In Havana last March, when Pope Benedict sat down with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader jocularly asked his fellow octogenarian: “What does a pope do?”
Benedict proceeded to tell Castro, who had stepped down as president in 2008 for health reasons and had to be helped to walk into the room, about his duties as leader of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church.
Little did Castro know that Benedict was himself contemplating retirement.
A pope has not abdicated in some six centuries, and the Catholic faithful have come to expect the man whose titles include successor of St. Peter and “servant of the servants of God,” to stay in office until his dying breath. His decision to take that step, just under a year later, would shake the foundations of a Church already reeling from a series of scandals - from problems at the Vatican Bank to allegations of sexual abuse - and facing challenges to its authority around the world.
SPECIAL REPORT: The loneliness of the short distance pope
Joseph Keller doesn’t expect he’ll live to see the end of 2013. He blames the house at 190 Avondale Avenue.
Five years ago, Keller, 10 months behind on his mortgage payments, received notice of a foreclosure judgment from JP Morgan Chase. In a few weeks, the bank said, his three-story house with gray vinyl siding in Columbus, Ohio, would be put up for auction at a sheriff’s sale.
The 58-year-old former social worker and his wife, Jennifer, packed up their home of 13 years and moved in with their daughter. Joseph thought he would never have anything to do with the house again. And for about a year, he didn’t.
Then it started to stalk him.
First, in 2010, the county sued Keller because the house, already picked clean by scavengers, was in a shambles, its hanging gutters and collapsed garage in violation of local housing code. Then the tax collector started sending Keller notices about mounting back taxes, sewer fees and bills for weed and waste removal. And last year, Chase’s debt collector began pressing Keller to pay his mortgage, which had swollen, with penalties and fees, from $62,100.27 to $84,194.69.
The worst news came last January, when the Social Security Administration rejected Keller’s application for disability benefits; the “asset” on Avondale Avenue rendered him ineligible. Keller’s medical problems include advanced liver disease, hepatitis C and inactive tuberculosis. Without disability coverage, he can’t get the liver transplant he needs to stay alive.
“I can’t make it end,” says Keller. “This house, I can’t get out.”
SPECIAL REPORT: The latest foreclosure horror: the zombie title
In his first week as U.S. president, Barack Obama told Iran’s leaders he would extend a hand if they would “unclench their fist” and persuade the West they weren’t trying to build a nuclear bomb.
So far, they have not. In response, the United States and the European Union this year took a step they had long resisted, imposing trade sanctions to choke off Iran’s lifeblood: oil revenue.
It was financial warfare, and it carried grave risks. Until recently, Iran was the world’s fourth largest exporter of oil, providing just under three percent of internationally traded supply. The campaign to take that oil off the market risked driving up world oil prices, disrupting the international payments system and stifling a fragile global economic recovery
In interviews, senior U.S. and European officials described the intense diplomatic maneuvering they undertook to enact the sanctions without causing an oil shock.
Obama warned allies that oil sanctions were the only way to avert a new war between Israel and Iran. U.S. envoys pressed Iraqi, Libyan and, above all, Saudi officials to pump up their own crude supplies. Washington and its allies massaged skittish oil markets with carefully calibrated messages. U.S. diplomats journeyed to southern Iraq to inspect plans for new oil terminals that could help blunt the loss of Iranian shipments.
SPECIAL REPORT: Inside the West’s economic war with Iran
On March 9, 2010 – the day U.S. authorities announced terrorism charges against a blonde, white American woman who called herself Jihad Jane – senior government officials repeatedly described the arrest as a seminal event in the war on terror. The case was so serious, authorities said, that they charged the woman, Colleen LaRose, with crimes that could keep her in prison for the rest of her life.
Now, as she awaits sentencing, a months-long Reuters review of confidential documents and interviews with sources in Europe and the United States — including the first and only interview with Jihad Jane herself — reveals a far less menacing and, in some ways, more preposterous undertaking than what the U.S. government asserted.
