Open door policy
President Barack Obama in his Sept. 9 speech to a joint session of Congress said, "If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open." Advocates of innovative, patient-centered Christian healthcare groups may test that.
Representing about 34,000 families but growing, healthcare sharing ministries (HCSM), in which a pool of believers share their insurance costs, are pouring limited resources into lobbying efforts to ensure they are not left out of a final healthcare overhaul. But they face a long road.
Samaritan Ministries International, Christian Care Medi-Share, and Christian Health Care Ministries are not recognized by the federal government as official health insurance providers. That's bad news if Congress passes a bill that includes mandates requiring individuals to purchase federally approved insurance plans. Such mandates are gaining wider bipartisan acceptance and are expected to be a part of any changes.
"We are looking at complete obliteration of the ministries as they exist," warned James Lansberry, president of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries.
The groups did not succeed in getting language protecting such organizations into the 1,000-page House healthcare bill that has already passed committee.
But Martin Hoyt, a lobbyist for the groups, said he is more hopeful about prospects in the Senate. They have submitted protection language to the Senate Finance Committee's bipartisan "Gang of 6" currently trying to hammer out a consensus. But such protection provisions were missing in Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus' preliminary outline.
These groups should be worried: Mandates would grant broad new enforcement powers to the Treasury Department, which would task the IRS with collecting the penalties for individuals and employers who forgo government-approved insurance. "The mandate is going to be a bigger problem than people think," worries Lansberry. "It's a backdoor reduction in our freedom to make individu l healthcare choices." - Edward Lee Pitts
A New Orleans physician in charge of critically ill patients during Hurricane Katrina has admitted that he "hastened" the death of 79-year-old Jannie Burgess-a woman with advanced uterine cancer and liver failure-by increasing her morphine dose. "I gave her medicine so I could get rid of her faster," said Dr. Ewing Cook, who was working at Memorial Medical Center during a lengthy evacuation during the autumn 2005 disaster. "To me, it was a no-brainer, and to this day I don't feel bad about what I did."
Cook told ProPublica that medical personnel gave morphine and midazolam to critically ill patients who they thought couldn't be evacuated or survive the ordeal. Three Memorial staff members were arrested in 2006 on euthanasia allegations but were never indicted, even though forensic experts determined several of the 45 patient bodies recovered from the hospital had received lethal injections of sedatives. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell says he will not reopen the Memorial euthanasia investigation.
Nearly two months after at least seven Pakistani Christians died in Muslim attacks over alleged blasphemy against Islam, an Afghan journalist escaped a similar fate: A court in northern Afghanistan released Perwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter for an Afghan daily newspaper, nearly two years after sentencing him to death for criticizing Islam. Officials arrested Kambakhsh in late 2007 for downloading and distributing an article that said the Prophet Muhammad ignored women's rights. A court sentenced Kambakhsh, 24, to death, but later reduced his sentence to 20 years in jail following pressure from the Afghan media and Western critics.
The court released Kambakhsh in early September and the journalist relocated to an undisclosed country, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Arm in arms
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow Sept. 10 ready to buy tanks and other weaponry sufficient to double his armored vehicle arsenal. Chavez has previously amassed tanks at the Colombian border and has renewed tension over Colombia's plan to allow U.S. troops to use Colombian bases for anti-narcotics operations.
The Moscow stop was part of a world tour that included six countries. In Iran, Chavez emphasized the "axis of unity" between the two countries and announced plans for a "nuclear village" in Venezuela with Iranian assistance, "so that the Venezuelan people can count in the future with this marvelous resource for peaceful uses." The two oil-rich states plan to trade uranium yet to be mined in Venezuela for nuclear energy produced in Iran, which has earned Tehran UN Security Council sanctions.
The Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book report, an anecdotal measure of economic conditions by district, said five out of 12 Fed regional banks saw signs of economic conditions improving, while six reported stability. Don't want to take the Fed's word for it? The Institute for Supply Management's survey of factories and industry turned positive for the first time since spring, rising to 52.9, from 48.9 in July. A reading above 50 indicates expansion and growth; a number below 50 means economic contraction.
At a recent UNFPA-sponsored forum on sexual and reproductive health, activists stripped away euphemisms and were plain about goals: more funding and more access to abortion. The Berlin "Global Partners in Action" conference trained 400 NGO representatives, many from abortion-rights groups, to lobby their countries for more reproductive health funding. Purnima Mane, deputy executive director of the UN Population Fund, urged activists to "enlarge the pot" of $11.1 billion given to population-related programs in 2008. The conference promoted "safe abortions" (i.e., legal) but one group passed out stickers telling women how to perform do-it-yourself abortions by lying to pharmacists. Another group distributed pamphlets that said, "I need an abortion" in six different languages, directing women in countries without "safe abortion" to doctors who can provide them. A final document was especially startling in its bluntness, said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America: "The world is facing a global economic crisis but their response is essentially, we need more money."
