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The Buzz

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Issue: "Is Christianity in the U.S. doomed?," June 20, 2009

Roland's roil

The bizarre saga that is Illinois politics careened further down the path of the absurd when a federal judge unsealed a recorded conversation between Sen. Roland Burris and Robert Blagojevich, brother and chief campaign fundraiser to indicted former state governor Rod Blagojevich. In the recording, Burris is heard discussing whether he might contribute to the Blagojevich campaign and if such a contribution might merit consideration for appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. One month after that November chat, Blagojevich appointed Burris to the Senate.

Despite the recording's smoking gun flavor, Burris and his aides say they believe it exonerates the 71-year-old Democrat of any wrong­doing. What's more, Burris denies all allegations that he misrepresented under oath his relationship and interaction with Blagojevich's staff.

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But on-the-record statements from the embattled senator reveal gross inconsistencies. In a Jan. 5 affidavit, he claimed no contact with Blagojevich aides regarding his Senate appointment. Three days later in testimony before an Illinois House impeachment panel, he admitted having one conversation on the matter with a Blagojevich aide. And in a Feb. 4 affidavit following his appointment, he acknowledged five conversations with Blagojevich aides, including at least one fundraising request that he claimed to have rejected for the sake of avoiding any conflict of interest.

Pressed to reconcile such incongruent re-tellings in light of the newly released recording, Burris insisted he has told the truth all along: "Did I commit perjury? No." He claims that because he wanted the vacated Senate seat, he mentioned it to "everybody who would listen."

Many past supporters now believe the senator should resign. State Rep. Jim Durkin, the ranking Republican on the impeachment panel that questioned Burris earlier this year, and Democratic Rep. Jack Franks allege that Burris committed perjury and must relinquish his post.

City of brotherly hate?

After winning a case in April against three men accused of voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008, the Obama Justice Department dismissed the charges last month.

Prosecutors said three uniformed members of the New Black Panthers Party for Self-Defense stood outside the Pennsylvania polling place, hurling racial slurs at both white and black voters. They say one defendant-Samir Shabazz-pointed a nightstick at passersby.

Bartle Bull-once a civil-rights lawyer in the 1960s South-witnessed the incident and wrote in an affidavit that one defendant told a white poll observer: "You are about to be ruled by a black man."

Attorneys for the Bush administration filed a civil complaint, charging the men with violating voter rights by coercion, threats, and intimidation. Obama officials won the case but dropped the charges weeks later. Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyarl said the department won an injunction against Shabazz that prohibits him from brandishing a weapon at a polling place again. Miyarl said the department dropped the other charges "based on a careful assessment of the facts and law."

Two-headed monster

The St. Paul Saints are taking advantage of the seemingly never-ending U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. The first 2,500 fans at a recent game against the Sioux Falls Canaries received a bobblehead doll named Count von Re-Count, a parody of the Sesame Street character with the face of Republican candidate Norm Coleman on one side, and Democrat Al Franken on the other. Franken held a 312-vote victory after a recount but Coleman has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, leaving the seat vacant over six months after the election. For the game the Saints, an independent minor league team, asked third-party candidate Dean Barkley to throw out the first pitch.

Sales down

American consumers continued to tighten their belts last month, as same-store retail sales fell 4.8 percent in May. The drop, which was reported on June 4, was larger than analysts had expected and followed a 2.7 percent drop in same-store sales for April. But one retailer, Wal-Mart, announced plans to hire 22,000 people in new or expanded stores in the United States this year. The retailing giant has fared better than other large chains during the economic downturn.

No verification

When a person registers to vote in Georgia, officials ask for two simple pieces of information: a Social Security number and driver's license data. The goal: Make sure the voter is an American citizen.

But that system is now out: The Department of Justice (DOJ) overruled the program this month, saying it's often inaccurate and has a "discriminatory effect" on minority voters. DOJ officials say the screening program often erroneously flags individuals as non-citizens.


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