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Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. (Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh)

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

Sinking common ground

When Democrats promised to find common ground between pro-life and pro-abortion forces ahead of last year's presidential elections, Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life, was encouraged. A year later, Day is discouraged over federal funding for abortion in healthcare legislation. Democrats in Congress shut down one of their own: Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. Stupak, a nine-term, pro-life congressman (see "Salmonella cop," April 11, 2009), offered an amendment to ban federal funding of abortion explicitly in healthcare legislation, but Democrats won't allow Stupak's amendment to come to the floor for a vote. Said Day: "You can't just say common ground. You have to do it."

Congress and Honduras

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., led a small delegation of Republican lawmakers to Honduras on Oct. 2 to support the country's interim president, Robert Micheletti, prompting protest from Senate Democrats who support Micheletti's rival, ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., tried to block the Republican trip to Honduras but failed after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., intervened. The controversy started in August when Honduras' Supreme Court ordered the military to remove Zelaya from office. The court ruled that the president was trying to subvert the country's constitution by illegally calling for a referendum to rewrite the charter to eliminate a one-term limit for presidents. Micheletti assumed an interim presidency ahead of November elections for Hondurans to choose a new leader. Obama administration officials and other Democrats have called for a reinstatement of Zelaya, saying his ouster was inappropriate. A Library of Congress report concluded that "the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya" but said his removal from the country by the military "is in direct violation of Article 102 of the Constitution." A growing number of Republicans support Micheletti, saying the ouster was constitutional and could prevent the cementing of another ruler like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ally of Zelaya.

Racing and wasting

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received $8.2 billion in stimulus funds. But a recent report compiled by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., suggests that the NIH is using a substantial portion of this money for questionable studies. Using NIH documents, Cantor found that the agency is conducting a $65,472 study on the relationship between HIV and sex in St. Petersburg, Russia; and a $73,000 study on whether the Asian tradition of dragon boat racing will enhance the lives of cancer survivors.

Mutual reassurance policy

For the first time since 1991, Tibet's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, came to Washington but the president didn't meet with him. The reason: President Obama will meet with Chinese president Hu Jintao next month.

The Dalai Lama's U.S. envoy, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, said the White House wasn't snubbing the Tibetan leader, and that the decision to postpone the meeting was mutual, even while he acknowledged that it hinged on U.S.-China relations. "We came to this arrangement because we believe that it is in our long-term interests," he wrote in a letter to The Washington Post.

The decision fits a diplomatic strategy of "strategic reassurance," avoiding condemnation of China's human-rights abuses, for example, in order to affirm the country's sovereignty and consequently strengthen its ties with the United States. In a September speech, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said the "reassurance" goes both ways: "China must reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of security and well-being of others." Human-rights advocates aren't convinced. Freedom House director Jessica Windsor told The Washington Times, "We see authoritarian regimes like China, Iran and Egypt and others getting granted opportunities for dialogue and engagement, but it's not clear from the outside how human rights concerns will be addressed in that engagement."

Closing the gap

A new report-noteworthy because it meets the "gold standard" of a randomized study-finds that New York City charter schools are closing the achievement gap between affluent suburban schools and inner-city schools. Since 94 percent of New York City's charter school students are chosen by lottery, researchers from the New York City Charter Schools Evaluation Project took a group of students whose parents entered them in the lottery and compared the achievement of the students who got into the charter school with the students who stayed in public school. Looking at data from 2000 to 2008, the report found that on average, a student who attended a charter school from kindergarten to eighth grade would close about 86 percent of a 35-40 point achievement gap.

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