Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Home again," July 12, 2008

Myanmar update

Two months removed from the fury that was Cyclone Nargis, many displaced people remain without aid due to limits on outside help from Myanmar's paranoid military government. The Group of Eight wealthy nations released a statement June 27 pressing the Burmese junta to lift all remaining restrictions on relief workers. Some international agencies believe the government's policies have contributed to the disaster's death toll, which now stands near 140,000.

But Burmese officials defend their actions: "The government is building permanent houses for victims whose houses were totally destroyed," says Deputy Foreign Minister U Kyaw Thu, adding that the greatest priority now is on reopening hospitals and schools. Myanmar's military has relented from its initial isolationist approach in allowing several hundred foreign relief experts into the country and supply-laden helicopters into regions inaccessible by land.

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Still, aid agencies like World Vision and Samaritan's Purse report that remote areas of the Irrawaddy Delta remain difficult to access. Thankfully, the resourcefulness of local populations appears to have prevented the worst-case scenario of widespread malnutrition and waterborne diseases, which many relief experts predicted.

Chris Northey, emergency team leader for the aid group CARE, reports that "local communities and the survivors are actually a part of the relief response." World Vision's Dean Hirsch also has witnessed such self-reliance: "People who had lost everything were using bamboo to bridge across flooded paths and roads. The resilience of the people stands out-they are looking for what they can [do] to start rebuilding their lives and communities."

Abortionist jailed

Police in Chula Vista, Calif., on June 19 arrested and jailed abortionist Bertha Pinedo Bugarin. Nine former patients testified that Bugarin, who does not hold a medical license, told them she was a doctor and then botched their abortions. One patient had to be hospitalized for life-threatening complications, another had to have a second abortion, and a third gave birth to a premature baby who died three hours later. Charged with grand theft and practicing medicine without a license, the 48-year-old abortionist could draw nine years in federal prison. Bugarin, who faces similar charges in Los Angeles, at one time ran a chain of six abortion clinics in low-income Hispanic neighborhoods in California. "This defendant preyed on women in the Hispanic community," said Bonnie Dumanis, the San Diego district attorney who brought charges in the case. "By passing herself off as a doctor, she put these women's lives in serious danger."

FBI sting

"Sex trafficking of children remains one of the most violent and unforgivable crimes in this country," FBI director Robert Mueller said June 25, announcing the arrests of 345 people-including 21 children and 290 adult prostitutes-as part of a federal sting in 16 cities called "Operation Cross Country." Since 2003 federal agents have rescued over 400 children authorities call "thrown-aways"-kids whose families have shunned them or deserted them and who have been forced into prostitution.

The cities targeted in the latest sting include Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Reno, Sacramento, Tampa, and others.

There are now more modern-day slaves taken into the United States annually than were shipped to colonial America in the 19th century, author E. Benjamin Skinner told WORLD. They can be purchased in Haiti for $50 today compared to the 1850 market, "when a slave in the American South would cost between $30-40,000."

Death sentence

A Pakistani district court judge sentenced to death on June 18 Shafiq Latif, a Muslim accused of ripping pages from the Quran and throwing them in a trash can in 2006. Christian groups were closely watching the case brought under Pakistan's Blasphemy Act, normally used against minorities and often over trivial disputes.

A news item in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper noted that "banners and posters welcoming the verdict were displayed at different places in the district," but the case, which also includes a fine of about $8,000, can be appealed.

Fruitful harvest

How does a congregation of 30 people show it has a heart the size of Texas? By donating 18,000 pounds of freshly grown produce to area food pantries. Through a program originally aimed at ensuring its survival, tiny Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Pleasant Grove, Texas, has given the equivalent of 72,000 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to the needy since 2003. Under the program, area residents-some homeschoolers, some retirees-rent and work garden plots on the church's 4-acre property for $30 a month. In return, they agree to donate 10 percent of their harvest to charity, and to help tend six plots whose yield goes entirely to charity. Vestry member and garden coordinator Becky Smith told the Dallas Morning News, "We're a little-bitty church but doing a pretty good ministry."

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