Hamas militants released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit Oct. 18 after more than five years in captivity in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Israeli officials said Shalit showed signs of malnutrition and his father said he needed time to recover from psychological and physical wounds. Israel transferred more than 450 Palestinians from Israeli prisons to the West Bank and Gaza, where tens of thousands gathered to celebrate, calling for militants to seize more Israeli soldiers for future swaps. The rest of the Palestinian prisoners will be released in a second phase in two months.
Shalit was abducted in June 2006 when Palestinian militants ambushed an Israeli army post. He reportedly suffered shrapnel wounds and-before his release-had not been seen publicly since the attack. He is the first Israeli soldier to return home alive in 26 years. Israeli and Hamas officials said the recent Egyptian revolution helped drive them to an agreement in an effort by both sides to forge good relations with the new Egyptian leadership.
Congress blocked President Obama's jobs bill, but he sent it to the Hill again in mid-October in what he called "bite-size" pieces, saying: "Maybe they just didn't understand the whole thing." Obama's bus tour promoting the job initiatives stopped in critical reelection states North Carolina and Virginia-where he has lost support since the states went for him in 2008-before moving to California, Nevada, and Colorado.
One piece of the president's jobs bill drew heat, a cap on charitable tax deductions, so that individuals making more than $200,000 a year must cap itemized deductions at 28 percent rather than the current 35 percent. After an outcry from the nonprofit community, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped that provision from the jobs bill, but the cap remains a revenue-generating proposal Obama submitted to the congressional "supercommittee" on the national debt. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, at an Oct. 18 hearing, said the current charitable deduction is under "quiet assault."
Destined for failure
Republicans have pushed for the repeal of Obamacare, but the first real cut in the healthcare law came from a Democrat. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Oct. 14 that it would not implement a long-term care insurance plan created under the 2010 law, and the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) office will close. "Despite our best analytical efforts, I do not see a viable path forward for CLASS implementation," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a letter to congressional leaders. Lawmakers and a top Medicare official had warned that the program, to begin in 2012, would not remain financially solvent, but Obama administration officials included it in the final bill, claiming it would reduce the federal deficit by $80 billion over the next decade. "The CLASS Act was a budget gimmick that might enhance the numbers on a Washington bureaucrat's spreadsheet but was destined to fail in the real world," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
A three-member state ethics panel recommended that former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline's law license be suspended indefinitely. Kline spent six years investigating Planned Parenthood and late-term abortionist George Tiller, and has been cleared in previous ethics investigations. The decision of the Board of Discipline of Attorneys came as a Johnson County trial involving Planned Parenthood-and charges that it manufactured client records and broke other abortion laws-was set to begin Oct. 24. "It's all a diversion," Kline told WORLD. "It's to promote the story line in Kansas that the clinics did nothing illegal." The Kansas Supreme Court must now decide whether to suspend the law license of Kline, currently a visiting professor at Liberty University.
For the first time since the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal gained headlines nearly a decade ago, a Catholic bishop in the United States is facing prosecution for allegedly covering up criminal activity.
Jackson County (Mo.) prosecutors say Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph broke Missouri law when for five months he failed to report to authorities that a technician had found hundreds of images of child pornography on the computer of a priest in the diocese.
The case involves priest Shawn Ratigan. In May 2010, a principal of a Catholic school had alerted the diocese that she was uncomfortable with Ratigan's behavior around children, prompting a meeting between a diocese official and Ratigan. When the technician found the pornographic images on Dec. 16, 2010, Finn responded by assigning Ratigan to a mission house in Independence, Mo., with instructions to avoid contact with children. Ratigan disobeyed those instructions and, at an April 24 Easter party that he hosted, he allegedly attempted to take lewd pictures of a young girl.
Ratigan faces charges of possessing child pornography and federal charges of producing child pornography. But prosecutors say Bishop Finn also warrants charges for violating a state law that requires clergy and others who work with children to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities. They say Finn should have alerted police about the images on Ratigan's computer upon their discovery.
The misdemeanor charge against Finn carries a potential $1,000 fine and a year in jail. Finn has apologized for poor administrative judgment but pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Prosecutors denied suggestions by some in the diocese that Finn is a target because of his traditionalist views. "This has nothing-nothing-to do with the Catholic faith," said Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. "This is about the facts of the case, nothing more. This is about protecting children."
Abortion funding debated
The U.S. House on Oct. 13 passed legislation to ensure that taxpayer dollars won't be used to pay for abortions under Obamacare. But the Democratic-led U.S. Senate will not take up the bill, and White House officials have threatened a veto.
The Protect Life Act prevents insurance plans from covering abortions if any customer receives federal premium subsidies. The bill, which passed 251-172 with the support of 15 Democrats, also strengthens conscience provisions protecting medical professionals who decline to perform abortions for moral reasons.
