Saturday, November 03, 2007

NATIONAL & WORLD DIGEST November 3, 2007

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The New York Times

On Religion
An Unlikely Megachurch Lesson

November 3, 2007

One Sunday morning in 1995, Ron Wolfson and Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman braked toa halt in an oddly enlightening traffic jam. The line of cars was creepingtoward Saddleback Church in Southern California, whose services were drawingthousands of worshipers. As two Jews, Mr. Wolfson and Rabbi Hoffman hadcrossed the sectarian divide to try to figure out how and why.

As they inched down the road, they spotted a sign marked "For First-TimeVisitors." It directed them to pull into a separate lane and put onemergency blinkers. Bypassing the backup, they soon reached a lot withspaces reserved for newcomers. When Mr. Wolfson and Rabbi Hoffman emergedfrom their car, an official Saddleback greeter led them into the church.

Those first moments on the perimeter of the church set into motion a dozenyears of increasing interaction between a Jewish organization devoted toreinvigorating synagogues and one of the most successful evangelicalmegachurches in the nation, the Rev. Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in LakeForest, Calif.

This has not been a studiously balanced bit of ecumenicism. Synagogue 3000,the group led by Mr. Wolfson, an education professor, and Rabbi Hoffman, ascholar of liturgy, went to the church to figure out what evangelicalChristians were doing right that Jews were doing wrong or not at all.

"To put it bluntly," Mr. Wolfson said, "if there are thousands of peoplewaiting to get in, I want to know what's going on. I want to know what they're
doing that's tapping those souls."

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The New York Times

Justice Nominee Gets 2 Key Votes From Democrats

November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 - The confirmation of Michael B. Mukasey as attorneygeneral appeared to be all but certain on Friday after two key Democrats onthe Senate Judiciary Committee announced they would support the nominationdespite complaints over Mr. Mukasey's refusal to clarify his views on whatamounts to torture.

The announcements by the senators, Dianne Feinstein of California andCharles E. Schumer of New York, came after Mr. Schumer met with the nomineeon Friday afternoon and said he had obtained Mr. Mukasey's promise toenforce laws that banned any of the harsh interrogation methods known tohave been used on Qaeda terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Mr. Schumer said Mr. Mukasey, a retired federal judge from New York, had"pledged to enforce such a law and repeated his willingness to leave officerather than participate in a violation of the law."

Initially welcomed by Democrats and Republicans alike when it was announcedin September, Mr. Mukasey's nomination appeared close to being derailed thisweek over his repeated refusal to declare to senators that the interrogationtechnique known as waterboarding was torture. Waterboarding simulatesdrowning and is reported to have been used by the C.I.A. against a few topleaders of Al Qaeda.

Five Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including its chairman, SenatorPatrick J. Leahy of Vermont, have announced their intention to oppose thenomination when it comes to a vote before the panel. The vote is nowscheduled for Tuesday.

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The New York Times

Worsening the Odds

Op-Ed Columnist
November 3, 2007

Lonnie Lynam, a self-employed carpenter in Pipe Creek, Tex., specialized inspiral staircases. Friends thought of him as a maestro in a toolbelt, a whizwith a hammer and nails.

"His customers were always so pleased," his mother told me. "There was thisone family, kind of higher class, and he built them one of those glassholders that you would see in a bar or a lounge, with the glasses hangingupside down in different sizes. It was awesome."

Lonnie had a following, a reputation. He was said to have a magic touch.

What he didn't have was health insurance.

So when the headaches came, he tried to ignore them. "We've had migraines inour family," said his mother, Betty Lynam, who is 67 and lives in Creston,Iowa. "So he thought that was what it was."

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The New York Times

Farm Belt Follies

November 3, 2007

The Senate has one last chance to rid the country of an irrational, outdatedand unfair 70-year-old program of federal farm supports that enriches thefew at the expense of the many, distorts international trade and damages theenvironment. It has one last chance, in other words, to produce a farmprogram of which the country can be proud.

Floor debate on the farm bill begins next week, possibly as early as Monday.The choice facing the Senate lies between an old-fashioned bill produced bythe Senate Agriculture Committee and an entirely different bill that isexpected to be offered as an amendment by Richard Lugar, the IndianaRepublican, and Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey.

