The week at a glance...United States

United States


Brown rescues circumcision: Jews, Muslims, and other proponents of circumcision—ritual and otherwise—cheered this week when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that stops local governments in his state from banning the practice. The bill was written in response to a San Francisco ballot initiative that would have outlawed circumcision in that city. Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Burbank, who introduced the statewide legislation in July, said it was intended to prevent local governments from creating their own “patchwork of regulations” covering medical procedures. Politicians heard from religious, medical, and civil-liberties groups that had banded together to stop San Francisco’s proposal, which would have criminalized circumcision as a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. A judge blocked the initiative in July, noting that only the state can regulate a widespread medical procedure.

Paint Creek, Texas

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Perry stumbles: In the midst of a dramatic decline in his poll numbers, Texas Gov. Rick Perry last week scrambled to explain a report in The Washington Post that the hunting camp he had leased for years was known by a racist name. For three decades, the Perry family hosted lawmakers and supporters at a 1,000-acre parcel, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, called “Niggerhead” by locals. A flat rock with the name spelled out in block letters once stood at the camp’s entrance. The Perry campaign insisted that the racial slur was painted over in 1983, when the candidate’s father first leased the property. But witnesses told reporters the name was visible for years after that—as late as the 1990s. The governor disputed this, saying that the slur “has no place in the modern world.’’ Chief rival Mitt Romney called the name “offensive,’’ while Herman Cain said it was “insensitive’’ not to completely remove the name sooner.


Did Koch Industries sell to Iran? Koch Industries, one of the world’s largest privately held companies, secretly sold industrial products to Iran, flouting U.S. laws, Bloomberg Markets reported this week. The company, led by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, reportedly used foreign subsidiaries to sidestep the U.S. trade ban and sold millions of dollars worth of petrochemical equipment to Iran. The magazine’s investigation also accused Koch Industries of using improper payments to win business in Africa, India, and the Middle East. The company, which has spent more than $50 million to lobby Washington over the past five years, contested the allegations. No laws were broken, sales were stopped voluntarily, and Koch halted business with Iran several years before its competitors, including GE, did, said Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden.

Birmingham, Ala.

Immigrant crackdown: Alabama began enforcing what Gov. Robert Bentley called “the strongest immigration law in this country” last week, after a federal judge upheld its key provisions. Authorities in the state can now question anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, and schools are required to verify the immigration status of all newly enrolled children and their parents. Since the law went into effect, hundreds of Hispanic children have been absent from schools, and farm owners say migrant pickers have cleared out, leaving tomato crops rotting on the vine. “There won’t be no next growing season,” said farmer Wayne Smith. State Sen. Arthur Orr disagreed, insisting the law would create “employment for a lot of people who are citizens or who are here legally.” The Obama administration says the law impinges on federal authority and has lodged an appeal.

Washington, D.C.

Health law to Supreme Court: The Obama administration last week asked the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, a move that is likely to put the hotly contested law at center stage during the 2012 presidential election campaign. Appeals courts have split on the legality of the individual mandate, the law’s requirement that most citizens buy health insurance, making a Supreme Court review of the question “plainly warranted,” said Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. The White House said it looked forward to the court’s confirmation that the law is constitutional, but critics of “Obamacare” also welcomed the chance for a prompt ruling, expected before next June. “We are confident in the merits of our legal arguments,” said Gregory S. Katsas, the lawyer for a business group that has joined 26 states in challenging the law.


‘Underwear bomber’ on trial: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 with explosives sewn into his underwear, provoked a scene as his trial began by shouting that the U.S. is a “cancer.’’ The 24-year-old Nigerian, who has insisted on representing himself, also shouted “Anwar is alive,” a reference to militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed last week by a U.S. drone in Yemen. Abdulmutallab has pleaded not guilty to eight terrorism-related charges and faces life in prison if convicted.

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