SPECIAL REPORT - Jane’s Jihad: the new face of terrorism
A Reuters investigation has uncovered new evidence of how willing some foreign companies were to assist Iran’s state security network, and the regime’s keenness to access as much information as possible.
Documents seen by Reuters show that a partner of China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd offered to sell a Huawei-developed “Lawful Interception Solution” to MobinNet, Iran’s first nationwide wireless broadband provider, just as MobinNet was preparing to launch in 2010.
The system’s capabilities included “supporting the special requirements from security agencies to monitor in real time the communication traffic between subscribers,” according to a proposal by Huawei’s Chinese partner seen by Reuters.
SPECIAL REPORT: How foreign firms tried to sell spy gear to Iran
New Jersey Transit’s struggle to recover from Superstorm Sandy is being compounded by a pre-storm decision to park much of its equipment in two rail yards that forecasters predicted would flood, a move that resulted in damage to one-third of its locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars.
That damage is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars and take many months to repair, a Reuters examination has found.
The Garden State’s commuter railway parked critical equipment - including much of its newest and most expensive stock - at its low-lying main rail yard in Kearny just before the hurricane. It did so even though forecasters had released maps showing the wetland-surrounded area likely would be under water when Sandy’s expected record storm surge hit. Other equipment was parked at its Hoboken terminal and rail yard, where flooding also was predicted and which has flooded before.
Among the damaged equipment: nine dual-powered locomotive engines and 84 multi-level rail cars purchased over the past six years at a cost of about $385 million.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is making a career change, from icon of liberty opposing Myanmar’s junta to party boss in a fragile new quasi-democracy. The transition hasn’t been easy.
At a talk in London in June, a student from the Kachin ethnic minority asked why Suu Kyi (a majority Burman) seemed reluctant to condemn a bloody government military offensive against Kachin rebels. The conflict has displaced some 75,000 people.
Suu Kyi’s answer was studiously neutral: “We want to know what’s happening more clearly before we condemn one party or the other.”
Special Report: Suu Kyi’s perilous pivot from icon to party boss
This village in northwest Myanmar has the besieged air of a refugee camp. It is clogged with people living in wooden shacks laid out on a grid of trash-strewn lanes. Its children are pot-bellied with malnutrition.
But Takebi’s residents are not refugees. They are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim people of South Asian descent now at the heart of Myanmar’s worst sectarian violence in years. The United Nations has called them “virtually friendless” in Myanmar, the majority-Buddhist country that most Rohingya call home. Today, as Myanmar opens up, they appear to have more enemies than ever.
Armed with machetes and bamboo spears, rival mobs of Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists this month torched one another’s houses and transformed nearby Sittwe, the capital of the western state of Rakhine, into a smoke-filled battleground. A torrent of Rohingyas has tried to flee Rakhine into impoverished Bangladesh, but most are being pushed back, a Bangladeshi Border Guard commander told Reuters on Thursday.
SPECIAL REPORT: Plight of Muslim minority threatens Myanmar Spring
Tax time pushes some Americans to renounce citizenship
The United States is one of the only countries to tax its citizens on income earned while they’re living abroad. And just as Americans stateside must file tax returns each April - this year, the deadline is Tuesday - an estimated 6.3 million U.S. citizens living abroad brace for what they describe as an even tougher process of reporting their income and foreign accounts to the IRS. For them, the deadline is June.
The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Office, part of the IRS, released a report in December that details the difficulties of filing taxes from overseas. It cites heavy paperwork, a lack of online filing options and a dearth of local and foreign-language resources.
For those wishing to legally escape the filing requirements, the only way is to formally renounce their U.S. citizenship. Last year, IRS records show that at least 1,788 people did, and that’s likely an underestimate. The IRS publishes in the Federal Register the names of those who give up their citizenship, and some who renounced say they haven’t seen their name on the list yet.
The State Department said records it keeps differ from those published by the IRS. They indicate that renunciations have remained steady, at about 1,100 each year, said an official.
SPECIAL REPORT: Some Americans take a hike around tax time