The old-fashioned bill, which is only marginally better than a similarlyretrograde measure approved earlier this year by the House, would perpetuatea system that directs more than half of all farm payments to less thanone-tenth of the farms, most of them concentrated in eight states and mostof them producers of big row crops like corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat andrice.

To make matters worse, these lucky few get their billions regardless ofmarket conditions - and conditions now happen to be particularly good, giventhe strong demand for corn-based ethanol as well as for American farmproducts abroad. So whenever you hear its proponents describe thiswelfare-for-the-rich program as a safety net, remember this: for the mostpart, it provides an extra bounce for those who don't need a safety netwhile failing to catch those who do.

The Lugar-Lautenberg bill aims to correct this. It would replace existingsubsidies with genuine crop insurance that would cover all farms, whetherthey produce rice or rutabaga. It would save $20 billion over five years.And it would funnel the savings to valuable soil, open space and wetlandspreservation programs, as well as the food stamps program - all of whichcould use the extra help.

The most visible enemies of such a sensible approach are all the farm statelegislators from both parties who love things just the way they are. But anequally powerful enemy is plain old Congressional inertia. That makes theLugar-Lautenberg amendment a long shot, but we hope they give it their bestshot.


The New York Times

New Life for California Initiative to Apportion Electoral Vote

November 3, 2007

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 2 - Republican donors are pumping new life into a proposedballot initiative, considered all but dead by Democrats a month ago, thatwould alter the way electoral votes are apportioned in California to thebenefit of Republican presidential candidates.

Though the financing remains uncertain, the measure's leaders said Fridaythat they were confident they would get the signatures required by the Nov.29 deadline to qualify the initiative for a statewide vote next June. Theeffort, begun in the summer by a prominent Republican lawyer, lay in perilin October after its top proponents quit over questions about its financing.

Last week, a new organization began raising the roughly $2 million thoughtto be needed to get the initiative on the ballot. The new effort is beingspearheaded by David Gilliard, a Republican consultant in Sacramento, aidedby Anne Dunsmore, a prolific fund-raiser who recently resigned from thepresidential campaign of Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"You can't just fold up every time somebody says they killed you," Ms.Dunsmore, in a telephone interview, said of the effort to resuscitate theinitiative.

The initiative would ask voters to replace California's winner-take-allsystem of allocating its 55 electoral college votes with one that parses thevotes by Congressional district. It has attracted strong opposition fromDemocrats because it would transform California from a reliably Democraticstate in presidential elections by handing the Republican nominee roughly 20votes from safe Republican districts.

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The New York Times

Senate Democrats Facing a 'Pay as You Go' Problem

November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 - Senate Democrats face an agonizing choice in the daysahead: find a way to raise at least $50 billion in new taxes, or underminetheir most important rule for enforcing budget discipline.

With the end of the year fast approaching, Congress has to pass anotherone-year fix to prevent the alternative minimum tax - a tax originallycreated to make sure millionaires paid income taxes - from engulfing about23 million households with incomes as low as $50,000.

Democrats and Republicans alike want to prevent that increase, just as theyhave in the past, but the one-year cost has ballooned and Democratic "pay asyou go" rules now require Congress to make up for the lost revenue.

On Thursday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a $76 billion billthat would freeze the alternative minimum tax, extend several other taxbreaks and pay for that mainly by eliminating a major tax break for peoplewho run private equity funds and scores of other investment partnerships.

But Senate Democrats are less than enthusiastic about that tax increase, andthey worry that they cannot muster the 60-vote majority they will need topass any measure that would comply with the pay-as-you-go rule.

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The New York Times

Bush Vetoes Water Bill, Citing Cost of $23 Billion

November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2 - President Bush on Friday vetoed a bill authorizing $23billion in water resource projects, calling it overly expensive, andCongressional Democrats responded angrily, accusing him of insensitivity tothe hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast, a big beneficiary of the legislation. Theypledged to override him.

The bill, the Water Resources Development Act, would authorize $3.5 billionin work for hurricane-ravaged Louisiana, nearly $2 billion for efforts tosave the Everglades and additional sums for a host of other projects favoredby lawmakers. Critics said the bill not only was costly but also failed toprovide vital changes to the often criticized Army Corps of Engineers, whichwould do most of the work.

