The week at a glance...United State
Perry rejects Obamacare: Gov. Rick Perry declared this week that Texas would refuse to expand its Medicaid rolls and would not establish an online marketplace where consumers could shop for low-cost health insurance, two key provisions of the federal health-care overhaul known as Obamacare. In a letter sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Perry said the programs “represent brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state.” The governor acted after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act; the ruling prevents the federal government from punishing states that do not expand Medicaid and makes insurance exchanges optional. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) called the decision “disgraceful.” Perry’s refusal of billions in federal aid “denies our most economically disadvantaged neighbors access to a family doctor,” Doggett said. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured citizens in the nation; some 6.2 million residents—a quarter of the state’s population—have no health insurance.
Episcopalians bless gay marriage: Nine years after electing its first openly gay bishop, the U.S. Episcopal Church cleared another hurdle this week in its race to become the first major religious denomination in the U.S. to bless same-sex marriages. At a meeting in Indianapolis, the church’s Chamber of Bishops overwhelmingly approved the use of a standard liturgy for rituals blessing civil unions of gay couples. The proposed blessing, called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” is expected to receive approval for use by the church in December. Supporters insist that it is not a marriage ceremony, though the rites include prayers, an exchange of vows and rings, and mandatory prenuptial counseling. The Rev. David Thurlow of the Diocese of South Carolina, which has separated itself from the national church, said the move was “not only completely out of step with, but completely out of line with, the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Model-plane plot: A white Playboy bunny logo graced the tail of one of three explosives-packed model planes that an American al Qaida supporter designed to bomb the Pentagon and blow the Capitol’s dome “to smithereens,” federal officials said this week. Rezwan Ferdaus, 26, an unmarried physics major at Boston’s Northeastern University who lived with his parents, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in a plot to destroy the Washington landmarks using homemade drones, said prosecutor Carmen Ortiz. Ferdaus, who faces 17 years in prison, reportedly committed himself to “violent jihad” early last year and planned to obtain sophisticated model aircraft that could carry payloads of 50 pounds and were capable of flying up to 100 mph. He was arrested in September 2011 as part of an FBI sting, in which he told agents he wanted to “terrorize” the country and “decapitate” the U.S. government’s military headquarters.
Drastic wage cuts: Mayor Chris Doherty faced contempt charges this week after he slashed the salaries of 400 police, firefighters, and other municipal workers—including himself—to $7.25 an hour, the state’s minimum wage. The mayor defied legal threats from three unions that represent city workers and sent out payroll checks at the sharply reduced rate, with just $5,000 remaining in the bank afterward. “I just don’t have enough money, and I can’t print it in the basement,” said Doherty, a Democrat who has proposed new taxes to fill a $16.8 million budget gap. Scranton, a blue-collar city of 75,000 perhaps best known as the fictional home of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. in the popular TV series The Office, has been suffering a decades-long fiscal crisis due to a shrinking tax base and rising city salaries. “Don’t know how I’m going to pay [my] bills at home,” said John Judge, a firefighter whose twice-monthly $1,500 paycheck was reduced to $600.
Bounty for border agent’s killers: The Justice Department this week offered $1 million for information leading to the arrest of four fugitive Mexicans charged in the 2010 killing of Brian Terry, the border agent whose death triggered Congress’s probe into the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation. After Terry was killed in a gunfight in an Arizona canyon in 2010, two guns found at the murder scene were traced to Jaime Avila, a gun trafficker allegedly known to agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Claims that the ATF had allowed those guns to “walk” before losing track of them prompted the congressional investigation, and last month the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, accusing him of failing to release relevant documents.
Zimmerman out on bail: Released from jail for a second time while awaiting his murder trial for fatally shooting teenager Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman last week moved to a “safe house” guarded by a security team. Zimmerman, 28, left the Seminole County Jail after Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester set his bail at $1 million but ruled that Zimmerman must remain in Seminole County wearing an electronic monitor, and can’t open a bank account, obtain a passport, or use the local airport. Despite the conditions, “he’s very happy to be out,” said Don West, one of Zimmerman’s attorneys, who said his client’s jail time had been a “sobering experience.” Zimmerman had been released on a $150,000 bond in April, but the judge revoked it after learning that the neighborhood watchman lied about the amount of money in his defense fund, which has collected nearly $250,000.