers who “keep putting politics ahead of working Americans.” Republicans cited a Congressional Budget Office report that found the wage hike would cost the economy 500,000 jobs.
The Obama administration faced more questions about its response to the 2012 Benghazi attack as retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier Gen. Robert W. Lovell testified that the State Department did not call on Africa Command to respond. While he couldn’t say whether it would have made a difference, he believes “we should have tried.” The testimony comes two days after conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released emails that suggest Obama’s top staff was involved in pushing the false narrative that the attack was in response to an anti-Muslim YouTube video rather than a terrorist attack.
During a National Day of Prayer event, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson didn’t mince words in calling President Obama the “abortion president,” and said, “I will not yield to your wicked regulations” forcing all companies to provide insurance coverage for abortifacients. Media swarmed around the fact that Democratic U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn walked out of the gathering, but Dobson told Fox News that “the people who were there were with me 100 percent, because they also believe in the sanctity of human life.”
Clashes between pro-Ukraine activists and pro-Russia separatists in the southern port of Odessa killed at least 42 people, most of whom died in a building fire. The riot started as pro-Russia protesters blocked a large pro-Ukraine rally and escalated to street battles with pistols and firebombs. The outnumbered pro-Russians ran to the trade union building, which caught fire and burned 30 people. Eight others jumped to their deaths. Both sides are pointing fingers as to who started the fire, with the local government blaming rebels who mishandled Molotov cocktails, and Russian leaders calling it a “real genocide.”
A massive landslide in remote northeastern Afghanistan buried the village of Abi Barak, killing as many as 2,700 people, according to the International Organization for Migration in Afghanistan. By the end of the weekend officials gave up the search and rescue effort and designated the area a mass grave, as some people were buried under nearly 200 feet of mud. Several days of heavy rain and melting snow caused flash floods and mudslides that have killed more people in a week than in all of 2013, the UN reported.
Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, announced that he is divorcing his husband, Mark Andrew. Hundreds of parishes left The Episcopal Church in protest of his consecration in 2003. In a Daily Beast column, Robinson wrote that it comforted him to know that “gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples.”
A Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Providence, R.I., ended in tragedy as a scaffolding holding eight performers by their hair fell about 35 feet to the ground. An additional dancer on the ground was injured, and all nine performers were rushed to a local hospital with compound fractures and broken bones. One woman suffered internal bleeding. Fire investigator Paul Doughty said the accident was caused by a steel carabiner that snapped.
Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of more than 300 Nigerian schoolgirls from a predominantly Christian town on April 15. In a newly released video, leader Abubakar Shekau called the girls “slaves” and threatened to sell them in the marketplace (see "The Lost Girls" in this issue.)
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that it was constitutional to open legislative meetings with prayer. The case centered on the New York town of Greece, where two residents sued over Christian prayers at city council meetings. While the four liberal justices said the prayers amounted to “government-sponsored worship,” the majority ruled that legislative prayers go back to the first Congress and that the government could not force chaplains to pray nonsectarian prayers.
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents more than 40,000 U.S. churches, will merge with its international counterpart Conela, which serves 487,000 churches around the world. The merger connects NHCLC with the Global South (Latin America, Asia, Africa), where Christianity is growing rapidly. Together the new organization will become the largest evangelical association in the world.
China’s giant e-commerce company Alibaba filed to go public in the United States, leading analysts to believe this could be the largest initial public offering in history—beating Facebook’s $16 billion IPO. Transactions on Alibaba, which combines online retail, payment services, and cloud computing services, totaled $240 billion in 2013, more than eBay and Amazon combined. Its enormous size displays China’s growing market, as more of the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens accumulate wealth.
The tea party faced a loss in the North Carolina primaries as voters chose establishment-backed Thom Tillis as their Republican nominee for Senate. Some pointed to the fact that Tillis, the state’s House speaker, had a bankroll of $4.7 million, compared to the less than $2 million spent by challengers Greg Brannon and Mark Harris. Tillis will now face incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who had a 33 percent approval rating in March. Republicans hope to unseat Hagan and take back the Senate.
HGTV decided to pull a new house flipping series after liberal activist group Right Wing Watch revealed the twin brothers starring in the reality series had spoken out in support of traditional marriage and their father was a pro-life activist. David and Jason Benham, who were already five weeks into filming the show set to air in October, responded, “If our faith costs us a television show then so be it.”
Vibram, the makers of the popular FiveFinger running shoes, moved to settle a lawsuit by a customer claiming the company deceived the public by advertising the shoes decrease foot injures and strengthen foot muscles. The shoemakers did not base their claims on any scientific studies, and runners complain that the ultrathin shoes caused blisters and calf pain. Vibram has agreed to reimburse buyers up to $94 for every pair they’ve purchased.
House Republicans and seven Democrats in GOP-leaning districts approved a select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack. Former federal prosecutor Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., will head the panel, which will include six GOP members and five Democrats—although Democrats said they will decide whether they want to join. Democrats argue that Republicans are dragging the scandal into an election year to raise money, yet Republicans counter that the Obama administration has been stonewalling information.
North Carolina authorities arrested Ashutosh “Ron” Virmani, an abortionist with a history of controversy, after a woman accused him of luring her to his Charlotte residence and raping her. Police charged Virmani, 59, with first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree sexual offense. In 1992, Virmani admitted to having an improper relationship with a patient, and numerous states have reprimanded him for medical violations. In 2012, Virmani drew criticism for making disparaging remarks about the “ugly black babies” he was aborting.
Hundreds of Syrians returned to visit their bombed-out hometown of Homs, which had been taken over by rebels for the past two years. The deal struck earlier in the week allowed 2,000 rebels free passage out of the city while the government took back control of Homs. Many residents returned to flattened homes, and a Greek Orthodox bishop told the Associated Press that all 11 churches in Homs’ old quarter have been damaged or destroyed.
The producers of a film about Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell reached their goal of raising $2.1 million to create the film. The crowdsourcing campaign was pulled from Kickstarter after the site objected to a description of Gosnell’s crimes, and the campaign was completed on Indiegogo. The producers said more than 23,000 people donated to the film.
Same-sex couples rushed to apply for marriage licenses after an Arkansas judge struck down the state’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban without issuing a stay. In his ruling, Judge Chris Piazza compared the case to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down interracial marriage bans in the ’60s. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel plans to appeal the decision, even though he personally supports same-sex marriage.
The CDC confirmed the second case of Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) in the United States, and has notified more than 500 people that may have come in contact with the patient. The Saudi Arabian health worker was traveling to Orlando, Fla., to visit family when he started feeling sick. Test results were positive for the MERS virus, which has no vaccine. Of the 538 lab-confirmed cases in the Middle East and Europe, 27 percent have ended in death.
Keith Crisco, the challenger to former American Idol star Clay Aiken in a Democratic primary for a U.S. House race in North Carolina, died in his home. The 71-year-old textile businessman trailed Aiken by about 400 votes and died a day before election officials could determine if a recount was necessary. An unofficial tally found Aiken the winner with more than 40 percent of the vote, and he will face a tough fight against incumbent Republican Renee Ellmers in November.
Hiding from Google
Europe’s high court ruled that Google is required to weigh requests by individuals to take down links of newspaper articles or websites with personal information. Some saw the ruling as a necessary protection of privacy, while others complained that it interfered with the freedom of information. While the ruling only applies to the European Union, it could also impact the way search engines deal with the issue in the United States and other countries as well. Google found the ruling “disappointing.”