Aug. 28: Iraqi Christian IDPs line up for food in the parking lot of a school camp in northern Iraq. Baptist Global Response, an international Christian relief and development organization, contributes food and other relief items to this camp. With school starting in a matter of weeks, the camp’s some 500 Christian residents are worried they will be forced out onto the streets.
Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, testified at his corruption trial, arguing that he and his wife Maureen McDonnell were so distant that he couldn’t conspire with her. McDonnell said his campaign and time in public office put “a strain on the marriage.” The McDonnells face 14 counts of corruption related to their relationship with Virginia businessman Johnnie Williams, who lavished gifts on them. The defense has argued that the relationship wasn’t corrupt but rather Maureen McDonnell turned to Williams for attention after feeling neglect from her husband. The prosecution has argued the McDonnells were close and financially struggling, and that the governor and his wife sought Williams’ help and in return raised his company’s profile in their official capacities.
Rescue attempt revealed
After the story first leaked to The Washington Post, the Pentagon acknowledged that the United States conducted a failed special forces operation earlier this summer to rescue American journalist James Foley, whom Islamic State fighters publicly beheaded in August. Released hostages who had been imprisoned alongside Foley had provided intelligence about his location, but the Islamic forces apparently moved Foley before the raid. One of the U.S. troops involved was injured in the raid near Raqqah, Syria, and officials said the militants suffered a number of casualties. At the beginning of September the Islamic State released a video showing the beheading of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.
Responding to a Supreme Court rebuke, the Obama administration announced its promised revisions to the many-times revised regulations for nonprofits objecting to the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate. Under the new regulations, an objecting nonprofit can inform the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in writing that it objects to the mandate. It can then be absolved from arranging coverage, but the nonprofit must include the name and contact information for its insurer. HHS would then order the nonprofit’s insurer to provide the objectionable drugs to employees at no cost to the nonprofit. If the nonprofit is self-insured, HHS would order the group’s third-party administrator to provide the drugs.
Health insurance companies in California must cover the cost of abortions, state insurance officials ruled. “All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,’’ California’s Department of Managed Health Care director Michelle Rouillard wrote in a letter to companies announcing the decision, which was a response to two Catholic universities that did not cover elective abortion. The insurers for the school told the San Jose Mercury News they intend to comply with the new ruling. Catholic groups protested, and the Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation wrote the officials that the decision was a violation of federal law.
A 6.0 earthquake devastated California wine country on Sunday, causing damage and injuries but no fatalities. Wineries in Napa Valley were already suffering from a terrible drought when the earthquake hit, damaging harvesting equipment and busting barrels of pricey wine. Roads and buildings in the area were also damaged. The earthquake was the strongest in the region in 25 years.
Driscoll steps down
Mars Hill Church lead pastor Mark Driscoll announced to his Seattle congregation Sunday that he will step down for at least six weeks after months of scandals concerning sales of his book, opaque church governance, and his leadership practices. The church planting network Driscoll founded, Acts 29, recently removed him and his church from the network. “I want to say to our Mars Hill family—past and present, I’m very sorry,” he told his church. “I’m sorry for the times I have been angry, short, or insensitive. I’m sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.” Driscoll now faces formal charges at his church from 21 former pastors who accused him of abusive and intimidating behavior.
The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, Nusra Front, released American journalist Peter Theo Curtis after imprisoning him for almost two years. Qatar, which often serves as a broker of hostage talks, helped negotiate his release. U.S. officials said neither the United States nor Qatar paid a ransom for Curtis, consistent with U.S. law, but did not reveal what al-Qaeda may have received in return for the journalist’s release.
After Islamists claimed control of Libya’s capital Tripoli, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates conducted secret airstrikes targeting the militants, according to The New York Times. The United States did not name Egypt or the UAE but condemned the strikes, issuing a joint statement with European allies saying that “outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.” Many of the Islamist militias are made up of the rebels who, with the support of American and European air power, toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
A bombshell independent report detailed how authorities in Rotherham looked the other way for 16 years as gangs of Pakistani Muslims in the English city systematically raped, beat, or trafficked at least 1,400 English girls, some as young as 11. Police and local government officials knew about many of the cases and didn’t act to stop the abuse, the report says, because they were worried about being accused of racism or anti-Muslim sentiment. The report covers the years 1997 to 2013. A Home Office researcher who gathered information about the cases in 2002 and brought them to the attention of authorities was reportedly assigned to a two-day diversity training course. She said her data were then stolen. Roger Stone, leader of the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council since 2003, resigned on Aug. 26. Public pressure built for other government and police officials to resign.
One more try
After a 50-day war, Israel and Hamas reached a long-term ceasefire deal whose terms changed almost nothing between the parties and pushed big questions to a future summit in Cairo. Hamas has repeatedly violated previous ceasefires. During the conflict, 2,100 Palestinians died, while Israel suffered 70 deaths.
Burger King announced an $11 billion agreement to buy Canadian breakfast chain Tim Hortons, with plans to expand the chain internationally. The quintessentially American fast food chain also announced plans to move its headquarters to Canada, which has a lower corporate tax rate.
