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Dispatches

News

Issue: "Day of reckoning," June 14, 2014

May 26: Sami Bolton mourns Marcus McLain at his grave on Memorial Day at West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn. Reservist Bolton served with the active duty McLain as a civilian with the Navy. She said McLain suffered from PTSD after multiple deployments and took his own life.

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Wednesday, May 14

Lois Lerner
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Lois Lerner

Email trail

Judicial Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group, released emails showing the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups originated in Washington. President Barack Obama, Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS tax-exempt division, and other administration officials had blamed rogue employees in Cincinnati for the targeting uncovered in a May 2013 inspector general report. The documents, which Judicial Watch sued to obtain, also showed Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., applied heavy pressure on top IRS officials to clamp down on groups he said were involved in political activity.

Columbus discovery? 

An ocean explorer says he believes he found the wreckage of the Santa Maria, the ship Christopher Columbus used to discover America, off the coast of northern Haiti. Barry Clifford said the shipwreck includes old ballast stones that look to have come from Spain or Portugal. He made the find near where the crew of the Santa Maria is thought to have built a coastal fort for crew members after the vessel sank on Christmas Day 1492. Clifford’s claim will be difficult to verify: He is not the first explorer to think he’s found the Santa Maria.

Thursday, May 15

Covenant conviction 

A Maryland jury convicted a former pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., on five counts of child molestation (see “Called to Report”). Nathaniel Morales, 56, faces up to 85 years in prison. Critics say the Covenant Life leadership enabled Morales’ continued abuse during the 1980s and '90s by not reporting it, and one former pastor admitted as much during the trial. On May 18, Joshua Harris, the Covenant Life senior pastor since 2004, told the congregation he asked the church board to consider putting him on leave until the issues are resolved.

VA blame game 

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Undersecretary Robert Petzel faced withering questions from a Senate panel over long delays at VA facilities around the country—including a Phoenix facility where allegedly 40 veterans died while awaiting care. Shinseki accepted Petzel’s “resignation” during his opening statement at the Senate hearing, but Petzel was already set to retire this year. Veterans groups said they need a plan to address the problems, not a scapegoat. The following week President Obama finally spoke out on the issue, and urged patience while investigators do their jobs.

Friday, May 16

Narendra Modi
Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/Sipa USA/AP
Narendra Modi

Hindu win

The world’s largest democratic election resulted in a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader, Narendra Modi, who will become India’s new prime minister. BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, became the first party to take an outright majority of seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament in 30 years. The sweeping victory raises deep concerns for Christians and other religious minorities, who have suffered attacks at the hands of BJP members.

Banking backtrack

SunTrust Bank reversed a decision to sever ties with conservative brothers David and Jason Benham, a day after a bank official abruptly informed them an ongoing business relationship was ending. The overnight turnaround occurred a week after activists convinced HGTV to kill a reality show the Benham brothers were set to host this fall, citing the Benhams’ conservative views on marriage and abortion. A SunTrust spokesman said the company supports freedom of speech and religion and said a third-party vendor was responsible for the decision to stop using Benham REO Group to sell foreclosed properties.

Saturday & Sunday, May 17-18

Associated Press/Photo by Emrah Gurel

Exploding tensions 

Turkish authorities arrested four people and detained 25 more in connection with a coal mine fire that killed 301 on May 13. Tensions ran high as Turks demonstrated against the government, saying the response to the disaster was too slow. Police used water cannons and tear gas to quell protestors and banned protests in Soma. Investigators are still unsure why the mine exploded in flames. 

Heavyweight champion 

Scientists in Argentina unveiled a thigh bone of what they believe is the largest creature ever to roam the planet. The yet-unnamed dinosaur, dubbed a “titanosaur,” stood about seven stories high and weighed about 77 tons—equivalent to 14 large elephants. The behemoth find came in the midst of a string of discoveries in the same area of Argentina, which scientists call a dinosaur graveyard. The new animal is about 15,500 pounds larger than the previously largest creature found. 

Monday, May 19

Saeed Abedini
Handout
Saeed Abedini

Abedini beaten 

At the end of a two-month hospital stay, Iranian authorities severely beat American pastor Saeed Abedini before returning him to prison. Abedini, a U.S. citizen who turned 34 on May 7, was admitted to the hospital in March for internal bleeding and other injuries related to his imprisonment. Although he received little treatment, his family was allowed to visit and bring him meals. Iran detained Abedini in 2012 when he was in the country to work on a government-approved orphanage. Abedini’s sudden return to prison came days after the United States and Iran failed to make progress in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s cyber espionage 

The Justice Department announced indictments against five Chinese military members accused of cyber espionage against six American companies. The announcement marks the first time the United States has charged foreign countries with using the internet to infiltrate companies. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged the Chinese military unit carried out the illegal activity to give Chinese companies, some of them state-owned, an advantage, and said the amount of stolen trade secrets and other sensitive business information was significant. China said the United States “fabricated” the charges.

