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U.S. News Archive
March 07 - March 13, 2001



This page contains news for the period March 07, 2001 through March 13, 2001.  

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Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Marital distress may harm a woman's heart

A story published today by Reuters Health says that an unhappy marriage can break a woman's heart, figuratively and literally. New research suggests that married women who are dissatisfied with their relationships face a higher risk for heart disease.

In a study of nearly 500 middle-aged women, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh-Pennsylvania noted that marital "distress" was linked to a higher risk for heart problems, independent of other threats to heart health such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Moreover, women's marital woes appeared to be unique from overall stress, depression and other psychological factors in their effects on the heart.

Researcher Wendy Troxel presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

Previous research suggested that for men, marriage generally confers heart benefits. The health effects of marriage on women has been less clear, according to co-author Dr. Linda Gallo.

The study, which followed the women over about 11 years, attempted to gauge how marital satisfaction affects the heart as women go through menopause, Gallo explained in an interview.

She and her colleagues found that women who reported marital dissatisfaction were more likely than satisfied women to have significant plaque build-up in the main artery of the heart. They also were more likely to have blockages in the carotid arteries in the neck, a known risk factor for stroke.

However, this study did  not look at the normal stresses that come up from time to time in a marital relationship according to Gallo. Instead, she said, it looked  at women's overall happiness with their husbands--their communication, amount of time spent together, sex lives and a range of factors.

Dissatisfaction in a marriage may harm the heart by inflicting "wear and tear" on the body, according to Gallo. Like stress, marital unhappiness may lead to habitual elevations in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones.

She also noted that marital problems are likely to be one part of the equation--triggering behaviors that take a toll on health, including sleeplessness and changes in eating and exercise.

"It's my guess that marital dissatisfaction might put women on a trajectory to poorer health," she said.

Bill to repeal North Carolina Sodomy law introduced

A story published today by Greensboro News & Record reports that certain groups in the community are pushing for the state Senate to decriminalize oral and anal intercourse in North Carolina.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird introduced a bill to the state Senate last week that would exempt consenting adults from prosecution for "crimes against nature," but would keep the prohibitions in place for acts done in public or for hire. The report quoted her as saying that the current law was a "government stamp of authority" that "lawless people" use to harass gays and lesbians.

About 400 people were prosecuted under the law last year. Conviction of crimes against nature is a felony with a maximum sentence of more than a year in prison.

Similar bills have failed in past years because legislative committees are reserved in bringing them to a vote. Lawmakers "are afraid of what could happen in an election because it could be portrayed in an unfavorable way in an eight second sound bite," Deborah Ross, director of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

Conservative groups are fighting the changes to the sodomy law, arguing that they amount to promotion of the "homosexual lifestyle."

Jo Wyrick, executive director of Equality NC, a gay lobbying group, said the current North Carolina sodomy law violates "a basic right to privacy."

"I think most people take the attitude that what other people do in their own homes is their own business," Wyrick said.


Monday, March 12, 2001

Plaintiffs file suit against Utah's fornication law

A story published today in the Salt Lake Tribune reports that city civil-rights attorney Brian Barnard will argue before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that Utah should overturn the law that made it illegal for unmarried, consenting adults to have sex. 

Barnard says the statutes are unconstitutional, a clear invasion of  privacy and an imposition of one person's moral standards upon another. "If these statutes were enforced, our court system would grind to a halt," Barnard said. "Our jails would be overflowing."

Gayle Ruzicka, leader of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, said the statutes should remain on the books. She takes it a step further, arguing the laws should be aggressively prosecuted. "Premarital sex has just as serious or more serious side effects than  drugs -- like unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases,"  she said. 

"Why not teach our children that premarital sex is illegal and wrong and they will be punished? If we did that, we could change society." 

The current law in Utah makes fornication and sodomy between consenting unmarried adults a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months behind bars and a $1,000 fine. Only a handful of offenders have been charged since the laws were passed soon after statehood in 1896.

The specific issue before the three-judge panel is whether the plaintiffs have the standing, or legal right, to challenge the laws.