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford once considered the daytime "a ceremonial waste of time," according to former spokesman Will Folks, who says his boss found evenings more conducive to working the phones, pounding out emails, and managing state policy. Embracing the daytime may be Sanford's only hope after confessing to adultery and lying about a trip to visit his Argentine mistress in June. Sanford has spent the summer on a forgiveness tour: The conservative-once considered a 2012 presidential contender-has been hitting diners, civic clubs, and political luncheons to ask South Carolinians for another chance. But his famously frugal image suffered with reports that Sanford purchased expensive, business class tickets for travel. Now, 61 of 72 South Carolina House Republicans have asked Sanford to quit, and state lawmakers are mulling whether to move to impeach him when they reconvene in January.
More than two weeks and over 2,000 firefighters later, fire officials said they were containing over half-62 percent-of a blaze that had burned more than 250 square miles and destroyed 78 homes.
Two Los Angeles County firefighters were killed Aug. 30 in the fire and about a dozen have been injured. Authorities believe the blaze was started intentionally and local officials set rewards for information leading to who was behind it.
"We're changing the pace and treating this as a marathon," said U.S. Forest Service commander Mike Dietrich on Sept. 5 as firefighters battled high winds and high temperatures. "If it were a 26-mile race, we'd only be at mile 6."
One might call John Quincy Adams the founding father of micro-blogging. A perspicacious graduate student noticed that Adams' journal entries were no longer than a maximum tweet on the micro-blogging site Twitter-140 characters. So the Massachusetts Historical Society ran with the idea to tweet Adams' concise diary entries each day, beginning exactly 200 years after he embarked on a boat across the Atlantic Ocean as an envoy to Russia. One entry (Aug. 31) points out that Adams "read ten or fifteen chapters in the bible" each morning. Other entries leave much tantalizingly untold, like this one from Aug. 15, 1809: "This afternoon I found the Caboose on fire."
Working backward, as Twitter does:
9/1/1809: Friday. My wife unwell. Calm and light winds. Lat: 59-40. Long: 15-54. Nicias and Crassus. Cards.
8/28/1809: Total calm all day. Lat: 58-19. Long: 22-10. Philiopoemen and Flaminius. Saw a Whale. Cards in the Eve.
8/18/1809: Charles two years old. Fair wind and thick fogs. No obs: Lat: 46-32. Long: 48-50. Pericles & Mrs. Grant's Letters.
Space to remember
A 16,000-square-foot 9/11 memorial quilt is hidden in a tractor-trailer in Atlanta, Ga., because New York City says it doesn't have room. When Corey Gammel, founder of United in Memory, asked for quilt squares in memory of each 9/11 victim, over 3,000 people sent in squares from across the world. Until recently the quilt traveled to cities across the United States. But efforts to display the quilt in Manhattan have met a dead end, said Dennis McKeon, executive director of Where to Turn. While it's difficult to find 10,000 feet of open floor space in Manhattan, McKeon thinks the memory of 9/11 has faded: "We want the people who died to be remembered. People forget that 3,000 human beings were killed that day, and you know, they need to be remembered."
Big families, big headache
North Carolina's Department of Revenue is making a special demand of families reporting five or more children: Prove it. The agency sent letters to some 6,700 families that claimed five or more exemptions on their state tax returns, requesting multi-tiered documentation for each child or dependent. If families don't comply, they won't get their refund. Some large families say they feel unfairly targeted, but agency officials say they are trying to root out fraud. The agency has saved $2.6 million from taxpayers who improperly claim exemptions, Linda Millsaps, the department's chief operating officer, told the News and Observer in Raleigh.
But the agency's demands are causing headaches for families in compliance: They must send copies of each child's birth certificate and Social Security card, plus provide a letter explaining each child's relationship to the filer. Cynthia Leugers of Indian Trail, N.C., told the Raleigh newspaper it took her 10 weeks to order copies of her children's birth certificates from Oklahoma and North Carolina. Leugers had plenty to do without the request: She and her husband have nine children.
Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California beauty queen who took a stand against gay marriage last spring, is suing California pageant executive director Keith Lewis and former co-director Shanna Moakler for libel, slander, and religious discrimination. Although pageant officials dethroned Prejean, 22, in June for reportedly missing scheduled appearances, Prejean's lawyer says he has found no proof that she missed events or violated her contract. The suit also alleges that Lewis and Moakler instructed Prejean to stop mentioning God.
He her who what?
A British court ruled to allow a transsexual prisoner serving life for manslaughter and attempted rape to be transferred to a women's prison. The biological man, convicted of murdering his boyfriend and attempting to rape a woman, began sex change treatments while in prison on the 2001 manslaughter conviction. The judge ruled in favor of the transfer (although the man has yet to have surgery to remove his male sex organs), after the prisoner's attorney argued that keeping him/her in a male prison "bars her ability to qualify for surgery, which interferes with her personal autonomy in a manner which goes beyond that which imprisonment is intended to do." Tell that to the female cellmates.