Mr. Bush has now cast five vetoes as president, four since Democrats tookcontrol of Congress in January. None have been overridden, although thislegislation passed both houses with more than the two-thirds majoritiesneeded to override.

In his veto message, the president noted that when the bill emerged from aHouse-Senate conference committee, its cost had risen more than 50 percentabove the cost of legislation originally passed by the two houses. He alsosaid a backlog of projects for the Corps of Engineers meant that manyprojects in the bill would never be financed or completed.

"This bill lacks fiscal discipline," he said. "This authorization bill makespromises to local communities that the Congress does not have a track recordof keeping."

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The Washington Post

Diplomatic Infighting

By Tammy S. Schultz
Friday, November 2, 2007; 6:54 PM

This week's outburst by U.S. Foreign Service officers over the potential forforced deployments to Iraq, to make up for a shortage of volunteers,undoubtedly will be met with disdain from members of the Armed Services andsome other civilian agencies of our government. The emotive response fromthe nation's diplomats, and the military's frustration over feeling veryalone in this Long War, are symptoms, not causes, of a much deeper problem.

To recap: At a State Department town hall Wednesday, hundreds of diplomatscried foul over a new policy that could cost them their jobs if they turndown assignments in Baghdad or outlying provinces. "It's one thing ifsomeone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it'sanother thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," declaredone Foreign Service veteran. "I'm sorry, but basically that's a potentialdeath sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are deador seriously wounded?"

Who, indeed? Undoubtedly, the same question was asked silently by theparents among the approximately 4,000 military personnel who lost theirlives and the nearly 30,000 wounded since the Iraq war began.

I conducted interviews with hundreds of soldiers returning from Iraq as partof my previous job as director of policy and research at the U.S. ArmyPeacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. The most common complaint:Where are our civilian counterparts? Forced deployments or not, thisfundamental question will reverberate long after Iraq -- and answering it isnot easy.

It's understandable that some diplomats who objected to the Iraq invasionare reluctant to partake in Iraq's reconstruction. But some uniformedmilitary also disagreed with the invasion. If they got to pick the missionsto which they deployed, we would have a civil-military crisis on our hands.We cannot afford a civil-civil crisis either. That's why Foreign Servicesofficers swear an oath to go where they're sent.

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The Washington Post

At War But Not War-Ready

By Hans Binnendijk
Saturday, November 3, 2007; A19

The revolt this week by Foreign Service officers faced with involuntarydeployment to Baghdad may be an understandable response to shifting groundrules, but it highlights a deeper problem: America's civilian agencies areunprepared to contribute adequately to 21st-century global securitychallenges. Defense Department resources, missions and institutions havemultiplied as counterpart civilian agencies stagnate or disappear.

While Washington has focused on Rumsfeld vs. Powell or Gates vs. Rice, thisunderlying imbalance has grown. It is not born of a Defense Department powergrab but of an inability by civilian agencies to adjust to new missions. TheDefense Department is at war while the State Department still suffers fromthe post-Cold War notion of a peace dividend. One is on steroids, the otheron life support.

Consider the record: The annual Defense Department budget has grown nearly$350 billion in the past decade while Congress cuts the president'sinternational affairs budget request each year. The defense authorizationbill is enacted annually while the congressional foreign affairs committeescannot get their authorization bills considered on the floor. Legislationsuch as the Lugar-Biden bill, designed to strengthen civilian capacity instabilization operations, has been blocked. The military's authorities andmissions have expanded while much-needed new civilian authorities are deniedby neglect.

Civilian agencies are disappearing. The U.S. Information Agency and the ArmsControl and Disarmament Agency have folded, while the U.S. Agency forInternational Development operates with less than a third of the staff ithad during the Cold War. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's initiative totransform diplomacy lacks fiscal and personnel resources.

The State Department's initial answer to the problem of civilianunreadiness, a coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization, isunderfunded and relies heavily on contract workers and personnel detailedfrom other agencies. The entire Foreign Service comprises about the samenumber of people needed to operate one aircraft carrier battle group.State's operational culture focuses more on policy development thanimplementation. USAID's overseas personnel have become contract managers,and efforts to create a civilian reserve corps are also stalled in Congress.