In 1999, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Boyce recommended dismissal of their lawsuit because the plaintiffs could not prove they were in imminent danger of prosecution. 

"It is apparent the Utah fornication and sodomy statutes are not being enforced in Salt Lake County by the . . . Salt Lake County district attorney," Boyce wrote."The injury to plaintiffs is purely hypothetical and not concrete."

Last year, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart upheld Boyce's ruling and dismissed the case.

Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom -- who is named as the defendant -- said his office has no plans to prosecute violators of the anti-fornication and sodomy statutes. "If we did that it would take all of our time," he said. "If we do a prosecution for these crimes it is usually a plea bargain from a more serious crime." 

Yocom added that most people are unwilling to report these crimes. "Once in a while wives do, but we tell them to go to divorce court."  The anti-fornication and sodomy laws have been stricken in some states by judges who have deemed them unconstitutional. Lawmakers in other states have scrapped the laws while overhauling their criminal code and killing outdated, unenforced laws.

Barnard is convinced it will be a court, not Utah lawmakers, that eventually removes the laws. 

"Can you imagine a legislator saying, 'We have to repeal these laws,'?" asked Barnard. "He or she would be branded as being in favor of fornication. No individual legislator wants to take that kind of heat." 


Sunday, March 11, 2001

Bush's tax cut plan, who gets what

A story published today in the Sacramento Bee reports that the tax plan promoted by President Bush would basically bring modest savings to middle-income taxpayers while delivering much larger dollar savings for the largest-income groups.

In the lower tax rungs, it would help some taxpayers by cutting the  bottom 15 percent rate to 10 percent on the first $6,000 earned. And a temporary 12 percent bracket, retroactive to Jan. 1, would give all taxpayers an immediate break.

The story noted that Bush's proposal would lower the so-called marriage penalty, increase the child tax credit and, in a separate gain for the wealthiest taxpayers, repeal the estate tax.

A closer look at how the proposal would play out for tax year 2000 if it were already in force shows that a single taxpayer with $40,000 in taxable income would save little more than $700. That would lower the $7,788 tax bill for last year's income to $7,088.

In contrast, a single taxpayer with higher taxable income of about $125,000 would save about $5,000 in current dollars slashing a $33,431 tax bill to $28,431.

Joint filers with one child and $50,000 in taxable income would save more than $1,100 in taxes in the Bush plan. The couple's $7,800 tax bill would drop to about $6,700.

However, the same couple with $250,000 in taxable income could cut about $8,000 from their tax bill. Instead of paying federal taxes of about $73,000 on the current tax scheme.

Under current tax law, a married couple filing jointly with $400,000 in taxable income face a federal tax bill of $131,068. The Bush proposal would slice that tax bill by about $17,000.

In other words, Bush's plan would drop the share of taxable income paid by that taxpayer from nearly 33 percent to 28.5 percent.

Carol Van Bruggen, a partner in Foord, Van Bruggen & Ebersole Financial Services in Sacramento, said she understands the need for all groups to get a tax break.

"I would like to see lower taxes because I work with a lot of people who work long hours, have employees, and each and every year they are having to pay more and more in taxes," Van Bruggen said. 

A tax break for this group, she said, spurs the economy and boosts earnings for publicly traded companies.

The balance of Bush's tax package would give breaks to joint tax filers, parents and large estates.

To lessen the so-called marriage penalty, Bush proposes reducing taxable income by granting up to $3,000 in deductions to two-earner couples who file jointly.

The plan would also increase the child tax credit to $1,000 from the current $500 per child.

The income threshold for phasing out eligibility would also climb to $200,000 from current levels of $75,000 for single taxpayers and $110,000 for married couples.

The Bush proposal would gradually phase out federal estate and gift taxes by 2009.

Under the current taxpayer relief act, individuals may pass along to heirs up to $675,000 this year without paying any estate taxes. An estate that exceeds that threshold can be taxed at 55 percent.

With regards to charitable giving, the plan would allow filers who do not itemize their tax returns to take deductions for charitable giving.

