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
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.
Healthcare cost 'down'
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which earlier this year slammed the brakes on healthcare changes after slapping it with a $1 trillion cost estimate, announced that the latest Senate overhaul version would cost $829 billion over 10 years and insure 94 percent of the eligible population. Pro-reform lawmakers quickly jumped on the lower, but still costly, estimate and the CBO's conclusion that the Senate Finance Committee's plan would reduce federal deficits by $81 billion. As healthcare bill opponents untangled the math, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the lead on the bill, pushed to get it passed in committee in time for a debate in the full Senate that could begin this week. This is bad news for conservatives. While considering over 500 amendments, lawmakers rejected efforts to bar taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions and to prohibit the government from forcing health providers to provide abortions.
The body of Christian health worker Imad Elia, 45, turned up in a field two days after he was kidnapped in Kirkuk, prompting fresh concerns about the safety of Christians living in their ancient homeland in northern Iraq. Another Christian health worker, physician Samir Gorgia, 50, was kidnapped in Kirkuk as he walked home from his clinic on Aug. 18. The kidnappers initially demanded $480,000, but he was released without payment four weeks later. Gorgia, however, remains hospitalized from injuries he received while held. "We think there is a political nature to these kidnappings, which is meant to force us to leave Iraq," said Kirkuk's Chaldean Archbishop Lewis Sako.
Interpol agents arrested Oct. 5 in Uganda one of the most-wanted suspects in Rwanda's genocide. Former Rwandan deputy intelligence chief Idelphonse Nizeyimana is said to have formed secret units of soldiers who carried out the execution of the then-queen of Rwanda, Rosalie Gicanda, a symbolic figure for all Tutsis, among other prominent Tutsis in the 1994 massacres that killed as many as 800,000. The State Department had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Nizeyimana's capture.
One of the first hints that Bank of America (BofA) CEO Kenneth Lewis, 62, would soon leave his top position didn't come in a memo but from something his colleagues had never seen: a full beard. The embattled CEO returned from an Aspen vacation in late August sporting facial hair and later surprised colleagues by announcing he planned to make the time away permanent. Lewis told BofA board members on Sept. 30 that he would retire from the bank he's led since 2001. He now faces possible civil securities charges from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over how he handled the bank's purchase of Merrill Lynch last year. But Lewis plans to leave the company by year end with the pension, stocks, and other compensation he's accrued over 40 years at the bank. Total value: $68.8 million.
Pro-abortion no more
According to a survey of polling data conducted by the Pew Research Center, polls conducted in 2009 have found fewer Americans expressing support for abortion than in previous years. In 2007 and 2008, according to Pew, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the issue, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain. The recent shift in opinion appears across demographic groups, with one of the largest shifts (10 points) among white, non-Hispanic Catholics who attend mass at least weekly. Substantial change has also occurred among Democratic men, where support for abortion eroded by 9 points, but not among Democratic women.
Court in session
The highest court in the United States began its new term the first Monday of October, with all eyes on freshman justice Sonia Sotomayor. While she is expected to vote with the three other liberal justices-John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Stephen Breyer-she could provide surprises. She navigated her Senate confirmation hearings without revealing how she might rule on issues pertaining to abortion or gun rights.
Between the four conservative justices and the four liberals, Justice Anthony Kennedy often serves as the swing vote. Few can predict the direction of the court this year, but many are waiting to see whether Roberts and Alito push further to the right. Speculation is high that 89-year-old Justice Stevens, who is in good health, could retire at the end of this term because he hired only one clerk instead of the typical four.
Several cases this term deal with First and Second Amendment rights. The court will probably issue an opinion soon on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, determining whether a ban of a partisan documentary about Hillary Clinton was justified. The case reevaluates current campaign finance law, which some of the conservative justices believe chills free speech.
Justices will also hear a Second Amendment case appealing Chicago's ban on handguns.
Lighting a fuse
Human-rights groups were outraged when New York's Empire State Building lit up red and yellow to celebrate 60 years of Communist rule in China on Sept. 30. The 1,454-foot-tall building lights up different colors each night to commemorate organizations, events, or causes-everything from the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Eid-al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. Building officials refused requests to light up the landmark in green to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to the UN last month, but they did turn on the lights for communist China. Tibetan students and other supporters gathered at the building to protest, holding Tibetan flags and waving signs. Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said, "For us, 60 years of the People's Republic of China means 60 years of occupation, repression. . . . It's a horrific thought to think that this beautiful iconic building is kowtowing, bowing to this same system that rules China."