The law attempts to codify President Obama's 2010 Executive Order, signed in the heat of the healthcare debate, stating that taxpayer funds cannot be used for abortions-an order that could be revoked at any time or ignored. The House bill also tackles accounting gimmicks in Obamacare: Currently healthcare plans can offer abortion coverage as long as they set up separate accounts to keep federal dollars segregated from abortion funds.
"Within the President's healthcare law are loopholes inconsistent with the will of the American people that will allow for taxpayer funding of abortion services," said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in debate leading up to the vote, dialed up the rhetoric: "When the Republicans vote for this bill today they will be voting to say women can die on the floor and healthcare providers don't have to intervene."
Gov. Rick Perry's poll numbers may be lousy, but he came in first place among GOP presidential contenders in fundraising in the last quarter, raking in $17.2 million from July to September. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney followed, raising $14.2 million over that period. The candidate at the top of polls recently, businessman Herman Cain, raised a mere $2.8 million. Meanwhile President Obama, who doesn't have to spend money on a primary fight, outdid all of the GOP contenders, raising $70 million in the quarter. Obama will need to raise about $120 million in each of the next five quarters if he is going to hit his goal of $750 million, the amount he raised in the 2008 election. Outside groups are also raising money and will likely play a role in the campaign: the conservative American Crossroads and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, have pledged to spend $240 million on the 2012 election.
A foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a crowded Washington restaurant carried a disturbing twist: The suspect tried to hire a Mexican cartel based in Houston to execute the bomb attack. Federal authorities caught Mansour Arbabsiar-a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds an Iranian passport-after the suspect's cartel contact turned out to be a paid informant for the federal government. The thwarted conspiracy underscored the reality that Mexican cartels are well-organized on both sides of the border, and that border security involves more than stopping illegal migrants. Indeed, the Texas Department of Public Safety reports that over the last 18 months, at least six Mexican cartels have established command and control operations in Texas, and that Texas prison gangs feed cartel activity.
At a New York news conference, federal officials said they arrested Arbabsiar in September. A second charged suspect, Gholam Shakuri, who is a member of Iran's notorious Quds Force, remains at large in Iran. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declined to say whether top Iranian leaders ordained the plot, but noted that the Quds Force is Iran's primary apparatus for supporting terrorism around the world.
President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 100 U.S. military personnel to assist Ugandan forces battling the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group with a 25-year history of atrocities that have resulted in the displacement of 2 million people in northern Uganda, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In an Oct. 24 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Obama said the "combat equipped U.S. forces" he is deploying to the region "will act as advisors to partner forces." He cited a law passed in 2010 to increase "comprehensive U.S. efforts" to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA as justification. Human-rights groups applauded his action but others criticized military intervention in what has been a regional conflict. With Human Rights Watch advocating for this and U.S. action in Libya, said Andrew Exum, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, "U.S. military officers wanting to know where they will next go to war should probably just read [Human Rights Watch] policy papers at this point."
Freedom on hold
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in danger of shutting down Sept. 30, was saved at the last minute in the continuing resolution Congress passed to fund government services until Nov. 18. But the commission is still in danger of shutting down after Nov. 18 because of a holdup in the Senate. In September the House overwhelmingly passed stand-alone legislation reauthorizing the commission, but a Democrat in the Senate placed a secret hold on that legislation, effectively killing the commission. Now, thanks to the addendum to the continuing resolution, the Senate has a few more weeks to reauthorize the body, a watchdog that reports to the State Department. A single senator can place an anonymous hold to prevent legislation from coming to the floor for a vote, a block that the Senate majority leader can heed at his discretion.
Finding Chen Guangcheng
More than a year after Chinese officials released prominent human-rights activist Chen Guangcheng from prison, the blind attorney's supporters are worried about his whereabouts. During a one-week period in October, Chinese authorities aggressively blocked two dozen outsiders from visiting Chen, and Voice of America (VOA) reported that villagers said the activist was dead.
Chen served four years in prison after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in his province. Authorities confined the activist to house arrest after his release in September 2010, along with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. Officers have reportedly beaten the attorney, who already suffers from frail health. Chinese newspaper reporter Shi Yu said that officers beat, robbed, and detained him after he tried to visit Chen's village in October. Hu Jia-another activist who spent four years in prison-said authorities told him they would arrest him if he tried to visit Chen. His response: Hu posted a photo of himself on Twitter wearing black sunglasses like the blind attorney, and wrote a message: "Free Chen Guangcheng."
One red cent
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced that the price of first-class postage-the 44-cent Forever Stamp-will increase by one cent to 45 cents on Jan. 22, 2012. USPS also has proposed 2 percent rate increases for periodical and package delivery to deal with what Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe calls the service's "current financial crisis." USPS contends it overpaid some $75 billion in retirement prepayments since becoming semi-independent of the federal government in 1970. But a recent Government Accountability Office report found no errors in the arrangement, and pointed out that Congress had no control over postal pay raises, which contributed to pension liability.