Much of the Bush tax savings come from the collapse of the existing 39.6 percent and 36 percent tax rates to 33  percent by 2006. The current 31 percent and 28 percent rates would drop to 25 percent.

The 15 percent rate would not drop, but a new 10 percent bracket would be created on the first $6,000 of taxable income for individuals and $12,000 for couples.

These changes would commence on 2002 and be phased in over five years, taking full effect in 2006.

The Bush tax plan, however, does not address the alternative minimum tax. Known as AMT,  it was designed in the 1980s to assure that wealthier taxpayers didn't avoid taxes through legal tax breaks.

But AMT is not tied to inflation. So as wages have risen, more middle-income workers have been ensnared by AMT.

Factor the necessary reform to this tax and the cost of the Bush package jumps to $2 trillion (from the current $1.6 trillion estimate), according to critic Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

The Bush plan also has no effect on payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare taxes), which Lieberman calls "the most crushing tax burden" for most Americans.

Opponents also cite a Citizens for Tax Justice study that concluded that 60 percent of filers would receive just 13 percent of the benefits.

"If you make over $300,000 a year, this tax cut means you get to buy a new Lexus," Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashle, D-S.D., said last month in Washington, D.C. "If you make $50,000 a year, you get to buy a muffler on your used car."

Proponents of the Bush plan counter with their own study.

Individual taxpayers in the top 50 percent of income groups bore 95.8 percent of the individual income tax burden in 1998, according to a Tax Foundation study released last fall.

Florida Governor to fund "abstinence only" education

A story published today in the St. Petersburg Times reports that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would like to take $1-million of the money the state spends on family planning at health clinics and spend it on telling teens they should remain virgins until marriage.

The state would provide``abstinence-only'' education grants provided that counselors wouldn't be allowed to talk about birth control at all. This does not deprive other programs where teens would still hear the ``safe sex'' message taught in schools and local health departments.

Bush says he supports abstinence-only education because ``nationally, the programs have got a good record'' in preventing teen pregnancy.

While these programs have mushroomed in recent years all over the nation, state officials say neither the state nor the federal government has done a comprehensive evaluation to monitor its effectiveness.

Florida to date has about 35 chastity education programs. So far, all have been funded with federal dollars. Much of the money goes to private groups, many of which are religious. The groups are not supposed to provide teens a religious message, even though meetings are often held in churches and speakers come from local congregations.

Bush's proposal, which is part of his budget request to the Legislature, marks the first time state money would fund programs like Sex Can Wait, Best Friends and Everyone's Not Doing It.

Critics say Bush's move to fund more chastity education programs will drain money from family-planning programs that provide medical care for poor women who have no health insurance.

Carolyn Pardue, lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, said Bush's plan to redirect family planning money into teen chastity programs will prevent as many as 10,000 poor women from getting proper medical test screening and birth control counseling at their local county health department or women's clinic.

``Is this the best bang for the buck? I don't think so,'' said state Rep. Joyce Cusack, D-DeLand, who has worked as a public health nurse. ``Family planning involves a lot of preventive care for women. We talk about early detection for cancer -- well, this is one of the methods the state has in place for early detection.''

Bush and his health secretary, Bob Brooks, say those services won't be cut, even though $1-million will be diverted out of the state's $5.7-million family planning budget to pay for the chastity programs.

Democrats and Republicans lawmakers say it's fine to teach teens that abstinence is a good option. But they are reluctant in banning counselors from even mentioning birth control, and wonder what evidence exists to prove the programs work.

``I don't support gagging people from talking about other forms of contraceptives,'' said state Rep. Carol Green, R-Fort Myers. ``I have a problem about not giving young people all the information.''

``It really isn't a gag order on the counselors,'' said Annette Phelps, who oversees abstinence programs for the Florida Department of Health. ``The best health message we can give is monogamy in the context of marriage. If we were to mix that message with conntraceptive use, it's confusing.''

