Behind prison walls, 60,500 people are reported victims of sexual assault every year, or one in every 20 inmates. Among juveniles, the numbers are worse: One in eight are victims of sexual assault while incarcerated. Groups who couldn't be more different have signed a letter urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to implement new standards to cut down prison rapes: Prison Fellowship, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Family Research Council, Human Rights Watch, Focus on the Family, Sojourners, and others.
The proposed standards, which are the result of a 2003 law, include simple changes like forbidding male guards from doing strip searches of female prisoners or supervising them in showers. But a Justice Department consultant reviewed the measures and found some could be expensive to implement-like a requirement that prisons provide mental and medical health treatment for inmates who are victims of sexual assault. So while Holder was supposed to have enacted the standards in June after a year of review, he is holding off-perhaps for another year.
A newly legal drug can block a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb for up to five days after sex. Pro-life groups say the drug, called "ella," can cause abortions while the Food and Drug Administration describes it as a contraceptive that discourages ovaries from producing eggs. Ella, or ulipristal acetate, would be a more potent "Plan B," the so-called emergency contraceptive that makes the womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg for up to 72 hours after sex.
The FDA approved ella in mid-August, following the lead of European countries, and it's likely to be available in coming months. The way ella is described is consequential. If classified as an "abortifacient"-like RU-486 is-it could be banned from coverage by federal funds. But if it is treated as a "contraceptive," federal funds could pay for it in health coverage.
The FDA cited clinical studies that showed the drug had minor side effects, but the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists said the clinical trials hadn't explored all the possible side effects-adding that three of the more than 4,500 women in the trials developed ovarian cysts.
In 2008 President Barack Obama won 28 states and the District of Columbia to Sen. John McCain's 22. Today, according to Moody's Investor Services, average per capita state debt in Obama territory is $1,728 while the average per capita debt in McCain states is $749-well below half.
The strongest-leaning Obama states range in per capita debt from an average high of $4,606 in Massachusetts to a low of $709 in Vermont (overall Connecticut has the highest per capita state debt and Nebraska the lowest). In states that heavily favored McCain, average per capita debt topped out at $1,345 in Alaska and hit a low of $77 in Wyoming.
Most of the 1,200 National Guard troops assigned to help protect the U.S. border with Mexico are set to be in place by the end of September. The bulk of the troops-524 personnel-will serve in Arizona. Troops in Arizona and three other border states will help U.S. border patrol agents combat illegal crossings and drug smuggling activities.
The deployments come as long-standing border violence escalates: A major gun battle erupted between drug traffickers and Mexican police in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Aug. 21, 30 yards from the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas. Mexican officials estimate that drug-related violence has killed at least 28,000 people in Mexico since 2006. In the latest string of killings, gunmen murdered Mayor Edelmiro Cavazos of Santiago in August. And Mexican troops on Aug. 25 discovered the bodies of 72 people, believed to be migrants from Central and South America and victims of the Zetas drug gang.
Good news or bad news?
Along the Gulf Coast the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the waters since April may be mostly gone or mostly trapped far beneath the surface. The radically different reports by government officials and independent scientists came weeks after a sealing cap appeared to have contained the spill. White House environmental czar Carol Browner cited a study reporting nearly 75 percent of the oil was gone, while scientists from the University of Georgia said up to 79 percent of the oil may still be in the water. University of Florida researchers reported that oil was settling on the sea floor in a spawning ground for fish, and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported detecting an underwater plume of oil the size of Manhattan. And the journal Science reported Aug. 24 the discovery of a petroleum-eating bacteria scientists say has proliferated amid the oil plume, potentially a creation-based cleanup crew that's slowly digesting the spill.
China's worst monsoon season in a decade brought flooding that has killed more than 2,500 people since April, according to Chinese government estimates. The deadliest day came on Aug. 7, as a massive mudslide in northwestern China crushed homes, buried residents, and killed more than 1,400 people. Two weeks later, authorities called off the search for 330 people still missing and prohibited residents from digging through debris, fearing that decaying corpses would spread disease to survivors. Chinese scientists warned over a decade ago that the region was vulnerable to devastating mudslides, saying government-led deforestation would lead to dangerous soil erosion and instability. Officials also ordered the evacuation of more than 250,000 people along China's border with North Korea in late August after the Yalu River overflowed.
Over 1,000 mourners gathered in Harrisonburg, Va., Aug. 22 for services honoring Brian Carderelli, one of 10 members of an aid team killed by Taliban gunmen in Afghanistan last month ("Work and death," Aug. 28, 2010). At the graveside Carderelli family members released seven doves and read this statement: "We as a family want to publicly say today that because God through Christ has forgiven us, we forgive the men who killed Brian; and we will continue to pray that God will bring peace to Afghanistan."
U.S. commanders in Washington warned that Taliban traction means the Afghan Army will not be ready to take over most parts of the country in time for a July 2011 drawdown of combat troops to begin.
Not as planned
The Aug. 24 primaries weren't what political prognosticators predicted. Alaska Republican voters may have ousted incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in favor of political newcomer Joe Miller, even as polls heading into the primary showed Murkowski comfortably in the lead. A winner isn't likely to emerge until absentee ballots are counted. Murkowski supports Roe v. Wade while Miller is pro-life, and the state ballots included a parental notification measure for abortions, which drew pro-life voters to the polls.
Alaskans may have unseated a powerful incumbent, but incumbents elsewhere survived. Arizona Sen. John McCain throttled his Tea Party-backed challenger J.D. Hayworth. In Florida's Democratic primary, Rep. Kendrick Meek edged out real estate billionaire Jeff Greene to be the Senate nominee-giving Republican nominee Marco Rubio a better chance of winning in a three-way November race with independent Charlie Crist.
B-egging for trouble
More than half a billion eggs are only good for throwing following the largest egg recall in U.S. history. A salmonella outbreak at two Iowa companies showed how the egg industry has consolidated in the last 20 years, so that a problem in one company ripples out to the entire food supply. Currently 192 companies produce 95 percent of the nation's egg supply-down from 2,500 companies in 1987, according to the industry group United Egg Producers. The FDA, with a spotty record of late on food safety, had never inspected either of the farms at the center of the recall. The House passed food safety reforms last year that would require more food inspections and allow the FDA to recall bad food, but the Senate hasn't acted on the legislation.