Nigeria announced that schools wouldn’t open until October due to concerns about the spreading Ebola virus. The school year was supposed to start Sept. 1, but the government wanted school staff members to train in how to recognize early symptoms of the virus. Six people have died of Ebola in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and more than 1,400 have died in neighboring West African countries. The outbreak has devastated burgeoning economies in West Africa.
President Barack Obama is working on an international climate change deal that would not technically be a treaty, allowing him to bypass Congress, according to a New York Times report. To be legally binding a treaty requires ratification from two-thirds of the U.S. Congress. The deal would not technically be a treaty because it would build on existing treaties and exact pledges from countries. Developing countries are likely to strongly object to the deal, which the administration hopes will be signed at a UN summit next year.
Russia openly invaded Ukraine, sending troops and military equipment across the border after months of semi-veiled incursions and support for rebels in the country. President Barack Obama held a press conference but didn’t use the word “invade.” “Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the president said, adding that economic sanctions would work to isolate Russia. “We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem,” he said, a position that lines up with that of most European leaders. Obama was scheduled to attend a NATO summit on Sept. 4 in Wales where members would discuss Ukraine’s request for membership, and thus protection, with the alliance.
Following an uproar about a minimal penalty for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, the NFL announced increased penalties for players who commit domestic violence. Rice allegedly knocked his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, unconscious in a hotel elevator, and a video leaked of what appears to be Rice dragging her out of the elevator. The NFL suspended him for two games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote owners that now a first time offense will result in a six game suspension, and a second will result in at least a year. “I didn’t get it right,” Goodell wrote. “Simply put, we have to do better.”
A Christian couple in upstate New York will no longer rent out their farm for weddings after an administrative judge fined them $13,000 for refusing to host a lesbian wedding, which the couple said was against their beliefs. The couple, Robert and Cynthia Gifford, live at Liberty Ridge Farm, which they rent out for about a dozen weddings a year. The judge said because the Giffords regularly rent out their farm, the farm counted as a public accommodation and therefore the couple had violated New York’s anti-discrimination statute. The Giffords, who had offered to host the wedding reception for the lesbian couple, will still rent the farm for wedding receptions.
Raised threat level
In response to the Islamic State’s surge in Iraq and Syria, Britain raised its terrorism threat level to “severe,” the second-highest level. British officials believe several hundred British nationals have traveled to fight for the Islamic State, abbreviated alternately as ISIS or ISIL. British officials believe the man who beheaded American journalist James Foley was a Briton working for ISIS.
A federal judge blocked a Texas law regulating abortion centers, saying the law placed an undue burden on women’s access to abortions. The law, which was set to go into effect on Sept. 1, required abortion centers to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center. Abortion advocates said the law would result in the closure of many of the remaining centers in the state, after an earlier law forced half of the state’s 40 centers to close. The Texas attorney general planned to appeal the ruling. The proliferation of state regulations on abortion is an issue likely to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court soon. A federal judge in Louisiana also over the weekend temporarily blocked enforcement of a state law that would require abortionists to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Despite a promise to allow Hong Kong a free vote for its chief executive by 2017, China’s National People’s Congress ruled that it would essentially handpick candidates for the long-anticipated vote. Communist leaders say they will only pick candidates who “love the country and love Hong Kong.” Massive pro-democracy protests broke out in the former British colony after the decision.
Chaos in Pakistan
Violence escalated in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad as a struggle for control of the country among the military, the government, and opposition protesters continued. Three protesters died and more than 400 were injured in the recent clashes that followed weeks of protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Opposition politicians say Sharif’s election last year was rigged, though international observers considered it fair. The military in a statement denied rumors it was backing the opposition and insisted it is “apolitical.” The struggle between Pakistan’s military leaders and politicians is long-standing: Gen. Pervez Musharraf led a successful coup against Sharif in 1999, and was charged with treason earlier this year.
Three Americans detained in North Korea, two on charges related to Christian evangelizing, had brief, supervised conversations with an Associated Press reporter and asked the U.S. government to send a delegate to negotiate their freedom. Reporters spoke with Jeffrey Fowle, Matthew Miller, and Kenneth Bae. Fowle and Miller are awaiting trial on unspecified charges that they violated their status as tourists. Bae, a missionary who has been held since 2012, is serving a 15-year sentence to hard labor and said his health is deteriorating. Fowle is suspected of leaving a Bible at a night club.
Longtime Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to leave office on Sept. 2, but conflict over the newly elected leadership put Afghanistan in an edgy stalemate. Ashraf Ghani won the vote for president, but the runner up, Abdullah Abdullah, has alleged mass election fraud. The United States tried to broker a power sharing deal in which Abdullah would serve as chief executive under Ghani, but Abdullah rejected the deal and demanded a deeper investigation into the election. Karzai has said he will not leave office until the question of his successor is resolved. Both Ghani and Abdullah support signing a security agreement with the United States to allow U.S. troops in the country after 2014, which Karzai has refused to sign.