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Rimsha Masih
Rimsha Masih

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Issue: "Reassessing the genome," Oct. 6, 2012

A Pakistani judge granted bail on Sept. 7 to Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl facing blasphemy charges over allegations by a neighbor that she burned portions of the Quran. Police had arrested Masih, who is 14, in August. Judge Mohammed Azam Khan set bail at 1 million Pakistani rupees, a significant sum equivalent to about $10,500. A local advocacy group said it would pay the fee.

The girl's release came after police detained a Muslim cleric on suspicion that he had planted burned pages of the Quran in the girl's bag to stir tension against local Christians.

Pakistani authorities transported Masih to a secret location by helicopter after her release, but her ordeal isn't over: The prosecuting attorney emphasized he would still pursue the case that could ultimately end in a death sentence.

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To officiate or not

Peter Haley/The News Tribune/AP

Nearly one year after the military began admitting openly practicing homosexuals, Republicans in the Senate on Sept. 11 introduced a bill protecting military chaplains from having to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. The measure also forbids marriage services for gay and lesbian couples from being performed on military bases.

The effort, similar to one introduced in the House earlier this year, aims to reassert the authority of the federal Defense of Marriage Act after last year's repeal of the military's long standing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Since then some chaplains, according to the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, have reported pressure to go along with the military's new permissiveness: A senior chaplain on a major stateside military base lost authority over the chapel under his charge for insisting the chapel not be used to celebrate unions between same-sex couples.

The Department of Defense already has authorized chaplains to perform same-sex marriages on military bases in states that recognize same-sex marriage. Some soldiers are fearful that the changing military culture could force conservative Christian denominations to withdraw their support for the chaplain program. "This bill protects military chaplains from being forced to go against their conscience and religious beliefs in regard to this issue," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

Whatever it takes


With the government's Zombie Awareness Month in October, agencies are cranking up public preparedness for an attack of the walking dead. Seriously.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a public campaign using zombies as a quirky way to help Americans prepare for real disasters. Citing the need for "creative and innovative" ideas, officials kicked off the campaign in September, encouraging Americans to stock up on water, batteries, and other essentials.

Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employed the same tactic with impressive results: Facebookers recommended its "zombie apocalypse" post more than 86,000 times.

Up and up

Paul Ryan
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Paul Ryan

After a five-week break, Congress returned to Washington on Sept. 10—but lawmakers already had plans to recess again on Sept. 21. Before heading into election campaigning, lawmakers "kicked the can down the road" again on federal spending.

The House passed a stopgap measure to fund the federal government for the next six months before the current budget expires on Sept. 30. The $1.047 trillion spending level it establishes is $19 billion higher than the original House budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But that didn't prevent most Republicans, including Ryan, from actually voting for a measure that includes an across-the-board domestic spending increase. Many of them are unwilling to gamble on a government shutdown crisis so close to November elections. Normally combative Tea Party lawmakers agreed to hold their fire for fiscal showdowns next year—when Republicans hope to have more seats.

All in a day's work

Ben Franklin
Joseph Wright of Derby/The Bridgeman Art Library/Getty Images
Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin told the Constitutional Convention he didn't think public servants should be paid. But others disagreed, and beginning in 1789 members of Congress received a $6 per diem for every day they were in session. Over the next 166 years, congressional pay inched up to a $12,500 annual salary in 1955.

Today, the average rank-and-file lawmaker collects $174,000 per year, while party leaders earn $193,400 and the Speaker of the House rakes in $223,500. (This is to say nothing of generous benefits.)

The salaries and benefits are paid regardless of how much Congress is actually working. The House has worked 106 days through mid-September (105 in the Senate), and is scheduled to finish the year with 133 days in session. That means most lawmakers would make $1,308.27 per day in 2012. Based on an eight-hour workday, elected leaders will earn $163.54 an hour.

1789:  $157.92 per day*
2012: $1,308.27 per day*

$6 in 1789 adjusted for inflation equals $157.92 in 2012. Thats a 728% increase.

Free refills for all


The New York City Board of Health approved a new ban Sept. 13 on sodas and other sweet drinks over 16 ounces in an effort to slim New Yorkers down. Starting in March, businesses can face $200 fines for violations. But the ban is riddled with loopholes. Restaurants and movie theaters can't serve large sodas, but convenience stores and grocery stores can. At restaurants that offer free refills, customers can still have as much soda as they want.

Money machine

Ben Bernanke
Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren
Ben Bernanke

A Fed funds rate hovering close to zero for nearly four years hasn't powered a strong recovery. Neither has $5.1 trillion in deficit spending over four years, including the $863 billion stimulus. Neither has the Federal Reserve's purchase of $2.75 trillion worth of Treasury bonds and mortgage securities.

But Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says he's going to give loose money one more try. On Sept. 13 Bernanke announced an aggressive plan for the Fed to buy $85 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month for the rest of the year and then $40 billion worth for each month thereafter—with no definite stopping point given.

Bernanke also said the Fed would keep rock-bottom short-term interest rates in place until the middle of 2015. The goal is to lower mortgage rates and raise asset values. This, Bernanke hopes, will make Americans feel wealthier and more willing to spend money, bringing down the stubbornly high unemployment rate. "There's not a specific number in mind," Bernanke said of labor market data. "But what we've seen in the last six months isn't it."

Many Republicans opposed the move, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney: "The American economy doesn't need more artificial and ineffective measures. We should be creating wealth, not printing dollars."

Chain reaction

Joan Barnett Lee/Modesto Bee/Zuma Press/Newscom

Hobby Lobby, the crafts chain with more than 500 stores nationwide and 13,000 employees, on Sept. 12 became the largest business to sue the federal government over its healthcare contraceptive mandate. The Green family owns the privately held retail company and objects to paying for the mandated coverage of abortifacients Plan B and Ella. Hobby Lobby's evangelical roots are well known: The company takes out newspaper ads proclaiming the gospel every Christmas and Easter, and the Green family has funded films like End of the Spear and donated millions to Oral Roberts University.

Thus far suits by private businesses are the only ones to find success in court, with one Catholic-owned custom sheet metal manufacturer obtaining an injunction against the mandate in July. Other courts have dismissed lawsuits from religious groups and colleges because judges say the Department of Health and Human Services might still change its regulation covering religious groups before the mandate goes into effect in August 2013.

The latest suits show a surge in opposition from an array of Protestant groups on an issue that many have defined as narrowly Catholic. On Sept. 17 a Presbyterian college in Missouri, College of the Ozarks, filed suit. The federal government is now facing 30 lawsuits over the mandate.

Officially botched

Tonya Reaves
Tonya Reaves

A newly released autopsy report confirms a botched abortion caused the death of Tonya Reaves, a 24-year-old Chicagoan. A medical examiner found a quarter-inch perforation in Reaves' uterus, the result of a second-trimester dilation and extraction abortion that involved inserting forceps into the womb.

The Chicago Planned Parenthood that performed the abortion let Reaves bleed for five hours before sending her to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where doctors carried out yet another D & E then an emergency hysterectomy before discovering "uncontrollable" bleeding. Previous reports indicated Reaves' family had sued the clinic and hospital for malpractice, but the family's lawyer has denied filing a suit.


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