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The Washington Post

Just Say No
The Consumer Product Safety Commission shouldn't accept free travel fromthose it regulates.

Saturday, November 3, 2007; A18

AFTER A DAMNING story yesterday by Post writer Elizabeth Williamson abouthow the current and former chairmen of the Consumer Product SafetyCommission accepted "gift travel" from companies and associations inindustries they were supposed to regulate, acting Chairman Nancy Nordreleased a terse two-paragraph statement. Trips by all employees arereviewed by the agency's general counsel. This "painstaking review" has beenin place "for 14 years." But Ms. Nord is "asking the Office of GovernmentEthics to conduct a complete review of the agency's travel acceptanceprocedures." There can be only one suitable conclusion: Pay your own way.

Ms. Nord and her predecessor, Hal Stratton, logged nearly 30 trips since2002 to a number of locations, including China, Spain and Hilton Head, S.C.The total cost was almost $60,000. The rationale that this is a way to be incontact with manufacturers and to hear their concerns -- "Everybody wants tosee the chairman," Mr. Stratton told the Post's Ms. Williamson -- doesn'tcut it. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and DrugAdministration and the Federal Communications Commission all ban what theConsumer Product Safety Commission allows.

That commission leaders could not see the appearance problem is just thelatest in a string of troubles for the agency. Critics have been dismayed byits limp response to what seems to be weekly recalls of lead-laden toys (20million toys so far). The commission is half the size it was when it wascreated in 1973. It has just one toy inspector. But when the Senate CommerceCommittee moved last month to increase the agency's budget, authority andstaff, Ms. Nord told committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii),paraphrasing here, no thanks.

Despite her protests, the Senate Commerce Committee approved a 58 percentbudget increase. The House will consider a similar bill. Once the commissiongets its influx of cash, maybe it can afford to pay for its own travel andbegin to restore its credibility.


The Washington Post

Unbowed in Burma
The resistance continues, but it needs help.

Saturday, November 3, 2007; A18

BURMA'S RULING generals yesterday ordered the expulsion of a senior UnitedNations official, again demonstrating their contempt for internationalopinion. The official had expressed mild criticism of the regime, which wastoo much for the paranoid leaders of the Southeast Asian nation. That doesnot mean, however, that they are impervious to influence.

A few weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of Burmese, led by Buddhist monks,were peacefully demonstrating in favor of democracy. The junta lashed out inresponse: shutting down Internet access, raiding monasteries, rounding upthousands in nighttime raids. No one outside the regime knows how manyprotesters it murdered.

Amazingly, internal resistance has not ended. A few hundred monks resumedthe protest Tuesday. Others have taken to the jungle to regroup. But theresponse from outside Burma has been less heartening. The special envoy ofthe U.N. secretary general has shuttled among Asian capitals in time-wastingbusywork. The envoy, who is scheduled to reenter Burma today, needs to pushhard the U.N. Security Council's call to the regime to free politicalprisoners and enter into dialogue with them. Meanwhile, China and India, the nations with the most influence in Burma, outdo each other inappeasing the regime. Does China not worry about hosting the Olympics as theprotector of one of the world's most odious regimes? Does India care nothingfor its reputation as the world's largest democracy? So far, apparently not.

The Security Council should tighten sanctions, particularly by enforcing anarms embargo. But the sanctions likeliest to persuade the regime tonegotiate with democratic forces are banking restrictions imposed on topofficials, their relatives and the corrupt businessmen close to them. TheBush administration led the way with such sanctions; Australia stoutlyfollowed. The question -- and it could be dispositive -- is whether Europehas the spine to join in.


The Washington Post

Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire
Ex-U.S. Operatives Dot Firm's Roster

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007; A01

First it became a brand name in security for its work in Iraq andAfghanistan. Now it's taking on intelligence.

The Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater Worldwide, hasbeen building an operation that will sniff out intelligence about naturaldisasters, business-friendly governments, overseas regulations and globalpolitical developments for clients in industry and government.