Connecticut legislature to debate same-sex marriage proposal

A story published today by the Associated Press reports that supporters of same-sex marriage laws are optimistic that Connecticut will be the next state to legally recognize gay and lesbian couples.

Lawmakers say the proposal has drawn growing interest in the General Assembly. Legislators already have agreed to extend health insurance coverage to partners of state employees, and they also enacted a hate crime law related to violence against homosexuals.

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on same-sex marriages on March 16.

''Connecticut is seen as a state that definitely has a better possibility of passing something similar to Vermont,'' said  Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, a Connecticut gay rights organization.

Stanback's group led a successful effort last year to get the Connecticut Legislature to enact a law that allowed same-sex couples to adopt children.

But the proposal wasn't free of controversy, and it took two years for it to be approved.

In 1999, opponents of ''the gay adoption bill'' amended it to include a Defense of Marriage provision, which would have made it a law that Connecticut only recognizes marriage between men and women.

Supporters pulled the bill after the amendment passed.

Stanback and others expect the Defense of Marriage concept to be revived as lawmakers debate same-sex marriage.

In 1996, Congress passed legislation, which was signed into law by then-President Clinton, prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Since 1995, 34 states also have prohibited same-sex marriages, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Rep. Peter Nystrom, R-Norwich, a 15-year veteran of the Judiciary Committee, and an opponent of same-sex marriage, said he expects a bill to ban same-sex marriages to be introduced if one that allows it arises.

Nystrom said he and several other lawmakers are frustrated that the issue is being debated because they were promised last year that the gay adoption bill wouldn't lead to a gay marriage proposal this year.

''We were told it wouldn't come up,'' Nystrom said. ''There's resentment out there, I know that. I suspect if this comes to a vote on the floor this year, you won't have a temperate debate.''

State Rep. Arthur Feltman, D-Hartford, a vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of a handful of openly gay lawmakers in the General Assembly, said he sees the March 16 hearing as a starting point.

''What you don't want to do is put a concept up there and make people feel uncomfortable,'' Feltman said. ''We really need to give people some more background and get people thinking about it.''

Friday, March 9, 2001

William Bennett concerned with decline of traditional families

A story reported in The Christian Science Monitor states that since 1993, former Education Secretary William Bennett has kept a close eye on the trends affecting almost every American. His latest "Index of Leading Cultural Indicators" is a warning sign for what he calls "a problem of the first order" - the decline of the American family.

He cites a dramatic increase of out-of-wedlock births (up 18 percent from 1998 to 1999) and a 13 percent increase in single-parent households between 1990 and 1998.

The report also notes the number of divorces going down a bit, the number of children living in poverty is lower, and the past decade saw a 43 percent decline in the welfare roles.

The index showed the abortion rate has fallen for the past 10 years. The index, however, doesn't reflect how minorities and women continue to show improvement - in income, home ownership, educational attainment, and life expectancy.

A number of questions are also not examined in this study. Overlooked are multiple signs of an increased sense of community, such as the interactions with others that people find on the Internet. Also, volunteerism is up significantly. And charitable giving is up more than 200 percent since 1960, with some three-quarters of that coming from individual citizens, indicating a public not entirely disassociated from a larger sense of family.

So numerical indicators are not the whole story. Rather, they are figures that can suggest - but not conclusively - long-term consequences, which, by Mr. Bennett's own admission, are uncertain.

This index does point to some good news: Crime rate is down and more money is being shelled out on education - evidence that sound government policies can make a difference.


Thursday, March 8, 2001

Kentucky board favors abstinence education for youth

A column written by Addia Wuchner says that the health board's decision to discontinue sex education programs currently offered by the health department came after much discussion about the Teen Outreach Program and the Reducing the Risk Program.  Wuchner is chairman of the Human Sexuality Education Committee and Health Department board designee.

Concerns arose as to the appropriateness of the message of these programs. The board reviewed the TOPs program in light of federal guidelines on abstinence education and concluded that the programs did not entirely meet those guidelines.

The board agreed that the three TOPs programs in progress would continue through their completion dates, but a committee would be established to oversee appropriate modifications to them.