Tuesday, May 20

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Martial law 

Soldiers patrolled intersections and tanks rolled through the streets as Thailand woke up to a state of martial law. The country’s military chief, Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha, issued a 3 a.m. public declaration on national television and insisted he was not carrying out a military coup—only restoring order after months of political unrest. But two days later, the military conceded it was indeed a coup and the caretaker government was no longer in charge. It’s the country’s 12th coup since 1932. 

Establishment GOP wins 

Establishment Republicans gained a string of victories from coast to coast as primary voters went to the polls in Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Not a single incumbent lost, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Marriage melee 

A day after a federal judge in Oregon struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, another federal judge did the same in Pennsylvania, continuing a wave of overturned marriage laws in states around the country. The Pennsylvania ruling was the 13th district court decision since the Supreme Court last year struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Wednesday, May 21

The missing girls in prayer, according to Boko Haram. The still is from a video provided by the group.
Associated Press
The missing girls in prayer, according to Boko Haram. The still is from a video provided by the group.

Doing enough?

President Obama deployed 80 U.S. troops to Chad to assist in the search for missing Nigerian schoolgirls. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the United States can and should do more. At a hearing earlier in the day, Royce and other lawmakers criticized the administration for not recognizing Boko Haram as a radical Islamist group motivated by hatred of Christians. Boko Haram killed 48 in three village attacks on Wednesday, a day after twin bombings claimed 118 lives in a Christian-dominated market in Jos. (Muslim shops reportedly closed ahead of the blasts.) 

Pornography sting 

Authorities in New York City announced they arrested nurses, police officers, a Boy Scout leader, and a Jewish rabbi as part of a child pornography sting operation spanning months. Investigators say the arrests of 70 men and one woman were the result of one of the largest-ever operations of its kind, netting some 600 electronic devices and thousands of illegal child images. Those accused face a variety of state and federal charges, including prison sentences of between five and 15 years. The first arrest came in January and involved a man who taught sex abuse awareness to schoolchildren.

Thursday, May 22

Associated Press/Photo by J. David Ake

Rewriting rules

The Internal Revenue Service announced it will rewrite a controversial proposal that would have drastically curtailed political-related activity for many nonprofits. The proposed rule drew a record 150,000 comments during the three-month public comment period. The latest announcement left many critics unsatisfied, since the IRS still plans to make changes to the decades-old guidelines for social welfare organizations. “The IRS should completely abandon any attempt to rewrite these long-standing rules instead of trying to find another way to harass American taxpayers,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

Surveillance slowdown 

A bipartisan bill to curtail the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program passed the U.S. House on a 303-121 vote. The USA Freedom Act, which awaits Senate approval, would prohibit the collection of bulk metadata on phone call times, durations, and numbers dialed. The NSA would have to obtain a court order to access the information. Advocates hailed the bill as a win for personal privacy, but critics say last-minute changes inserted by the White House watered down the bill and allow the bulk collections to continue.

Friday, May 23

Peter Vandenbelt/The News-Press/AP

Murders in Santa Barbara

The troubled son of a long-time Hollywood filmmaker killed six and injured 19 during a murderous rampage that created nine crime scenes in Santa Barbara, Calif. Elliot Rodger, 22, son of Peter Rodger, stabbed three acquaintances to death at his apartment, then killed three more during drive-by shootings before taking his own life. Police had visited Rodger in April after relatives reported his alarming behavior. In a 137-page account of his life—in which he assailed the rich and lamented being a “kissless virgin”—Rodger said authorities would have stopped him if they had searched his room.

Trading fines 

A Russian court ordered the U.S. Library of Congress to pay $50,000 a day until it turns over seven Jewish texts the court says Russia loaned to the library for 60 days in 1991. Russia and the New York–based Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group claim the texts, which are part of the much larger Schneerson collection. Last year a U.S. court ordered Russia to pay $50,000 every day for not turning over the rest of the texts.

Saturday & Sunday, May 24-25

Petro Poroshenko
Rex Features/AP
Petro Poroshenko

King and president 

A billionaire candymaker known as the “Chocolate King” dominated Ukraine’s presidential election. Petro Poroshenko won more than 50 percent of the vote in a 21-candidate race, signaling Ukrainians back his top priority: closer ties to the European Union (see “Orphan rescue”). Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to respect the results. Meanwhile, in European parliamentary elections, voters in several nations elected representatives who want to distance their countries from the EU—or cut ties completely. 

Memorable trip 

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to troops in Afghanistan on the eve of Memorial Day. Obama told a rally of more than 32,000 troops: “I’m here on a single mission, and that is to thank you for your extraordinary service.” The trip wasn’t devoid of controversy: It came as the administration is mired in the VA scandal, and then the White House mistakenly released the name of the CIA’s top spy in Afghanistan, who was scheduled to take part in the event. 

Monday, May 26

Dean Humphrey/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel/AP

Massive mudslide 

Emergency workers failed to find three men who went missing after a rain-drenched ridge collapsed late Sunday, triggering a massive mudslide near a small town in western Colorado. The slide ran three miles long and measured 20 to 30 feet deep even at the edges. The three missing men, including a county road and bridge employee and his adult son, had gone to the area to investigate an initial smaller slide reported by a local rancher. 

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