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The Buzz

The latest on this week's biggest stories

Issue: "Can't run or hide," Oct. 14, 2006

North Korea

North Korea threatened Oct. 3 to conduct a nuclear test to prove its ability as a nuclear power. Pyongyang claims it has nuclear weapons and needs them to deter a U.S. attack, but hasn't performed any known test to verify its claim.

In New York UN Ambassador John Bolton said the Bush administration regarded Pyongyang's statement as "a serious threat" and told reporters, "We don't think this is a diplomatic ploy or an attention-getting device."

Iraq

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The Interior Ministry suspended an entire police brigade in Baghdad and arrested its commander on charges of aiding death squads that have carried out mass kidnappings. The move against the 8th Brigade of the 2nd National Police Battalion, which has more than 800 uniformed Iraqi officers in western Baghdad, came as police patrols throughout the city discovered 30 bodies, one beheaded. It also came a day after armed men in official uniforms herded off 14 shopkeepers from central Baghdad, and two days after 24 workers were abducted from a meat-processing plant in the capital.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said, "There is clear evidence that there was some complicity in allowing death-squad elements to move freely when in fact they were supposed to have been impeding their movement." The brigade was sent outside the city for retraining by U.S. forces. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad in the midst of the transfer, and as U.S. casualties spiked the first week of October, to encourage better security. Iraqi officials, she said, "don't have time for endless debate of these issues."

Shootings

Public and private schools across the country examined safety precautions following three school shootings in one week, which left six students and one principal dead. After a milk truck driver in Pennsylvania took 11 young girls hostage at an Amish schoolhouse, ultimately killing five before he killed himself, President Bush announced a White House conference to bring education and law enforcement experts together to focus on renewed violence targeting schools. The attacks, particularly in the Amish enclave, showed, as Lancaster store clerk Bob Allen said: "There's no safe place. . . . There's really no such thing."

Capitol Hill

With key members of its House Republican leadership embroiled in scandal over ex-Rep. Mark Foley, the 109th Congress made a dash to adjourn and return home to campaign ahead of Nov. 7 elections.

Congress succeeded in passing a heavily debated $35 billion homeland security package, which President Bush signed into law Oct. 5 in Arizona. It includes $1.2 billion for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem illegal immigration and an overhaul of FEMA.

The final session also saw passage of:

  • The Port Security Act; however, at the last minute conferees stripped a provision that would have barred felons from dock security jobs.
  • Sanctions legislation against Sudan with provisions to promote peace in Darfur.
  • Endorsement of President Bush's plan to prosecute and interrogate terror suspects, setting the stage for military commissions to try terror suspects while at the same time complying with a Supreme Court ruling against a previous Bush plan.

But important untended business could force a lame-duck session. Ethics committee lawmakers met Oct. 5 to determine how to proceed in the wake of revelations that key House Republicans knew about Foley's sexually explicit instant messages and suggestive e-mails to House pages yet did nothing about them.

The Senate also failed to confirm the controversial nomination of U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, whose tenure at the UN under recess appointment will expire in January without congressional approval. And lawmakers dropped even the pretense of action on Social Security or Medicare reform, a point underscored by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in a Washington address Oct. 4. Without rapid reform, Medicare and Social Security are "unsustainable," he said, noting that the "imperative to undertake reform earlier rather than later is great."

Food

Packaged fresh spinach was given an all-clear from the Food and Drug Administration after more than 190 people in 26 states and Canada became sick and one died. A virulent e. coli bacteria was traced to a California spinach packager, forcing a two-week nationwide ban. But questions about what led to the contamination linger, and FBI and FDA officials surprised agribusinesses by announcing Oct. 4 that they will launch a criminal investigation.

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