Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

The latest news on the week's biggest stories

Issue: "Stealth care," Sept. 16, 2006

School's in

Whether your first day of school was last week or last month, the status of higher education in the United States is slipping. A study released Sept. 7 showed the percentage of Americans with college degrees falling behind those who graduate in other countries: The U.S. share of college grads ages 35 to 64 is the largest in the world, but the number of U.S. grads ages 25 to 34 now ranks seventh. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education survey for the first time compared national and state performances with those of 26 other developed countries. While the United States ranks near the top in number of students who attend college, it turned up near the bottom in numbers who complete degrees.

Iran

The University of Virginia, Harvard, and the National Cathedral rolled out the welcome mat for an Islamist leader to lecture about "dialogue." Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (pictured, above) spoke from the dome room of Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia Sept. 7, despite a formal request to the State Department from Virginia Sen. George Allen that Khatami be denied a visa. Khatami, a scholar in Islamic law regarded by many as a reformist politician, was slated later in the day to speak at the National Cathedral in Washington on the role that "Abrahamic faiths can play in shaping peace throughout the world."

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At Harvard he was scheduled to speak on the eve of Sept. 11 at the invitation of John F. Kennedy School of Government dean David Ellwood. Ellwood defended the decision even after Gov. Mitt Romney refused state protection to Khatami and ordered state agencies "to decline support" during his visit. "Do we listen to those that we disagree with, and vigorously challenge them, or do we close our ears completely?" Ellwood told the Boston Globe.

But in a protest to National Cathedral leadership, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom pointed out "a troubling irony" in inviting the Iranian leader to be a voice of moderation. "During his term, Iranian officials persecuted reformers, students, labor activists, and journalists for 'insulting Islam' and publishing materials deemed to deviate from Islamic standards." Khatami's push for "unconditioned dialogue" between Iran and the West, the commission said, "is precisely what is being urged by Iran's current president at this time as an alternative to its compliance with UN resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Khatami's address at the Cathedral on this very topic of 'dialogue' could easily be manipulated to make it appear that the Cathedral is conferring the moral high ground to Iran on this critical issue."

Border control

Congressional leaders convening Sept. 5 after an August recess quickly agreed to abandon a broad overhaul of immigration laws to instead focus on national security issues ahead of mid-term elections. In the meantime, U.S. citizens will face tighter restrictions traveling abroad. By Jan. 8, passports will be required for U.S. citizens returning by air or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. Child travelers, including babies, must have their own passports, too. While tourists hurry to apply, U.S. officials will scramble to keep up: Already passport applications are up 6 percent over last year.

Border control, or its lack, also has consequences for state and local entities. Hospitals in border states and areas facing a migrant influx face millions in unbillable medical costs for treating patients who are either illegal or undocumented residents. While the federal government mandates the care, it has fallen short of reimbursing the cost of care as prescribed under a 2003 law.

Mexico

President-elect Felipe Calderón met with President Vicente Fox to begin transition after an independent federal electoral tribunal officially named Calderón the next head of state. The decision followed a hotly debated July 2 election in which second-place challenger Andrés Manuel López Obrador questioned the results, forcing a recount. Calderón will take office on Dec. 1.

Oil

Three energy companies announced the discovery of a new source of oil under the Gulf of Mexico that could become one of the biggest U.S. petroleum sources. Chevron, Devon, and Statoil said their partnership completed production tests on a Jack well 7,000 feet underwater and extending more than 20,000 feet under the sea floor at a site 270 miles southwest of New Orleans. It has the potential to become the biggest new domestic source of oil since the discovery of Alaska's North Slope.

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