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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Preach it," Oct. 6, 2007

Burma

The U.S. decision to grant priority status to resettle Burma's Karen refugees, many of whom have lived in Thai camps for two decades and are predominantly Christians, is more important than ever. Pro-democracy marches led by Buddhist monks are the biggest challenge in 20 years to the ruling junta, and on Sept. 26, police and security forces began intensifying attacks on demonstrators, killing and injuring many and raiding monasteries to arrest dozens of monks. Tear gas and smoke hung in the streets of Yangon, while protesters threw bottles and rocks at soldiers. The Karen have historically sought independence from Burma, also known as Myanmar, and sympathize with demonstrators.

UN

The UN convened its 62nd General Assembly, a gathering of world leaders overshadowed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speaking engagement at Columbia University. There the college president castigated the Iranian dictator for his statements on Israel and the Holocaust, but overlooked his declaration of jihad against the United States.

UAW

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Michigan dodged a bullet and General Motors hopes it dodged a bomb last week as a two-day strike led to a new agreement with the United Auto Workers. If union members ratify the deal this week, then an already-reeling Michigan economy won't face an estimated $32 million a week in lost wages from a continued strike. The stakes for GM are even higher. The company's stock soared after it was announced that GM would transfer $35 billion to a union-run trust and in return drop $50 billion in retiree health-care obligations from its books, saving GM $15 billion. Under the agreement, the new trust fund would be responsible for retiree health care.

Supreme Court

Can a street preacher preach in a public-university common area, or can school officials restrict him to a sidewalk designated for salespeople? Do women forced into arranged marriages in other countries constitute a "particular social group," making them eligible for U.S. asylum? Can a public library prohibit a group from holding a worship service in a meeting room that is available to most other groups, including political parties and social activists? Those are the questions at issue, respectively, in Gilles v. Blanchard, Gonzales v. Gao, and Faith Center Church v. Glover, three cases with enormous religious and social implications whose review is still pending before the Supreme Court. The Supremes surprised legal experts on Sept. 25 when they neither granted nor denied review in those and about three dozen other culture-war cases.

Campaign '08

Hillary Clinton has doubled her lead over Barack Obama to 43-20, according to the latest poll in critical New Hampshire. Slippage hasn't kept Obama from holding to a strategy of reaching out to religious voters, particularly in the South (cover story, p. 18). But the front-running Democrat has raised her electability numbers-54 percent of respondents say she "has the best chance of beating the Republican nominee."

Health care

The House voted, 265-159, to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years, a plan that would extend health care to 4 million children. Though 45 House Republicans supported the bill, the 265 vote Sept. 25 fell 24 votes short of the number needed to override a promised veto from President Bush. A statement from the White House said the expansion "goes too far toward federalizing health care." In some states, families earning up to four times the poverty level could be eligible for the program, pushing children already covered with private health insurance into a government-run system.

North Korea

Chinese authorities released from prison Sept. 25 New York businessman Steve Kim, who served four years for aiding North Korean refugees in the country. With the support of his congregation, Long Island's Good Neighbor Community Church, Kim raised money, rented two apartments as shelter, and fed starving North Koreans on a modern-day "underground railway" en route to South Korea. China considers North Koreans who cross its borders illegal "economic migrants" rather than refugees and so punishes those who aid them.

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