The week at a glance...United States
Helena, Mont.Tea Party agenda: Tea Party–backed Republicans in the state legislature are waging a campaign to nullify federal laws, ban abortion, limit sex education, and create citizen militias—proposals Montana’s Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, calls “kooky.” Republicans gained a supermajority in the Montana House this past November, and many of the 68 new lawmakers are sympathetic to the Tea Party. The House this week passed a 17-point declaration of state sovereignty aimed at “protecting all freedoms of individual persons from federal incursion,” which includes requiring the FBI to get local permission to arrest anyone and nullifying federal gun laws. Schweitzer branded the declaration the kind of “toxic talk” that “led to the Civil War.” Freshman legislator Derek Skees disagreed. “Nullification,’’ he said, “is just one more way for us to tell the federal government: That is not right.”
AtlantaMassive drug sweep: Federal and local authorities this week completed a three-month offensive against foreign drug gangs, rounding up 678 people alleged to have ties to 133 gangs in 168 cities. Those arrested, including 322 people said to have violent criminal histories, are involved in human trafficking, identity theft, drug trafficking, and weapons dealing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. Authorities also seized guns, cash, drugs, and stolen vehicles in the operation, which involved 173 different law-enforcement agencies. Jamaican, Russian, and Mexican nationals were among those arrested, including three suspects in the murder of ICE agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico on Feb. 15. That killing raised worries that foreign drug gangs, which used to avoid confronting American law enforcement, were now aggressively moving into the U.S.
Washington, D.C.Court sides with Westboro: Members of Kansas’s Westboro Baptist Church have the right to stage inflammatory protests at military funerals, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week. Church members, most of them relatives of church founder Fred Phelps, believe that soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for America’s tolerance of homosexuality, and they frequently picket military funerals with signs proclaiming “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The court ruled 8–1 that these protests are covered by the First Amendment right to free speech. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that while the church’s picketing “is certainly hurtful,” the government “cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Dissenting Justice Samuel Alito said the Constitution’s free-speech protections do not cover “the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”
Washington, D.C.Stopgap spending bill: A government shutdown was temporarily averted this week when Congress passed a resolution to fund government operations through March 18, while the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate try to agree on a full-year budget. Republicans rejected a Democratic proposal to fund the government for an additional four weeks to give legislators more time to bridge large differences on spending cuts. The House has already passed a budget with $61 billion in less-controversial cuts aimed largely at Obama administration initiatives such as health care and education. The so-called continuing resolution contains $4 billion in cuts. But it’s a stopgap agreement that does little to resolve the conflict between the two parties.
West Point, N.Y. Gates’s critique of the war: Defense Secretary Robert Gates strongly suggested last week that it was a mistake to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that any future American leader who proposes to fight a major land war “should have his head examined.” In a speech before Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, Gates predicted that future wars would be fought largely in the air, in the oceans, and from space, although light, flexible Army units would still be needed on the ground to combat terrorism and intervene in tribal conflicts. Gates, a former CIA director, replaced Donald Rumsfeld in the defense job in 2006 as Iraq was spiraling into civil war. Gates told cadets that budget constraints and the problems encountered in nation-building made it highly unlikely that the U.S. would take on another “Afghanistan or Iraq—invading, pacifying, and administering a large third-world country.”