The operation, Total Intelligence Solutions, has assembled a roster offormer spooks -- high-ranking figures from agencies such as the CIA anddefense intelligence -- that mirrors the slate of former military officialswho run Blackwater. Its chairman is Cofer Black, the former head ofcounterterrorism at CIA known for his leading role in many of the agency'smore controversial programs, including the rendition and interrogation ofal-Qaeda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisonsoverseas.

Its chief executive is Robert Richer, a former CIA associate deputy directorof operations who was heavily involved in running the agency's role in theIraq war.

Total Intelligence Solutions is one of a growing number of companies thatoffer intelligence services such as risk analysis to companies andgovernments. Because of its roster and its ties to owner Erik Prince, themultimillionaire former Navy SEAL, the company's thrust into this worldhighlights the blurring of lines between government, industry and activitiesformerly reserved for agents operating in the shadows.

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The Miami Herald

When Big Father/Big Mother spy on the children

Posted on Sat, Nov. 03, 2007

Pretty soon, we're going have to amend the favorite mom and dad moniker ofthe moment. Those much vaunted helicopter parents are turning intoblack-helicopter parents. The image of parents hovering over their kids ismorphing into the darker image of parents spying on their kids.

Here is the latest bit of high-tech surveillance equipment being marketed toparents. A company inauspiciously named Bladerunner has begun selling ajacket with a GPS device sewn into the lining. For a mere $500 plus $20 amonth, a parent can track a child, or at least his jacket, all day long.

This is a just small addition to the family-friendly arsenal. We alreadyhave a full range of cellphones equipped with GPS. Indeed, the most commoncellphone greeting is not ''how are you?'' but ''where are you?'' Parentsare being sold the idea that they can trust but Wherify -- the name of oneamong the many manufacturers offering services that beam your kids'whereabouts to your cellphone.

Want to monitor what your kids eat at school? MyNutriKids gives you thescoop from the lunchroom. Want an automatic alert if he got a B on the popquiz? Go to GradeSpeed. Want to monitor her instant messages? There'sIMSafer. And want to know if your 17-year-old is speeding? Alltrack not onlytells you but lets you remotely flash the lights and honk the horn till sheslows down.

There is also a ''safety checks'' service courtesy of Sprint to let you knowif your kids showed up at soccer practice. And a ''geofencing'' service fromVerizon that alerts parents if a child leaves the area circumscribed by herparents.

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The Washington Post

SC Dems Say No to Stephen Colbert

The Associated Press
Friday, November 2, 2007; 1:07 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina Democrats squashed Stephen Colbert'sfanciful White House bid on Thursday.

Colbert, who poses as a conservative talk-show host on the Comedy Centralcable network, filed to get on the ballot as a Democratic candidate in hisnative South Carolina. His campaign paid a $2,500 filing fee just before thenoon deadline, said state Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Fowler.

However, after about 40 minutes of discussion by top party officials, theexecutive council voted 13-3 to keep the host of "The Colbert Report" offthe ballot.

"He's really trying to use South Carolina Democrats as suckers so he canfurther a comedy routine," said Waring Howe, a member of the executivecouncil. And Colbert "serves to detract from the serious candidates on theballot."

But state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter told the committee Colbert could showcasethe state "in a way that none of the other candidates on the ballot havebeen able to do."

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Bahrain: Iran Racing to Build Bomb

Thursday, November 1, 2007 10:32 PM

In an interview with The Times of London newspaper, Bahrain's Crown PrinceSalman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa became the first Arab leader to directlyaccuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons.

"While they don't have the bomb yet, they are developing it, or thecapability for it," he said.

He also said "the whole region" would be caught up in any military conflictand called on India and Russia to help find a diplomatic solution. "Thereneeds to be far more done on the diplomatic front," he said. "There's stilltime to talk."

Also Thursday, Saudi Arabia and a consortium of Arab Gulf states invitedIran to produce enriched uranium jointly, where the plant could be properlymonitored by international observers.

"We have proposed a solution, which is to create a consortium for all usersof enriched uranium to do it in a collective manner that would distribute(nuclear fuel) according to need," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudal-Faisal said. "We hope the Iranians will accept this proposal."

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