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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Fighting poverty," March 13, 2010

Latin breakthrough

Abortion advocates claim that legalizing abortion leads to fewer maternal deaths but, according to research from Chile, the opposite is true. Chile made its abortion laws stricter in the 1980s, but between 1960 and 2000 the maternal death rate underwent the largest reduction of any Latin country-from 275 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 18.7 deaths.

Chile's maternal death rate is now lower than any other country in South America, according to a recent World Economic Forum report. Chile does not allow abortions if the woman's life is in danger and has rejected UN recommendations that it liberalize its abortion laws. Elard Koch, the University of Chile epidemiologist who researched maternal mortality, told the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute that he attributed the drop to education, "a breakthrough in the public health system and primary care."

A nut by any other name

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ACORN's New York branch is reforming under a different name after the national organization's standing has withered under allegations of corruption. "ACORN has dissolved as a national structure of state organizations," a senior ACORN official told Politico. It will now go by New York Communities for Change and is cutting all ties to the national organization, but little will change in the personnel or substance of the group's work. The largest ACORN state branch in California earlier decided to leave the national organization and assume a different name, and chapters in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Washington, and Massachusetts have shuttered or rebranded themselves as well. ACORN came under scrutiny after videos surfaced last year showing its employees advising conservative activists posing as a pimp and and a prostitute on how to open brothels and get tax breaks by employing minors.

Priorities

Fourteen months into his administration, President Obama has not appointed a replacement as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position held by John Hanford for seven years under the Bush administration. On Feb. 13 the president did, however, announce the appointment of Rashad Hussain, deputy associate White House counsel, as U.S. special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The Saudi-based OIC calls itself the "collective voice of the Muslim world," and the practice of appointing a U.S. rep actually began under Bush. But as Hudson Institute senior fellow Paul Marshall points out, "Appointing an American envoy to the OIC gives that organization a legitimacy it does not deserve."

Full stop

As a result of the Wash­ington, D.C., council's vote to recognize same-sex marriages, the city's largest private provider of social services, Catholic Charities, has ended its foster care and adoption services for the city. The group had promised that it would allow its city contract to expire if the measure passed-given that it could obligate the organization to process adoptions for gay couples-though few on the D.C. council believed that the organization would follow through on its threat.

Winning one

At day 13, U.S. and Afghan troops claimed victory in one of the largest offensives of the war in volatile Helmand province. Officials unfurled the country's flag over new government offices Feb. 25 to reclaim the town of Marjah from the Taliban as governor Ghulab Mangal told Afghans, "Nobody can tell me that during the last two years the Taliban did a single thing for you. . . . Can you tell me they built a school? A clinic? Helped the poor? Built roads? Fixed the canals?" Thirteen NATO troops and three Afghan soldiers have been killed in the operation, and 80 wounded.

Darfur ceasefire

Nearly seven years after the Sudanese government in Khartoum began a campaign of genocide against its own citizens in the western region of Darfur, officials in Khartoum agreed to a peace deal with Darfur's most powerful rebel faction. The peace accord with the Justice Equality Movement (JEM) called for an immediate ceasefire. Officials said the agreement would also create government positions for JEM rebels, and that Khartoum would commute the death sentences of some 100 JEM fighters accused of carrying out a deadly attack against the capital in 2008. The deal comes ahead of nationwide elections scheduled for April. Those contests represent the nation's first multi-party elections in 24 years. Citizens in South Sudan-still recovering from 20 years of civil war waged by Khartoum-see those elections as critical to asserting their position in the country. But JEM officials said they would press Khartoum to delay the elections-a move that may give Khartoum time to consolidate new alliances and cause dangerous friction with the South.

Dragnet

Assassination teams, beware: Dubai has a lot of surveillance cameras. When a team of agents purportedly suffocated top Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in a Dubai hotel on Jan. 20, their every move, aside from the murder itself, was captured on camera. The Dubai police published footage from airports and hotels showing the agents, but that only widened the focus on the incident: Dubai named 26 suspects who apparently used false identities culled from around the world. Dubai accused Israel's intelligence agency of masterminding the assassination but later said Hamas itself may have tipped off the Israelis.

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