The board established the Human Sexuality Education Committee to develop curriculum guidelines and standards for abstinence programs, which would later be endorsed by the board, and promoted and facilitated by the health department. The committee had the additional charge of overseeing the emergency modification of the three current TOPs programs.

Results from The Kentucky Post Readers' Hotline poll published Feb. 3  showed the public favored the board's decision to move to abstinence programs by a margin of 3-1, noting ''most callers to the Kentucky Post Readers' Hotline applauded the decisions to revamp sex education programs to teach abstinence only to Northern Kentucky teen-agers.''

Every day in the United States, 8,000 teens contract a sexually transmitted disease. Over 900,000 teen-age females become pregnant each year; 70 percent of them fail to finish high school.

Wuchner stated that the dual message of, ''abstinence is best but, if you cannot abstain - be responsible '' has failed our children, and has done irreparable harm to their future lives and health. She also noted that condoms and contraceptives have failed to substantially decrease sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy rates outside of marriage have increased.

The highest increase in HIV and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infections is among young people. There is no cure for HIV or HPV. Once infected they will live with the disease the rest of their lives. For the rest of their lives, sexual intercourse means they can pass the disease on to another person.

The impact of adolescent sexual behavior is not limited to physical health. Studies report the rate of suicide attempts for sexually active 12- to16-year-old girls was six times higher than girls who were still virgins. 

The emotional, social and economic effects on unwed parenting are only part of the harmful consequences of early sexual activity. Studies show that children are happier and healthier when nurtured in a committed two-parent married home. 

Wuchner thus concluded that abstinence is the healthiest sexual behavior for unmarried teens. Parental cooperation and community education she states are essential components in assisting our teen-agers in building their futures on solid ground. 

Study finds married men are healthier

A story released by Reuters Health notes that men who become widowed or divorced may lose more than a spouse. They will also likely give up a range of health habits that help protect against disease and early death, results of a study suggest.

The study which is scheduled to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society in Monterey, California, indicate that recently divorced and widowed men eat fewer vegetables, drink more alcohol, and are not likely to quit smoking than their married counterparts.

The study results support the belief that marriage is good for men. Research has shown, for instance, that divorced men are more likely to smoke, drink, develop Alzheimer's disease, commit suicide and die prematurely.

In the current trial of nearly 30,000 men, vegetable consumption declined by more than three servings per week in men following the death of a spouse, and nearly two servings per week after a divorce.

Divorced men were more likely to smoke than their married peers but those who remarried were likely to quit, the studies show. Widowed men were more likely than married men to drink heavily--more than 21 drinks a week.

However, it is not clear  from the study why widowers or newly single men may be more lax when it comes to their health, but study co-author Dr. Ichiro Kawachi presumes that women have a salutary effect on men.

"Women in general are much better at keeping doctor and dentist appointments. And there may be an unequal distribution of cooking tasks at home...even though most women are also working in paid jobs," said Kawachi.

Indeed, newly single men also increased their consumption of fried foods outside the home.

Kawachi said that doctors should be aware of their male patients' marital status and inquire about changes when their health habits begin to slip.

According to an earlier study, divorce or marital separation more than doubled the risk of suicide in men but was unrelated to suicide risks in women. Another study linked lower blood pressure in men with social support from a spouse.

 White House says that tax cuts would aid lower incomes

A story released today by the Associated Press reports that the White House released a Treasury Department analysis of President Bush's income tax cuts showing the plan would most help people with low to moderate incomes.

Democrats reiterate, however, that the analysis doesn't include Bush's plan to eliminate estate taxes, which affects about 2 percent of people who die each year. They asserted that in sheer dollar terms the wealthy would still benefit more.

A Treasury Department statement accompanying the analysis, known as a distribution table, pointed out that the share of income tax relief for taxpayers with incomes of $100,000 or less would be greater than the share of income taxes they now pay.

For example, those earning incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 would see their portion of income taxes paid drop from the current 2.5 percent to 1.8 percent under the Bush plan. They would get 6.5 percent of the total Bush tax cut studied by the Treasury.

