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The Buzz

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Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

A bridge too far

The senator who fought for the infamous "bridge to nowhere" is now fighting to stay out of prison. Federal prosecutors say Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, failed to disclose more than $250,000 in home renovations and other lavish gifts from VECO Corp., an oil services contractor that often lobbied for federal grants and projects. Stevens was indicted on July 30 on seven felony counts, each of which carries up to five years in prison.

One of the Senate's most powerful appropriators and longest-serving members, the 84-year-old Stevens developed a reputation for securing funding for pork projects in Alaska and for helping to increase government spending in general. Stevens, who has served in the Senate for 40 years, said he was innocent and vowed to fight the charges. He may, however, have to fight alone, politically: National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Ensign refused to endorse Stevens in his primary battle against six other GOP opponents. "The candidates are on the ballot right now," said Ensign, "and we're going to wait to see how that whole thing plays out."

Tabled talk

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Zimbabwe's president and its opposition leader met for the first time in a decade last month and agreed to a framework for negotiations toward a unity government. But with a deadline for talks fast approaching, it's unclear what the leaders will have to talk about: Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said any agreement should respect the results of a first round of voting in March. Tsvangirai won that election, but by a slim and contested majority. President Robert Mugabe insists that the basis for talks be a June 27 runoff, which he won because Tsvangirai bowed out over violence against opposition supporters. Mugabe, 84, has been Zimbabwe's leader for 28 years and is blamed for state-sponsored violence and runaway inflation.

What's clear is that tightened sanctions issued by the United States and the European Union seem to be forcing the Mugabe regime to the table. The U.S. Treasury moved to freeze the assets of 17 business enterprises controlled by the Zimbabwean government and on July 25 banned Americans from doing business with them. President Bush said that should the talks lead to a new government, the United States stood ready to provide a substantial assistance package, development aid, and normalized relations.

Pervasive ruling

A federal appeals court ruled July 23 that the state of Colorado violated constitutional rights when it blocked Colorado Christian University (CCU) students from receiving taxpayer-funded financial aid.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturned a lower court decision holding the nondenominational CCU "pervasively sectarian" and thus ineligible for state scholarship dollars. The three-judge panel said the state discriminated without constitutional justification by granting funds to some religious institutions-including Methodist and Roman Catholic universities-but then refusing to distribute money to other schools labeled "pervasively sectarian."

Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, told the Associated Press that students "attending institutions such as CCU who take their faith-based commitment seriously should have an equal opportunity to participate in Colorado's financial aid program."

The CCU ruling is the latest in a string of legal victories for religious schools seeking state financial aid. In recent years, courts in California, Virginia, and Ohio have affirmed the rights of religious institutions to receive state aid, marking a departure from past tradition in which the courts approved funding for colleges with religious affiliation, but not for those requiring students to adhere to such things as faith statements or chapel attendance.

Colorado Christian president William Armstrong told The Denver Post he was thankful for the outcome: "We think that it's a great victory for our students but also for the First and 14th amendments."

Confessed killers

Indonesian terror suspects arrested in early July have confessed to executing a Christian teacher in front of his family last year. They also say they were planning to assassinate an American language teacher before their arrest. The teacher has been identified only by his first name, Samuel, in the town of Sekayu, and according to the Associated Press left his post in recent months.

The confessions illustrate the tenacity of hardened and radical Islamic networks in Indonesia, despite a U.S.-backed crackdown that has netted more than 400 suspects in recent years. The 10 alleged militants told officers they were plotting to attack Indonesia's Supreme Court in retaliation for the upcoming executions of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombers, in addition to the 2007 shooting death of 59-year-old Dago Simamora, an Indonesian teacher, in front of his children last year in the south Sumatran town of Pekanbaru.

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