Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Big bucks ministries," July 28, 2007

White House

Lawmakers again threatened to hold former White House aide Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress after she refused a second deadline July 17 to agree to appear in connection with an investigation into the administration's firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Miers stayed away after President Bush invoked executive privilege in the matter, and Democratic lawmakers look poised to take the president to court-a protracted battle, according to conservative legal scholars, that the judiciary is likely to take on only reluctantly. Experts also say the president should be careful not to squander his executive privilege rights when more important legal tussles may come over national security, including the controversial terrorist surveillance program.

Politics

Following an all-night Senate session that began July 17, lawmakers voted down a Democratic proposal to set a date for withdrawing troops from Iraq, 52-47. Four Republicans joined Democrats in support of the measure to end a combat presence in Iraq by May 1, 2008, but the majority fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to overcome procedural objections. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) then announced that debate would be suspended until after Labor Day, after Republicans turned down a request to suspend rules and allow simple majority votes. That may give the president-and U.S. commanders-six more weeks to assess progress.

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Anti-terrorism expert Eric Egland says the U.S. military can do more to fight what is a localized war demanding local solutions: empower soldiers on the street to address the needs they see.

Charity

Habitat for Humanity provoked a revolt among some of its U.S. affiliates this month when it asked them to sign onto a quality control agreement that in part cedes authority and a portion of donations to headquarters.

Many faith-based nonprofits resist outside accountability common in the corporate world, says Rusty Leonard, founder of Wall Watchers. When Leonard began asking ministries he supports for annual financial statements, "We got a very bad reaction." That led to the creation of the ministry monitoring service, which now has 29 faith-based ministries on a watch list, including cash cows Benny Hinn Ministries and the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). With $340 million in cash on hand and in short-term investments, TBN has "the profit margins of Microsoft," said Leonard.

Religion

The archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to a record $660 million settlement with 508 members who say they were victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. In a July 16 public apology Cardinal Roger Mahony, leader of the largest U.S. diocese, said: "There really is no way to go back and give them that innocence that was taken from them."

North Korea

The latest round of arms talks ended July 19 without an agreement on a deadline for disabling North Korea's nuclear facilities, but chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said he believed it could be accomplished by the end of the year. On July 14 North Korea shut down its sole operating reactor at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.

Calamity

In a scene initially reminiscent of 9/11, New Yorkers just before 6 p.m. on July 18 ran from a blast in a building near Grand Central Terminal. But the vast smoke plume that rose skyscraper-high was light rather than dark, and the cause was a steam-pipe explosion rather than terrorism. One person died and more than 30 were injured, two of them critically.

Authorities in Brazil sought a court order to shut down the country's largest airport-and a key Latin American transit hub-near Sao Paulo after a July 17 crash killed 189. It was Brazil's worst aviation disaster since a crash 10 months ago at the same airport, which has a stunted runway pilots liken to landing on an aircraft carrier. The dead included Rep. Julio Redecker, 51, a leader of the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party and vocal critic of President Luiz Lula da Silva's handling of the aviation crisis.

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