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The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest news

Issue: "Miers doesn't fit the mold," Oct. 15, 2005

SUPREME COURT After President Bush on Oct. 3 nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to succeed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, critics on the left and right quickly criticized him for passing over candidates they saw as more qualified. But grousing over Ms. Miers' lack of experience as a judge quickly took a back seat to revelations that she is an evangelical Christian. Within 48 hours of her nomination, front-page discussions of the nominee had veered away from her professional background-partner in a leading Texas law firm, former Dallas City Council member, first woman president of the Texas Bar Association-to lengthy probing of her membership at Valley View Christian Church and, by extension, her views on abortion. The intensity of mainstream media's religio-swarming raises a question: Will upcoming Senate confirmation hearings become a referendum on Ms. Miers' faith? (See "Blessed are the meek").

IRAQ At 4 a.m. on Oct. 3 Baghdad pastor Ghassan Thomas woke up with what he described as "a heaviness . . . a real fear for my children." He prayed, then later helped to see the two boys off to school, but the heaviness did not leave him. At 11 a.m. the boys returned home, their elementary school evacuated when a car laden with explosives was discovered outside the school. An Iraqi neighbor reported the suspicious car to U.S. soldiers after he saw the driver leave it 20 yards from the school entrance and drive away in another vehicle. A U.S. explosives ordnance disposal team found a mortar round, four tank rounds, a propane tank, and a radio-controlled detonation device wired to the car's antenna, and safely detonated the bomb. "This is life in Baghdad," said Mr. Thomas.

In a speech on Oct. 6, President Bush sought to further define and defend U.S. involvement in Iraq. "The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in the war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror," he said. The Pentagon hints at reducing troop levels in Iraq by next spring if an Oct. 15 referendum and end-of-year elections produce a mandate for self-government, but Iraqis need security now. Over 1,300 Iraqis were killed in insurgent fighting in September alone, likely including the lay pastor of the largest church in Baghdad (See "Let the future begin now").

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TERRORISM British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking at a news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Oct. 6, accused Iran of supplying explosives technology used by insurgents in Iraq. "We know that the devices are of a similar nature to those used by Hezbollah, and there are certain pieces of information that lead us back to Iran," he said.

INDONESIA Authorities hunted for five men in connection with Oct. 1 suicide bombings in Bali, almost three years after terrorists struck the tourist-thick island in 2002, killing more than 200 Westerners. The latest bombers entered three restaurants with backpacks stuffed with shrapnel and exploded, killing at least 14 and injuring more than 100. Indonesian officials circulated photos of the bombers' severed heads nationwide in hopes of getting leads on their associates.

CRIME Nobody knows why Joel Henry Hinrichs III committed suicide outside an Oct. 1 Oklahoma Sooners football game in Norman, Okla. But the method-a small explosion-and the proximity to a crowd of nearly 85,000 fans turned heads. FBI investigators said they had uncovered no evidence that Hinrichs was involved in any extremist or terrorist groups. But internet rumors swirled that Hinrichs had gotten tangled up in a terrorist cell. According to one local report, shortly before he died the 21-year-old student tried to buy ammonium nitrate, the explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing and in recent terror attacks in Bali and Istanbul.

FIRES Just as firefighters began to beat back the Topanga Canyon blaze that had scorched nearly 24,000 acres on the Los Angeles-Ventura County line, a new fire broke out to the south, near the city of Burbank, on Oct. 6. Six firefighters were injured in the Topanga blaze, which also burned at least one home and several outbuildings.

KATRINA FEMA head R. David Paulison told lawmakers the disaster relief agency would revisit over $1 billion in no-bid contracts approved by his predecessor in Hurricane Katrina's immediate aftermath. The acting chief also pledged to meet an Oct. 15 deadline to move Hurricane Katrina evacuees out of shelters-"whether it's [to] an apartment or hotel room or staying with Uncle Bob." Over 68,000 refugees remain in shelters, down from a high of 300,000 after Katrina hit on Aug. 29 and Hurricane Rita on Sept. 17. Many victims are starting new lives elsewhere, even as far away as California, where Orange County officials have turned resettlement over to a faith-based alliance (See "The last shall be first").

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