Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

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

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.

Iraq's Christians

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.

Cuffed

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.

BofA Cya

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.

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