Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

KO in OK

Pro-life activists vowed to appeal an Oklahoma court decision overturning a pro-life law that required women considering abortion to first undergo an ultrasound while the doctor described the baby's attributes-limbs, organs, and size. Although the law allowed mothers to avert their eyes from the ultrasound, the law went beyond other state ultrasound laws in requiring them to hear a description. The district court said the law violated a constitutional provision against bills that cover more than one topic: The ultrasound statute was part of an omnibus bill that also protected healthcare workers' rights not to participate in procedures that violate their religious beliefs, and required abortion clinics to post signs saying it is against the law to be coerced into having an abortion. The bill passed in 2008 but has not gone into effect.

Bulldozed

Vietnam's communist government brought a tragic end to a standoff with Catholic leaders in Vinh, south of Hanoi, at the church of Tam Toa. In February church leaders began prayer vigils at the site in hopes of reclaiming the landmark, which was built by the Portuguese in the 1800s, damaged by U.S. bombing in 1968, and confiscated by the Vietnamese government in 1997. Beatings and arrests followed, with at least two priests hospitalized. On Aug. 20, authorities bulldozed the remains of the church and have ordered that the site be turned into a public park.

Living long

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The life expectancy of babies born in the United States in 2007 rose three months from the 2006 rate, according to new figures released by the National Center for Health Statistics-to almost 78 years, an all-time high. The death rate has been falling for eight straight years and is half of what it was 60 years ago. The two biggest killers, heart disease and cancer, dropped in 2007 by nearly 7 percent combined, according to the report. The Associated Press reports that the HIV death rate dropped 10 percent, which is the biggest one-year decline in a decade. U.S. life expectancy has grown nearly one and a half years during the past decade, but the nation still trails about 30 other countries in estimated life span-Japan being No. 1 with an average life expectancy of 83 years.

Runaway convert

A Columbus, Ohio, teen who ran away from home because she feared for her life after converting to Christianity remains in a Florida foster care home pending a hearing. Rifqa Bary, 17, says she fled to Florida after her Muslim father discovered her conversion and threatened to kill her. Although Bary's family members, who are from Sri Lanka, told authorities they will allow her to practice her new faith, attorney John Stemberger says returning Bary to her family poses an "imminent threat of harm" due to "the extreme radical Muslim community in her hometown" and her family's connection with the Columbus-based Noor Islamic Cultural Center, which has been linked in the past to Islamic extremism.

Atop the mound

Major League Baseball's last-place Washington Nationals signed top draft pick and pitching phenomenon Stephen Strasburg to a four-year deal worth $15.1 million-an MLB record. After holding out until 30 minutes before the signing deadline, the former San Diego State pitcher says he has not decided how to spend his unprecedented cash. Strasburg told The Washington Post: "You know, God has a special plan for you, and if He wants me to be extremely successful in the big leagues then I am. If He has another plan for me, it will show itself in the long run."

Time served

When Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi visits New York City in September, he'll likely face a reception far different from the hero's welcome in Libya that greeted the only man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Thousands of flag-waving, cheering Libyans greeted Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi's plane in Tripoli after Scottish officials freed him on Aug. 20, eight years after a court convicted the Libyan for the Dec. 21, 1988, plane bombing that killed 270 people-including 189 Americans. Megrahi emerged from the plane with Qaddafi's son, Saif, after Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he released Megrahi on what he called "compassionate" grounds, saying he is dying from prostate cancer. Megrahi was serving a life sentence.

Megrahi's release enraged Brits and Americans, some of whom accused the British government of releasing the prisoner in exchange for better commercial dealings with Libya, one of the world's top oil producers. Scottish officials denied the claim, but Qaddafi promised that his government would reward Britain for Megrahi's release. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, already politically embattled, remained silent as calls mounted for his response. President Barack Obama called the release "highly objectionable," and FBI Director Robert Mueller wrote a letter to MacAskill saying his decision to release Megrahi "gives comfort to terrorists around the world." Families of the bombing victims said they may protest Qaddafi's upcoming visit to New York for the annual UN General Assembly. Larry Mild of Maryland, stepfather of bombing victim Miriam Wolfe, said the release opened "a riptide of despair." Paul Halsch of New York, whose wife, Lorraine, died in the bombing, agreed: "Really, to be blunt, it would be totally OK for him to return home to Libya the same way Lorraine returned home from Scotland-in a box."

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