However, the total share of income taxes paid for those earning more than $100,000 would rise from 70 percent to 74 percent, and their portion of Bush's tax cut would amount to 45 percent.

In other words, the tax reduction for the lowest income group -- those earning up to $30,000 a year -- would amount to 138 percent, compared to only 8.7 percent for those earning above $200,000 annually. That upper-income group would also pay 46 percent of all income taxes, which is 3 percent higher than the current rate.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said this ``confirms that President Bush's tax plan provides the most help to low- and modest-income Americans. President Bush's plan is fair, responsible and will help those who need it most.''

The Treasury analysis counts Bush's income tax rate reductions, doubling of the $500 child credit, expanded deduction for charitable giving, easing of the marriage penalty and tax credit for purchase of health insurance. The analysis assumes these are fully phased in using 2000 estimates.

But it doesn't include the estate tax, which Democrats say is a principal omission.

In a memo on the Treasury analysis from House Ways and Means Committee, Democrats suggested that while the percentage cuts may seem enormous for lower-income people, in terms of real dollars it does not amount to much. A family of four paying $1,500 income taxes on an income of $35,000 a year would only get $600, even though the tax cut amounts to 40 percent.

The same family earning $500,000 a year would see a tax cut of $21,450 or about 13 percent.


Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Unmarried partner inclusion derails grandparent visitation bill in Washington state

A story published today in The Columbian reports that a late-breaking dispute over gay and lesbian rights has derailed Washington's latest attempt to repair its third-party visitation law.

Worried about ambiguous language in a bill that would restore legal standing to grandparents and other in-laws whose visiting rights were stripped by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, a key Republican legislator blocked the bill at last week's midsession deadline.

The battle was fought over what constitutes a "family" in contemporary society. Advocates for the bill said intentionally vague wording reflects a complex world. But to Rep. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, imprecise language is a foothold for gay and lesbian couples.

"I just didn't want to go into uncharted territory," said Carrell, co-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill died Feb. 27.

In a 49-49 House tie, each party must agree to pass legislation.

"It's an absurdity," responded his Democrat co-chairwoman, Patricia Lantz of Gig Harbor. "He just lost it. He's just focused on something here that's not the point at all."

House Bill 2065, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Edmonds, D-Shoreline, would have made it more difficult for nonparents trying to prove they deserve an ongoing role in a child's life, should a parent or guardian cut off contact.

Last year's United States Supreme Court ruling in Troxel v. Granville concluded that Washington's visitation laws were too broad, trampling on parents' rights to oversee children. That left hundreds of potential plaintiffs with no legal recourse.

After consulting with family law advocates and attorneys, Carrell and Edmonds wrote new standards that petitioners would have to meet in order to pursue court action -- and only after mandatory mediation.

Under the bill, non-biological parents would need to prove a "substantial relationship" and have been "unreasonably" denied visiting rights. They then would need to prove long-term benefit to the child (or long-term harm if denied contact), short of stomping on parents' control.

Under these guidelines, a child's best interest would rule, Edmonds said. Many people might file for visitation, but only those with very close ties to the child would succeed in court.

The story says that a huge sticking point emerged last month.

Carrell objected to the pool of potential petitioners: People related by blood, marriage or common-law marriage (allowing for adoption), and those "who lived with the child in a parental or quasi-parental relationship." The latter phrase was unacceptable, he said.

With a "cautious and careful" approach, Carrell would lend aid to people related by blood, marriage or adoption -- and no more, he said. "It is really too bad the Democrats killed this bill, because they inserted gay rights. They sort of wanted to expand the universe."

Edmonds and Lantz said it was Carrell who dropped the bomb, demanding a last-minute rewrite. Edmonds had already rewritten her bill once and refused to do it again.

Democrats said unmarried or remarried partners of in-laws would have been jilted -- not just gays and lesbians.

Carrell said he will be back in 2002 with a "cleaner" version of the legislation. As it stands, HB 2065 could be resurrected for a House floor vote anytime before March 14.


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